Review: Shtum

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Shtum by Jem Lester
Published by Orion on the 7th April 2016
Pages: 368
Format: Ebook
Source: ARC
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Powerful, darkly funny and heart-breaking, Shtum is a story about fathers and sons, autism, and dysfunctional relationships. Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope.

When Ben and Emma fake a separation – a strategic decision to further Jonah’s case in an upcoming tribunal – Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben’s elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men – one who can’t talk; two who won’t – are thrown together.

I requested this book on NetGalley because I found the premise intriguing, and while I didn’t love this book as much as I thought I would, I found it enjoyable and think it will be a resounding success for Lester.

Shtum is a book about the relationship between fathers and sons – and their inability to communicate with one another. In the case of Ben and Jonah, they are literally unable to communicate because Jonah’s autism means he is unable to speak; Ben and Georg don’t seem to speak about anything of importance. While it was clear that Ben loved his son and would go to great lengths for him, I found the relationship between Georg and Jonah to be poignant and more touching. The level of patience and care that Georg displayed towards Jonah was heart-warming, and the stories he tells the uninterested Jonah (and his reasoning behind telling him) about his family will surprise you.

In all honesty, I found it difficult to connect to Ben. Lester hasn’t shied away from creating a flawed, complex character, and while it makes Shtum a more believable story, I’m not sure it make it a better story. It’s possible to forgive Ben for his faults, but he wasn’t exactly a character I enjoyed spending four hundred-odd pages with. Ben’s problems are understandable – it cannot be easy caring for a child with autism. Ben struggles with the competing demands of Jonah and the family business, so Georg is handed the responsibility of caring for Jonah and the family business is left in the hands of its only employee (besides Ben) while Ben heads to the pub. Ben resents Georg for not being more open with him, but isn’t open with Georg; he’s angry at his (absent) wife, Emma, for wanting out of their relationship. Ben seems intent on creating more problems for himself, to the point it becomes wearisome and you stop hoping he’ll win and start wondering when he’s going to stop sabotaging himself.

Where there was too much of Ben, there was perhaps not enough of the female characters. I’m fine with this being a book about men and their relationships with one another – I expected this from the premise going in. But the female characters were one-dimensional and flat; seemingly used as either pretty ornaments or excuses for Ben’s awful behaviour. Emma is depicted as selfish and cold-hearted for leaving Ben and Jonah (although does get a little redemption arc towards the end);Ben’s mother as an alcoholic who cared little for her husband and son. I probably would have had more sympathy for Ben over the breakdown of his marriage had I a bit more insight into the early days of their relationship, but all we saw was a self-absorbed alcoholic and a woman desperate to be a mother. Ben came across as selfish, hypocritical, rude and drunk (I guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree…), so I’m not sure why Jonah’s twenty-something teacher would flirt with Ben (or spend her personal time helping him care for Jonah), or why a blind date would show any interest in him.

Despite my complaints about Shtum, there is still much to love about it. Lester is able to make a novel touching with being overly-sentimental; he writes about serious subject matter while still being able to add a comedic touch when needed. This book ended on such a beautiful note that I finished it crying – and given that I spent a lot of the book being frustrated with Ben, I think it says a lot about Lester’s writing.

★★★☆☆

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

 

Review: The Wrath and The Dawn

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The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn #1) by Renée Ahdieh
Published by Penguin Random House Australia on the 12th May 2015
Pages: 388
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and enthralling read from beginning to end.

This one was a mixed read for me. The second half was definitely stronger than the first – while the first half left me feeling underwhelmed, after that ending I cannot wait to get my hands on the second book.

The Wrath and the Dawn is an angsty romance inspired by A Thousand and One Nights. However, although this book was a romance, there were a lot of things I enjoyed about it, namely that the world was very different to typical YA worlds. Taking place in a world inspired by the Middle East, it was a breath of fresh air to see a world that wasn’t inspired by Medieval Europe. The supporting cast were three-dimensional and add something to the story. Shazi’s friendship with Despina is heartwarming and a much-needed female companion for her; Jalal charming and witty.

However, there was something missing – the writing felt stilted and emotionally distant. It was never explained why Khalid chose to let Shazi live beyond the first night. Shazi was given multiple opportunities to ~exact her revenge~ on Khalid, but she never does because there was a slight case of instalove, in that despite the fact Shazi offers to marry Khalid in order to kill him, two days into their marriage he’s already tugging on her heartstrings. The romance, while compelling, didn’t feel organic in the beginning.

Shazi’s retellings of the Arabian nights didn’t really add anything to the story – I found myself skimming some of them in order to get back to the main story because they were clumsily inserted and had zero subtext and I didn’t feel any emotional connection.

Finally, there’s a love triangle, which I could do without. I felt that it existed to make a ‘bad guy’ out of Tariq – because, honestly, you just know that Tariq and Shazi aren’t going to end up together, regardless of whether Shazi and Khalid end up together.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people have been shelving The Wrath and the Dawn as a fantasy, but it doesn’t have any fantastical elements to it – a few mentions of magic here and there, but nothing really to warrant a fantasy label. It felt more like a historical romance than anything else.

★★★☆☆

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

Review: Their Fractured Light

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Their Fractured Light (The Starbound Trilogy #3) by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Published by Allen & Unwin on the 1st December 2015
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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A year ago, Flynn Cormac and Jubilee Chase made the now infamous Avon Broadcast, calling on the galaxy to witness for their planet, and protect them from destruction. Some say Flynn’s a madman, others whisper about conspiracies. Nobody knows the truth. A year before that, Tarver Merendsen and Lilac LaRoux were rescued from a terrible shipwreck—now, they live a public life in front of the cameras, and a secret life away from the world’s gaze. Now, in the center of the universe on the planet of Corinth, all four are about to collide with two new players, who will bring the fight against LaRoux Industries to a head. Gideon Marchant is an eighteen-year-old computer hacker—a whiz kid and an urban warrior. He’ll climb, abseil and worm his way past the best security measures to pull off onsite hacks that others don’t dare touch.

Sofia Quinn has a killer smile, and by the time you’re done noticing it, she’s got you offering up your wallet, your car, and anything else she desires. She holds LaRoux Industries responsible for the mysterious death of her father and is out for revenge at any cost. When a LaRoux Industries security breach interrupts Gideon and Sofia’s separate attempts to infiltrate their headquarters, they’re forced to work together to escape. Each of them has their own reason for wanting to take down LaRoux Industries, and neither trusts the other. But working together might be the best chance they have to expose the secrets LRI is so desperate to hide.

This series has been the perfect combination of fluffy and science fiction. Although I had my reservations about this series after These Broken Stars, I’m glad that I kept with it – because it has turned into one of my favourite YA series. It’s actually quite epic and intricate, and despite the fact that these books are companion novels and feature different characters, it has been steadily working towards a bigger picture. There has been some Harry Potter-level plot building put into this trilogy, and I was in awe of how much planning went into these books.

The first half of the book was spent with Sofia (whom we had met in This Shattered World) and Gideon, and their interests in LaRoux Industries. The second half saw us reunite with the entire gang, raising the stakes for them and making what I felt to be a much stronger half of the book.

When I say the stakes were raised for everyone, I mean the stakes were raised. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but I feared for Lilac and Tarver, who were struggling with Lilac’s connection to the whispers. I hoped that Jubilee and Flynn could have a better lot in life than what they’d been given. I felt for Sofia and Gideon, who had both reached a point in their lives where they felt they couldn’t trust anyone and that it was easier to live life without any ties to anyone. I was found myself emotionally invested in the characters and was reluctant to put the book down and leave the action.

My only quibble was getting little snippets from the whispers, which I felt was unnecessary (and kind of reminded me of AIDAN in Illuminae). I didn’t think they added that much to the story, and even though they were usually only a paragraph in length I found myself skipping over them to get back to the main action.

Their Fractured Light was a beautiful ending to a wonderful series. Everything that I felt maybe hadn’t been addressed properly in earlier books was wrapped up in this one, and it was the perfect send-off for these characters.

If you haven’t read The Starbound Trilogy, I highly recommend you do! Kaufman and Spooner are in the process of writing another trilogy (with a planned release for 2017), which has already gone on my auto-buy list. While I’m sad that this series has come to an end – and hope we’ll be able to revisit this world sometime in the future – I cannot wait to see what these talented ladies do next!

★★★★★

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

 

Review: Chimera

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Chimera (Parasitology #3) by Mira Grant
Published by Orbit on the 26th November 2015
Pages: 496
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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The final book in Mira Grant’s terrifying Parasitology trilogy. The outbreak has spread, tearing apart the foundations of society, as implanted tapeworms have turned their human hosts into a seemingly mindless mob.Sal and her family are trapped between bad and worse, and must find a way to compromise between the two sides of their nature before the battle becomes large enough to destroy humanity, and everything that humanity has built…including the chimera.The broken doors are closing. Can Sal make it home?


Chimera was an excellent ending to the incredibly gross Parasitology trilogy (seriously – I couldn’t help but think about what it’d be like to have a tapeworm hanging around in my intestines, and the thought made me gag a little). One of the things that has made me love this series so much is Grant’s ability to blur the line between human and tapeworm – the tapeworms are not presented as the “bad guys,” as such – at least not uniformly. Both humans and tapeworms make questionable choices, do awful things. We are given multiple perspectives and in the middle is Sal, who is torn between her fellow chimera and the humans she loves.

Being a monster is not the same as being a bad person. It just means you’re willing to eat the world if that’s what you have to do to keep yourself alive.

Moreover, as disgusting as I find the idea of a tapeworm crawling around my insides, I really came to care for Sal, Adam, and Tansy. I feared for their lives and hoped that they’d all survive against the odds – particularly with Tansy. After the events of Symbiont, Tansy appeared basically in name only in Chimera (she was the tapeworm equivalent of comatose), and I missed her dearly.The only character I didn’t really come to feel anything for was Juniper – I understand why she was created, and what she represented for Sal; ultimately she didn’t add anything to the story for me because we spent so little page time with her. Also, I’m not sure if this is a problem that any other readers had during the series, but Dr. Cale strongly reminded me of Dr. Abbey from Newsflesh, and I found myself conflating the two, pretty much. There were also a few plot points that were introduced, but weren’t addressed or resolved satisfactorily.

Grant raised the stakes for her characters in Chimera – I was never certain that Sherman would be defeated or that Sal and her family would make it out unscathed. I felt Sal’s fear, her hope, and her desperation. For the first time in this series, Sal is actively making choices (and recruits others into helping her) rather than letting things happen to her.
Was this book a perfect book? No, but Grant’s abilities as a story-teller made me enjoy this book so much I was able to overlook the problems I had with it. I loved being a part of this world, and I hope Grant revisits it in the future (with a book about Tansy or Fishy, please).

★★★★★

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

 

Reread 2015

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
First Published: 1847
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Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

 

I first read Wuthering Heights when I was in high school, I think when I was fifteen. I remember that I didn’t like it very much, mostly because I didn’t understand it and it completely went over my head. I was expecting it to be romantic… which this novel is most definitely not. The fact that my knowledge of classic literature was also limited to Jane Austen probably also affected how much I originally liked the novel. I later picked it up again while at university, and with a few more years (and a greater understanding of literature) behind me, I found that I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around. While Wuthering Heights isn’t my favourite Brontë book, it is one that I have reread a few times already.

Wuthering Heights was Brain Soup Goes Gilmore’s pick for this month – or rather, October & November. Some questions that I kept in mind while reading for discussion were:

  • Is this a love story?
  • What are the motivations behind the actions of Cathy, Heathcliff, etc.? Does it make their actions more understandable?

Wuthering Heights is a book that is hard to forget. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. The thing that strikes me the most about Wuthering Heights is how difficult it is to read. Cathy and Heathcliff are incredibly unlikeable. When this book was first published, it was pretty much universally panned because of how awful Cathy and Heathcliff are, so it is interesting that Brontë chose to make her protagonists as repugnant as they are.

This book is emotionally exhausting. Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship is destructive, possessive, and ultimately cruel; based not in passion but hatred. Cathy famously exclaims,

I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.

This is somewhat accurate. Both characters are selfish, violent, and conniving people who have both had their fair share of abuse and feel no qualms about abusing those they deem beneath them. Thus, they are able to make both themselves and everyone around them incredibly miserable – even after their deaths. This is perhaps no surprise, because all these characters live in an isolated environment from which they cannot escape.

Cathy and Heathcliff do not need to be present for their influence over the other characters to be felt. The children of this novel – Cathy (II), Linton, and Hareton – are forced to suffer for the transgressions of their parents and must find ways to make amends for them, despite not one of them having the full story.

Is this book a perfect book? No. The framing device within a framing device? It’s totally awkward. I’m sure Brontë could have found a better way to tell this story than have Nelly write a letter explaining the events that Lockwood later writes down in his diary. The layers of perspective meant that it was often difficult to figure out who was telling the story. But I’m able to overlook the problematic elements of this novel because it’s an example of Gothic fiction done right. It has it all: revenge, ghosts, mysterious disappearances, the moors… it’s so atmospheric and so well-done that you can’t help but appreciate why it’s considered to be one of the finest pieces of British literature.

 

 ★★★★☆

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

Review: Illuminae

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Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Published by Allen & Unwin on the 1st November 2015
Pages: 602
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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One moment, Kady Grant and Ezra Mason have nothing bigger to worry about than each other. Specifically, avoiding each other in the wake of their messy break-up. In the next second, their entire world falls apart.The year is 2375 and one of the mega-corporations that control much of deep space has just fired the opening salvo in an intergalactic war, destroying Kady and Ezra’s planet. Forced to flee on a small fleet of crippled rescue ships alongside thousands of other refugees, the fear of enemy warships chasing them down is at first all-consuming but soon becomes the least of their worries. A deadly plague is ravaging the refugees on the ships; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be an enemy; and High Command is refusing to acknowledge that there may be a serious problem. As Kady plunges into a tangled web of data in search of the truth, she realises that Ezra is possibly the only person who can help her save the refugees before it’s too late.

I like my books to come with structure, and this book doesn’t really have that. When I first started reading, I was kind of thrown by its lack of structure and change in perspectives, with the occasional graphic thrown in. Don’t get me wrong: it is a spectacular book and a very cool idea: it will probably sell quite well because it’s innovative and original and if I were handing out stars based on ideas alone, this book would get all five, no questions asked. I’ve seen people refer to it as a ‘romantic space opera,’ and I agree with that.

However, this was – once again – a romance novel masquerading as something else. Most of the interview transcripts, emails, and instant messages in the book revolved around the two leads either telling the other they were in love, or talking about their love for the other lead to one of the sidekicks. Trying to figure out what went wrong with AIDAN, the artificial intelligence that helps run the spaceship, seemed to be a minor inconvenience in their tale of woe. Chatspeak was used, but the characters would use ‘u’ and ‘you’ in the space of about six words, which annoyed me more than it should, and the military reports seemed jokey and fake – if you’re going to write in a certain style, please commit to the format.

Finally – and this is only a minor criticism – but I had assumed that with two Australian authors we would finally (!) but getting some kind of non-contemporary YA novel set in Australia (or some version of Australia on another planet in a galaxy far, far away), but alas. With all the Americanisms (“mom” being the most noticeable one), it was seemed to be set in some futuristic replica of America, which I found a little disappointing. Okay, yes, small, tiny, ridiculous complaint in the grand scheme of things, but if we go by YA standards, the US has a lot of bad luck while the rest of the world gets off seemingly scot-free. It would’ve been nice to have a bit of a change.

What did I like about this book? You can tell how much love and work went into the making of this book. It is detailed beyond all belief. Kaufman and Kristoff aren’t afraid to try things stylistically speaking, and I have a whole new level of respect for them as authors.  But the book’s selling point is also its downfall: it is perhaps too epic.

Also, Kaufman and Kristoff aren’t afraid to get violent. It’s basically a super-gorey, non-musical, science fiction version of Into the Woods, in that you’re made to care about a character, and then they die. It’s like Wash commenting that he is a leaf on the wind in Serenity. It’s like the time Amber Benson was finally added to the opening credits of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Your heart will be ripped out unapologetically. You’ve been warned.

★★★☆☆

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

Review: Six of Crows

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Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Orion on the 12th July 2015
Pages: 465
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.
Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other fir
st.

Until I picked up Six of Crows, I hadn’t realised how many books centred around a Chosen One or starcrossed lovers on a mission to save their country/the world I had been reading of late, so this one was a welcome change of pace. While I had adored Bardugo’s debut, Shadow & Bone, I felt that its successors weren’t that strong, and so I was a little apprehensive about this one. I’m glad I picked it up – Six of Crows is so much darker than the Grisha trilogy, more complex, and a hell of a lot more adult. Bardugo’s growth as a writer between Ruin & Rising and Six of Crows is near unbelievable.

This book, is, in a word, epic. Grandiose. Ambitious. Unlike a lot of YA fantasy, this is not a romance novel masquerading as the latest trend. While there is a romance, it never takes over the story and when it does appear it feels natural and organic (that said, I spent the majority of the novel shipping Kaz and Inej). This is a story about six criminals attempting a high-stakes heist: breaking into the Ice Court, which has never been broken into successfully before, and smuggle out a prisoner in exchange for thirty million kruge split between them. Each character has their own agendas and loyalties, and you’re never entirely certain whether they’re going to achieve the impossible. These characters aren’t friends on a mission to save the world: they all agreed to participate in the heist for their own reasons. I don’t normally include quotes in my reviews, but I’m throwing some out here because I love this book and I want to share it with everyone:

Four million kruge, freedom, a chance to return home. She’d said she wanted these things. But in her heart, she couldn’t bear the thought of returning to her parents. Could she tell her mother and father the truth? Would they understand all she’d done to survive, not just at the Menagerie, but every day since? Could she lay her head in her mother’s lap and be forgiven? What would they see when they looked at her?

Although the book is told in third person, each chapter focuses on a different character, so you learn their backstory, their motivations, and their relationship to other members of the crew. I found myself coming to care for every single main character in this book, which is no mean feat when you’ve got a cast of characters as large as this one. Furthermore, the characters were all three-dimensional – layered, complex characters that were immensely likeable, despite doing fairly despicable things from time to time.

“Duping innocent people isn’t something to be proud of.”

“It is if you do it well.”

There’s also a lot of diversity amongst the crew in terms of race/sexuality/gender and it doesn’t feel forced, or like Bardugo is simply checking off a list – so if you’re looking for diverse reads, I would highly recommend this one.

If you haven’t read the Grisha trilogy, you might find the world a little confusing – however, I felt that the world-building was far more complex and fully realised in Six of Crows than it ever was in the Grisha trilogy.

This book was everything I ever wanted from New Adult Fiction. All I can say is: read the book.

★★★★★

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

Review: Carry On

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Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Pan Macmillan on the 8th October 2015
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Simon Snow just wants to relax and savor his last year at the Watford School of Magicks, but no one will let him. His girlfriend broke up with him, his best friend is a pest, and his mentor keeps trying to hide him away in the mountains where maybe he’ll be safe. Simon can’t even enjoy the fact that his roommate and longtime nemesis is missing, because he can’t stop worrying about the evil git. Plus there are ghosts. And vampires. And actual evil things trying to shut Simon down. When you’re the most powerful magician the world has ever known, you never get to relax and savor anything.

I’m going to be honest: I read Fangirl and my least favourite parts of the book were the little excerpts from Simon Snow. So I went into this one a little apprehensive, because I didn’t think that I was going to be the target reader for this one. If nothing else, I can walk away from this read and know that I have a fairly good idea of the books I will enjoy.

For those who haven’t read Fangirl, Simon Snow is the Harry Potter of that world (or it was supposed to be, until one of the characters referenced Harry Potter). I was kind of hoping that a fully-fleshed out book would make me appreciate Simon and Baz, but it didn’t. Not only did it fail to shake off the Harry Potter connotations, but it felt like a bad parody of slash fan fiction. I was never into slash fan fiction, if only because it exists to titillate teenage girls. If you’re going to write a homosexual/bisexual character, than said character needs to exist beyond their sexual orientation. Which is to say, their sexuality should be a part of their identity, not the only discernible feature of it.

It didn’t help that reading Carry On felt like picking up Deathly Hallows without having read the first six books. I had been dropped into this story and told all these things about all these characters, but none of it felt organic. The characters didn’t have any chemistry with each other, the plot was outlandish and underdeveloped. When the book was able to shake off the Harry Potter connections and be its own story, it was good. I could also see sparks of Rowell’s signature humour – but these moments were few and far between.

Carry On was definitely not Rowell’s best effort, and I while I understand she was trying her hand a new genre, I hope she sticks to writing contemporary YA fiction.

★★☆☆☆

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

 

Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

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The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books on the 27th August 2015
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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What if you aren’t the Chosen One?
The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

When a book advertises itself as being about the ordinary kids who are pushed to the background in favour of the Chosen Ones, it probably shouldn’t be all that surprising when the tale that it tells is just that… ordinary. I was blown away by Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy but haven’t really loved anything he’s written since, and I was hoping that The Rest of Us Just Live Here would change that. Unfortunately, I was more in love with the idea of this novel than the actual execution.

If you’re looking for a diverse read, then this book is for you. In our main cast of characters, there are characters with mental health issues, gay characters, characters of colour… it literally ticks off every box. Maybe that’s what troubled me about it: in a book designed to make teenagers think about the tropes in the books they read, this book somehow manages to feel formulaic (or maybe that’s the point and I’m not a sophisticated reader to appreciate it).

It’s not that the book isn’t technically well-written: Ness knows his craft well. Each chapter opens with a little synopsis of what the Chosen Ones – here known as the indie kids – are up to. It’s a humorous take on the Chosen One genre that has emerged out of YA lit. Unfortunately, these little synopses are what stands out the most. Despite the main cast of characters having relatable issues in their everyday lives – absent, neglectful or alcoholic parents, mental health issues (eating disorders and OCD), and unrequited love – I was unable to really connect with them.  It felt like the book only scratched the surface of its potential and ultimately I wanted more from it, character-wise and plot-wise.

I have no doubt that my opinion is in the minority and this book will be wildly popular. Regardless, Ness is a gifted author who writes smart fiction, and I will continue to check out his work.

★★★☆☆

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

Review: Career of Evil

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Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith
Published by Sphere on the 22nd October 2015
Pages: 494
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Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them.

Here I am, life-long J.K. Rowling fan, to tell you that she can do no wrong and genre-cross like it’s nobody’s business (by now we all know that Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym, right? Right?). Career of Evil is arguably the best book of the series thus far. It is certainly the darkest and most gruesome. There is a slight departure from the procedural feel of the first two books, with Career of Evil being more character-driven. We finally delve deeper into Robin’s backstory (!!!), which I appreciated.

In the acknowledgements, Galbraith mentions that this is the book (s)he’s been the most swept up in while writing, and you can tell this by the writing. Unlike the first two books, which were focused more on fame, Career of Evil focuses on misogyny and violence against women: rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse – it doesn’t really let up.

I think what made me love this book so much is the fact that for the first time in the series, Robin is able to step out from Cormoran’s shadow. I loved Robin right off the bat, and have been eagerly waiting for more.This book, for all intents and purposes, is Robin’s story. In a story about women who have been raped, women who have been abused, women who have been tortured and beaten, women who have lost all hope, Robin is a shining light leading them home. I loved her tenacity, her strength, her constant need to grow, her unwavering loyalty, her ambition and her kindness. Robin’s growth in this novel was astronomical, and as a reader, I was thrilled.

What turned this book into a four star read for me was, primarily, the decision to include chapters from the killer’s point of view. They were quite sadistic and hateful, and gave the reader an insight into the mindset of the killer. However, I’m not entirely convinced that it worked – while nothing about these chapters gave away the killer’s identity (which it could’ve easily have done), after awhile it felt quite repetitive and almost forced.

The other factor into my four star rating was Matthew. Oh, Matthew, you deeply unpleasant man.You were blundering but well-intentioned in The Cuckoo’s Calling. You were slightly, uh, odd in The Silkworm. But your controlling, manipulative ways and raging jealousy in Career of Evil has pushed you into irredeemable territory. It was mildly horrifying to watch Robin marry you after everything you pulled in this book.  But Matthew felt too nasty, too one-dimensional: he felt like a cardboard cutout villain standing in the way of a Robin/Strike romance (it felt like that was where the novel was heading, and if so, I’m not entirely sure I can jump on that ship).

Overall, a compelling read, I can’t wait for the next one! Although, given my love for Rowling, we probably knew that was going to happen.

★★★★☆

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