Review: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

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

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

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

cruel-beautyPublisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: April 7, 2015 (originally January 28, 2014)
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 368
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The romance of Beauty and the Beast meets the adventure of Graceling in a dazzling fantasy novel about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

For fans of bestselling An Ember in the Ashes and A Court of Thorns and Roses, this gorgeously written debut infuses the classic fairy tale with glittering magic, a feisty heroine, and a romance sure to take your breath away.

Betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom, Nyx has always known that her fate was to marry him, kill him, and free her people from his tyranny. But on her seventeenth birthday when she moves into his castle high on the kingdom’s mountaintop, nothing is what she expected—particularly her charming and beguiling new husband. Nyx knows she must save her homeland at all costs, yet she can’t resist the pull of her sworn enemy—who’s gotten in her way by stealing her heart.

MY THOUGHTS

3 stars

Cruel Beauty started off on a really high note but started going downhill pretty quickly for me, unfortunately. I found a lot of the book to be confusing and I wasn’t into the plot or some of the romance elements too much either.

I really loved the concept of the book but like some other reviewers, I thought the execution could have been better. I really liked the first 75 pages of the book and was really keen to see where the story was going to go but it quickly started to become kind of disappointing. There’s actually not a lot that happens in this book and I felt like I was just waiting and waiting for something to happen. There was a bit too much explanation about not much at all and I just wanted more plot. I also felt like there were some things that were kind of repetitive and I was just disappointed with how slow-moving the book was. I wasn’t a big fan of the ending and I was confused about some of the explanations, so I finished the book without really feeling like I fully understood everything. I did like that the story incorporated Greek mythology and magic into it and it was nice to be able to recognise and understand some of the references. However, I felt like there was a bit too much of it and it started to get confusing because of how much information was being thrown at me.

However, I did like the characters for the most part. I enjoyed Nyx as the main character and thought she was really interesting. I loved that she had a darker side to her and wasn’t the typical pure and kindhearted heroine, especially given that this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I liked her bitterness at her situation that her family have put her in and that she wasn’t afraid to show her feistiness. And I really enjoyed her relationship with Ignifex. I found myself shipping them for most of the book and I really liked the scenes that they had together. However, I can’t say that I was a big fan of how the romance played out. I didn’t like the weird love triangle situation and there was also insta-love that I didn’t really appreciate.

As a whole, the book wasn’t very enjoyable to read. It was very wordy and long-winded for what actually happened and I was disappointed with the lack of plot and the execution of what I thought was a great concept. There were too many elements that I didn’t really like and it ruined the reading experience for me even though I did power through the novel.

Review: Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

trial-by-fire

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Release date: November 10, 2015 (originally September 2014)
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 373
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Love burns. Worlds collide. Magic reigns.

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying many of the experiences that other teenagers take for granted … which is why she is determined to enjoy her first (and perhaps only) high-school party. But Lily’s life never goes according to plan, and after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly Lily is in a different Salem – one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruellest of all the Crucibles is Lillian … Lily’s identical other self in this alternate universe. This new version of her world is terrifyingly sensual, and Lily is soon overwhelmed by new experiences. Lily realizes that what makes her weak at home is exactly what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. It also puts her life in danger.

Thrown into a world she doesn’t understand, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can’t hope to shoulder alone, and a love she never expected. But how can Lily be the saviour of this world when she is literally her own worst enemy?

MY THOUGHTS

3 stars

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

Trial by Fire was an interesting read for me. I love books and stories about science and magic, whether it’s about an integration of them or the tension between the two camps, and that’s exactly what this book had. However, I didn’t really enjoy the reading experience and, while I think many fans of fantasy or paranormal books would like it a lot, Trial by Fire just wasn’t for me.

This novel is about Lily, a sickly girl from Salem, Massachusetts who suffers from lots of allergies and is prone to having seizures. Professionals have no idea what is wrong with her and her condition has just been something that Lily has had to deal with her whole life. Until she is transported to another Salem – a parallel universe – that is simultaneously medieval and advanced at the same time. This world has magic and witches and for the first time, Lily is able to understand why her body and health is the way it is. What she wasn’t prepared to find out was that this world’s version of Lily is the Lady of Salem and the most powerful witch in the world. And in this world, the Lady of Salem is responsible for the abolition of science and the murder and unjust treatment of many people.

I had a couple of issues with the plot of this book. I found it to be really draggy and dull. For most of the book, I didn’t have a clear idea of where the story was going and it also didn’t help that the chapters were really long and added to the feeling of sluggishness. I had a hard time understanding the logic of some of the things that were happening and was quite confused about a lot of the plot and why things were happening. There were some great plot points but I felt that the novel lacked a story arc or clear transitions, which made the reading experience a little bit unpleasant.

However, I did love the magic vs science aspect of the novel. I especially enjoyed that the magic system in the book had a scientific aspect to it, despite the witches and magic wielders insisting that it wasn’t really science. I thought the parallel worlds were interesting and I liked that the magical Salem had both a medieval and futuristic feel to it. Having said that, I didn’t really get a good sense of how the magic system worked. There weren’t clear rules set out and I found it to be really confusing to grasp. Lily was a little bit of a special snowflake and she seemed to be able to learn and perform new abilities almost instantaneously so there wasn’t a lot of time spent explaining how everything worked. I love when we get to learn about a world or a magic system as a naive character learns about it in the story, and this was lacking in Trial by Fire because Lily barely had to learn anything.

The characters in the novel were good but not exceptional or particularly interesting. I liked Lily as a main character but she did get on my nerves at times because of her stubbornness and her tendency to think that she knows best. She did grow on me slightly throughout the novel but I wouldn’t consider her to be one of my favourite fantasy heroines. I, however, really disliked her doppelganger, Lillian. She was villainous and did a lot of despicable things. But my biggest problem with her character was that I didn’t understand her motives. She was neither a complex character nor a simple villain who’s just evil. She just came across as extremely confusing. My favourite character in the novel was probably Rowan, the main love interest in the novel. There isn’t really any romance in the book but it’s definitely developing and I can see it becoming a more prominent theme in the rest of the trilogy. I liked Rowan because he was not only a noble and strong character, but he was also sensitive and caring. I liked him a lot in this book.

Overall, I wasn’t enamoured by Trial by Fire. I don’t think my kind of book and I just didn’t really enjoy reading it. It wasn’t a book that captivated me and made me want to continue the trilogy, but I can see lots of readers liking it a lot.

Review: I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

ill-meet-you-there

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release date: February 3, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 388
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If Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing separating Skylar from art school is three months of summer…until Skylar’s mother loses her job, and Skylar realizes her dreams may be slipping out of reach.

Josh had a different escape route: the Marines. But after losing his leg in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be.

What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and, soon, something deeper.

Compelling and ultimately hopeful, this is a powerful examination of love, loss, and resilience.

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

I honestly have no idea why I waited so long to read this book because it was absolutely amazing and is now one of my favourite contemporary YA novels ever. It had a good balance of romance, family and friendship elements, which is a formula for success when it comes to contemporaries for me.

This book is set in a very small town in California. Skylar lives in a trailer with her mother who is an alcoholic and won’t stop drinking, even though her husband died in a car accident while drunk driving. Skylar has just graduated high school and cannot wait for the summer to end, when she can finally go to art school in San Francisco and escape her suffocating small town. But when her mother is fired from the only job she’s ever had, things go downhill and suddenly Skylar’s future is no longer clear. Enter Josh, a previous colleague of Skylar’s at her job at the Paradise motel. He’s back from fighting in Afghanistan, with one less leg than he had when he left…

It was like the whole town was swimming in failure, but no one realized they were drowning.

I was very impressed with how many themes and elements Heather Demetrios managed to explore in this book. And none of these themes were glossed over. Each and every one of them were given enough page-time to be thoroughly explored and I really appreciated how well it was done. I’ll Meet You There explores some very common YA contemporary themes, like alcoholism and small-town-suffocation (I totally made that up, but it’s now a thing), in a completely novel and different way. I never got the sense that I was reading something that I’ve read a million times before. It felt very unique and special and I enjoyed every single page of the story. The novel also explores PTSD, which is something that we’re seeing increasingly often but I have to say that this was one of the best PTSD stories that I’ve ever read. It felt incredibly realistic and even though I don’t know what it’s like to be have PTSD or be in a situation where everyday things could trigger panic attacks or high anxiety, I felt like I knew Josh and I knew how his experiences in Afghanistan have affected him.

I absolutely loved the characters in this book. Skylar was a wonderful protagonist and I couldn’t believe how strong and resilient she was, in the face of everything she was going through. She’s pretty much taking care of her mother, who is on the path to self-destruction. They’re both relying on Skylar’s income from working at the motel and Skylar just wants to make sure that her mother has a job and is able to take care of herself before she moves to San Francisco. Skylar definitely surprised me with how resilient she was. If I had to go through everything she went through in this book, I would’ve broken down much, much earlier. Her mother behaved in ways that I couldn’t imagine any mother behaving and she just didn’t seem to have her daughter’s best interests at heart. The family arc in this book was incredibly hard to read and honestly pretty upsetting at times. I was really proud that Skylar decided to take some time just for herself and put some distance between herself and her mother’s problems. I really admired her maturity when it came to making decisions.

Josh was a character that I also loved. There were short chapters that were written from his point of view and I thought they were really interesting. They allowed me to get to know Josh a little bit more and I loved that we got to see into his head and get a sense of how his experience in Afghanistan had affected and changed him, physically and mentally. I also thought it was interesting that Skylar and Josh knew each other previously and that Josh used to be a bit of a jerk and had a reputation of being a player. It really added a different dimension to his character and transformed him into a really complex character.

The romance was probably my favourite aspect of the book. There was so much to love about this book but I thought the relationship between Skylar and Josh was just so realistic and moving. They become attracted to each other quite early in the book but the romance itself was a bit of a slow burn. It developed at a very natural pace and nothing felt rushed or dragged out. Everything just happened in a really realistic way and it was impossible not to feel connected to Skylar and Josh as they figured out their feelings for each other. I loved how much they relied on each other and supported each other throughout the book. Josh helped Skylar through her issues with her mother and was just there to listen when she needed to talk. And in return, Skylar helped Josh come to terms with his traumatic experience in Afghanistan. She never let him use the war and his experiences as an excuse, which was exactly what Josh needed.

And of course, there were a lot of great friendship elements. Skylar and Josh’s relationship wasn’t just a romantic one. Their relationship was first and foremost a friendship that turned into something more. But this book also explored Skylar’s friendships with her best friends, Chris and Dylan. They were always there for her when she needed a friend and needed advice. I loved their role in the book and I thought their friendships were so heartwarming.

I wanted to have the perfect words to tell him how he’d been family, how I wouldn’t be who I was without him and how my life was a collage of memories and he was in every one.

And finally, I absolutely loved the writing in this book. It was very impactful and I could quote from this book for days and days. Heather Demetrios just writes the most wonderful stories and I’ve enjoyed both her contemporary and fantasy stories because of the beautiful writing and storytelling.

Review: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

ink-and-bone

Publisher: Allison & Busby
Release date: July 7, 2015
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 407
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Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.

In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.

Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market book smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar . . . but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.

Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn. . . .

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

Ink and Bone is an alternate history novel, set in a world where the Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed. In this world, knowledge is power and more important than anything else in the world. Because of this, the Library and its staff rule over everything and not everybody uses their power for good… The world is full of people who want knowledge to be free and accessible for everybody and rebellious groups have formed as a result of this, such as the Burners, who burn books and martyr themselves to make a point. There are also black market book smugglers who steal and sell original and unique copies of books to collectors. Jess Brightwell was born and raised in a family of book smugglers but he’s never really fit in with everybody else. One day, he’s given the chance to sit an exam to become a Scholar at the Library in Alexandria, and the story starts from there.

Knowledge is all. The Library’s motto, and this was what it meant in the real world. It meant that nothing, nothing was more valuable. Not even lives.

I really, really loved the world in this book. It was a regressed society, meaning that it’s set in the future in 2025 but almost felt like it was set in the 19th century instead. It had some really cool sci-fi and steampunk elements, with automatons shaped like lions and teleportation/translation through a ‘portal’. Each character also had a Codex, which came across to me as a cross between a book and a tablet. The characters were able to send messages to each other through the blank pages of the Codex, and it also contained the complete list of titles available in the Library. I thought it was a really unique idea and really enjoyed it. I have to admit that it did take me a while to get a good sense of the world. It was just so futuristic and historical at the same time that I had some difficulty comprehending and imagining it all at times.

The characters in this novel were absolutely magnificent. I really enjoyed Jess as a main character. There was a point in the book when I thought he was going to be the Chosen One and I shuddered a little at the thought of another Chosen One story, but I’m glad that it didn’t turn out that way. The characters were all very complex and they all had some secrets to hide, which made them very multi-dimensional and unpredictable. The diversity in the characters was wonderful. I loved that there was racial diversity as well as sexual diversity. Overall, they were characters that I enjoyed reading about and had no problem rooting for. What I had a bit of a hard time dealing with were some of the Library staff. I couldn’t really keep them straight in my head because they were referred to by their titles rather than by names. It took me almost the whole book to remember what their role was and whether they were good or evil.

For me, the world and the characters definitely the standout aspects of this book. While I really enjoyed the plot, I was missing a little bit of the ebbs and flows that we usually see in story arcs. There wasn’t a climax or resolution and I just wanted the book have more of a build up of intensity. I loved what I read but it all felt a little bit flat, which stopped me from being super excited and invested in the book. It almost felt like the book was cut off before the excitement began. I am in a slight reading slump, so maybe that’s just me not really feeling excited to read in general.

What I also didn’t really like in this book was the romance. I just wasn’t feeling it. I didn’t see a lot of development so it almost felt like it came out of nowhere. There was definitely some attraction and interest, but they went from just chatting like friends to kissing and it just didn’t feel genuine to me. The romance is a pretty small part of the book though, so it didn’t bother me too much.

Despite the little problems that I had with the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It wasn’t a book that was on my TBR but I’m glad that it was recommended and pushed to me.

Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

wolf-by-wolf

Publisher: Indigo
Release date: November 5, 2015
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 390
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Her story begins on a train.

The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, they host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The prize? An audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s ball in Tokyo.

Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele’s twin brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move.

But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and stay true to her mission?

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

Wolf by Wolf is an alternate history WWII novel with a sci-fi twist. In this world, the Axis powers won the second world war and Hitler has control of most of the Western world, while Japan and Emperor Hirohito is in control of the East. However, the Resistance is growing and our main character, Yael, is at the centre of a mission to bring down Hitler. Each year, a cross-continent motocross competition is held and Yael enters this race posing as the previous year’s winner, Adele Wolfe. As the winner of the motocross race, Yael would have the opportunity to have a private audience with Hitler, where she plans to kill him.

The only people desperate enough to do business under high moon and heavy shadows were resistance conspirators, black-market scoundrels and Jews in disguise.

Yael happened to be all three.

Yael was taken to a death camp as a child, where she was experimented on and injected with chemicals that would give her an Aryan appearance. But white blonde hair and pale blue eyes weren’t all that these injections gave Yael. She acquired the ability to skinshift, meaning that she can change her appearance at will, including her bone structure, the colour of her skin, the colour and length of her hair and the sound of her voice. This ability has put Yael at the heart of the mission to assassinate Hitler. She enters the motocross race as Adele Wolfe and must try to keep her own identity and her true self hidden. But this proves to be harder than Yael expected. She finds her own emotions getting in the way of what needs to be done. In addition to that, she could have never expected Adele’s twin brother to also enter the race or that there may be a secret relationship between Adele and another competitor that Yael knows nothing about…

I really loved Yael’s character. She was very intriguing and I loved seeing her inner turmoil as she tried to stay in the character of Adele, while her whole being was telling her to act in a completely different way. I enjoyed seeing her develop from a person who was hellbent on revenge and refused to let anything get in the way, to a person who cared about those around her and how her actions would impact them. The emotional growth in her character as she experienced romance and brotherly love was wonderful to see and I liked seeing her rely on others and not taking on everything by herself. The only thing that I was skeptical about were her abilities. I just didn’t quite believe what she could do in terms of her skinshifting. It just seemed so completely impossible that I had to just suspend my disbelief.

My other small criticism is about the world that Ryan Graudin has created. I love the idea of the book and I really enjoyed the alternate history world. Graudin has done as fantastic job at creating a world that is plausible given the actual events of WWII. I really enjoyed how she integrated the East and the West, and how those from Germany had to learn the Japanese language and vice versa. And I also enjoyed the tension between the Germans and the Japanese, and how they continued to want to beat the other. My problem with the world was that it didn’t feel historical enough. Everything seemed very advanced and contemporary, which I could kind of understand given how much experimentation the Germans conducted. But there were times when I’d forget that this novel was taking place in the mid-1950s. It felt like it was happening in the present day, and I just didn’t get a good sense of the time period, which is the only reason why I’m taking off half a star.

I thoroughly enjoyed the other characters in the book. Wolf by Wolf had a spectacular cast of really complex characters that just kept me guessing the whole time. They were all very multidimensional and I loved how they weren’t who they seemed to be. It was difficult to understand their motives and I’m still unsure about some of the characters, but that’s what I loved most about this book. It was unpredictable and had me really excited to find out more. There is a little bit of romance in this book that was slow burning and had me wanting things to just happen. But it made me super excited for what’s to come.

I also really enjoyed the writing style of this book. It was definitely a unique style that isn’t for everybody but I didn’t find it to be hard to read and I thought some of the stylistic devices she used were very successful. There was a little bit of purple prose at times, but I didn’t mind it too much. The novel also consisted of ‘then’ and ‘now’ chapters and I thought they were perfectly placed. Often, books with then and now chapters seem very repetitive and unnecessary but I thought Ryan Graudin did a fantastic job with this format. The plot flowed extremely well and I enjoyed everything that happened in the book. I did predict the twist at the end though, because I knew that there would be a sequel to the book, so I wasn’t completely surprised by it. But it had me very excited about what’s to come and I’m highly anticipating the next sequel.

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable, fast-paced and action-packed book that has an interesting world and amazing characters that you will love. I highly recommend this one!

Review: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

simon-vs-the-homo-sapiens-agenda

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: April 7, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 303
Goodreads || Book Depository

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

I recently reread this novel and this post combines my original review that was posted on Goodreads and some of my updated thoughts after my reread.

This book is EVERYTHING. Heartwarming and adorable, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is about love, friendship, being yourself, accepting others, eating oreos for every meal of the day, perfect grammar, and flirting with cute guys through email.

This is a novel about Simon Spier’s journey through his junior year of high school as he transforms from Simon the straight guy who’s had 3 girlfriends, to the Simon who thinks boys are cute and is falling in love with Blue, another junior at his school who he exchanges emails with. Neither knows the other’s identity, but through their emails, they are able to find the courage to embrace who they are even when things go wrong. This was a lighthearted book that tackles the issues of being gay, and also to some extent issues of race and colour. I think this book is masterful in the way that it was able to shine a light on the issues without being an angst-filled and heavy novel. It has lots of wonderful messages about being true to yourself and being the person you want to be, while still staying light and fun.

It was nicely paced and kept me so intrigued that I read it in one sitting both times. This book is just so easy to get into and I flew through the first few chapters in no time. I liked the format of the book a lot. Every second chapter was an email exchange between Simon and Blue that would allow us to take a peek inside Blue’s head. Their conversations were the best part of the book in my opinion because we got to see them getting to know each other. They were just so cute together!! I also really liked the mystery aspect of the book and trying to figure out who Blue was, though I did guess who he was quite early on in the book. Knowing who Blue was during my reread of the novel, added to the experience and every mention of him had me squealing and flailing around. Needless to say, I absolutely loved the romance.

“I’m not going to pretend I know how this ends, and I don’t have a freaking clue if it’s possible to fall in love over email. But I would really like to meet you, Blue. I want to try this. And I can’t imagine a scenario where I don’t want to kiss your face off as soon as I see you.”

I loved the characters that Becky Albertalli created. I thought Simon and Blue were so normal but unique at the same time. I liked that Simon was just an ordinary boy who isn’t popular but isn’t an outcast. He’s just your average kid who’s struggling with revealing his true identity to others in his life, which I think so many people can relate to. His narrative voice was so strong and relatable that you can’t help but root for him and want everything to work out. His personality really comes through in his voice and he was just very easy to connect with. Simon’s story and his character is inspiring and definitely encouraged me to reflect on what I truly want in life and speak up about it too.

I thoroughly loved Simon’s family and the fact that they watch and have discussions about reality TV shows, and that they have Facebook scavenger hunts. Their family dynamic was wonderful and I loved how involved his parents and siblings were in his life. They got along wonderfully and it was beautiful to be able to see such a supportive family. I also liked the side characters because they each had their own quirks, though it did take me a while to warm to Abby. She’s the character who everybody loves and I just had a hard time seeing why she was so special. Having said that, there wasn’t a single character that I disliked in this book because they all brought something special to the story.

Overall this was an amazing debut novel and I cannot wait to read the companion novel that Becky is working on!

Review: The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Release date: March 12, 2015
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 400
Goodreads || Book Depository

The Winner’s Crime is the second book in Marie Rutkoski’s Winner Trilogy, which means that this review will contain spoilers for Book 1, The Winner’s Curse. Please leave now because you will be spoiled and you really don’t want to be!! Just know that I give this sequel 5 stars and that you should read this trilogy!

THE WINNER’S CRIME SYNOPSIS

Lady Kestrel’s engagement to Valoria’s crown prince calls for great celebration: balls and performances, fireworks and revelry. But to Kestrel it means a cage of her own making. Embedded in the imperial court as a spy, she lives and breathes deceit and cannot confide in the one person she really longs to trust …

While Arin fights to keep his country’s freedom from the hands of his enemy, he suspects that Kestrel knows more than she shows. As Kestrel comes closer to uncovering a shocking secret, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth.

Lies will come undone, and Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them in this second book in the breathtaking Winner’s trilogy.

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

How do I even begin to tell you how much I loved this book?! It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that’s made me have to keep putting it down because of all the feels and the unbearable tension. It’s been a whole day since I finished the book and I’m still trying to recover. The ending had me curled up on my bed, dying from the feels. I thought The Winner’s Curse was amazing but this book just blew my mind with its brilliance.

This sequel was set almost entirely in the capital of Valoria, where Kestrel is staying with the Emperor and Prince Verex, the man she is to marry. It’s obvious from the very beginning that she is a prisoner in the palace and is being manipulated and watched by the Emperor. When court members and other high ranking members of society are invited to a really, really, really long engagement and wedding celebration, Kestrel finds herself face-to-face with the new Herrani Governor, Arin… which inevitably leads to trouble.

“I don’t mind being a moth. I would probably start eating silk if it meant that I could fly.”

The tension and the yearning was present from the very beginning of the book. I could feel Kestrel yearning for Arin and for freedom away from the stifling environment of the Emperor’s home. The atmosphere and the suspense in this book was built so well. There are a lot of mentions in this book – this trilogy – of games, and this whole book felt like one big game. It was very interesting to see the role that each character played in the game, especially because it was never obvious who was in control. We see the Emperor manipulating the game and the characters, but Kestrel was also doing her fair share of manoeuvring and strategising. There is lying, spying, secrecy and LOTS of political intrigue. The whole book was just very anxiety-provoking and I was so stressed out about everything that was going on. Yet, the plot was so intriguing and exciting that I couldn’t help but keep reading.

What I thought was the highlight of this book was the characterisation. I loved the characters in The Winner’s Curse but everything is taken up a notch in this second book. The characters are even more complex and layered and I really connected with all of them. I empathised with them and felt everything they were feeling and gosh, my heart hurt so much. There were characters that I wasn’t expecting to like, such as Verex and the Eastern princess, Risha, but they turned out to be really wonderful additions to the series and I can’t wait to see the role that they play in the final book because they were pretty enigmatic in this book.

Kestrel remains my favourite character and it hurt me how much she was suffering alone. I felt her loneliness from being trapped in the Capital but also her loneliness from being misunderstood and not being able to reveal her true feelings. I wanted to shake all of the characters and make them understand. Her internal struggle was just unreal and my heart ached for her. We also get Arin’s perspective in this book and my love for him grew as well. But he does some rash and stupid things, and I just wanted to yell at him through the pages and make him see what was in front of him. I really enjoyed his story arc and it took us to very interesting places plot-wise and setting-wise.

While this book takes place mostly in the Capital, the world continues to build and expand. The book takes us east, to Dacra, through lots of political plotting and I loved having the East involved. I can’t wait to see the role they play in the next book. We also get small glimpses of how Herran has developed since the ending of The Winner’s Curse and I thought it was interesting how that played into the overall plot. I also appreciated the map that was included in the book!

I have so much more I could say about this book but I have no idea where to start because I’m still full of so many feels. It’s probably better if I don’t say anything more about the book because the experience of reading the book and figuring everything out for myself was a spectacular one for me.

Cover Reveal: The Bureau of Time by Brett Michael Orr

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Oh my gosh. I’ve been waiting for this moment for what feels like forever but the time has come!! I’ve been following writer and fellow blogger, Brett Michael Orr on Twitter for a while now and I’ve always seen updates about his writing and his debut novel, The Bureau of Time. Ever since I heard about it for the first time, I’ve wanted to get my hands on it and I guess I’ve been super good this year because Santa decided to bring this to me early (or maybe it’s Brett who’s been super good and I’m just reaping all the benefits)!!

THE BUREAU OF TIME is the debut YA SF/thriller novel from Brett Michael Orr, available now on Amazon around the world, and coming soon to other major digital reading platforms, including Kindle, Kobo, iBookstore, and more. Stay up-to-date with The Bureau of Time by following @BrettMichaelOrr on Twitter! Join the conversation using the hashtag #TheBureauOfTime

Amazon US || Amazon AU || Amazon UK || Amazon CA

The Bureau of Time Blurb

You can not change fate.

Cassandra Wright is a Timewalker – a teenager with a genetic mutation that allows her to manipulate the flow of time. But her inexplicable powers have made her a target for Adjusters – monstrous assassins from a parallel universe.

Saved from almost certain death, Cassie is pulled into a secret agency sworn to defend our timeline against these threats: the Bureau of Temporal Integrity, Monitoring, and Execution. Cassie’s life soon becomes entwined with Shaun Briars – a reckless Timewalker with an alluring smile and dark suspicions about the Bureau itself.

When Cassie and Shaun cross into the parallel universe, they discover a world in the grips of nuclear winter, with a new war threatening to spill over into our universe. With time running out, they must learn the true history of Timewalkers, confront the unforgivable crimes of their future selves, and defy their own fate to save two worlds.

 

…And without further ado, let’s reveal the absolutely beautiful cover!!!

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cannot wait to read The Bureau of Time and I’m so happy that Brett’s debut novel is now available for everybody to pick up! I’ll be waiting just a little bit longer since I read on iBooks 😦 but I know I’m going to devour this when I finally get my hands on it! Please go support the absolutely wonderful, awesome and insanely talented Brett Michael Orr by getting a copy of The Bureau of Time because it sounds seriously cool!

Review: What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler

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Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Release date: December, 2015? (originally September 2015 in the US)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 336
Goodreads || Book Depository || Booktopia

How much would you have to see to speak up?

The party at John Doone’s last Saturday night is a bit of a blur. Kate Weston can piece together most of the details: Stacey Stallard handing her shots, Ben Cody taking her keys and getting her home early… But when a picture of Stacey passed out over Deacon Mills’s shoulder appears online the next morning, Kate suspects she doesn’t have all the details.

When Stacey levels charges against four of Kate’s classmates, the whole town erupts into controversy. Facts that can’t be ignored begin to surface, and every answer Kate finds leads back to the same questions: Who witnessed what happened to Stacey and what awaits them if they choose to speak up?

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

I received a review copy of What We Saw from HarperCollins Australia. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

What We Saw focuses on the aftermath of a party where a girl may have been sexually assaulted and raped while unconscious. The novel was inspired by true events that happened in Steubenville, Ohio in 2012, and I think it tackles issues that we should be talking about. However, on top of that, What We Saw is a coming of age story about using your voice to do what you think is right. The book was suspenseful, thought-provoking and beautifully written, with lots of great metaphors. Obviously, this book has triggers for sexual assault and rape, and there are some scenes that are quite graphic. It’s definitely a book that I think is worth reading, but proceed with caution.

This book is written from the perspective of Kate Weston, who was not involved in what happened at the party. She’s very much an outsider who wasn’t present and doesn’t know the facts, but she suspects that there’s more to the story than the public has been made aware. Throughout the book, Kate goes through an internal battle about whether to stay away and mind her own business, or do the right thing and find out the facts even though it might hurt the people around her.

I really enjoyed that What We Saw was written from the perspective of somebody who wasn’t involved in the situation. It allowed for an exploration of the serious issues, without being overwhelmingly dark and difficult to get through. While the topics of rape and victim blaming were at the forefront, what I appreciated most about the story was the coming-of-age aspect of the book. We really get to see how the other students and members of the public are affected by the situation. Everybody seems to be operating under the policy of not needing to know the facts and not wanting to be involved. But for Kate, hearing the story of the victim, when everybody else is backing the alleged perpetrators, is just as important. She just needs to figure out whether finding out the truth is worth hurting her friends and loved ones over.

Kate was a fantastic character because she wasn’t strong. She had doubts about standing up and using her voice but ultimately, when faced with a grave situation that would probably stay with her for the rest of her life, she decided to do what she thought was right and what she could live with. And I admire her so much for that. I also admired Stacey who was strong enough to press charges against the people who had assaulted her, even though she had no recollection of what happened. It was heartbreaking to see that nobody cared about her and how the situation affected her.

“Wait,” Lindsey says. “Just because she’s wearing skimpy clothes means that she’s lying about those guys forcing themselves on her?”

There’s a lot of slut shaming and victim blaming in this book. There’s the automatic assumption that Stacey deserved it because she was wearing revealing clothing and was so drunk, she was unconscious. I thought this was dealt with really well in the book by the author. We repeatedly see Kate question why Stacey deserved to have that happen to her when it could have easily been somebody else, or even herself,  in the same situation. We also get to see different perspectives on this – those who blame Stacey because they truly believe she brought it upon herself, those who blame Stacey so that they can pretend it never happened and not have to deal with the consequences of what rape means, those who cover up to truth so they can continue to live happily and uncaringly,  and those who distance themselves from the situation so that they aren’t affected by the consequences. I was a little bit devastated that even at the end of the book, nobody really cared about the truth and blamed Kate for caring and speaking up.

People were also sympathising with the accused, and commenting on how their lives are ruined because of stupid accusations. I thought this aspect was also handled very well. Although I’m sure that the author didn’t intend to teach life lessons through this book, there’s a great message in the book about actions having consequences and that there are always alternatives to any decision or action.

Finally, I wanted to talk about Kate’s boyfriend and family. I really enjoyed the romance in this book. It made the tone of the book a little bit lighter than it would have been without the romance. I liked Ben’s character a lot but I just wish some things had turned out differently. I also loved the role that Kate’s family played in the book. What We Saw definitely does not suffer from Absent Parent Syndrome. Kate’s family is extremely supportive and I loved that they made the best choices when it came to her wellbeing.

Overall, I think this book is a must-read for teens. The issue of sexual assault is one that is difficult to talk about and I think What We Saw is a great conversation starter.

All thoughts in this post reflect my personal opinion. If you don’t agree, that’s fine. We can have a civilised discussion in the comments.