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!

Clap When You Land, a review

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo is the second audiobook I’ve listened to by this author and I definitely think that their audiobooks are the way to go! Acevedo read’s them herself and with both Clap When You Land and The Poet X being in verse it’s great to hear it read specifically how she intended.

Not only is this narrated by Acevedo, but it’s actually dual narrated with a narrator for each sister. I loved this as it made sure that each was kept clear and distinct and they had their own style.

I also really enjoyed that this book not only covered Flight 1112 to the Dominican Republic from NYC (the primary focus of the book), but it also delved deeper into the cultures. It delved into being Dominican American and how that differs from being Dominican in both the cultural identity and simply how the girls grew up. Both financially and culturally.

It also doesn’t skirt away from the incredibly complicated relationship that is present between Haiti and the Dominican Republic and how this has real life impacts on people. Adding to that, this book just doesn’t hold any punches at all when it comes to tough topics. I adore Acevedo for this. She’ll dive in the deep end and take you with her, a comforting hand to guide you, but you’ll be told the harsh truth.

In CAWPILE I rated this book: Characters: 7, Atmosphere: 9, Writing: 8, Plot: 8, Intrigue: 7, Logic: 8, and Enjoyment: 7 which gives a score of 7.71 and a rating of 4*s.

I think With the Fire On High isn’t written in verse like this book and Poet X, but I’m still excited to delve into it and see how I feel about Acevedo’s writing in a different medium!

Highlight here for trigger warnings: assault, attempted rape, attempted sexual assault, cheating, death (parent), grief, parental death, parental separation, plane crash, premature labour, risk of child death (neonatal), sexual assault, sexual harassment, sex trafficking, threat of forced sex work.

Have you read anything by Acevedo? What did you think? Let me know!

The Firekeeper’s Daughter, a review

When I added Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley to my wishlist, I’d thought that it was a fantasy book. It’s not. It’s actually a contemporary! (well some would call it historical fiction, but it’s set in 2004 so I refuse thnx) But I didn’t know that till I picked it up, and for once I’m so so glad.

I’m glad because I would never have normally picked a contemporary up! And yet here I am, with one of my favourite books of the year already! This is an absolutely fantastic read.

I adored the integration of Ojibwe words without constant explanation. There is some, so I’m sure anyone who speaks Ojibwe will find it a little pushy, but it’s not constant and there are points where you’re left to figure out the meaning yourself. I like that. It’s how we naturally learn language and it also reduces the amount of pandering that the book would otherwise be doing.

There is a romance plot within this book, and whilst I was reading it I’d thought that it was an obvious romantic set-up. Boulley managed to twist up my expectations and I actually really enjoyed where it went by the end of the book! It’s also not the main focus of the book, and instead a subplot (which I prefer).

The character relationships within the book are fantastic. I almost cried only 100 pages in due to a plot twist, and given that this is a 500 page book that’s pretty damn impressive. Their relationships, between friends, neighbours, family, is established so well so quickly into the book. It’s impressively done. It means that Boulley was able to delve deeply into her plot points with this network of a community that she built.

This book of course covers a lot of topics that are known to be issues in various Native communities. Drug use, police manipulation, sexual assault, alienation of those not “fully” Native, and more. Boulley weaves so much into this narrative and yet nothing feels brushed over. Nothing feels rushed. Everything is given the time that it deserves within this book.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 9, Atmosphere: 9, Writing: 8, Plot: 10, Intrigue: 9, Logic: 9, and Enjoyment: 10 which gives a score of 9.14 and a 5* rating!

This book got me crying deeply by the end, and in the middle, and near the beginning. It’s just… it’s just so well written. I felt so much for these characters. It’s an absolutely beautiful book and one I adore that is now on my shelves.

Please highlight here to check out the trigger warnings, they’re quite rough in this so check them if you need them: alcoholism, colourism, death, drug overdose (mentioned), drug use (meth), grief, kidnapping, murder, physical abuse, racism, rape, sexual assault, suicide, violence

If you can manage the trigger warnings though, I highly, highly recommend this book. It’s a new favourite of mine, couldn’t you tell?

Knife Edge, a review

The Noughts & Crosses series is one from my childhood that I’ve decided to reread. I read book one late last year, and finally continued on with Knife Edge this year.


This one didn’t break my heart quite as much as book one, which was a nice break! But don’t get me wrong it’s still not an easy read.

This series is in a world where white people are inferior, and in book one we follow Sephy and Callum, a Black girl and a white boy, who despite the world being against them are in love. That book tore my little heart right out of my chest. I was expecting the same from book two.

This book didn’t go quite so far, but I still very much… enjoyed(?) it. Is that the right word?? You know what I mean.

In this book we switch to a new perspective, right from the beginning, as well as continuing with a perspective we’d been following throughout book one. This new perspective offered a lot of insight into the harsh reality of life and how circumstances can drive people to commit certain acts. Whilst I don’t like this character, I really appreciate all of the development that Blackman does of them and how this adds so many layers. It really makes you realise the humanity in all of the acts they carry out. Even if you don’t agree with them.

I have pretty strong feelings about these books. I’ve heard people say they aren’t for kids. I’ve heard people say they’re unrealistically violent. But they are for children (older kids mind you, trigger warnings are rife in these) and the aren’t unrealistically violent. This is supposed to be a reversal of racism towards Black people and it really highlights this for a mainly white British population with the whites treated as inferior. It shows what their friends and colleagues are going through and I think Blackman should be commended not only for how well she portrays this, but also with how well her books have stood the test of time. Although I’m sure she would’ve rather had them seem radically out of date. And so would I.

For my CAWPILE rating for this book I gave:

Characters: 8

Atmosphere: 10

Writing: 9

Plot: 8

Intrigue: 9

Logic: 10

Enjoyment: 8

Which gives me an overall 8.86 rating which is a nice solid 4 star rating. I’m surprised that it didn’t get 5 stars but CAWPILE is a really tough system!

Highlight here for trigger warnings: violence, suicide, self-harm, depression, sexual references, racism, domestic abuse, hate crimes, mention of rape, abuse, infantile death suggested

These books are fantastic. They’ll rip your heart out of your chest and shove it down your throat, whilst you have tears pouring down your face and a million thoughts whirring through your head. They. Are. Amazing. Please do pick them up if you haven’t already. And if you have, tell me what you think about them in the comments!!

Slay – a review

The wonderful Kari from Kari-ng for books gifted me Slay. I was very unsure about it, as it’s a YA contemporary book and if you know me at all, you know isn’t my usual choice. But I’m so glad that I trusted her and read this book!

SLAY: the Black Panther-inspired novel about virtual reality, safe spaces  and celebrating your identity : Morris, Brittney: Amazon.co.uk: Books
Slay by Brittney Morris

We follow Kiera, one of very few Black students in her US high school. By day she’s an honours student, but by night she’s the developer of a major multiplayer online role playing game Slay. No one knows. Not her friends, not her boyfriend, and not her family. And Kiera is happy that way. But one day, when a boy is murdered over the in game currency, this is now something she can’t handle alone.

As well as following the real life side of this story, we also get to experience the MORP itself which I absolutely adored! I think I really like video game books? I don’t know but this was great! I loved the character development, I loved the world development of the online world specifically and how the online relationships were shown and developed. You can tell the author has had online only friends herself!

I still don’t think standard contemporary books are for me. But I do think that those which are sprinkled with a little bit of magic, whether fantastical or computer generated, are some of my favourites!

For my CAWPILE ratings I gave:

Characters: 8

Atmosphere: 7

Writing: 7

Plot: 8

Intrigue: 8

Logic: 8

Enjoyment: 8

Which gives a total of 7.71 hitting a nice 4 stars! I’m still very glad that I picked this book up and I’ll be so much more open to contemporary books with a twist in the future!!

Highlight here to see trigger warnings: racism, toxic relationship, child death, cancer, hate crime, misogyny, gun crime

First Lines Friday #23!

It’s back baby!! It’s been a little while since I’ve posted one of these so I thought I would bring it back again!

It’s time for another First Lines Friday! Hosted by Wandering Words!!

What if, instead of judging a book by its cover or its author, we judged the book by its opening lines?

Here is how it works:

– Pick a book and open to the first page.

– Copy the first few lines without revealing which book it is.

– Reveal the book!

So… do these first lines entice you?

Jan 30, afternoon (hour of the monkey)

  • dumped by boyfriend last night
  • horrendous fight with mom this morning
  • forgot about math test this afternoon

<screen goes wavy– cue FLASHBACK sounds f/x for scene from our heroine’s morning, ornin, rnin…>

Scroll down to reveal the book!

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arrow-pointing-down-animation-with-transparent-background_sao3efrlx_thumbnail-full04  | Arrow painting, Arrow pointing down, Transparent backgroundarrow-pointing-down-animation-with-transparent-background_sao3efrlx_thumbnail-full04  | Arrow painting, Arrow pointing down, Transparent background
Cathy's Book - Wikipedia

One of the books I mentioned in my haul yesterday! This is a book that I wanted to read when I was like 13, and I’ve only just been able to get my mitts on book 1 so I’m really excited to finally get to this! Because it’s been a few years, I’m not expecting this to be 5 stars, but I am hoping that it’ll be fun! Have you heard of it before?

July Book Haul!

A small book haul this month, but I bought both of the books myself!!!

Whilst I was in Portsmouth for my graduation I got to look at the book shelves in the supermarket, as well as in secondhand shops. And I found two gems that I couldn’t leave behind!

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold | Waterstones

First up was the supermarket pick and that is The Five by Hallie Rubenhold which delves into the lives of the five women who were murdered by Jack the Ripper. We never hear about the victims of this criminal, but we hear all about their pseudonym in the press. Historian Rubenhold decided to break this theme and delve into their lives and I am really excited to pick this one up! (and the cover being gorgeous is a massive plus)

Cathy's Book - Wikipedia

Cathy’s Book by Stewart, Weismann and Brigg is one that has been on my radar for around a decade now as I bought books 2 and 3 when I was a kid in the US on holiday (and of course didn’t realise) and I’ve needed book 1 all this time!! This isn’t exactly my cover, mine has an email address instead of a phone number. But it’s the exact same design. It doesn’t quite match the covers that I have, but the spines match, the theme is the same, and to be honest it’s been like a decade and this is the first time I’ve ever seen this book in person in the UK so I was NOT going to pass this up!!

And those are my two July books! Not a big one this month but I’m wanting to keep up to date after the avalanche that happened at the mid year check in 😂😂 have you gotten any new books this month? Have you read them yet? I’m having to use a lot of self control for these two!

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson | A Review

I am fully aware I’m hella late to this party. This book was first published in 2010, and ten years later here I am. This book follows Lennie, a girl who loves to write down what she’s feeling, read Wuthering Heights and play the clarinet. Not gunna lie, the clarinet is what got me to pick this up! I used to play the clarinet before higher education came along (and it’s a difficult instrument to start back up when living with my parents cause it’s LOUD). Lennie’s older sister recently died, suddenly and without any warning. She should be grieving, she is grieving. But she’s also falling in love.



A unique aspect of this book that I really enjoyed was the inclusion of mixed media. At the beginning of each chapter there’s a black and white picture of a discarded note that Lennie has written. It also tells us where it was found. Under a rock. Written on the inside of the wardrobe door. These really added an additional view into Lennie’s mindset and also tells you more about her sister Bailey without having to have multiple point of views.

There are some very… weird? plot choices in here. Of course they could happen in real life, but it was really not what I was expecting. I can’t really go into details because it would be major spoilers, but if you’ve read the book I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. I just kind of had to… pretend that it wasn’t happening… so that I could actually read the book.

A problem that I had with this book is that I felt like the portrayal of teens wasn’t the most accurate. Now of course I’m no longer a teen, and I’m also British when this book is set in California, but these kids at points really just felt incredibly cliche and both excessively childish and too grown up simultaneously. But like I said, this could simply be cultural differences.

This book is quite cute and fluffy, and despite the dips and troughs you will likely come out of this book with a little smile on your face. It can’t be denied though that this is a cliche YA contemporary at its heart. Don’t expect anything more from this book. If you do you’ll be disappointed. And bare in mind that there are problematic aspects to this book. But as a basic work of fluff it does what it promises to.


The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed | A Review

I don’t read a lot of contemporary, so when I do I like it to be hard hitting. Hence why most of my contemporary is YA, those markets have so much potential when it comes to important issues. The Black Kids is a book about Ashley, a high school teenager in LA. She’s Black, and she’s in a predominantly white private school. Her parents have made their way in the world and they’re rich. The year is 1992, and the LA riots have started due to the murder of Rodney King by police (and unsurprisingly the perpetrators were acquitted). To avoid spoilers I won’t say anymore, but I’m sure you can guess the direction that this book goes in.

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As soon as I found out it was set in ’92 I assumed there wouldn’t be any LGBTQIA+ representation. Thankfully I was wrong! This book is wonderfully diverse, with various LGBTQIA+ characters and it also has diverse rep in terms of race.

One thing I adored about how Christina Hammonds Reed crafted the story is that she was able to give us multiple different viewpoints on the riots and race in general just from one main character. Ashley has been friends with a group of white girls since she was little, and they’ve been dating white boys. However, as she moves around different circles of people as the book progresses we also get to see what she thinks when within lots of different groups with different races, monetary status and more. This skilful writing really makes this book what it is and is a key part to why I loved it so much.

Our protagonist is the victim of microaggressions as well as blatant racism. You probably could’ve guessed that already. But she isn’t perfect herself. She actually, throughout the course of the book, does various things that we the reader will judge her for. She doesn’t shy away from this, she doesn’t pretend like she’s perfect, and that makes her so much more relatable as a person. We all fuck up, we all make mistakes.

This book also taught me about a number of events in US history. One obvious one that isn’t a spoiler is the ’92 LA riots. As a white Brit who was born in 1996 I genuinely didn’t know as I read through this book whether the riot was fictional or real. I of course did research and discovered that this was a very real riot that occurred and that Rodney King was in fact murdered by police. I have also since done research on other events that happened both in the US and elsewhere that the book mentions. I don’t know why I had never learnt about these. Whether it’s because I’m white or because I’m British (I’m assuming a mix of the two), but I’m so so grateful to this book for bringing these to my attention.

I was able to read an advanced copy of this book thanks to NetGalley, I only picked this up because it was available through the “read now” section rather than requesting it. I won’t be requesting diverse books and will only read those available on my “read now” tab as I am white and I don’t want to take the opportunity to read a book away from an OV reviewer. I can always pick it up once it’s been published!

I ended up giving The Black Kids 4 stars out of 5. I think that if I had been from the US I would have rated this the full 5 stars, but I just didn’t have the cultural connection to the book (I’m British if you don’t know). As it is I can’t actually think of anything negative so it is just that spark that’s missing for me. I really really recommend picking this book up, it comes out on the 5th August and you should definitely get a delivery from your local bookshop!

OCD Rep All the Way Up

John Green is known for his YA contemporary novels, they cover a variety of topics but seem to have a similar plot line. I’ll be honest, that’s the same here, but there’s a different reason you should pick this book up.

In Turtles, the main character suffers from OCD, and the representation is so ridiculously good. I suffer from mild OCD myself, and no I don’t need everything to be clean, so it was so refreshing to see this done so well here and to actually properly represent the mental illness in a way that society seems to ignore.

Our MC isn’t easy to deal with, her friends struggle to not get annoyed at her quirks and weird behaviours and they impact every waking second of her existence. Sometimes they’ll go away and she can just be in the moment, but they’ll come back again and that bliss is shattered.

I 100% recommend this for brilliant OCD rep and if you want a typical “John Green” book with romance, character building and young people learning about the world then this is one for you.