BOOK REVIEWS

Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins

Her Royal Highness is the book equivalent of cotton candy: fluffy and sweet. This was an exceedingly cute, occasionally silly, and thoroughly enjoyable f/f romance. Her Royal Highness is escapist fiction at its finest.

Her Royal Highness is an easy read that delivers a sweet romance between two very different girls: we have Millie, an aspiring geologist who is rather down-to-earth, and Flora, an actual princess. The two end up being roommates at an exclusive school in Scotland…and well, their first impression of each other isn’t great. But as they spend more time together sparks begin to fly…Their relationship is a light take on the enemies to lovers trope. The story mostly focuses on their romance, so readers who were hoping to see more of the school might find this a bit lacking on that front. But if you are looking for to read a fun f/f romance (with ‘royal’ drama) look no further!
PS: I didn’t read the previous book and that didn’t really hinder my overall enjoyment.


my rating: ★★★½

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Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

This novel proved to be the perfect ‘escape’ read. While I may not have been enamoured by every single book I’ve read by Libba Bray (the finales to her series left me a wee bit unsatisfied) I do consider her to be an amazing writer and a favourite of mine. Usually, however, her books are in the realms of the ‘historical’, so I wasn’t sure what to except from Beauty Queens, I just knew that after watching a certain series I fancied a Lord of the Flies kind of tale (with a female ensemble). And wow…Bray sure delivered. Beauty Queens was everything I didn’t know I wanted. This is the kind of satirical teen comedy that will definitely appeal to fans of classics such as Heathers, But I’m a Cheerleader, and Mean Girls. The story, writing, and characters are all over the top in the best possible of ways. This is the funniest book I’ve read in 2020.

Beauty Queens begins with ‘the Corporation’ addressing us readers, “This story is brought to you by The Corporation: Because Your Life Can Always Be Better™. We at The Corporation would like you to enjoy this story, but please be vigilant while reading”. We are also told to keep vigilant as the story we are about to read may have some ‘subversive’ content. Throughout the novel there are footnotes by ‘the Corporation’, sometimes advertising ridiculous products and sometimes professing distaste or disapproval over a certain scene.
The novel mainly follows nine beauty queens contestants who after surviving a plane crash that killed the majority of the other contestants (one for each state) find themselves on a seemingly deserted island. Rather than focusing on two or three contestants, Bray gives each of these nine beauty queens a backstory (I think only three contestants do not receive this treatment). We start with Adina, Miss New Hampshire, an aspiring journalist who joined the contest only to expose how misogynistic it is. At first Adina is snarky and not a great team player. Although she calls herself a feminist she has very ‘fixed’ notion of feminism, and her relationship with the other contestants will slowly challenge her previous views (on the contest itself, on liking thinks deemed ‘girly’,etc.). She immediately takes against Taylor, Miss Texas, the ‘leader’ of the surviving beauty queens. Taylor insists that they should keep practicing their routines for the contest as she believes that help is on the way. Taylor is badass, and I definitely enjoyed her character arc (which definitely took her down an unexpected path). We then have many other entertaining and compelling beauty queens: Mary Lou, who becomes fast friends with Adina in spite of their seemingly opposing views when it comes to sex; Nicole, the only black contestant, who wants to be a doctor but has been time and again been pressured into contests by her mother; participating as the only black contestant faces racism from the contest itself and the her peers; Shanti, an Indian American girl from California, who initially sees Nicole as ‘competition’ but as time goes by finds that she is only who understands how challenging it can be to navigate predominately white spaces; Petra, a level-headed girl who faces a different kind of prejudice; Jennifer, a queer girl who loves comics and has often been deemed a ‘troubled kid’; Sosie, who is deaf and always feels that she has to be happy in order to make others feel more ‘comfortable’; and, last but not least, Tiara, who at first seems like a comedic character, the ditzy or dumb blonde, but who soon proves that she is a very empathetic girl.
The girls don’t always get on with one another. In spite of their different backgrounds, interests, and temperaments, they have all been made to feel inadequate or ‘too much’.
As if surviving a deserted island wasn’t difficult enough a certain corporation is running some secret operation not far from the girls’ camp. Throw in some pirates/reality show contestants and there you have it.
Bray satirises everything under the sun: reality shows, beauty contests, pop culture, beauty products, corporations. While some of her story’s elements may be a bit ‘problematic’ in 2020, her satire never came across as mean spirited. In the end this is a story about acceptance and female solidarity. Bray shows all the ways in which society pressures and controls teenage girls, allowing for diverse perspectives and voices. Most of all, this novel is hilarious. Bray handles her over the top storyline and characters perfectly.
What more can I say (or write)? I loved it. This is the kind of uplifting read I would happily re-read.

my rating: ★★★★☆

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A Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier — book review

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“One thing was for sure: This Christmas was going to be anything but boring.”

A Castle in the Clouds is the book equivalent of cotton candy. Fluffy, sickly sweet, and somewhat insubstantial. Nevertheless, with its Clue meets Scooby Doo story this latest novel by Kerstin Gier makes for an entertaining, if silly, read.

A Castle in the Clouds follows the misadventures of Sophie Spark, a high-school drop out who is working as an intern at a grand hotel in the Swiss mountains. The hotel is no longer considered the luxury location it used to be. Many finds its traditional decor to be outdated and the general lack of modernity to be a nuisance. Sophie however enjoys the atmosphere of the place and it is only when she is assigned the role of babysitter that she begins to feel discontented. In preparation of the Christmas holidays the owners have also hired a lot of additional staff which includes three girls who enjoy bullying and belittling Sophie. It is the arrival of two handsome boys (one of which happens to be son of one of the owner’s) and some possibly mysterious guests that enliven Sophie’s life.
We have oligarchs, missing diamonds, possible kidnappers, some possible spies, a best-selling author, a bodyguard, and a lot of secrets.
Sophie embarks on a Nancy Drew type of investigation which sees her spying on staff, guests, and trying her best to prevent any shenanigans from ruining the hotel’s reputation and/or possibly risking both her job and life.

There was a fun mix of characters. Perhaps some of them should have been introduced at different times rather than bombarding with a lost list of names with no clear indication on who’s-who. While some of them were definitely cartoonish, it was interesting to see that there were quite a few who were not quite what they seemed.
Sophie perhaps encountered a few too many mishaps in her ‘investigation’. She was ‘act first, think later’ type of narrator. I appreciated the fact that she was a high-school drop out (in that so often YA books are all about the importance of high school and college) and that she was unsure on what exactly she wants to do in the future. She was naive, a bit clumsy, and fairly amusing.
The other teenage girls were….to be honest, I am a bit tired of this type of girl-on-girl hate. Only the quiet introverted teenage guest is nice to Sophie. Her new colleagues and the other rich American girls are awful. They are catty, coquettish, cruel, and vapid (really?!). There could have been a bit more variety in their personality and in their behaviour towards Sophie.
The two love interests were…okay. They were the least interesting characters in the story. They were good-looking and sort of nice to Sophie. To be honest, the romance felt very insta-lovey and this whole love triangle was unnecessary.
I also could have done without the creepy child with psychopathic tendencies (I forgot his name, but if you’ve read this you know who I mean). He was annoying and unrealistic.

The setting was the most interesting aspect of this book. Hotels have this ‘holiday/unreal’ quality that makes them the ideal locations of mysteries and romances. I liked reading about the staff and their routines. That this story takes place in the winter holidays adds a certain atmosphere to whole narrative.
The tone of this book was a bit weird in that it constantly switches from being rather juvenile to a more YA type of story. Still, for the most part I did enjoy the novel’s humour and surprising self-awareness (there were even some metafictional moments).
All in all, in spite of its flaws A Castle in the Clouds makes for a cozy winter read.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.25 stars

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Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin — book review

Emergency-Skin-by-N.K.-Jemisin.jpgNow this is how you write a great short story.
There is a reason why many, me included, regard N.K. Jemisin as one of the best speculative fiction writers out there it’s because of stories such as this one.
One of her greatest strengths is her ability to use innovative writing perspectives in such a compelling way. In Emergency Skin she once again masterfully utilises the second person point of view.
The narrative never lets us see through the eyes of the explorer himself and we follow the progress of him mission thanks to the running commentary of his ‘ancestors’ that thanks to some advanced form of technology are able to give him directions and orders. They refer to him as ‘you’, answer to his questions and or comments, and attempt to command his every action. Time and again they remind him that the successful completion of his mission will result in his earning his skin. Because yes, the explorer comes from a society that considers skin a privilege that only a few should have.
Things do not go as planned as the explorer, much to his ancestors chagrin, discovers that the planet Earth isn’t the rusty shell he was it would be.
The vivid narrative and intriguing storyline immediately grabbed my attention. Although speculative in nature there many aspects that make this short story quite topical. Jemisin manages to comment on the behaviour of a certain group of people without turning her story into a didactic one. Her organic storytelling allows her to work within her story a discussion and interrogation regarding our world’s current state of affair…and in some ways one could see this story as a cautionary tale of sorts as it presents us with some of the worst aspects of our society. There are plenty of clever and thoughtful arguments within Emergency Skin which is why I would be happy to read this again.
This is yet another example of Jemisin’s rich imagination.

I listened to the audiobook edition narrated by Jason Isaacs, actor best known for portraying the imperious Lucius Malfoy….and maybe that’s why his voice perfectly lends itself to that of the ancestors. What a terrific narrator!

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4 stars

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Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie — book review

51wWO72YhvL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis was a light and entertaining read perfect for a warm summer day.
Christie must have had fun writing the character of Mrs Boynton, an oppressive and tyrannical matriarch who wouldn’t be out of place in a story by Shirley Jackson. The hatred that Mrs Boynton’s children nurture for their mother seems understandable…and I doubt that any reader will find themselves saddened by her death. Poirot, as per usual, happens to be in the vicinity and, unlike the readers, is unwilling to let the murderer go…
Christie’s portrays Mrs Boynton in a vivid and dramatic way, and it often in the scenes in which she is spoken of, where she does not feature directly, that we see how terrifying a person she is. Her children, although they fear and resent her, are mere puppets in her hands.
However, even if I enjoyed reading this novel, this is one of the few cases were I preferred ITV’s adaptation…perhaps because they change the identity and motive of the murderer, which in the novel feel somewhat unsatisfying

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.25 stars stars

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I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella — book review

Ive-got-your-number-PB-REI (1).jpgMy favourite “guilty pleasure” read. I say guilty because there is a lot that could be criticised about a book such as this. Yet, I’m always able to fully immerse myself in Poppy’s misadventures so much so that I feel 100% invested in her story.
Kinsella’s sense of humour is as per usual one of the immediate ‘hooks’ of her novels. Poppy’s ‘ring-crisis’ and ‘phone-crisis’ offer plenty of amusing and entertaining scenes. There are also an abundance of awkward moments, often involving Poppy’s interactions with her future in-laws, as well as a series of mishaps and misunderstandings. Another thing that I love about this book is that the connection and intimacy between Sam and Poppy is caused by their ‘mutual’ phone…
Although Poppy repeatedly intervenes in Sam’s work (and private) life she is called out on her ‘fix you’ behaviour (and is served a taste of her own medicine when she finds herself under Sam’s scrutiny).
This is a book that always cheers me up. It has humour, romance, and makes for the perfect ‘pick me up’ read.

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The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz — book review

The Word Is Murder offers readers a mixture of old and new.
The prose and murder-mystery are heavily reminiscent of Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey, whom are often referred as the most prominent golden age detective fiction writers. What is innovative about The Word Is Murder is that it blurs the line 9780062676788_custom-7786acbfe35f1fe03f3898d44d248ca8035f2f4b-s400-c85.jpgbetween fiction and non-fiction as the protagonist and narrator of the novel is Anthony Horowitz himself. While Daniel Hawthorne, the murder victim, and the ‘suspects’ are fictive characters, there are quite a lot of real people in the story.

Another thing that made this ‘whodunnit’ interesting is that Hawthorne, a former police detective, is not a nice person. Holmes and Poirot, in spite of their peculiarities, are likeable characters. Hawthorne, as Horowitz often points out, is a rather rude man, and readers too will find the detective’s closed-off manner and barely concealed homophobia hard to digest. Yet, even if we do not like him, it would be foolish to deny his great detective skills (he is incredibly observant) and in the end, although irked by many of his qualities and opinions, I found myself rooting for him.
Not only does Horowitz find himself ‘assisting’ a man he dislikes in what could or could not be a murder investigation but he also has to write about it so he often reminiscence about his writing and creating process. In doing so, Horowitz also paints an amusing picture of the publishing and literary world.

This novel combines two of my favourite things: a whodunnit nestled in a book about books. An amusing investigation that isn’t as predictable as readers are initially led to believe.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 because the audiobook edition is superbly narrated)

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The True Queen (Sorcerer Royal #2) : Book Review

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The True Queen
by Zen Cho
★★★★✰ 4.5 stars

Now this is what I call a great companion novel.

“Relations are a terrible burden to a girl with magical ability.”

It’s not easy to describe this series. A mad fantasy romp? A comedy of manners? A fantasy of manners? A pastiche 18th– and 19th-century literature? Fun quests?
I strongly recommend reading Sorcerer to the Crown before embarking on this one. I actually think I enjoyed this novel more because I started this knowing more about Zen Cho’s style and magical world.

The story focuses on Muna and her sister, Sakti, both of whom have lost their memory. Waking up after a storm they remember only their names and that they are sisters. The two travel from the island of Janda Baik (where Sakti is trained by the powerful witch Mak Genggang) to England. Sakti however is spirited away during their shortcut through the unseen realm (aka fairyland), and Muna arrives alone to England.
Here we are reunited with familiar faces such as the Sorceress Royal (Prunella!), her husband, Zacharias Whyte, and Henrietta Stapleton (a schoolmate of Prunella).
The novel follows different characters, and Cho easily waves together their different storylines. Muna remains the central figure of the story and I was utterly absorbed by her determination to rescue her sister.
Along the way she will have to lie (something she doesn’t like to do), adapt to a society which is not friendly towards women practicing magic or foreigners (more than a few ‘respectable’ members of the British society refer to her as a ‘native’), trick a number of magical creatures, and forge an unexpected friendship (which might blossom into something more).

Cho’s pays incredible attention to etiquette and modes of behaviour. She includes a lot of archaic English words (mumchance might be a new favourite) and really brings to life the old British empire without romanticising it. Yes, her world is enchanting but the society she focuses on has very conservative social mores (our protagonists are judged on the basis of their ethnicity, race, sex, and class). Yet, it isn’t all gloom and doom! Quite the opposite in fact. Humour and wit underline this narrative and I was smiling throughout.

Do you know that food must only speak when it is spoken to?

Cho combines different mythologies and folklores creating a unique compendium of magical beings and traditions: there are fairies, dragons, lamias, vampiresses, as well as Malaysian spirits and supernatural beings such as a weretigers, bunians, and polongs. The unseen realm is richly imagined and I loved the parts set in it (those scenes gave me strong Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland vibes).

The more the polong said, the less reassured Muna felt. “But are not spirits famously changeable?”
“I will have you know that is an offensive generalisation,” said the polong. “No one could accuse me of inconstancy.

The way in which magic works in Cho’s world is just as interesting as I remembered (more cloud-riding, yay!).
The characters were another delightful aspect to this story. Regardless of their standing (wherever they were old fogeys or angry dragons) they were portrayed in an almost endearing way. Muna was probably my favourite character. I loved the way she looked up to Mak Genggang, her bond with her sister, her sense of duty, her sheer determination…

This is escapist fiction at its best. It provided me with a brilliant story, an interesting mystery, magic, funny mishaps, balls, a dash of romance, and non-stop entertainment.

“When I have mislaid my things, murder is not my first course of action,” said Prunella. “What I do is look for them—and quite often I find them.”

One of my favourite scenes features a depressed dragon:

“No one ever saw a longer face on a dragon.
He had never been overly fond of the usual draconic pursuits and in the circumstances they lost all their savour.
At most he might dutifully pick off a unicorn that had wandered away from its herd, but he had not the heart to finish devouring the carcass before his appetite failed him. ”

Another brilliant scene was when Muna told off a bunch of rude fossils paintings:

“I am a guest in your country, I am entitled to your hospitality, and instead you hoot like monkeys. You dishonour your white hair by your conduct. Men so old should know better!”

My review of Sorcerer to the Crown.

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Lock Every Door : Book Review

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Lock Every Door
 by Riley Sager
★★★✰✰ 3 stars

This is the book equivalent of popcorn. If you are looking for a gripping plot-driven story, look no further.

I think that the best thing about Lock Every Door is that it is an entertaining read. The action takes place over the course of a few days which gives the plot a really engrossing edge.
That being said (or written) I don’t think that this book is a deep or thought-provoking mystery/thriller. I thought it was a lot of fun and I did find the story suspenseful but the writing itself was rather sparse…most of the scenes are there to further the plot and they don’t really give you much insight in the main character’s mind (she is the classic ‘traumatic past+quiet’ type that is all the rage in these new thrillers) and a few of her observations regarding her finances seemed aimed towards readers who aren’t aware of what being poor means. If not disingenuous they seemed simplistic and a bit contrived.
The rest of the characters were cartoonish, but hey, I actually love the old Scooby-doo series so… I didn’t much mind. They are not believable, they do not talk like realistic individuals but the story doesn’t dwell on these side-characters too much.
There are a few things that happen which make little sense in hindsight and I think that they were there only to keep up the ‘suspense’ : (view spoiler)
The reveal was a bit over-the-top but I enjoyed seeing how things unfolded. Again, ultimately, I wasn’t fond of the blatant portrayal of the divide between rich and poor. The discourse on wealth seemed to me oversimplified and exaggeratedly dichotomous. Having the MC think of herself as ‘frugal’ for ordering a salad doesn’t quite cut it…(especially since salads tend to be more expensive and less filling that many other dishes…)
Also, there is this side-story involving the MC’s parents which (view spoiler)

A few positives: I liked the building (its history, the MC’s apartment—with its creepy wallpaper and stunning view—and the gargoyles, they all stood out), I was intrigued by long list of ‘tragedies’ connected to it and by the mystery behind Ingrid’s disappearance.

Overall, this makes for a great edge-of-your-seat book. If you try to make sense of the things that happen…well you might have a hard time buying into any it.

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