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 contemporary, review, young adult

On The Come Up – Angie Thomas

“One song is sometimes all it takes. I’ve got one song.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, I’m sure you’re aware of New York Times Best-Selling Author Angie Thomas. Her debut, The Hate U Give is still thriving and even lead to a successful film adaptation.

Her new book, On The Come Up, is an set within the same town of Garden Height as The Hate U Give and while there are many nods to it, this story is its own entity. The reader is introduced to Bri: a teenage girl who is trying to break onto the rap scene. Given all the expectations already placed on her because of her race, music is the one aspect of her life that Bri feels she can fully control.

Bri focuses a lot on the outside elements that directly led to the people in her life being led down the wrong paths. For example, if a drug dealer hadn’t sold to Bri’s mother, she wouldn’t have become an addict. She’s sick of everything already being decided about who she is and what she should do and it takes a while in the story for Bri to finally come out and say it. The moments when she opens up about being a “race poster girl” and being vulnerable are beautiful parts to see.

Angie Thomas has a truly incredible way of writing characters and every single one of them has so much personality that it’s almost impossible to believe they’re not real people. They all have so much energy  and I think a lot of this comes from the brilliant audiobook narration from Bahni Turpin.

My knowledge of rap lies solely in the musical Hamilton so it was really fun and fascinating to see the rap battles (one of which is my favourite scenes in the book) and to learn how rap songs are constructed, especially when it’s on the fly. A big bonus of the audiobook is that Bahni Turpin actually raps the lyrics which added so much to the experience especially when it came to the rhythm which is something I feel is lost to the readers who opt for the book in a written form.

Angie Thomas has delivered another incredible book and I cannot wait to see what else comes from her brain.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Girls With Sharp Sticks – Suzanne Young

“You are perfection personified,” she continues, “and we must ask that you act like it.”

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Blurb:”The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.”

[AD – GIFTED]

Trigger Warnings: Violence, emotional abuse, gore.

Innovations Academy requires girls to work towards being the perfect sponsorship investment upon their graduation. Their diets are strict (no additives in their own meals but they must learn how to cook a hearty flavourful meal for a future husband), dating is strictly forbidden, no access to the internet because their future sponsor/husband will give them all the relevant news information they need. They’re not allowed to leave the property except for the very rare trips to the town where their movements are carefully monitored.

The protagonist, Philomena, is coming to the end of her time at the academy but feels her opinions of the teachings she’s been given start to waver after bumping into a boy called Jackson at a gas station. He’s completely different to what she’s been trained to believe boys and men act like and suddenly everything is under a magnifying glass. For the majority of this book, Philomena was difficult for me to get behind because she didn’t have much personality. However, I think this is more the fault of the situation she’s in than her exclusively as a character because once she starts to pick apart what’s really going on she becomes a much more well-rounded character and I was rooting for her by the end.

It’s a very quiet, slow book but when it hits that climax I was unable to process what was happening. The inner workings of this place are something I never saw coming and it was refreshing to read a YA book of this ilk that had something completely different in that big reveal.

There’s some LGBT representation as two of the girls are in a secret lesbian relationship and while this is mentioned briefly, it’s more of a sideline thing to show some girls doing the opposite of what they’re being told and it would have been nice to see this get played out more.

My favourite scene in the book was when the girls get their hands on a women’s magazine and start reading an article about how to work out if you’re good at oral sex or not. It was a little bit of exposure to a world they didn’t know existed and it was so funny.

Girls With Sharp Sticks shows the importance of friendship, the power of literature and taking back what was once taken from you.

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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 contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

The Love And Lies Of Rukhsana Ali – Sabina Khan

“My dream was to one day work at NASA. I knew it was a long shot, but I liked a challenge.”

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Blurb: “Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer. But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart.”

Trigger warnings: homophobia, physical and emotional abuse, rape and sexual assault.

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a book that I clicked with instantly. I can’t exactly pinpoint the thread that had me turning page after page with no sign of stopping. Sabina Khan does a fantastic job of explaining Rukhsana’s life and dropping the reader into an incredibly important period: the all-too familiar final school year before college. Rukhsana is already facing a tremendous amount of pressure and as a Muslim daughter of Bengali parents, she’s also battling the expectations that she should be married off as soon as possible. Despite the fact that she has just secured a scholarship at her dream school and also she’s a lesbian. It was wonderful to go through this story with an already established gay relationship and the scenes with Rukhsana and Ariana were so heart-warming to read as they were just so comfortable in each other’s company; the love felt real.

I expected a turn to happen in this book when Rukhsana’s parents finally found out about the relationship but I didn’t expect them to go to the extremes they did. I gasped, cried, and recoiled at many of the scenes that unfolded as a result of a parent’s desperate attempts to control their child. This shift provided the stark reminder that, while society is becoming more liberal and accepting, there are still places in the world where being gay can result in death, and that there is an older generation clinging to their religious beliefs so tightly that they are willing to let their children suffer greatly as a consequence.

An unexpected aspect was the Grandma’s role in the story. She is one of the few people accepting of Rukhsana’s love life because she has experienced times in her own life where she was beaten down and forced into a box. Her narrative, through both dialogue and diary pages, shows what can happen when someone chooses to conform to what is expected of them. It’s almost a lose-lose situation. This part of the narrative is where it gets quite dark and triggering which is why I’ve applied the aforementioned warnings at the start of this review.

The Love And Lies of Rukhsana Ali is a story about fighting for who you love, and who you want to be, and I will be thinking about it for a long time.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Last Bus To Everland – Sophie Cameron

“I think we’re not in the real world any more.”

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Blurb: “Brody Fair feels like nobody gets him: not his overworked parents, not his genius older brother, and definitely not the girls in the projects set on making his life miserable. Then he meets Nico, an art student who takes Brody to Everland, a “knock-off Narnia” that opens its door at 11:21pm each Thursday for Nico and his band of present-day misfits and miscreants. Here Brody finds his tribe and a weekly respite from a world where he feels out of place. But when the doors to Everland begin to disappear, Brody is forced to make a decision: He can say goodbye to Everland and to Nico, or stay there and risk never seeing his family again.”

[Ad – Gifted]

I adored Sophie Cameron’s debut Out Of The Blue and so when Macmillan sent me an advanced copy of her new book, I was over the moon.

Everland is a secret world beyond a door that appears at 11:21pm every Thursday and the protagonist, Brody, happens upon it after a chance meeting with wing-wearing Nico. This new location has everything you can possibly think of and is full of people from all around the world. It’s a place that will surely appeal to fans of readers who dream of abandoning the every day for a bit of magic just within their grasp. While Everland was what initially drew me to this book, it’s not what ended up holding my interest. The mantle goes to Brody himself.

Brody is a gay – not out yet- boy who is bullied at his school, under-performing and always second to his intelligent “soon to be a Cambridge student” brother, with a dad suffering from agoraphobia and a mother working all hours to make ends meet. If anything, the discovery of Everland becomes a lifeline for him. But for six days a week he is forced to live this version of his life.

Last Bus To Everland tackles dealing with a relative who has a mental illness, the pressures of under-achieving as well as over-achieving, and poverty. I expected this book to be heavily set in Everland and that was not the case. Everland is almost that physical manifestation of wanting to get away: its inhabitants are all facing issues in their lives and Everland provides that place to escape everything, while also proving that you can leave your problems behind, but they’ll always be waiting when you get back. I love that this aspect gave the platform to round out why all the characters came to this magical place and what led them to discover it in the first place.

Brody is a character that I just felt so much for. I wanted to climb into the pages and give him a hug along with having a stern word with the bullies. He struggles a lot with the weight of the future and feels very much alone: something I’m sure we’ve all dealt with.

Sophie Cameron is a gem of an author. While her story concepts have brought me to both of her books now, it is ultimately the characters I leave thinking about for weeks after.

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Posted in review, young adult

The Extinction Trials: Exile – S.M.Wilson

“That was the thing about this place. Blink. And you missed it. Blink. And you could be dead.”

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Blurb: “After surviving on Piloria once, Storm and Lincoln are the obvious candidates to return to the dinosaur continent to test the new virus that should clear the way for human settlement. But they have their own priorities – finding a cure for the plague that’s sweeping Earthasia, and keeping themselves alive.”

I picked up The Extinction Trials on a whim after seeing a mixture of the buzz online and that it was pitched as “The Hunger Games meets Jurassic Park.” It only took a couple of pages for me to fall completely in love and try shoving it into the faces of anyone who would care to listen. It felt new, original and filled my need for dinosaurs eating people; yes, you read that last part right. My review of the first book can be found here.

The Extinction Trials:Exile shows straight off how history is destined to keep repeating itself. When barely any of the participants return from the dinosaur continent, Piloria, the government is still very much set on its plans to get rid of the dinosaurs by administering a virus to their water supply. A good majority of this book is set on Earthasia with both Lincoln and Storm being promoted to roles within Parliament. It can feel like a bit of a lull at times and I found myself just wanting to get to the dinosaurs, but it was important to flesh out the human continent and give a horrid reminder of just how bad the conditions are. A lot of the seemingly minor bits of information littered at the reader’s feet become quite important later on.

I love the two protagonists, Lincoln and Storm, in the sense that they really don’t like each other. They have returned home after surviving dinosaur attacks and it isn’t until they are forced back onto the island together that the duo is actually reunited; quite simply, they have no reason to. I can’t quite place it but this just made their “relationship” feel more real because they both want extremely different things and had nothing really tying them to each other. Lincoln cares only about saving his sister in whatever way he can, while Storm can’t stop thinking about the idealistic nature of Piloria. Storm gets to spend more time with her father, Reban, and it was interesting to actually see his side of things as he was pitched more so as the villain in the previous book. This mix of narratives did a wonderful job of giving a more rounded view of the important factors at play.

I also liked seeing Blaine again, the stipulator left behind by the government and seeing how he has continued to adapt to his new surroundings with very little help for Piloria. It fuelled that seed growing in Storm’s mind about the possibility of living alongside the dinosaurs without human interference, and showed just how adaptable humans can be.

Once again, S.M.Wilson does a fantastic job of building the tension when the characters, along with some new faces, finally land on the dinosaur continent. The descriptions were so lush and vibrant that I could picture it so clearly while venturing through the narrative. There were many moments when I held my breath; waiting in anticipation for a dinosaur to jump out of the bushes at the last minute.

Another brilliant addition to the series and I simply cannot wait for the next one!

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Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea – Tahereh Mafi

“Author note: A Very Large Expanse Of Sea is about giving a voice to the Muslim American teenager in a world where they’re seldom given a chance to speak. It’s about love and hate and break dancing. It’s my story.”

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Blurb: “It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped. Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.”

Tahereh Mafi is the New York Times bestselling author of the Shatter Me series, and her newest release sees her dipping in to YA Contemporary to tell a much more personal story. Tahereh has always been a rather private person but she felt compelled to write a story encapsulating her love for break dancing and fashion, along with the racism and islamaphobia she’s experienced. I was fortunate enough to receive a chapter sampler from the publisher which I reviewed here.Though I want to make it clear that I was not given the full book for free. this review comes from me picking up and reading it myself.

Shirin is a character that I connected with instantly. I’m not sure if it was the prior knowledge that Tahereh has put a lot of herself into the character, but Shirin just felt like a real person. I felt for her when she shared her experiences in the rise of racism following 9/11, how she dealt with both verbal and physical assault. Her concerns were understandable, especially when she meets a boy called Ocean and worries about what their association will do for his reputation.

Ocean is a prime example of someone who wants to educate themselves and learn more about other cultures and religions but is blinded by his privilege. He dismisses Shirin’s concerns a lot because he has a good social standing at the school. However, it’s so clear from the narrative that he really does care for Shirin.

Their romance is a bit of a cliché in the sense that Shirin worries about a big problem such as daily abuse and often fearing for her life, meanwhile Ocean’s biggest concern is….basketball. Despite this, it didn’t do much to knock my enjoyment reading.

The narrative addresses the mob rule in high school and how it’s hard to tell who’s really on their side when their peers flit so easily; especially when it’s those in power such as teachers also contributing to it which just made my blood boil.

Another unexpected partnership I ended up loving was Shirin and her brother Navid. I loved seeing him look after her and standing up for her when she was assaulted. He also helped give her something she could have purely for herself: break dancing.

The break dancing became more of a footnote, only really appearing at the beginning and end of the book. I wish there could have been more of that.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve felt such a weight of emotion in my chest finishing a book. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book and wanted to read it again straight away.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, thriller, young adult

The Truth About Keeping Secrets – Savannah Brown

“You really think someone killed him?

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Blurb:”Sydney’s dad is the only psychiatrist for miles around their small Ohio town. He is also unexpectedly dead. Is Sydney crazy, or is it kind of weird that her dad-a guy whose entire job revolved around other peoples’ secrets-crashed alone, with no explanation?And why is June Copeland, homecoming queen and the town’s golden child, at his funeral?”

[AD – Gifted]

Trigger Warnings: Talks of death, depictions of death, emotional and physical abuse.

I’ve followed Savannah with her poetry for a long time so when she announced that she was writing a book, I had mentally signed up for it and waited patiently to finally get the lyrical brilliance from her in a new format.

Rather fitting to her previous work, the central themes of The Truth About Keeping Secrets are quite dark. The protagonist, Sydney, is reeling from the unexpected loss of her father and has taken to devoting most of her time to thinking about death, along with scrolling endlessly through a website called TOD which posts surveillance footage of real life deaths. Her father was a renowned therapist in the town of Pleasant Hills and Sydney also struggles with the fact that people out there had a relationship with a dad in a way that she never did; that he mattered and existed to other people, that he wasn’t solely hers. It’s incredibly easy to feel empathy for this character, especially when the mysterious threatening text messages begin and none of the adults around her take them seriously. She completely regresses into herself until she meets June.

I had a lot of problems with June because for a big portion of the book she trends the edges of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope. Sydney is so fascinated with her and becomes obsessed to the point where she even says that her life could be boiled down to the 20 minutes a day she spent driving to and from school with June. While the big lulling middle of the book focuses so much on establishing their relationship, you learn nothing about her until the climatic end of the books. When the details did arise, they added so much to her character and completely changed my perspective and I just wish they hadn’t been confined to the last few pages of the book. Especially as Sydney and June both express a romantic interest in each other.

The Truth About Keeping Secrets is clearly very well planned and the details that come to light at the big climax left me reeling. However, because so much of the book is focused on Sydney’s obsession with June, there’s a massive lull between the first couple of text messages, the subsequent ones, and the events that ramp up at the end. For this reason, when that big turning point comes it feels like the story has gone from 0-100 because it becomes so dramatic so quick and there wasn’t that natural incline. This really shook my enjoyment of the book because it’s been marketed as a YA Thriller but for the most part it’s not particularly thrilling.

I loved the twist and turns but I just wish there had been more of them.

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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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