Review: Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Publisher: Bonnier
Release date: April 26, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 400
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How do you survive a mage’s duel without magic? Kellen’s about to risk everything: His family, his home, even his own life…

When you’re a Jan’Tep initiate approaching your sixteenth birthday, you’d better be ready to prove your worth as a mage. Either that or have a miracle on the way. And Kellen isn’t counting on either. He knows he’ll need a few tricks up his sleeve to avoid disgracing his family and becoming a Sha’Tep servant. So when a sassy, straight-talking traveller arrives in town, Kellen is all ears. Ferius Parfax is jaded but worldly, an exile who lives by her wits and the three decks of cards she carries. She can’t teach him to spark his bands and access the seven magics, but with the hand that Kellen’s been dealt, he knows he needs all the help he can get… A rich, compelling and laugh-out-loud new series for all teen, YA, adult and fantasy readers. Perfect for fans of The Dark Tower, Firefly, Hunger Games and Guardians of the Galaxy.

MY THOUGHTS

Thanks to Allen & Unwin for providing a review copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Trigger warning: animal cruelty

Spellslinger is the first book in a new YA series by Sebastien de Castell. This novel follows 15 year old, Kellen, who is a boy without magic, living in a world full of magic. Even though Kellen is the son of a powerful Lord Magus, he shows no sign of having any magical abilities and is at risk of becoming a Sha’Tep and serving the powerful and magical Jan’Teps for the rest of his life. When a strange lady, Ferius, arrives in town, Kellen begins to learn that there are alternative ways to be the hero that he’s always wanted to be.

That was kind of a vague synopsis of the novel but I’m having a really hard time recalling what actually happened or what the book was about. The plot was a little bit messy and confusing and seemed to jump around quite a bit. I just wanted a little bit more flow from it. I couldn’t really engage with the story and it took me a really long time to finish what was actually a really fast-paced book. I did like the magic system for the most part but I found bits of it to be confusing and underdeveloped. There were so many different aspects and I couldn’t really grasp the rules of the magic system because it seemed to be kind of limitless. I appreciate that the author wanted to put in a lot of plot and action but for a fantasy series… I wish he’d spent a little bit more time setting up the world and magic system at the start. The world building was kind of lacking and I didn’t really get a good sense of where they were or what the culture of the world was… besides the part where all the female characters were subservient and submissive.

Having said that, I did like Kellen’s character a lot and I think this redeemed the book for me. He was sassy and funny, and I found him to be strangely relatable. I most appreciated that he wasn’t the Chosen One (in fact, he’s kind of the opposite) and it was really easy to connect with him because he was kind of completely ordinary. I really enjoyed his character development throughout the book and the way that he found himself and who he wanted to be by the end of the novel. But I can’t say that I liked the rest of the characters as much. Ferius was an okay character for me. She was extremely enigmatic and I didn’t know what her motivations were by the end of the novel. I loved that she was there for Kellen and supported him but I don’t really know how I feel about her. I also liked Reichis, Kellen’s squirrel cat friend (or business partner, as he calls himself), and I can’t wait to see more of him in the upcoming books. I do have to mention though that there is some animal cruelty in this book and there was one particular scene that had me shuddering in horror.

The rest of the characters, I found extremely unmemorable and bland. And it also didn’t really help that it was difficult to remember their names. Some characters were from the same family and had really similar names that were easily confusable. And on top of that, a lot of the characters actually changed their names during the book, once they’d reached mage status. I also wasn’t a huge fan of any of the other characters and thought that they were either pure evil or just terrible, terrible friends. I didn’t care about any of them and wasn’t really that invested in their stories or what was happening to them.

All in all, I don’t think Spellslinger was for me. I liked the action in the novel and Kellen’s character a lot but I couldn’t latch on to anything else. I wasn’t able to get into the world or the magic system so the book ended up being a little bit of a drag for me.

Blog Tour: Freeks by Amanda Hocking

freeksPublisher: Pan Australia
Release date: January 31, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 336
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The Carnival is all she’s ever known – but an old terror could tear it down.

In the spring of 1982, the carnival comes to small-town Cauldry, Louisiana. Then events take a dangerous turn. For Mara Besnick, the carnival is home. It’s also a place of secrets, hidden powers and a buried past – making it hard to connect with outsiders. However, sparks fly when she meets local boy Gabe Alvarado. As they become inseparable, Mara realises Gabe is hiding his own secrets. And his family legacy could destroy Mara’s world.

They find the word ‘freeks’ sprayed on trailers, as carnival employees start disappearing. Then workers wind up dead, killed in disturbing ways by someone or something. Mara is determined to unlock the mystery, with Gabe’s help. But can they really halt this campaign of fear?

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour! Let’s start with my thoughts on the novel before jumping into a brief Q&A with the author!

Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for providing a review copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I’m not the biggest reader of the paranormal fantasy genre but I really enjoyed reading Freeks by Amanda Hocking. It was a fast-paced and slightly eerie standalone novel and I especially loved the carnival setting

The novel begins with Mara and the carnival travelling to a small town in Louisiana. They are desperately low on money and were offered a large sum of money to set up in Cauldry. However, as soon as they set up camp, strange things begin to happen. Carnival employees are attacked every night by a mysterious creature and there’s a sinister energy in the area that’s causing their supernatural abilities to be weakened. As it gets more and more dangerous and carnival members begin to gradually leave, it’s up to Mara to try to figure out what’s happening. I really liked the concept of the book and thought that it had a really great build up to the climax. However, I was a bit disappointed with the last section of the book. I felt that everything happened very quickly and was revealed very quickly. There was a lot of build up and it all ended a bit too quickly for my liking. I also found that it was slightly predictable and the ending was just a bit lacklustre for me. However, I really liked the first three-quarters of the book and enjoyed how fast-paced it was.

I also enjoyed most of the characters, though I did find Mara to be a bit frustrating at times. She ignored or dismissed her instincts about a hundred times throughout the book and I wanted to yell at her from annoyance because it was so blatantly clear what was going on. Other than that, I thought she was a good main character. I didn’t find her to be extremely interesting but she wasn’t too frustrating to read about and I enjoyed her moments of courage and bravery. I also enjoyed some of the other characters from the carnival, especially Roxie, who I found to be sassy and snarky but also had a softer side to her. I loved Gideon, who was the head of the carnival and I also really loved Luka because of his self-healing powers. I also liked Gabe, the love interest, but I didn’t find him to be a standout character. There is a bit of diversity in this book – Mara has Egyptian ancestry but I can’t comment on the accuracy of the representation. There was also an LGBTQ+ relationship in the book.

When it came to the romance between Mara and Gabe, I wasn’t a huge fan. There was a little bit of insta-love and the relationship definitely moved very quickly. At times, I felt like the romance overtook the whole plot of the book and I wished there was less focus on it and more time spent developing the plot. I liked Mara and Gabe together but their romance definitely felt a bit tropey and generic at times.

Overall, I enjoyed the reading experience and thought that Freeks was a really easy read. It was fast-paced and engaging but I wished the ending hadn’t been so rushed. The romance was nice but overshadowed the story and the plot a little so ultimately, Freeks left me feeling like it hadn’t reached its full potential.


Q&A with Amanda Hocking

How did you decide on the travelling carnival premise? Are you a fan of carnivals?

I was actually watching an old X-Files episode where Mulder and Scully investigate a carnival, which features real life sideshow performers from the Jim Rose Circus. I thought it seemed really cool and interesting, and I did some research about Jim Rose and his performers, and that’s where the idea for the carnival started.

What do you love most about being a writer?

Escaping into a new world. The freedom to just go and hide away with made up friends on exciting adventures is definitely the best part.

Can you give us a glimpse into what we can expect from you next?

I have a duology coming out sometime next year, I believe. I’m still working on the second book, and I haven’t come up with a good description for it yet. It’s YA and paranormal and gritty, and I’m very excited about it.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

amanda-hockingAmanda Hocking is twenty-six years old, lives in Minnesota and had never sold a single book before 15 April 2010. She will shortly sell her millionth. Her books have been a self-publishing phenomenon – according to the Observer, Amanda is “the most spectacular example of an author striking gold through ebooks”. In her own words, Amanda is an Obsessive Tweeter. John Hughes mourner. Unicorn enthusiast. Red Bull addict. Muppets activist. Fraggin Aardvarks guitarist. Author of the USA Today bestselling books the Trylle Trilogy.

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Review: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

crimson-boundPublisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: May 5, 2015
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 464
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When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village. But she was also reckless—straying from the forest path in pursuit of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in a vain effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Together, they navigate the opulent world of the courtly elite, where beauty and power reign and no one can be trusted. And as they become unexpected allies, they discover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. Within a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

If you read my Cruel Beauty review, you’ll know that I wasn’t very impressed with Rosamund Hodge’s debut novel. I have to say that I felt similarly about Crimson Bound, though I did think that it was significantly better executed than Cruel Beauty.

Crimson Bound is a very loose Little Red Riding Hood retelling. The Little Red Riding Hood elements are present in the novel but Rosamund Hodge takes it to a new level and makes the story original and her own. As far as taking someone else’s story and making it her own goes, Hodge gets top marks for her efforts. However, I was not really a fan of the plot or the story. As intriguing and intense as the synopsis sounds, I found the novel to be only a fraction as exciting as what was advertised. I couldn’t connect with what was happening and found the plot to be too slow in pacing. Much like Cruel Beauty, there wasn’t a lot that happened in the book and I felt that it dragged on and on. I couldn’t really get into the book until well past the halfway mark and even then, I was a bit apathetic about everything. There were some twists and turns in the book that I appreciated and I also thought that the novel had a much clearer story/plot progression than Cruel Beauty did. However, the pacing of it and some of the confusion that I felt made for a subpar reading experience.

I also was not a fan of the romance in the book. There is a strange love triangle that I was not a fan of, especially considering there was a weird love triangle in Cruel Beauty as well. But love triangle aside, I didn’t really feel any chemistry between the main character and her love interests. It all felt extremely clinical to me and came across as forced. I was looking forward to the enemies to lovers aspect of it because that’s one of my favourite romance tropes and the novel didn’t really deliver on that front. One of my biggest criticisms when it came to the romance was that the romance seemed to come out of nowhere. One minute the characters were trotting along like normal, and then the next they were realizing and proclaiming their love for each other? Not a fan.

However, Rachelle’s character saved the book for me. I loved the complexities of her character and that she wasn’t really like any other character that I had read before. I liked her good and her evil sides and her strength was really appealing to me. I loved learning about her backstory and it made me appreciate her even more.

Overall, while I did end up liking the book, I haven’t been too impressed with the two Rosamund Hodge books that I’ve read. Needless to say, I won’t be trying out any of her other releases.

Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartless Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release date: November 8, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Aila @ One Way or an Author
Pages: 464
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Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

The Lunar Chronicles is one of my favourite series of all time and I was extremely excited to read another retelling by Marissa Meyer. Sadly, Heartless fell way short of my expectations and I hate to say this… but I’m glad that it’s a standalone and that we can move on to bigger and better things.

Heartless is a villain origin story. It’s an Alice in Wonderland reimagining and we follow the Queen of Hearts from my childhood (or young adulthood) into her descent into evilness. Prior to being the Queen of Hearts, Cath was a girl who was not interested in being a society girl and marrying into a wealthy family. All she wanted to do was to open a bakery with her maid and best friend. However, without the approval from her parents and the resources to do so, she’s left with no choice but to enter into a courtship with the King of Hearts. But when she meets the court jester, Jest, they fall in love and begin a secret relationship…

My biggest problem with Heartless was the romance. I didn’t think that Cath and Jest had any chemistry together. I didn’t feel any passion or love between the two of them, which was a really big surprise to me because of how much I love all of the ships in The Lunar Chronicles. It didn’t feel like Marissa Meyer had taken the time to develop the relationship between Cath and Jest, and it just felt extremely forced. In terms of the characters themselves, I didn’t feel like Cath or Jest were particularly interesting characters. Besides Cath being a talented baker, there was nothing about her that stood our and her characterisation just fell flat. I felt similarly about Jest. I was expecting him to be quirky and interesting because he was the court jester but he came across to me as another typical male love interest. There just wasn’t much to the characters in this novel.

I didn’t think that the world building was strong. The world just felt like every other Alice in Wonderland-inspired novel that I’ve ever read. It wasn’t particularly original and there wasn’t a lot of time dedicated to developing it. I was honestly a bit underwhelmed by it. However, I did enjoy the plot of the book and how it fit into the world. I was a bit disappointed with the first half of the book because there was absolutely nothing happening and I found it extremely hard to get into the novel. But I did start to enjoy it more towards the middle of the story when there was a little bit more action. I loved the story of the Jabberwock and the role that it played in the book. That was perhaps my favourite aspect of the novel. The last section of the novel was interesting but I wasn’t the biggest fan of it. Knowing that Heartless was a villain origin story ruined the ending for me a little. I knew that Cath would start becoming evil and when she did, I found it to be a bit underwhelming. I thought that it happened too abruptly because one moment she was not evil, and the next she was. I also found the catalyst of the whole thing to be kind of predictable.

Overall, Heartless was not the book that I wanted it to be. It wasn’t exciting enough for me and I thought the characters, the romance and part of the plot were boring and disappointing. However, Marissa Meyer’s writing never disappoints so I still managed to enjoy it.

Blog Tour: Moon Chosen by P.C. Cast

moon-chosen Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Release date: October 25, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 600
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Mari is an Earth Walker, heir to the unique healing powers of her Clan; but she has cast her duties aside, until she is chosen by a special animal ally, altering her destiny forever. When a deadly attack tears her world apart, Mari reveals the strength of her powers and the forbidden secret of her dual nature as she embarks on a mission to save her people. It is not until Nik, the son of the leader from a rival, dominating clan strays across her path, that Mari experiences something she has never felt before…

Now, darkness is coming, and with it, a force, more terrible and destructive than the world has ever seen, leaving Mari to cast the shadows from the earth. By forming a tumultuous alliance with Nik, she must make herself ready. Ready to save her people. Ready to save herself and Nik. Ready to embrace her true destiny…and obliterate the forces that threaten to destroy them all.

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

Thank you to Pan Macmillan Australia for providing a review copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Welcome to my stop on the Moon Chosen blog tour! I will be sharing my thoughts and opinions on this first book in P.C. Cast’s new series. Moon Chosen isn’t really my typical read but I found it quite enjoyable to read. Even though it was a giant book with 600 pages, I read it all in just two days!

Moon Chosen follows our heroine, Mari. She belongs to a clan of Earth Walkers, where her mother is a Moon Woman, who is the most important person of the clan because of her healing abilities. Mari has inherited these abilities but has spent most of her life hiding in secrecy because her father belonged to a rival group. Unsure of what her identity means for her existence in her Earth Walker clan, she has never shown her true self. However, when her clan is attacked by the rival group and things start getting out of control, Mari learns the extent of her powers and begin to embrace who she is.

It’s a little bit difficult explaining the plot of this book because the novel is quite slow-paced and there isn’t really a lot of action. Most of the book is spent setting up the world and getting the reader comfortable with all of the different clans and customs of each clan. I did find the world to be very confusing at the start of the book. It took me over 100 pages to have everything sorted in my mind. There were a lot of characters introduced and I had a hard time putting everything together and figuring out how they all fit into the story. However, I got used to it pretty quickly after that and had no trouble following the story. I found the world to be quite interesting and not like many other worlds that I’ve read before (though admittedly, I am no expert in fantasy worlds). The world felt like a early history kind of world, with clans and tribes and lots of nature and biology. But what I found most interesting was that this was a post-apocalyptic world where all things man-made and technological had been wiped out. Whether it’s post-apocalyptic or not doesn’t really factor into the story but I just thought that that was unexpected and interesting.

While the plot and the story was slow-paced and dragged out, it didn’t bother me too much because the  characters were engaging and I couldn’t help but care about them. I was right with them throughout the book and I loved watching the friendships form and seeing how they interacted with each other. Mari was a character who I wasn’t a big fan of at the start but she grew on me throughout the book and I enjoyed her development into a slightly whiny girl into a caring and independent woman. I loved her kind personality and the lengths she goes to to help others who are not probably not so deserving of her help. I also loved her friendship with Sora, who also grew on me extremely quickly in the novel. I also really liked Nik, the male from Mari’s rival tribe. I wasn’t sure of his intentions at the start and was highly suspicious of him, but he proved to be a character who was also quite easy to love. But of course, one of my favourite characters was Jenna. Yes, simply because she shares my name.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of this novel was the concept of the Companions. Certain tribes in this book have animal allies that are bonded with tribe members. This bond is extremely strong and those who are bonded are tied together for life. If you love reading about animal companions, like Manchee in The Knife of Never Letting Go, you will love Moon Chosen because this series takes it to a whole new level.

Despite really enjoying most aspects of the book, there were a few things that I didn’t like so much. I was not a big fan of the dialogue in this book. At times, it felt very forced and I couldn’t really imagine people talking that way. There were also a lot of instances where characters spoke aloud to themselves and that just seemed a bit strange to me. I also had a bit of a problem with the pacing. While I didn’t mind that the book was very long, I did think that there wasn’t really a climax to this book, so it never really got intense and exciting for me. It just wasn’t as epic as I wanted it to be and I just wanted it to be paced a little bit better. But overall, I enjoyed the book and thought that it was a great read despite some of my problems with it.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

pccast PC was born in the Midwest, and grew up being shuttled back-and-forth between Illinois and Oklahoma, which is where she fell in love with Quarter Horses and mythology (at about the same time). After high school, she joined the United States Air Force and began public speaking and writing. After her tour in the USAF, she taught high school for 15 years before retiring to write full time. PC is a New York Times Best-Selling author and a member of the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame. Her novels have been awarded the prestigious: Oklahoma Book Award, YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Prism, Holt Medallion, Daphne du Maurier, Booksellers’ Best, and the Laurel Wreath. PC is an experienced teacher and talented speaker. Ms. Cast lives in Oregon near her fabulous daughter, her adorable pack of dogs, her crazy Maine Coon, and a bunch of horses.

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Review: The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

the-love-that-split-the-world

Publisher: Razorbill
Release date: January 26, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 400
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Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start…until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

This book was very hard for me to rate. I initially rated it 4 stars, but upon reflection, it’s really more of a 3.5… or even a 3. Overall, if I had to sum up my experience of this book with one word, it would be “confused”. I was confused when I started the book, confused during the middle section of the book, and even more confused by the time I had finished the book. I’ve come to terms with the fact that this book is confusing and no matter how many times I read it, I will still be confused. And I think this might be the case for a lot of readers, so that’s something to keep in mind before picking up the book.

Disclaimer: This review probably makes zero sense because I was so confused but I wanted to get my thoughts out into the world. And maybe, if you’ve read the book, you can help me out?

So… why am I so confused? First of all, I have no idea how to categorise this book. Initially I thought it was contemporary with a bit of magical realism. Then it started feeling very paranormal. And finally, we learn that there is time-travel. So, I’ve basically just categorised it as contemporary, fantasy, magical realism and sci-fi. Of course, this is a super minor point… so let’s move on to what the book is actually about.

Natalie lives in a small town in Kentucky and ever since she was a child, she has been visited during the night by somebody called ‘Grandmother’ who tells her stories about creation and how the world began. However, nobody else can see Grandmother and everybody dismisses these visitations as hallucinations. One night, Natalie receives one final visit from Grandmother who tells her that she only has 3 months to save “him” and that she needs to find “Alice Chan” in order to do so. Natalie has no idea who she’s meant to be saving or who Alice Chan is but the next day, she meets Beau, a boy she has never met before even though they live in the same town.

Probably one of the main reasons why I felt so confused about the time travel elements of this book was because they were linked to psychology. At the beginning of the book, we find out that Natalie has gone through some trauma and has been seeing a therapist and trying a variety of different therapies in order to overcome her hallucinations. There’s a lot of information given about different kinds of hallucinations and there are even consultations with a professor of psychology who specialises in ‘visitations’ and psychic phenomena.

Because of my background in psychology, I could feel myself rejecting most of what was written, and I wasn’t able to suspend my disbelief and just be taken into the story and the world. First of all, there were these huge info-dumps on hallucinations and the Myer-Briggs personality types that, while well-researched and accurate, was honestly kind of overwhelming for me even though I have pretty sound knowledge on these topics. But the main reason why my brain rejected these concepts was because everything was based not on psychology but pseudo-psychology. While we all like to have our fun with the Myer-Briggs Test and call ourselves INFJs or INTPs, this is pseudo-psychology. The test has poor validity and reliability, and there is just no way that any research or theory could be or should be based upon these personality types. I found the professor of psychology that Natalie was consulting to be absolutely unprofessional in her approach and her area of study. There is no way, NO WAY, that somebody who specialises in psychic phenomena could be the head of the psychology department at a university. Because, in case this wasn’t clear, the study of visitations and premonitions is not an area of psychology. Sure, there are plenty of researchers who study consciousness and hallucinations, but none that are linked to psychic phenomena.

Because I resisted all these concepts, I had a hard time accepting what was happening. But none of this mattered because soon after, the concept of time-travel and multiple dimensions was introduced. Which left me feeling even more confused because I had no idea what I was supposed to think or believe. Is this all happening because she has a personality type that makes her prone to having hallucinations of people and things she shouldn’t be seeing? Or does she just have the ability to move through time and space? Or is it a combination of the two? Some of these questions were answered at the end, but I had a hard time fully understanding the explanation. Everything is explained to us at the end of the book, without us or Natalie truly having to figure it all out. I wasn’t a fan of this approach because I feel like I could have understood what was happening a little bit more if we had followed Natalie on her journey to unravelling the mystery. Instead, we were just told what happened and if you don’t understand the explanation… you’re never going to because the way that it was explained is never going to change.

Because I couldn’t completely latch on to the world and everything that was happening, I had to rely on the romance to keep me invested in the story. Thankfully, this book is first and foremost a romance story. The novel is filled with scenes of Beau and Natalie, and if you enjoy the two of them together, you’ll have no problems getting through this book. Sadly, I didn’t really fall into this camp. I enjoyed both of their characters and I didn’t mind their love story, but overall it felt a little bit unoriginal and lacklustre. There is a severe case of insta-love and the romance progresses rather quickly. It’s definitely a love at first sight kind of story about two people who are soul mates. It has little development because they pretty much go from being strangers to being in love within a few days.

What redeemed the book for me was the writing. The way Emily Henry writes is magical. Her words are lyrical and beautiful, and they kept me reading the book even when I was confused and wanted to quit. I also enjoyed the stories that Grandmother told Natalie. They were intriguing and the way they were told was just so captivating. They were, by far, my favourite aspect of the book.

Even though the book was confusing to me and I had no idea what happened at the end of the book, this wasn’t a bad reading experience. I loved the writing and it took me on a journey. I also liked the characters and the diversity that was in the book. But I was just left a bit unsatisfied… and confused.

Review: Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

not-if-i-see-you-first

Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books
Release date: January 1, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 400
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Parker Grant doesn’t need perfect vision to see right through you.

That’s why she created the Rules: don’t treat her any differently just because she’s blind, and never take advantage. There will be no second chances.

When Scott Kilpatrick, the boy who broke her heart, suddenly reappears at school, Parker knows there’s only one way to react – shun him so hard it hurts. She has enough to deal with already, like trying out for the track team, handing out tough-love advice to her painfully naive classmates, and giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn’t cried since her dad’s death.

But avoiding her past quickly proves impossible, and the more Parker learns about what really happened – both with Scott, and her dad – the more she starts to question if things are always as they seem.

Combining a fiercely engaging voice with true heart, Not If I See You First is a deeply moving story which illuminates those blind spots that we all have in life, whether visually impaired or not.

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

I received a copy of Not If I See You First from HarperCollins Australia for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Not If I See You First is about Parker Grant, a girl who became blind at the age of 7 after getting into an accident that killed her mother. This book begins during Parker’s junior year of high school, 3 months after she found her father dead in his bed. Her aunt’s family has moved into Parker’s house to take care of her, and Parker’s just having a hard time adjusting to the new routines in her life and missing her old routines with her father. On top of that, her school has merged with another in the local area and there are a lot more people around who don’t know her Rules. Among the new students at her school is her former best friend and first boyfriend, Scott Kilpatrick, who did something terrible 2 weeks into their relationship 2 years ago.

While this sounds like a pretty dark book with lots of serious issues, it was actually quite a light-hearted book. There isn’t much of an exploration of the issues of being blind and for the most part Parker seems to just blend in with those around her. There is a lot of focus on how Parker is able to do the things that those with normal vision can, such as joining the track team and running sprints. She can be handy in the kitchen and she can find her own way around the mall and go on dates just like everybody else. I enjoyed how Parker never really felt burdened by her disability and her determination at finding ways around the obstacles.

But at the same time, the novel also shows the difficulties in Parker’s life and how she has to find ways to do the things that others who aren’t visually impaired can do. She has to have a buddy at school who will tell her exactly what is written on a whiteboard, which can get pretty tricky during Trigonometry. She needs a running guide when she’s doing sprints so that she doesn’t go off course. I thought the portrayal of how a blind person lives was very realistic and I could see exactly how Parker deals with not being able to see in everyday life. It was also very interesting to see how many of the social cues Parker misses as a result of not being able to see how others react. Overall, even though this wasn’t a deep and dark contemporary about a girl struggling with her disability, I thought the element of blindness was explored very well.

“You really are blind! You can’t see you’re not the center of the universe! That other people have lives and things happen to them all the time and you know nothing about it!”

What I had a problem with was Parker’s character. She starts off pretty dislikable. She was brash, judgmental and unapologetically honest. I just found her very hard to like. She had a hard time understanding that there was more to what she knew and that there were lots of little non-verbal things that she had missed because she couldn’t see. She does go through some character development and learn that people have their secrets and things to hide and that she doesn’t always know everything there is to know about something. But even after her character growth, I still found that her to be a little bit hard to like. She continues to be unapologetically honest and I thought she lacked a bit of tact. But overall, I had a great time learning about Parker and reading from her point of view.

I enjoyed all of the friendships in this book and it was great to see how supportive Parker’s friends all were. The friends that she’s had since childhood and the new friends that she made were all wonderful and there isn’t really much I can complain about in terms of the side characters. I also absolutely loved the romance! I know that some reviewers weren’t that thrilled with the romance, but I thought it was resolved very sensibly. There were times when I thought Parker changed her mind too quickly or was a bit hot or cold, but it wasn’t a huge issue for me and I really liked how the romance played out.

This was definitely more of a character-driven story. There’s actually very little that happens in this book, particularly in the first 150 or so pages. I wished that there was a little bit more action. Besides seeing how Parker lived her daily life and her romance with Scott… there wasn’t really anything happening in this book. There wasn’t a clear climax and it just all felt one dimensional when it came to the plot. The one thing that this book had going for it was that it was incredibly fast-paced! If you’re feeling hesitant about picking this one up, I highly recommend that you do because it’s possible to fly through it in one or two sittings. This was a book that had me engaged from the beginning and I flew through it in just a few hours.

Review: Yuki Chan in Bronte Country by Mick Jackson

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Publisher: Faber & Faber
Release date: January 21, 2016
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 272
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The new novel from Mick Jackson, Booker Prize-shortlisted author of The Underground Man and Ten Sorry Tales.

‘They both stop and stare for a moment. Yuki feels she’s spent about half her adult life thinking about snow, but when it starts, even now, it’s always arresting, bewildering. Each snowflake skating along some invisible plane. Always circuitous, as if looking for the best place to land…’

Yukiko tragically lost her mother ten years ago. After visiting her sister in London, she goes on the run, and heads for Haworth, West Yorkshire, the last place her mother visited before her death.

Against a cold, winter, Yorkshire landscape, Yuki has to tackle the mystery of her mother’s death, her burgeoning friendship with a local girl, the allure of the Brontes and her own sister’s wrath.

Both a pilgrimage and an investigation into family secrets, Yuki’s journey is the one she always knew she’d have to make, and one of the most charming and haunting in recent fiction.

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are mine.

Yuki Chan in Brontë Country was a little bit of a strange read for me. I had no idea what to expect going into this book but it surprised me and disappointed me at the same time. It was an incredibly insightful book with a lot of wonderful elements but it wasn’t as emotional as I would’ve liked it to be.

This book starts off with our main character Yukiko travelling to Haworth, which is a place that’s associated with the Brontë sisters. The story is ostensibly about a young Japanese tourist visiting notable Brontë landmarks, but we soon realise that Yuki is no avid Brontë fan. She quickly escapes from the tour she’s joined and sets off on her own journey around Haworth. We get to see Yuki’s true agenda as she walks around searching for places that her mother visited a decade ago, hoping for some clue or insight into her mother’s mysterious death. Along the way she meets some interesting characters, forms a new friendship and uncovers what really happened to her mother 10 years ago.

My favourite aspect of this book were definitely the characters. I can count the number of characters in this book on one hand, but I really appreciated that we got to see so much of Yuki. I could feel the loneliness yet wonder of travelling alone in a foreign country and I thought this book really captured the tone beautifully. Yuki is a very intelligent and independent character and I thoroughly enjoyed following her around on her quest to uncover the secrets of her mothers death. I liked her focus and her tenacity, and the fact that she wasn’t afraid to find ways to get what she wanted. Her character was complex and completely relatable, and I just wanted to be her friend because she was so smart and funny. She’s a character that is likeable from the very first chapter and I couldn’t help but be sucked into her story.

The pace of this book was slow for the most part, but I enjoyed how much the pace and the writing of the book added to the atmosphere of the story. The slow pace really complemented the mysterious and the slightly eerie paranormal elements in the book. The writing was extremely calming and soothing and had wonderful flow throughout the book. The mix of humour with melancholy worked beautifully in this book, and I felt like I was there with Yuki as she navigated the snowy winter days and nights in Haworth.

I have to admit that I didn’t always know what was going on in the book, but it almost didn’t matter because everything was wrapped up so nicely at the end of the book. The building sense of discomfort and melancholy ended with such a cathartic release that I felt very satisfied with what I read. Of course, I wished that the book could have been a little bit longer and more fleshed out, in order for me to connect even more with Yuki’s story and the emotion behind her loss, but overall I thought this was a wonderful and charming story.

Review: A Step Towards Falling by Cammie McGovern

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Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Release date: November 10, 2015
Format: Paperback
Pages: 364
Goodreads || Book Depository

Sometimes one mistake can change everything.

Emily doesn’t know why she froze. Or why Lucas did too. They could have helped Belinda, but they didn’t.

Sometimes people can surprise you.

Emily thought she knew Lucas. And she thought she understood Belinda. But maybe she judged them both too quickly.

Sometimes good can come from bad.

Emily and Lucas’s punishment is community service with people with disabilities. People like Belinda. Soon they feel like maybe they’re starting to make a difference. But can they do anything to help the one person they hurt the most?

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

A Step Toward Falling is a wonderful story about developmental disabilities, doing the right thing, and not judging people by their appearances. It was definitely an eye-opening read with some diverse characters that are rarely featured in YA, but I thought that the book felt a little bit long and draggy in parts.

The story kicks off with Emily and Lucas being sent to do mandatory volunteer work as punishment for not helping a student in need even though they were both present at the scene. At a football game, they witness a student with disabilities, Belinda, being sexually assaulted but neither of them make a real effort to report the crime and get help. In order to teach Emily and Lucas to be more sympathetic to disadvantaged populations, they are required to volunteer weekly at a class that teaches young adults with disabilities about relationships and boundaries. But Emily and Lucas soon realise that their volunteering isn’t directly helping Belinda, so they set out on a mission to make a difference in her life.

“If you witness an assault, it’s your responsibility to tell someone.”

Even though this novel deals with some serious issues, it never felt angsty. Neither Emily nor Lucas feel like they’ve been unfairly punished and, in fact, they both agree that they didn’t do enough to help Belinda and are happy to accept their punishment. It also never felt like Belinda was wallowing in self-pity (even though it would’ve been completely justified); she takes her time to deal with what happened before moving on. I really enjoyed the lighter tone of the book and appreciated that it wasn’t a dark and heavy book about the repercussions and consequences of what happened.

A Step Towards Falling has a strong focus on individuals with developmental disabilities. Most of the characters in the book are disabled and the book did a wonderful job at educating readers about these individuals and how they should be treated just like any other human being. It has a great message about not judging people by how they appear because who they really are might surprise you. The characters in the book are able to have healthy romantic relationships and friendships, and can even do some things better than typically developing individuals can. I appreciated being able to get to know the characters and how they react and behave, instead of just being thrown information about disabled people.

The book is written from the perspectives of Emily and Belinda. We get to see both of them grow and develop in different ways. Emily learns not to judge a book by its cover. Through her interactions with Lucas and Belinda, she finds herself questioning her first impressions of them. She learns not to apply stereotypes because each person is multifaceted and deserves to be treated equally. Belinda also learns to treat people with kindness and respect, but hers is a heartwarming story about forming friendships and relationships with others. She learns to stop being judgmental and bossy, and to consider the feelings of others.

I’ve never had a best friend before except for Nan and Mom of course. But I think this is what having a best friend feels like. Where you care about them being happy as much as you care about yourself being happy. Maybe even more.

My favourite aspect of this book were the relationships between the characters. The friendships between Emily, Lucas, Belinda and Belinda’s friend, Anthony, were so heartwarming to read about. They supported and encouraged each other, and it nearly made my heart burst from all the warm and fuzzies. I also loved the romantic relationships in the novel because they were honest and developed very naturally. The romance definitely takes a backseat to all of the other things happening in the book, and it felt very appropriate and properly handled. I enjoyed the characters individually, especially Lucas and Anthony, but I didn’t feel a strong connection to either Emily or Belinda. They did grow on me as the book progressed and I did like them a lot, but there were times when I felt a little bit indifferent about what was happening in their lives. (I did think Belinda’s obsession with Colin Firth and Pride and Prejudice was adorable though!)

My biggest issue with this book is the pacing. It was very slow at the beginning and I didn’t really know where the book was going until about the halfway point. It felt a little bit plotless, and while I enjoyed reading and learning more about disabled individuals and where they stand in society, I needed a little bit more plot. I started seeing a clear direction when I reached the second half of the book but the pace of the book didn’t pick up until I reached the last third of the novel. It was the dragging pace of the book that made me give it a 3.5/5 because I thought A Step Towards Falling was very well executed, and definitely worth the read!

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

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Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release date: June 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0805094598
Pages: 368
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Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

Shadow and Bone is the first book in the Grisha trilogy and it was a respectable beginning to the trilogy. It has a fascinating world and some interesting characters but I thought that the book needed a bit more development overall.

Let’s start with the world. I really loved the Russian-inspired setting of the Grisha world but I felt that we were just thrown into the world from the beginning, with very little explanation. There were lots of foreign terms being thrown at me and I had no idea what they meant. The book does contain a very nice looking map, but doesn’t include a glossary (at least my US hardcover edition doesn’t) to help me understand what all the terms meant. There were also a lot of terms in the book, so even when a small explanation or description was given, I had a bit of a hard time keeping track of what everything was until about halfway through the book.

Having said that, I didn’t find it difficult to picture the world. There was enough description for me to form a vivid image of the setting and the different places that the book travelled to. I could easily imagine the darkness and despair of the Fold and the glamour and luxury of the palace. I also really enjoyed the distinct classes of the Grisha and thought that it was an interesting concept, but I do wish that we had learnt more about how their powers manifest or how they choose which kind of Grisha to be.

I enjoyed the characters in the book but I thought that the main characters were not as interesting as the side characters. Alina, as a main character, was boring and I felt very indifferent about her. She’s the classic YA special snowflake who has the power to save the world from destruction, and feels all of society’s pressures upon her shoulders. But for me, she’s a special snowflake who isn’t very special at all. My problem with Alina is that she was kind of stagnant in her character development. She never really learns to use or develop her power, and she pretty much lets everybody else in the book influence her behaviour or make decisions for her. I just wanted her to own her role and not just wander about in self-doubt and indecision.

I liked her leading men a little bit more. I thought that the Darkling was a really interesting character and I loved the concept of him being a living amplifier of Grisha powers. He was dark, enigmatic and powerful, and I think I was drawn to him because he was so mysterious. But I also felt that his character was a little bit underdeveloped. There’s lots and lots of mention about how he is the most powerful Grisha in the world but I couldn’t really see what made the Darkling so special. From what I gathered, his only powers are summoning darkness and amplifying the other Grishas’ powers. I honestly have no idea why that makes him special, aside from the uniqueness of what he can summon.

Mal was a character that I disliked at the beginning of the book but ended up really liking by the end. Initially, he came across as an uncaring player but eventually turned out to be a gentle and caring friend. Even though it was a little bit frustrating that Alina was constantly pining over Mal, I really liked the two of them together. I also really liked the Darkling and Alina together, and thought it was interesting that their powers are polar opposites. At this point, I don’t really have a preferred ship. I loved Alina and the Darkling but I also enjoyed Alina and Mal together.

My biggest issue with Shadow and Bone was its plot and the development of its story arc. This is a slow-paced book (which I have nothing against) that contains bursts of action at the beginning and end, and long periods of inaction in between. We start off with the conflict in the Fold that reveals Alina’s Grisha powers and I loved the action and the excitement of this first section. However, there’s really nothing that happens for the next 200 pages until we reach the climax of the novel. The whole middle section was dedicated to world building and developing the romance, and I just needed some more action to fully engage me.

There were a couple of twists in the book but I found them to be mostly predictable. I was expecting the twist about the Darkling, simply because I’ve heard most people talk about the Darkling in a certain light. I definitely wasn’t surprised at all when his history was revealed. I also wasn’t surprised by what happened at the end of the book – I had subconsciously expected it to happen.

Overall, I thought Shadow and Bone was kind of average. I really enjoyed the world but I felt that we didn’t get to see everything that it had to offer. There’s definitely potential to develop the world further. The characters were a little bit lacklustre and boring, and the plot was predictable and didn’t offer me any sense of surprise or intensity. It was my no means a bad book and I think I can still recommend it to fantasy readers.