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.

Bookish Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

everything-everythingEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Published: September 2015 by Corgi Books

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥  1/2

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

I haven’t read any YA contemporary romance in a while and was in the mood for some. Everything, Everything has been on my TBR pile for literally aaaages (along with every other book on the planet *sigh*) and I remember there was much hype around it when it was first released so it looked promising.

Madeline Whittier is ill. So much so, she hasn’t been able to leave her house in 17 years. Maddy is allergic to the Outside and for as long as she can remember, the four walls of her home have been the boundaries of her world and her mother and nurse, Carla, the only other inhabitants. Maddy has accepted her lot in life and tries not to dwell on all that she is missing. But everything, (everything) changes when Olly moves in next door and is determined to penetrate the bubble Maddy has had to build around her life…

I was happy before I met him. But I’m alive now, and those are not the same thing.

So this book was all kinds of awesome… until it wasn’t. I think that’s the best way I can think to sum it up. Those who have read it will understand what I mean but let’s focus on the good parts first. Obivously, Maddy’s disorder is the most unique and important aspect of the novel. I found her illness intriguing and whilst this was a contemporary romance, what I took away from the book was Maddy’s outlook on life – her philosophy if you will. She was as positive as one can expect under the circumstances and I found it admirable that she found ways to look on the bright side of the very limited life she lived. Everything, Everything really made me  appreciate all the small things I usually take for granted, things like literally being able to step outside our front door without pain of death.

Instead I wish for something more likely than a cure. Something less likely to make us both sad. “World peace,” I say.

There were a couple of other things that I really liked in Everything, Everything. The book is beautifully illustrated throughout with fun doodles (by the author’s husband btw, adorbs) which gives a little relief to the heavy topic at the centre of the novel. I also liked the cute IM conversations and the messages on the window, it broke up the narrative a little whilst also reinforcing just how isolated Maddy is. Nicola Yoon also used a really interesting way to emphasise just how different Olly and Maddy’s situation is – Olly’s constant movement, fluidity and momentum contrasted with Maddy’s cautious, stationary and predictable life and it was a really awesome example of an author showing rather than telling.

His body is his escape from the world, whereas I’m trapped in mine.

But I’m afraid that’s really where the goods end for me and the not so greats take over. Besides Maddy’s outlook which I did connect with, I didn’t particularly warm to the character herself. There were times I wanted her to be less passive about her situation especially towards the climax of the novel and I felt when she finally did take the initiative to control her own life, it came a little late. Same goes for Olly’s character, I couldn’t warm to him either beyond a superficial level (hello addition to book boyfriend list!) because he was damn near perfect, seemed to always know the right things to say and do and didn’t appear to have *any* flaws. I didn’t really care for Olly’s difficult family situation as it seemed contrived by the author to show he isn’t perfect – sorry Ms Yoon, I’m not convinced and am firmly of the belief that poor Olly basically suffered from Augustus Waters syndrome.

Before him my life was a palindrome- the same forward and backward.

So yep, its probably obvious that whilst there were some things I liked about Everything Everything, the ending which I found a little disappointing, meant it knocked off a star and a half for me. In the end, the innovative novel that I was hoping for fell a little flat and ended up being pretty meh for me. I think fans of The Fault in Our Stars may enjoy this and it is worth a read for the glass half full approach it promotes.

Bookish Review: World Book Day 2016

    

World Book Day is exactly what is says on the tin – an annual celebration of books across the globe. A host of famous authors pen special short stories as part of the event and these WBD reads are short, sweet and cheap but always high quality.

For World Book Day 2016, two authors of YA Royalty, Rainbow Rowell and Juno Dawson, offered up the older reads and so you can imagine I was excited to get stuck in.

Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

Published: February 2016 by Macmillan Kids UK

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Short Story

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

I will literally read anything by HRH Rainbow Rowell – seriously she could write about watching paint dry and I would still devour it 😀 True to her style, Rowell’s Kindred Spirits took us on a fangirl journey that was just charming and adorkable.

Elena is a Star Wars fan. No, you don’t understand, if you broke Elena’s heart, Star Wars would spill out. So she decides to camp out at her local cinema for the new movie. Elena imagines a 3 days of glorious fangirling with people just as obsessed as her so she’s a little disappointed when the reality turns out to be a queue of two other people. However, over the course 3 days Elena finds that the bonds of fandom can overcome even the most awkward situation and lead to the discovery of the best kindred spirits…

Gosh this book was just so darned cute – like grinning-ear-to-ear cute. Kindred Spirits is infinitely quotable and relatable. I found myself laughing out loud at Elena’s mother’s response to her intent to camp out for the movie (“You don’t even know these men. They could be sexual predators.”) Also the whole Asian, petite, looking like a 12 year old? Yeah I could totally relate.

For a short story, the characters were wonderfully developed (skills, Ms Rowell *tips hat*). Troy was hilarious and so realistic whilst Gabe was brilliantly polite and genuine. I always appreciate how Rowell never makes her characters into caricatures when she writes about fangirling and fandom. Elena, Gabe and Troy covered the wide spectrum of different levels of obsession and helps us to realise that we should all be uniting rather than competing over who is a more devoted fan.

The ending was perfect – it was adorable and I really hope Elena and Gave get a full length novel of their own. I’d love to see their friendship and relationship play out as well as find out more about each of the characters and their back stories.  My final takeaway from this book? If you find a guy who can help you pee under fraught circumstances, he’s a keeper!

Spot the Difference by Juno Dawsom

Published: March 2016 by Hot Key Books

Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Short Story

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

It was fitting that the Queen of Teen would be penning one of the YA WBD offerings and I went into Spot the Difference with no idea about the issues it dealt with.

Avery, and her best friend, Lois are distinctly Z-list at Brecken Heath High where the social pyramid is pretty rigid and defined. relegated by Avery’s severe acne and Lois’s “funny little arm”, Avery’s life is pretty grim. That is until a miracle cure comes along which seems to improve both her skin and her social status. But Avery soon finds perfection isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be…

Spot the Difference was very different to Kindred Spirits. It deals with the issue of acne and explores it really well. I found it totally original and, as far as I’m aware, a main stream YA book has yet to deal with the issue with the focus Dawson does in Spot the Difference. Acne is a really prevalent condition and one that affects many young people from their teens and sometimes even into adulthood and so that was by far the best thing about this book.

Plot-wise, yes, it was a little clichéd with the popular crowd and the reject that pines to belong to said crowd, and the ending that was a nicely packaged “grass isn’t always greener” moral. But despite these misgivings I don’t think this was Dawson’s focus, rather the focus was more about Avery and how her life is defined by the condition of her skin. The broad cast of characters were pretty unremarkable and one-dimensional, mostly defined by their role as A-list or otherwise but I did find Avery’s character and the way she dealt with her issue realistic and well-written. None of us can say we wouldn’t at least consider “going over to the dark side” if we were in her position…

All in all, this is a really impressive go at dealing with an interesting and under-discussed issue in the space of 80 or so pages. Definitely a “realistic contemporary YA” book to read for the issue it discusses rather than for the plot because it’s absolutely worth the very short time it would take to read it.

Bookish Review: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

91cHcWU-ICLThe Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

Published: June 2015 by Egmont

GenreMiddle Grade, Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow is one of those books that has been swimming around my radar for a while. It’s a mystery wrapped up in historical fiction so I was very much like “gimme” when I finally got around to it.

Sophie Taylor is trying to make her way in the world after being suddenly orphaned following the death of her beloved father. Luckily, she manages to land a job at the Milliners Department of the new, first-of-it’s-kind Sinclair’s department store. However things get off to a rocky start after the priceless clockwork sparrow, on show at the store, is stolen and Sophie finds herself being investigated by the police as the prime suspect. With the help of her new friends Lil, a Sinclair’s model and stage actress, Billy, the shy porter with a soft spot for Sophie, and Joe the stranger on the run from the East End, can Sophie clear her name before it’s too late?

This was a 3.5 verging on 4 star book for me. This was a nice, light read which sped along nicely. I think what really stood out for me though were the delightful characters. I loved how tenacious Sophie was despite how the tenuous life she’d tried so hard to build up was collapsing around her. I loved how supportive and genuine Lil was, she is basically the best friend all girls need. Billy was loyal, but adorably a little shy, whilst it was really interesting to see Joe’s character evolution. I loved the little gang that Sophie, Billy, Lil and Joe made up (also some intense shipping going on here!!) and liked that they were all distinct personalities from diverse backgrounds. The different POVs gave us a better insight into each of the characters and whilst this meant we didn’t get to know any of them particularly well, as this is a series, I’m sure that will come in time.

I think the plot was where the book fell down a little for me – it’s meant to be a light-hearted romp of a mystery aimed at the middle grade audience, so I really wasn’t expecting it to take the turn that it did and become quite political! The climax was a bit outlandish, especially when Sophie was the only person who could stop a major catastrophe from happening and I suppose I felt I had to suspend my belief a little. Nonetheless, it was exciting and I must admit the mystery did keep me turning the pages. I think I’m more interested in the hints and clues Woodfine sprinkled throughout the book surrounding the mastermind villain and her departed father than I am about mulling over the actual mystery of the book which I usually love doing once finishing the book… 

The setting was a big part of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow. Sinclair’s department store is inspired by the renowned Selfridges and Harrods of London, and there actually was a department store, Simpson’s, that stood on the current Waterstones site in Piccadilly!  I adored the lavish and detailed descriptions of Sinclair’s – the different departments, the luxury and innovation it represented but also the great machinery and army of workers needed to keep it going. Woodfine describes in exquisite detail everything from the beautiful architecture, the array of different departments, the luxury items on sale at the store, as well as the wealthy patrons who visit – so much so that I found myself taking a virtual tour of Sinclair’s 🙂

I would recommend The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow to fans of the Wells & Wong mysteries by Robin Stevens, or just anyone after a light read with delightful characters and a good plot that keeps you engaged and interested throughout. Fair warning though – it will leave you craving buns and wanting to visit a department store milliners to try on Edwardian style hats…

Bookish Review: The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Published: April 2015 by Grand Central Publishing

Genre: Contemporary, Romance

Rating: ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

The Royal We was a Book Club read and disclaimer up front: I don’t think this genre is generally up my street hence hence the rating. Nonetheless, I was slightly intrigued by the fact that the book is a fictionalised account of Kate and William’s story and was willing to have my initial impressions proven wrong.

A year abroad at the University of Oxford has American Rebecca Porter finding adventure and romance – with the future King of England no less. Prince Nicholas lives across the hall from Bex and before long she is swept up in his eccentric group of friends, his undeniable charm and the unbelievable royal lifestyle. But as is the way with fairy tales, the path of true love is not without its obstacles and Bex finds herself thrust in the spotlight and caught up in the whirlwind of fancy parties, the tabloid press and the persistent paparazzi. And that’s not to mention the drama that her twin Lacey, Nick’s brother Prince Freddie and the couple’s respective families add into the mix. Before long Bex finds herself in the middle of a royal scandal and at risk of losing the life and love that she has sacrificed everything for…

The authors of the book run the successful fashion and celebrity blog Go Fug Yourself so it was interesting to read a book where the baddies are essentially the invasive tabloid press and bloggers who dig up the ultimate dirt on celebrities and light the kindle that propels scandals into the open. Cocks and Morgan are clearly very well acquainted with this journalistic style and are pleasantly critical of the harmful consequences it can have for and on the subjects of tabloid gossip. It was refreshing that the book was sympathetic to Bex’s experience of the rabid paparazzi even as Cocks and Morgan owe their success to this kind of journalism and showed a level of self-awareness that I could appreciate.

However, when it comes to the actual story, I wasn’t particularly invested from the get go. It is closely based on Kate & Wills story (besides the obvious and glaring differences like the fact that Bex is American, they’re at Oxford rather than St. Andrews, and Nick’s mother is alive and kicking) and so it didn’t feel like anything new was being offered about the famous courtship. The characters felt a little bland and one-dimensional with each having one dominant personality trait that underlined their inclusion in the book – Gaz as the comic foil, Celia as the stalwart best friend, Lady Bollocks as the classic stuck up posh girl later turned ally, Freddie as the playboy prince, Lacy as the spoiled twin desperate to share Bex’s limelight. The tropes meant that you could almost see the story play out without reading even half of the book.

It also felt like the book could’ve been much, MUCH shorter without detracting from the main plot. A lot of the drama felt contrived and unnecessary while many of the chapters and events felt like filler material before we got to the climax – so much so that it was a bit of a slog to get through the 300 or so pages in the middle and still feel invested in the characters and their respective stories. One thing that irritated me was the introduction of some heavy topics such as mental illness and sexuality which I initially applauded but promptly realised they were essentially plot devices brought on stage to further Bex and Nick’s relationship and then it was exit stage left. I definitely think these issues could have been developed with a bit more attention and respect. The twist at the end whilst interesting came too late to reinvigorate my interest and by then I was just on the home stretch looking forward to finishing it.

I think people who are fans of gossip sites or even the history/”behind the scenes” of the Royal family might enjoy The Royal We more than I did and as I said up front this really wasn’t my cup of tea to begin with.  But despite this, even though I was willing to be pleasantly surprised and proven wrong, Cocks and Morgan didn’t put forward a new spin on this well-known story to gauge much interest on my part 😦

Bookish Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Published: January 2016 by Walker Books

GenreHistorical, Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

UGH just look at that cover! Gorgeous Lady Helen, Broody Lord Carlston – seriously just gimme! I’d not read any of Alison Goodman’s previous novels but the cover (more about that later…) and blurb definitely grabbed me. Also I’m a massive historical fiction fan, and the society/debutante Regency sub-genre has always intrigued me so this really was a no-brainer.

Orphan Lady Helen Wrexhall has a £40,000 inheritance but the appeal of this is tempered by the rumour that her mother was a traitor to the Crown. After the disappearance of her housemaid and on the cusp of her debut into Society she finds herself thrust into the world of the demon-fighting Dark Days Club and finds out her unusual story is even stranger than she could possible have imagined. And to top it off the mysterious (and deliciously handsome) Lord Carlston seems to be the only person who can help… Lady Helen sets out to understand her destiny but juggling societal expectations and the inusufferable Lord Carlston soon proves way more than she can handle and it’s not long before Lady Helen finds herself in over her head.

The setting of Regency London is almost a character in and of itself in The Dark Days Club. I loved the rich description of everything from the attire of the nobility, the atmospheric London setting, and the strict rules and conventions that governed Regency society. Goodman’s detail is so immersive and as a born-and-bred Londoner many of the street names and parks were familiar to me. I really enjoyed imagining places like Piccadilly, Cheapside and Vauxhall with hackney carriages trundling down them and street peddlers on every corner. The references to real historical figures and events also helped to ground the book and made it so much more evocative of the era. There’s an Author’s Note at the end explaining the extensive research Goodman undertook in writing the book and it really shows. My favourite had to be the detail about Lady Helen’s wardrobe (seriously lush!) and the different rules of engagement between men and women (who knew ungloved hands could be so intimate?)

Lady Helen was a great character – she was spunky but at the same time sheltered and unsure of all the changes that were happening to and around her. I loved following the character’s progress as she finds out about The Dark Days Club and her place in it, and watching her transformation from a skeptical girl condemned to her lot in life as a Lady to the confident girl who makes her own decisions . The relationship between her and her lady’s maid, Darby, was a really wonderful portrayal of female relationships and they passed the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Lord Carlston was oh so swoonworthy – one of the reasons why I much prefer the UK cover over others 😉 He’s a complex character with lots of secrets and I’m looking forward to learning more about him in the next installment. I cheered on Lady Helen’s suspicion of Lord Carlston and reluctance to immediately and naively look to him for answers and appreciated that Goodman made the romance between the two veeery slow-burning (the tension between the two was so thick that by the end I was all for a bit of classic YA insta-love resolution)

I thought the fantasy element was really original and interesting. Goodman goes to a lot of effort to world-build but I felt that sometimes the explanations were a bit dense and also lots of the rules around the demons were conditional e.g. certain things would only happen during a full moon or if a demon had been feeding. I found it was an effort to recall all of these conditions/details and assimilate them with the events as they were happening. Nonetheless, the concept was refreshing and as it is the first book, the dense explanations are perhaps understandable and expected – another reason why I’m looking forward to the next in series!

The Dark Days Club was a great mix of fantasy, history and romance with classic YA heroes and heroines and I would definitely recommend it to fans of The Infernal Devices or The Diviners series where the fantasy element and the rich historical background blend together really well. I would probably recommend this for the beautiful detail of Regency London alone and think anyone even vaguely interested in the era would find it enjoyable!

Bookish Review: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

Published: September 2015 by Quercus UK

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

I read O’Neill’s debut Only Ever Yours (review here) last year and liked it so I was looking forward to more material from the author. I also tend to prefer contemporary fiction to dystopia, the genre of Only Ever Yours, so this looked very promising.

Asking For It follows Emma O’Donovan, a confident and gorgeous eighteen-year-old, who is gang-raped at a party by a group of boys who play on the school football team. Emma wakes up the morning after with no recollection of the previous night until she becomes the school pariah and she finally comes across the evidence of what happened to her that night of the party. As the explicit photos circulate wider and wider, Emma finds herself up against the town’s heroes and their supporters who paint her as the girl who was “asking for it”.

The setting of the story is a small town in Ireland where the local football stars are worshiped as heroes who can do no wrong. It was interesting to see the reactions of the various characters play out, from family and close friends to people in positions of authority, and how everyone seemed to have an opinion on the rape – whether it was if Emma was dealing with the incident “correctly” or who was to blame. One thing I really liked though was the focus throughout the novel on Emma and her immediate surroundings, her experience as she tries to reclaim her life. Oftentimes, stories such as this one can get diluted with focus on the perpetrators which can take over the narrative and turn stories like this one into a victim’s story vs. perpetrator’s story. Thankfully Asking For It steered well clear of this. O’Neill also brought into sharp relief just how the adage of “innocent until proven guilty” is a luxury usually afforded to the rapists but the not the victim who was immediately branded as “asking for it”.

I went through a roller-coaster of emotions reading Asking For It thanks to O’Neill’s writing which has been described like a “scalpel” and that it most certainly is! There were two phrases that were repeated throughout the book and really drove home Emma’s horrific ordeal and ensured the reader was never able to dismiss what happened to Emma – similar to the photos and how Emma could not escape them in the novel.

At the beginning, I was not at all impressed by Emma and I initially could not relate to her. She was vapid, took her social status for granted and used it to hurt others, she was jealous of her friends’ wealth, stealing from them because she didn’t believe it was wrong. She was corrosive and unsympathetic to those outside her circle of friends as well as those within. But I think the whole point of the book was that you weren’t particularly meant to like Emma – it makes us acknowledge that empathy towards Emma’s/any victim of rape’s plight should not be based on how likable they are, how short their dress is, how much they’ve had to drink etc. It should be about the fact that they have been abused in the most horrific way and that rape is rape no matter who it happens to. And this goes back to the crux of the whole novel.

Following the aftermath, I went from not liking the character to feeling her despair. The guilt she felt and that was placed on her by all sections of society, from within her own family to news columnists across the country, was relentless and O’Neill masterfully makes the reader feel that anguish . The final emotion was heartbreak when I read the ending – I won’t go in to any great detail as I don’t want to spoil anyone but whilst I, like a number of other readers, felt it could’ve been different, I’m glad it wasn’t. O’Neill’s ending whilst perhaps not the most uplifting is incredibly realistic and honest. This book belongs to victims like Emma and the sad fact is that rarely do these stories have happy endings. The ending was true to many victims which is infinitely more important and I’m glad that O’Neill did their stories and courage justice.

The only issue I had with Asking For It was that the flow felt a little disjointed at times. Tenses and the characters speaking changed between one sentence and the next at odd times, and I found I had to re-read some entire paragraphs just to decipher it thus ruining the flow for me. This kind of writing style would make sense post-incident where the disjointed thoughts of the victim as a result of trauma could be illustrated but it was the case at the beginning too – the first couple of pages in fact.

Overall though, Asking For It is a brilliant contribution to the genre and is a hard-hitting and emotional read. It deals with a topic that is oft-overlooked and challenges the judgmental narrative around rape and consent. Definitely a must-read for all ages and genders in my opinion.

Bookish Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Published: May 2015 by Macmillan Children’s Books

GenreFantasy, Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

Behold the 2015 Costa Book of the Year Award Winner! I found out about The Lie Tree after its shock win, becoming only the second time a children’s book has won the award since Philip Pullman’s win in 2001 almost fifteen years ago. The Lie Tree is a murder mystery wrapped up in historical fiction and so I was super excited to get stuck in.

Fourteen-year-old Faith finds herself thrown into a tale of mystery and intrigue when her father dies suddenly and under suspicious circumstances. No one else in her new village seems to agree though, and so Faith takes it upon herself to solve his murder. Amongst her father’s papers she finds evidence that points to a tree that survives on lies and rewards the person who sustains it with hidden secrets. Faith realises that the tree contains the secret to her father’s death and begins to feed it with progressively bigger lies, but she finds that not all truths are easy to bear…

Dead people bled silence

Well what to say about this book? It simply and utterly blew me away. I was totally and completely engrossed in Faith’s world from page one. She is a wondrously complex and inquisitive character and, although only fourteen-years-old, will resonate with readers young and old with ease. She had faults, good intentions, she loved and hated passionately, intelligence beyond her years, and an understanding of the ways of the world and the unfairness of her place as a female within that society. However, she was also naive and desperate for the acceptance of her father. I could literally go on. I haven’t come across a character in a very long time that I was so invested in. She is a fantastically realistic character, bolstered even further by a strong cast of supporting characters.

The rules tinkled silently as they broke

The prose was another delight. Frances Hardinge is a master of the English language and I found myself highlighting loads of passages as I read (grand total being upwards of 30!). The Lie Tree was atmospheric and beautiful in its detail and almost seemed like a love letter to the British coast – with its overcast but evocative weather and eccentric village cast. One thing I really noticed was how imaginative and original Hardinge is in her use of similes and metaphors. There’s a page where the author describes the sensation of taste and it was so expressive that the description left me responding physically – suffice to say this doesn’t happen often and Hardinge’s talent shines through her prose.

And now Erasmus Sunderley would be added to the names of the deceased in the family Bible, another little human life crushed fly-like between its great pages

Although the story is based on an outlandish fantasy object, the Lie Tree, I like how the author doesn’t glorify or overstate the oddity of the plant and its powers. Instead, Hardinge focuses the narrative on an exploration of the human character including the effects of greed and gossip. I loved the insights into Regency society – Faith’s canny and witty observations threw into sharp relief the societal restrictions placed upon women and girls and how she desperately wants to defy these. Whilst the main characters are predominantly male and Faith encounters many obstructions from male characters in her investigation, it is the female characters who are vivacious and strong despite the restrictive rules and conventions of society. Hardinge’s exploration of this, and Faith’s desperation to learn and to be accepted for her mind, weaves through the story but is never heavy-handed. 

Each lady quietly relaxed and became more real, expanding into the space left behind by the men. Without visibly changing, they unfolded, like flowers, or knives.

The story moved along really well – there were no filler scenes with everything that happened contributing to moving along the plot. It was pacy and brisk, meaning that it kept the suspense ratcheted up – important in a book of this genre. I did not see the ending coming but liked it a lot. The only slight critique being that the action was a little hijinks compared to the rest of the novel and was a little jarring. However, it was executed well and did not detract from the overall excellence of the book.

I am not in the least bit surprised that The Lie Tree won the Costa Book of the Year Award. This was a brilliantly evocative story with just the right amounts of intrigue, drama, societal issues and coupled with a fantastic cast of characters. In case my adoration wasn’t evident in the rambling above, I wholeheartedly recommend The Lie Tree and if you haven’t read it already, it’s well worth bumping this up to the top of your TBR list!

 

Bookish Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Published: February 2016 by Faber & Faber

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

I’m part of the same YA book club as Alwyn Hamilton so Rebel of the Sands has been on my radar for some time. Billed as the “Arabian Nights meets the Wild West”, this novel is the first in a new trilogy and one that sounded really different and exciting.

Amani dreams of having a greater purpose in life and is desperate to leave behind her bitter extended family, who took her in after she was orphaned, and the dead-end desert town that she has grown up in. A talented gunslinger, she’s hoping it’s enough to get her to the capital city of Miraji where she can be free from the constraints of small town life. Her plans are however derailed by the arrival of a foreigner in town who awakens Amani’s desires (romantic and adventurous!) and the two are flung together for survival. But this stranger has secrets of his own and it is not long before Amani finds herself wound up in his mysterious mission and his mesmerizing eyes…

This book was simply delicious. I was really looking forward to reading a novel in an Arabian Nights setting and Rebel of the Sands did not disappoint. Hamilton’s world-building and attention to detail is great and the setting was at once recognisable, familiar enough to ground readers, but different enough to keep it fresh and intriguing. I loved the references to the Djinni fairy tales and the exploration of the spiritual aspect of life in the desert, such as the origins of the world and ideas behind right and wrong. At times, I’ll admit I found it difficult to keep up with the wider world – there were other cities, nations, and political alliances pretty important to the story that I had to make an effort to keep straight but it wasn’t impossible.

Amani was a wonderful character to get to know and follow as she found the world opening up in front of her. She is the ultimate heroine fighting against societal constraints and I loved that she was a balance of bold and loyal but self-critical and unsure – a very realistic 17-year-old. Her smart mouth gave way to some pretty epic lines and made her so badass and impossible not to like. Jinn was also a delight, mysterious but compelling and you can totally understand why Amani found it difficult to abandon him at various points.

Amani’s desperation and need to get away was beautifully explored and was reflected in the barren and vast surroundings of desert that she has been grown up in. At the same time her growing attachment to Jinn felt natural too. It brings to mind the saying that home isn’t a place but a person. I was supper happy that there wasn’t instalove – she totally poisons him at one point in order to put her need to escape first (atta girl!) There were some stereotypical romantic moments  e.g. burning touches and overwhelming ~feelings~ but I can forgive Amani those because 1. Jinn is hot and 2. She is so busy being badass the rest of the time that she is totally entitled to some twitterpation 😉

The pacing in the book was just right and the balance between action and explanation was strong throughout. And the overarching plot was super intriguing that I’m eagerly anticipating the next installment. I read this with half a mind to the fact that it was the first in a trilogy and would most likely spend the majority world building, and setting up the plot for the rest of the trilogy so I was pleasantly surprised when the book finished with a satisfying climax and ending of its own with no cliffhanger in sight.

If you’re at all interested in far-flung exotic lands with badass heroines, yummy love interests and the promise of rebellion, you will not be let down by Rebel of the Sands.

Bookish Review: Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Suicide NotesSuicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Published: July 2015 by Simon Pulse

Genre: Mystery, Contemporary

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♡ ♡ ♡

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

I was drawn to Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls because of the haunting title and cover. The blurb held promise of teenage issues, intrigue and tragedy and compared the novel to Gone Girl and 13 Reasons Why, two books I’ve read and enjoyed. Plus it’s a mystery so basically it was ticking all of my boxes!

Up until a year ago, June and Delia were best friends. Whilst Delia was the more daring, experienced and also slightly unstable of the two, theirs was an unwavering friendship despite their differences, one bonded by the ties of secrets. However, when one night’s antics go too far, their friendship is tested and in the aftermath, June distances herself from Delia. That is until she hears news that Delia has died in a suspected suicide. For June, the incident dredges up the past and not-so-old feelings and she finds herself obsessing over what exactly happened that night when Delia went up in flames, and what drove her to take such drastic action? After Delia’s ex-boyfriend suggests foul play, June begins to dig deeper into her old friend’s suicide and is confronted with the fact that some details about the incident just do not add up…

“Having secrets together makes you real friends,” she said. “Secrets tie you together.” And June felt suddenly giddy at the idea that Delia would want to be tied to her.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls started well. When the idea that Delia’s death might not have been suicide, but something more sinister, was introduced it held promise. It was endearing at the beginning to see June so doggedly follow the few clues she had and put herself in uncomfortable positions because she was desperate to do right by her friend. The story was setup using flashbacks showing their friendship before they became estranged. It was these glimpses into the past that allowed the reader to get a better understanding of Delia and June and their friendship since details were scarce in the present. Their inseparability and reliance on each other was clear and it made the reader want to find out what exactly happened that changed things so drastically between them. These flashbacks though were not in chronological order and so the narrative did often feel rather disjointed.

As I read on, I also started to find the characterisation quite flimsy. I did not care one iota for Delia, and considering the whole point of this book was finding out the truth behind her alleged suicide, it didn’t help me feel any sympathy for the character or cheer on June to solve the mystery. I also couldn’t get fully behind the whole friendship either – it seemed toxic and didn’t seem to be balanced for the two of them. June seemed much more reliant on Delia, crediting her with giving her confidence, whilst Delia came across as rather possessive. Although close and almost obsessive friendships between girls aren’t all that uncommon when growing up, this friendship did leave a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s like when Delia was around, the borders of June’s skin weren’t there. Delia wrapped her up and sunk right in.

In terms of the other characters, June’s boyfriend wasn’t well-developed enough for me to take his plot arc seriously. The characters introduced later on were also rather two-dimensional, their only purpose was to serve as plot devices and they all appeared to have just one or two basic characteristics – jealous, broody, pining etc etc. Although this could be explained by their background, which I won’t go into in detail because spoilers, I still didn’t feel like it was a good enough reason to not develop them a bit further especially as they’re pretty crucial to the climax. Save for Jeremiah, Delia’s ex-boyfriend, who seems to be the only character to show any genuine emotion, none of the characters felt realistic beyond walking and talking plot devices which was a huge shame.

The biggest let down for me was the turn the book took about mid-way. It felt a bit like a cop-out and invalidated all that had happened up to that point. And everything that happened from the point onward didn’t seem to have much substance or point – June, and the reader, were essentially just waiting around for the climax to happen and in the meantime all the characters had time to do was to indulge in some petty avoidable drama. Even still, I could’ve forgiven these issues if the twist wasn’t so guessable early on. It all got a little too far-fetched for me, and not enough was done by Weingarten to convince me to suspend my disbelief.

I had high hopes for Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls but I was left feeling underwhelmed and a little frustrated because it had potential. The plot took some pretty huge liberties at the expense of being “twisted” and “unpredictable” and, because I couldn’t connect to the characters beyond a superficial level, it fell flat for me. Still I’ve given the book 2/5 because I did want to finish the book and because the first half wasn’t terrible.

If you’re looking for a satisfying thriller/murder mystery which deals which weaves in unreliable narrators and toxic friendships, I suggest you look no further than Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas – one of my absolute all time favourite YA murder mystery thrillers.

Have you read Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls? What were your thoughts on the ending? Let me know in the comments below 🙂