Review of Smoke and Key by Kelsey Sutton

A sound awakens her. There’s darkness all around. And then she’s falling…
She has no idea who or where she is. Or why she’s dead. The only clue to her identity hangs around her neck: a single rusted key. This is how she and the others receive their names—from whatever belongings they had when they fell out of their graves. Under is a place of dirt and secrets, and Key is determined to discover the truth of her past in order to escape it.
She needs help, but who can she trust? Ribbon seems content in Under, uninterested in finding answers. Doll’s silence hints at deep sorrow, which could be why she doesn’t utter a word. There’s Smoke, the boy with a fierceness that rivals even the living. And Journal, who stays apart from everyone else. Key’s instincts tell her there is something remarkable about each of them, even if she can’t remember why.
Then the murders start; bodies that are burnt to a crisp. After being burned, the dead stay dead. Key is running out of time to discover who she was—and what secret someone is willing to kill to keep hidden—before she becomes the next victim…

Smoke and Key is a really hard one to rate and review, the premise whilst not unusual, is executed in a pretty unique style and the final third of the book is fantastic with great reveals and a race against time feel. However, there was also I lot that I didn’t enjoy about it too which was a shame.

But starting with what I loved! Firstly, the cover is fantastic and the blue tones have an eerie quality really fitting with the story. I found it refreshing that the story actually started at the beginning. I know that sounds strange, but too often books start at a random point throwing the reader into the middle of everything straight away, but our journey starts as Key’s does and we are in the dark just as much as she is. The use of items the dead were buried with to name the residents of Under was a lovely touch and it actually made it easier to remember the characters, of which there are a lot. It’s a very character driven story and whilst there isn’t really scope in the Under for world building the vision elements that Key undergoes gives the story it’s depth and colour.  Although the first vision felt strangely placed in the story I found their continuation was done really well with Key gliding between the two as she puts the pieces of her history and the Under together. At it’s heart Smoke and Key is a mystery which I don’t read a lot of and I have to say that I enjoyed this part of it very much, the closing stages are really exciting and I was really willing Key to figure it all out.

Smoke and Key as characters make for interesting protagonists, whilst I found their initial connection a bit creepy (because well, they’re dead) that dissipated as we learn more and whilst there were the beginnings of a triangle, the period setting of the piece stopped that from forming strongly. I don’t really want to say much more about the characters as it’s their mystery that needs to be solved! I just wished we learnt more about Brooch as her character seemed the most intriguing, yet she ended up pretty redundant in the story.

However…..Much of Under was put down to magic, which wasn’t for me really ever properly outlined or explained, so a lot of the time I found myself questioning what was happening which led me to become needlessly distracted – if there is no air how are the torches staying lit? is it magic? – which took away from the story. My biggest bug bear though was the use of working class “cockney” British English, I have to say that it was utterly cringey and I’m surprised it’s excessive use wasn’t picked up at editing stage. It’s like watching Dick Van Dyke during Mary Poppins; “parf” instead of “path” and “nawmal” instead of “normal” were some of the worst inflections.  A working class accent can be easily attributed without feeling like a parody, and I was left wondering if the author has even spoken to a working class Brit? I can tell you I sound nothing like that!! I don’t like it when authors force readers into an accent because it makes me think to much about how i’m reading it rather than what i’m reading and I end up pulled from the story. It also felt for the first half at least that the story didn’t really know how to get to where it needed to get to and lacked real structure. I also have to say that after vividly describing people in various states of decomposition, the quick flip then to Key’s fluttery feelings about Smoke and his “generous” mouth were pretty mistimed in the story line and felt a little gross.

Ultimately, I feel like Smoke and Key was a real missed opportunity, the premise was great, the last third was outstanding but I can’t let that cloud my judgement that I very nearly DNF’d this halfway though. If you don’t mind ploughing through the start, the pay off is a rich reward in this book but I can’t let my love for the closing pages pretend that this is more than a 3* read.

Review of Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.
Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by
death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.
Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

Thank you to Albert Whitman Company and Netgalley for the Arc copy.

Honestly this was a complete cover request for me, it’s utterly gorgeous and this is definitely a case of DO judge a book by it’s cover as the words inside were just as beautiful.  It’s not often that books leave me lost for words with where to start but truly Descendant of the Crane is something pretty special. Every time I thought I had the genre pegged in this own voice story the tables turned, from YA fantasy, to thriller, to mystery, to court room drama; Descendant has a bit of everything and they are all seamlessly woven together in a delicate tale of intrigue and misdirection. It would be remiss of me however to let the brilliance of the last 2/3 gloss over the fact that it wasn’t the easiest book to get into. It must always be a hard decision to find the right place in the story to start but given the mythology and magics in play, some detailed background early on would have helped as I often felt like I was on the back foot in the opening chapters. The story does fall into place by the conclusion of the first of the three parts though, however, the quotes from the Tenets at the start of each chapter never flowed well for me.

Descendant celebrates all that is good about standalone novels. Does it have the potential to expand; yes, but I’m glad it didn’t as I absolutely adored the ending and the trust was put in the reader to consider the future. It would have been easy to spread such a intense tale over 2 or 3 books but by being a standalone it means that there are just wave after wave of twists and turns really bringing the reader into Hesina’s world where the feelings of confusion, elation, and betrayal are acutely felt.

The characters are wonderful though and I felt like I had really bonded with Hesina by the end, so much weight on her shoulders and the distance and indifference of her mother really tugged at me as I’m a parent myself.  Akira is a really complex character and we are left guessing for much of the time but he’s effortless in all he does, and his Atticus Finch esq approach to trials was jaw dropping at times. All the characters are layered though and that’s what helps Descendant really pack a punch, so much mystery surrounding so many of the players both large and small, the comparisons to Game of Thrones is well founded and means I will say little else about them!

Despite the shaky start once everything had fallen into place in my mind I found it a difficult book to put down. The attention to detail from the clothing to the buildings, the descriptions about books and engravings felt alive in my mind, like I could almost reach out and feel them. Despite this though Joan He created a world that felt very muted (not dull!) but it was clearly against a back drop of mourning and it was a really subtle way of reminding the reader that actually everything is not okay. The magic system was wonderfully simple and the way it walked side by side with Hesina growing with each discovery left the lines feeling blurred.

Descendant of the Crane is a great stand alone read which will leave your head spinning and your jaw on the floor, just give it the time to get there!



Bookish Ramblings: Five Things Friday

It’s time for a weekly wrap up!

New to my Queue

Now I dabble in Netgalley, I’m by no means a top rank reviewer on there and so I rarely get selected for the books I request, I can merrily request about 10 and get maybe 1 or 2 back tops, this week I requested 8 and got 4! So now I have to get to reading otherwise my rating (as it is) will plummet, so It’s a good thing I didn’t overstretch myself with my Tbr this month!  I have 4 new books this week which are Descendant of the Crane by Joan He (a total cover request,) Smoke and Key by Kelsey Sutton, Dark Shores by Danielle L Jenson, and Stronger than a Bronze Dragon by Mary Fan – I’m going to be hella busy – so much for getting some Zelda in this week!

Favourite Read(s) this Week

Hands down my favourite read this week is Song of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury, it’s honestly one of those rare occasions where 5 stars just don’t cut it. This conclusion to State of Sorrow was exceptional and I just couldn’t stop reading, I was so sad for it to end and I have a new book boyfriend in Luvian Fen, If you’ve not yet read this duology I strongly recommend you give it a whirl! I’ve also finished Awakening by Bethany Adams which was another 5* read in her fabulous Return of the Elves series.

When I wasn’t reading

I’ve been continuing on with changing things over after the rebrand, this blog is nearly sorted with just a couple of tweaks left, sadly facebook are dragging their heels, I’ve had to submit a ton of stuff to them to prove that I am re-branding and not just whimsically picking a name out of thin air, I’m hoping to get things changed over soon, I don’t relish the idea of starting from scratch but it’s looking like I might have to. I’ve got new rep codes to for you to make a note of: Geeky Clean is now Paperbackandpinot10 and Whizzpop Candles is Paperbacks10 I got my influencer pack through from them last Saturday so I’ll get an unboxing up for you soon so you can see just how gorgeous their candles are!

Pic of the week

Because this week I started my influencer period for Whizzpop Candles I thought I would share this pic featuring their Enchanted Apple candle, fragranced with honeyed apples it’s a really lovely fragrance. It’s inspired by The Cruel Prince, but we all know how much I dislike that series but I thought it was the perfect accompaniment to Winter of my favourite Lunar Chronicles 🙂

Looking ahead

Despite all my Netgalley approvals, I want to start on my re-read of Caraval pretty soon, so I can read Legendary in April ready for Finale in May. I have decided not to get the Fairyloot special edition box as honestly I have better things to spend nearly £60 on and I’ll be getting a normal Fairyloot in May anyway – I have however, pre-ordered the Waterstones signed edition instead and I’m sure there will be a ton of merch coming out anyway for it on release.

Review of Awakening (Book #6 Return of the Elves) by Bethany Adams

An unexpected duty
For three hundred years, Princess Dria has avoided the drama of the royal court by training as a battle mage. When her father summons her back to court just as she begins to rise up the ranks, she’s furious. Even worse, she must work with her estranged brother Ralan on a mission to Earth. But as soon as Dria arrives at Moranaia’s new outpost, her brother drops the leadership of the entire place into her hands. Now she’s in charge of fortifying a new outpost on a planet she’s never even visited.
An abhorrent task
Prince Vek of the Unseelie has spent millennia as his father’s enforcer, working in the shadows to eliminate evil, but after sparing his nephew Fen from the king’s judgement, Vek must tread carefully. One false move, and he will lose the king’s trust–and Fen’s life. But when the king gives Vek a new, more sinister task, Fen becomes the least of his worries. The Moranaians have a new colony on Earth, and King Torek wants the energy source that’s contained within. Vek must retrieve that power–even if he has to kill the Moranaian leader to get it.
A threat unknown
From the moment she catches Vek sneaking into the cavern, Dria knows the truth–the dark and mysterious prince is her soulbonded. But she’s certain he’s up to no good, and although she’s drawn to him, there is no way she can trust him. His reputation, and that of the Unseelie in general, precedes him. Unfortunately, more than desire is awakening. As they dance around their budding attraction, Dria and Vek uncover a deathly illness lurking among the fae–and a sinister plot that will damage both their worlds

I have to admit that when I discovered that Awakening was Vek’s story I was a little apprehensive, honestly, he’s not one of my favourites although I know I’m in a minority with that! The introduction of Ralan’s sister Dria as the other main protagonist was intriguing – a new character and a not so favourite character, I was scared that I may not enjoy this book as much as the others, especially after the intensity of Abyss. I should have trusted Bethany Adams though in that her writing would banish all my worries.

One of the great things about this book is that it’s opening pages give you a recap on all that has come before, the story arc is wide and the character list expansive, so having this little bite sized rundown of each book was a real bonus. That being said, I did find it took me longer than usual to get settled in the story this time round. Dria is a fierce new character, she’s been through a lot, and Ralan is really in the dog house, she has a tough shell to crack and that really translated across the page. Dria is far from your typical princess. We get to see a whole new side of Vek too and their snarky back and forth is pretty hilarious at times, building up on ever present tension between them.

Whilst the story was very much focused on Vek and Dria, that’s not so say that our old favourite characters don’t get their turn, even if only fleetingly for some. There is a really touching scene at a dinner for the sake of Arlen and it just goes to show how much of a long way all the characters have come since the very formal and etiquette driven pages of Soulbound. There is a lovely banter which has built up from them being a wonderfully inclusive and diverse friendship group, the shock of this to Dria is almost reflected from earlier books, in that it is now her formality that felt out of place.

Whilst not as dark in overall tone as Abyss, Awakening still has plenty of intensity and stand out moments. Bethany Adams has now firmly proven that she can write amazing action in among court intrigue and intricate plots. The set pieces are really something, weaving swordplay and magics seamlessly together – I just hope that Lial gets a helping hand, he’s had more than his fair share of work of late but the mysterious illness lurking doesn’t fill me with hope that he’ll be kicking back any time soon . The story flips so well between high and low fantasy that the scenes on Earth don’t feel at all out of place and I’m massively intrigued by the ongoing impact of additional energy on humans and how that will play out as the series continues.

What I really loved though was Fen, his character has grown so much and his back story gets more and more heartbreaking. As we get to understand more about his potential bond I’m worried that he’s not going to get an easy ride there either but I’m really hoping that the guy catches a break.

Awakening was such a good read and the series as a whole remains at a consistently great standard, it certainly feels like things are ramping up and I’m excited to see where things head next for the characters


Review of Song of Sorrow by Melinda Salibsbury

Sorrow Ventaxis has won the election, and in the process lost everything…
Governing under the sinister control of Vespus Corrigan, and isolated from her friends, Sorrow must to find a way to free herself from his web and save her people. But Vespus has no plans to let her go, and he isn’t the only enemy Sorrow faces as the curse of her name threatens to destroy her and everything she’s fought for.

State of Sorrow was one of my favourite books in 2018 so it’s no surprise that Song of Sorrow topped my most anticipated reads list of 2019 and deservedly so. Before I get into the story I just want to talk about the book itself. I, like many, received State of Sorrow from a Fairyloot subscription as an exclusive hardcover edition. I do like my editions to match so I was really sad that there was only a paperback release for Song, however, have you seen it?! It’s gorgeous, the Waterstones edition has a stencilled sprayed edge that’s pretty unique and it released early!

But on to the story. The conclusion of State left me reeling, honestly I felt lost after such a high came crashing down. Unsurprisingly, we find Sorrow in a bit of a pickle. But something has changed with both the tone and the feel of the writing to reflect that Sorrow’s experiences in the election have certainly changed her. Despite everything she felt like she had become a force to be reckoned with, never stopping in her plans to try and out play Vespus, even when those plans are misguided. Sorrow is such a tough character, I felt like fist pumping so many times as well as just wanting to give her a huge hug with the ways she decided to deal with what what being thrown at her. The writing felt more relaxed, where State was full of insecurities Song is full of snark and great banter I really was left feeling like I was among friends, Sorrow and her Scooby gang. All the characters are strong, their experiences during the election cementing their places both good and bad. There were no side players who felt out of place, everyone had a purpose which really helped with the great pace and flow of the story. I know that often gets overused in reviews and may sound trite but the pacing really was exceptional, chapters ended leaving me wanting more and more, every time I tried to stop I just picked right back up again. It really helped that Song takes place over a pretty short period of time, whilst State needed to be a slow burn, a mystery – it was right that Song really needed to be the flip side of that, and it gave it a real thriller race against time feel.

I’m usually pretty bad at figuring things out and I was convinced I had it pegged this time, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Wonderful misdirection woven into the pages left the twists even more jaw dropping and the story went to places I never imagined it would. Violent and terrifying at times as the true power of Starwater makes itself clear alongside the desperation of those so resistant to change. There are plenty of breath holding moments and I often had to stop myself from scanning ahead to really savour the wonderful crafting of the words in these sections. There are some wonderful and unexpected relationship dynamics running through the story as well, these are beautifully delivered across the pages with everyone being comfortable in their own skin.

I also have to admit that I’m a little bit in love with Luvian. Ridiculously hot, bookish, charming, clever and his revelation to Sorrow made me love him a little bit more. I desperately need a Luvian origin story please! I’m not one to advocate defacing books with writing but oh my, hand fans at the ready for Luvian and all that he brings us.

Song of Sorrow was everything I hoped it would be and more, and then a little extra on top. It was a phenomenal read and it’s a duology that I know I’m going to return to time and again.


Six for Sunday: Ode to my favourite Author

Picking back up with a normal #sixforsunday today and I have to admit that I am finding these pretty challenging! Favourite author is a really hard thing to decide upon especially as I have read quite a diverse range of fiction in my time. It’s trite to use the analogy “it’s like asking to pick a favourite child” but in some ways it really is. So for today, I am going for an author who is still relatively new to me but has consistently blown me away throughout her series and that is Sarah J Maas. Whilst I have been considering what my six things will be I have realised that there is no way to do this without spoilers, so if you’ve not yet read the ACOTAR series or the Throne of Glass series you may want to skip this.

  1. Mental Health

The most stand out aspect of her writing for me is her depiction of mental health. This first really hit me when I was reading A Court of Mist and Fury, Feyre is clearly suffering from PTSD and then also having to deal with an abusive relationship at the hands of Tamlin. It was utterly heartbreaking and having been in a similar type of relationship long ago I really connected with what Feyre was going through. What stood out for me in the Throne of Glass series was when Aelin was rescued from Maeve in Kingdom of Ash, desperately clawing at the mask, screaming repeatedly for Rowan to take it off, it’s making me feel anxious all over again for her just recounting this. There are so many other instances where suffering has been dealt with sensitively and pretty broadly across a range of characters, but I need to keep this short so I’ll move on….

2. Respect in relationships

In a world where there are so many toxic relationships in YA fiction I have to say I love how the relationships she portrays are always respectful and when they aren’t (*cough* Tamlin) it’s dealt with appropriately. Honestly, there is a reason why Rhysand is my number one book boyfriend, and that is due to his care and patience with a very broken Feyre. Very much like my husband in that regard ❤ There is no Alpha Male bull with Rhysand and he’s set’s the bar pretty high. Not just Rhysand though, even Lucian could seem a bit of a creeper when it comes to Elain but he never pushes her which is great. It’s not all big love stories either, Dorian and Manon are brilliant with each other showing how even booty calls can be on even terms!

3. Emotional Reactions

Honestly no other author can bring about such a high amount of emotion in me, i’m not going to lie when I say she gives me all the feels, I’ve already touched upon some of the scenes in the first 2 sections, but when I finished the ACOTAR series I really didn’t know what to do with myself I was left such an emotional wreck that I even blogged about it! Similarly the closing pages of Empire of Storms had me screaming at my favourite fangirl friend, Author Rebecca Gibson, and oh my i’m still not over The Thirteen. Sarah J Maas has a real talent for getting me completely invested in all her characters which is no mean feat considering the wealth of them in her stories. I also enjoy how she can make me go from love to hate to love again, Chaol and Lysandra anyone?

4. Plot Twists

She is Queen of plot twists and big reveals, in the same way that she invokes all the feels she is also the only author to make me shout out loud. Again, I called upon my fellow fangirl to vent as I just couldn’t get over what was happening in the stories sometimes, I mean that Maeve reveal OMG! Things just come together so perfectly and in ways that I never imagined across both her series.

5. Merch

I admit I have a real problem when it comes to getting bookish merch, I have tried to curb it recently though but it’s a testament that she can inspire so many people to make so many items based on her worlds. With memorable quotes and vivid descriptions it makes it easy to invoke items inspired by her characters and locations. I have candles, bookmarks, prints, pins, maps, bathbombs and even tea based on her series – told you I had a problem…

6. She’s a lovely person

Every time I read her newsletters or see her being interviewed she just gives the impression that she is still utterly humbled by everything. Honest and very sweet, you can also totally see how her husband is her inspiration for Rhsand and her decision to share pictures of her baby with her fans was also lovely. I was honestly gutted to not get tickets to her Kingdom of Ash tour event last November, but hopefully next time she’s in the UK on a tour I’ll be more on the ball!

Who would your #sixforsunday author ode be to?

Bookish Ramblings: Five things Friday

Weekly wrap up time!

New to my Queue

This beast of a book arrived this week! Coming in at over 800 pages in hardback, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is now the largest book on my shelf, honestly I think it’s going to break my hands holding it and there will be no room to hold my wine, but I’m sure I’ll manage. I picked up the Waterstones signed edition which took a bit of effort to get the sticker off I have to say. I’ve also applied for the pre-order poster so I’m hoping that will arrive soon too!

Favourite Book(s) I read this week

Honestly, I’ve only completed one book this week and it was a 3* for me, I don’t think it’s right for me to add it in here just because it’s the only one I’ve finished. However, I started Song of Sorrow by Melinda Salisbury yesterday and I’m already under it’s spell!

When I wasn’t reading

Wow, well it’s been quite the week, I have been organising the change over from Post Apocalyptic Playground to Paperbacks and Pinot. I’ve been beset with doubts all along the way and the blog seemingly doesn’t want to go with the highest view count ever yesterday and an influx of facebook page likes, but I know this is a rarity. So today I have made a start. I have made the change on Instagram and Twitter already, facebook is being problematic, and changing this wordpress site over isn’t a 2 minute job. I think the change over is going to take up most of my time over the next week.

Pic of the Week

Following on from the above, my last picture on Instagram as Post Apocalyptic Playground featured some of my favourite dystopian reads.

Looking Ahead

The next week will be spent continuing sorting out the blog, I’ve also had a rush of netgalley approvals which has taken my by surprise so I need to factor those into my reading time. The smallest playground dweller has come down with chicken pox too so I’ve got my hands full!