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.

Review: Queen of Shadows

23848145Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass) by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury on the 1st September 2015
Pages: 645
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she’s at last returned to the empire—for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past. She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die just to see her again. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen’s triumphant return. Celaena’s epic journey has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions across the globe. This fourth volume will hold readers rapt as Celaena’s story builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world.

My goodness, this review is long overdue! I was quite disappointed with Queen of Shadows – it was one of my most anticipated releases of 2015, and it will most probably go down as one of the biggest disappointments I read this year. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. This series so far has been quite hit-and-miss for me: I found Throne of Glass to be a fluffy, fun light-fantasy read; I adored Crown of Midnight with every fibre of my being; I thought Heir of Fire was drawn out and could’ve done with some tighter editing. In all honesty, I cannot say whether Queen of Shadows was better than its predecessor, but this series has become riddled with ridiculous romantic subplots to the detriment of characters and this book was an endless source of frustration for me because of it.

I’ll start off with the good: Maas has definitely grown as a writer. If you compare Throne of Glass to Queen of Shadows, you will definitely find that the plot has become more complex, the world-building more layered, and the series has gone from ‘fantasy-lite’ to ‘high fantasy.’ This has meant, naturally, that the fluffy factor that made the first book so enjoyable has gradually receded from the series. I know I’m going to be in the minority with my opinion – if you look at the reviews on GoodReads, a lot of reviewers are claiming that this book is the best book of the series – but for me, the events of this book completely destroyed what the first three books established. I’m not going to go into that because there are also a lot of reviews on GoodReads – from reviewers who are a lot more passionate about this series than I ever was – that go into a lot of detail about the contradictions between Queen of Shadows and earlier books, but suffice to say I was incredibly disappointed.

I’m not entirely sure if it’s because Maas was also working on A Court of Thorns and Roses and Queen of Shadows just ended up suffering because of it, but the book felt scattered and incoherent. Reading Queen of Shadows felt as if Maas doesn’t have a projected outcome for the series and is just making up the plots for each book as she goes; A Court of Thorns and Roses (and even Crown of Midnight) tells me that Maas is a better writer than that. If I’m being completely honest, if this series were a television show, then Queen of Shadows would be a filler episode – nothing was really happening in this one. “But Kim,” you say, “this book is 650 pages long – how can nothing happen?” This book did not need to be 650 pages long. It was setting up things for the last two books. A lot of side stories are introduced alongside Aelin/Celaena’s story, but I struggled to connect with these side characters and found myself wanting to skim-read their chapters to get back to the Aelin’s story. The only side character I was truly interested in was Manon (and, to a lesser extent, some of the members of her clan), and even then, I felt that towards the end her story was pulling the book down.

I think the biggest detractor for me was just how much the male characters in this series moon over Aelin. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: romantic relationships are not the be all and end all of relationships. Friendships and familial relationships are every bit as important, if not more, to a person’s development and it’d be great if YA and NA novels could showcase that once in awhile. I was over the moon when a platonic Aelin/Rowan relationship was established in Heir of Fire, because I thought there would be a strong friendship in a popular new adult series. Sadly, after firmly establishing Aelin & Rowan’s platonic relationship, their relationship quickly became something I’d expect out of a 50 Shades of Grey-esque book while Aelin’s cousin got all jealous over their bond. I’m not in this series for the romantic subplots, and with Dorian, Chaol and now Rowan all waxing poetical about how great Aelin is at some point during this series, I don’t think I can take another character obsessing over how gifted and wonderful she is.

Would I recommend this book? Only for the Throne of Glass superfans – the ones who have committed themselves to this series and these characters and cannot walk away from them. For me, this was 650 pages of mediocre story-telling.

★★☆☆☆

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