Posted in fantasy, lgbt, review, young adult

The Red Scrolls Of Magic – Cassandra Clare & Wesley Chu

“It’s a classic love story. I hit on him at a party, he asked me out, then we fought an epic magical battle between good and evil side by side, and now we need a vacation.”

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Blurb: “All Magnus Bane wanted was a vacation—a lavish trip across Europe with Alec Lightwood, the Shadowhunter who against all odds is finally his boyfriend. But as soon as the pair settles in Paris, an old friend arrives with news about a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand that is bent on causing chaos around the world. A cult that was apparently founded by Magnus himself. Years ago. As a joke. Now Magnus and Alec must race across Europe to track down the Crimson Hand and its elusive new leader before the cult can cause any more damage.”

There have been many times where I have expressed my distaste for authors who put out endless books, adding aspects to a universe that don’t really need it. But when it comes to Cassandra Clare, quite frankly I’m a hypocrite. When I heard the news that a brand new series following Magnus Bane, Alec Lightwood and their disappearance during City Of Fallen Angels I knew I was going to devour it.

As always, there’s enough room to enter the Shadowhunter world without prior knowledge as little kernels are scattered throughout to explain who characters are, but I feel that if you haven’t at least read The Mortal Instruments series that not only are you going to be spoiled for events from it, but you also miss out on that emotional weight of what has happened and how it affects the current timeline.

In the acknowledgements, Cassandra Clare talks about how her books (in particular The Bane Chronicles) have been banned from LGBT themes and how her friends found few books growing up where their sexuality was represented. This led her to make the character of Magnus Bane so unapolegetically open of his relationships with both men and women. Magnus Bane was the first bisexual character I came across in literally, at a time when I wasn’t really open myself, and seeing him embrace himself and the fact he openly talked about his male/female relationships meant so much to me.

The Red Scrolls Of Magic sees Magnus and Alec attempt to take their first romantic vacation together. It feels so relatable in the sense of an early relationship as the duo are new and only just starting to work each other out without scaring the other off. Alec comes from a repressed society where being gay is enough to get a Shadowhunter stripped of their runes, while Magnus is incredibly flamboyant and would quite literally give Alec the entire world if he could figure out exactly how to do that. Of course, this is a Shadowhunter story so things do not go to plan.

One thing I love about Cassandra Clare’s books is that you can never predict where the plot is going to lead. Every time a building exploded or a demon appeared I was freaking out because I had no idea what the outcome was going to be. On top of all of this, there’s the rise of a demon worshipping cult known as The Crimson Hand and all roads seem to leave to Magnus. It’s basically romance, action, and an investigation all wrapped up in one book and it works so well.

The only real issue I had with this book is that it’s cowritten in a way where it’s entirely obvious which author wrote these parts. There’s a lot of sections where the grammar is really sloppy and I’m not sure how that was missed in editing, and the way some things are phrased was really jarring and took me out of the story for a moment.

Overall, I absolutely adored this book and I came out the other end having an even bigger love for Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood than I ever did before.

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Posted in fantasy, review, Uncategorized

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them – Newt Scamander (J.K.Rowling)

“I would like to take this opportunity to reassure Muggle purchasers that the amusing creatures described hereafter are fictional and cannot hurt you.”

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Blurb: “An approved textbook at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry since publication, Newt Scamander’s masterpiece has entertained wizarding families through the generations. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an indispensable introduction to the magical beasts of the Wizarding World. Scamander’s years of travel and research have created a tome of unparalleled importance. Some of the beasts will be familiar to readers of the Harry Potter books – the Hippogriff, the Basilisk, the Hungarian Horntail … Others will surprise even the most ardent amateur Magizoologist.”

I originally read Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them when it initially came out several years ago, back when I would happily devour anything else Potter related that I could get my hands on. I still remember the wonder and excitement this tiny book brought me. Now, in the midst of a movie franchise of the same name, it felt like the right time to revisit it.

I chose to experience this book through the audiobook because Eddie Redmayne (who famously plays Newt Scamander) is the narrator. It was honestly the best decision I could have made. He is familiar with the character and therefore able to add the magic and brilliance that Potter fans will be familiar with seeing on screen. When he talked about the beasts in detail I felt almost like I was in a classroom listening to Newt as the teacher. In addition to this, the audiobook features lots of animal calls and atmospheric sounds that do a fantastic job of immersing the reader in the history of various beasts. I felt closer to the Potter series than I have in a long time.

The book features an updated introduction from Newt Scamander and filters in aspects from the movie and its timeline, making it feel more current than the previous edition. The rest is basically an A-Z of beasts featuring facts about them along with an “egg rating” of danger which I really loved because a 1 egg rating simply meant the creature was “boring.”

It was fascinating to be reminded of just how much exists in the Potter universe that we are familiar with, but also are still yet to see.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Percy Jackson & The Sea Of Monsters – Rick Riordan

“Family are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is remind each other that we’re related for better or for worse… and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”

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Blurb: “Starring Percy Jackson, a “half blood” whose mother is human and whose father is the God of the Sea, Riordan’s series combines cliffhanger adventure and Greek mythology lessons that results in true page-turners that get better with each installment. In this episode, The Sea of Monsters, Percy sets out to retrieve the Golden Fleece before his summer camp is destroyed, surpassing the first book’s drama and setting the stage for more thrills to come.”

The Percy Jackson series is one that I’ve gone back and forth on for the longest time because my knowledge of Greek mythology is limited very much to musical numbers from Disney’s Hercules. Just over a year ago I listened to the first installment on audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed it. So it feels only right to finally make my way back to this world under the same format.

It’s not often in these kind of stories that the protagonist becomes my favourite characters, but I absolutely adore Percy. He has the right kind of fight and stepping up to the legacy of his father who is a literal Greek god, along with having these perfect moments of sarcasm when he finds himself in ridiculous situations. I think a lot of this has to do with Jesse Bernstein’s narrations which really do wonders for bringing him to life.

I continue to marvel at the way this world has started to branch out and flesh out the surrounding characters while also giving Percy that room to feel a little lost: he may know who his father is now, but that doesn’t mean his father wants to be around him. When Percy has the opportunity to solve the problems in Camp Half Blood by going on a quest to the sea of monsters, of course he puts himself forward for it. Naturally, any place called the “sea of monsters” is not a fun walk in the park and I loved seeing all the different threads that Rick Riordan filtered into this story.

I loved seeing the alliances start to build and the rivalries that I can see causing a lot of problem in the future books as everyone was trying to track down this fleece that could restore Camp Half Blood to its former glory.

The only part where I really struggle with these books is my lack of knowledge when it comes to Greek mythology. While brief explanations are given, I still find it hard to keep track of everything. I also feel that if I knew a lot about the subject I would get a lot more out of this series. However, that doesn’t stop me finding this world compelling enough to venture on, no matter how scared I am about what might be waiting around the corner.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Every Heart A Doorway – Seanan McGuire

“Hope means you keep on holding to things that won’t ever be so again, and so you bleed an inch at a time until there’s nothing left.”

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Blurb:”Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children. Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.”

Nancy is one of many children who have opened up doors and found themselves in another world. After being spat out out of a universe in which death surrounds her, she is now expected to return to life as normal and forget everything she uncovered. Sadly, it’s not that easy and her parents ship her off to the Wayward Home for Children; which is basically a sanatorium for girls in similar situations.

Every Heart A Doorway has incredible set up and the information being delivered through dialogue not only prevents heavy exposition dumps, but gives room for readers to feel out this new place along with the protagonist. As children start to turn up dead I was just hooked on all the possible ways this story could go. It does have very gory moments that feel played up very much for shock value until the threads start to tie together and the relevance of the horror emerges.

This book gave me serious Coraline and Miss Peregrine vibes because every girl in the home is adapting to the “real world” again after coming back from a door, and it had this creepy air of mystery and dark magic to it.

The only grievance I really had was that the story is too short. It feels almost like a short story than a full length book and it reached its peak just as it ended. I would have liked more time to flesh out the surrounding characters and learn more about them as the ones that were given backstories were super interesting.

Every Heart A Doorway is equal parts creepy and intriguing but will keep you in its clutches until the final page.

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Posted in adult fiction, fantasy, review

Vicious – V.E.Schwab

“There are no good men in this game.”

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Blurb:”Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick,an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will.”

Trigger warnings: Death, suicide attempts, talks of suicide, and self-harm.

If you’ve been following me at all, you’re probably aware of how much I adore V.E.Schwab and, therefore, it’s not at all surprising to see yet another review of one of her books popping up on my blog. However, this comes with its own confusing story: somehow among all the excitement of hearing about the various projects Schwab is working on, I got it into my head that Vengeful was the start of a new series. Turns out it’s a sequel and I discovered this on release day. So, I’ve had to do some backtracking.

Vicious has one of the best openings to a book that I’ve ever read. The reader is introduced to Victor Vale, one of the protagonists, as he traipses through a graveyard and begins to dig up a plot. The story then flits around present and the past (ten years ago) building up the picture of Victor and his friendship with Eli Ever in college. Victor was fascinated by the “fight or flight” nature humans have, while Eli had expressed the interest in ExtraOrdinaries; people with powers. The balance in this aspect is perfect. You’re given just enough background scenes to satisfy the burning questions but not enough that you ever have the full picture, and yet you can still feel grounded and understand character motivations. Victor Vale wants revenge on Eli, Eli is killing ExtraOrdinaries and making himself look like a hero.

I ended up loving the side characters more than I planned to. One of Victor’s “strays” (as he calls them) is a girl called Sydney who survived being shot. She has a sub storyline going on with her sister which, in a lot of ways, mirrors the events of Victor and Eli. I found her o fascinating and only wish maybe she’d been fleshed out even more but I appreciate the focus naturally being more on the protagonists of the story.

I was not prepared for how dark Vicious was going to be. It’s violent, dark and gritty, and is basically a tale of two friends-turned-enemies that are trying to one-up each other with dangerous consequences.  It’s the first story where I was actually rooting for no one to win but it had me hooked from start to finish.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Witch’s Tears – Katharine & Liz Corr

“There was a photo of Merry and her brother on her bedside table. In the photo, Leo was smiling. She tried-failed to recall the last time she’d seen him look that happy. Today was the first morning of the summer holidays. But the brighter the sunshine, the more they both seemed to be lost in the shadow.”

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Blurb: “It’s not easy being a teenage witch. Just ask Merry. She’s drowning in textbooks and rules set by the coven; drowning in heartbreak after the loss of Jack. But Merry’s not the only one whose fairy tale is over. Big brother Leo is falling apart and everything Merry does seems to push him further to the brink. And everything that happens to Leo makes her ache for revenge. So when strangers offering friendship show them a different path they’d be mad not to take it…”

After reading The Witch’s Kiss, I knew that I had to jump into the next book immediately, and thankfully I was smart enough to buy the whole series because I was that sure I’d love it.

The Witch’s Kiss takes place shortly after the events of the previous book and the emotions are still raw. Merry and her brother, Leo, become divided as they try to process what happened: Merry is embracing her powers and getting trained by the coven and her Grandma, while Leo – who has become resentful of witches – is mourning the loss of someone close to him and starting to explore his sexuality more. This book is a slow burn as it focuses more on shaping the characters and feeling into their development than overwhelming the reader with plot and not giving the characters that much needed time to recover. In fact, this book isn’t what I expected at all and that is a good thing. I feel like I left the reading experience knowing much more about the characters and how their minds work and feel closer to them for it.

As the story muddles through the recovery process, Leo meets a wizard called Ronan who he feels connected to and begins to explore the possibility of a romantic relationship. Merry is naturally suspicious which only furthers the gap between them. He was a really interesting addition to the series and gave me certain vibes and had me almost giving the side-eye as I continued through the plot. However, it was nice to see someone appearing to care about Leo and take the time to get to know him.

When witches begin to disappear without a trace and it appears to mimic something that’s happened before, the plot takes a direction I never could have prepared myself for. Katharine and Liz Corr do a fantastic job of planting the little seeds along the way in those quieter moments to the point where the story hits its climax and I was left cursing myself for not working things out sooner.

The Witch’s Kiss is a fantastic sequel and I cannot wait to dive into the next one.

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Posted in contemporary, fantasy, review, young adult

The Witch’s Kiss – Katharine & Liz Corr

“Witches do not kneel. They do not grovel. They do not beg favours from any creature, mortal or immortal. At most they bargain.”

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Blurb: “Sixteeen-year-old Meredith is fed-up with her feuding family and feeling invisible at school – not to mention the witch magic that shoots out of her fingernails when she’s stressed. Then sweet, sensitive Jack comes into her life and she falls for him hard. The only problem is that he is periodically possessed by a destructive centuries-old curse. Meredith has lost her heart, but will she also lose her life? Or in true fairytale tradition, can true love’s kiss save the day?”

The Witch’s Kiss is the first instalment of a trilogy by sisters Katharine and Liz Corr, and it’s a book I fell in love with instantly.

Set in modern day, readers are introduced to Meredith (Merry) who is a witch but does a very good job of not embracing this. She beats herself down a lot when she does have a momentary lapse of control and internalises her emotions in a way that makes her a character readers can really relate to. As she learns of the enormous task that faces her, naturally she wants to run in the opposite direction but then approaches the situation with a kind of “well if it has to be me then I guess I will” attitude. Unlike a lot of YA books, she was a character that read like the age she is supposed to be so a lot of her choices made sense.

Another great addition to this story is the brother, Leo, who becomes Merry’s partner in crime. A lot of the time in “modern day fantasy” siblings are often brushed aside so it was wonderful to see her have this family support system who wanted to keep her safe but also stood out on his own. I just loved every single scene he was in and it was clear that he was willing to do whatever it takes to protect his sister but also allow her that room to do things on her own when required.

The Witch’s Kiss blends the present and the anglo-saxon period in which the reader learns of an enchantment put in place to keep the evil wizard, Gwydion, and his servant, The King of Hearts, in a deep sleep. But this enchantment is soon to end and it falls to Merry to be the one to stop the wizard before the curse takes hold. Viewing stories through an adult lens meant that when the mother puts her foot down, I could actually understand the reasoning behind her actions, whereas teenage me would have probably screamed at her. It was nice to see how the bubbling drama was affecting those around Merry rather than solely focusing on her. The blending of timelines was done in an interesting way: rather than resorting to info dumping to fill the reader in, they are instead taken through the history in a series of chapters, getting to know the old faces and their motivations which add that further weight in the present. It works wonderfully but my only wish is that it had been threaded a lot more through once it had all been revealed.

The King of Hearts, also known as Jack, is a truly tragic character and my heart just ached as I began to learn more about him. The story does lull a bit around the middle but it allows that room to understand who he actually is compared to the history and, again, I loved that little way of blending two time periods together.

That tension build at the start and the bubbling danger throughout leads to a dramatic conclusion which had me shielding myself with my blanket as I fought my way through alongside Merry.

The Witch’s Kiss is a breath of fresh air with magic, a brilliant cast of characters and a test of morals.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Queen Of Air And Darkness – Cassandra Clare

“We are dust and shadows,” Emma said. “I guess we’re all ashes too.”

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Blurb: “Innocent blood has been spilled on the steps of the Council Hall, the sacred stronghold of the Shadowhunters. In the wake of the tragic death of Livia Blackthorn, the Clave teeters on the brink of civil war. One fragment of the Blackthorn family flees to Los Angeles, seeking to discover the source of the blight that is destroying the race of warlocks. Meanwhile, Julian and Emma take desperate measures to put their forbidden love aside and undertake a perilous mission to Faerie to retrieve the Black Volume of the Dead. What they find in the Courts is a secret that may tear the Shadow World asunder and open a dark path into a future they could never have imagined.”

It’s no secret that Cassandra Clare is one of my favourite authors and, like many, I have been sat impatiently waiting for the final instalment of The Dark Artifices series. This new aspect of the Shadowhunter world has not been plain sailing for me: I didn’t like the previous book and even in my reread in preparation of this release, I still didn’t rate it much. To me, it’s a series that peaked at the first book.

The first thing that really strikes me about this world is just how detailed it is. Cassandra Clare has stated in talks before that she’s a full on planner and it really shows in her writing. The Dark Artifices features her biggest cast of characters to date and she manages to ride that perfect balance of allowing each group the appropriate amount of readership time. It’s so intricate and carefully handled that I can’t help but marvel at it.

The blackthorns are reeling from a family tragedy and the many ways grief is explored throughout the book is painful to read but absolutely necessary. There’s a distinct shift in how Dru and Ty deal with the loss compared to Julian and the older siblings and all of it was so beautifully done. Consistently, Mark Blackthorn has been my favourite character and his overall growth throughout the series has been an absolute treat and, dare I say it, he may be up there with Alec Lightwood as my favourite Shadowhunter character. He’s come such a long way from the sugar incident in Lady Midnight to protecting his siblings with his life and I just adore everything about him. In fact, love triangles are one of my least favourite tropes but my favourite segments to read were any scenes with Kieran, Christina and Mark. The growth and development there was, again, beautiful to read. I also loved seeing a bisexual character exploring relationships with both men and women.

The Clave are a government body that have always absolutely terrified me and this book was no different. If anything, they really ramped up the fear factor. As lot of their decisions feel all too familiar from our world with talks of walls to keep certain species out, creating registries and handing out numbers to identify Downworlders. I love seeing politics in other world and it was fascinating to have the character of Diana through which to see these Clave events play out.

However, at 800 pages, Queen Of Air and Darkness really feels its length. I had periods where it just felt like a slog to get through and I really didn’t enjoy the majority of Part Two and find myself getting distracted by other things. I’m not really a big fan of “alternate reality” stuff within an author’s work and, minus one particular factor, it just didn’t feel like the reader gained much apart from an long drawn out “what could have been” segment. And frankly, if I wanted to see that I would turn to fan fiction. Also I read this via ebook and there were a lot of typo errors.

It’s sad to say goodbye to another area of this world, but with the news of The Last Hours due to be released next year, I won’t have long to wait before I delve back in!

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

A Map Of Days – Ransom Riggs

“I had just survived the most surreal summer imaginable – skipping back to bygone centuries, taming imaginable monsters, falling in love with my grandfather’s time-arrested girlfriend – but only now, in the unexceptional present, in Suburban Florida, in the house I’d grown up in, was I finding it hard to believe my eyes.”

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Blurb: “Having defeated the monstrous threat that nearly destroyed the peculiar world, Jacob Portman is back where his story began, in Florida. Except now Miss Peregrine, Emma, and their peculiar friends are with him, and doing their best to blend in. But carefree days of beach visits and normalling lessons are soon interrupted by a discovery—a subterranean bunker that belonged to Jacob’s grandfather, Abe. Clues to Abe’s double-life as a peculiar operative start to emerge, secrets long hidden in plain sight. And Jacob begins to learn about the dangerous legacy he has inherited—truths that were part of him long before he walked into Miss Peregrine’s time loop. Now, the stakes are higher than ever as Jacob and his friends are thrust into the untamed landscape of American peculiardom—a world with few ymbrynes, or rules—that none of them understand.”

The Miss Peregrine series was one that I never expected to love as much as I did, and if it hadn’t been for the news of an adaption directed by Tim Burton it would have completely passed me by. The ending was one of those rare ones where I felt incredibly emotional, but also content with it. So when the news came out that the series was going to be extended by three books, I was incredibly apprehensive. In fact, I got myself so worked up that I honestly didn’t think I’d even be able to read this book.

A Map Of Days offered me one of the big things I wanted: character development. As the peculiars move from the loop world to present day Florida, they are forced into drastic changes in order to fit in. It was hilarious seeing them try Pizza for the first time and have to go shopping for regular clothes and the wit, especially from Millard won me over again. As the main crux of the plot comes into effect, the group is split with a select few joining Jacob on his mission to learn more about his grandfather and try to bring order back to the peculiar world. This worked really well because it eases the reader back into the cast of characters by focusing on a select view and padding them out in new surroundings. I found myself leaning more towards characters such as Enoch who I never really cared for in past books.

As usual, Ransom Riggs proves his talents in storytelling and world building as the reader explores new parts of the universe, accompanied by the peculiar photographs that give the series its unique element, but outside of that, this book fell really flat for me.

After the amazing arc the original trilogy had, is A Map of Days really needed? No. It isn’t. If anything, it’ll hopefully appeal to those fully invested in the series, but at just short of 500 pages, it’s a very long slog with a rushed action packed ending to try and keep the reader waiting for the next installment. I just didn’t really feel like it had that many revelations that it was marketed that it would have.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Belles – Dhonielle Clayton

“At the beginning of the world, the God of the Sky fell in love with the Goddess of Beauty.”

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Blurb: “Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.”

Trigger warnings: Sexual assault, “bury the gays” trope.

I was on the fence for quite a while about this book until I saw FantasticBooksAndWhereToFindThem’s review  which finally swayed me to give it a go. So with a shiny new audible credit, I decided to opt for the audiobook and straight away, this was the best decision. The narrator – Rosie Jones – is utterly incredible. Her range of accents is phenomenal and she captures the character of Camellia perfectly: all her innocence, passion and naivety. It’s almost impossible not to feel completely sucked up into the world of Orléans with our remarkable protagonist.

In this world, the beauty industry mirrors our own with its set of trends, magazines and beauty rooms where residents can get makeovers but for a price. However, in Orléans, Belles have the ability to make people beautiful but it’s never permanent. The process is brutal and more detailed than I even expected. I often found myself stopping what I was doing and sitting back to just listen to Camellia talk about what she was doing.

The writing is gorgeous. Everything is described through the use of food imagery which was a very clever technique as it made the world feel rich and enticing.

Princess Sofia is a standout character for me on the grounds that she is simply terrifying. Whenever she appeared in the scene I physically tensed as if that would change the course of events in some way.

However, this book was incredibly slow. There’s no real action until the last quarter and by that point I was just feeling bored. The Belles reads very much as a set up book and I feel that the sequel is when that characters are really going to hit the ground running.

As I referenced at the start, there is a scene of sexual assault that is quite heavy and the perpetrator is not reprimanded for it. Also a gay character is killed off for absolutely no reason other than shock value. Please exercise self-care before reading.

Also Clayton wrote a twitter thread about the need for more POC reviewers in general, especially ones talking about her book. Here’s a link to Rich In Colour’s review  that picked up on specific themes I didn’t and if you know any others, please let me know so I can link them as well!

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