Mini Reviews! A Far Wilder Magic, Out of Tune, and Villains in Venice

A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft
When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. If Margaret wins the hunt, it may finally bring her mother home. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.

Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist--yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he's landed, his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret and her bloodhound Trouble. Margaret begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.

Although they make an unlikely team, Wes is in awe of the girl who has endured alone on the outskirts of a town that doesn’t want her, in this creaking house of ghosts and sorrow. And even though Wes disrupts every aspect of her life, Margaret is drawn to him. He, too, knows what it's like to be an outsider. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt - if they survive that long.

In A Far Wilder Magic, Allison Saft has written an achingly tender love story set against a deadly hunt in an atmospheric, rich fantasy world that will sweep you away.

I was really intrigued by this book; it sounded like an original fantasy with an unlikely romance set against a gothic town. I hadn't read many reviews before going into this book, and I'm glad I didn't. In the age of booktube and booktok, it's difficult to go into books without some knowledge beforehand - so I'm glad I managed to avoid forming an opinion before going into this.

What I Loved
👩👨🐶 - I loved the characters so, so much. Books with well-written, complex characters are my jam. I loved Margaret so much and she needs to be protected at all costs! She's selfless, kind, determined, brave, and resilient. The parental neglect she experienced and the hatred from her community broke my heart. I loved how Wes saw her for who she was and didn't allow prejudice to taint knowing her and loving her. 

“Girls like her don’t get to dream. Girls like her get to survive. Most days, that’s enough. Today, she doesn’t think it is.”

Wes is such a brilliantly written character. He's broken and grieving and hides behind a facade of charm, debonair, and idealistic optimism. His determination and perseverance, his love for his family, and strong belief in justice made me absolutely love him. 

“If he can’t grieve his father or his impossible dreams without hurting his family or himself, what other choice does he have but to keep things light? To dazzle people so they can’t look for the cracks? He’s survived this long by letting everyone believe he’s selfish and shallow. It’s better that way. No one knows how to hurt you if you always play the fool.”

Both characters were flawed and broken and brilliant and wonderful - I loved them so much. 

I also loved Wes' family. It showed family dynamics in all its beauty and its gritty reality: misunderstandings and arguments with a strong, steady thrum of love, acceptance, and forgiveness as an undercurrent. 

Margaret's mom was a complex character...I hated how she left Margaret alone for so long and abandoned her. However, the author did an excellent job of representing her character as one that was awfully flawed as a result of her grief, obsession, and ambition.

👫 - THE ROMANCE WAS SO CUTE. 😻 Margaret and Wes are complete opposites in a lot of ways and are the embodiment of the grumpy & sunshine trope. Margaret tries to be invisible and doesn't dare to allow herself to dream to protect her from further hurt; Wes is enigmatic and charming and works hard to make his dreams a reality. However, they are unified in the way they are shunned by others and the hurt and grief they try to keep contained within them. They just complimented each other SO well, and I adored how they taught each other to love, and trust, and dream. SO GOOD. SO, SO GOOD. The sweetest slow-burn I've read in a long while! 

✍ - THE WRITING!!! Ah, Allison Saft can write, guys. I had a copy of this book out from the library, but had I had my own copy, it would've been filled with sticky notes. Her writing is so immersive and almost every line seems etched in poetry. It's enchanting, haunting, and atmospheric; you can completely lose yourself in it.

🏠 - The setting was also intricately written. A crumbling manor house set in a gothic town by the ocean? YES. I read somewhere that this book is almost dedication to the autumn season, and I have to agree. It perfectly captures the mysterious, delectably gloomy nature of autumn and I was HERE for it. 

If you love books that are focussed on character development and the building of a breathtaking romance, you'll love this! 

What I Didn't Love
🗺 - The world-building. I didn't like the world-building much, as it felt like a conglomeration of quite a few different things. This book was clearly not set in this world, but then again it had a lot of things that made it seem like it was. Then it had a 1920s vibe but also some modern aspects. There just wasn't a distinct uniqueness about the world and it threw me off at times.

🙏 - I didn't realise how heavily religion and politics would feature in this book. I don't usually mind politics in a fantasy setting, and if a religion is created by the author for a whole new fantasy world, I get that. However, that wasn't really the case with A Far Wilder Magic. There are three different religions mentioned in this book: Yu'adir, Sumic, and Katharism. These religions are clearly Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. The god in this book was called God and there were so many elements I recognised from Christianity/Catholicism that the author distorted. It was somewhat heretical and I didn't appreciate the way it was represented. I understand this is a fantasy novel, but I didn't appreciate how the author used the name of God and just twisted a lot of the elements from the different religions. It was insensitive and also somewhat indolent - if you're going to create a fantasy book, then go all the way and make it completely unique in its world-building.

If you're not a fan of religion in books, I would give this a skip because it does rely heavily on that. Also, the religions aren't explained in the beginning which makes it quite confusing, but after awhile I read between the lines and it became obvious who they represented. It made me uncomfortable and did taint my reading experience, sad to say. 

To conclude, this book was haunting and evocative and lyrical. I absolutely loved the characters and felt like I knew them almost completely by the end of the book. The romance was so sweet and written so incredibly well - I was rooting for Margaret and Wes the whole way through. 💜 That being said, the heavy focus on religion and the distortion of real-world religions didn't sit right with me.

I give it: 3.5/5 cupcakes!

Trigger Warnings:
Child neglect, animal death (hunting), antisemitism 
Occasional swearing, God's name taken in vain, brief/non-descriptive s*x scene

Dyslexic main character, panic attacks/PTSD (not descriptive), two gay side characters


Villains in Venice by Katherine Woodfine

Get set for another incredible adventure with secret agents extraordinaire, Miss Sophie Taylor and Miss Lillian Rose!

After the dramatic events of their mission to St Petersburg, Sophie and Lil know the truth - there's a double-agent at work at the Secret Service Bureau. Whilst Lil pursues a dangerous line of enquiry in London, Sophie must set out on a new mission to Venice, following a twisted trail to discover long-buried secrets. But there are villains lurking amongst the city's piazzas, canals and crumbling palaces, and in the shadows an old enemy lies in wait...
THIS SERIES. THIS SERIES. I am obsessed with it and loved it. A lot. It's a spin-off series of the Sinclair's Mysteries books, and it's so good. It may even be, dare I say it, better than the original series. I won't go into detail as it's the third book in the series but I loved EVERYTHING, with everything including:

👩👨 - The characters!!! (Are you sensing a theme here?) I loveee Lil, Rose, Jack, Leo, Mei, Billy, Tilly, and Joe SO much. Even though there's a somewhat large cast of characters, they all have their own distinct personalities. Sophie and Lil are so determined, so fiercely brave and loyal, smart, and kind...I'm pretty sure they'll be the female heroines the next generation of girls aspire to emulate. They're such wonderfully written characters and I love them so, so much. It was also interesting (but heartbreaking!!) seeing the change in Lil and Sophie after what happened in the last book. Although they still have some innocence about them, they carry scars and wounds that aren't seen in the previous books. This extra layer of complexity added more depth to the story.

👭 - I absolutely love the friendship between Lil and Rose! They risk everything for each other and are so fiercely loyal to one another. I love the emphasis on friendship in these books - it's so heartwarming! 

✍ - The plot!!! Honestly, these books are so fast-paced. If you're looking for something to read in one sitting, you need to look no further than this book. ALSO, don't read this book before bed. They say reading relaxes you but this book had so many twists and turns, with danger and intrigue on almost every page, that I couldn't put it down. And when I did, I was thinking so much about the characters it took me awhile to nod off. It's so exhilarating!

🇮🇹 - The setting! I've always wanted to go to Italy, but this makes me want to go even MORE. The descriptions of the buildings, art, and food made the reading experience tangible. So good.

If you love mystery, adventure, friendship, and admirable protagonists you'll love this! 

I give it: 5/5 cupcakes

Trigger Warnings:
Murder, poisoning  
Clean! Big fan, big fan.

If I recall correctly, Mei is Asian and I think Tilly has African heritage.


Ashley Bennett is a straight-A student in her junior year of high school, and life is looking good: she's got a boyfriend whom she loves, a group of friends who love to party... But really, Ashley loves to curl up at home with a good book, and she can't wait to go to college. When junior year starts, the life Ashley's settled into is turned upside down - the empty house next door has finally been sold, and moving in is Todd O'Connor...
When Ashley first meets Todd, he seems aloof and cocky, and she's reluctant to share a ride to school with him as her mom tells her to. As the two get to know each other, though, Ashley comes to realise that the mysterious, brooding Todd O'Connor, who all the girls are swooning over, is actually bookish and shy, and a little bit lonely. His dad passed away a few years ago, leaving him in the care of his uncle, and since then Todd has mostly kept to himself, his books, and his guitar.
And as Todd gets to know Ashley, he forces her to realise that her relationship with her boyfriend, Josh, isn't really making her happy - Josh is selfish, arrogant, and domineering. Will Ashley find the courage to forge her own path?
What I Loved
I actually listened to this as an audiobook, which was a really good reading experience. I didn't absolutely love this book, but it was fun and engaging and made for a good time! 

👩👨 - I loved Todd. He's an actual cinnamon roll of human. He's introverted, loves reading, and writes songs (where can I find one??). He's sensitive and shy but has a quiet strength about him which I loved! 

I didn't particularly like Ashley initially. On the exterior, she seemed like a stereotypical popular girl who is a slightly stuck-up and quite shallow, but as I got to know her, it became apparent this was a facade to fit in with her boyfriend and his crowd of friends. I got quite annoyed initially that she didn't own who she was but kept trying to be what other people wanted to be; however, I recognise that as a teenager you go through being overly self-conscious of what others think of you and trying to be like everyone else. Ashley did stand up for certain beliefs about things (e.g. not having s*x with her boyfriend, not smoking etc) which I loved to see! 

💕 - The romance was sweet! I loved how Todd and Ashley developed a really firm friendship first before it became something more. I am a fan of a well-written slow-burn, and it was done well. It was subtle and felt very natural! It was adorable how they were there for each other and encouraged one another. Very sweet! 

👪 - I liked how close Ashley was with her parents! It was really sweet how she shared so much with her mom and was close to her family. Todd also seemed to have a really good relationship with his dad. I love good family dynamics in books!

What I Didn't Love
There wasn't anything I particularly disliked about this book! Ashley frustrated me in the beginning but she grew a lot and became more confident and secure in herself. We love to see it.

I give it: 3.5/5 cupcakes!

Trigger Warnings:
Divorce, grief (not deeply explored)
Mentions of kissing (non-descriptive), peer pressure for the MC to sleep with her boyfriend (she doesn't), underage drinking, mention of smoking (MC doesn't agree nor participate in it)