Wednesday 8 August 2018

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

35660304Title: The Cactus
Author: Sarah Haywood
Format: Hardback
Source: Received from the publisher for an honest review
Pages: 384
Rating: 5/5

People aren't sure what to make of Susan Green - a prickly independent woman, who has everything just the way she wants it and who certainly has no need for messy emotional relationships.
Family and colleagues find her stand-offish and hard to understand, but Susan makes perfect sense to herself, and that's all she needs.
At forty-five, she thinks her life is perfect, as long as she avoids her feckless brother, Edward - a safe distance away in Birmingham. She has a London flat which is ideal for one; a job that suits her passion for logic; and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other, more intimate, benefits.
Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan's greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control.
When she discovers that her mother's will inexplicably favours her brother, Susan sets out to prove that Edward and his equally feckless friend Rob somehow coerced this dubious outcome. But when problems closer to home become increasingly hard to ignore, she finds help in the most unlikely of places.
This sparkling debut is a breath of fresh air with real heart and a powerful emotional punch. In Susan we find a character as exasperating and delightful as The Rosie Project's Don Tillman. An uncompromising feminist and a fierce fighter, it's a joy to watch her bloom.

This is one of the weirdest reviews to write. Because I loved this book, wholeheartedly. But it's like nothing I've ever read before. And not in a completely-baffling-Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole kinda way. But just, I have never read a character with the perspective Susan had who at the same time felt super relatable. This line from the blurb massively resonates with me and describes my whole experience with the book, "Susan makes perfect sense to herself, and that's all she needs." - you go Susan. You understand and love yourself you perfect little Cactus.

At the beginning of the story I was unsure if I could like Susan. She comes across as very unfeeling and hard but the more I read the more I came to love that about her. And no, this isn't a "oh but she was soft inside the whole time" kind of character progression. Susan's way of seeing the world is so uniquely hers and wonderful and I would never have wanted that to change. Instead I enjoyed watching as she made room for the people in her life, never compromising who she was or her own beliefs, but widening her social circle and allowing herself to believe that sometimes (not often but sometimes) she might not be in the right. This makes the friendships and the romance in the story that bit more affecting, for me at least, because the end result could not have been more perfect or more Susan. 

Plot wise there is a lot of legalese going on that went right over my head. I couldn't challenge a will if I wanted to because I would simply have no idea what I was doing. Susan's situation was one I could really feel for, as much as the reader (often) has to disagree with what she is doing, I could never deny her integrity or her willingness to stand up for what she thought was right. The ultimate reveal of the core of her reasoning was also so touching, in a way I'm sure Susan would not appreciate - I nearly cried, and I just constantly wanted to reach into the book and hug childhood Susan. 

I've mentioned on Sunday Posts previously how much this review kept getting rewritten over and over as I struggled to get across just how much I loved and related to this book. And I still can't. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to explain it. I'm about as different from Susan as it's possible to be, and my life is a polar opposite of hers - and yet the whole way through I completely felt like I understood her. 

Perhaps the real beauty of this story is that it's relatable to everyone. No matter how much, or how little, you have in common with Susan at first glance - you can't help being drawn into her life. And if that isn't enough to convince you to read this then there is a truly, truly hilarious discussion between Susan and the father of her unborn child about visitation rights that I fully lost my mind over. Susan filled me with delight and is hands down my favourite book character of 2018 so far. 

Monday 6 August 2018

Dual Blogger Dual Blogging (Or Am I Going Crazy?)

Back in March I took the massive decision to join my friends over at The Regal Critiques as a co-blogger. Co-blogging has always made sense to me. I need that support! And I massively underestimated how difficult it would be (and rewarding by the way). My blogging output has increased in quality but decreased massively in quantity and at the moment my goal is to find a balance. Meanwhile, I've developed a totally different writing style over at The Regal Critiques than I have here. Both are authentically me and both reflect my thoughts and personality but in such different ways that I have confused myself on occasions! Also - different fonts and post layouts, different schedules. I'm an easily confused gal. 

None of this is by any means a bad thing. Back when I first started blogging my reading took a significant drop. If you look back through my goodreads challenges the time before blogging had me reading frankly ridiculous amounts of books that I can't even comprehend right now. And sometimes, yeah, I miss being able to just zip through books like that. But then I think how much more I enjoy books now - how much I love discussing them with people who love books as much as I do. How much I enjoy just slowly reading a book and then fangirling online about why and how I love it. 

For me this new blogging experience is similar. I sometimes feel like a failure because I'm not posting every day like I did a year ago. But my life has changed since then, my responsibilities have changed and I've opened myself up to new experiences. So as guilty as I feel (and will continue to feel for a while probably) about dividing my time between two blogs I'm slowly coming to realise - I love both blogs, I love both versions of "me" that I express between them. And I love how proud I am of every post I do now. Even if those posts are so very much fewer than they once were.

Being a co-blogger on two blogs is challenging in a million different ways - all of which probably deserve a whole separate post - but it's so much more rewarding and exciting. And hey, me and Ann have now thrown our YouTube channel into the mix (subscribe to Dual Reads if you're interested) so that's three blogs. I'm definitely over-ambitious and probably a little crazy. But I absolutely love it. 

What is the biggest blogging challenge you've taken on and how do you feel about it now? Or what challenge do you want to take on and what's holding you back? 

Friday 3 August 2018

What I Want to Read in August!!

As always when making a TBR there is about a 90% chance that I wont read anything on this list... But I do love making plans and maybe - maybe - this'll be the time I actually stick to those plans? I can hope right??


I'm feeling particularly anxious at the moment so to save myself any added anxiety I'm reading alphabetically this month (or that's the plan anyway). It sounds dumb but ordering everything in my life sometimes helps with making me less anxious? I don't understand it either but so long as it works! Plus some of these have been on my TBR for a while (the Bear and the Nightingale) and I'm excited for all of them! 

If you've read any of these, let me know what you thought of them? And do you have any tactics for choosing your next read or do you just pick whatever interests you in the moment?

Sunday 22 July 2018

Sunday Post 22nd July 2018

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted at Caffeinated Book Reviewer, it's a chance to post a recap on the past week, show the books we have received and share what we plan for the coming week. Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga's Reviews and Reading Reality and the aim is to show our newest books and to see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops or downloaded on to their e-reader.

In just four short days Ann and I will be on a train heading to London for this years YALC! We had so much fun there last year and are both excited to go back (although also terrified - but when aren't we?), we will be vlogging as much of it as we can so keep an eye on our YouTube Channel for that. If you're also going to be at YALC let me know so we can freak out together! 

Last Week:

Books We Got This Week:

31570825CampfireThe Legend of Greg33382313
I cant even decide which of these I am most excited for. Possibly Campfire? I love horror movies and I am forever looking for books that grab me the same way. I've never yet found one though so hopefully this will be it! Competence I am also crazy excited for because I adore Gail Carriger and I love these characters so much. 

Reading Update:

And I Darken by Kiersten White: 4 stars, I wasn't as blown away by this as I wanted to be. Nobody was quite as brutal as I wanted (although Lada in the first half of the book was incredible). But I didn't like any of the side characters and just wanted Lada and Radu to overthrow everyone together. I get the feeling that's not where the series goes though which is sad. 

Sunday 15 July 2018

Sunday Post 15th July 2018

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted at Caffeinated Book Reviewer, it's a chance to post a recap on the past week, show the books we have received and share what we plan for the coming week. Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga's Reviews and Reading Reality and the aim is to show our newest books and to see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops or downloaded on to their e-reader.

Last Week on the Blog:

Books We Got This Week:

Bright We Burn (The Conqueror's Saga, #3)
I'm technically on a book buying ban because we're off to YALC in under two weeks now and I will obviously be spending every penny I have up there! But I am buddy reading the And I Darken series so getting Bright We Burn was just sense!! 

Reading Update:

The Cactus
The Cactus by Sarah Haywood: 4 stars, My review for this will go up next week but I keep rewriting it because the more I think about it the more I love this book. The protagonist is unlike anyone I've read (or known) before and the whole tone is so unique and wonderful. 

Friday 13 July 2018

Storm Raven by K. Hanson

Storm Raven (Storm Raven, #1)Title: Storm Raven
Author: K. Hanson
Series: Storm Raven #1
Source: Received from author for an honest review
Format: Paperback
Pages: 293
Rating: 4.5/5
Blurb: Captain Nereyda and her first mate, Brynja, lead a band of pirates as they seek out grand adventures and loot vulnerable merchant ships. However, when they attempt an overly ambitious raid, Nereyda and her crew are captured by Commander Erhan of the Imperial navy and separated. Nereyda is pressed into service aboard a ship to patrol the treacherous waters of the Shattered Sea. Meanwhile, Brynja and the rest of the crew are sent to a life of hellish labor deep in an Imperial mining prison camp.
While serving her sentence, Nereyda is shipwrecked on an unknown island. As she explores it, she stumbles into some ancient ruins and finds…something. Whatever it is, it wakes a part of Nereyda that she had not felt before. Something that could help her free the rest of her crew and return to life on the sea, if only she can learn to control it. Unfortunately, Commander Erhan is also on the island. Nereyda must escape him, get off of the island, and rescue her crew before the commander can stop her and before her crew withers away in the oppressive mines.

This might just be the Pirate story I was hoping for. Nereyda was seriously badass and the sections we had of her with her crew were such pirate-y goodness. I was sad that wasn't the whole book, but  we must have a plot and it was a good one. 

The introduction of magic should have felt sudden but it kinda worked within the progression of the story. It helps that Nereyda didn't have instant mastery of her powers, nor did she even really believe in them for a bit there. I half expected, from the blurb, that she would go full Mother-of-Dragons and single handedly storm the prisons. That didn't happen. Instead we got a lot of the things that I love. Ship-wrecked on an island, magical temples, pirates, prison-breaks. And betrayal. 

The sections within the mines themselves were a bit unbearable for me. I'm extremely claustrophobic to the point where some books and films become completely unfinishable for me because they take place in confined spaces. Whilst I struggled with those sections, they were broken up by bits on the sea and in open air battle so that I was able to, metaphorically speaking, take a breath. The characters themselves didn't get that chance however and my heart broke for Nereyda's crew who were left underground whilst she struggled her way back to help them escape. 

Brynja in particular is a difficult character to think about. Because I am so mad at her. She is twisted and hurt by the mines more than anyone and in her efforts to protect them she ends up doing some horrible things. And I understand her reasons but I can't help being mad at her. At the same time, I felt her resentment towards Nereyda who had a much easier time of it when imprisoned on board a ship. It wasn't fair and I felt that injustice properly. 

I genuinely loved this book. More than I expected to. I felt everything that the characters felt. To the point where it became uncomfortable reading because I felt their guilt or their fear. I adored Nereyda and need more of her in my life and I am so desperate to see where their story goes next. And also if Erhan could just disappear that'd be grand. Thanks. 

I'm so glad I read this book, and I am now very much looking forward to finding a chance to read the sequel! Many thanks to the author for sending me a copy for an honest review! 

Wednesday 11 July 2018

Series Review: The Young Elites by Marie Lu

The Young Elites (The Young Elites, #1)The Rose Society (The Young Elites, #2)The Midnight Star (The Young Elites, #3)

Firstly, this is a series I've been looking forward to reading for a long time. I'm a huge fan of anti-heroes and this sounded like it would go one better and give me a villain perspective to root for. It didn't quite deliver as much as I wanted it to - mostly because the third book felt like a let down to the whole series. 

Adelina was such a well written character. She started off damaged and hurting (but yes a little bit brutal) and then over the course of the books she grew so much and it was so much fun to watch. By the end of the first book she has been rejected and betrayed over and over and it finally takes its toll on her, erasing that last bit of "I want to help" that she had in her and forging a self-interest that was extremely compelling to watch. I think I related to this so strongly because I was bullied in school and there were so many times I wanted to turn around and say "screw this" and go full evil queen. I never did (thankfully) and instead took the opposite route but I could have been this. And that's what makes Adelina so compelling. She is a villain we can understand, can get inside of. And that makes her actions so much more disturbing. 

Side characters weren't as exciting. Violetta, Adelina's sister, was downright boring for me. She was very much written to be the opposite of Adelina but this wasn't executed in an effective enough way and the tension between them came out of nowhere and then had very little impact on the story. The only side character I grew truly attached to was Magiano (who was an absolute delight) but he wasn't present in the first book and didn't get nearly enough action in the second and third either - he deserved better dammit. 

For the most part though the first two books were the villain origin story I've always wanted and if it had been left there I would have been happy. But the third book came along to throw a redemptive arc in there and some truly baffling mythology (that unless I'm super dense wasn't in the rest of the series) and it threw the whole experience off for me. By now it's pretty obvious that I love villains. And I really hoped that this would be my one fully unapologetic villain. But instead Marie Lu explained away Adelina's actions by having them be caused by events outside her control. And then she and all her enemies went on a trip to the underworld that, frankly, I didn't fully understand. 

I feel like this was a problem I had with the Legend series as well in that I just do not get on with Lu's endings. I like endings that are one thing or another. Happy or sad. Closed or unclosed. Marie Lu writes endings that are trying to be both happy and sad and closed and unclosed and I just can't wrap my tiny brain around it. I still think this was an excellent series. And I love what the first two books gave me. I'm just going to do my best to forget the third book happened. 

Monday 9 July 2018

Ann Reviews: Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

Daughter of the Siren Queen (Daughter of the Pirate King, #2)Title: Daughter of the Siren Queen
Author: Tricia Levenseller
Series: Daughter of the Pirate King #2
Format: Hardback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 352
Blurb: Alosa's mission is finally complete. Not only has she recovered all three pieces of the map to a legendary hidden treasure, but the pirates who originally took her captive are now prisoners on her ship. Still unfairly attractive and unexpectedly loyal, first mate Riden is a constant distraction, but now he's under her orders. And she takes great comfort in knowing that the villainous Vordan will soon be facing her father's justice.

When Vordan exposes a secret her father has kept for years, Alosa and her crew find themselves in a deadly race with the feared Pirate King. Despite the danger, Alosa knows they will recover the treasure first . . . after all, she is the daughter of the Siren Queen.

This book was one of my most anticipated releases of 2018 and it is now also one of my favourite books that I have read so far this year. I loved almost everything about this book especially the main character Alosa. 

The plot of Daughter of the Siren Queen was amazing, it followed right on from the ending of the previous book Daughter of the Pirate King which I loved a lot. The story developed at a really good pace for me and didn't just rush the ending of the story in the last one hundred pages, it gave hints towards the ending throughout the book so that I could kind of figure out what was going to happen without ruining the tension.

One of my favourite parts of this book is the main character, Alosa, who develops as a character a lot more than I thought she did in Daughter of the Pirate King, as she comes out from the control of her father, she begins to change and adapt a little bit more. She is the kind of character that I read about and wish I could be more like. The other character that I loved a lot was Riden, who is Alosa's love interest in both books and their romance develops more in this book. I love how their relationship changes from hate to love while they still have the joking and mean ways they speak to each other sometimes. I don't personally know if the author is writing another follow on book but I would love another book that focuses more on Alosa and Riden and their relationship developing more and Alosa building her own identity and pirate crew.

I personally believe that this book flowed more easily than some other books and I managed to read it in about 2 days while also studying for exams, it also managed to help me get myself out of my reading slump that I was in when I was reading this book. 

Overall, I would definitely recommend reading this book, especially if you have read and enjoyed the first book; Daughter of the Pirate King. This book is probably my favourite book that I have read so far this year and I know want to read more books that feature female pirates as I loved this character so much.