Bookish Review: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Published: March 2016 by Andersen Press Ltd.

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all this venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia.  But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia, neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending – one that will rock his life to the core.

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Review: This was another book club read, (so far all two of my 2017 reads have been book club ones…) and again another one I would never have picked myself. The blurb is an odd one and the title didn’t give anything away either so I wasn’t hugely interested going into this book and had no idea what to expect. 

One of the things that came of the book club discussion was that the pacing was a little off. The first 2/3 of the book didn’t have any discernible plot and we essentially just followed the characters as they went about their lives with little variation. It is the last third of the book that the pace picks up and the writing and character development gets really interesting. We all agreed that it would’ve been much better had the book started with the climax because what follows was infinitely more fascinating.

And most of all, there was the crushing weight of destiny. The ossifying conviction that he was living out some ancient and preordained plan… Something horrible and inevitable.

The setting is rather unique and I think it was this aspect of the book that kept me turning the pages. There are quite a few Americans in my book group and it was interesting to hear that in their opinion Zentner’s portrayal of the ‘rural’ American Deep South was quite accurate. He deftly handles the spectrum of religion and political attitudes in a way that makes racism and class disparity not the focal point – instead they’re in the background, quietly influencing the way characters behave. I thought this was such a brilliant and subtle way to highlight issues without making the book and characters the sum of their views or into caricatures.

He didn’t think Lydia would understand because her family was so awesome. And he didn’t think Dill would understand because his family was so awful.

Moving onto the characters, I must admit that I didn’t really connect to Dill or Lydia, even though I could sympathise with some of their dilemmas. I was totally cheering on Lydia when Dill was accusing her of deserting him – even though you can understand where his fear is coming from, there is no justification for him to take it out on Lydia. But on the other hand, I found Lydia rather naive when it came to her rose-tinted view of her new life in the big city which irked me somewhat. Travis on the other hand did make an impression on me. He was quietly optimistic at the bleakest of times and found happiness in the simplest of things like books and being a fanboy online – I guess I could relate!

They’re amazing. I forget about everything I’m not good at and everyone I’m not when I read them. They make me feel brave.

One of the things that struck me about The Serpent King was the all-pervasive bleakness. This is not an airy fairy read by any means and I wasn’t expecting sunshine and unicorns, but at points the grim reality that some of these characters exist in was pretty overwhelming. The Serpent King to me was about the resilience of the human spirit after it’s been through hell and, even though Dill’s experience is on the more extreme end of the scale, I saw it as a great message to keep going even when it feels totally fruitless. 

Times are simpler when no one hates you because of your name and it doesn’t occur to you to be ashamed of it.

On a lighter note, I’m going to acknowledge something which I think is wholly underrepresented in YA: responsible and present parenting. Lydia’s relationship with her parents, especially her father, was beautifully portrayed. He was her advocate and supporter, giving her the best in life, whilst also taking pains to make her aware of her privilege in comparison to her friends. I for one would like to see more healthy parent-child relationships in YA – especially ones that are feel genuine like Zentner has written. 

You’re destined for great things, Lydia. That comes at a price. Everybody wants to be close to greatness and get a piece for themselves… You have two friends right now who may not be glamorous, but they love you for you.

The Serpent King was an interesting read but not for the plot itself. Instead, I found its merits lay elsewhere like in the authentic setting Zentner has created and some of the characters and relationships he has written. A good read if you’re after something that is a little different to the conventional YA novel. 

Have you read The Serpent King? Or do have any recommendations in a similar setting or dealing with similar issues? Let me know in the comments below!!

ARC Review: The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles

Release Date: 9 February 2017 (UK) by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

Series: Untitled (#1)

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: It’s been a shattering year for seventeen-year-old Zoe, who’s still reeling from her father’s shockingly sudden death in a caving accident and her neighbors’ mysterious disappearance from their own home. Then on a terrifying sub-zero, blizzardy night in Montana, she and her brother are brutally attacked in a cabin in the woods–only to be rescued by a mysterious bounty hunter they call X.

X is no ordinary bounty hunter. He is from a hell called the Lowlands, sent to claim the soul of Zoe’s evil attacker and other like him. Forbidden to reveal himself to anyone other than his victims, X casts aside the Lowlands’ rules for Zoe. As X and Zoe learn more about their different worlds, they begin to question the past, their fate, and their future. But escaping the Lowlands and the ties that bind X might mean the ultimate sacrifice for both of them.

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

Review: Well The Edge of Everything surpassed my expectations! And that was partly to do with the fact that I’m an idiot and, having read the Netgalley blurb, thought this was a contemporary (realistic) romance?? I did not clock at all that this was a fantasy until quite a few pages in… But when I did, an already promising start just improved 10x over. The story itself is an intriguing one, not much good comes from having a boyfriend literally from hell it turns out (!) It took a while for me to get the gist of the Lowlands but when I did I was totally immersed in the star-crossed lovers’ fate and the thrilling ride that Zoe and X embarked on to save themselves and stay together.

A frantic beetle was flitting back and forth between the panes of glass, trapped forever with the wide world in full view. X knew what it felt like to be that bug.

The Edge of Everything is one of those rare books where I could forgive the instalove and actually get behind it! Jeff Giles has crafted the characters in such a way and with so much depth that it’s almost inevitable that they would be attracted to each other and you cheer them on because they complement each other really well. I loved that Zoe is the badass, fierce and bold one in the pairing whilst X is very much the shy, naive but hopelessly in love one. I loved that the sweetest stuff between them was often unsaid/thoughts or physical gestures. 

I really warmed to Zoe – she’s dealing with some pretty horrific stuff but manages to stay strong throughout. She’s by no means perfect, and I liked that we saw this part of her. At times she’s pretty mean to her little brother but it is the way she loves fiercely and loyally whether it is her family or her friend Val that really shines through. X on the other hand is less snarky but so resilient considering how he has grown up and what he is expected to do. The fact that X is able to hold on to his ‘humanity’ having never experienced it is such a beautiful thing. Reading about their first meeting and what follows, the sweet moments and the heart wrenching really swept me up and just totally immersed me in their story.

He realised now that he didn’t know very many stories – and certainly no pleasant ones. So he told her their story. He began with her knocking him down on the ice.

I also loved how the other characters all had their own stories and personalities – whether it was Regent, Banger and Ripper in the Lowlands or Jonah, Val and Dallas (loved the dialogue between him and Zoe!) in Montana. The female characters were very badass and inspirational – with brilliantly sharp tongues! The sibling relationship between Zoe and Jonah was also interesting, especially how far she was willing to go for him, and I liked how her protectiveness brushed off on X too. In that sense, I’m really glad this is the first in a series, because I seriously need more page time for these secondary characters! 

The world building was top notch and Giles writes beautifully. The Lowlands was fascinating and I liked how some of it is recognisable and other bits totally original. Again, this book set us up with lots of questions about how the Lowlands works and I’m looking forward to discovering more in the next installment. This is the second book I’ve read in so many months where it’s set in a snowy location. Zoe’s Montana was beautifully described and the bits on caving which I’d probably usually find rather dull actually had me vividly imagining (and later googling!) chandelier-esque rock formations. The story weaves together a good mix of fantasy elements and romance and moved along at a thrilling pace.

The light, meanwhile, was dying fast. The coffin lid over Montana was getting ready to shut.

One of the things that really stuck out to me about The Edge of Everything was how Giles dealt with ‘big’ issues like morality, grief, and the afterlife but did it in a non-claustrophobic or preachy way. I found it really interesting to see how the characters dealt with different, and often uncomfortable, feelings like remorse and mercy and it was actually quite emotionally stirring. I liked that Giles does not shy away from the worst base instincts of humanity but doesn’t glorify them either – if anything he highlights the ambiguity inherent in things like morality and that was a fascinating thing to see in YA. 

The Edge of Everything is out on 9 February in the UK – it is a stunning debut, so make sure to grab yourself a copy. I am already eagerly awaiting the sequel which sadly (and worryingly!) isn’t even up on Goodreads yet (don’t leave me hanging Mr Jeff Giles!!!)

Are you looking forward to The Edge of Everything? Any recs for great urban fantasy YA? Drop me your thoughts in the comments below!

Bookish Review: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Published: March 2016 by Simon & Schuster

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Mystery, Young Adult

Series: The Dark Artifices (#1)

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word… Parabatai can be everything to each other—but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles… When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge – and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks… and before the murderer targets them. Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets… 

Review: This was my first read of 2017 so I had high hopes for it, wanting to start the year on a high. It was actually a book club read, and one that if I’m being totally honest would not have picked myself. I actually abandoned The Mortal Instruments part way through the third book because I just could not engage with the plot, couldn’t relate to the characters, and just did not care for what was going on. 

However, Lady Midnight was a very pleasant surprise! I’ll start with what was easily my favourite thing about Lady Midnight which is the story itself. Cassandra Clare has crafted a brilliant story. It was a solid mystery which moved along at a good pace and I liked how all the different story arcs and elements wove together at the end without leaving any glaring plot holes. Plus, a big bonus was the fact that there was no mahoosive cliffhanger to be found at the end – always a thumbs up from me. 🙂

What did you do, what could you do, when what threatened the ones you loved was something else you loved just as much?

I really liked how the mystery was the main plot line but it was woven with relatable issues like family, responsibilities, secrets etc. One of the reasons fantasy, especially high fantasy, is my favourite genres is because it is pure escapism – it’s totally removed from reality and lets you immerse yourself in a completely different world. For this reason, urban fantasy doesn’t usually appear to me but I found that wasn’t the case with Lady Midnight. The California setting was also a nice change to the New York setting of TMI. The world building was great, but I found it even more impressive as I was essentially relearning the whole Shadowhunter ‘verse and Clare really helped brush up on the TMI and TID series without coming across like a dry history lesson and regurgitation of the plot lines of previous books.

The characters also left an impression on me – I found them so fascinating! Julian’s multi-layered personality was refreshing compared to some of the ‘tortured soul’ 2D male characters you can come across in YA – frankly, Julian had way bigger fish to fry than nurturing his angst (although there is a tiny bit of that – it’s not YA without it!) i.e.playing father to his younger siblings. I loved how family was so important to him and a tangible part of him, his paternal instincts, and how many of his decisions revolves around being a father figure. The sacrifices he makes to keep his family together really made him across as a properly complex character to me.

When you were twelve years old and you were all that stood between your family and annihilation, you didn’t learn moderation.

Emma, on the other hand, was a little irritating in that she came across as priding herself on being sharp and on top of things but her obliviousness to a certain plotline was a bit much for me and had me rolling my eyes. But I loved the other characters! Again it was brilliant to see the same representation in LM as in TMI whether it was sexuality, autism, suicide or mental health. I also really liked how the secondary characters felt like fully formed characters – each one had a distinct personality and this was given quite a bit of page time rather than token nods. Mark and Ty were easily my favourite characters, struggling with their differences to ‘the norm’. 

My only criticism of Lady Midnight was the flowery and overly-descriptive writing Cassandra Clare seems to be fond of. The book was really long at 500+ pages and honestly I think she could easily have cut down by just removing repetitive descriptions. I got tired of hearing about how many different shades of yellow made up Emma’s blonde hair, how bodies look through what I assume must be completely translucent shirts, and dark and long eyelashes against sculpted cheekbones. Some of the metaphors and similes were also very overwrought and jarring that I often stopped to try and figure out what Clare was trying to get at. For example:

A pearlescent lightening of the water, as if white paint were spilling into the world through a crack in the sky.

Those slight annoyances aside, I really recommend Lady Midnight to anyone who wants original and interesting characters wrapped in a solid mystery. It goes without saying that this will go down well with fans of the Shadowhunter series and may convert others like me who gave up on TMI! I’m now eagerly awaiting the next installment!

Have you read Lady Midnight? What did you think? Is it better than The Mortal Instruments or The Infernal Devices? Let me know your thoughts!!

Bookish Review: Night Owls by Jenn Bennett

Night Owls by Jenn Bennett

Published: August 2015 by Simon & Schuster

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she’s spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Da Vinci’s footsteps, she’s ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a museum-sponsored scholarship contest: drawing actual cadavers. But when she tries to sneak her way into the hospital’s Willed Body program and misses the last metro train home, she meets a boy who turns her summer plans upside down.

Jack is charming, wildly attractive, and possibly one of San Francisco’s most notorious graffiti artists. On midnight buses and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who Jack really is—and tries to uncover what he’s hiding that leaves him so wounded. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in her family’s closet tear them apart?

Review: I read Night Owls (or The Anatomical Shape of a Heart, as it’s known in the US) for my book club but actually think it would’ve been a title I’d have picked up of my own volition. The blurb sounded really promising and as I’ve been knee-deep in fantasy these past few weeks some contemporary YA romance was looking very appealing!

Night Owls was a distinctly average book for me – a mix of good and not-so-great things. One thing that hooked me was the artist vibe which I found really interesting – I’m not in any way creative at all, and so I find myself in awe of anyone with even a hint of creative talent. I liked how diverse Jack and Bex’s artistic interests were. I had no idea cadaver drawing was even a thing and I liked that despite how male-dominated that particular field is, Bex was the one interested in it and actually it pushed her to get her talent recognised. 

Jack’s graffiti was also interesting because it wasn’t your usual pre-pubescent gang tagging nor was it subversive political & social commentary art a la Banksy. It felt more personal and I liked how he chose his words and his canvases and what we learn about his motives for doing something so risky as we go along. 

Some other things that really stuck out to me were the portrayal of Bex’s family unit. I liked how close Bex, her mother, and her brother were and how realistic the single parent family setup was. Bennett does not shy away from reality and the difficulties including how both Bex and her brother had to step up and help out for them to get by. The family drama Bex experiences was also interesting to see play out especially the motives behind each character’s actions and how this impacts on the others. 

Night Owls was also surprisingly sex-positive. What really struck me was how candid Bex is about her disappointing sexual experiences so far and never feels nor is made to feel ashamed of her experience. The conversations around sex between different characters were healthy and I liked how Bennett does not use LGBT representation as a plot device.

One of the downsides for me was that many of the other characters just did not feel fleshed out enough. Even Jack who is the love interest fell a little flat for me because we were seeing it all from Bex’s swooning perspective. There was a lot of physical descriptions and I just couldn’t see the ‘person’ beyond the manic pixie dream boy aesthetic he had going on. The issues that were framed as his ‘flaws’ felt a bit of a sham to me because it wasn’t directly to do with him/his personality and felt a bit of an inconvenient cop-out that kept Jack pretty damn perfect. 

Also, the drama wasn’t the most difficult to guess or follow but it was frustrating that Bex seemed a little too slow at joining the dots, enough that when the reveals came and she was blindsided, the reaction was more facepalm and cringeworthy than anything else. The drama and obstacles to Bex and Jack skipping off into the sunset also didn’t feel very problematic to me and seemed rather easily resolved with a nice neat bow at the end.

Overall, Night Owls was a nice quick read, which didn’t stretch out the drama unnecessarily, it was easy to get behind the romance between Jack and Bex and cheer them on. But ultimately it’s not the most memorable YA contemporary romance I’ve read and didn’t offer anything new or particularly exciting for me to remember it long after I’ve read it.

Have you read Night Owls? What did you think? What are your thoughts on differently named titles in different countries/regions? Let me know your thoughts!!

Bookish Review: The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout

9781848454576The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Published: June 2016 by Harlequin Teen

GenreContemporary, Realistic, Romance, YA

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

So it’s Halloween (happy haunting guys!) but anyone who knows me knows I don’t do scary movies/things. At all. Like I’m that person who got scared at the slightly jumpy scenes in Stranger Things and hides during Scream Queens which is slapstick horror at best. So… I decided to go total 180 and do a romance contemporary review instead on this hallowed night of horrors. Don’t worry though, it’s not all sunshine and roses – keeping it real with some Armentrout *cool dude emoji*.

Mallory Dodge has been home-schooled up until senior year of high school because of a traumatic childhood. After four years of intense recovery, following her adoption by a pair of doctors, she still finds speaking up, or sometimes at all, difficult. After all, a habit of silence reinforced with threats of violence is hard to break… Senior year is Mallory’s way of breaking out of her comfort zone. But she didn’t expect to be totally thrown in the deep end which is exactly what happens when she comes face to face with Rider Stark, her protector from childhood whom she hasn’t seen in four years. As sparks fly and old feelings resurface, Mallory finds herself in deep with Rider and his complicated life, and she realises that she must find her voice if she is to save the only boy who has always been there for her.

I’d thought I’d already closed the chapter. Now it was reopened, flipping all the way to the beginning.

The Problem with Forever in a nutshell was pretty so-and-so for me. There were some great things, a few not so great. The characters fall in the latter camp – they were underwhelming and seemed one dimensional: Rider was the broody saviour; Paige, the “bitchy” obstacle of a girlfriend; Jayden, the kid who’s in over his head; Hector, the long-suffering older brother; and Ainsley, the sassy best friend. I would’ve liked to know a bit more about each of their back stories – how they got to where they were, why they behaved the way they did. There are some hints that Paige is from a broken home but it is never explored beyond the perfuctory mention. And I really disliked that Ainsley and Jayden were just plot devices to provide Mallory some perspective.

Forever was something that we all took for granted, but the problem with forever was that it really didn’t exist.

The main reason for the 3 stars though was that this was a veeeery loooong book (“The Problem with Forever-ongoing books” amirite?) The book could’ve been a fraction of the length it was without losing any of the substance and plot. The first 50% was pretty much the unrequited drama of “will they/won’t they” and I found myself repeatedly rolling my eyes because it was just endless flowery descriptions of how hot Rider is, how expressive his eyebrows/ dimples/ eyes/ insert body part here is, and how Mallory keeps stealing not-so-subtle glances (let’s be real, she ~stares~) all whilst his girlfriend looks on – lovely. And while we’re on the topic, I found Armentrout’s writing a little clunky – there’s a lot of eyebrows “slamming”, lips “kicking” and fingers “wiggling” i.e. in goodbye which I found plain jarring. Best of them has to be this nugget though:

The dimple made an appearance, blessing the hallway.

Lolz. I can’t even.

One of the things I did like was the portrayal of trauma and recovery. This is a great book when it focusses on how difficult it is to become “unstuck” after a traumatic event even if that’s years and years after the fact. Armentrout is unbelievably good at portraying the most harrowing child abuse without being too heavy-handed and we witness the progression of Mallory from being paralysed into silence to finally finding her voice.  I loved how The Problem with Forever  shows us that the physical scars and manifestations of trauma aren’t the only “symptoms”. Mallory has trouble physically speaking after years of silence as protection against abuse. However, we realise that sometimes the person who seems the most put together is actually the one who needs the most help. I think this is a really important aspect of mental health and it’s great that Armentrout gave it page time in this book.

Words were not the enemy or the monster under my bed, but they held such power over me.

So overall, the issues that The Problem with Forever deals with and how Armentrout writes about them was a positive for me and quite unique enough to warrant the 3 star rating. It’s very sympathetically done and the process of healing that we follow Mallory on is a touching one. However, the story that these issues are couched in just didn’t do anything for me and I felt disjointed from it. There was just a little too much swooning and not enough connecting for me when it came to Rider and Mallory and although understandable that their background would draw them together, I thought there was a reliance on their shared history for the romance to develop.

My past was a part of me and it molded who I was today… but it did not control me.

Have you read The Problem with Forever? Should I give other Armnetrout books a try? (If so, recs are v welcome!)

Bookish Review: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Published: September 2016 by Macmillan

GenreFantasy, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ 1/2

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This was my first Kendare Blake book (*gasp* and I call myself a YA book blogger). I’ve never gotten around to reading Anna Dressed in Blood and tbh it’s never really appealed because ghosts, horror and paranormal which aren’t my favourite genre in the world. Buuut I thought I’d take the plunge with this pure fantasy offering 🙂

Three sisters, triplets, queens: Mirabella, the elemental, Arsinoe, the naturalist, and Katharine, the poisoner, are bred by their guardians to compete for the Fennbirn crown. In their 16th year they will take part in a life or death battle, using their gifts to outwit their sisters, to claim the throne by being the last one standing. Except this generation things aren’t proving quite so straightforward. Arsinoe and Katharine’s gifts are weak whilst Mirabella is the only one showing signs of power that has people convinced she will triumph. As they and their guardians fight to cheat, trick and betray their way to the crown, the girls are tested and find the darkness in them brought to the fore…

I was hoping for great things with Three Dark Crowns. First of all, although it’s got a bit of a Hunger Games premise about it (the whole to the death competition thing) I liked that it had a “purpose”, that they weren’t randomers just thrown together by a cruel government. These girls have been bred to compete for the crown and murdering their sisters to get it was par for the course. It was interesting to see how their separate upbringings had shaped their personalities and how far they had been indoctrinated to believe that either they killed their sisters or died trying. The wider political friction between the Black Council and the Temple was intriguing but I would’ve liked to understand more about how it all came about. 

And that leads me to what the biggest letdown was for me – the world building, or lack of. There were so many different rituals, the Gave Noir, Beltane, the Hunt, the Quickening to name a few and some of the names were really ambiguous that by the time they were mentioned a second or third time, I’d forgotten what they were, where they came in the sequence of the Ascension Year, their significance etc. and it jarred the reading for me having to pause and remember. It also felt like a lot of context was skimmed over – why the animosity and friction between the Temple and the Black Council since they all believe in the Goddess? Why are King Consorts so important, what do they do? Hell, what does a Queen do once she’s crowned? I can’t for the life of me tell you what happens to the Queen in the 16 years between the birth of the triplets and the Ascension Year. The twist at the end also wasn’t so much a twist for me as a facepalm moment, and again it feels due to a lack of world building.

The characters weren’t the most memorable I’ve come across and there were quite a few to keep track of. I just feel like a lot of info was held back purely because Three Dark Crowns is the first in a trilogy and this also meant the pacing was rather slow. For pages and pages, we essentially watched as the girls learned and learned and learned some more how to use their gifts (or not so much in Arsinoe’s and Katharine’s case) and it did make me wonder what they’ve been doing for the past ten years that they haven’t really grasped the fact that neither are gifted and should have made contingency plans waaaay sooner. So as this plot was crawling along, the subplot of romance was given more airtime than I think we needed in this book.

The romance was a little miss for me. Reading Three Dark Crowns I actually felt like I was reading a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We had plenty of potential couples, but then we saw them running around with other characters because of various reasons such as curses and duty and it all was just rather messy. Hell, even the parents were in on it – was it just me who found the whole Madrigal (Jules’ mother) going off with Matthew (Jules’ bf’s brother) very weird? Like if Jules was to marry her boyfriend, Joseph, whilst her mum was dating Joseph’s brother, wouldn’t that just be a really awkward situation??? Anyway, I wasn’t sold on any of the ships – most of them seemed quite passive and I couldn’t really feel/sense the attraction between a character and their love interest.

I really wanted to like this but I’ve rated Three Dark Crowns 2.5 stars – the premise was interesting enough that it did keep me reading and was original. I liked that the plot doesn’t rely on some epic romantic arcs for our protagonists to have agency, at least in this book, and that it was more about 3 sisters dealing with their difficult predicament (kinda has a girl/sister power Frozen vibe about it!) However, I’m still on the fence about whether I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for the next installment…

Have you read Three Dark Crowns and have drastically different views? Let me know, I’m always intrigued when I’m in the minority with views on a book 😀

Bookish Review: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

ATorchAgainstTheNight_CV 4.14A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Published: September 2016 by Harper Voyager

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodeads | Buy on Amazon

I pretty much pounced on A Torch Against the Night as soon as it came out. And boy am I glad I did but at the same time, I’ve seen the next book in the series is not due to be released until 2018… 2018??!! WHY!!! Anyway, enough hysterics, let’s dive on into this review.

A Torch Against the Night is the second book in the An Ember in the Ashes series which I read earlier this year (review here) so minor spoilers ahead as to how things were resolved at the end of the first book. Following the events of the Fourth Trial, Elias and Laia are now fugitives on the run from the Martial Empire, now headed up by Emperor Marcus and Helene Aquillas, his Blood Shrike, but also Elias’s oldest friend at Blackliffe Academy. After Laia saves Elias from his execution, they journey to Kauf prison where Laia’s brother Darin is being held. However, hunted by the Empire, the Commandant and otherworldly forces, the path will not be an easy one for any of our characters and difficult choices will have to be made…

Ahh where to start? Because I read the last book so recently, the plot and characters were still fresh in my mind, but Tahir made it really easy to pick up where the reader leaves off and you get totally immersed straightaway. In this book we get to see the characters dealing with the aftermath of the Trials in the last book. I found the exploration of Elias’s guilt and remorse really interesting and gave the character a lot more depth, and the chapters in the Forest of Dusk were brilliant, hinting at what we’ll see in the next book. The idea that we make the best choices we can, and that our best intentions can turn into the worst of mistakes and regret really resonated with me and made the characters feel so much more realistic and human (as if Elias needed to be any more perfect, but I digress…)

So you’ve made a few bad decisions… So has everyone attempting to do something difficult. That doesn’t mean that you give up, you fool.

Tahir excels at writing strong female characters and in A Torch Against the Night we get the whole gamut of different personalities. I loved encountering the strong Tribal characters (Afya, can I be your friend you sassy thing, you?), the reliably ruthless Commandant, as well as some other old and beloved characters from the first book, but the real standout is easily Helene. Helene Aquilla, you are flawed perfection wrapped up in scims and white blonde hair. Her various predicaments (to put it veeery lightly) throughout the book are just heart rending. I cried and raged on her behalf, she is the best kind of flawed character dealing with the ultimate unrequited love for Elias which complicates things to no end but her perseverance to protect and remain loyal in the face of so much is really admirable. I’ve raved about Helene but Laia is equally awesome, she really comes into her own in this book, asserts her independence and makes difficult choices all with saving her brother in mind. One of the things I really liked was that Tahir kept the romance to a minimum and did not try to shoehorn it in – as far as I’m concerned these kids have got plenty to deal with already.

She needs nothing else. She needs no one else. She stands apart.

The pace of A Torch Against the Night was something that really struck me. Although its a middle installment, at no point did any of the plot lines feel like filler fodder. Although I guessed parts of the bigger picture as we sped along, I absolutely did not guess the “reveal” at the end and this is all down to Tahir’s fantastic story-telling. She gives us enough info that we don’t feel totally blind-sided when the reveals come along, but also keeps enough just hidden so that we’re hooked to keep going. I liked that all the different plot lines contributed to the wider story arc in some way and the world-building also developed in a way that brings this book and the last together. There’s also something to be said of the events that our protagonists face – the obstacles are relentless and Tahir is not afraid to really up the ante to make sure there’s no coasting through here. Didn’t do my blood pressure any favours though – there were many points where I was so done and I’m just the reader!

If you’re on the lookout for a quality YA fantasy series, An Ember in the Ashes, should be very high up on that list. The only thing is, after reading this book, I realised there’s TWO more books to go still – folks PSA this is not a trilogy.

Have you read A Torch Against the Night? What were your thoughts on the ending? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

Bookish Review: The Thousandth Floor by Katherine McGee

9780008179977The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

Published: August 2016 by Harper Collins

Genre: Sci-Fi, YA

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

This book was one of those impulse reads based on the cover. I was in a bit of a book slump over the summer (hence the tumbleweed on this blog…) so when I came across this gold, gleaming and very unsubtle cover I thought this would be the perfect easy read.

Manhattan, 2118. The Tower dominates the skylines, a thousand floor building which represents the incomprehensible wealth of those on the upper floors and the desires of those on the lower floors. New York City is almost unrecognisable with the vast leaps in technology, but often people don’t change and it doesn’t matter how much money or tech you have. Enter five people whose lives are shaken by family drama, dangerous liaisons and secrets that must remain hidden. But what happens when those secrets risk being outed, and what lengths will they go to to avoid the dreaded fall from grace?

In this world, the higher you go, the farther there is to fall…

The Thousandth Floor has been likened to two well-known YA series: Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl and Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars. Now I’ve not read either of these series (travesty, I know) but I am fans of both TV series so I thought this would be right up my street and it didn’t disappoint. The characters basically read like a Gossip Girl roll call: we have Avery Fuller, the Serena van der Woodsen high society it-girl, Eris Dodd-Radson, the Blair Waldorf best friend, Cord Anderton, the Chuck Bass old money playboy, Watt Bakradi, the Dan Humphrey geeky wannabe, Leda Cole, the Georgina Sparks, the slightly off the rails chick, and Rilyn Myers, the firmly working class Vanessa Abrams well you get the drift. The characters  range from the  super-rich like Avery Fuller who lives on the Thousandth Floor right down to Rilyn Myers who is barely scraping by and lives on the 32nd floor.

And beneath her bare feet lay the biggest structure on earth, a whole world unto itself.

The setting of The Thousandth Floor is one of the things that really set it apart from your usual sci-fi and I was a little reluctant to use that genre tag. It’s futuristic but the tech advances are frighteningly feasible and not too much of a leap for the imagination (electric-shock instant hair straightening anyone?). The Tower itself is a brilliant metaphor as it literally resembles a social pyramid with the teeming masses at the bottom where the floors house thousands of units, compared to the top where 10 mansion units will make up all the floors space. I have to say though, it did take me a while to get to grips with the architecture of the Tower itself – the sheer scale of it wasn’t immediately obvious and I would’ve liked to understand how it came about a bit more. It seems to have replicas of real NYC monuments but it doesn’t go into why the parks have been recreated or why buildings have been seemingly lifted from ground level into the Tower.

The chapters are written from five different POV with lots more secondary characters part of the story so it was a bit overwhelming at first trying to keep track of who’s who and their respective stories. But it wasn’t as much of a problem as you go along because the stories begin to intertwine quite ingeniously. As with any multiple POV storytelling, I had my favourites and not-so-favourites, and I did find myself skimming through a few of them towards the end. I have to admit this was mostly because in the last quarter of the book we are literally racing towards the climax and I just really wanted to know how it ended dammit!

He didn’t know whether she’d fallen, or been pushed, or whether – crushed by the weight of unspoken secrets – she’d decided to jump.

The blurb really hooked me as well as the first chapter and my interest in finding out who falls from the Tower held until the last page. Whilst a lot of the drama can be described as very #firstworldproblems like falls from grace and wealth, illicit romances, downward spirals etc., I didn’t go into The Thousandth Floor expecting serious and heavy stuff so it delivered on what it promises. I was interested enough in the dilemmas of each character to overlook their obvious pettiness and privilege. 

This is a good book if you’re after something a little light-hearted, with enough drama and an interesting twist to the Gossip Girl set up to keep you turning the pages. The Thousandth Floor is apparently a trilogy and although I’m keen to read about the aftermath of the first book, I don’t think it was absolutely necessary.

Have you read The Thousandth Floor? Yay or nay?

Bookish Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A_Court_of_Mist_and_Fury_-_UK_CoverA Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Published: May 2016 by Bloomsbury

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

*Fans self* phew. Where the frick do I even begin?! A Court of Mist and Fury has coasted its way to my absolute Top 10 books ever (not including HP ofc duh) it is seriously *that* good. Sequels, especially the second book in a trilogy, usually struggle to live up to the first installment, and can sometimes feel like filler material but ohmigosh this book. THIS BOOK. Ahem, OK down to the business of convincing you to read this book if you haven’t already (WHY HAVEN’T YOU ALREADY).

Following on from the events Under the Mountain and Amarantha’s trials, Feyre is struggling to come to terms with her actions. Whilst her fast approaching wedding to the High Lord of the Spring Court is somewhat a distraction she feels stifled by Tamlin and her role in his Court. That is until Rhysand, the High Lord of the Night Court returns to call in Feyre’s end of her bargain with him. As Feyre spends time at the Night Court, she finds things aren’t all they seem, not least of all Rhysand. Learning more about her gifts and understanding more about the Fey world, she meets new friends along the way, and learns more about herself and the oncoming evil threatening her world – one that she might be key to stopping…

And I became darkness, and shadow, and wind.

There are 3 things that are the absolute basic ingredients for the success of any novel: characters, world building, pace & plot and Ms Maas delivers on all three – the bloody gift to humanity that she is. I am in love with all of the characters in A Court of Mist and Fury, from our main protagonists, right down to our secondary characters. Maas has spared no “expense” with her characters and gives them all enough page time and back stories and most importantly, purpose, that they are fully three-dimensional. I adored Rhysand’s Inner Circle – Morrigan, Cassian, Azriel and Amren. Their back stories are well-developed and distinct that the reader cares what happens to them, feels their joy, pain and sorrow and honestly this is just so rare. I loved learning more about Feyre’s back story, seeing more of her sisters and their dynamics, and seeing her grow into the independent and confident badass girl that we get by the end of the book. ACoMaF had a really great message which is that people have scars and imperfections but that this doesn’t stop you from growing or improving. Feyre forges her own path and decides her own mind and hear, even if it means going against the grain, in this book and it really is a joy to read.

The Court of Dreams. I had belonged to a court of dreams. And dreamers.

And for their dreams… for what they had worked for, sacrificed for.. I could do it.

And let’s not forget about Rhysand. The depth of his character is so refreshing – he is not just a pretty face with the sexiest flirty manner. Maas shows rather than tells us that Rhysand is a selfless ruler, who makes the best decisions for his people even if that means being derided and reviled outside of his Court. His loyalty and devotion to his Court, friends and Feyre is evident in his actions. I loved how he was Feyre’s equal, from the serious stuff like the respect he gives her to make her own decisions, right down to their brilliant banter. The slow burn romance was deftly handled by Maas, none of it was rushed or given priority over the brilliant story – just as it should be. ACoMaF was all about setting up the wider Fey world and I think a heavy dramatic romance would have detracted from this. I will say that the character ships are pretty obvious by the end of the book – but that’s a good thing because there doesn’t see to be any damned love triangles in sight 😉

“So what is there that was worth saving at the cost of everyone else?”

When I faced him, his blue eyes were as ruthless as the churning winter sea in the distance. “Everything,” he said.

The world building in A Court of Mist and Fury is just phenomenal. I knew that we’d learn more about Rhysand’s Night Court but wow. I drank up Maas’s descriptions of Velaris, the City of Starlight and the artists quarter. The cameos from some of the other courts, like the Summer Court and seeing the differences between them and the different High Lords, and learning about history of the Fae world just makes it so easy to become totally immersed. The events of the first book is contextualised into the bigger oncoming war against the King of Hybern and everything makes sense – there are no surprises when all the facts fall into place. Sometimes in fantasy genres, there can be some glaring plot holes where the author has taken some creative license in bending the world building to fit the plot but all of the plot lines just come together so naturally in this book. I’m so excited to see how all of these pieces will tie together in the final installment.

I want to rave about so many other things but this has already become a love letter of epic proportions so I’m going to console myself by re-reading ACoMaF again v soon. This book has really set the bar for me for a lot of the fantasy genre which is saying something! Here’s to a painful year of waiting for the next book.

Have you read A Court of Mist and Fury? Do you prefer it to A Court of Thorns and Roses? Let me know in the comments below!

Bookish Review: Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

Published: February 2015 by Macmillan Children’s Books

Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Issues

Rating: ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

 

I read Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls not long ago and was disappointed by the portrayal of female friendships so I had high hopes for Beautiful Broken Things especially as it seemed to be receiving rave reviews.

Caddy and Rosie have been best friends since forever, and whilst Rosie is the confident one and Caddy the shy and “uninteresting” one, their friendship is comfortable and stable. Enter Suzanne, the exciting but mysterious new girl and before long, Caddy finds herself overcoming her jealousy of this intruder and thirsting after the freedom and rebellion that Suzanne brings. But Suzanne is running from her own demons and Caddy soon finds herself swept up in a tumultuous friendship.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Sadly, I was very disappointed with this book, and I’m aware I’m in the minority! It took me a while to get through Beautiful Broken Things and honestly? It was a slog. My biggest issue with the book was that for the first 75% we have a ridiculous amount of repetition. Nothing seemed to happen that hadn’t happened once twice multiple times already. Let me explain. Essentially, we had a Groundhog Day-esque loop of situations:

  • Step 1: Suzanne does something reckless
  • Step 2: Rosie gets annoyed and calls her out on it
  • Step 3: Caddy would stand up feebly for Suzanne whilst rejoice in feeling needed
  • Step 4: Suzanne would apologise (I am not even kidding, “sorry” appears a grand total of 88 times in the book!)
  • Step 5: Rosie and Suzanne would make up
  • Step 6: Repeat ad infinitum

And I’m sorry to say but that gets tiresome really quickly. The same can be said for the characters but special shout out to Caddy here (just as an aside, I really couldn’t get over this name, I actually took to calling her Cadence in my head because seriously Cadnam). So the idea is that Caddy, through Suzanne, will finally stop being “uninteresting”. Unfortunately, I felt like Caddy exploited Suzanne’s recklessness to make herself feel needed and validated which was so dangerous for Suzanne who was essentially spiralling out of control and needed support and stability more than anything. Also, I didn’t see any character development in Caddy, she was just as insecure, naive and selfish in the last chapter as the first, and especially at times when her friends needed her. There was one point where I wanted to throw the book across the room because of her sheer idiocy but Rosie’s reply stayed my hand:

Caddy: “How could we know this was going to happen?”
Rosie: “But the thing is, you should have known that something like this could happen. Like, that’s pretty much exactly why people don’t do things like this.”

There were a couple of redeeming features hence the two star rating. First, I appreciated that Barnard portrayed the complexity of female friendships with all of its obsessions, jealousy and conflict without having to rely on any romantic subtext. Teenage female relationships are messy and passionate and sometimes authors seem to feel the need to justify it by weaving in romantic subtext – honestly there’s enough drama in platonic female friendships that you don’t need to amplify it! Secondly, I liked that Barnard was original in looking at the aftermath of abuse in Beautiful Broken Things and how the trauma doesn’t magically just go away once a victim is removed from an abusive situation.

Despite those few positives, the best way I can sum up this book is that I felt like a rubbernecker. You know when there’s been a car crash on the side of the road and drivers slow down to stare as they drive by? Well with Beautiful Broken Things, I was the driver and the book was unfortunately the car crash. Beautiful Broken Things was interesting enough, in a morbid “I know something bad will happen” kind way and that’s why I stuck around (I wanna know how it ends dammit!) And to continue the analogy, exactly as you would with a car crash you’d rubberneck for a minute, maybe two, and then be on your merry way, the whole thing forgotten and filed away as insignificant in the grand scheme of your life. This pretty much sums up my feelings about Beautiful Broken Things – it was just about interesting enough to pique my curiosity but totally forgettable once put down.