Posted in Non-Fiction

It’s Not About The Burqa – Edited by Mariam Khan

“We are not asking for permission any more. We are taking up space. We’ve listened to a lot of people talking about who Muslim women are without actually hearing Muslim women. So now, we are speaking. And now, it’s your turn to listen.”

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Blurb: “In 2016, Mariam Khan read that David Cameron had linked the radicalization of Muslim men to the ‘traditional submissiveness’ of Muslim women. Mariam felt pretty sure she didn’t know a single Muslim woman who would describe herself that way. Why was she hearing about Muslim women from people who were neither Muslim, nor female? Years later the state of the national discourse has deteriorated even further, and Muslim women’s voices are still pushed to the fringes – the figures leading the discussion are white and male. Taking one of the most politicized and misused words associated with Muslim women and Islamophobia, It’s Not About the Burqa is poised to change all that.”

Disclaimer: Mariam Khan is a dear friend but this does not mean that I will not review this book honestly.

Trigger Warnings: emotional abuse, talks of anxiety and depression, islamaphobia.

In our current political climate, and the age of social media, it is impossible to escape the many “divisive” conversations circling in endless news cycles and talk shows. For some of us, people like me, we are able to to turn off the TV, delete our apps and take a break until we feel comfortable enough to recharge and return to them. But Muslim women do not have that privilege. A lot seems to be said about this group of women, and very rarely are they given the platform to speak for themselves.  Activist Mariam Khan decided that it was time for Muslim women to get a say and presents the book It’s Not About The Burqa which is a collection of essays from seventeen Muslim women (herself included) covering many topics for being a Queer Muslim woman, to marriage and divorce, to defying exceptions.

It is not my place to talk on behalf of these women or about their experiences in detail as I cannot relate to these as a white woman. Instead, just like my review of The Good Immigrant, I will share some of the essays that taught me a lot:

“Immodesty Is The Best Policy” by Coco Khan focuses on the modesty expectations for Muslim women. She shares stories about her strict aunt, and her cousin who had to give up dancing because it was seen as “parading herself in front of men.”

“On Representation Of Muslims” by Nafida Bahkar tackles the media representation and how its fine in context of cute Christmas ads and other commercialised aspects, but once those minorities use their voices to get change, they are cast aside. She shines a light on how representation in the media is not as important as dealing with everyday islamaphobia.

“Feminism Needs To Die” by Mariam Khan focuses on the idea of White Feminism (feminism geared more towards issues such as gender pay which has become the overall “known feminism) and how it hurts minorities: that in order for things to change feminism needs to become a more intersectional place for all women.

“Eight Notifications” by Salma Haidrani handles social media when being a journalist and how she had an eight notification rule which caused her much anxiety. If she posted a new article and received eight notifications on Twitter, she knew that it was probably people sending her vitriol.

These are just a handful of the stories that can be found in this collection; many of which will resonate more with other readers than they did with me. But as Mariam Khan says in the introduction: “It’s Not About The Burqa brings together Muslim women’s voices. It does not represent the experiences of every Muslim woman or claim to cover every single issue faced by Muslim women. It’s not possible to create that book. But this book is a start, a movement: we Muslim women are reclaiming our identity.” 

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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 adult fiction, lgbt, review, romance

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.”

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Blurb: “Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?”

Trigger warning: brief homophobia and slurs, emotional and physical abuse.

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo is a book that I’ve heard a lot about. Towards the end of 2018, it popped up on everyone’s favourite lists for the year, and I’ve not seen a single bad thing about it. Sadly, that’s one of the reasons why I’ve avoided it: I don’t tend to have good experiences with hyped books. It wasn’t until fellow blogger Sofia kept badgering me to read it whenever I mentioned my next audiobook listen that I finally cracked.

The story is centered around Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo who has decided to come out of hiding to write a book about her life with the help of Monique, a magazine reporter. Evelyn is famous of her many film roles but also the absurd number of husbands she’s garnered along her journey. Monique, on the other hand, is the epitome of the writer stuck in a dead-end job looking for that something to give her life purpose.

I fell in love with this book instantly. The glamour and mystery around famed Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo reminded me so much of The Great Gatsby in the sense that everyone knows Evelyn Hugo, but know one really knows her. The story starts with Monique being informed by her boss that Evelyn Hugo has requested her specifically to write a brief article on her life; when she accepts the offer that story becomes a memoir. The book has multiple narratives: Monique’s, a gossip columnist, and Evelyn Hugo. I went with the audiobook (on several recommendations) and every single narrator – Alma Cuvero, Julia Whelan and Robin Miles- for this book is utterly brilliant. I was completely immersed in every part of the plot, in every single character, and when it came to Evelyn talking about her life, and her many husbands, I often found myself stopping what I was doing just to take it all in. There were many instances where I just forgot that Evelyn Hugo isn’t a real person and that I wasn’t actually listening to an autobiography. I’ve come out of the reading experience feeling like I have learned so much about this incredible woman who lived such a mesmerizing, complicated life only to be faced with the cold reality that she never existed.

Monique fades into the background a lot but always pops up at the right moments to ask Evelyn the questions that I, and probably many other readers, wanted answers to. She is the other side of the coin. Here you have a rich and famous actress spending hours in the same room talking to a magazine reporter who can barely make ends meet, and yet they were able to realise the similarities in their lives; that despite their different classes, ultimately they are both human.

A big surprise in this book is that Evelyn Hugo is bisexual. I say that because none of the marketing that I have seen for the book has mentioned this aspect at all – which is something that would have made me pick up this book a lot sooner. It has gay men, lesbians and bisexuals littered throughout and I feel like this is something that should be shouted about from the rooftops.

It’s been a long time since I finished reading a book and felt such a sense of happiness but also loss that led to me wanting to starting reading that same story again right away, but The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo did that for me. I will be thinking about it for a very long time.

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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 Non-Fiction

Becoming – Michelle Obama

“So far in my life I have been a lawyer, a vice president at a hospital, and the director of a non-profit that helps young people build meaningful careers. I’ve been a working class black student at a fancy mostly white college. I’ve been the only woman (the only African-American) in all sorts of rooms. I’ve been a bride, a stressed out mother, a daughter torn up by grief, and until recently I was First Lady of the United States of America.”

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Blurb: “In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.”

Unless you’ve been living under rock which has been buried several feet underground, you’ve probably heard of Michelle Obama. For eight years she was First Lady of The United States of America, but as a non-American I only saw bits and pieces of what she used her position to create. So it’s pretty helpful that she decided to write a book all about her life! I always have to listen to non-fiction on Audiobook because I really struggle to read these kind of books otherwise; it also really helps hearing the individual tell their own story and Michelle Obama is really soothing to listen to.

Becoming is split into three sections: “Becoming Me” which lays down her roots and detail the significant moments from her growing years such as her piano teacher and the application advisor at Princeton who told her she didn’t stand a chance of getting in. She talks about the moment when she started to be treated differently due to the colour of her skin along with seemingly small events that she didn’t realise the weight of until she looked back on them with an adult perspective. The next section, “Becoming Us” details how Michelle met Barack Obama, their blossoming relationship, marriage and the family they began to make. The final section details the massive shift in the life of her family when Barack Obama became President of the United States of America. Overall, the book provides the stark reminder that Michelle Obama is just human; a woman trying to raise her child with the best values possible while having to cope with being on the world’s stage during two presidential terms.

I loved reading about the fire that Michelle has in her belly. Everything she does is to fiercely protect her family and her own reputation. She likes to stand on her own feet, not being tied down by her links to other people. She works hard to create new programmes for children and trying to improve health because she can’t bear to sit still doing nothing for eight possible years. She talks candidly about experiencing miscarriage and career sacrifices she makes for her children.

As a non-American, it was really fascinating to learn more about how a presidential run works, voting, campaigning and what happens when a new president enters the White House and what the role of a First Lady actually entails. The most surprising thing to learn from Michelle’s story is actually how much she hates politics. She’s incredibly open about her reservations when Barack started to become interested in politics and how she felt self-conscious when he eventually got into office. Sorry to those really hoping she will, but Michelle shuts down any possibility of herself running for presidency – she really does hate politics.

Listening to the audiobook, there’s something so soothing about Michelle’s voice and the way she talks so eloquently and always has food for thought is incredible. I feel like I’ve walked away from this book with a new outlook on life.

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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 Audiobook Of The Month, Uncategorized

Audiobook Of The Month | The Humans

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After getting into Matt Haig’s books last year, and one of them making it onto my list of favourites for 2018, I’ve decided that I really want to read more of his back catalogue so when I was scrolling through audible desperately trying to find my first listen of 2019, I came across The Humans. 

The Humans is about an alien who comes to earth and takes over the body of Professor Andrew Martin. The unnamed narrator has been sent to stop the humans discovering the answers to a mathematical theory. Initially, this summary didn’t really interest me, but I adored the writing style in How To Stop Time so I took a tiny leap out of my comfort zone and decided to give The Humans a go.

A lot of my pure enjoyment from this audiobook so far comes from the narrator, Mark Meadows. He is simply fantastic. The delivery of the lines and the tonal usage really makes the funny and witty moments land perfectly and I’ve found myself laughing out loud many a time at my desk during a work day. Of course, part of this falls to the clever nature of the narrative constructed by Matt Haig. The narrator talks about walking around naked and being confused about why the police have been called on him, not understanding why on earth someone would have a wife, and learning the human language through magazines such as Cosmopolitan.

It’s a short audiobook – standing at just over 8 hours- so I’m wondering where exactly the story is going to end up given the length.

At the time of writing this I am 29% into the audiobook and loving every minute of it.

What audiobooks are you listening to this month?

What were your favourites of 2018?

Posted in Historical Fiction, review, Uncategorized

Salt To The Sea – Ruta Sepetys

“What a group we were. A pregnant girl in love, a kindly shoemaker, an orphan boy, a blind girl and a giantess who complained that everyone was in her way when she herself took up the most room. And me, a lonely girl who missed her family and begged for a second chance.”

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Blurb: World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.”

Historial fiction is not a genre I actively reach for. In fact, when I think about others I’ve read, the only one that springs to mind is The Book Thief. But like the way I find most of my books, it’s talked about a lot in the community. So when I came across in on the shelf at my library, I scooped it up and went on my way.

I used to love learning about history when I was younger and it’s baffling that this is the first time I’ve heard about the Whilhelm Gustloff which is one of the worst wartime ship disasters. It’s total loss is greater than the Titanic and Lusitana tragedies combined. The event seems to have become a minor footnote amongst everything else that took place during World War II so I’m glad this book exists as a way to counteract that.

Salt To The Sea is told through four different perspectives: Florian who is fleeing from his dark deeds, Joana who is a nurse, Emilia who is a young pregnant girl, and Alfred who is a German solider. Each of these points of view worked perfectly in showing the realities of war and showcasing different stories of civilians just trying to make it out alive. When it comes to stories of war, I feel like it’s too easy to forget the innocent people trapped in the middle. Out of the four characters the reader follows directly, Alfred was the most interesting as he was working for Hitler. He was determined to prove his worth, earn a medal, and genuinely believed that he was on the right side of history.

The book is incredibly brutal. When the plot reaches its climax there is no escape from the death and graphic descriptions of people jumping from the ship in a desperate attempt to survive, no way to get past the images of bodies floating in water. But to downplay those elements would do this book, and history, a massive disservice. While the characters themselves are fictionalised and inspired by Ruta sepetys research, knowing that this tragedy really happened was almost impossible to fathom.

The only real grip I had with this book is the chapters. The reader is following each character for three pages at most before another one steps up which makes it really hard to care entirely for the characters or really get a full sense of who they are.

Salt To The Sea is heart wrenching but shines a light on an important, forgotten part of history.

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review

Notes On A Nervous Planet – Matt Haig

“I had already written about my mental health in Reasons To Stay Alive. But the question now was not: why should I stay alive? The question this time was a broader one: how can we live in a mad world without ourselves going mad?”

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Trigger warning: talks of suicide

My first exposure to Matt Haig was when one of his tweets about anxiety appeared on My Twitter timeline. I followed him and have done ever since but it’s only recently that I started to delve into his books.

Notes On A Nervous Planet is the second of haig’s books that I have picked up but it is the first non-fiction of his. In this book, Matt Haig talks candidly about his panic disorder, anxiety disorder, depression and suicide attempt. While the he bounces around other topics, these in particular can be quite difficult to read so if you feel you may be triggered, take this book at your own pace.

He focuses a lot on how the modern day world seems to demand more from us and that, as a result, our lives have become cluttered and It’s far too easy to have more things to worry about; especially as the development of technology allows us to stay plugged in to the wider world.

I found it very comforting to read about his struggles with anxiety as it reinforced the knowledge that I am not alone in my own anxiety disorder. He offers lots of tips on how to control negative thoughts and worries in a “nervous planet” and offers metaphors of what he feels like to have this illness which just resonated so well and have given me a way to explain to others exactly what it feels like to have my mind.

He also touches on the pressure of men in society from body image to emotional connection to suicide statistics. It was important to see this highlight as to not be “men too” but… well men too.

Notes On A Nervous Planet has provided lots of food for thought and techniques to try for focusing on what I can control and not getting stressed out over the things I can’t.

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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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