The Winter Garden Book Review

I saw this book in Waterstones and fell in love with the book cover, then saw the sprayed edges and just knew I had to buy it. The story drew me in from the synopsis and the first few sentences, and it’s safe to say, has become one of my favourite books of all time.

Synopsis

Both Beatrice and Rosa have regrets and made mistakes in their lives, which they wish they could undo. So when the Spider Queen hosts a competition where the prize is a wish, both women will do whatever it takes to win that wish as both want to undo their mistakes. Will their friendship survive the competition?

First Impressions

Oh my god, this book is spectacular! The writing style is just perfection, and the storyline is so intriguing and intoxicating. I absolutely adored every moment of it, from start to finish.

Thoughts

What I Liked:

  • Asexual representation – I love any good representation, and Beatrice was no exception (she’s great)
  • The dynamics – I love Beatrice and Rosa’s friendship, and how James and Eustace are exact opposites of one another
  • The magical garden – I loved the magical elements incorporated in through the flowers/plants, and the Winter Garden sounds amazing

What I Disliked:

  • Extremities – I don’t necessarily enjoy how extreme some of the characters were at times

Characterisation: I loved Beatrice, Rosa and particularly James. Beatrice and Rosa balance each other out really well, and even swap traits at times, such as being stubborn to an extreme. Because of this, their friendship has a good dynamic and works well, and I’m glad they became friends again.

James is just a nice guy. I can see why both women value him as a person because he’s supportive and gives good advice when they both need it most. But he’s also good for the story as he applies his expertise with flowers/plants, which is important for their pleasure gardens.

Eustace, on the hand, acts as the polar opposite of James. He represents societal expectations, but goes to an extreme as he is abusive towards Rosa. But what I found particularly interesting is when Rosa realised Eustace doesn’t realise he’s being abusive because it’s so true. Abusive people don’t necessarily realise they’re doing anything wrong, and it’s something I haven’t seen potentially ever.

Story Structure: Since there are two main protagonists, there are two separate inciting incidents, but they both drive the main themes of regrets and mistakes. The climax and resolution, on the other hand, are intertwined as the regrets and mistakes reach their peak, and it seems as if everything’s lost, but they manage to recover some of what is lost.

The paving is good, so much so that I didn’t notice any dips in the story. The plot moves along and has enough happening to not feel like the story was dragging on, and to keep you intrigued from the very beginning.

Other Thoughts: I really appreciate how Alexandra Bell reminds us that it’s human nature to have regrets and make mistakes, but to undo those mistakes could have unforeseen consequences that could be infinitely worse than the mistake we made in the first place. Plus, while we might not see it at the time (or ever), sometimes those regrets/mistakes might’ve led us to a better path than the one we could’ve ended up on, especially if it was a path we thought we should walk down, rather than the path we wanted to walk down. It’s a lesson I learnt several years ago, but it’s always good to have that reminder sometimes.

Summary

I loved this book from start to finish and would love to dive back in again. It’s utterly enchanting and magical and so worth reading. I wish I could forget I ever read it to experience it for the first time again, and yet I wouldn’t want to forget such a beautiful story.

September 2021

Goodbye summer, hello autumn!

I’ve already dug out my jumpers and started wearing them again as the nights grow darker and the days colder. I’m finally starting to relax a bit, although I could do with a couple days more, just for my own mental state.

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This Poison Heart

Disclaimer: excuse the late posting – I’ve been very busy in September and have only just managed to find time to post about it. But better late than never!

I loved Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron, so when I discovered she had a magical YA series coming out, I jumped at the chance to read it. I’ll be honest, I didn’t love it as much as her previous novel, but I’m still invested enough to carry on with the rest of the series. She’s set up a really good foundation that’s piqued my curiosity, and I just gotta know what happens next.

Synopsis

Briseis has a magical gift with plants, one that goes beyond any rational explanation. But there’s more to Briseis’ gift than she anticipated, as she discovers when she moves into her dead aunt’s home in the countryside with her adoptive mums. With the town knowing more about her heritage than she herself does, Briseis’ life is about to become far more chaotic than she ever expected…

First Impressions

Truthfully, I didn’t love this book as much as her previous novel, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t still love it. I learnt more about plants and Greek mythology, which I had a limited knowledge about, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the sleuth of characters and seeing where the story would go.

Thoughts

What I Liked:

  • Briseis’ story arc – it was gradually developed, and I loved how she had the freedom to explore her gifts and her heritage
  • The descriptions – I adore the way Kalynn Bayron writes her descriptions, especially of places, because they feel so real and magical (I legit wanna explore this garden now)
  • Learning new things – I had a limited knowledge about plants and Greek mythology, so I enjoyed learning more about both in depth

What I Disliked:

  • Characterisation – I can understand two dimensional characters in a fairytale retelling, or perhaps to keep the readers in the dark about what a character is really like, but I didn’t feel as invested in the characters (except for Briseis and her mums)
  • The final reveal – if I’m being honest, it felt rushed and almost like it came out of nowhere?

Characterisation: I love Briseis and her mums, but the other characters felt a bit lacking. Her mums are a good balance in personalities and do a good job at being supportive parents, while giving her some level of freedom to explore who she is and more about her heritage.

Karter and Marie were introduced, but we don’t really know much about either of them, which I know was kinda the point, but then it didn’t feel like there was any reason to like them or to support/sympathise with them. I’m guessing we’ll get to know the other town folk, but likewise, I don’t feel anything particularly towards them.

I will say though, it was a fantastic story arc for Briseis. Discovering more about herself through a series of clues left for her, but especially learning more about her heritage, especially how she relates to Greek mythology. It was a bit convenient, but man, that’s super cool! Imagine being related to a Greek deity?

Story Structure: The pacing is interesting in this story because it felt reversed from her previous novel. I was more invested from the get go, especially with her magical gift, but as the story drew to the cliffhanger, it felt anti-climatic and rushed. It just felt like the plot twist/reveal came from nowhere?

But the inciting incident, the climax and the resolution were still obvious, if you can call the ending a resolution since it ended on a cliffhanger. The inciting incident was an interesting one, and had me intrigued enough to see where they would go, but as mentioned above, the climax just didn’t work for me. Although, they did a good job at setting up for the next novel in the series, so I can’t entirely protest.

Other Thoughts: Kalynn Bayron has this knack of taking you along in her main character’s story and twisting the plot in ways you don’t expect, and I adore it. Every time I thought I knew what was going to happen, something surprised me in the best possible way.

Summary

I can’t wait to see where Briseis’ story goes next, especially as she delves further into her connection with Greek mythology, and perhaps how her magical gift grows/changes over time. I’m also intrigued to see how her relationships will change with the town folk.

August 2021

Another summer has been and gone.

I always feel like I wasted my summer away, but just like every year, I haven’t. Sure, I didn’t get to wear as many dresses or vest tops as I’d have liked (thank god there wasn’t much of a heatwave!), but I did still get two mini holidays, meet up and hang out with people, see some family and visit places, so I’d call that a decent summer. But every year, as the days get shorter, I mourn the long sunny days and prepare for the colder months.

Still, I’m excited for autumn for two reasons: 1) layers! all the layers! 2) reading books indoors – there’s something cosy about being inside in warm clothing while looking at the miserable weather outside and feeling smug that you’re inside with a good book.

Goodbye summer and hello autumn!

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July 2021

Usually, I dread summer because I’m always anticipating a heatwave, but I’m so grateful this year that we haven’t really had one. I normally wouldn’t mind sitting out on the balcony and opening my window fully, but since I can’t fix my window thanks to scaffolding outside my window (see below), I genuinely don’t want a heatwave this year.

This year hasn’t really gone my way, so I’m actually quite glad we’re over halfway through. I’m taking everything day by day because there’s not much else you can do in a global pandemic. But hey, there have been some good moments this month – see what down below.

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The Spanish Love Deception Book Review

The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

A friend reviewed this book on her Instagram and I was immediately interested. I fancied a cosy romance after reading a fantasy story, and it was exactly what I was in the mood to read. Something with light hearted and with a happy ending.

Synopsis

Catalina Martin lies to her family and has to find an American boyfriend to bring to her sister’s wedding. Enter Aaron Blackford, her enemy and the last person she wants to help her. But as the lies snowball out of control, Aaron is her only choice. Can the pair make this fake dating situation work, or will it all blow up in their faces?

First Impressions

Holy shit! Enemies to lovers, fake dating and there’s only one bed? This has some of my favourite tropes, and Elena Armas writes them so well! Just a delightful book from start to finish – I legit became obsessed with it at one point.

Thoughts

What I Liked:

  • The character dynamics – I love the witty banter between Catalina and Aaron, and I love how they develop and grow as characters
  • Tropes – I adore enemies to lovers and fake dating and I’m fond of the ‘there’s only one bed’ (provided it’s written well)
  • Emotions – you know a story is written well when you start experiencing the same emotions as the characters. I swear, I felt so giddy and happy when Catalina fell in love, and it distracted me so much ’cause then all I wanted to do was read the book

What I Disliked:

  • The incident near the end – I can understand why you’d put it in there, but it just felt a bit… shoved in? I would’ve preferred it if Aaron had hinted at it in some way prior to this, y’know?

Characterisation: I love Catalina Martin and Aaron Blackford with all my heart. They’re both flawed characters, and I love that we get to see how and why they’re flawed. Like, Aaron doesn’t just magically become an endearing character, but he develops into one. Likewise with Catalina – she doesn’t just immediately stop being so stubborn, but progresses into not being so. They often say opposites attract (which I also love) and that worked so well in this story.

The secondary characters are equally as fun. Rosie, Isabel, Catalina’s family, TJ – they all have their own lives and personalities while also helping the two main characters with their problems. Equally, they were a great contrast against the antagonists of the story (Daniel and Gerald), who were both assholes you couldn’t help but dislike.

Story Structure: This story starts with Catalina’s problem and Aaron offering himself as the solution, which builds nicely to the inciting incident. The exposition comes after the problem is explained, which I actually prefer. The ups and downs build to the climax, although I think it was a tad overdramatic just for a Big Romantic Gesture. I did enjoy the resolution, that sense of closure – it wrapped up everything perfectly.

Other Thoughts: Y’know how in enemies to lovers stories, they tend to not really hate each other ’cause they harbour secret feelings for the other but shove it away and antagonise each other all the time instead? I love that shit! Seriously, I eat it up ’cause it’s my favourite thing in the whole wide world.

Summary

There were a few well written tropes incorporated into a cosy romance, and both Catalina and Aaron’s character developments were brilliant. I just loved it, from start to finish, and would highly recommend it to anyone searching for a light hearted read.

June 2021

Ah, the beginning of summer. Every year, I always think my summers will be filled with plenty of plans, especially with friends, and a holiday somewhere. But that has rarely happened, and the long days stretch on and merge into one.

Still, this month has been a debatable one – it started so strong, then flopped. I’m not exactly hopeful from here on out either. I had a wake up call this month, as I think the rest of the UK has too, but we carry on and make the most of what we’ve got.

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A Court of Thorns and Roses Book Review

I have seen several people hype up this series, and as someone who tries (and fails) to write fantasy stories, I wanted to know why this is a New York Times bestselling series. I was so excited to dive into the story, but partway through reading it, my mood changed and I wanted to read a light-hearted romance instead. Plus, I’m heading off for a mini holiday, so I was determined to get it finished before then – I’m not bringing any bulky books with me, so there’ll be a gap between consuming this book and the next.

Synopsis

All Feyre has known is hunting for the survival of her family. But on one hunting trip, when she kills what she suspects isn’t an ordinary wolf, consequences ensue. A High Fae Lord retrieves her and gives her an ultimatum: die or live with him for eternity. Choosing the latter, Feyre enters a world unlike her own and realises everything isn’t as it seems, including a deadly secret that could doom them all.

First Impressions

I adore how descriptive she is and wish I could write description like Sarah J Maas does. The story is enjoyable and the characters are interesting, but it lacked something for me. I just don’t get what the hype is all about, but I guess I’ll wait and see if the other books change my mind.

Thoughts

What I Liked:

  • The descriptions – ugh, I love beautiful and realistic descriptions, and I appreciate how she incorporates colour into the story
  • The complex characterisation – I like how they’re all flawed and how they grow over the course of the story
  • The Beauty and the Beast retelling – she keeps the premise of the plot the same, but with a deadly twist to the story that added something more to the story

What I Disliked:

  • This is petty but not a fan of ‘loosed a breath’ – I know it’s (probably) an alternative to ‘released a breath I didn’t know I was holding’, but somehow this feels worse? It just threw me off every time I read it
  • Amarantha – honestly, I’m willing to look past two dimensional villains, but it always irks me ’cause villains are my favourite characters

Characterisation: I like the characters – they’re (mostly) complex and flawed, which leads to interesting dynamics. Feyre, who hates faeries and is desperate to escape falls in love with them and views them as home. Tamlin, who appears cold and indifferent opens up his heart and does what he can to protect his people (and Feyre). Lucien, who despises humans changes his view and enjoys Feyre’s company. Rhysand, who is a cold asshole helps Feyre defeat Amarantha once and for all.

My real qualm comes with Amarantha. I’ve gotten used to two dimensional villains, but villains are my favourite characters, so I’m usually left disappointed the villain is so bland and revenge driven. Yes, she’s flawed, but considering her entire personality is just a plot point, she’s just a disappointment.

Story Structure: You can tell what the inciting incident, climax and resolution are, and there are enough ups and downs to build to the dramatic climax. The pacing is alright, although there are some moments that dragged on a little too long, and there are a few instances of foreshadowing that pay off, such as Rhysand making a brief appearance before showing up later.

Other Thoughts: I adore descriptions, especially if you can really visualise what she’s describing (which is something I struggle to do sometimes with stories). I also really appreciate her incorporating colours into the story – it’s something I really liked and appreciated.

Summary

I loved the descriptions and generally liked the story and characters, but it felt like something lacked for me. I don’t understand the hype at all right now, but maybe the next book will change my mind.

May 2021

I knew this month was gonna be difficult, thanks to a looming dentist appointment I’ve been avoiding for a month, but I didn’t think the weather would be so abysmal. Genuinely, it felt like autumn had returned. But I did still manage to find some rays of sunshine, which you can read more about below!

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Cinderella Is Dead Book Review

I noticed this book in my local Waterstones, often when I just pop in to browse books. I adored the cover on this, and was intrigued by the title, but it would take me a few months before I’d actually buy it. I wasn’t entirely convinced by it, but I’m so glad I bought it because it totally changed my mind and I genuinely love it.

Synopsis

Once a girl reaches sixteen years old, she must attend a ball to be chosen, or risk the consequences. But Sophia has never been great at following the rules, so when the dreaded occasion happens, she escapes. A decision that will change her life, along with the rest of the kingdom, forever.

First Impressions

Holy shit! I didn’t expect that plot twist at the end! I’m so glad I stuck with it because it is slow to begin with, but once it picks up… prepare for a wild ride. Absolutely brilliant. I love fairytale retellings, especially when they flip the story on its head the way this story did.

Thoughts

What I Liked:

  • The plot twist – I didn’t expect it at all! I kinda thought the witch was up to something, but damn, I didn’t expect a Shrek 2 type twist!
  • The twist on the original tale – I loved how they twisted the original fairytale on its head and made the characters have more depth to them
  • The characters – the main character and the secondary characters were wonderful and complex, which I personally love in a character

What I Disliked:

  • The slow beginning – honestly, it nearly turned me off the book because it just felt so slow, but I’m so glad I stuck with it

Characterisation: The characterisation is honestly impeccable. I love Sophia, who both stands up for what she believes in and won’t ever stop, but who also has compassion towards her dead friend, her ex-girlfriend, her new girlfriend and the witch they befriend. She’s a wonderfully nuanced character that I just love.

Constance (Sophia’s new girlfriend) is so much more than that. Like Sophia, she knows the truth and wants to fight for it at any cost, and given her upbringing, it makes sense that she’s more edgy and willing to go to extremes. But I love how soft and vulnerable she is towards Sophia. It’s what makes their relationship so great.

The witch (aka the fairy godmother) is certainly an interesting character. She begrudgingly helps Sophia and Constance, but she isn’t what she appears. That plot twist was very good at building her up to be one way and just immediately shattering the illusion.

Prince Charming was a two dimensional villain, but he seemed more as a plot point than a character. An obstacle Sophia had to defeat in order to be truly free from his reign. Although, this could just be sticking to the original tale in some sense since Prince Charming didn’t have much of a role to play then either. Still, turning all his good traits into their polar opposite was interesting, and made the story all the more exciting.

I love the twist on the original characters. I love how it’s implied the characters were all portrayed a certain way to fit in with Prince Charming’s retelling, rather than what they were actually like. It was beautifully done, and something I applaud Kalynn Bayron for.

Story Structure: The inciting incident takes a while to happen, and while I do understand why, I didn’t think we needed as much of the background information as we got. But the rest of the pacing and story structure was fantastic – the climax, the resolution, the ups and downs throughout. It all led to something, and had some wonderful foreshadowing scattered throughout.

Other Thoughts: The feminism undertone is handled so well. I love how Prince Charming was a metaphor for the patriarchy, and how once they defeated him the world was a fairer place to all. I love how Cinderella wasn’t some helpless woman, but instead someone willing to fight to end the patriarchy and reclaim her right as heir to the throne. Even the stepmother and stepsisters wanted the same thing as Cinderella – it was just so cool to see such an interesting take on Cinderella, but to also appreciate what could happen if oppression were to be destroyed. What that world could look like.

Summary

If you want a story featuring a complex main character defeating the patriarchy/oppression, an awesome retelling, a major plot twist and impeccable characters, then you’ll love this book. It’s honestly so good, and one of my favourites I’ve read this year so far (once I got past the slow beginning).