Review: Crooked Kingdom

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Orion Children’s Group
Pages: 536
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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Kaz Brekker and his crew of deadly outcasts have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets – a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

It never fails to amaze me just how much Leigh Bardugo has grown as a writer between Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows. This has been sitting on my shelves since it was published, and I was finally in the right mind set to sit down and read it. I loved it. Where do I even begin?

I hate books with multiple perspectives. It’s rarely done well and it pulls you out of the narrative. It didn’t happen here. Bardugo has plotted this book masterfully, balancing six character arcs and developing high stakes for everyone involved. Everything that made Six of Crows so popular is present: the stellar world-building, characters that you have a strong emotional connection to, a brilliant plot. The heist planned in this book is quite different to the first book, more calculated and political than the non-stop action of the original heist.

In terms of characters, it feels like Kaz has the least amount of growth. That kid moves at a glacial pace, and it is frustrating to watch him get himself into some of the situations he gets himself into. He’s also brilliant, cunning, and whip-smart. He always seems to be five steps ahead of everyone else, which makes it so much better when the threads of plot start coming together and you realise where the story is heading. Proving that they balance each other out, I felt that Inej had the most growth. Mostly in terms of realising she’s not infallible (as all young adults eventually do), and pushing herself as a person and fighter. Wylan and Jesper are forever my favourites, and that’s all you need to know.

If you’re here for the ships, you won’t be disappointed. They all feel organic, true-to-character, and don’t overpower the main storyline (romance masquerading as a fantasy, I think not).

In a market that is as overcrowded as the young adult fantasy genre, as a reader it often feels like you will never find something original – heck, even something that’s well-written (a marketable idea will get you everywhere, just ask Stephenie Meyer, Veronica Roth, Sarah J. Maas…). Crooked Kingdom is proof that there’s still talented writers keeping the genre alive.

★★★★☆

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: 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: 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.

Review: Carve the Mark

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Carve the Mark
by Veronica Roth
Published by HarperCollins Australia on the 18th January 2017
Pages: 468
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power — something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.

Akos is the son of a farmer and an oracle from the frozen nation-planet of Thuvhe. Protected by his unusual currentgift, Akos is generous in spirit, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get this brother out alive — no matter what the cost.
The Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, and the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. Will they help each other to survive, or will they destroy one another?

Please note that this review contains spoilers.

I was hesitant to read Carve the Mark, if only because I’m still mad about Allegiant. I took Divergent at face-value and liked it for what it was: a book that was born out of the dystopian craze, that didn’t demand much of me, and that was based around a society that wasn’t really structured logically (even within its world), but was nevertheless entertaining. The next two books kind of devolved and became nonsensical, but Allegiant was really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

But this review isn’t about the Divergent series, it’s about Carve the Mark. Let’s move on, shall we? It’s set on a distant planet called Thuve, which is inhabited by the Thuvhesit and Shotet people. They are at war with one another (well, kind of – that wasn’t entirely made clear…) and seem to enjoy kidnapping one another’s children.

As the story is set in space,  I went into this thinking it would be an Illuminae/ These Broken Stars-type book. Aside from a few references to the stars, spaceships, and looking at planets from a distance, this really could be set any where, any time. I would’ve liked to see the setting developed a little more, because there really are very few YA/NA novels that I’ve come across that are set in space (which I personally find to be a cool concept), and why bother setting it in space if you’re not going to make use of it? The world-building in general was underdeveloped, so it took me awhile to wrap my head around this world and how it worked.  There were multiple planets mentioned, but I couldn’t understand why they were inhabited by different groups of humans, and the planets were often name-dropped once and then never mentioned again. Humans are blessed with “currentgifts” – there is a current that runs through the galaxy – but it is never explained how the current came to be, how it gives people their gifts, or what the currently is, exactly.

If you liked the fast pace of Divergent, please be warned: this one is incredibly slow-moving. Good Lord, the pacing. The beginning is bogged down with back story – Akos’ chapters start when he is fourteen, Cyra’s when she is six – but the back story is something that could’ve cleverly been worked into the story, rather than being tacked on at the beginning. The action is quite sparse – just when you think the pace is picking up, it dies down again. Even at the climax of the story, I was still left feeling underwhelmed.

I would’ve liked to see a villain who is three-dimensional – and there were hints of it there: Ryzek is terrified of pain, he hates Cyra because she was responsible for their mother’s death, he was terrorised by his father – but it wasn’t developed enough. The end was result was a leader who was cruel and brutually violent because he could be. Akos and Cyra are compelling enough protagonists, but nothing to write home about. Of all the characters, I actually enjoyed Isae the most, and would’ve loved to see more of her (here’s hoping she’s a major player in the second book…). Yma, the double-crossing queen that she is, was also another favourite of mine.

This comes down to personal preference, but I also hated that Akos’ chapters were in third person, while Cyra’s were in first person. It pulled me out of the story, although it was one of the only ways in which Cyra and Akos’ voices differed. I just would’ve liked to see more uniformity across the board (all in third, or all in first person).

If you’re expecting something startlingly original or a book that has got a lot of depth to it, this book isn’t going to be the book for you. Is it a perfect book? Definitely not. It did, however, provide me with a few hours of light entertainment on a Saturday afternoon, for whatever that’s worth.

★★★☆☆

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

Review: Glass Sword

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Glass Sword (Red Queen #2) by Victoria Aveyard
Published by Orion on the 9th February 2016
Pages: 444
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind. Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors. But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

I had a lot of high hopes about Glass Sword; convinced that Aveyard would be able to grow from Red Queen. Sadly, I was wrong. Mare is not an interesting enough character to carry a series, and Aveyard is not a good enough author to bounce back from Glass Sword.

I am well aware that the YA fantasy pool is largely fluffy romances disguised as fantasy, but I am usually able to find something I like about a book regardless. This is one of the rare instances where I’m stumped for something nice to say. “This book was a hot mess” is probably the nicest thing I can say about it, considering it is a hodge-podge of basically every young adult fantasy book that came before it.

My main problem with Glass Sword is that Mare is so damn unlikeable. Now, I am all for unlikeable protagonists that worm their way into your heart – the one that immediately comes to mind is Katniss Everdeen. She kept everyone at arm’s length, including the reader, but she still managed to make you love her. Mare is not that kind of unlikeable. She’s arrogant, whiny, self-indulgent and rude – there’s no space for any other character, because she demands your full attention. She treats her brothers like brutes, her parents like simpletons, and those around her as if they are constantly in her way. She doesn’t allow other, more experienced, individuals to voice their opinions – her opinion is the only one that is worth anything. She doesn’t listen to those around her, and then complains when things don’t go her way. It is frustrating as a reader to have to spend 400+ pages with someone so awful.

The secondary characters are so bland that it is impossible to keep track of who is who and why they are important to the very thin plot, which is mildly problematic when a new character is being introduced every few pages. Both the characters and scenes exist only to further Mare’s mission, which is tiresome and dull. The writing is contrived and derivative. Multiple characters died, and their deaths had zero emotional impact on me.

There is very little world building – it’s hard for me to situate myself in the story, given that we jump around from location to location. A map would be handy, given how much Mare moves around, and I’ve read middle-grade books that provide its readers with a map. It’s a nitpicky thing, but when the scene setting is as abysmal as Aveyard’s, it comes in handy.

There is nothing special about Mare as a heroine – you can shelve her amongst the other forgettable YA heroines. Aveyard has attempted to create a morally questionable, mysterious, super special heroine that will be the next big name in YA.  If you’d like a morally questionable heroine, check out Isaboe and Quintana in The Lumatere Chronicles. Both got less page time than Mare, and both made a better impression. If you’d like a heroine with a bit of mystery surrounding her, try The Colours of Madeleine. If you want a super special heroine, stick with Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Basically, I can think of a dozen authors who write better characters – better stories – than Aveyard, despite getting less recognition.

Much like its predecessor, Glass Sword introduces the action far too late. This time, the cliffhanger ending wasn’t enough to save it, nor make me want to read the next book. It is a run-of-the-mill young adult fantasy that does nothing to distinguish itself from the crowd. You’d be better off saving your money.

★★☆☆☆

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