Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

shadow-and-bone

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release date: June 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0805094598
Pages: 368
Goodreads || Book Depository

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.

Review: Ice Like Fire by Sara Raasch

ice-like-fire

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: October 13, 2015
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0062286951
Pages: 479
Goodreads || Book Depository

Ice Like Fire is the second book in the Snow Like Ashes trilogy. This review contains some spoilers for Snow Like Ashes.

ICE LIKE FIRE SYNOPSIS

It’s been three months since the Winterians were freed and Spring’s king, Angra, disappeared – thanks largely to the help of Cordell.

Meira just wants her people to be safe. When Cordellan debt forces the Winterians to dig their mines for payment, they unearth something powerful and possibly dangerous: Primoria’s lost chasm of magic. Theron is hopeful and excited – with this much magic, the world can finally stand against threats like Angra. But Meira knows that the last time the world had access to so much magic, it spawned the Decay. So when the king of Cordell orders the two on a mission across the kingdoms of Primoria to discover the chasm’s secrets, Meira plans to use the trip to garner support to keep the chasm shut and Winter safe – even if it means clashing with Theron. But can she do so without endangering the people she loves?

Mather just wants to be free. The horrors inflicted on the Winterians hang fresh and raw in Jannuari – leaving Winter vulnerable to Cordell’s growing oppression. When Meira leaves to search for allies, he decides to take Winter’s security into his own hands. Can he rebuild his broken kingdom and protect them from new threats?

As the web of power and deception is woven tighter, Theron fights for magic, Mather fights for freedom – and Meira starts to wonder if she should be fighting not just for Winter but for the world.

my thoughts

35 stars

Ice Like Fire was a book that I’ve been highly anticipating since I read Snow Like Ashes a couple months ago. In fact, I was so excited about it and disappointed that I couldn’t get my hands on an ARC that Aentee @ Read at Midnight sent me hers to read. And then of course, my pre-ordered copy came when I was halfway through the book…

I was a little bit let down by this sequel. It was quite slow and despite being 480 pages, not much actually happens in this book to further the plot. I found myself quite confused at times by what was happening, why it was happening or how it happened. I just found it to be kind of repetitive, without actually answering any questions. That was my tl;dr – now let me explain.

After reading Snow Like Ashes, I was so excited about the sequel because I could see a clear direction that the series could take. At the end of Snow Like Ashes, we’re just starting to be introduced to the magic system and I expected that to be developed and explored further in Ice Like Fire. Unfortunately, we don’t really learn anything new about the magic system and how it works. I expected Meira to learn how to control her magic and strengthen her powers but none of that happened in this book. We’re learning about the magic system as Meira is discovering it for herself, so I was quite confused at times by how everything fit together. So, in summary, I found the magic system and the plot, in that regard, to be quite stagnant.

One of the aspects that I liked most about the first book was the world building and how intricate and interesting the world was. I thought that the world was the most interesting aspect of Ice Like Fire too. In this book, we travel across Primoria into 3 different kingdoms: Summer, Yakim and Ventralli. I enjoyed being able to learn more about each of these kingdoms and their defining features.

But at the same time, I felt like descriptions about the kingdoms was all that we got. There was hardly any plot development – nothing happens while we’re in these different kingdoms. The time that we spend inside these kingdoms is spent either greeting the rulers of the kingdom, or searching for clues about magic (and these clues are found far too easily). Also, while I liked Summer and Ventralli, I didn’t find Yakim to be that special at all. Yakim is known as the kingdom of knowledge and innovation, but their ‘forward-thinking’ inventions were just things that we see everyday in modern times (e.g. lifts). I wasn’t too impressed by that kingdom.

There’s a strong focus on politics in this sequel. In this world, there is a divide between the kingdoms, but also a divide between the Rhythm kingdoms and the Season kingdoms. However, there are alliances between Seasons and Rhythms that are being formed and I had a little bit of a hard time following the motivations behind these alliances and what they mean for the rest of the world. I thought the political aspects of the book were really interesting, but I felt confused at times and found myself speculating more than I probably should have.

What I probably had the biggest problem with in this book was the characters. There were some instances in Snow Like Ashes (especially at the beginning) when I thought that Meira was too headstrong. But I eventually ended up really appreciating her passion and her determinedness. In Ice Like Fire, Meira is just a shadow of who she used to be. She spends most of the book battling between being herself and being the Queen of Winter, who doesn’t act rashly and thinks about the wellbeing of all her people. I thought her character was pretty flat for most of the book and only comes to life at the end. I hope to see her continue to be a badass in the final book, because Queen Meira just doesn’t do it for me.

My favourite character in Snow Like Ashes was Theron (who also became one of my favourite characters of all time). Sadly, he had a complete change of character in this book. I felt uncomfortable every time he was mentioned and I felt like there was none of the Theron I knew and loved in this new Theron at all. I became very suspicious of him and his actions, and Meira’s distrust of him also made me not trust him either. With the unpleasant decline of Theron’s character, comes the resurgence of Mather and the revival of a potential love triangle again. Although I did like Mather in this book, I didn’t like that there were chapters written from his perspective. These chapters were few and far between and I didn’t think it was necessary to see from his perspective or to know his thoughts and doubts. I also thought it was odd that his chapters were written from third person, while Meira’s were in first person narration.

I’m honestly a little bit torn about this sequel. There were lots of things that I did like about it. It filled me with a great sense of excitement and the ending was intense and epic, and everything that I wanted the whole book to be. But as great as the last 50 pages were, the rest of the book was slow and almost without plot. I found a lot of it to be confusing and there was a lot of repetitive introspection and political plotting (which made it doubly confusing sometimes). I liked the world and the setting of the book but I wish the magic system had been developed and explained a little bit more. There’s still a lot more that can be explored, so I’m hoping the final book will blow my mind.

Review: Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang by Tim Learn

chewy-noh-and-the-fall-of-the-mu-dang

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Release date: September 8, 2014
Format: eBook
ISBN: 1505814804
Pages: 386 (eBook pages)
Goodreads || Book Depository || Amazon

Chewy Noh has problems. He was born with them. Two weeks after his birth, the family fortune-teller saw bad things in his future…and she was right. The school bully hates him and will stop at nothing to get rid of him. His mother suddenly can’t get out of bed, complaining of horrible headaches. And worst of all, the secret his grandmother is hiding may be at the root of it all. But why should he worry? He’s a superhero with a power no one’s ever seen before!

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

I received an electronic copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are mine.

Chewy Noh and the Fall of the Mu-Dang is the first book in a middle-grade series by Tim Learn. This will be a five-book series, with two books released so far (A review for Book 2 will be up in a couple of days).

When the author asked me if I would like to read and review Book 2: Chewy Noh and the Phantasm of Winter, I was a little bit hesitant to accept because I had a whole pile of ARCs from big publishers that I was trying to get through, and reading two more books seemed like a massive task I did not want anything to do with. But after reading the description for the book, I knew I had to read this series! It’s full of fun and adventure, and I would have loved this book as a pre-teen reader!

Chewy Noh is a Korean boy who recently moved from South Korea to the US with his mother. He’s incredibly smart and gets perfect scores on all his tests. But what you don’t know is that his ability to perform perfectly on tests is a superpower that he has been granted by a mu-dang (a Korean shaman/fortune-teller). His power starts to make him some enemies at school and these bullies will do anything to get Chewy kicked out of school. On top of that, there are some family secrets that are causing strange changes to his mother and his life.

I thought this book had a really fun and exciting plot. I loved how adventurous it was and I really enjoyed being along for the ride. The book was so packed full of action and had me wondering what would happen next. There were times when I thought the transitions between events could have been smoother – I felt like sometimes I was being jerked from one event to the next. This was probably a result of there being too many plot lines. It was a little bit hard for me to follow all of them and integrate them. I was just a bit confused at times about what was happening and why it was happening. There was also a little bit of unnecessary information at times, or descriptions of mundane events, which made the book feel very long. I think it could have been a whole 100 pages shorter.

The book had some chapters set in the past, describing the family’s history and secrets, and I thought these were some of the most interesting chapters because we got to see a lot of Korean culture. The book also transitioned very seamlessly from ‘past’ chapters to ‘present’ chapters. But there were also some chapters (mostly in Part 2) that all ended on cliffhangers, which I didn’t really like. It made the book feel overly dramatic and I didn’t think it needed to be that way.

The writing in this book was very easy to read, and I flew through this in about 3 hours. This book suffers a little from lack of editing, probably due to it being a self-published work. The writing isn’t as smooth and polished as I’m used to but I didn’t have too much of an issue with it since it’s a middle-grade book that’s supposed to be about the characters and their adventures. As long as there isn’t a huge number of typos, I’m fine with a little bit of weird grammar and awkward sentences.

I loved our main character, Chewy, and his best friend, Clint. They have such a great, supportive friendship and I really enjoyed the scenes where they were together. But other than those two characters, I didn’t really like anybody else in the book. Our bullies are terrible people and behave in ways that I could’ve never imagined. I’m glad I’ve never met anybody like them. They were really hateful and manipulative and I just found them to be despicable and their behaviour was honestly disgusting. The problem that I had with all of the characters was that they seemed to be a lot older than they actually were. They’re supposed to be fifth-graders but they say and do things that I would expect from much older kids. It just wasn’t believable and I almost had to imagine that they were high schoolers instead (I also hope that no 11 year old is capable of doing the things that these kids do in the book).

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It had a lot of things that would appeal to a middle-grade audience, as well as an older audience too. It was action-packed and has some diverse characters that you don’t see in very many books. If you enjoy reading about superheroes and their adventures, I think you would really like this story.

Review: Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti

zeroes

Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release date: September 22, 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1925266958
Pages: 496
Goodreads || Book Depository || Booktopia

One bag of stolen drug money.
One bungled bank robbery.
Six teenagers.
Six unique powers.
One action-packed week.

These teens have powers that set them apart. But don’t call them heroes. They are the ZEROES.

Ethan, aka Scam, has a voice inside him that will say whatever people want to hear, whether it’s true or not. Which is handy, except when it isn’t – like when ‘the voice’ starts gabbing in the middle of a bank robbery and lands him in a whole lot of trouble. The only people who can help are the other Zeroes, who aren’t exactly his best friends these days.

After Scam’s SOS, Nate, aka Bellwether – the group’s ‘glorious leader’ – summons the other Zeroes for a rescue mission. But when the rescue blows up in their faces, the Zeroes find themselves propelled into whirlwind encounters with ever more dangerous criminals. And at the heart of the chaos they find Kelsie, who can take a crowd in the palm of her hand and tame it or let it loose as she pleases. Can they put aside their differences and work together to keep everyone safe – or will it be the worst week of their lives?

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

Joey @ Thoughts and Afterthoughts has been pestering me to read Zeroes for a couple of weeks now so I finally picked up a copy. My bookstore had signed copies so when I saw it, I had to pick it up. I’ve just finished reading the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children trilogy, so what better way to prolong my feels than to pick up another book about kids with superpowers?

Zeroes is the first book in a new urban fantasy series (does anyone know how many books?) with a diverse cast of characters. It was thrilling and exciting, and a really quick read. Despite being 500 pages, I finished this in almost one sitting because the chapters are very short. The writing flowed very smoothly and it was a joy to read. I also couldn’t tell which author wrote which chapters, which is a testament to how seamlessly the book was woven together and edited. This book is a multi-POV book, written from six perspectives, but it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book because it flowed so smoothly from one perspective to the next..

This book is set in Cambria, California in an urban setting. Because of this, there was very little world building required. I went into the book half-expecting it to be set in Sydney, Australia because all three of the authors are based in Sydney. But let’s be real… when are books ever set in Australia? It’s been a while since I’ve picked up an urban fantasy book though so I really appreciated the familiar setting in Zeroes.

I really enjoyed the pace of the writing for most of this book. The beginning of the novel was very eventful but the pace and excitement levels of it really dropped off for 100-150 pages in the aftermath of the rescue mission, as we were getting to know the characters. The writing became very reflective and it just felt slow and draggy to me. There wasn’t much action or plot during this section either, so I felt like I was just sitting there waiting for something to happen. Luckily it picked up at around the halfway mark when I started liking the characters more – it became a character-driven book rather than a plot-driven book.

The characters had some interesting and unique abilities that I’ve never encountered before. They were kind of mind-boggling at times but the authors did a great job at explaining them. I still had a little bit of a hard time understanding how Kelsie and Nate’s powers worked though. They both have the ability to control groups/crowds in some way, but I couldn’t grasp how these abilities actually worked. Most of their superpowers also seemed more like a curse than a blessing.

“Your power is a blessing. But as far as I can tell, the rest of these guys are pretty much cursed.”

I had a hard time connecting with the characters until about the halfway point. While the book is written from all six perspectives of the Zeroes, the first half of the book is mostly narrated from Ethan and Kelsie’s points of view, and I didn’t really like either of them until the very end of the novel. I didn’t like them individually. I didn’t like them together. My dislike for them just made it really hard for me to enjoy the first half of the book.

When Anonymous, the handsome and well-dressed guy of the group, finally made his appearance, I became enamoured with the book. He was by far my favourite character because his story was so interesting. He’s the guy who is invisible to the world – people forget about him as soon as they turn their backs to him. As the book progresses, he develops friendships with some of the other Zeroes and they were so heartwarming to read about. I also enjoyed Flicker, a blind girl who is able to see the world through the eyes of others. I really connected with her character and her perspective was my favourite to read from.

The other two characters, Crash (a girl who can control all things electronic and crash them) and Nate, the charismatic ringleader of the Zeroes, I could’ve done without. I have zero thoughts or opinions about Crash – her superpower is kind of cool though and she’s pretty much the one who saves the day each time. She barely appeared in this book and the only time we really got to see her was when she was rescuing everyone. And Nate… wow I just hated this guy. He wasn’t in the book very much either, but he came off as obnoxious and it appears that he has some selfish, ulterior motives.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. The plot was fast-paced and exciting but what stood out to me the most were the characters and the dynamics between them. I’m not sure if this needs to be a series though – I was thoroughly satisfied with how this book ended, and you can definitely read it as a standalone.

Review: The Landing by Susan Johnson

the-landing

Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release date: August 26, 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760113933
Pages: 288
Goodreads || Booktopia (RRP: $AU 29.99)

In one swift, blindsiding move, Jonathan Lott’s wife leaves him. What he and his daughters find even more confusing is that she has left him for a woman. How is it possible that Jonathan saw no sign of her unhappiness?

Wondering what he will do now, and knowing a life lived alone is not for him, Jonathan retreats to his beach house at The Landing. Is it true that an about-to-be-divorced man in possession of a good fortune is in need of a new wife? Would Penny Collins do, divorced herself, a school teacher and frustrated artist? What about beautiful, wild Anna, blown in from who knows where, trailing broken marriages behind her?

With passion, family splits and secrets, everyone seems to be looking for something. And Jonathan’s about to find out how much love matters.

Susan Johnson’s stunning new novel, written with her trademark wit and insight, brilliantly observes what it is to be human and to love: the betrayals, the long and the short alliances, the disappointments and the joys. The Landing celebrates it all.

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

I received a copy of The Landing from Allen & Unwin. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Landing is a wonderfully written book that explores the different sides of love and humanity, the idea of home and belonging, and appearances vs reality. It is a light and mostly happy novel that delves into some deep and heavy themes.

The book is set in a small coastal town called The Landing, near Brisbane in Australia. Our main character, Jonathan Lott, a 55 year old and almost-divorced construction lawyer, escapes to The Landing for the weekend to get away from his left-over feelings for his estranged wife. But The Landing is anything but relaxing. It’s a place full of gossipers and people who know everything about everybody who reside there. We soon come to realise though, that everybody has something to hide and that we only show a fraction of our true selves to the world.

She knew life was counterfeit and her new self was counterfeit, too. She sometimes felt breathless with an inner recklessness at what she, or anyone, could do. Why, everyone was fake; their public faces put on, every single day.

In this book, we see characters idealise and romanticise love, only to realise that reality is anything but ideal. We see characters dream about greatness and ambition, only to realise that they are no closer to their dreams than they were the day before. We see characters put on masks and acts of confidence in order to hide their own self-doubt. This book explores how each of us are trying to find our own place in the world where we can find a balance between reality and our dreams/appearances, a landing if you will.

There isn’t very much that happens in this novel. It’s an in depth exploration of the character’s lives and the different sides of human nature. There’s not much of a plot, which made me a little bit bored at times. I also had a little bit of a hard time getting into the book. The first 20 or so pages were very slow and I didn’t think I would enjoy the book at all. Thankfully, I really warmed up to the characters and started to enjoy all their stories and disappointments. This book also jumps back and forth in time, as we revisit past events, and I really enjoyed that it was written this way. There were scenes that felt very nostalgic and heartwarming.

The writing in this book was beautiful. Susan Johnson has such a way with words. I ate up every single word. The only problem I had with the writing were the lengthy paragraphs of descriptions of nature and the wind blowing and the flowers blooming and the birds calling. There were so many of these long-winded descriptions in the first 30 pages that I could not engage with the book. As we started to see more of the characters, these descriptions dropped off.

Despite what the blurb of the book may suggest, this is not a book about Jonathan Lott. While he’s one of the key characters in the novel, we see many other characters too. There’s Penny, who was once the most beautiful woman in The Landing, but now a divorced high school art teacher, whose daughter ran away (and then came back) with a man older than her own father. There’s Marie, Penny’s disagreeable mother, who was a refugee from France. There’s little Giselle, who’s neglected by her mother and has to take care of herself. The book is written from the perspectives of all of these characters and more. This was perhaps one of the biggest problems I had with the book. It jumped from one perspective to another too much for my liking. I would have much preferred to read from only two or three perspectives.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book but there were times when it felt a little bit draggy. I would probably have enjoyed it more if there was a little bit more action. I did love the pace and the tone of the book, and I really appreciated how much The Landing made me introspect and think about where I stand in the world.

Review: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

mosquitoland

Publisher: Headline
Release date: September 8, 2015 (March 3, 2015 in the US)
Format: eARC via NetGalley
ISBN: 1472218906
Pages: 352
Goodreads || Mosquitoland || Booktopia (AUS)

When her parents unexpectedly divorce, Mim Malone is dragged from her beloved home in Ohio to the ‘wastelands’ of Mississippi, where she lives in a haze of medication with her dad and new (almost certainly evil) stepmom.

But when Mim learns her real mother is ill back home, she escapes her new life and embarks on a rescue mission aboard a Greyhound bus, meeting an assortment of quirky characters along the way. And when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

I received an eARC of Mosquitoland from Hachette Australia via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Hmm, I had high hopes for this book and, unfortunately, it wasn’t as amazing as I thought it would be. I still really enjoyed the story and the characters but I had some problems with it that stopped me from giving it a 4+ star rating.

The writing is undeniably beautiful, but I found it to be a little bit purple prose-y. There were passages that were so unnecessarily descriptive and flowery that it was a bit awkward for me to read. I kept finding myself skimming through paragraphs of wordy descriptions and metaphors. At times, the writing was a bit disjointed for me and it made it hard for me to get through the book. It felt like the author was trying too hard to make the book deep and moving. Mosquitoland was not a page-turner for me. It felt a little bit draggy in parts and overall, the pace of the book was a bit too slow for my liking. I expected it to be a faster paced road trip book.

While I did like Mim’s character, I found her voice to be a lot older and mature than her age, which is 16. She was very quirky but she also seemed a little bit pretentious. I got a good sense of who she was through her voice, but I didn’t always believe that she was that person. Having said that, I did enjoy reading from her perspective and I liked that we got to see all of her flaws. Mim also acknowledges all of her flaws and learns from the experiences that she has.

I loved the character development in Mim. On her trip from Jackson, Mississippi to Cleveland, Ohio, she meets a lot of different people and each character she meets affects her in some way. Through her interactions with these people, she is able to reflect on the person she has been and think about the type of person she wants to be. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing her grow and use the experiences she’s had to become a better person. I also really liked that Mim starts of alone and not wanting to make friends, but slowly comes to realise that she doesn’t want to be without the people she meets along the way.

Do not underestimate the value of friends.

Mim ends up meeting two people on her journey who become the friends she has never had in her life. One of these two people is a boy who suffers from Down Syndrome and I appreciated that David Arnold included a disabled side character that we rarely see in YA. I ended up really liking these two side characters and I thought their friendship was beautiful. There is a little bit of romance in this book and I think it was just the right amount.

What I didn’t really like in this book were the mental illness elements. Mim at the beginning of the book has psychosis and is suspected of being schizophrenic. Her family has a history of mental illness and this comes up a lot in the book. I didn’t feel like this was completely necessary and I wish the author hadn’t explored mental illness. I think it would have been a much better book if Mim was just a normal girl going on a road trip to be reunited with her mother. The fact that Mim might be psychotic made me really wary as I read the book because I wasn’t sure if she was an unreliable narrator. Having said that, I thought the author did a great job of accurately representing psychosis and schizophrenia, so I applaud him on that.

Overall, I enjoyed the road trip aspect of the book and the character growth. I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing, the pace of the book, and the presence of mental illness. But I would still consider picking up a physical copy of the book.

Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

dumplin

Publisher: Penguin Australia
Release date: September 15, 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0143573403
Pages: 371
Goodreads || Book Depository || Booktopia (AUS)

Willowdean Dickson (Dumplin’, to her mum) has always been at home in her own skin.
Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body?
Really, the criteria is simple.
Do you have a body?
Put a swimsuit on it.

But life as Willow knows it is about to change, and when this happens she suffers an unaccustomed, and unwelcome, attack of self-doubt. In an effort to take back her confidence, she enters into the local Miss Teen Blue Bonnet beauty pageant.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs and a wildly unforgettable heroine – Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart. And send you out to buy that bikini!

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

This is the September pick for #bookclubaus. There will be a live twitter chat some time at the end of the month.

Dumplin’ is a novel that has received a lot of hype, and I was a little bit underwhelmed by it. I thought it was still a fun and quick read, but I found it a bit lacking.

Let’s discuss the positives first. I really liked that the book was very body-positive. Willowdean is very comfortable in her body and she doesn’t really care about what others think of her, even when they’re calling her names. She embraces her body and doesn’t try to change it, which I really admired. This book does not promote the thin-ideal. It’s not a book about losing weight to please others or ourselves. There were a lot of great messages about body image and fat-shaming. I also really appreciated that the book didn’t make fun of the skinny girls either.

All my life I’ve had a body worth commenting on and if living in my skin has taught me anything it’s that if it’s not your body, it’s not yours to comment on. Fat. Skinny. Short. Tall. It doesn’t matter.

I found it very easy to relate to Willowdean because I too have things that I don’t like about the way I look (as I’m sure most people do). It was very refreshing to see her embrace her own body even when her own mother is embarrassed by how she looks and tries to change her.

I thought the writing in this book was very easy to read and I sped through this book in about two sittings. I thought the narrative style made it very comfortable to read and understand. There were a couple of instances where the plot jumped ahead in time without warning and I was caught a little bit off guard. But that was just a minor problem.

Dumplin’ is marketed as a book about a larger girl who enters a beauty pageant but I found the beauty pageant aspect of it to be very minor in the story. This book begins with Willowdean crushing on a boy named Bo, who works with her at a fast food restaurant. When he starts to express interest in her, she feels self-conscious and doesn’t understand why such an attractive guy could be interested in her. Somehow she ends up joining the beauty pageant.

It’s never really clear to me why she enters the beauty pageant. It says on the blurb of my book that she entered to win her confidence back and I can see that but it was never clear that that was the reason. What prompts Willowdean to enter the pageant is an old pageant application form she finds in her deceased aunt’s bedroom. Her aunt was over 500 pounds and died at a young age from a heart attack. Initially I thought Willowdean entered the pageant to show that even larger girls can enter a beauty pageant, and to fulfil a wish that her aunt never had the guts to fulfil herself. But a couple of chapters later, it seemed to me that Willowdean was entering the pageant to make fun of it. It just really bothered me that I didn’t know what her motivations were.

Also, the idea of entering the beauty pageant didn’t come up until about page 140. Considering that the book is supposed to be about her entering the pageant, I felt that it was introduced too late in the book. We don’t get to see much of the preparation for the pageant and the actual pageant itself only takes up about 20 pages of the book. It felt a little bit anticlimactic and fell short of my expectations. I expected a lot more pageant in this book and I wanted it to be more extravagant or thrilling. Instead, for most of this book, we only get to see Willowdean going to work and school, and I just wanted some more excitement. Because the pageant itself was such a small part of the book, I also wasn’t really sure what Willowdean managed to learn from the experience.

There was a strong focus on the romance, and while I did like Willowdean and Bo together, I wanted less of the romance and more of the pageant and character development in Willowdean. Although she did grow more confident throughout the pageantry process, I thought there was room for her to grow much more. She does learn to develop stronger friendships with those around her and I really enjoyed those friendship elements in the book. But at the same time, I wish that was a little bit more developed as well.

All in all, I feel like there were some very enjoyable aspects and some great messages about body image and bullying. For me, I think the book needed to be longer because there were a lot of things that I felt were unclear or underdeveloped. The pageant section of the book was very rushed and not what I expected going in to the book. However, I did still enjoy the reading experience and I would recommend this, especially if you love Dolly Parton because there is a Dolly reference almost on every page.

Review: Polarity in Motion by Brenda Vicars

polarity-in-motion

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Release date: December 2, 2014
Format: ebook from author
Pages: 262
Goodreads || Book Depository || Amazon

Fifteen-year-old Polarity Weeks just wants to live a normal life, but with a mother diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, that’s rarely easy. Her life gets exponentially more disastrous when her sixth-period history classmates start ogling a nude picture of her on the Internet. Polarity would never have struck such a shameless pose, but the photo is definitely of her, and she’s at a complete loss to explain its existence.

Child Protective Services yanks her from her home, suspecting her parents. The kids at school mock her, assuming she took it herself. And Ethan, the boy she was really starting to like, backpedals and joins the taunting chorus. Surrounded by disbelief and derision on all sides, Polarity desperately seeks the truth among her friends. Only then does she learn that everyone has dark secrets, and no one’s life is anywhere near normal.

my thoughts

35 stars

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the author for review. All opinions in this review are honest and my own.

When the author first contacted me about reading and reviewing her book, the blurb immediately captured my attention. Because of my background in psychology, I was particularly interested in the borderline personality disorder (BPD) aspect of the book. And the description also reminded me of Sarah Ockler’s book, #scandal.

I really enjoyed the story and thought that the mystery aspect of it was done very well. We don’t really know who posted the photo of her until the very end of the book, but we get given little clues throughout the book. For me, the perpetrator was kind of predictable but the reason behind the posting of the photo was not at all predictable, and I thought it was quite clever. At times I felt like there were a lot of things going on and a lot of changes in setting, but they all seemed to fit together in the end.

However, I thought there were too many themes and issues being explored in Polarity in Motion. The book tackles borderline personality disorder, racism, bullying, unequal treatment of non-Caucasian’s in the education, justice and foster care systems, along with some other minor issues. It might have been more effective if only one or two of these issues were explored in greater depth and developed further in the story. I really enjoyed the exploration of differences in the treatment of white and non-white individuals and I wished the author had just spent more time on that, especially since she has greater expertise in that area. I thought the BPD aspect was a little bit unnecessary and not done particularly well.

I should begin this next section by saying that while I do have some clinical training, I am not a registered psychologist and I don’t have as much knowledge about BPD as I do depression and anxiety. The information in the book about BPD was mostly accurate but really only focused on certain aspects of the disorder. The book mentions the fear of abandonment and black-or-white thinking. But for me, it was missing some of the key diagnostic criteria for the disorder, such as self-harm/suicide and instability of self-image or self-identity. The book was just filled mostly with Polarity’s mother getting irrationally angry at everything. There was also a lot of emphasis on her calling things and people ‘evil’ when her BPD got very bad, and I just didn’t understand that. Believing things are evil isn’t a symptom of BPD so I was a bit confused when it was mentioned over and over again.

There were about 10 pages at the beginning of the book where we were just given a lot of information about BPD and I almost felt like facts were being thrown at me. But what irked me the most was that there were some inaccuracies in the information.

“Mom’s not bipolar; she’s borderline. Bipolar is a brain disorder. Borderline is emotional.”

That line just made me so frustrated when I read it. Bipolar isn’t a ‘brain’ disorder. It’s a mood disorder. And BPD is classified as a personality disorder. And this is something that Polarity says after her caseworker commends her on her knowledge about bipolar disorder. If you had no prior knowledge about BPD, you’d probably enjoy this book a lot more than I did. But at the same time, I don’t feel that it’s right to ignore these inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the disorder, especially since readers who know nothing about BPD will take away information from this book.

I know that the author was trying to highlight the fact that we all have deep and dark secrets, but I strongly think that the book would have been a lot better without the BPD elements. Polarity’s family is very supportive throughout the whole experience – they had a really good family dynamic – and I think it would have been even better if her mum’s behaviour wasn’t erratic and impulsive all the time. I do think though, that the family element was the best part of the whole book. There was also some romance in the book, which I didn’t really like. I would have preferred it if the book didn’t contain romantic elements. There was already enough going on in the story.

I did appreciate the character development that we saw in Polarity. She definitely became more assertive and confident and I really liked the person she was at the end of the book. Coupled with a mysterious and entertaining plot, I think this book is worth a read.

Review: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

after-dark

Publisher: VINTAGE
Release date: 2004
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0099506246
Pages: 201
Goodreads || Book Depository

The midnight hour approaches in an almost empty all-night diner. Mari sips her coffee and glances up from a book as a young man, a musician, intrudes on her solitude. Both have missed the last train home.

Later, Mari is interrupted again by a girl from the Alphaville Hotel; a Chinese prostitute has been hurt by a client, and she needs Mari’s help.

Meanwhile Mari’s beautiful sister Eri sleeps a deep, heavy sleep that is ‘too perfect, too pure’ to be normal; she has lain asleep for two months. But tonight as the digital clock displays 00:00, a hint of life flickers across the TV screen, though the television’s plug has been pulled out.

Strange nocturnal happenings, or a trick of the night?

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

About 6-7 years ago, I started collecting Murakami’s books, fully intending to read them. I ended up buying 5 of them but I only read Norwegian Wood, leaving the other 4 to collect dust on my shelf. Recently, I’ve had an urge to read Murakami again so I decided to start with After Dark, which is probably the shortest of all of his novels. I should mention that most of his books now have different covers, but I wanted to show the cover that I own.

In some ways, I’m glad that I left these books until now because I don’t think my teenage self would have understood or appreciated them as much as I probably will now. Murakami’s novels all have hidden themes and messages, and even reading After Dark now as an adult, I don’t think I understood everything the author wanted to convey. I didn’t want to read too deeply into it though, because that would have ruined the reading experience for me.

If you’re unsure about whether to pick up a Murakami book or not, I’d suggest reflecting on how you like to read. If you’re the type of reader who likes to fly through books and think back on them once you’ve finished the book, I don’t think Murakami is for you. His writing requires you to think critically as you read and reflect on it as you go. Murakami is also great at setting the mood of the book, and they’re best appreciated when you stop every few sentences to absorb everything that is happening.

Let’s jump into what I thought about After Dark. This book is set within a 7 hour period – from 11:56pm to 6:52am. It follows a couple of characters on their ‘adventures’ during the night. Not a lot actually happens in the book and sometimes the pace is quite slow. The writing was beautiful and complex, but easy to follow. The narration in this book is very interesting. It’s written from almost a third person omniscient point of view, but in the role of an imaginary video camera. It’s also written in a way that really involves the reader in what is happening.

Our point of view, as an imaginary camera, picks up and lingers over things like this in the room. We are invisible, anonymous intruders. We look. We listen. We note odours. But we are not physically present in the place and we leave behind no traces. We follow the same rules, so to speak, as orthodox time travellers. We observe but we do not intervene.

I thought the themes in this book were very interesting. Through this story about people’s activities in the middle of the night, Murakami poses questions about humanity and the darkness that lives in humans. I thought it was great how well Murakami was able to create such a complex story using such a simple plot. In the story, we watch people grow and literally emerge from the darkness into the light. But implicit in that, is the idea that eventually the darkness will return. I just thought that the story that the author put together embodied the themes brilliantly. In the book, there are also underlying themes of solitude and isolation, which seem to be themes that are in a lot of Murakami’s other works.

There were definitely some things that I didn’t understand in the book, or thought were unresolved. There was this mysterious, dream-like aspect to the story that I didn’t understand, and maybe I would benefit from a second reading. I did enjoy the rest of the story and the characters but I don’t think I had a complete grasp of everything the author wanted to convey.

While I did like this book, Norwegian Wood was a much better book in my opinion. It was more resolved and better developed. Having said that, I think After Dark would be a great introduction to Murakami. I’ve heard that if you enjoy After Dark, you’ll most likely enjoy his longer novels too.

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

the-darkest-part-of-the-forest

Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Release date: January 13, 2015
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0316213071
Pages: 324
Goodreads || Book Depository

Hazel and her brother, Ben, live in Fairfold, where humans and the Folk exist side by side. Tourists drive in to see the lush wonders of Faerie and, most wonderful of all, the horned boy. But visitors fail to see the danger.

Since they were children, Hazel and Ben have been telling each other stories about the boy in the glass coffin, that he is a prince and they are valiant knights, pretending their prince would be different from the other faeries, the ones who made cruel bargains, lurked in the shadows of trees, and doomed tourists. But as Hazel grows up, she puts aside those stories. Hazel knows the horned boy will never wake.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel has to become the knight she once pretended to be. But as she’s swept up in new love, with shifting loyalties and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

my thoughts

4 stars

After reading the description of this book, I didn’t really know what to expect but I knew that it would be great, based on my experience with The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. The Darkest Part of the Forest was eerie and mysterious and darker than I thought it would be. I probably enjoyed The Coldest Girl in Coldtown just a little bit more but I would still really recommend this one if you like reading about faeries.

I thought the plot was very interesting and clever. It really kept me guessing and nothing was very predictable to me. The beginning of the book was very slow but it became more and more fast-paced as the book progressed. I flew through the last third of the book and I really enjoyed how it ended. The story and the world were well-developed, especially for a standalone novel, but I still wanted a little bit more from the story. For me, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was a bit better developed.

The characters were my favourite part of the book. They felt incredibly modern and now, and I think a part of that comes from all the diversity that Holly Black put into this book. We have a couple of gay characters and some dark-skinned characters. I really appreciate that Holly incorporates diverse characters into all her books. Each of the characters in The Darkest Part of the Forest were very unique and we really got to know each of them very well. Ben was my favourite character from the start. He was very interesting to read about and I just connected with him straight away. I actually wasn’t a big fan of Hazel – I found it hard to connect with her and there were times when I felt that she was a bit dramatic. I liked most of the other characters though, and the relationships between them. I also liked that the romance didn’t play out in the way that I had expected and I really liked what we got in the end.

The other aspect of the book that I thought was really strong was how the book ended. I thought the epilogue was the perfect way to end the book. It was a nice, light ending to a book that was quite dark and creepy.