Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

vicious

Publisher: Titan Books
Release date: January 10, 2014
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 340
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A masterful tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, and superpowers.

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates – brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find – aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge – but who will be left alive at the end?

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

I love a good story about ambition and vengeance and Vicious definitely delivered. It’s an intense story about jealousy, ambition and heroism, from the perspectives of a group of antiheroes and misfits.

Despite having heard a million times what Vicious is about, I still managed to be surprised by the plot that unfolded. It was engaging and suspenseful and played out in the most seamlessly unpredictable way. We follow Victor Vale, a man who has just escaped from prison and is intent on getting revenge on his former close friend in college. Victor and Eli were intelligent and driven boys who were intrigued by the possibility of creating ExtraOrdinary people who have superpowers. The boys tested their hypothesis on themselves, and their relationship and their sense of morality deteriorates rapidly soon after. When Victor is locked up in jail, he spends his ten years in prison planning his escape and his revenge against Eli. And when, upon escaping, he realises that Eli is on a mission to ‘remove’ all ExtraOrdinaries from the world, he’s more determined than ever to get his revenge.

There were a couple of things that drew me in to the plot of Vicious. The book starts off with a very intriguing and mysterious first chapter that reminded me a lot of The Raven Boys. I was then immediately captivated by the science in the first couple of chapters and how the boys talked about variables and the scientific method. But all of that was quickly eclipsed by the chilling actions of the boys and how the idea of villainy and heroism was explored. I really liked how Vicious explores what it means to be a hero and whether possessing superpowers makes you a hero. It also explores whether eradicating powers that you think are evil, makes you a hero. I just enjoyed and appreciated how much the novel made me think.

This novel is split into two parts and for the first half of the book, we explore the events that have led up to the present day. We get to see the Victor and Eli from ten years ago, who are experimenting with their lives and going down a dangerous path. We get to see the events from a couple days ago when Victor escapes from prison with his cellmate, Mitch. And we get to see what happens when Victor finds a girl who’s been shot, as well as the things that have happened to her to get her in this predicament. There are lots of different timelines in this book and the chapters jump back and forth between them. I actually really liked this non-linear format because it added some suspense and allowed me to try to put the pieces together before they were revealed. The second part of this book also contains a non-linear timeline but is more focused on the present day. The last 50 pages of the book follows a much more linear timeline, as the book literally counts down to its climax. I really enjoyed the format of the book and that the chapters were short. It made the story very exciting to read.

I also enjoyed the writing of the book immensely. I thought the pacing was slow but it was just the right amount of slow for the tone and atmosphere of the story. It was slow in a dark and dangerous kind of way and I thought it worked really well. V.E. Schwab’s writing drew me in and I just sped through the book because it was so captivating.

Of course, the characters were spectacular in this book and I believe they are what makes this novel exceptional. They were complex and I love a book about villains and antiheroes. I love a book that focuses on morally grey characters and makes them simultaneously relatable and repulsive. There wasn’t a single character in this book who I didn’t like (though like may not be the right word here since we’re dealing with villains and dislikable people). I thought they all added something to the story and represented a different shade of morally grey. The characters were brilliantly conceptualised and I thought they were all developed and utilised to their potential.

I’m really excited about the sequel that’s in the works and I can’t wait to see how the story continues because I loved Vicious a lot as a standalone.

Review: Something Real by Heather Demetrios

something-real

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release date: February 4, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 406
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Seventeen-year-old Bonnie™ Baker has grown up on TV—she and her twelve siblings are the stars of one-time hit reality show Baker’s Dozen. Since the show’s cancellation, Bonnie™ has tried to live a normal life, under the radar and out of the spotlight. But it’s about to fall apart . . . because Baker’s Dozen is going back on the air. Bonnie™’s mom and the show’s producers won’t let her quit and soon the life that she has so carefully built for herself, with real friends (and maybe even a real boyfriend), is in danger of being destroyed by the show. Bonnie™ needs to do something drastic if her life is ever going to be her own—even if it means being more exposed than ever before.

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

Something Real is a wonderful book exploring what it means to be a teenage reality TV star, as well as familial relationships. It’s a harrowing look into the pressures of fame and the lack of privacy that children are submitted to, often against their own will. Chloe Baker has been in the limelight her whole life. She was born on camera and has been part of the Baker’s Dozen TV show since that day. After a suicide attempt when she was 14 years old, the show was called off and her parents promised that they’d never go back. She even changed her name from Bonnie to Chloe to create a new life for herself.  But when Chloe comes home one day in her senior year of high school, she finds her house transformed into a reality TV set and her life back on display again. This time, she’s having none of it and will do anything to not have her life scripted and watched 24/7, especially now that she’s finally attending school and has a boy she likes.

I thought Heather Demetrios did a fantastic job of taking us into the lives of reality TV stars. She’s really captured all of the negative aspects of being in the public eye, including Chloe not having the freedom to wear what she wants, being late for school because she had to do multiple takes of her pouring cereal from a brand that’s sponsoring the show, and having no privacy even in her own home. On top of all of that, her mother ignores her concerns and forces her to participate in the show even though she continually expresses her dislike of it. Chloe’s relationship with her mother made me uncomfortable throughout most of the book and it was honestly really upsetting to see a mother treat her daughter with such little respect and care. There are very few parents in books that I hate but I have to say that Beth Baker is one of them. She forces her kids to be on a show that they don’t want to be on and punish them when they express their dislikes. There’s one scene where she even calls Chloe a name and hits her, which made me really angry and emotional. I thought she was just so extremely selfish and should definitely not be allowed to have 13 kids! It really angered me that her reason for bringing the show back was because the family didn’t have money to support 13 kids and two adults… because she shouldn’t have adopted all those kids anyway.

I thought Chloe was such a strong character. She had the courage to speak up even though it didn’t lead to results most of the time. And she also didn’t allow the show to stop her from having a life. She did have some weak moments where she gave in to the show’s demands or tried to be too self-sacrificing and ended her relationships with those around her but I thought it was all very realistic and I really connected with her struggles and feelings. I also really enjoyed her relationships with those around her. Even though her relationship with both of her parents were quite toxic, she had a beautiful relationship with her older brother, Benny, who’s also a senior at her high school. The two of them support each other throughout the book and it was just really nice to see siblings being so close. They understood what the other was going through and their relationship was supportive and empowering. I also loved her friendships with Tessa and Mer, her best friends at school. I loved that they never judged Chloe and were there for her when she needed someone to talk to. They were such great friends and I loved them to pieces.

But of course, my favourite relationship in the book was the romantic one between Chloe and Patrick. Patrick is just perfection. He’s smart and kind, and it was obvious from the first time we met him that he really cared for Chloe and her wellbeing. He was there for her during her meltdowns and was just such a supportive boyfriend. I also liked that they got together quite early in the book and that the whole novel was just filled with super sweet moments between them. Sweet, swoony moments. My heart was so satisfied with this romance.

I highly recommend Something Real if you’re looking for a contemporary romance with some deeper and more serious themes. The book does a great job of exploring what it means to be a reality TV star and how damaging it can be on relationships and other normal things that we take for granted. The writing in the book is wonderful and I just love everything that Heather Demetrios writes!

Check out my review of I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios.

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens Books
Release date: July 3, 2014
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 359
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As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. Kestrel has other ideas.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in Arin, a young slave up for auction. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him – and for a sensational price that sets the society gossips talking. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for him is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

The first novel in a stunning new trilogy, The Winner’s Curse is a story of romance, rumours and rebellion, where dirty secrets and careless alliances can be deadly – and everything is at stake.

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

I think this is going to become one of my new favourite trilogies. The Winner’s Curse was such a great first book and had me really excited for the next one in the series. The Winner’s Curse had everything that I love in books: a fantastically rich world, strong and complex characters, a slow-burn forbidden romance, and political intrigue.

This is a series that could appeal to all readers. It’s set in a fantasy world but doesn’t really contain any fantasy elements or magic at all. It reads more like a historical fiction novel, set in a fictional world. It’s not book that’s full of fighting and epic action, but a complex and slow-burning kind of story with lots of strategy and politics. Fans of fantasy would definitely love this, but so would historical fiction lovers too.

This book focuses on Kestrel and Arin, a Herrani slave she purchases at a slave auction she accidentally stumbles upon. Kestrel is the daughter of the Valorian general who conquered Herran 10 years ago. She, and other Valorians, now reside in the properties that were seized from the Herrani. However, even though the Valorians are in a position of power, they are still a very military-focused population and require their people to either join the military or marry and have children as soon as they turn 20. Kestrel, however, has other plans for herself.

The Winner’s Curse is definitely more of a character-driven story. I wouldn’t say that there’s very much happening in the book, but the characters are so complex and interesting that you can’t help but want to follow their story. I loved everything about Kestrel from the very beginning. Even though she’s a Valorian and is the daughter of a general, she isn’t a very good fighter. Her weapon is her mind and she’s very witty and intelligent. She’s definitely not a damsel and is able to stand up for herself and be courageous in her own way. She’s perceptive and has a talent for strategy. Kestrel is definitely not a warrior but she’s much too independent for marriage and society life, leading her to inner struggle.

Happiness depends on being free, Kestrel’s father often said, and freedom depends on being courageous.

Arin was another character that I really enjoyed. He’s also very smart and witty, though not quite as clever as feisty Kestrel. I wasn’t too sure about how I felt about him at the beginning of the book. He does some things that made me very suspicious of him and I just wasn’t sure what to think of him. But he definitely grew on me and you can’t help but love his earnestness and his patriotism. I thought he was a great match for Kestrel. They’re similar in so many ways and they’re able to really stand up to each other and take each other on. I loved the romance in this book and it had me twitching in my seat from anticipation and frustration!

Another aspect of this book that I really loved was the world of this book. I wouldn’t say that there’s a lot of world building but there was definitely enough to satisfy me. The whole world is built through learning about the politics and the social relations. We’re also told about the culture and the traditions of the Herrani and the Valorian. We get a good sense of the history of Herran and what life was like before they were conquered by the Valorians, but we also get a very good sense of the present and the dynamics between the two populations. I thought it was particularly interesting that while the Valorians are in a position of power and privilege now, they’re very much the savages of the two groups. They’re focused on war and conquering the world and have no interest in the arts or education. It was just very intriguing that the slaves seemed to be more skilled in all areas besides war.

My only small complaint is that there was no map in this book. The author does a great job of describing the setting and geography of the world but I would have liked to have seen the world for myself on a map. I flicked through the sequel, The Winner’s Crime, and that book has a map so I am happy.

Overall, I thought this was a wonderful book and I can’t wait to see what happens next. The Winner’s Curse ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger so I’m keen to dive into the next one straight away!

Review: Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan (illustrated by John Rocco)

percy-jacksons-greek-gods

Publisher: Disney Hyperion Books
Release: August 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 320
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A publisher in New York asked me to write down what I know about the Greek gods, and I was like, Can we do this anonymously? Because I don’t need the Olympians mad at me again. But if it helps you to know your Greek gods, and survive an encounter with them if they ever show up in your face, then I guess writing all this down will be my good deed for the week.

So begins Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods, in which the son of Poseidon adds his own magic–and sarcastic asides–to the classics. He explains how the world was created, then gives readers his personal take on a who’s who of ancients, from Apollo to Zeus. Percy does not hold back. “If you like horror shows, blood baths, lying, stealing, backstabbing, and cannibalism, then read on, because it definitely was a Golden Age for all that.”

Dramatic full-color illustrations throughout by Caldecott Honoree John Rocco make this volume–a must for home, library, and classroom shelves–as stunning as it is entertaining.

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

How could I not give this book 5 stars?! This whole book was perfection! It was incredibly funny and entertaining, but also contained a lot of great information for any fan (or beginner) of Greek mythology! Everything was written in a way that was so easy to digest and it just made learning about the Greek Gods really fun! The only downfall, really, is the weight and size of this book. At least, you’ll get a good work out? 😀

This entire book is written from Percy’s voice, which was the highlight of the book. If you loved Percy’s voice in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, you will not be disappointed with Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods. It was hilarious to read about all of the gods from Percy’s point of view because he gives little anecdotes about his experiences with the gods and there are lots of jokes too. Everything is presented in a way that is easy for the audience to understand and there’s so much information in this book that it needed to be easy to understand.

We learn about how the world began, the primordial gods and the Titans at the beginning of the book. We also learn about how the Titans defeated Ouranos, and then later on, how the Gods defeated Kronos. We then get in depth chapters about the twelve major gods, as well Hades and Persephone. While there was a lot of information presented, I never felt overwhelmed or that I was reading a textbook. There are lots of different theories and explanations when it comes to mythology, and Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods only presents one side of the story (Rick Riordan’s side). But what’s great about only getting one side of the story is that it’s usually the best received or most reasonable side. Sure, you can find all of this information on Wikipedia, but here you have all of the information condensed into one book that all makes sense together. It also includes some weird stories about each of the gods that might take you a while to find if you had to dig through the internet.

What I appreciated most about this book was how it was put together and the order that everything was presented in. Obviously it’s difficult to present everything chronologically because lots of things happen simultaneously or have no obvious order to them. But this book read so logically and everything felt like it was in the right place. There were instances where Percy, the narrator, would introduce an event or a character and say “we’ll come back to this later” or “you’ll meet him a little later in the book” but they were few and far between. I didn’t feel like I was being jerked all over the place and everything made sense together.

The illustrations in this book were amazing. There was one full page illustration in every chapter, as well as smaller illustrations throughout. I thought they captured the personality and attributes of each of the gods perfectly and they were beautiful to look at. I mean, just the cover of this book itself reflects how amazing the illustrations inside are.

I highly recommend this book if you love Percy Jackson and want to know more about the Greek Gods. Even if you’re not interested in Percy, I’d still recommend this because it’s a very clear and concise story about the Gods and how they came to be. And the book is truly beautiful and I’m so glad to have it in my possession!

Review: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

everything-leads-to-you

Publisher: Dutton Books
Release date: May 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 307
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“I want you to do something with the place. Something epic.”

After being entrusted with her brother’s Los Angeles apartment for the summer as a graduation gift, Emi Price isn’t sure how to fulfill his one condition: that something great take place there while he’s gone. Emi may be a talented young production designer, already beginning to thrive in the competitive film industry, but she still feels like an average teen, floundering when it comes to romance.

But when she and her best friend, Charlotte, discover a mysterious letter at the estate sale of a Hollywood film legend, Emi must move beyond the walls of her carefully crafted world to chase down the loose ends of a movie icon’s hidden life, leading her to uncover a decades’ old secret and the potential for something truly epic: love.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

I was wavering between giving Everything Leads to You 3.5 stars and 4 stars because I just wasn’t sure about it. I really enjoyed it and it was a quick, feel-good read but I didn’t think it was anything particularly special. For me, this book fell a little short of the mark. It wasn’t bad at all but it wasn’t as wonderful as I had hoped it would be. It’s a strange one. It was too good for me to give it an average rating but not good enough to be anything but a comfortable 4 stars. It wasn’t deep and emotional enough to really affect me but it also wasn’t cute and fluffy enough for me to flail about.

In this book, aspiring movie set designer, Emi finds herself in the possession of an important letter after attending the estate sale of a famous actor who had passed away recently. She and her best friend, Charlotte decide to hunt down the addressee but find themselves unravelling a mystery that leads to a hidden secret. I went into the book expecting the whole book to be about the mystery and it was kind of just a small part of  the book and was a little bit predictable. Everything was kind of hinted at or theorised in the first part of the book, so when things were revealed later on, it just felt like a confirmation of what we already knew and was, honestly, just a bit meh.

What I did enjoy though was the set design and movie aspects of the book. Everything Leads to You is very much a book about movies and the movie industry. Along with uncovering the mystery of the letter, we also get to follow Emi as she puts together the set for an indie movie, and discovers who she is as a person and designer. I really enjoyed learning a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes and the process of designing a set. It was something I had never read about before so I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. Through the writing and Emi’s voice, you could also feel all of the passion she had for her job and how good she was at it. I really liked how film was the theme running through the whole book and that the book really read like a movie. I could see it playing out in my head. But at the same time, this disconnected me from the book and the story a little bit because it seemed too perfect and too movie-like for me to really relate to it. It was all just a bit one-dimensional; everything was charming and hipster and perfect.

I thought the characterisation in this book was a little bit of a let down. The characters all fell a little bit flat for me. I didn’t think there was anything particularly interesting about any of the characters and I felt a bit indifferent about most of them. I couldn’t really connect with or relate to Emi and I just wasn’t invested in her story. I do appreciate that she was a strong character and always made decisions that were wise and mature. However, I didn’t really like her love interest, Ava. She came across to me as a little bit immature at times and I didn’t always understand her actions and decisions. Because I wasn’t a huge fan of either Emi or Ava, I didn’t really care for the romance. Sure, it was kind of cute, but I didn’t really feel any spark and the whole thing seemed a little bit convenient. It was slightly insta-lovey and I just wasn’t a fan. However, I really liked the LGBTQ+ aspects. This wasn’t a coming-out story and both characters were open about their sexuality. It felt like both characters were comfortable with who they were and they never tried to suppress their feelings. Emi made some really sensible and mature choices when it came to the romance and I appreciated that.

Then I dial Charlotte.
“Okay,” I say when she answers.
“Okay?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “Okay.”

My favourite aspect of Everything Leads to You were the friendships. I absolutely loved Emi and Charlotte’s friendship and it was, by far, my favourite relationship of the book. It made me wish that I had a best friend like Charlotte who can just read my mind and understand me completely. Charlotte was a really great presense in Emi’s life. She was always brutally honest with Emi and got angry at others on her behalf. It was really nice to just see a close friendship like that. What I see really often in YA contemporary is the best friend who suddenly becomes absent, usually because of a small misunderstanding or argument, and doesn’t come back into the protagonist’s life until the end of the book. That wasn’t the case with Emi and Charlotte’s friendship. They were there for each other throughout the book and I enjoyed that a lot.

Overall, it was an enjoyable book that was short and quick to read. I wasn’t thrilled with the romance or the characters and found the plot a little bit lacking. Everything happened just a bit too neatly, but I did enjoy the friendships in this book.

Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

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Publisher: Scholastic
Release date: October 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 391
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Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third instalment of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. This review doesn’t contain any spoilers for the first two books, The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves, but you should probably read those reviews first.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue Synopsis

There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is my favourite of The Raven Cycle so far. It was well-paced and the story was captivating. I enjoyed the characters even more in this book (and I didn’t think that was possible).

This third instalment is much faster in pace than the two previous books. It’s still quite slow, but compared to the first two books, this one almost moves at a regular pace. It had more of a sense of urgency, which made the book even more mysterious and eerie for me. This book was also more magical and paranormal than the previous books, adding to the mysterious atmosphere and tone of the book.

While The Raven Cycle and The Dream Thieves provided more questions than answers, Blue Lily, Lily Blue started answering some of these questions. Pieces of the puzzle started to come together and the story developed much faster as a result. The whole book just made more sense and allowed me to start theorising and speculating, which I wasn’t able to do for the first two books because I was so confused. It was the first book in the series so far that had a plot that was almost as captivating as the characters. Almost.

This series remains a character-driven series for me. Each of the characters underwent even further development, which I didn’t think was possible because Maggie Stiefvater’s characterisation has been perfect already. The characters became even more multifaceted and I just fell in love with them further. Each character has skills to bring to the table and they’re all essential to the story. Certain characters that I didn’t love in the first two books definitely became more likeable in this third book and I was firmly behind them and on their side.

Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn’t all-encompassing, that wasn’t blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.

The relationships between the characters were the most noteworthy aspect of Blue Lily, Lily Blue for me. Blue and the Raven Boys care so deeply about one another that my heart was just squeezing inside my chest the whole time. I absolutely loved every Gansey and Blue scene and I will ship Blansey until the end of time. But I also absolutely enjoyed everybody’s worry and love for Gansey and OMG MY HEART.

I absolutely cannot wait for The Raven King to be released in April! The ending of Blue Lily, Lily Blue had me on the edge of my seat and I need to know what happens next!

Review: Sway by Kat Spears

sway

Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin
Release date: September 1, 2014
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
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In Kat Spears’s hilarious and often poignant debut, high school senior Jesse Alderman, or “Sway”, as he’s known, could sell hell to a bishop. He also specializes in getting things people want – term papers, a date with the prom queen, fake IDs. He has few close friends and he never EVER lets emotions get in the way. For Jesse, life is simply a series of business transactions.

But when Ken Foster, football team captain, homecoming king candidate, and all-around jerk, hires Jesse to help him win the heart of the angelic Bridget Smalley, Jesse finds himself feeling all sorts of things. While following Bridget and learning the intimate details of her life, he falls helplessly in love. He also finds himself in an accidental friendship with Bridget’s belligerent and self-pitying younger brother who has cerebral palsy. Suddenly, Jesse is visiting old folks at the nursing home in order to run into Bridget, and offering his time to help the less fortunate, all the while developing a bond with this young man who idolizes him. Could the tin man really have a heart after all?

A Cyrano de Bergerac story with a modern twist, Sway is told from Jesse’s point of view with unapologetic truth and biting humor, his observations about the world around him untempered by empathy or compassion – until Bridget’s presence in his life forces him to confront his quiet devastation over a life-changing event a year earlier and maybe, just maybe, feel something again.

MY THOUGHTS

1 star

It’s been a while since a book has made me as angry as this one did. Probably not since Fans of the Impossible Life, which got my last 1 star rating. I picked up Sway at the book store because the adorable cover and the synopsis suggested that it was going to be a cute, fluffy contemporary romance, which was just what I needed when I picked this book up. Sadly, it didn’t inspire anything but rage in me. (To be honest, the first line of the synopsis itself should have been ringing alarm bells in my head. “Often poignant”? I don’t understand. It either is or it isn’t.) But let me elaborate.

First, there is almost nothing going on in this book. If you like non-existent plots, this might be the book for you because absolutely nothing happens in this book. But of course, you can’t have a 300 page book with no content, so the author filled this book with slurs. There are highly offensive comments made by multiple characters about anything and everything, from disabled people, to women, to the mentally ill, to the overweight, and to gay individuals. I didn’t find any of it to be “unapologetically truthful” like the blurb of the book claims. It wasn’t funny or truthful. It was rude and offensive, and I didn’t think it was okay. The book makes it seem like we should tolerate rape, sexism, racism and discrimination because it’s what people deserve, and I don’t think this is a message that young audiences should be reading about or embracing.

“I’m feeling a lot of judgment coming from a kid who drools and has a bum leg.”

There is a character in this book with cerebral palsy and this issue was not explored at all. I learnt nothing about cerebral palsy or the burden felt by those suffering from such a condition. Instead, the character existed to be made fun of and to appear as an annoying teenager who constantly felt sorry for himself and couldn’t consider anybody else’s feelings. All we got was a kid complaining about how he can’t get laid and nobody finds him attractive because his appearance is different.

Which brings me to how every single female character in this book was portrayed (except Bridget, because Bridget is a perfect angel. But I’ll get to that in a second). This book labels all females as stupid, worthless and only good for sex. The way that this novel objectifies and oversexualises women is disrespectful and completely ridiculous, considering a woman wrote this book. There isn’t a single female character in this book that was introduced without reference to her body or her cleavage. Boys would never be interested in a girl with a boyish figure. There isn’t a single man in this book who is able to look at a female character without “running their eyes up and down her body” and thinking about sex. Every single older man, including teachers and happily married fathers, can’t help but want to look at and touch a high school girl. Basically every female character in this book is unable to think for themselves and exist only for men to stomp all over them (and fantasise about them). There is a chapter at the beginning of the book dedicated to the sexualisation of a school counsellor and portraying her as vapid and easily suggestible. It was so misogynistic that it was a little bit tough to get through the book. But I wanted to believe that these were the thoughts and views of a teenage boy who needed to grow to believe differently. So I persisted with the book, only to be rewarded with nothing.

There is absolutely no character development in Jesse at all. He’s a jerk at the beginning of the book and he remains one at the end. He is very manipulative and unlikable. There’s nothing redeeming about his character at all. The author tried to make him interesting by giving him a confident and successful personality but he just comes across as a total jerk who uses violence and threats to get what he wants. His terrible attitude and behaviour was attributed to the death of his mother a year ago, something that he doesn’t want to acknowledge or deal with. But this was handled terribly and was barely resolved. The author also tried to make him interesting and unique by making him a musical genius. It was mentioned multiple times, without any subtlety, that he plays the guitar and is able to play back anything he hears once without any sheet music. I thought it was a completely unnecessary aspect and you can’t make a misogynistic and boring character more interesting with something like that.

Bridget was not much better for me. Her character fell flat and Jesse put her up on such a high pedestal that I couldn’t even see her. She’s described as beautiful, smart, kind-hearted, good-natured and she has no flaws. Her character was one dimensional and there was nothing remarkable about her, despite us being told what a perfect human being she is. I also wasn’t sold on the romance at all. There was insta-love and these characters are pretty much in love with each other after spending an hour together.

I think I should stop talking about this book now because I don’t think it’s worth the time. The whole book felt like some sort of commentary about high school life from Kat Spears but it came across as very vindictive and negative. There wasn’t a positive message for me to take away at all. For me, this book endorses chauvinism, racism, discrimination, sexual objectification of women, violence, drug use, recreational sex and a whole host of other things that I don’t think is appropriate or okay, especially for young readers.

Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

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Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release date: June 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 080509461X
Pages: 422
Goodreads || Book Depository

Ruin and Rising is the third book in the Grisha trilogy, which means that this review will contain some spoilers for Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm. Proceed at your own risk.

RUIN AND RISING SYNOPSIS

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

For me, Ruin and Rising is by far the best book in the Grisha trilogy. I thought there was a clear improvement in almost all aspects of the book when compared to the previous two books. Also the epilogue of this book is probably the most satisfying ending to a book that I’ve read in a while.

First of all, I was very happy to see more action and plot in this final instalment (it had to happen eventually right?). My problem with Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm was the lack of plot. There was great action at the beginning and end of the book, but nothing in between to fill it up. Ruin and Rising was definitely a step up. The pace of it was much more consistent and we got thrilling scenes throughout the book. I thought that Leigh Bardugo did a much better job at filling in the blanks in this last novel.

I enjoyed most of the plot points in Ruin and Rising. I didn’t find anything to be predictable and I was actually quite shocked at a lot of the twists. There were a couple of things that I thought were a bit weird and not completely necessary to the overall plot of the book. Nikolai goes through a bit of a transformation in this book, and I didn’t understand the point of it. I would have much preferred to see him as his usual funny, smart-mouthed self… and I would have liked it if we had seen a lot more of him. I also didn’t completely enjoy the plot surrounding the third amplifier, though I did like the surprise and shock I felt when I got to that part. The events that followed were just a little bit strange to me.

I thought that the book was resolved quite well but I was still left with some small unanswered questions. I finished Ruin and Rising feeling a bit confused about the role of the Apparat in the trilogy. I didn’t understand his purpose and his actions, and I don’t think that was addressed at the end of this book. I didn’t understand his obsession with religion and Saints, and I was just kind of baffled about his existence. But other than that, I was pretty satisfied with how the trilogy was wrapped up.

My favourite aspect of this book were the characters. We definitely get to see a lot more of the side characters in this book and I was thrilled with how much screen time (page time?) they received. My favourite characters were David and Genya, and I’m so happy with the development in their characters and how they grew together. What I loved most about being able to see more of the side characters, was the deeper exploration of the Grisha powers and what is achievable. I liked being able to see more of the Summoners and what they’re able to do.

However, I did have a little bit of a problem with Alina’s powers, and this has been a recurring problem for me throughout the trilogy. I dislike the fact that new abilities just come to Alina without her having to do anything. We do see a tiny bit of training towards the end of this book, but for the most part, she’s able to just do things on the first try. I also don’t really see her trying to push herself and stretch her limits (besides that one bit of training). She relies on the amplifiers to strengthen her abilities and I had a bit of a problem with that. I just wanted to see more growth in her.

I was satisfied with Alina’s overall character growth though. She was much more comfortable in her own skin, and her assertiveness no longer felt out-of-character. I enjoyed her strength and found her to be pretty likeable in this book. However, I still found her to be a bit too bland of a protagonist, and she was overshadowed by the side characters. Unlike most readers, I liked her relationship with Mal and I really liked their scenes together. Mal kind of rubbed me the wrong way at the end of Siege and Storm, but I liked who he was in Ruin and Rising. He still felt a little bit ordinary but I liked that he was noble and caring. The Darkling also had some great moments, but I wanted to see even more of him! We got such great scenes that really showcased how dynamic and complex of a character he is, but his character development was still a little bit lacking.

Overall, I really enjoyed the reading experience and thought Ruin and Rising was a fantastic ending to the trilogy. This final book could definitely have been a lot more epic, if the previous two books had been better developed, but I’m satisfied with what we got. I also liked that each book in the trilogy was better than the previous one, so I’m super excited to see what Six of Crows brings.

Review: A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall

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Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release date: August 26, 2014
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1447273834
Pages: 242
Goodreads || Book Depository

Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is a little aloof, Gabe is shy, and it looks like they are never going to work things out.

But something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at the local Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV series. The bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes Lea and Gabe were meant to be together.

You’ll be rooting for Gabe and Lea too, in this irresistibly romantic, completely original novel!

MY THOUGHTS

15 stars

This book was a disappointment. Like most readers, I was drawn to the multi-POV aspect of the book because a book that successfully incorporates 14 different perspectives is one that I need to read. Unfortunately, this book fell short of my expectations, which weren’t that high to begin with. Fluffy contemporary romances don’t usually put a bad taste in my mouth but this one did.

What I did like about this book was the characters and how diverse they were. Our leading lady, Lea, is Chinese. Her good friend from high school is gay and her creative writing teacher is a lesbian. Our lead male, Gabe, is Portugese and Welsh. But even though our main characters aren’t the typical white characters that we see in YA and NA novels, there’s hardly any mention of their diversity so they might as well have been white. This also made the characters very forgettable. There’s nothing about them that stands out and I probably won’t remember them in a couple weeks’ time.

The other thing that I liked about the book was that it was new adult (without all the sexy times) and featured an older cast of characters. If this book had been about high schoolers instead, it would have been very unrealistic and I would have quit it at the start. I also liked the ending of the book and how cute Lea and Gabe were together. And that concludes everything I liked about this book.

On to the negatives… the first thing that I have to talk about are the multiple perspectives. This book is written from 14 different perspectives – basically everybody except Lea and Gabe. In my opinion, this might have been a much more successful book if it had been written from only Lea and Gabe’s perspectives. The multi-POV aspect of it was very gimmicky and done very unsuccessfully, in my opinion. I personally might not have minded as much if the book was written in third person. But all of the 14 perspectives were written in first person and I didn’t enjoy reading about everybody’s inner thoughts and feelings.

I thought there were way too many perspectives and some of them were also quite pointless. We read from the perspective of a bench and from the perspective of a squirrel. I thought it was completely unnecessary. Those perspectives only existed so that we could eavesdrop on Lea and Gabe… without actually having to read from their perspectives. When you have to add unnecessary elements in order to make a gimmick work, why not just stick to how things are traditionally done – writing from the point of view of the main characters? Another completely unnecessary POV was Pam’s. Pam is the wife of creative writing teacher, Inga (whose perspective we also see). In the book, we only see Pam when she’s interacting with Inga. Why was it necessary to also read from her point of view, when we can just read from Inga’s?

Half of the things that happened in the book were so mundane and unnecessary to the plot. The squirrel couldn’t find his acorns. Gabe’s brother helps Lea find a book in the library and they have a 10 second conversation. The bus driver reminisces and thinks about how he was just like Gabe when he was younger. After 30 pages, I was already wishing the book was over.

This book also contains pretty much all the romance tropes that I dislike. There is insta-love. Lea and Gabe become interested in each other after their first meeting on Page 3, and from that point on, it’s obvious to everybody straight away that they are interested in each other and meant to be together. I mean, are they so obvious that everyone notices their mutual crush from the very first chapter? Literally all 14 perspectives notice, except maybe the bench because it’s too busy noticing how nice Gabe’s butt is every time he sits down.

And is it possible that this is my favourite butt from way back when?

There are also extreme cases of miscommunication. Lea thinks Gabe is gay. Gabe thinks Lea isn’t interested. Lea thinks Gabe is being cold and ignoring her. Gabe thinks Lea has a new boyfriend. Lea thinks he’s dating somebody else. Gabe thinks Lea hates him. If they talked to each other even once, I wouldn’t have had to suffer through this whole debacle.

I also found it almost laughable how often Lea and Gabe were in the same place at the same time. They frequent the same restaurants, cafes, parties and convenience stores… usually both at the same time. Every time one looked over, the other was there. It might have been cute if they were rarer occurrences but it happened so often that it almost became a joke. Even the other characters talked about it:

“Lea is here, which means any second Gabe is going to wander in. And like clockwork, there he is.”

Another thing that I found problematic was that everybody was pushing them to get together, even strangers. I thought it was very unrealistic and there were some things that I thought would be unacceptable in real life. Their creative writing teacher tries to push them together multiple times in her classes. She makes her class work in pairs so that Lea and Gabe would have the chance to work together. She ends up changing a final paper, a couple of days before it’s due, into something completely different so that Lea and Gabe might end up together. She tries to push them into taking another creative writing class together the next semester, and tries to discourage another female student from taking said class so that Lea wouldn’t have any extra competition. I just thought the book took it way too far, to the point where it was unrealistic.

The writing in this book was also nothing special. It felt a little bit juvenile and unsophisticated to me. I had a hard time connecting with the writing and any of the characters because none of them seemed to act their age.

I was just thoroughly let down by this book. I went in expecting something great and ended up with something quite mediocre. I probably won’t be picking up Sandy Hall’s new book any time soon.

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.