Review: My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Release date: June 1, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 372
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‘You are my sister now,’ Victoria said, quietly and solemnly. ‘Never forget it. I love you like a sister, and you are my only friend in all the world.’

Miss V. Conroy is good at keeping secrets. She likes to sit as quiet as a mouse, neat and discreet. But when her father sends her to Kensington Palace to become the companion to Princess Victoria, Miss V soon finds that she can no longer remain in the shadows.

Miss V’s father has devised a strict set of rules for the young princess, which he calls the Kensington System. It governs her behaviour and keeps her locked away from the world. He says it is for the princess’s safety, but Victoria herself is convinced that it is to keep her lonely, and unhappy.

Torn between loyalty to her father and her growing friendship with the wilful and passionate Victoria, Miss V has a decision to make: to continue in silence, or to speak out.

By turns thrilling, dramatic and touching, this is the story of Queen Victoria’s childhood as you’ve never heard it before.

MY THOUGHTS

Thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for providing a review copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

My Name is Victoria is a historical retelling of Queen Victoria’s youth, with a twist. While the novel contains historically correct information, the plot of the book is fictional and set in a “parallel world”, as described by the author herself. I didn’t really have any expectations going into the book, because even though I love historical fiction, I have a very general knowledge of Queen Victoria’s life. And because of my lack of expectations and prior knowledge, I ended up really enjoying the novel because of how accessible and interesting it was.

The story follows a young girl named Miss V, who is given the task of being Princess Victoria’s playmate. Miss V’s father is the comptroller of the Duchess of Kent, who is Victoria’s mother, and he plays a big role in the management of their estate and finances, as well as a crucial role in ‘the Kensington System’. Miss V is extremely proud of her father’s position, until she gradually becomes closer with Victoria and others living at Kensington Palace and discovers that not everything is as it seems. I liked the writing style of the novel. It had a simplistic writing style that was easy to read and suited the story perfectly. What I loved most about the story was that it wasn’t as slow-paced as most historical fiction novels out there. I sped through the book in a few hours and it never felt like a drag. It was definitely still on the slow side because there isn’t a lot that happens and the story spans a period of 7-8 years. But the passage of time was done quite seamlessly and besides the beginning when we were getting to know the characters and their situation, there wasn’t any section in the book that felt long-winded and tiresome. My only real criticism of the plot and story was that the last 50 or so pages felt a little bit rushed. It seemed like everything was happening all at once and the resolution of the book came a bit too easily. I would’ve liked if it had been developed a little bit more.

There wasn’t really a character that I latched on to and absolutely loved, though I did find Miss V to be very relatable and likeable. I admired how much she did for Victoria and how much she was willing to give up for her friend. The friendship that developed between Victoria and Miss V was really great to see. It was nice to see that Miss V never really resented Victoria for any of the things that she had to endure, such as dressing extremely plainly in public so as to not upstage Victoria and giving up her future and any romantic opportunities. I also really liked Prince Albert once he made an appearance in the book. He was really sweet, kind and intelligent, and just my idea of a great book boyfriend.

Overall, I really enjoyed My Name is Victoria and learnt a lot about Queen Victoria’s youth. It made me want to go out and learn more about her life, and it’s a historical fiction novel that I’d recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about her.

My Name is Victoria was published by Bloomsbury Australia on 1st June 2017. It is available at all Australian retailers for $14.99.

Review: Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Release date: January 1, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 464
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After the scandalous events at her presentation ball in London, Lady Helen has taken refuge at the fashionable seaside resort of Brighton, where she is training to be a Reclaimer with the covert Dark Days Club.

As she struggles to put aside her genteel upbringing and take up the weapons of a warrior, Helen realizes that her mentor, Lord Carlston, is fighting his own inner battle. Has the foul Deceiver energy poisoned his soul, or is something else driving him towards violent bouts of madness? Either way, Helen is desperate to help the man with whom she shares a deep but forbidden connection.

When Mr Pike, the hard bureaucratic heart of the Dark Days Club, arrives in Brighton, no one is prepared for the ordinary evil he brings in his wake. He has a secret task for Helen and Mr Hammond, and the authority of the Prince Regent. They have no choice but to do as he orders, knowing that the mission will betray everyone around them and possibly bring about Lord Carlston’s annihilation.

MY THOUGHTS

This is the sequel to Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club, which means that this review may contain spoilers for the first book.

Thank you to HarperCollins Australia for providing a review copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I read and really enjoyed Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club last year and was extremely excited for the release of its sequel this year. I loved Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact even more than the first book and it’s made me even more excited for the last book in the trilogy.

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact picks up a few weeks after the end of the first book and we follow Lady Helen as she starts her training. Meanwhile, Lord Carlston is acting increasingly strange and Lady Helen, as well as the members of the Dark Days Club, are concerned about Lord Carlson’s motives and his future. When Lady Helen is approached with a dangerous task that will betray the people she has grown to love, especially Lord Carlston, she struggles with what the right decision is. I really loved the entire plot of this book. I thought it was exciting and I didn’t find any of it to be predictable. I was kept on my toes for a lot of the book and I found the last third of the novel to be really exciting. The pace of the novel was quite slow for the first two-thirds but I didn’t mind it too much because I thought it set up the climax brilliantly. The ending of this novel really left me wanting more and I’m highly anticipating the third book in this trilogy.

I really, really enjoyed all of the characters in this installment and I really liked learning more about each of the characters and their backstories. I loved Lady Helen’s strength and intelligence. I loved reading about her journey and the way she approached the troubles she was facing. I also really liked some of the side characters and the role that they played in the novel. I’m not entirely sure how I felt about Lord Carlston in this book because he was kind of moody and wasn’t really himself. I’m looking forward to learning more about him in the next book. The only character who I wasn’t a big fan of in this book was Duke Selburn. I absolutely loved him in the first book but I found him to be extremely annoying and clingy in this novel. I honestly cannot wait to see how the trilogy is going to end.

As a whole, I was extremely happy with Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact. I thought it was a wonderful continuation to the story and I can already see a really exciting finale in store for us. I’m looking forward to learning more about the characters and the world, and I can’t wait to see how the story wraps up.

Reviews: Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told & How Not to Fall in Love by Deirdre Riordan Hall

love-hate-and-other-lies-we-toldPublisher: Self-published
Release date: January 17, 2017
Format: ebook
Source: Author
Pages: 364
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Let go from her job and feeling lost, Navy Carrington takes a position as coffee-girl at a publicity firm. Their newest client is Carrick Kennely, the former love of her life and her fiercest adversary. She thought she’d let go of the past by playing it safe with book boyfriends—and avoiding frustratingly sexy guys like Carrick.

When Navy’s roommate finds the Boyfriend Book, a silly relic leftover from Navy’s teens, it prompts a dare; Navy is to go on five dates and pick one to be her Valentine. Despite her reservations, she can’t say no, especially if it means proving to herself and Carrick that she can move on.

Navy chronicles her brief romantic entanglements with the Hottie in 7G, the Man-Bun-Barista, the Gym Stud, and the Book Boyfriend who turns out to be a toad—not the kind that when kissed turns into a prince—, on The Boyfriend Book Blog. She doesn’t want to let her readers or herself down, but as Valentine’s Day nears, none of the guys comes close to being her one true love.

Except Carrick. He’s infuriating, attractive, confusing, catnip…and it turns out he has a secret.

With a love letter and a plane ticket in hand, Navy leaves her baggage behind and must decide between love, hate, and the lies she told to protect her fragile heart.

Told with humor and heart, Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told may appeal to readers who enjoy Alice Clayton, Sally Thorne, and Emily Giffin’s work.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

I received a review copy of the book from the author. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

It’s been a while since I’ve read any women’s lit and Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told was just what I needed during my mini-reading slump. It was light and easy to read. If you’re looking for something fluffy and romantic that is perfect for Valentine’s Day, this is a great novel to pick up.

In this novel, the main character, Navy, is a young woman in her mid to late 20s who has never really had a proper relationship. She’s an introvert and tends to keep to herself, indulging in fictional worlds and characters. Her best friend and flatmate, Katya, is determined to help Navy get out of her shell and find love by Valentine’s Day. She dares Navy to go on dates with the first five men that she encounters and Navy decides to go through with it, and blog about her experiences. But in a strange turn of events, her fifth guy is an old flame from the past, who has played a huge part in Navy being a single pringle. I really, really loved the plot of this book and enjoyed how much fun it was and how light-hearted it was. I loved Navy and all of her dates and how disastrous some of them were. My only small criticism of the plot was that I felt that it was a little bit slow at times. I would have liked a little bit of a stronger story arc. There were times when I felt like things were jumping around a bit and it would have made a better reading experience for me if there was a more logical story arc.

I really liked the romance in this novel. It has one of my all-time favourite romance tropes, which is second chance romance. I liked the dynamic between Navy and Carrick and really liked their interactions. My main complaint about the romance is that I felt like I didn’t really get the full backstory and it wasn’t completely clear exactly what had happened between them in the past. I think I would have enjoyed the romance a little bit more if there was more Navy and Carrick in the story as well. Having said that, it was really sweet and I loved both Carrick and Navy a lot separately. I also really enjoyed some of the other guys in the story as well and had a really great time peeking in on Navy’s dates.

I absolutely loved Navy as a character. She reminded me of myself a lot because I’m a mid-20s single pringle and it was just nice to read about an experience that is or would be similar to mine. I found Navy super relatable and easy to connect with, and really enjoyed reading about her story.

Overall, I thought Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told was a really lighthearted and engaging story that is perfect for Valentine’s Day.


how-not-to-fall-in-lovePublisher: Self-published
Release date: February 14, 2017
Format: ebook
Source: Author
Pages: 146
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Katya’s middle name may be Aphrodite, but she has no interest in relationships. In fact, she has three rules she lives by:

1. Never spend the night.

2. Never sleep with the same guy twice.

3. Never fall in love.

Oh, and number 3.1 is never order the same coffee two days in a row.

That’s a lot of nevers, but when she breaks every single one of them, repeatedly (her undoing was a vanilla latte with a heart in the foam, BTW), she begins to wonder…

Actually, it was a batch of chocolate chip cookies that started her downward spiral. Never mind, scratch that, it was Spencer—her neighbor. He’s also a banker, a player, and seems to know just what Kat wants, which isn’t love.

Until they start to spend a lot of time together…

Until she finds one of his socks at her place…

Until they go to a ski resort for a long weekend…

Until he has a snowboarding injury…

As Kat struggles with the part of her that wants to be strong, single, and on the scene and the mushy, melty, romantic within, she tries desperately not to fall in love. But what’s wrong with falling if you have someone with dark tousled hair, refined yet ruggedly handsome features, and chiseled abs to catch you?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

How Not to Fall in Love is the companion novella to Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told, but can be read as a standalone romantic comedy.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

How Not to Fall in Love is a companion novella to Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told and it follows the story of Navy’s best friend, Katya. I actually loved Katya’s story more than Navy’s and I especially enjoyed the romance between Katya and Spencer.

Katya and Spencer are both commitment-phobes but when the two hook up and develop feelings for each other, they’re unable to escape the other because they’re neighbours in the same apartment building. I really loved how the two characters interacted and how their romance developed throughout the novella. It was really interesting to see the different qualities that they brought out in each other and I just loved Katya and Spencer so much! I especially enjoyed Spencer’s baking abilities and if I had a neighbour who baked chocolate chip cookies 24/7, I’d marry him on the spot haha.

The novella was short and sweet and I finished it in one sitting. My copy of the novella also included recipes for the chocolate chip cookies and dirty brownies and I’m definitely going to be trying them out soon, even though I’m not really much of a baker. I’d definitely recommend picking up this companion novella along with Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told… or even just on its own because it was a super fun and romantic read.

Review: Windwitch by Susan Dennard

windwitchPublisher: Tor UK
Release date: January 10, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 382
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Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

Windwitch is the sequel to Truthwitch, which means that this review may contain spoilers for the first book.

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

Windwitch was a fantastic sequel to Truthwitch. There was a lot of character development and I really enjoyed how much more we got to learn about the characters and the world. In this second installment, we follow the four main characters on their separate journeys. We have Safi who is now travelling with the Empress of Marstok, Vaness. Their ship is attacked and during their escape, they are captured by the scary Hell-bards. Prince Merik has also found himself the victim of an attack and after losing his ship and most of his crew, he roams his lands searching for the one who’s responsible for his disfigured face. Along the way he discovers a dark secret that could change everything. Iseult is on a mission to find her Threadsister, Safi, but runs into Aeduan, who has been tasked with the job of capturing Iseult. The two strike up a deal and end up travelling together but they both find out more about themselves and each other during their journey.

I loved everything that went down in this book but I did feel that it was a bit of a filler book. I didn’t really have a good idea of where the book was going and how everything fit together until close to the end of the novel. There isn’t a lot that actually happens besides a lot of walking around, escape and survival. It was definitely more of a character-driven book than a plot-driven book, and because of this, it took me a while to get through it because I was unsure of what was happening and where the series was going. The last 100 pages of the book, however, makes things a lot more clear and by the end of the novel, I could see a clear direction of where the series was going. I also didn’t really mind that it was a character-driven book because the characters were extremely interesting to me.

I highly enjoyed how much the characters developed in this book, and I loved seeing the relationships between them deepen. The dynamic between Safi and Vaness was a really interesting one and I enjoyed seeing the respect that grew between them. I also really enjoyed Safi’s interactions with the Hell-bards and how the group dynamic changed throughout the book. I enjoyed seeing the complexities of Merik and his sister, Vivia’s relationship. I really appreciated being able to follow Vivia’s perspective throughout Windwitch too because I thought she was a fantastic character and I’m glad that we got to see so much of her. But most of all, I enjoyed Aeduan and Iseult’s budding relationship that evolved from animosity to respect to companionship. I just ship them so hard! I can’t wait to see how all these relationships unfold in Bloodwitch.

Overall, I thought this was a really strong sequel, despite not being able to latch on to the plot. I highly enjoyed all of the characters and I’m really excited to see how everything plays out in the next installment.

Review: Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

wayfarerPublisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release date: January 3, 2017
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 532
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All Etta Spencer wanted was to make her violin debut when she was thrust into a treacherous world where the struggle for power could alter history. After losing the one thing that would have allowed her to protect the Timeline, and the one person worth fighting for, Etta awakens alone in an unknown place and time, exposed to the threat of the two groups who would rather see her dead than succeed. When help arrives, it comes from the last person Etta ever expected—Julian Ironwood, the Grand Master’s heir who has long been presumed dead, and whose dangerous alliance with a man from Etta’s past could put them both at risk.

Meanwhile, Nicholas and Sophia are racing through time in order to locate Etta and the missing astrolabe with Ironwood travelers hot on their trail. They cross paths with a mercenary-for-hire, a cheeky girl named Li Min who quickly develops a flirtation with Sophia. But as the three of them attempt to evade their pursuers, Nicholas soon realizes that one of his companions may have ulterior motives.

As Etta and Nicholas fight to make their way back to one another, from Imperial Russia to the Vatican catacombs, time is rapidly shifting and changing into something unrecognizable… and might just run out on both of them.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

Wayfarer is the sequel to Passenger, which means that this review may contain spoilers for the first book. Check out my review for Passenger instead, if you haven’t read it yet.

I really enjoyed Passenger when I read it last year and was really looking forward to Wayfarer. It wasn’t really what I expected but I definitely wasn’t disappointed by it either. I did have some issues with the book but those were probably issues that I had because it had been a whole year since I had read Passenger and it took me a while to get used to the world again.

My main issue with the book was that I found the plot to be confusing. I don’t know if it’s because I’d forgotten a lot about the world and the time travel rules, but I had a hard time following what was going on, especially in the first 50 pages. I reread the ending of Passenger to familiarise myself with what had gone down in the first book and that helped a little bit but I still found it difficult to understand some of the time travel logic and the world at the start of the book. This book talks about many different timelines and I found myself really confused for the first 20% of the novel and couldn’t really follow along. It did get better as I progressed through the book though.

The other problem that I had with the plot was that I had no idea where the book was going for the majority of it. We follow Etta and Nicholas through two separate story arcs and I didn’t quite know what to believe because we were being led to believe two different things. The motives of the side characters and key players of the book were unclear and we were deliberately made to be suspicious of everything, which just added to my confusion as to what was happening. It also didn’t help that there were a lot of different parties with vastly different motives and goals. I couldn’t really keep track of who wanted to do what and I just felt a bit overwhelmed and found it to be too much at times. Ultimately, I just went with the flow and decided not to think about it too much and I ended up really enjoying everything that happened and how the story played out anyway.

We are, all of us, on our own journeys…

I loved all of the characters in this book. The characters were all very complex and multidimensional and I really enjoyed that there wasn’t a single one who was purely evil or purely good. I enjoyed reading about each character’s motivations as well as about some of their origins. I loved the new characters that we got to meet in this book, like Julian Ironwood and Henry Hemlock, as well as the old characters that we got to revisit. The character development in this book was also great and I learnt so much about some of the characters that I didn’t really like in Passenger. The character relationships in this book were spectacular and I loved the friendships that were forged in this book as well as the reunion of family. As a huge Etta and Nicholas shipper, I was a bit disappointed that the two characters spent so much of the book apart, but I was pretty happy with how their reunion played out.

I really enjoyed this duology. I’d love to reread the books again because I think it’ll help me understand Wayfarer a little bit better. Despite the confusion and how overwhelmed I felt while reading this book, I highly enjoyed it. It was action-packed and I loved all of the places that the characters time travelled to. It was so much fun and I loved the characters so, so much!

Blog Tour & Aus Giveaway: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

a-quiet-kind-of-thunderPublisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Release date: January 10, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 320
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Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

Welcome to my stop on the A Quiet Kind of Thunder blog tour! I’ll be doing a short review of the book and including some questions that Sara Barnard was kind enough to answer, before ending with a giveaway for a finished copy of the book.

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

I have to admit that I wasn’t a fan of Sara Barnard’s debut novel, Beautiful Broken Things. But I felt the exact opposite about A Quiet Kind of Thunder. It was a beautifully diverse novel that explored selective mutism and deafness really well.

The novel follows Steffi who suffers from severe anxiety that causes her to be selectively mute. She has a hard time making friends at school and it’s been especially tough now that her best friend has left to go to college. But she’s introduced to Rhys, who is deaf and new to the school and the two form a strong friendship that later blossoms into a romantic relationship. I’ve only read one other book about selective mutism, which was The Things I Didn’t Say by Kylie Fornasier, but this one takes it to the next level with a non-hearing male protagonist. It was interesting seeing the two main characters interact with each other in their own special mix of British Sign Language, lip reading and instant messaging. I thought the book gave me really good insight into what selective mutism was through plot points and Steffi’s explanations to Rhys. I did feel that there were some sections that were a bit info-dumpy and I would’ve liked it to have been incorporated in a more sophisticated way. Having said that, I thought it was done well and I got a good sense of the difficulties that come with being selectively mute. My only other slight bit of criticism was that we were told what the difficulties were and we didn’t really get to see them in the story. It was like seeing her struggle without really seeing her struggle.

I also enjoyed Rhys in the novel a lot and got a really great sense of the difficulties that he faces everyday. It was extremely interesting to see what he goes through and to see his insecurities even though he’s such a confident and easy-going character. The novel included a lot of great information about being deaf and special education and I felt that my awareness definitely increased after reading this novel.

I really loved the themes in this book. It had strong friendship and family elements, as well as a fantastic relationship between Steffi and Rhys. I really enjoyed the slow development of Steffi and Rhys’s relationship and how they were able to find support from each other. It was really great to see how comfortable Steffi felt around Rhys and how she found her own special language and way of communication that worked for her. I thought the family dynamics in the book were really interesting and I appreciated that there were differences between the families and how they handled Steffi and Rhys’s conditions.

Overall, I thought A Quiet Kind of Thunder beautifully explores selective mutism and deafness and does a great job of increasing awareness and knowledge of these conditions.


Q&A with Sara Barnard

Do you have any rituals or requirements that you need to do/have before writing?

To be honest, no – I just have to sit down and do it. That’s hard enough without adding rituals!

What do you believe were the most important moments in A Quiet Kind of Thunder?

I think Steffi meeting Rhys’s family was a turning point for her and their relationship, and also when she goes to the Halloween party with Tem and actually manages to enjoy herself. And of course the Thing That Happens near the end is very important!

About the author

sara-barnard

Sara Barnard lives in Brighton and does all her best writing on trains. She loves books, book people and book things. She has been writing ever since she was too small to reach the ‘on’ switch on the family Amstrad computer. She gets her love of words from her dad, who made sure she always had books to read and introduced her to the wonders of second-hand book shops at a young age.

Sara is trying to visit every country in Europe, and has managed to reach thirteen with her best friend. She has also lived in Canada and worked in India.

Website || Goodreads || Twitter || Instagram


GIVEAWAY!

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia, I am giving away a copy of A Quiet Kind of Thunder. The giveaway is open to Australians only.

Rules:
  • This giveaway is only open to Australian residents
  • Giveaway will end on Sunday 22nd January 2017 at 11:59pm. One winner will be randomly drawn and contacted through email. If I don’t receive a reply within 48 hours, I will choose a new winner.
  • You will be required to provide me with a shipping address. If you are under 18, please make sure you have parental permission to share your address.
  • I will be checking all entries so no cheating please.
To enter, click here or the image below to enter through Rafflecopter! 

a-quiet-kind-of-thunder-giveaway

Review: Replica by Lauren Oliver

replica Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release date: October 6, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 520
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Lyra’s story begins in the Haven Institute, a building tucked away on a private island off the coast of Florida that from a distance looks serene and even beautiful. But up close the locked doors, military guards, and biohazard suits tell a different story. In truth, Haven is a clandestine research facility where thousands of replicas, or human models, are born, raised, and observed. When a surprise attack is launched on Haven, two of its young experimental subjects – Lyra, aka number 24, and the boy known only as 72 – manage to escape.

Gemma has been in and out of hospitals for as long as she can remember. A lonely teen, her life is circumscribed by home, school, and her best friend, April. But after she is nearly abducted by a stranger claiming to know her, Gemma starts to investigate her family’s past and discovers her father’s mysterious connection to the secretive Haven Institute. Hungry for answers, she travels to Florida, only to stumble upon two replicas and a completely new set of questions.

replica_covers

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

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

Replica is a sci-fi novel with a very interesting format. It is written from the perspectives of two different girls, Lyra and Gemma. You can read Lyra’s story first and then flip the book over and read Gemma’s story. You can do the opposite and read Gemma’s story first. You also have the option of reading alternating chapters of Lyra and Gemma’s story until their stories meet in the middle.

I personally read Replica in alternating chapters, starting with Lyra’s story and then ending with Gemma’s. I decided against reading one perspective after the other because I thought it would take away some of the suspense of the story because I’d already know important plot points from reading the first perspective in its entirety. Having now read the entire book, I would still choose to read it by alternating perspectives every chapter, but if you were to read one perspective at a time, I don’t think that there is too much overlap. One thing to note is that there is one extra chapter in Gemma’s perspective, so if you decided to read Replica in alternating chapters starting with Lyra’s perspective like I did, you’ll find yourself left with two Gemma chapters after Lyra’s story is over.

I really, really loved the concept of this story. I don’t read a whole lot of sci-fi but Replica falls into my favourite type of sci-fi. I enjoyed the concept of the Haven Institute, which is home to thousands of replicas or clones that are experimented with and observed. These replicas have extremely weak bodies and have never been outside of the Haven Institute. They’re born and bred at the Institute and spend their days undergoing cognitive testing and physical exams. They are completely uneducated and are unable to read. The only people they come in contact with are the doctors and nurses who work at the Institute, who constantly remind them that they’re different and are lesser than human beings. I loved the Haven Institute and all of the mystery surrounding it. Lyra’s perspective gave us some really good insight into the Institute and how the system of the replicas worked. I initially went into the book expecting the replicas to be like robots or androids but they were no different from humans. They displayed the same kinds of physical and mental illnesses and humans, including eating disorders and suicide ideation, which I found really intriguing and interesting. My only criticism of the Haven Institute is that I felt like the world needed a bit more development and that there were some things missing from the book. The novel spends a lot of time focusing on the origins and the purpose of the Haven Institute and I would have liked a bit more focus on the operations within the Institute. Having said that, Replica is the first novel in what I believe is a duology so I’m hoping these things will be addressed further in the sequel.

I loved both of the main characters in this novel but my personal favourite was Lyra. I thought her story was so interesting and unique and I really loved her voice. I enjoyed how Lyra had never really experienced the real world and how she handled learning about new things. I did however think that Gemma’s story was fleshed out a little bit more than Lyra’s (possibly because Gemma lives in our contemporary world that doesn’t need much development) and I would’ve liked to have seen a little bit more from Lyra’s perspective. I thought Lyra was sensitive, kind and intelligent and I connected with her character from the very beginning. I wasn’t enamoured by Gemma from the very start but she quickly grew on me. Her character and her worries were extremely relatable and I ended up loving her and wanting to read more about her story by the time I reached the end of the novel. Her perspective worked extremely well with Lyra’s and I thought together, the two stories came together in a very exhilarating manner.

What I really enjoyed about the plot and the two different perspectives was that they worked together seamlessly. There was a tiny bit of overlap in plot and dialogue but the two characters do spend a large amount of time apart, leading to separate and unique stories. There were an endless number of plot twists, some predictable and some not, and I was so captivated by the story and how everything fitted together that I didn’t want to put the book down. Another thing that kept me invested in the book were the romances, even though I did have some issues with them. I thought there was a lot of insta-love and every boy that appeared in the book seemed to be a potential love interest. Having said that, I thought they were super sweet and I enjoyed the roles that the boys played in the story.

Overall, I thought this was a very interesting read and the ending definitely left me wanting more. The writing was easy to read and I sped through the book. I’m excited to see what the sequel will bring and whether it will be in the same format as Replica.

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

swarm

Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release date: September 28, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 400
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EVERY POWER HAS A DARK SIDE

Keep the secret.
Use your power for good.
Keep out of trouble.
Stick together.
Or things will fall apart.

It’s the holiday season, but the celebration at the Zeroes’s underground nightclub is blown apart when two strangers with new powers take to the dance floor. The Zeroes pursue them, only to discover that they’re fleeing an even more sinister power-wielder, Swarm. The Zeroes must learn all they can about this dangerous new player if they are to stay safe.

Meanwhile each of the Zeroes also has their own issues to deal with. Bellwether’s confidence is challenged, and Mob questions the nature of her power. Crash’s conscience gets a workout, and Anon and Scam face harsh truths about belonging. And it’s up to Flicker to pick up the reins and lead the Zeroes into a terrifying showdown.

A terrific sequel with a cracking pace that raises the stakes in this brilliant and unique superheroes series.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

Swarm is the second book in the Zeroes trilogy, which means that this review may contain minor spoilers for the first book.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for providing a review copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

All I can say right now is whoa. And I need the next book ASAP! Swarm ends on an incredibly painful cliffhanger and I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself for the next 12 months while I wait for the next book to be released…

This trilogy is getting better and better. I enjoyed Zeroes immensely but wasn’t completely sold on all the characters and the plot of the book. Swarm takes it to a completely different level. It was engaging, fast-paced and action-packed. The whole novel takes place over just a few days and there’s so much that happens in the book that it’s hard not to get swept up in everything that’s going on. It also struck me again how unique and interesting the superpowers in this series are. This book picks up 6 months after the events in Zeroes and is about what happens when our group of Zeroes meet a pair of other Zeroes that don’t have good intentions. As they try to stop this couple from causing mass destruction, it turns out that there’s a bigger enemy called Swarm who has a mission that puts all Zeroes in danger. I really, really loved the plot of this book. I enjoyed it more than the events in Zeroes because, to me, it seemed a bit more logical and clear. I connected with it much more and was really invested in what was going on in the story. This might have been because I was more familiar with the characters at this point and could focus on the plot – who knows? I just thought that the plot explored a lot of really interesting questions about superheroes and superpowers, and whether having a superpower means that you’re automatically doing good. And what happens when your powers unknowingly destroy things and cause harm instead?

The other thing that I really loved about this book were the characters. When I read Zeroes, the only two characters that I really liked were Flicker and Anonymous. The others I either disliked or didn’t really care for. However, the character development in this book was fantastic. In the previous book, I felt like I didn’t have a good idea of who some of the characters were but Swarm definitely rectified that. We got to know more about Crash and she became a character that I came to like a lot more. We also get to see a different side to Bellwether and that was really refreshing. I also started to like Mob a little bit more. She was a character that I didn’t really understand or connect with in Zeroes but her character really morphed into somebody who was really interesting. Finally, there’s Scam… I’m still not completely sold on Scam. While the Ethan side of him is kind of endearing because he’s so awkward, I find it really hard to connect with his character. He also didn’t have a lot of page time in this book and I don’t feel any closer to him than before.

I really loved the character relationships in this book. I will adore Flickonymous forever and ever, and I’m really keen to see how their storyline plays out in the final book of the trilogy because this book killed me with all the feels. What I really enjoyed about Swarm was that the other romances in this book weren’t obvious. There were ships in the previous book that I was sure were going to sail in Swarm but the authors definitely turned some things on their heads. It was really refreshing and enjoyable to see. The group as a whole is more tight-knit and I’m interested to see where the next book takes them.

Swarm was published by Allen & Unwin on September 28, 2016. It is available at all Australian retailers for $19.99.

Review: Saving Jazz by Kate McCaffrey

saving-jazz

Publisher: Fremantle Press
Release date: August, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 297
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Jasmine Lovely has it all – the looks, the grades, the friends. But when a house party spins out of control, Jazz discovers what can happen when your mistakes go viral …

We know our kids are at risk of becoming victims of cyberbullying. But do we know how at risk they are of becoming perpetrators? This controversial new novel tackles cyberbullying from a whole new perspective.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Saving Jazz is a new Aussie YA novel that tackles some of the most prevalent issues in modern day society. It explores cyberbullying, rape culture, victim blaming and the way people treat each other, especially through social media. This is a really important read, especially with the ever increasing cases of sexual assault in society today, as well as objectification of women on the internet. I was reminded of the disgusting piece of news that broke a few weeks ago in Australia about a website that men and high school boys use to exchange inappropriate pictures of high school girls that they’ve stalked and taken photos of without consent. I’m glad that this book tackles issues like these and makes it relevant to the technologically advanced society today.

The book begins with the scheme of a mother trying to rescue her daughter who has just attempted suicide. The rest of the novel is then written as a series of blog posts by Jazz, the protagonist of the book. She introduces her blog and herself by describing herself as a rapist and soon it becomes clear that she’s had something to do with the attempted suicide of the girl from the first chapter. The first half of the book has a wonderfully intriguing plot, as we try to find out what happened during the night that has since been called Greenheadgate. I enjoyed this mystery aspect of the book and found myself really immersed in the story as I tried to discover what Jazz meant by ‘rape’ and how it occurred. This first half of the book was simultaneously intriguing and disturbing at the same time. The way that these teenagers treated each other and treated themselves was quite upsetting for me. The boys in the book didn’t really see girls as anything except something that was there for their enjoyment. And the girls were equally horrible to each other. They said very vicious things about each other and didn’t really consider that these were people they were talking about. It was quite distressing to read about.

However, as important as I think this book and its message is, I had a couple of things that I didn’t really like. I found it to be a little bit problematic that the girls and victims in this novel saw cyberbullying as something that will just blow over and doesn’t need to be addressed. And in a lot of cases this might be true, but this book has a focus on cyberbullying through the posting and sharing of and commenting on nude/inappropriate pictures. I thought it was slightly problematic that these girls were not concerned about their privacy being violated as much as they were angry about being talked about. This was particularly true of the events that occurred during the night of Greenheadgate. The victim was raped and had her body violated while she was unconscious and she didn’t really seem to care about that. She doesn’t report it and seems to think that all is fine if other people don’t know about it.  I just had a bit of a problem with this aspect of the book.

I really enjoyed the blog post format of the book because it gave Jazz a very distinct voice but I felt like there wasn’t a clear timeline. There were no dates or time stamps included and it was sometimes hard for me to grasp when things had taken place. It wasn’t too much of a problem but there were parts that felt draggy and parts that just skipped over things quickly. It just made the transitions a bit awkward. I also thought that the last 100 pages of the novel dragged on and on forever. The mystery of what occurred on the night of the rape was revealed in the first half of the book and the rest is about how Jazz deals with the aftermath. Because of this, it felt like the climax and resolution of the story was towards the middle of the novel and the remainder of it just seemed unnecessarily long. There were one too many issues explored towards the end of the book and it just felt never-ending.

This was due in part to the fact that I don’t think Jazz’s character really developed all that much. While we do see her guilt and her remorse, and how the events of that one night has changed her life, I thought overall her character development was pretty stagnant. She’s given the easy way out, in my opinion. She’s sent away by her parents as part of her punishment but things start going uphill for her as a result of not being in that high school environment. She finds romantic love and familial love from her aunt and uncle who she’s staying with. She studies through distance education at home and gets a job that she likes. It all came across to me as Jazz getting her happily ever after as a result of her punishment, and not really because she grew a lot as a person.

I definitely enjoyed the first half of the novel a lot more than the second half but overall, despite some problems that I had with the plot, I thought this was a book with really important messages that are very relevant to the world today.

Review: The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle

the-great-american-whatever

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release date: April 21, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 288
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Quinn Roberts is a sixteen-year-old smart aleck and Hollywood hopeful whose only worry “used “to be writing convincing dialogue for the movies he made with his sister Annabeth. Of course, that was all before before Quinn stopped going to school, before his mom started sleeping on the sofa and before Annabeth was killed in a car accident.

Enter Geoff, Quinn s best friend who insists it s time that Quinn came out at least from hibernation. One haircut later, Geoff drags Quinn to his first college party, where instead of nursing his pain, he meets a guy a hot one and falls hard. What follows is an upside-down week in which Quinn begins imagining his future as a screenplay that might actually have a happily-ever-after ending if, that is, he can finally step back into the starring role of his own life story.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

On paper, The Great American Whatever is exactly my kind of book. Grief, LGBTQIA+ elements and a coming of age story is exactly what I like in a contemporary novel. And while I did enjoy it, I didn’t really connect with it as much as I thought I would.

This novel is about Quinn, who’s been struggling for the last six month since the death of his sister and the abandonment by his father. When his best friend tries to pull him out of his funk, he finds romance and discovers things about himself and his sister that he never knew before. As a coming of age story, it was enjoyable and contained lots of great character growth. The development of Quinn’s character throughout the novel was nicely paced and done quite seamlessly. However, I have to say that I felt a little bit bored at times. I thoroughly enjoyed the first 75 pages and the last 100 or so pages but the middle section felt like a bit of a drag. There wasn’t really much happening and I just didn’t really connect with the book for quite a bit of the middle section.

This was probably in part due to the romance. I wasn’t a huge fan of it but didn’t hate it either. It was just a little bit average and I suppose that was exactly the point of it… so maybe this isn’t really a criticism but more of a pat on the back for Tim Federle? I just didn’t really feel anything from the romance and I think that was what made the book seem a bit boring and draggy for me in the middle. Having said that, I did like the role that the romance played in the book and appreciated how it played out.

Even though I didn’t connect with the romance, I did really like Quinn as a main character. I connected with his sense of humour and loved his snarky tone. His voice and his personality were fantastic and I just really enjoyed how realistic he came across as a character. He just seemed like a really normal boy (who’s obviously been through some rough times) and I could see him being someone from my everyday life. His reactions were genuine and I never felt like he was just a fictional character.

Overall, I did enjoy The Great American Whatever. I had a little bit of trouble connecting with the story, especially in the middle section of the book, but I thought the beginning and end were really strong. It’s a quick read and I thought it was a successful YA debut for Tim Federle.