Under A Dancing Star by Laura Wood, reviewed by  Farrah (17)

Set in a beautiful summer in the 1930s, Bea, who has grown up rallying against patriarchal conventions of the time, has been sent to stay with her uncle in Italy, in an attempt from her parents to make her more ‘respectable’ and ‘ladylike’, and thus prepared for marriage. Little do they know that they have instead sent Bea into the heart of a bohemian household, where she will be exposed to, and encouraged to interact with art, romance and self-expression.

“A Much Ado About Nothing retelling, this book will have you glued to your seat as you read it in one sitting. . .I hope you read this book and fall in love with it too.” 

Farrah (17)

However, Bea’s idyllic bubble is not immune from the influences of fascism and patriotism that were especially prevalent, and gaining traction in the social and political climate of the 1930s. 

Bea’s epic summer allows her to further explore her love for science, and provides her with a forum to exist with autonomy, outside of the confines of the patriarchal society she is normally subjected to. She is afforded breathing space, and as the reader, we watch Bea come into her own, and affirm who she is as an individual, rather than what society, and her parents, wish her to be. She experiences a joyful and lively summer romance, which only adds to plot of this wonderful novel, but above all, this book centres around Beatrice’s growth as the hero of her own story, as she learns more about herself and the world she lives in. 

A Much Ado About Nothing retelling, this book will have you glued to your seat as you read it in one sitting. Impossible to put down, Under a Dancing Star contained all of my favourite ingredients, from the marvellous character development and strong friendships, to the delicious feasts, vibrant setting, adventurous escapades and even more. Wood vividly describes all of the places Beatrice encounters, making the experience feel tangible, as though you were there alongside her. Having read several of Laura Wood’s novels, this one certainly affirms her place as one of my favourite authors. I hope you read this book and fall in love with it too. 

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller, reviewed by Tegan (16)

Alessandra is the second daughter of a wealthy man. This means that she has been overlooked her whole life. Her older sister has always been the one to go to balls and have boys fall in love with her. 

One day she convinces her father to let her attend the ball of the Shadow King. The King has never let anyone touch him however no one knows why. Alessandra is convinced she will be able to seduce and marry the king. Then, kill him in order to claim the kingdom. However, she does not take into consideration that her feelings might just get in the way. 

“I was hesitant at first when I read the blurb…however, Levenseller manages to hook the reader by keeping the suspense running all the way to the end. Overall, I loved this book.”

Tegan (16)

I was hesitant at first when I read the blurb, as it sounded like the average stereotypical enemies to lovers. However, Levenseller manages to hook the reader by keeping the suspense running all the way to the end. You learn to have mixed feelings about Alessandra but in the end, I just ended up feeling sorry for her. She thought the only way to gain her Father’s respect was to murder the king. And when she starts to develop feelings, she feels as though she cannot disclose this to him. 

Overall, I loved this book. The characters develop throughout the book in positive ways. The Shadow King learns that he can’t shut people out and Alessandra learns she can’t shut out her feelings. 

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a simple read and enjoys the stories of enemies to lovers. It is not for young readers however, as it does have graphic scenes and also sexual scenes. 

The Boy Lost in the Maze by Joseph Coelho, reviewed by Farrah (16)

‘The Boy Lost in the Maze’ intertwines the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur with the story of Theo, as he searches for his father.

Told in verse, we explore the relationship between the mythical Theseus and his own father, alongside his desire for approval, told through the lens of Theo, as he retells and subverts the myth during a school project. Theo finds himself connecting with Theseus and paralleling his tale, as they are both on a quest to define manhood for themselves and discover more about their identities in the process. Trials that Theseus face are echoed in Theo’s own life.

“It is gripping and fast-paced and a definite one-sitting kind of read…a whole new, nuanced and thought-provoking layer to the age-old myth.”

Farrah (16)

Included in the novel are beautiful illustrations which bring the story to life vividly and create an all-encompassing reading experience. 

This is an accessible and insightful read, covering self-growth, discovery and changing one’s narrative. It is gripping and fast-paced and a definite one-sitting kind of read. I loved the way the Minotaur was depicted, with us being able to gain their point of view. By giving this traditionally vilified character a voice, Coelho has given the Minotaur humanity and the ability to evoke sympathy with the reader, causing us to see that at his core he is a young, rejected child seeking comfort.

Coelho’s masterful writing adds a whole new, nuanced and thought-provoking layer to the age-old myth, which will stick with you long after you have turned the last page. 

This Book Kills by Ravena Guron, reviewed by Torrin (16)

Jess Choudhary is a pupil at Heybuckle, the most exclusive private school in England. Ex- Alumni have gone on to be significant politicians and journalists. Then a pupil is murdered, and Jess finds herself at the heart of the investigation.

The death of a pupil at such a well renowned  school obviously has consequences; especially if, like Jess, your prestigious scholarship is threatened by a dangerously classist schoolboard. The stakes of the plot are ludicrously high because not only does Jess face the threat of an actual murder but everything she’s worked hard for could be taken away. At its core this is a YA mystery in the vein of “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” or “One of Us is Lying”, but author Ravena Guron injects it with the poignant themes of elitism and class.

A tone is set in the opening pages which is then twisted in a number of fun and interesting ways.

Torrin (16)

She successfully juggles these themes whilst also delivering a compelling murder mystery. I feared that the story might get bogged down in some of the more complex ideas, but the novel remains broad enough that teens aged 14 and up can comfortably enjoy it.

A tone is set in the opening pages which is then twisted in a number of fun and interesting ways. While I felt that some of the clues were a little heavy-handed, especially towards the end, the mystery is wrapped up nicely in the end with some genuine surprises.

At first glance the book may look daunting, 400 or so pages is a big ask for even the most hardy bookworm. But don’t be put off, I absolutely raced through it. In part due to the constantly mounting tension but also because the characters were likeable, and I wanted to see how it turned out for them.

A challenge when reading a murder mystery is keeping all the suspects in your head at once. A good author is able to keep each suspect distinct and memorable, Guron made this even more challenging for herself by setting the story in a school; she needs enough characters that the place feels alive and busy but not too many or the reader may lose track. I’m happy to report that she was successful. Not only does each and every character feel unique (even the side-characters are memorable) but they have goals and motivations outside of the main plot – they’re truly characters and not just plot devices.

The murder mystery genre seems to be having quite the resurgence in both books and film. And This Book Kills is a worthy addition to the pantheon of modern whodunnits.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, reviewed by Farrah (16)

In a deeply patriarchal society, where young girls undergo a ‘purity ceremony’, our main character Deka is forced to lead a different life than the predetermined path set out for her, when her blood runs gold with deemed impurity.

I massively enjoyed the experience of living inside Deka’s brain as she undergoes all of these shocking and exciting new experiences.

Farrah (16)

Snatched from her village, she is thrust into a world of battle and demons and is forced to deconstruct the indoctrinated misogyny housed in her brain, as she enters the Emperor’s army, as a special sector of the legions. Along the way she makes alliances and bands together with others, in the kinship of sisterhood, whilst also blossoming as an individual, piecing together her past and fighting for her future.

As this is a book told in first-person, I massively enjoyed the experience of living inside Deka’s brain as she undergoes all of these shocking and exciting new experiences. The overall message and themes contained within the pages, such as the importance of friendship and defiance, with the feminist overtone make for an impactful fantasy. The world building is unique, and the characters feel fleshed out and multi-faceted. As a debut novel, this is certainly commendable.

If you are a lover of the fantasy genre, or if you are interested in trying fantasy, I would definitely recommend ‘The Gilded Ones’. The writing style is eloquent, but easy to read, and you will find yourself gripped in no time. It’s sequel, ‘The Merciless Ones’ has recently been released, and therefore if upon finishing, you are eager for more, there is a whole new novel for you to devour. If however, you would prefer to read it as a stand-alone, then ‘The Gilded Ones’ will not disappoint. The ending ties the tale together neatly,  and you could leave the story there.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, reviewed by Farrah

Going into this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The concept sounded fascinating, but the execution was even better.

‘A Darker Shade of Magic’ follows Kell and Lila within a world of multiple dimensions.  As a traveller, Kell is one of the only two people who can travel between the world’s London’s: Grey, Red and White.  Black London has long since been destroyed.  Kell and Lila have a chance meeting and from that moment their story unfolds, as they attempt to save Red London from the darker forces attempting to penetrate from Black London.  

I found the world immersive, the characters three-dimensional and the story action packed from the very first page.  I read it in two days and have already continued on with the trilogy.

Book Review by Farrah Hoskins.

I’ve set myself the challenge of reading seventy five books this year & already I’ve read forty five. I hope this gives you an insight into how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE reading.  I’ve been reading more YA fantasy novels through my @readbyfarrah BookTok & have become obsessed with the series written by Leigh Bardugo, Victoria Aveyard, Sarah J. Maas, Alice Oseman, Cassandra Clare & V.E. Schwab.  As a staunch Gryffindor, my all time favourite Harry Potter book is The Goblet of Fire, oh & The Deathly Hallows…I can’t choose between those two: you can’t have one without the other six!  I credit Harry Potter for igniting my love of fantasy novels, but I love to fall down the rabbit hole of classics & crime fiction.  My Grandpa introduced me to Sherlock Holmes at a young age & I’m a massive fan of who dunnit novels by Agatha Christie, Robin Stevens & Karen M. McManus’ ‘One Of Us Is Lying.’

My current favourite book is ‘The Song of Achilles’. I defy all my reluctant reading friends not to be crushed by Madeline Miller’s masterpiece.   My passion for Greek Mythology started with a beautifully illustrated Usborne children’s guide, which has certainly influenced my choice of GCSE Classics.  Moving forward, I hope to study it at A Level, & fingers crossed at university along with English Lit.  I’ve read Stephen Fry’s fantastic ‘Mythos,’ Natalie Haynes’ ‘A Thousand Ships’ & Mary Beard’s Ancient Rome book entitled ‘SPQR.’ Even though I tend to steer clear of horror stories I do actively seek strong female role models & stories with good representation from the lgbtq plus community & books by authors of colour. 

If you need to reach me, I’ll be in my room ‘manifesting’ the third Six of Crows book!