Portrait of a Thief, a review

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li is a contemporary novel which follows five Chinese Americans who are hired by a Chinese corporation to steal back valuable artefacts that were stolen hundreds of years before and that are being kept in various Western museums.

This was the Illumicrate book for April, but I’ve not used a picture of their cover here… because it was almost the damn same. I was so disappointed with that cover. Anyways…

The concept of this book is absolutely fantastic, the amount of art that is in Western museums that doesn’t belong there is ridiculous. So in terms of all the discussions on this? Loved it. But unfortunately everything else was a little lackluster.

Before I get into my personal views on the book, I’d like to link you to own voices reviews, like this one from BookishBrews, The Lily Cafe and some from Goodreads, including Read with Cindy, Cin the Writer, Justin Chen, and Tammie. These are a mix of reviews, from 1 to 5 stars, so you can get a variety of own voices opinions.

Now for my opinions? The characters could’ve been fleshed out so much better. Instead all of them were really two dimensional. In fact, the character who is based off of the author’s sister (and who everyone seems to hate – me included until the very end) is the best example of this. Li clearly knew a lot about this character, but she didn’t add that information into the book. She assumed that the readers would know as much about her sister as she does and unfortunately that lead to a much disliked character.

Plot-wise there are also issues here, primarily that there are so many holes. Not only are their plans for stealing the items flawed, but we aren’t shown truly how they escape the countries as a whole and they could be caught incredibly easily with the footprints that they left behind themselves. There also just isn’t enough information given about them setting up the heist, which leaves the reader to guess how they did it and is quite… boring. When a twist was brought in around half-way through the book, the set up for it was incredibly obvious. I knew exactly what was happening and that really dampened the impact it could’ve had. There was one good twist, very close to the end, but I thought the execution of this was flawed and disappointing.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 5, Atmosphere: 6, Writing: 6, Plot: 6, Intrigue: 7, Logic: 6, Enjoyment: 7, which gives an overall score of 6.14 and a 3.5* rating. Which I think I’ll put as 3 on Goodreads.

Highlight here for trigger warnings: death (mentioned), grief, violence.

Overall, this book truly felt like a debut novel and I think another round of deep edits could have really done a lot of work towards making this a great read. Li definitely has a lot of potential, it’s just not shown fully here. Additionally, this book did have great discussions on diaspora, art, culture, and more, and I think that those were really handled beautifully by Li. It just wasn’t enough to save the book overall.

Have you read this? What did you think of it? I would love to hear more opinions!

Gallant, a review

Gallant by V.E. Schwab was an Illumicrate book box pick for March and so I read it along with the Discord buddy read in April. The Illumicrate edition of this is absolutely *stunning*, just gotta get that out there.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the book completely stunning. Now don’t get me wrong, the writing was absolutely gorgeous and it was a fun read. I personally didn’t have many pacing issues and I loved learning about this world Schwab created. Our orphaned main character has mutism, and communicates through sign language. As a non HOH or Deaf person I thought this was done well, but of course please go and find own voices reviewers for an actual accurate review.

The utilisation of a shadow world, one that’s the dark version of our world, is one that I love. And I’m always down for any books about death. However, this book really seemed to be lacking something. There was a significant lack of depth throughout the book. We barely learn about the orphanage and who Olivia was before she leaves the orphanage and meets the family she’s never known. We barely learn anything about said family, meaning that when there is risk abound, well we care significantly less than we should. We also barely learn about this “dark” world and the true aims of those who reside there. And her parents. We learn a fair bit about Olivia’s mum, although it also somehow doesn’t feel like a lot. But we specifically do not learn about her dad. And that leads me onto my next point.

This basically felt like a prequel book. It’s a nice novella, a prequel to a bigger series where we’ve had time to develop further at least some of these characters. This is just backstory, extra information to add to the main storytelling arc. Not a book on it’s own. Additionally the ending was far too quick. It’s like someone gave Schwab a page limit and she had to try and squeeeeze everything in there, and unfortunately she didn’t hit the mark.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 7, Atmosphere: 7, Writing: 8, Plot: 6, Intrigue: 8, Logic: 5, Enjoyment: 7, with a score of 6.86 and a 3.5* rating.

I will 100% pick up any other books that Schwab could possibly publish in a Gallant series, because I think it has so much potential. But unfortunately, as it is, unless you’re a die hard Schwab fan this one just isn’t worth the hype. (imo, obvs). Let me know, if you’ve read this, what you thought! Do you totally disagree with me and think this is the best book ever written? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

A River Enchanted, a review

A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross was the Illumicrate book for March, and given that it’s a Scottish inspired fantasy written by an American author I had been a little concerned about it. But I wanted to keep reading the books along with the Discord group so I gave it a shot.

I’m glad I did because I ended up really enjoying this one! We follow a young man who is called back to his native island in Scotland by his clan leader to request his help, and he’s asked to bring his harp with him. When he gets back he discovers that girls are going missing and no one knows who is taking them, but Jack doesn’t know how he can help.

First up, I really wasn’t mad at how Ross portrayed Scotland! Now, grain of salt, I’m half Scottish (hi mum), from the South West of Scotland (most definitely not the northern isles), and I’ve never lived there. I am not the authority on whether this was authentic or not. But usually with US authors attempting to write about other cultures, it tends to be pretty obviously bad. And in this case it wasn’t! And in the acknowledgements Ross lists some of the sources she used for research, which I definitely loved!

I really enjoyed this book, it was so much fun and such a pleasure to read. The writing style flowed beautifully and I enjoyed delving back into the world each day. The worldbuilding of this community was done brilliantly through a combination of Jack’s memories and him learning about the community as it is now through brand new experiences. We also get POVs from others in the community that allow us to gain a deeper understanding of their personal lives and we learn more about the division of the island overall.

The character development was wonderful also. Jack starts off very clearly wishing to be a mainlander and to leave as quickly as possible. He slowly is brought around to re-learn the wonders of the island. We also see gruff characters learn to show their vulnerability, others learn to be tough in adversity, and so much more.

I do have a couple of negatives unfortunately. The first is that there were some issues with realistic relationship developments. We are told about how some relationships were when Jack used to live on the island as a child, but how these relationships are now when he returns doesn’t quite add up, and Ross’ attempts to make them match falls a little short. It’s disappointing given how much I enjoyed all the other character interactions.

The second negative is that the ending of this book is clearly angling for a sequel, one we already knew was coming as this is set to be a duology. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m totally here for a sequel. I want to know a lot more about this world and this society as well as being more than happy to spend time with these characters again. But it was just so obviously and clunkily done that it was a disappointment after the flow of the story up until this point.

Going back to a positive, I adored how music was used in this story and how it was integrated into the magic system. Apparently this is something I really love in my YA fantasy books and I really need to look for more books with this trope! The musicality is woven beautifully into the character arc, the magic, and the society as a whole and I loved each time we learnt more about it.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 8, Atmosphere: 8, Writing: 8, Plot: 9, Intrigue: 8, Logic: 8, Enjoyment: 8 which gives a score of 8.29 and a 4.5* rating!

Highlight here for trigger warnings: physical assault, kidnapping, raids, armed conflicts, loss of a parent, mention of stillbirths, loss of children, cutting.

I really want to learn more about this world and I am 100% here for reading the sequel when it comes out, I just hope Illumicrate does another gorgeous edition to match! Have you read A River Enchanted, do you plan to? Let me know!

The Ivory Key, a review

The Ivory Key by Akshaya Raman was an extra book in the January Illumicrate box, and seeing as I like to read the Illumicrate books in the month I get them I thought I’d better dive into this one too!

I ended up really enjoying this YA Indian inspired fantasy! We follow four different POVs from royal siblings as they attempt to save their kingdom by working together, despite their emotional, and physical, distance from each other since their parents death.

I enjoyed how the sibling relationships were developed, from hatred in some aspects to respect and co-operation. I’m an only child so I really can’t speak to whether it’s good sibling rep, but it was nice to read!

I also found the magic system to feel really unique. We didn’t see too much of it, because the resource that allows for magic being scarce is the whole instigator of the book, but what we did see was super interesting and how their knowledge of the magic changes over the book? Well let’s just say I’m looking forward to book 2!

The story progression itself was engrossing. I felt myself pulled back to the story each time I put the book down, something that I didn’t want to do! I was invested in these four siblings lives and their joint adventure. There was a moment where I did lose that investment for a bit, when they’re close to reaching their goal. And to be honest I’m still not sure what caused that. But overall, I was enjoying being along for the ride.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 9, Atmosphere: 7, Writing: 7, Plot: 7, Intrigue: 8, Logic: 7, and Enjoyment: 8 which gives an average score of 7.57 and a rating of 4*.

Like I said above, I’m really excited to delve into the second book in this series when it comes out and I’m really glad that Illumicrate included this in their box as I wouldn’t have read it otherwise! Have you read The Ivory Key?