Bookish Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

Published: 7 September 2017 by Walker Books

Genre: Sci-fi, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Can you fall in love with someone you’ve never met, never even spoken to – someone who is light years away? Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J. Their only communication with each other is via email – and due to the distance between them, their messages take months to transmit across space. And yet Romy finds herself falling in love. But what does Romy really know about J? And what do the mysterious messages which have started arriving from Earth really mean? Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone… untitled

Review: I managed to grab a copy of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe at YALC back in July. Honestly, it was no mean feat – every time the Waterstones got new stock of the book in (and we’re talking like a hundred copies!) they’d be sold out within minutes. Anyway, back on topic, this book was a superbly unexpected wild ride! I confess I did glance over some of the Goodreads reviews of The Loneliest Girl before I read it and lots of them said something along the lines of “the less you know going into this book, the better”. I have to say I wholeheartedly agree! This is one of those books that just cannot be pigeonholed into any one label, be it YA, sci-fi etc. So keeping the above advice in mind, this review will be unusually brief and will be spoiler free 🙂 

If I get ill, there will be no one to help me. No one to fix me if I break.

The setting of The Loneliest Girl is one of the most unique selling points – we’ve got a young girl captaining a ship, completely alone, in the far reaches of space. For one thing, titles do not get much more literal than that, and secondly, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a premise like that in any YA sci-fi so major points already going in to The Loneliest Girl and it just gets better from there on out. James has taken a common setting of a spaceship and made it into something feels totally original. I loved how creative James was with the tech on board the Infinity – all of the attention to detail to explain how the spaceship could feasibly keep going made the whole book all the more realistic and immersive. I have to admit though that the light-speed transmission lags were totally lost on me…

Staring through the porthole, I watch the spiralling stars until I make myself dizzy.

The way Lauren James writes really does drive home just how alone Romy is. The casual references to things Romy has not experienced forced me to really consider just how isolated she is. It’s also told in first person and there are mundane “slice of life” details alongside the plot that you just become immersed in Romy’s life, as uneventful as it can be at points I still felt engrossed and totally invested. Films with a similar premise like Gravity and The Martian use all sorts of things like visual effects, body language and amazing scores to make the audience feel unsettled so I’m totally in awe of how James managed to put across the lonely and slightly creepy factor using just words! 

I’d like to have wild stories about my university days to tell my kids, someday. I’d like to have any anecdotes at all, actually.

I also enjoyed how James managed to weave in some really interesting ideas like the ethics around such a mission as well as mental health issues. Romy was a realistic character, struggling to cope, given the magnitude of her responsibilities and the trauma she has experienced. Heroism does not come naturally to her – she often rebels against her predicament, especially as she had no choice in it. Her naiveté is also totally realistic, there are points where she casually drops that she hasn’t been in physical contact with another human being in years, and so anything else would’ve felt unconvincing. Beyond that though, Romy is a really relatable character with her love of fictional characters and fanfic and I really found myself rooting for her throughout the book!

This voyage was never meant to be easy. It was meant to be important.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is a solid standalone (whoop!) book that you will not want to put down! It is totally unique and was a fresh take on YA romance/space/sci-fi novels. The plot has a hint of mystery and James did a great job of feeding the reader enough to keep you intrigued whilst also keeping you just enough in the dark that you feel this weird uneasiness as you read on. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to fans of all genres! The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is out tomorrow so be sure to grab a copy ASAP!

Have you read any books that surprised or blindsided you? Are you planning to read The Loneliest Girl in the Universe? Drop me a comment below 🙂

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ARC Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Published: February 2017 by Macmillan Children’s Books

Genre: Retelling, Romance, Young Adult

Series: None (Standalone)

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC of Heartless by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way influence my views on the book.

Review: I’d been salivating after Heartless ever since I’d heard of it. I am *the* biggest fan of the Lunar Chronicles because Marissa Meyer just hit the nail on the head with every book. I honestly cannot find fault with any of the books (which is the case even for some of my other favourite series) and would read them again in a heartbeat. Since I was wooed by Meyer’s fairytale retellings, I knew I had to get my hands on Heartless.

So first things first, I loved that this was the Queen of Hearts origin story because it totally throws you off-kilter! I wasn’t expecting to warm to Catherine as much as I did, because obv she’s the villain in Alice in Wonderland, but how can you not?! The poor girl has simple dreams: she just wants to open a bakery with her best friend and not be on the receiving end of the King of Heart’s affection. Alongside Catherine, there were the usual beloved cast of characters in Alice in Wonderland but also some original ones too. 

I liked the mix of canon and original material; it made it refreshing rather than feeling like just a rehashing of the Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland which can sometimes be the case with retellings. Marissa did an awesome job in balancing the two – she stayed loyal to the world Lewis Carroll created with nods to things like the wacky croquet, tea parties, and the references that had me squealing, whilst also giving us quirky new characters and a mystery that keeps you turning the pages. She even managed to weave in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven which is just genius! 

The thing that really got me with Heartless was the knowledge of how this story plays out. I mean we all know the Queen of Hearts becomes a beheading-happy monarch so it’s pretty bleak trying not to get your hopes up or sail that ship into the sunset. Although I did figure out the mystery pretty early on, it was still a joy/painful to see it unfold. You actually want to cheer Catherine on as we follow her transformation into the Queen of Hearts – kind of like Disney’s Maleficent and a would-be heroine wronged into villainy.

The only thing that niggled a bit was the pacing hence the teeny .5 star deduction. The first ¾ of the book concentrated mostly on Catherine’s romantic and entrepreneurial troubles and her indecisiveness on how to deal with both of these issues. Having said that though, it is understandable considering Catherine is massively stifled by societal and parental expectations (ugh her mother!) But because of this, much of the action and revelations happen in the last quarter and felt a little rushed to me. I would’ve loved more details on the back stories of the various characters, old and new, as well as the wider ‘verse which is hinted throughout! 

Overall though Heartless was an immersing read, it was recognisably Wonderland but not stiflingly overdone, more an homage to Carroll’s genius with references sprinkled throughout the book… Which brings me on to the fact that this book should come with a warning on the cover – beware: serious cravings for delicious sweet treats will be aroused in reading this book. The descriptions of lovely desserts had me drooling! 

SO in case it wasn’t already clear, Marissa Meyer has done it again with Heartless! Fans of The Lunar Chronicles you are in for a treat! Whilst those just after a solid classic or fairy tale retelling, in the vein of Renee Ahdieh or Rosamund Hodge’s books, should be shifting Heartless to the top of your TBR list. 🙂

Are you looking forward to Heartless? Did you also adore the Lunar Chronicles? Any retelling recs you’re dying to shout about? Drop me your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Bookish Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Published: September 2015 by Hachette Children’s Group

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Six of Crows (Book #1)

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/5

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: 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

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Review: I was really looking forward to this series. I’d read the Grisha trilogy and fell in love with the world Leigh Bardugo had created so I was keen to revisit with a whole new cast of characters!

Six of Crows started off really strong. I was totally sucked into the plot, the different characters and their predicaments – I loved finding out how each of them had come to be in Ketterdam and they had really strong back stories and felt properly fleshed out. Needless to say I grew attached really quickly! Kaz was the ruthless gangleader with the troubled past he had buried deep inside him, Inej, kidnapped into slavery and was given an escape from a life of indenture by Kaz, Nina the Grisha in exile who has a complicated history with Matthias a loyal and righteous Fjerdan, with an unfortunate soft spot for Nina. We also have Jesper, the trigger happy guy from a humble background with a bad gambling habit, and finally Wylan the posh kid who has ended up right in the middle of the most ambitious heist ever.

I liked how distinct they all were not just diverse in terms of race (brilliant by the way) but also their personalities. One of my favourite things was easily the fact that these guys aren’t and don’t pretend to be perfect or even good at times! Kaz can be really nasty but it’s his way of surviving and the thing that’s got him to the top of his game in Ketterdam. The conflict between Nina and Matthias was great because you totally root for them but also understand why it wasn’t an instalove happily ever after for them (and waaay more realistic). And Inej despite her horrible experiences still holds on to her faith and light temperance which contrasted really well with Kaz.

As I read on, I found myself more invested in the brilliant characters over the plot! I loved how their back stories trickled into the story as we went along and the flashbacks were seamless and didn’t feel clunky at all. I was totally intrigued by some of their histories, especially Kaz and Nina’s, and very curious as to how they would play into this book and the next. Also credit to Leigh Bardugo, who is now queen of my heart, because there is not one love triangle to be found anywhere in this book – even with six characters milling about!

The pace of the book was great, things were continuously happening and nothing felt like filler – all of the events related back to The Heist. The audacity of the entire plot kept it totally riveting and the characters’ personal motivations for the money made it all the more nail-biting! It was all going swimmingly until I got to the last quarter when The Heist is going down and the proverbial hits the fan. Without going into detail and falling foul of giving away spoilers, whilst reading this section I found it a little difficult to follow the action – the description in this section of where they are and how they get from A to B is a little dense and I think the problem was that I just couldn’t visualise it – so more ‘it’s me, not the book’ as I don’t think this would be noticeable to most readers but I have notched off 0.5 stars. I found myself dragging and taking longer to just power through that section… and that’s when my book buddy stepped in!

I’d organised a buddy read of Crooked Kingdom with Laura over at Reading Sanctuary for when I’d finished Six of Crows and honestly that powered me through. She was great, really encouraging and I’m so glad I persevered because Six of Crows went back to being fabulous after that very brief, slightly frustrating, section. We’ve started our buddy read of Crooked Kingdom and it is seriously *so* good so far – expect another rave-filled review soon! So if there are two takeaways from this post it’s:

  1. Absolutely read Six of Crows and get ready to fall in love with some awesome characters (and don’t be stupid like me and get distracted by or lost in the description in *that* scene)
  2. Get a book buddy/buddy read a book – it’s so much fun to be able to fangirl to someone in real-time because they’re reading the book at the same time. There’s nothing better than fangirls coming together and… well, fangirling together!

Have you read Six of Crows? What did you think? Or maybe you’ve already discovered the brilliance of buddy reading? Let me know your thoughts!!

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Bookish Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

coverfullAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Published: April 2015 by Harper Voyager

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

An Ember in the Ashes was a book club read and one I’d heard a lot of hype about as the next big fantasy series. The book couldn’t have come at a better time though because I was in the mourning period whilst waiting for the next installment in the Throne of Glass series, and I was hoping An Ember in the Ashes would fill that void perfectly.

Elias is a warrior trained at the most fearsome military academy in the Martial Empire. Laia is a slave, robbed of her freedom and her family. But their dreams and destinies are more alike than either could have imagined. When Laia’s brother is arrested for treason against the tyrannical Empire, she sets off an extraordinary quest to free him. Forced to sacrifice her own freedom and turn spy for the rebels, she meets the academy’s most promising student, who harbours his own rebellious thoughts against the Empire that he’s been brought up to serve. Together they realise they are both destined to play a part in a bigger game that could threaten the future of the Martial Empire itself.

I loved An Ember in the Ashes – that is basically the bottom line. However, having read it for a book club (always dangerous, prepare to either tear the book apart like an angry mob or pledge undying allegiance to it!!) I got to see how other book clubbers responded to it which is always interesting. The actual set up of the book was brilliant, it had all the classic elements of an epic fantasy – power struggles, prophecies, political maneuvering, and enough drama to keep me hooked. Whilst a rebel faction isn’t anything new in a YA fantasy, I did like how their objectives and their ethics were ambivalent, and the same goes for many of the characters too. Tahir was also cruel enough to sprinkle many clues about how the rest of the series will play out and what our protagonists have to look forward to, that I was practically eating out of her hand trying to join up the dots and guess.

I also found myself vested in the characters, their individual story arcs, and their interactions with each other. I cared about both the heroine and the supposed villain and shipped them most ardently 😉 I really liked how Laia was motivated not by some heroine complex but by her love for her brother. It was refreshing to see her not suddenly turn into a warrior princess and military strategist overnight just because she was a Protagonist on a Quest and associated with the rebel camp. Even though there were points where her naiveté led to some facepalm moments, overall it made her character more realistic. Elias was also interesting in that he was a defector  even though he was one of the best Martial soldiers and as high up the social pecking order as you could get. It was intriguing to see his internal conflict around morality which is actually a major part of the book.

However, there are definitely elements of the book that even I can concede could have been handled a little better and may irritate some readers. First of all, some of the love triangles were unnecessary and quite a few of my fellow book clubbers heartily agreed. I admit I was a little disappointed that Elias and Helene couldn’t just have a platonic relationship. I thought their shared childhood growing up under very difficult circumstances is more than enough justification for her to care deeply about him. There were also some elements of instalove, and risking of lives based on fleeting acquaintances (par for the course really).

Another niggle was with Tahir telling us multiple times that the Commander was the Big Bad and the students of Blackcliff were the most loyal and sadistic of the Martial Empire’s servants. Sometimes this wasn’t totally convincing. Sure, the Commander did punish Laia once severely but she didn’t follow through on lots of her threats – the facial mutilation that never was seemed to be a classic cop out by the author to keep the protagonist attractive and perfect. Also, most of the students seemed to spend most of their time angsting after each other and playing out their love triangles/rhombus/freaking polygons rather than being the brutal soldiers and assassins they were supposed to be. Now I’m not asking for more sadistic elements for the sake of it but it just seemed like Tahir told rather than showed this particular aspect of her world building.

An Ember in the Ashes is one of the rare occasions where my rating could be called slightly irrational – I’m totally aware of some of the glaring issues with the book but I nonetheless adored it overall and it was pretty near perfect for me. The goods definitely outweighed the not-so-greats for me and the series is now up there with my other favourite fantasy series such as the Throne of Glass and the Lunar Chronicles series.