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REVIEW: In the Ravenous Dark by A.M. Strickland

REVIEW: In the Ravenous Dark by A.M. Strickland

First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Hodder & Stoughton, for accepting my request to read and review this title via NetGalley. In the Ravenous Dark is an ambitious standalone fantasy novel focused on life, death and love. Rovan has 

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I want more like

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I want more like

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about books I’ve loved that I want to read more like. Whether that’s more from the same author, the same genre or a certain theme in the 

REVIEW: The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

REVIEW: The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Wildfire for accepting my request to read and review this book via NetGalley.

The best way to describe The Perfect Girlfriend is ‘a wild ride’. This adult thriller novel follows a woman called Juliette, who decides to become an air hostess. One simple thing has inspired her to begin a new career: her ex-boyfriend, Nate, is one of the pilots she’ll be working with.

Juliette knows she’s the perfect girlfriend, she just needs to remind Nate of how magical their relationship was. He accused her of being too intense, so she plays it cool and doesn’t let him know that she’s working for the airline until she’s already been employed for a few months. Surely he’ll see how easy and breezy she is if she’s been working at his airline for that long without approaching him? Nate asked for space, and Juliette is giving him that.

However, Juliette has many more tricks up her sleeve to ensure that her and Nate are together forever. Becoming an air hostess is simply step one in a much bigger plan…

The first half of The Perfect Girlfriend is slow. Because Juliette is watching Nate from a distance for so long the story meanders into ruminations on their relationship, making the pace slow and giving the plot no propulsion. It’s interesting reading more about the life of an air hostess – particularly because I’ve read a review on Goodreads from someone with knowledge of the vocation who says that it’s well-researched and highly accurate – but once you’ve read about one international flight, it gets a bit repetitive.

Things take a huge turn around the 50% mark, and the second half of the novel is impossible to put down. I went from struggling to read a chapter a day to finishing the entire book in a night, despite the fact that it meant I was up until the early hours of the morning. I just couldn’t resist finding out what happened next.

Sadly, the events that occur are a bit disappointing. There’s ‘wild’, and then there’s a thriller like this one, which is so extreme it just becomes silly. It reminded me of the Sweetpea series by C.J. Skuse, so if you loved Rhiannon’s story you’ll become obsessed with Juliette, but I found those novels a bit too bizarre at times.

I won’t go into details because I don’t want to ruin this story, but I can tell you that I didn’t guess anything that happened. Normally I struggle with thrillers because I find them too predictable, but this one was completely out of left field. If the pacing had been consistent I would have rated it a bit higher, but as it is this is a solid three stars.

I hope you enjoyed this review of The Perfect Girlfriend. Thank you so much for visiting The Bumbling Blogger!

See you soon,

Alyce

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REVIEW: The Boy I Am by K.L. Kettle

REVIEW: The Boy I Am by K.L. Kettle

I’ve been struggling to review The Boy I Am since I read it because it’s hard to sum up how I feel about this book, but I’m going to give it one last try. I read The Boy I Am through NetGalley, so a huge 

SERIES REVIEW: D.I. Ray Drake by Mark Hill

SERIES REVIEW: D.I. Ray Drake by Mark Hill

It doesn’t look as though there’s going to be another D.I. Ray Drake novel for a while, so I’ve decided to tell you my thoughts about the first two books in this series in this quick series review post. I’d like to say a huge 

SERIES REVIEW: Once & Future duology by A.R. Capetta and Cory McCarthy

SERIES REVIEW: Once & Future duology by A.R. Capetta and Cory McCarthy

I’ve finally finished Sword in the Stars, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the two books in the Once & Future duology. I’ve already discussed Once & Future over on my Booktube channel, so make sure to check that out as well if you haven’t already!



Before we start, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Rock the Boat, for accepting my request to read and review both books in the Once & Future duology via NetGalley.

The Once & Future duology follows a girl called Ari, who discovers she’s the 42nd reincarnation of King Arthur. Arthur has been caught in a seemingly endless cycle. His soul gets reborn, he discovers Excalibur and frees the sword from the stone, and then he gets tracked down by a Merlin who is growing rapidly and inexplicably younger. When Merlin tracks down Ari he thinks the universe is playing a joke on him. How can his Arthur have been reincarnated as a woman? But Merlin learns not to underestimate Ari when she becomes determined to break the cycle, saving her people from an evil corporation called Mercer and freeing Merlin from his impending childhood.

Along the way, Merlin and Ari find themselves gathering friends who correspond with other key players in the Arthurian legend. Ari’s friend Lam is easily identifiable as Lamarack, while their brother Val is Percival. Merlin’s relief at Ari avoiding Arthur’s legendary heartbreak is short-lived when she reconnects with old flame Gwen, but it comes as no surprise when their love story doesn’t progress smoothly.



Once & Future pleasantly surprised me. My relationship with Arthurian retellings is a fraught one; I’ve despised some of the Arthurian retellings I’ve read, while Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn became a new favourite earlier in the year. Blending medieval elements with a sci-fi setting could have been a disaster, but I enjoyed the first novel in this series a lot. The cast of characters had a lot to do with my enjoyment of the novel. It’s a diverse cast, featuring asexual, pansexual, gay, genderfluid and trans rep, as well as a demiguy (and that’s just the rep I can remember off of the top of my head!). All of the characters were well-crafted, and even though it was a big cast of characters they all felt necessary.

I was disappointed by the bad guy, as the Mercer Administrator doesn’t get much time on the page. The idea of the faceless corporation was more intimidating, but giving the company a leader and making him bland lowered the stakes in this story dramatically.

I will admit that I found it difficult to get into the story at the start. During the first few chapters we follow Ari before she discovers Excalibur, which means there’s no Merlin and no dual perspective. These chapters are the slowest in the entire book, and it takes a while to get the plot moving. I was tempted to DNF the book during this section, but I’m glad that I pushed through it because it really paid off. If you’re looking to read a novel which is fast-paced straight out of the gate, don’t reach for this one just yet!

My favourite section of Once & Future occurs about halfway through the story, when Ari is separated from her friends and they believe that she’s dead. I loved the exploration of grief and the way that different people respond to loss in different ways, and I thought Capetta and McCarthy did a great job of delving into the subject (albeit briefly).

I also really appreciated the conversation between the gang and Merlin when he misgenders Lam. Lam identifies as fluid and uses they/them pronouns, but Merlin explains that he’s used to presuming people’s pronouns based off of the way that they look. The gang correct him, but they forgive him for his mistake and Merlin does his best to prioritise using correct pronouns throughout the rest of the series. It’s a simple conversation to be had, but when so many people still don’t understand terms like genderfluid or non-binary, a small conversation like this can go a long way towards fostering acceptance and understanding.



Having given Once & Future four stars, I was excited to continue the series and see how it all wrapped up in Sword in the Stars. There will be spoilers for events which occur towards the end of book one, so look away now if you haven’t finished the first installment yet!



At the end of Once & Future, Ari and the gang have to make the decision to travel through time to the first Arthurian cycle, back in the days of Camelot. Merlin is still growing rapidly younger, Gwen is pregnant, and Ari’s brother Kay is dead (along with the Mercer Administrator, who has already been replaced).

I was hoping that Sword in the Stars wouldn’t spend too long back in Camelot, but unfortunately they remain there for around half of the book. This slows the pacing down dramatically. It also rips away everything I loved about the first book, because instead of flying around space and exploring the universe – key elements in any sci-fi novel – the book turns into a traditional fantasy, with horseback riding, swordfights and knights galore. I wouldn’t have minded this if I’d been expecting it, but the reason I picked up Once & Future in the first place was because I wanted to read an unconventional Arthurian retelling. Instead, Sword in the Stars gives us a gender swapped Lancelot and a whole load of timeywimey nonsense.

This book thinks it’s smarter than it is. There are lots of concerns about the events of the past changing the events in the future, but even cautious Merlin throws out all of his worries and decides to buddy up with his Old Merlin self in the attempt to fix his backward aging. The justification for all of this is that the gang brought a book of MercersNotes (basically CliffsNotes) about the Arthurian legends back in time with them, so they know they’ve gone wrong if pages start disappearing from the book, giving them ample opportunity to quickly correct the course of the timeline. While I liked that idea, I’m not sure if it would be a foolproof way of ensuring nothing changed, and it hurts my head to think about the implications.

I had some wild and wacky theories about the direction that the second book could take, and basically all of them came true. However, a lot of them were so farfetched that they were barely foreshadowed in the first novel. Contrasting the mystery of the first book with the extremely heavy-handed foreshadowing at the beginning of this installment, a lot of the intrigue about what’s going to happen later in the story is taken away.

My main gripe with Sword in the Stars is that it feels preachy. While Once & Future was diverse and inclusive it didn’t make it too much of a focal point because humanity had progressed enough to be accepting of a variety of sexualities and gender identities, but the return to Camelot makes Capetta and McCarthy really hammer home how dramatically humanity has shifted towards an inclusive mindset. Lam makes the first GSA as evidence that there were queer folk back in medieval times but they weren’t able to be out. While I have no doubts that this was true, surely Lam creating that GSA would change the society into being more open and inclusive, changing history – and therefore the future – in a pretty dramatic way?

The problem is, the people who need to read these statements aren’t the people who will be reading the second novel in an extremely diverse series. If these conversations had been had in the first book – along with the discussion about Lam’s pronouns – they might have had a huge impact, but the people who would benefit from reading discussions like these aren’t likely to pick up the second book in the series if they already had issues with the diversity and representation in the first.

Along with this complaint, there are some smaller issues which also hampered my enjoyment of this story. Ari makes a huge deal about not presuming people’s pronouns, but she does the same thing to a character in Camelot when she sees that they aren’t wearing a dress. Yes, they end up confirming that they identify as trans, but using they/them pronouns until that conversation would have felt more natural to Ari’s character.

There’s also a conversation between Ari and Gwen which left a very bitter taste in my mouth, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it throughout the second half of the novel. Gwen keeps referring to her baby as a girl because she doesn’t want to be responsible for giving birth to the legendary Mordred, who famously kills his father, Arthur. When the baby is born with male genitalia, Gwen muses that the baby might still end up being trans or fluid. I have a huge problem with gender reveal parties because I think the obsession with a child’s gender becomes more important than the fact that they’re healthy.

I can understand the context behind the comment, because if the child does end up being Mordred Gwen becomes directly responsible for both Arthur’s downfall and the start of the cycle that they’ve all been dragged into. However, the fact that this discussion occurs when the baby is less than a couple of hours old – having just been born in a lake in medieval times with no kind of midwives or healthcare personnel around – you’d think Gwen would be more interested in the baby’s health and wellbeing, rather than the possibility of them changing their gender identity later in life. It’s only a small moment, but it really destroyed my enjoyment of the book, and I lost a lot of respect for Gwen’s character because of this comment. Up until that point, she had been my favourite!

In all honesty, I should have DNFed Sword in the Stars. Yes, I struggled to read the first half of Once & Future, but once I got into the flow of the story it was a joy to read and I found myself looking forward to picking it up and re-immersing myself in this world and these characters. However, Sword in the Stars was a chore from beginning to end. It might have been worth the struggle if I’d liked the way the story ended, but it all seemed too convenient.

I ended up giving Sword in the Stars two stars, because I loved this cast of characters and when they finally got back into their time the story did get marginally more satisfactory, but unfortunately this wasn’t the five star I’d been hoping for.



All in all, the Once & Future duology has a stunning first installment, but things fall apart in the second book. I wonder whether this would have been better if the two books had been combined to make one long story, as it might have forced Capetta and McCarthy to cut down some of the slower sections and maintain the quick pace which I enjoyed throughout the first book.

I’ve read one of Cory McCarthy’s novels before – You Were Here – and it was a five star read for me, so I will consider reading more of their work in the future, but I’m starting to think Arthurian retellings just aren’t for me.

Thank you for reading this review. If you’ve read the Once & Future duology and would like to share your thoughts on it, feel free to leave them down in the comments!

See you soon,

Alyce

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BOOK REVIEW: The Water Garden by Louise Soraya Black

BOOK REVIEW: The Water Garden by Louise Soraya Black

First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Muswell Press for sending me an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. Louise Soraya Black’s second novel, The Water Garden, was not at all what I 

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten books I rated too highly

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten books I rated too highly

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. I’m sorry for disappearing for a few weeks! The past few Top Ten Tuesday topics haven’t been inspiring to me, but I’ve also been having a difficult mental health spell and trying to concentrate 

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten most recent reads

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten most recent reads

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is focused on the ten books I’ve read most recently. I’m proud to say that I’ve already reviewed a few of them (for once!), so if you’re interested on my detailed thoughts on any of these books, I’ll link those reviews below.

Sean and I spent April reading the entire YA Book Prize shortlist, so four of the ten books I’ve read most recently were featured on that shortlist. If you’re interested, I did a YA Book Prize reading vlog and then Sean and I uploaded a discussion video where we talked in depth about each of the books on the shortlist, so that could be a fun watch if you have a few hours to spare!

Without further ado, let me shine a spotlight on the ten books I’ve read most recently…

Melt My Heart by Bethany Rutter

Melt My Heart was a five star read for me, and was one of the books I read as part of the YA Book Prize shortlist. Following a girl called Lily Rose who accidentally ends up dating the boy her twin sister is obsessed with, this was everything I wanted from a YA contemporary and more. It’s the perfect coming of age novel, exploring sexuality and body positivity, as well as discussing whether university is really as essential as people think. Featuring great bi rep and a confident and unapologetic fat main character, Melt My Heart makes me wonder whether Bethany Rutter could become one of my favourite authors in time.

Scent by Isabel Costello

I really enjoyed Scent, and gave it four stars. Scent tells the story of a perfumier called Clémentine, who is surprised when her ex-girlfriend turns up in her life over 20 years since they last saw each other. Their relationship ended badly, and the reader gets to see it play out as the story jumps between the present and the past, making for some exquisite pacing.

Wranglestone by Darren Charlton

Wranglestone is another YA Book Prize shortlisted book. Following a boy called Peter who lives on an island in the middle of a lake, this is a post-apocalyptic novel focused on a community who find themselves in terrible danger when the lake freezes every winter and the dead are suddenly able to get closer to them than ever before. I gave Wranglestone three stars because something about the writing style feels muddled to me, but I really appreciated the fact that there’s finally a YA zombie novel with a gay romance – something I’ve never seen done before!

Hold Back the Tide by Melinda Salisbury

My penultimate YA Book Prize shortlist read. Protagonist Alva believes that her father is a murderer, so she is plotting to run away from home and go and start a new life for herself away from the constant risk of death. She has played by the rules for living with a murderer for years, biding her time, but enough is enough. However, she soon discovers that all is not as it seems in the Scottish highlands, and there might be darker things than her father lurking in the shadows. I would have loved this book even without the supernatural elements, but they made it impossible to put this book down. This deserves the five stars I gave it!

Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cory McCarthy

A queer sci-fi King Arthur retelling which blew me away! I gave Once & Future four stars, because it’s impossible to resist being hooked by the story of Ari, the 42nd reincarnation of King Arthur, and poor Merlin who is growing younger every time a new Arthur is found. I struggled to connect to the start of the story because there was a lot going on very quickly, but as soon as teenage Merlin rocked up I was gripped. I gave Once & Future four stars, and I can’t wait to read the sequel later this month.

Loveless by Alice Oseman

The final book I read for the YA Book Prize shortlist, Loveless was a reread for me which I enjoyed more the second time around. The first time I read Loveless I gave it 3.5 stars, but after rediscovering this story I bumped it up to four stars. Loveless tells the story of Georgia, who is undertaking her first year at university. She’s never been kissed and never been in a romantic relationship and people treat Georgia as though there’s something wrong with her, but when she joins the Pride Society she discovers that she’s not as alone as she thought. This is the first book I’ve read about asexuality, and I think it’s going to help an awful lot of people in the future.

Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli

I still can’t believe that I was able to take part in the blog tour for Kate in Waiting. Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is still one of my favourite books of all time, and I enjoyed Kate in Waiting almost as much. Telling the story of Kate and Anderson, best friends who constantly have communal crushes, this book focuses on the importance of friendship (while also putting together a high school adaptation of Once Upon a Mattress!). I’m a sucker for musical theatre and I love YA contemporaries that celebrate friendship, so it’s not a surprise that I gave this book four stars.

Bridge of Souls by Victoria Schwab

The third (and currently final!) book in the Cassidy Blake series, Victoria Schwab’s third middle-grade novel sadly disappointed me. I still gave it four stars, but compared to the first two – which were instant five stars and new favourite books – this one didn’t live up to my expectations. There’s an overabundance of Harry Potter references which kept throwing me out of the story, and the location of New Orleans wasn’t explored quite as thoroughly as I was hoping it would be. However, this book did inspire me to pick up Mina and the Undead by Amy McCaw, which is living up to my expectations so far!

The Ruby Locket by Melissa Wray

When Odyssey Books approached me about reviewing The Ruby Locket, I jumped at the chance. I love YA dystopians, even if the genre does seem to be a bit tired, so I was looking forward to exploring a dystopian world which I knew nothing about. I’ve already reviewed The Ruby Locket, and I ended up giving it three stars: it wasn’t bad, but it didn’t impress me all that much. There were too many extremely short chapters so it was hard to get fully absorbed in the story, but the concept of the Okodee (people with fast healing and unnatural strength) was intriguing and I would be interested in reading more about them in the future.

Heaven Has No Regrets by Tessa Shaffer

My most recent read was Heaven Has No Regrets, which I read via NetGalley. Unfortunately, I really didn’t like this book and ended up giving it two stars. I explore the reasons why more thoroughly in my review, but my main issue is that it contained extremely graphic descriptions of one of the main characters purging due to suffering with bulimia, and I found it to be very triggering. This is a book which I should have DNFed, but I was too stubborn and forced my way through it to the detriment of my own mental health.

I hope that you enjoyed this Top Ten Tuesday list! Feel free to link your posts down in the comments so I can see which books you’ve read recently.

Thanks for reading,

Alyce

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BOOK REVIEW: Heaven Has No Regrets by Tessa Shaffer

BOOK REVIEW: Heaven Has No Regrets by Tessa Shaffer

First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Smith Publicity for accepting my request to read and review this book via NetGalley. Heaven Has No Regrets tells the story of cousins – and best friends – Makenzie and Faith. Jumping between