Review: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

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The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty, illustrated by Kelly Canby
Published by Allen & Unwin on 1 November 2017
Pages: 496
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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I was ten years old when my parents were killed by pirates. This did not bother me as much as you might think – I hardly knew my parents.

Bronte Mettlestone’s parents ran away to have adventures when she was a baby, leaving her to be raised by her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler. She’s had a perfectly pleasant childhood of afternoon teas and riding lessons – and no adventures, thank you very much.

But Bronte’s parents have left extremely detailed (and bossy) instructions for Bronte in their will. The instructions must be followed to the letter, or disaster will befall Bronte’s home. She is to travel the kingdoms and empires, perfectly alone, delivering special gifts to her ten other aunts. There is a farmer aunt who owns an orange orchard and a veterinarian aunt who specialises in dragon care, a pair of aunts who captain a cruise ship together and a former rockstar aunt who is now the reigning monarch of a small kingdom.

Now, armed with only her parents’ instructions, a chest full of strange gifts and her own strong will, Bronte must journey forth to face dragons, Chief Detectives and pirates – and the gathering suspicion that there might be something more to her extremely inconvenient quest than meets the eye…

Jaclyn Moriarty is easily one of the most talented writers to come out of Australia. Regardless of what genre she’s writing in, she always seems to produce something magical and completely original (although I must admit, the whimsical tone to her writing feels better suited to fantasy). The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is her first offering for younger readers (9-12 year olds), and Moriarty knocks it out of the park.

This may have been a fantasy novel, but it really felt like an exploration of family dynamics. Every time Bronte visits an aunt, she learns something new about her parents and the importance of family. As always, Moriarty’s characters are vividly drawn. All of the aunts have their own distinct mannerisms and characteristics, but they still feel like they are part of the same family. I liked that a point was made that Bronte had never met a lot of her aunts, or had only seen them a handful of times. In so many books, characters seem to come from big families that live on top of one another; the Mettlestones are not close, but they still care for one another in their own ways. It felt more realistic to me, and I really enjoyed this dynamic, especially as it played a big role in the ending. My favourite relationship was Bronte and Aunt Carrie, but honestly, all of the aunts were interesting and jumped off the page.

There were a lot of twists that, as a reader outside the target demographic, I could see coming; I imagine that a younger reader would be surprised and really enjoy them. The book was well-written and easy-to-follow, and the chapters were short enough that it would still be engaging for a younger reader who struggles with reading. The illustrations by Kelly Canby are the perfect accompaniment to the story. Canby’s drawings have the same whimsical tone that Moriarty’s writing has and kind of make you feel like you’re reading a fairy tale.

This book is the perfect book for young readers of fantasy (and older ones, too!), and can be read independently or together. The visits to the the aunts unfold within a larger narrative, so I think that it would make the perfect book to read in multiple sittings with your child before bed. That said, I read it in one sitting and really enjoyed it! I had a lot of fun piecing together all the clues, and ultimately found it an addictive and fun read. If your child is not quite ready for Harry Potter, this book would be the perfect story to introduce them to the fantasy genre.

★★★★☆

Review: A Torch Against the Night

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A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
Published by HarperVoyager on 22 August 2016
Pages: 464
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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A Torch Against the Night takes readers into the heart of the Empire as Laia and Elias fight their way north to liberate Laia’s brother from the horrors of Kauf Prison. Hunted by Empire soldiers, manipulated by the Commandant, and haunted by their pasts, Laia and Elias must outfox their enemies and confront the treacherousness of their own hearts.

In the city of Serra, Helene Aquilla finds herself bound to the will of the Empire’s twisted new leader, Marcus. When her loyalty is questioned, Helene finds herself taking on a mission to prove herself-a mission that might destroy her, instead.

HOLY CROW, IS IT APRIL 2018 YET?! I have had this on my shelves since its release, but I loved An Ember in the Ashes so much I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Since most YA is packaged as a trilogy these days, I’ve read so many sequels that just do not live up to their predecessors. Thankfully, A Torch Against the Night suffers no such fate.

“So long as you fight the darkness, you stand in the light.”

Once again, this story is told from multiple perspectives: Elias, Laia, and Helene. If I had one quibble, it’s that there’s no real distinction between the three voices. They are such starkly different characters and their stories go on such different paths that I would’ve liked to have some variation between the three. That said, there was a good pace to the story and there was a rhythm that made this book hard to put down.

I didn’t really care for Helene in the first book, but she just blew me away in this one – if Tahir wanted to create a spin-off for Helene, I would read the heck out of it.  In a novel filled with fierce, complex, intelligent, powerful women, Helene stands out from the pack. My heart hurt for her and the impossible situation she was put in. This world is brutal, and Helene does what she has to to survive. The character growth that she displays in this book is incredible, and I cannot wait to see where Tahir takes her journey.

I also loved getting to see Elias’ adopted family. He has a mother who loves him, and it was so heart-warming to read. Their relationship just jumped off the page, especially when Mamie Rila started a riot to help Laia and Elias (Ilyaas!) escape the Masks.

There were some amazing secondary characters – Avitas Harper (please play a larger role in the third book), Keenan (did NOT see that coming), Shaeva (oh, sweetie), and Afya (QUEEEEEN!).

The Commander… I can’t move past it: she seems evil for the sake of being evil. It was a problem for me in the first book, and it was a problem for me in this one. Perhaps it’s because her backstory is a mystery, but I can’t tell what her motivations are, and it frustrates me. If the woman’s willing to poison her son, I want to know how she became so callous. Similarly, the Warden felt unnecessarily evil.

I did enjoy Marcus as a villain. He is very cunning and clever, and while I dislike him as a character, I enjoy him as a villain.

This book was a slow burn, but put everything into place for what will be an amazing finale in the trilogy. Tahir has taken a common YA story and turned it into something completely original and un-put-downable.

★★★★★

Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks

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The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr, narrated by Rosie Jones
Published by Penguin Random House on 12 December 2016
Length: 8 hours 9 minutes
Format: Audiobook
Source: Purchased
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Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town.

Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

If I had to sum this book up in one word, it would be… eh. It was an interesting premise, but poor execution.

First off, Flora’s characterisation was not done all that well. It takes a skilled author to pull off an almost-adult character with the mind of a child, and unfortunately Flora’s immaturity was grating. It didn’t help that she also felt a bit like a Mary Sue  – inexplicably, no matter where she went, everybody was willing to help her – a stranger – and found her endearing. They all seemed to take it in stride when she (repeatedly!) couldn’t remember who they were.

Also, Flora hasn’t made a new memory since she was ten years old. She’ll look in the mirror and has no idea who she is, because she isn’t expecting to see her 17-year-old self. So how the heck did she manage to get from Penzance to Whoop Whoop, Norway without ANY PROBLEMS WHATSOEVER?! It was so incredibly frustrating to listen to something that unrealistic. There were also a lot of things that didn’t really make sense if she had no new memories, like… most ten-year-olds wouldn’t be shaving their legs, so why is she? How does she know how to get herself to the airport, catch a train, row a boat? How can she use some of the words she uses? I’m assuming that there would be some developmental issues with the kind of memory loss Flora displays (if someone more educated on memory loss knows otherwise, please let me know!). There were just a lot of plot holes that couldn’t be chalked up to the unreliable narration.

In terms of the other characters, Flora happens to be saddled with some of the worst humans known to mankind. Drake, the boy she has a crush on, can only be described as a jerk (to put it nicely). He’s 19, and knowing that Flora thinks of herself as a ten-year-old, kisses her and makes her believe they’re in a relationship. However, he’s dating Paige, who, upon learning Flora kissed her boyfriend, cuts Flora out of her life completely. Which would be understandable, but Flora’s parents are going to France for a week and have asked Paige to care for Flora while they’re gone. A PHONE CALL IS NOT ADEQUATE CARE, PAIGE. Inexplicably, they’re friends again by the end of the book. But the characters who take the cake are Flora’s parents, who win the award for World’s Worst Parents.

The things I liked about this book? Her relationship with her brother (unfortunately who mostly stays off-page and we only get to know through his emails to Flora), which has such a huge impact on her story. Rosie Barr’s performance is also top-notch, it gets a whole star for that alone.

Ultimately, this book suffered from poor characterisation, terrible pacing, and trivial treatment of serious issues, and was rather unmemorable in the grand scheme of things.

★★☆☆☆

Review: The Language of Thorns

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The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Orion Books on 26 September 2017
Pages: 281
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, no. 1 New York Times-bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.

Man, I thought Bardugo had really stepped up her game between Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows, but after reading The Language of Thorns, I can safely say I’d be happy if she just wrote short stories for the rest of her career. This collection was so good – conforming closely enough to the fairy tale format to feel familiar, but original enough for the stories to be distinct from the crowd of fairy tale retellings on the YA market.

“Come now, Ayama. You know how the stories go. Interesting things only happen to pretty girls.”

Three of these stories have already been published – Little Knife, Witch of Duva, and The Too-Little Fox – I don’t usually read the ‘novellas’ that often accompany popular YA series, so I went into this not knowing what to expect. I saw influences from fairy tales such as The Nutcracker (The Soldier Prince was the only one that felt like a straight-up retelling), The Litle Mermaid, and Hansel and Gretel. I’m sure those more familiar with fairy tales can find more influences. I liked that Bardugo completely turned the fairy tale genre on its head while retelling them. So often a plot twist would just come out of nowhere, but it felt authentic and true to the story. You think you know how the story ends, but all of these stories ended in ways I was not expecting. Given how little time we got to spend with the characters, it is a testament to Bardugo’s talent to how complex the characters were, and how quickly you came to care for them.

The illustrations on the side of the page were absolutely sumptuous, and I loved how they slightly changed as the story progressed. You could tell how much care and love went into the production of this book, and it just made my reading experience that little bit better. One slight annoyance – the font goes between teal and maroon (in keeping with the colour scheme of the illustrations), and I think I would’ve found it easier to read black don’t. That said, it’s a tiny thing to pull up and didn’t really affect my overall enjoyment of the tales.

My favourite tale was, hands down, The Witch of Duva. More of this, please.

Recommended for fans of: Lips Touch Three Times

 ★★★★☆

Review: Strange the Dreamer

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Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 28 March 2017
Pages: 544
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around – and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries – including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real? 

Ughh, this was perfection and I don’t know why I waited so long to read this. I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy like I have loved few books, and I am so pleased that Strange the Dreamer actually lived up to my expectations. It was gorgeous and odd and lyrical. In short, perfection. Although, also kind of weird.

I didn’t even know what to expect going in, I just saw ‘Laini Taylor’ and bought it. While I think it’s better to go into this book blind, for those who don’t know and are interested, the book opens on Lazlo Strange, a young librarian who was orphaned as a baby. He grew up obsessing over the Unseen City, whose true name was stolen from everybody’s mind and replaced with the word Weep. Lazlo knows he once knew Weep’s true name, but cannot remember it and devotes his life to uncovering the secrets of the city. When the Godslayer comes to select a delegation to visit Weep, Lazlo convinces him to let him join. I won’t elaborate anymore, just know that the journey he goes on is magical and filled with wonderful characters.

The characters are filled with shades of grey – the villains are sympathetic and the heroes are flawed. Even my least favourite characters still had redeemable qualities, and the smallest characters had intriguing back stories.

She asked in a hesitant whisper, “Do you still think I’m a… a singularly unhorrible demon?” “No,” he said, smiling. “I think you’re a fairy tale. I think you’re magical, and brave, and exquisite. And…” His voice grew bashful. Only in a dream could he be so bold and speak such words. “I hope you’ll let me be in your story.”

Taylor’s world-building has improved so much since Daughter of Smoke and Bone. While Dreams of Gods and Monsters had some fantastic world-building, this book just blew me away. It’s a well-conceived tale of gods and goddesses, and was tinged with elements of the beloved fairy tales of my youth. Lazlo strongly reminds me of Harry Potter (perhaps a lazy comparison), in that he is an orphaned young man who kind of has this great journey thrust upon him (admittedly, they also kind of seek it out). Sarai – oh my God, Sarai.  She is such a complicated and wonderful character.

The ending broke my heart into little pieces, and I was surprised I could get so invested in the story. I need The Muse of Nightmares, like right now. It was definitely a shock twist (and not a shitty, done for the sake of shock value twist like Allegiant), and I cannot wait to see where Taylor takes the story from here.

As always, Taylor’s prose is lyrical and wonderful, although it did feel a little forced in parts. The dialogue was on point, and the banter between Lazlo and Sarai felt so realistic. Taylor is one of the most talented writers publishing today, and this book is an absolute treat.

★★★★★

Review: All the Crooked Saints

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All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
Published by Scholastic on 10 October 2017
Pages: 311
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Here is a thing everyone wants:
A miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears:
What it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado, is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

I’m not really a huge magical realism fan, so I knew going into this that, despite being a diehard Maggie Stiefvater fan, this book may not be for me. Unfortunately, I was right.

All the Crooked Saints is a story about loss, love, saints and demons. Set in Bicho Raro, Colorado during the 1960s, it focuses on the Soria family and the pilgrims who have come to them for a miracle. It is full of Stiefvater’s signature lyrical prose, however the story itself was slow-moving and left me feeling bored. There was a really slow build-up for what was ultimately a rushed ending. The writing was absolutely phenomenal – there really is nothing that Stiefvater can’t make sound magical and gorgeous. The story had a fairy/folk tale vibe at times, a slight softness to what is ultimately a weird story.

There was a host of interesting characters, including the three Soria cousins – Daniel, the saint of Bicho Raro; Beatriz, a girl incapable of feeling emotions; and Joaquín, otherwise known as Diablo Diablo, who runs an illegal radio station. Marisita, a pilgrim who is constantly followed by heavy rain, was probably my favourite of the pilgrims, followed closely by Padre Jiminez, who had the head of a jackal and overall really just fascinated me. Unfortunately, at times it felt as if these characters were slightly tweaked versions of the characters in the Raven Cycle.

Ultimately, this book was just okay. I appreciated that Stiefvater was trying to do something new, and I loved that she took criticism of her lack of representation in previous novels on board.  I will definitely pick up Stiefvater’s future books, this one just wasn’t for me.

Recommended for fans of: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

★★★☆☆

Review: Turtles All the Way Down

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Published by Puffin on 10 October 2017

Pages: 286

Format: Hardcover

Source: Purchased

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Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

I haven’t really read a lot this year, but this book changed that. I received it last Thursday (I pre-ordered it on Amazon because signed copy), and read it in one three hour sitting.

The first thing I want to address is this book’s depiction of mental illness. It is honest and feels genuine. I have clinical depression and generalised anxiety disorder, and Aza’s thought spirals are all too familiar. It was a relief to see some of my flaws and ‘quirks’ in a character, so I can only imagine how much it must mean to a teenager suffering with a mental illness. Green has OCD, so it is easy to see why Aza’s OCD feels genuine. In some ways, Aza’s thought spirals were discomforting – and occasionally horrifying – to read, but you eventually come to terms with being inside a mind that is at war with itself.

“There’s no self to hate. It’s like, when I look into myself, there’s no actual me—just a bunch of thoughts and behaviors and circumstances. And a lot of them just don’t feel like they’re mine. They’re not things I want to think or do or whatever. And when I do look for the, like, Real Me, I never find it.”

In the Tumblr generation, mental illness is almost romanticised, but Green doesn’t do that. You get the shitty part of dealing with mental illness: how frustrating it can be for family and friends. Your world view can become incredibly myopic and all you see is how your mental illness affects you. You don’t always pay attention to the people around you, and you can’t always articulate what you want from them. I appreciated this being explored in Daisy and Aza’s relationship.

Like any John Green book, you can expect some fantastic characterisation. Davis with his fear of nobody liking the real him, Daisy and her Chewbacca x Rey romantic fan fiction, Mychal and his art, Aza and her …everything (she’s a bit like mustard). They feel realistic and they’re memorable. You really come to care for them, and when Daisy and Aza were fighting, my heart was breaking (their friendship is the true love story of this book).

I found the B story of Davis’ missing father to be a little clumsily handled, and felt that it kind of took away from the main story. It was wrapped up hurriedly towards the end of the book, and to be honest I had forgotten that that plot point had been dropped halfway through the book until it resurfaced again. However, the ending itself was realistic, but still optimistic.

I really appreciated the message that life goes on. Maybe you’re not in the best spot right now, but you will get through it. Life is not set in stone. Green never dumbs his books down for his audience, and that is why he is one of the most celebrated YA authors today.

★★★★☆

Review: And I Darken

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And I Darken by Kiersten White 

Narrated by Fiona Hardingham

Published by the Listening Library on 28 June 2016

Length: 13 hours and 26 minutes

Format: Audiobook

Source: Free download via Audible

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NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken. 

I’m a bit late to the audiobook party. Admittedly, I started because I found juggling an actual book (along with all my other bits and bobs) while standing on the train to/from work difficult. A friend recommended I try Audible, because they have a 30 day free trial and you get one free book a month. And I Darken was my pick for September. I went into it not knowing anything about it, apart from the fact that it was incredibly polarising on Goodreads. I really loved it!

“On our wedding night,” she said, “I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself. You will most likely choke to death on your own blood, which will be unfortunate, but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied.”

It’s a dark, gritty story with a savage, unapologetic heroine. A lot of people have classified it as fantasy, but it’s really an alternate history. Set in Transylvania at the height of the Ottoman Empire, it reimagines Vlad the Impaler, who’s probably best known as the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as a girl. A very aggressive, very ambitious girl. It’s refreshing to see a heroine who is advertised as being cruel and savage as, well…. cruel and savage. Celaena Sardothien,   Ladislav Dragwlya is not. Lada is disdainful towards women and spends a fair chunk of the book navigating her femininity. The book explores different types of power and how they are wielded. I think a really powerful moment was Lada realising how some women use their sexuality as a means to an end, and that it was used to greater effect than fear.

Lada is also disdainful of her brother, who she sees as weak. Lada and Radu have been handed over as political prisoners to assure their father’s continued reign. Their relationship is tempestuous, filled with jealousy, frustration, and miscommunication. They also recognise that they are all they have in the world, and care for one another immensely. Radu is as charming and gentle as Lada is savage and cruel. Working together, they are unstoppable. I really appreciated the realistic depiction of their relationship and the complexity to it.

Overall, it was an original and enthralling listen. Fiona Hardingham really captured the atmosphere, and it really felt like she was performing the story rather than just reading it. It’s a lot more politically focused than many young adult/new adult fiction, and White expertly weaves religion, politics and sexuality throughout the story. Religion, politics and sexuality drive not only the plot, but the characters themselves, and it was incredible to listen to everything come together. I really enjoyed that this was a story set in Eastern Europe, because most historical//fantasy young adult fiction is inspired by Western Europe.

From the sounds of things, White really did her research, and it shows. I can’t wait to see what’s next in this saga.

Recommended if you like: The Winner’s Trilogy

★★★★☆

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman
Published by HarperCollins Australia on the 1st June 2017
Pages:
400
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life. Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

I didn’t really know anything about this book going into it. I picked it up on a whim, and am so thankful I did! It is easily one of my favourite releases of the year.  Eleanor Oliphant is the kind of character who stays with you long after you’ve finished the book.

On the surface, this book is a very funny novel about a socially inept 29 year-old woman. Eleanor Oliphant truly is socially inept, in a way that puts my socially awkward self to shame. It is painful to watch Eleanor interact with those around her, if only because of the resulting scorn and her absolute cluelessness to it.

“I purchased it in a charity shop some years ago, and it has a photograph of a moon-faced man. He is wearing a brown leather blouson. Along the top, in strange yellow font, it says ‘Top Gear’. I don’t profess to understand this mug. It holds the perfect amount of vodka, however, thereby obviating the need for frequent refills.”

Honeyman deftly handles the difficult task of making sure that the reader is never laughing at Eleanor’s social ineptness itself, but the situations that she finds herself because of it. One of my favourite moments was Eleanor getting a bikini wax and then berating the poor beautician because Eleanor didn’t realise just how much was going to be waxed (or how painful it would be). I truly felt for Eleanor – whether it was overhearing her work colleagues speculating on her private life, watching her fall in love with the idea of a person, or her dealing with those moments with Mummy. Her relationship with her mother is really one of the most interesting parts of the book – the dynamics of the relationship are off from the start (I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, so won’t go into much detail), but you really get the feeling that it is an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship, with Mummy holding all the power.

I think anyone who has ever felt like an outsider will identify with Eleanor. Eleanor may do some reprehensible things, she may (unintentionally) make others feel uncomfortable, but she is never an unsympathetic character. Even as she grows throughout the novel, her characterisation is always consistent. While this book is definitely Eleanor’s story, there are are a host of other characters who are wonderfully drawn, and just feel like people. The fantastic characterisation is really what drew me into this story.

I took a star off for the ending – I felt like it really came out of nowhere and was kind of a plot twist for the sake of a plot twist. However, this is a really assured debut novel, and I cannot wait to see what Honeyman does next.

Recommended if you like: The Rosie Project, Wonder

★☆

Review: The Upside of Unrequited

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The Upside of Unrequited
by Becky Albertalli
Published by Penguin Australia on 18th April 2017
Page count: 300
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love-she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful. Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness-except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny, flirtatious, and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

I really loved Becky Albertalli’s debut, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and The Upside of Unrequited was one of my most anticipated releases of 2017. Unfortunately, I didn’t love this as much as I thought I would. I struggled to connect to the characters, and ultimately didn’t find it as charming as Albertalli’s previous novel.

While characters were diverse on page (a variety of sexual orientations, including pansexual, bisexual, and homosexual; characters of colour; mental illnesses were also brought up), it felt forced and unnatural. Diversity is important, but if it’s just for the sake of checking a box, is it genuinely contributing to a more diverse literary landscape? I think part of the problem was that Albertalli spent so much time creating a diverse cast of characters, she forgot to add strong characterisation (which is something that she did so well in Simon), and characters ended up being defined by their marginalisation, instead. Molly doesn’t seem to have any interests outside of developing 27 crushes over the course of her lifetime. What does she do, aside from obsess over boys and hate herself for being overweight (and drink alcohol, even though she’s not supposed to because she is on ZOLOFT)? I do not know. Reid is described as ‘nerdy,’ but it feels like mainstream nerdy things were picked – Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, World of Warcraft – and only ever really mentioned in passing.

I disliked Cassie with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, so I guess that counts for something. As Cassie is a Very Terrible Person and Molly… is unable to define herself outside of other people, Cassie frequently uses her sister as a means to an end. Por ejemplo: she publicly embarasses Molly by telling the story of Molly vomiting (in public) during their bat mitzvah (while wearing a microphone) to charm Mina, the girl she likes. She decides to force Molly into a relationship with Will, Mina’s best friend, so she doesn’t have to sacrifice spending time with her girlfriend to hang out with her sister. She seems to begin every sentence to Molly with, ‘no offence, but…’ To quote Todd Jacobsen, offence taken, Cassie. OFFENCE. TAKEN (you know what was offensive? Avril Lavigne’s Sk8er Boi on a list of terrible noughties tunes).

There was also no compelling plot – it was legitimately just Molly’s quest for a boyfriend. In fact, it felt like Twilight without the vampires. The story follows Molly gaining self-confidence, but that only happens when she gets a boyfriend. It kind of insinuated that a person isn’t complete without a partner, or adds some kind of self-worth. I get that this book was supposed to empowering for the overweight teenage girls, but as someone who was an overweight teen (and is an overweight adult), I can promise I would’ve taken the wrong message away had I read this as a teenager.

I would’ve liked to see some tighter editing (it’s kimchi folks, not kimchee). An extra star added for a brief cameo from Simon, because I really do love that book. Despite this book not being for me, I will definitely check out Albertalli’s future work (because Simon, guys).

★★★☆☆

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.