Book review: “The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding” by Alexandra Bracken

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding  

I have been following Alexandra Bracken on Instagram for not so long, but I love her InstaStories in which she talks about writing process and deadlines. I have been meaning to pick up one of her books - I even recently purchased a new paperback copy of ‘The Darkest Minds” intending to read it before seeing the movie (both of which I am still yet to do).

But I was the most interested in picking up “The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding”, and since I am a bit on a middle-grade streak, it seemed to be the perfect time.

I even purchased my own copy without knowing if I am going to enjoy it or not. I got it from Amazon and started reading it immediately, and I am so happy I did.

 

Synopsis

 

I would say it's a pleasure to meet thee, Prosperity Oceanus Redding, but truly, I only anticipate the delights of destroying thy happiness.

Prosper is the only unexceptional Redding in his old and storied family history — that is, until he discovers the demon living inside him. Turns out Prosper's great-great-great-great-great-something grandfather made — and then broke — a contract with a malefactor, a demon who exchanges fortune for eternal servitude. And, weirdly enough, four-thousand-year-old Alastor isn't exactly the forgiving type.

The fiend has reawakened with one purpose — to destroy the family whose success he ensured and who then betrayed him. With only days to break the curse and banish Alastor back to the demon realm, Prosper is playing unwilling host to the fiend, who delights in tormenting him with nasty insults and constant attempts trick him into a contract. Yeah, Prosper will take his future without a side of eternal servitude, thanks.

Little does Prosper know, the malefactor's control over his body grows stronger with each passing night, and there's a lot Alastor isn't telling his dim-witted (but admittedly strong-willed) human host.

 

Review

 

I fell in love with the story from the very first paragraph of “The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding”. The author manages to create a perfect atmosphere of autumn and the approaching Halloween. I recall some readers mentioning that Alexandra’s writing is very heavy on descriptions but for me it worked perfectly. More so, the book is not just fancy descriptions: the action was there, the shinenigans were there, and most importantly, there was THAT plot twist that I did not see coming. At all! Well done, Alexandra! The ending made me gasp!

I loved the idea of Alistor - because, I mean, he appears to Prosper in the mirror as a snow fox! How could I not like him! But, truth be told, I disliked the chapters told from his perspective. Alistor sounded too haughty and spoiled. It took me by surprise so much that I even had to take a short break from reading “The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding”. That is a sign of a good writing, if you ask me.

I did, however, get used to Alistor’s narration by the end of the book, and I am tentatively hopeful that Prosper and Alistor would become friends in book two, as it was something I was expecting from the very beginning of the novel. (As someone who does not read the synopsis of books before reading them, I often fall prey to my own misconceptions as I imagine things that are not there.)

Another thing that threw me off a bit was the depiction of various disgusting things that Alistor (and other creatures) consumes. I am very squeamish and even the mention of snot makes me go EWW. but I think that younger audience would love that. I, somehow, struggled with it as an adult.

I really enjoyed Alexandra’s writing style. The narration is well paced; her descriptions are lovely and very atmospheric. She portrays the emotions naturally and I think that she got the voices absolutely right. There is a certain measure, a steady pace to her words that I found very appealing.

I am very excited to read the sequel to “The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding” and I have already pre-ordered it! “The Last Life of Prince Alastor” (The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding #2) is coming out in February, almost at the same time as my most anticipated book of 2019 - “Bloodwitch” by Susan Dennard, so both of those beauties are going to arrive at the same time! I am thrilled!

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

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Book review: "Kens" by Raziel Reid

  Kens by Raziel Reid

I requested a copy of “Kens” by Raziel Reid from Penguin Random House after reading the description. It sounded like a very curious book, and I am grateful to the publisher for providing me with a free copy for review.

Synopsis

 

Heterosexuality is so last season: Kens is the gay Heathers meets Mean Girls, a shocking parody for a whole new generation.

Every high school has the archetypical Queen B and her minions. In Kens, the high school hierarchy has been reimagined. Willows High is led by Ken Hilton, and he makes Regina George from Mean Girls look like a saint. Ken Hilton rules Willows High with his carbon-copies, Ken Roberts and Ken Carson, standing next to his throne. It can be hard to tell the Kens apart. There are minor differences in each edition, but all Kens are created from the same mold, straight out of Satan's doll factory. Soul sold separately.

Tommy Rawlins can't help but compare himself to these shimmering images of perfection that glide through the halls. He's desperate to fit in, but in a school where the Kens are queens who are treated like Queens, Tommy is the uncool gay kid. A once-in-a-lifetime chance at becoming a Ken changes everything for Tommy, just as his eye is caught by the tall, dark, handsome new boy, Blaine. Has Blaine arrived in time to save him from the Kens? Tommy has high hopes for their future together, but when their shared desire to overthrow Ken Hilton takes a shocking turn, Tommy must decide how willing he is to reinvent himself -- inside and out. Is this new version of Tommy everything he's always wanted to be, or has he become an unknowing and submissive puppet in a sadistic plan?

Review

 

That synopsis of “Kens” is the only part of the book that is coherent and crystal clear. (That, and the acknowledgements.)

From the very first page, I felt overwhelmed. It took me a moment to get used to the writing style, and I kept referring back to the dictionary at the very beginning of the book (and occasionally - not gonna lie - turning to Urban Dictionary) and the descriptions of three Kens.

This book should come with a range of trigger warnings. Basically, warning for everything. The author does not pull any punches. It is dark humour and satire, and, dear lord, he does deliver it. Even “Kens” is a fairly short novel - and rightfully so - it is masterfully developed start to finish. Midway into the book, I realized that there was an additional plot line, which is not evident from the synopsis, and that was a pleasant surprise, as I was getting tired of the constantly squeaking and flaunting their plastic assets Kens.

I went into “Kens” not even looking at GoodReads page. And when I did, I was shocked by how low the average rating was. I think this is the very first book in my life with the rating of fewer than 3 stars that I decided to read and review. I looked at the ratings and was stunned by how repulsed readers seemed to be by the book. Even though I understand that satire and black humour are not for everyone, this displeasure took me by surprise.

“Kens” in many ways reminded me of “Beauty Queens” by Libba Bray. However, I disliked “Beauty Queens” whereas I really enjoyed “Kens”. Personally, I think that the plot structure of “Kens” was much better executed, that is why I never felt lost or confused about what was happening and what was not. Nobody was subjected to any cartoonish tv tropes, like “major injury underreaction” (e.g., brushing off a machete sticking out of their head), which really annoyed me in “Beauty Queens”. “Beauty Queens” seemed to have been better received by readers though. I wonder if this has to do with blatantly gay gayness in “Kens” (which I am all here for) and it tramps over all of the touchy topics in sparkly heels.

“Kens” is a hard book to review. It is blunt, glitter in your face, lipstick on a pig narrative which will make you stop and think twice about what you are actually reading about. Is it a book that is making fun out of such serious and relevant topics as copycat suicides and Black Lives Matter movement? Or is it showing us how artificial and self-absorbed the social media is making us? It is for you to decide.

I say, read it. And maybe keep a pair of pink glasses and a bottle of bubbly on hand as you would definitely need to sparkle up your life once you are done with “Kens”.

I want to applaud the author for having guts to research and write this. It could not have been an easy book to write. I am looking forward to checking out Raziel’s debut novel.

p.s. Read the book and then look at the dust jacket at the back, where the author's photo is. Raziel is so extra. ✨

Rating: 4 stars

 

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Links

  • https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37777879-kens
  • https://twitter.com/razielreid
  • http://www.razielreid.com/

Book review: "The Magic Misfits" by Neil Patrick Harris (audiobook)

The Magic Misfits I came across “The Magic Misfits” as I was browsing the newest releases at my favourite Indigo store. I was thrilled to find out that Neil Patrick Harris wrote a book! The cover looked so adorable that I couldn’t wait to read it. Since I occasionally struggle with middle-grade books, I went to my favourite option - that is an audiobook.

“The Magic Misfits” has a gorgeous cover! And for once, I can’t decide whether I like US or UK edition better!

The Magic Misfits UK edition

Synopsis

 

From beloved award-winning actor, Neil Patrick Harris comes the magical first book in a new series with plenty of tricks up its sleeve.

When street magician Carter runs away, he never expects to find friends and magic in a sleepy New England town. But like any good trick, things change instantly as greedy B.B. Bosso, and his crew of crooked carnies arrive to steal anything and everything they can get their sticky fingers on.

After a fateful encounter with the local purveyor of illusion, Dante Vernon, Carter teams up with five other like-minded kids. Together, using both teamwork and magic, they'll set out to save the town of Mineral Wells from Bosso's villainous clutches. These six Magic Misfits will soon discover adventure, friendship, and their own self-worth in this delightful new series.

 

Review

 

“The Magic Misfits” is read by Neil Patrick Harris himself and it was a treat to my ears. I should not have expected anything less than a stellar performance from him, but I was still thrilled. He has a perfect voice range and goes from low and grumbly to high pitched. Neil also performs all the songs in the story, and that was just an added bonus! The audiobook is only 4 hours long, so I went through it fairly quickly.

My admiration for Neil’s performance, I was a bit bored by the plot. It is a cute story about an almost orphaned runaway boy who finds his place in the world and his new family. Everything from Carter’s backstory (which really reminded me of Oliver Twist for some reason) to the magic shop and carnival, to the group of unpopular kids - it all has been done before.

What has not been done before is this amount of diversity in a middle-grade book, and that representation is not the focus of the main story and nobody is given grief or bullied for whatever they represent. And that is a big deal! We have characters of colour, disabled characters, foster and adoptive families, as well as LGBTQ+ representation. In one middle-grade novel. I mean, c’mon! This book has to be a bestseller at least for that!

Sadly, I had issues with the plot, especially the very ending. The conflict seemed to have been resolved as if by magic (which it was, in a way). The book has filler chapters in which the author addresses the readers directly, breaking the fourth wall (which is my least favourite device as it keeps taking me out of the story), and provides instructions to future magicians on how to do tricks. It is a lovely concept and will, undoubtedly, appeal to the younger audience, but for me, it was all more of a nuisance. Overall, it felt as if the book was targeted at the younger side of the middle-grade scale. I mean, sometimes the author even explained certain words to the listeners! It felt as if it was not a recording but a real person reading the story, which is excellent, but I am obviously too old for that kind of narration.

It is hard to rate the book without taking into account the brilliant performance by Neil. So, I am going to give the book a half-star more for the narration and representation, although the plot left more to be desired. It was a cute story, but not a very original one.

However, since “The Magic Misfits” is only the first book in the series (a quartet?), I have hopes that the plot will improve with the sequel, and I definitely plan to continue reading the series.

 

Performance: 5 stars Plot: 2.5 stars Overall: 3.5 stars

 

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An Unexpected Adventure by Kandi J. Wyatt - Cover Reveal

An Unexpected Adventure by Kandi J. Wyatt

Protect their community or protect their discovery?

For eighth graders Chace, Harley, Will, and Cherise, that’s a life-changing question after they find a dragon’s egg while hunting for thundereggs on the beach. Toss in summer jobs, family struggles, and a National Security Agent, and their summer vacation just became complicated.

Can they find a solution that won’t leave their hearts broken or their community in flames?

Pre-order "An Unexpected Adventure" here!

Release date: Tuesday, Sept 25th

Blogger's note:

I have been sent an eARC of "An Unexpected Adventure" for review, but I have not read it yet. It looks like a very promising middle-grade novel, quoted to be a mashup of "E.T. meets How to Train Your Dragon". HTTYD is one of my favourite animated movies, and I can not wait to read this book!

Author Bio:

Even as a young girl, Kandi J Wyatt, had a knack for words. She loved to read them, even if it was on a shampoo bottle! By high school, Kandi had learned to put words together on paper to create stories for those she loved. Nowadays, she writes for her kids, whether that's her own five or the hundreds of students she's been lucky to teach. When Kandi's not spinning words to create stories, she's using them to teach students about Spanish, life, and leadership.

Links:

Website: http://kandijwyatt.com/
Facebook: http://facebook.com/kandijwyatt/
Google: http://plus.google.com/u/0/+KandiWyatt/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/kandijwyatt
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/kandijwyatt
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13817774.Kandi_J_Wyatt
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Kandi-J-Wyatt/e/B00ZTC4T10/

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Book review: “Keeper of the Bees” by Meg Kassel

Keeper of the Bees

I was provided with an e-ARC copy of “Keeper of the Bees” by Entangled Teen in exchange for a free and honest review. I requested to read this novel because I read and reviewed “Black Birds of the Gallows” last year and was interested in the sequel.

You do not have to read “Black Birds of the Gallows” to read “Keeper of the Bees”, however, some things regarding the world building are explained there in much more detail.

Synopsis

KEEPER OF THE BEES is a tale of two teens who are both beautiful and beastly, and whose pasts are entangled in surprising and heartbreaking ways.

Dresden is cursed. His chest houses a hive of bees that he can’t stop from stinging people with psychosis-inducing venom. His face is a shifting montage of all the people who have died because of those stings. And he has been this way for centuries—since he was eighteen and magic flowed through his homeland, corrupting its people.

He follows harbingers of death, so at least his curse only affects those about to die anyway. But when he arrives in a Midwest town marked for death, he encounters Essie, a seventeen-year-old girl who suffers from debilitating delusions and hallucinations. His bees want to sting her on sight. But Essie doesn’t see a monster when she looks at Dresden.

Essie is fascinated and delighted by his changing features. Risking his own life, he holds back his bees and spares her. What starts out as a simple act of mercy ends up unravelling Dresden’s solitary life and Essie’s tormented one. Their impossible romance might even be powerful enough to unravel a centuries-old curse.

Review

Allow me to start my review by saying how lucky Meg is to have such gorgeous book covers! Her debut novel “Black Birds of the Gallows” had the most stunning cover ever and it was definitely my favourite one of 2017.

"Black Bird of the Gallows", a prequel to "Keeper of the Bees"

Just look at it. ?

“Keeper of the Bees” is beautiful too, done in the same style, obviously, but I like it slightly less, as green is not my favourite colour. But it is Meg’s favourite, it seems, so she is a very fortunate author, indeed.

Looking at the writing overall, I think that Meg’s writing has improved since the first book. “Keeper of the Bees” is better paced, and both voices of the main protagonists are well developed. The novel is written in the present tense, from the alternating POVs of Essie and Dresden. There were moments when the writing seemed a bit clunky, but I was given an ARC, and it was only to be expected, as it is in no way a finished version of the book.

There were a lot of elements of dark lore and even a murder mystery thrown into the mix to keep me interested in reading “Keeper of the Bees”, but the book is way too heavy on teen angst and romance for my taste. Perhaps, it was my instinctive dislike of a star-crossed lovers trope that kept me rolling my eyes everytime Dresden would talk about Essie.

There is a lot of internal monologues in the book - way too many for my taste. Quite a lot of exposition that could have been axed from the text also. But if you are into broody heroes that struggle with their emotions - you would enjoy “Keep of the Bees”.

When I was reading “Black Birds of the Gallows”, in which we also have a beekeeper, but a different one, and he is not as nice as Dresden, I kept imagining him as an adult. In “Keeper of the Bees” Dresden is only 18 years old, and I found it a bit confusing. Moreso, the author kept referring to both Dresden, who is 18 - or was at the time when he became a beekeeper - and Essie, who is 17, as a young man and a young woman. That created a somewhat disjointed image in my head. It is understandable that due to the nature of beekeepers and harbingers, they are way older than their physical appearance and they carry a lot of burdens. There was only one mention of Essie being homeschooled, but it was not the focus of the book at all, and it was easy to forget that it is supposed to be a YA novel.

My biggest pet peeve with this book was in the fact that Essie’s condition, the mysterious and undiagnosed mental illness that gave her vivid hallucinations and delusions, was referred to as a “curse”. It is a big part of the plot, so I am not going to explain why it is called that, but I found it incredibly unsettling.

Based on descriptions of Essie’s symptoms, she might be suffering from something akin to schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder. She is seeing a therapist regularly, who is portrayed as a villain (for a good reason, as it is, once again, a part of the plot, and he is literally the only practising psychiatrist in the town); she is taking the medication that is not helping her; there are people who judge her and her family for her illness; her father is an abusive alcoholic, who makes a brief appearance, but his story arc is not resolved either; there is a threat of mental institution which is for Essie is akin to a prison which she would never leave.

Essie is lonely, she doesn’t have any friends. She lives with her aunt and her grandmother - who seems to be suffering from the same “curse” - but her life is very restricted and regulated. We are not talking about a cute Luna Lovegood or Alice in Wonderland type of dreaminess or fantasies. Whatever Essie is suffering from is brutal and painful.

There is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness. It is essential to have open and honest conversations about it. I am sad to say that nothing in “Keeper of the Bees” was conducive to that. I understand that “the curse” was part of the plot. There was a reason for it. However, reading about Essie suffering from something that was not her fault and be shunned and mistreated by figures of authority that were supposed to be helping her was really discouraging. It might make readers who suffer from similar illnesses feel as if nobody would ever believe them or that their condition can’t be improved or that medical professionals are evil and not to be trusted. This is how I read that plot, and I was very disappointed.

Some of the descriptions are so vivid that they might be triggering for some people too.

Somehow, my favourite character in “Keeper of the Bees” turned out to be Michael, a harbinger. He befriended Dresden, in spite of Dresden’s aloofness, and their friendship dynamic was interesting to read. (I secretly shipped them together, but, you know, this is not that type of a romance book. Alas.)

Speaking of representation: there was basically none in this book, which was disappointing. Except for one short sentence that was thrown in as a bone to appease readers like me, there was no hope for any LGBT+ rep.

(Side note: if the third book in the series is going to be about “Stitches” - can we make him gay, please?)

I have mixed feelings about “Keeper of the Bees”. I liked certain things and certain things I did not. However, it is entirely possible to enjoy a book, even when you find some part of the plot to be problematic, as long as you acknowledge the fact and start a conversation.

If you are a fan of YA paranormal books and are not triggered by aforementioned mental illness and depictions of hallucinations, check this book out.

Regardless of my opinion on the book, I am grateful to Entangled Teen for giving me an opportunity to read and review it.

Rating: 2.5 stars

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Book review: “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology

 

I have mentioned it more than once in my blogs that I have a love/hate relationship with Neil Gaiman’s works. There are some that I absolutely love, and there are some that I do not like at all. I can’t think of any other writer that would evoke such different emotions in me, as a reader. I do love the fact that Neil is such a versatile writer that he writes across genres and across ages. I read his fiction novels for adults and kids, graphic novels and picture books.

And then came “Norse Mythology”. I was seeing “Norse Mythology” everywhere and kept thinking that it would be a cool book to read, however, I couldn’t justify paying the full price for it, so I got a copy from my library.

Synopsis

 

Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

Review

 

I had a course in mythology as part of my Bachelor degree, and I studied ancient Greek, Roman and, of course, Norse mythology. Naturally, I forgot many things, since it’s been years, and I always wanted to re-read those myths but never had an opportunity. It came in the form of the book by Neil Gaiman.

It is hard to review something that Neil was merely re-writing plot-wise, but his writing style is undeniable in the book. There is a lyrical flow of words and some dry humour mixed into it. The myths are split into stories or chapters, if you will, and go from the very beginning - the world creation - to the end.

If you have never read Norse myths before, but you love Marvel movies about Thor and Loki, you might be in for a surprise. Thor is less noble, Odin is more cruel, Loki is more frustrating (if it is even possible), and there is so much violence and gore, you might think those myths should have been made into horror movies.

Naturally, there is very little of actual Norse mythology in Marvel movies. But if you are interested in learning about it, Neil’s book is a perfect choice. “Norse Mythology” is not dry and lecturing, but a magical, easy read. Or as easy as a book can be if we have gods and giants killing each other on every other page. But you know - it is old mythology!

I thoroughly enjoyed “Norse Mythology”. It was nice to be immersed into the world of Asgard once again. It was a well-written book, however, since it is somewhat fictional and somewhat mythology, I liked it but did not love it. It has a gorgeous cover, though, both in hardback and paperback.

Nevertheless, I do recommend “Norse Mythology” to all myths and Neil Gaiman fans.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Book review: “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” edited by Saundra Mitchell

All Out: an anthology

I came across “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” - which I will be calling “All Out” in my review for the sake of simplicity - at the beginning of this year. It is a collection of short stories by an ensemble of young adult authors. All of the stories have queer teen characters, as it is evident in the title, and the stories themselves vary in genres and settings.

Synopsis

Take a journey through time and genres and discover a past where queer figures live, love and shape the world around them. Seventeen of the best young adult authors across the queer spectrum have come together to create a collection of beautifully written diverse historical fiction for teens.

From a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in war-torn 1870s Mexico featuring a transgender soldier, to two girls falling in love while mourning the death of Kurt Cobain, forbidden love in a sixteenth-century Spanish convent or an asexual girl discovering her identity amid the 1970s roller-disco scene, All Out tells a diverse range of stories across cultures, time periods and identities, shedding light on an area of history often ignored or forgotten.

Review

I was extremely excited to get my hands on “All Out”. I admit that I was hesitant to buy my own copy, although I was tempted to, as the book was proudly (pun intended) displayed as a Pride Month pick at Indigo stores. I was cautious, as I had not read the books by all of the authors, so I was not sure if I am going to enjoy all of the stories.

As I expected I enjoyed some stories more and some stories less, so I will go through the list with my ratings for each one of them.

“Roja” by Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: It seems like there is going to be a full novel, “Blanca & Roja”, about the same characters, and I am very excited! It is coming out in October!

“The Sweet Trade” by Natalie C. Parker

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: We have a girl who wants to sail away and another one who runs away as well. Not sure the ending worked plus I was not really feeling the characters. It was my first time reading anything by this author and I was slightly disappointed. (I read “Seafire” after I read "All Out".)

“And They Don’t Kiss At The End” by Nilah Magruder

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: Excellent writing and description of asexuality. I enjoyed it, but the skating rink and contemporary YA feel are just not my thing.

“Burnt Umber” by Mackenzi Lee

Rating: 5 stars
Notes: Loved every bit of this story. Excellent descriptions and characterizations. A painter’s studio in Amsterdam was an unusual setting. It was my first time reading a story by this author, and I can not wait to read more of her books!

“The Dresser & The Chambermaid” by Robin Talley

Rating: 2 stars
Notes: I did not like anything about this story. I couldn’t get behind the characters and their actions. Everything seemed a bit too exaggerated and boring.

“New Year” by Malinda Lo

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: I liked the background of the story and Chinese New Year traditions and the discussions of immigrants life but I am not a huge fan of Malinda’s writing style, and there wasn’t much of a plot either.

“Molly’s Lips” by Dahlia Adler

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: Once again, I am not a fan of contemporary YA, however, all of the grange music and Kurt Cobain references were on point, so this story is getting an extra star for that.

“The Coven” by Kate Scelsa

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: I expected this story to be more engaging than it was. It was confusing at times, and not much was happening. It was okay.

“Every Shade of Red” by Elliot Wake

Rating: 5 stars
Notes: A transgender Robin Hood retelling? Holy crap! Yes! Give me a whole book like that!! Excellent writing and now I am dying for the author to write more! (I know that there are books by this author written several years ago under a different name, but they are not exactly what I would read as they are NA romance novels.)

“Willows” by Scott Tracey

Rating: 5 stars
Notes: I loved the dreamy quality of the writing style. The ending was intense! Now, I want a sequel! It was my first time reading a story by this author, and I can not wait to read more of his books!

“The Girl With The Blue Lantern” by Tess Sharpe

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: I liked the premise of the story, and it was relatively well written, but there was not much of a plot, to be honest.

“The Secret Life of A Teenage Boy” by Alex Sanchez

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: I was not entirely on board with the plot of this story. But I liked the descriptions and how well developed all characters were. Will be definitely reading more by this author!

“Walking After Midnight” by Kody Keplinger

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: It was a bit too Hollywood like and sugary for me, but the descriptions were well done. I was just not a fan of either characters or plot.

“The End of The World As We Know It” by Sara Farizan

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: I am not a fan of contemporaries or love stories set on New Year’s Eve, but I loved the references to historical events (e.g., the mention of the mass shooting) and I think more stories should talk about such things.

“Three Witches” by Tessa Gratton

Rating: 3 stars
Notes: I liked the setting of the story, but I did not like the characters, and the only thing that worked for me was the ending. The rest was just dull.

“The Inferno & The Butterfly” by Shaun David Hutchinson

Rating: 5 stars
Notes: A story about two apprentices serving two rivalling magicians was adorable. I loved the plot and the characters, and I wanted more! It was the first story by this author that I read, and I can’t wait to check out his books!

“Healing Rosa” by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Rating: 4 stars
Notes: I liked the writing style in this story, although there was not much of a plot, to be honest.

Even though I was not in love with all of the stories in “All Out”, I enjoyed most of them, and some of them were so good that I can not wait to get my hands on those authors’ books! I consider it to be time very well spent. I am not sure I would want to re-read any of the stories (except for, maybe, stories by Mackenzie Lee and Elliot Wake). Therefore I am giving this book only 4 stars.

I wish we had more anthologies like "All Out", as it is an excellent opportunity to give LGBTQ+ authors more exposure and for readers to discover new favourites.

Overall rating: 4 stars

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Book review: “City of Ghosts” by Victoria Schwab

City of Ghosts

One of my main goals for BookCon 2018 was to meet one of my all-time favourite authors, Victoria Schwab. Sadly, I missed out on the opportunity to get my copy of new US Vicious signed by Victoria, but after standing in the line for an hour on the second day of the convention - I got an advanced reader’s copy of “City of Ghosts”. I was over the moon!

As a matter of fact, I have several vlogs on my YT channel from the BookCon this year.

I wanted to start “City of Ghosts” as soon as possible but didn’t want to rush into it either. So, I decided to pick City of Ghosts” for #ARCAugust challenge.

Synopsis

Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspectres, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspectres head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.

Review

I could not wait to read “City of Ghosts”! I was very excited! I was, however, trying to be very mindful of the fact that not only I am reading an ARC, but it is also middle grade, so I can’t expect the same depth of world building and character development from “City of Ghost” as from some other Victoria’s books.

I was right. “City of Ghosts” is precisely what Victoria multiple times said, it was. It is the book that she wrote for her 12-year-old self. It is spooky and wonderful, and I kept thinking of Cassidy as Victoria in that age. It is a lovingly crafted narration set in Edinburgh, which is a special city for Victoria, and her current place of residence.

“City of Ghosts” is a fun read full of adorable characters and unexpected adventures. I adored this book. However, no matter how much it pains me to say this about Victoria’s work - this is not the best story she has written.

In her Instagram Stories, Victoria said that she saw some early readers complain that “City of Ghosts” is too simple or the plot is not layered enough, and she explained saying that middle-grade books do not have the same complexity as young adult or adult books because they simply can’t be. That is the whole point of the genre. I wholeheartedly agree.

I felt that “City of Ghosts” was written perfectly aligned with the target audience. It has just the right combination of fun and thrill that is so attractive to the younger audience. I did, however, expect more originality of the plot than there was. Even the title surprised me, as there are dozens of novels with the same title out there.

“City of Ghosts” has haunted places, travelling beyond the Veil and ghost friends. While reading this novel, I kept having a deja vu feeling. Some of the elements reminded me of Fantastic Five by Enid Blyton, some of Susan Cooper’s books (perhaps, due to the setting). Which resulted in me lowering the overall rating of the book.

The writing in the novel is excellent and very typical of Victoria’s style, even though the ARC I got started “uncorrected proof” on the cover. I was impressed by the lack of obvious mistakes. I did pre-order the final copy and received it the day after I finished the book. I am tempted to re-read it again. “City of Ghosts” is supposed to be a duology, so I can not wait to see what other adventure Cassidy and Jacob would get sucked into next.

Rating: 3.5

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Book review: “Seafire” (Seafire #1) by Natalie C. Parker

Seafire

I heard of “Seafire” months ago, and the plot of a new Young Adult fantasy book with all female pirates appealed to me greatly. I was dying to get my hands on it early and jumped on the opportunity to ask the publisher for the ARC. (Meaning, I begged. More than once.) I was so excited to receive it in the mail from Penguin Random House Canada and immediately put it on my ARC August TBR.

Synopsis

After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, whose lives have been turned upside down by Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric's armed and armoured fleet.

But when Caledonia's best friend and second-in-command just barely survives an attack thanks to the help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether or not to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all…or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?

Review

Before I got to “Seafire”, I read a short story “The Sweet Trade” by Natalie C. Parker in the anthology “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” (edited by Saundra Mitchell). It did not click in my head immediately that I was reading the story by the same author, whose book I was anticipating so much (yes, I am that bad with names), but once I did, I felt a surge of uneasy. Because “The Sweet Trade” was not one of my favourite stories. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t even be able to recall its plot now.

That did not make me very happy. I am a demanding reader, and I expect short fiction to be of the same quality as novels.

Nevertheless, I started “Seafire”.

Oh well.

Let me start by saying that I liked the world and the idea behind the book and ultimately gave the book 3.5 stars, which is not a bad rating. But I was very underwhelmed.

My biggest problem with “Seafire” came from the prologue. The prologue should not have been written. It gave us the background to the novel, explained why the characters were who they were, etc. The whole prologue was just a huge chunk of exposition. Instead, it would have been better to weave in that information into the plot through flashbacks - even that device would have been better. The readers would have been left to guess why Caledonia Styx was the way she was and why she hated Bullets so much.

Instead, everything was laid out in front of us in the prologue. More so, Caledonia is not that young in the prologue to make a mistake that big. If someone kept telling you all your life that those people were not to be trusted, would you have trusted one of them after five minutes of meeting them?

I don’t think so.

The prologue of “Seafire” annoyed me so much, I was getting stressed, thinking that the book would be like that as well. Thankfully it was not.

I do not think that Pisces would have been as trusting as we were led to believe in the book. Her insistence to trust someone who saved her life was valid but a bit too exaggerated. I even was confused by the timeline between she was off the ship and then back on it as it felt as if it was minutes but obviously could not have been. That was a weird timeline.

Certain parts of the book are really well developed. For example, everything that has to do with the navigation and running the ship was described in much detail and fabulous to read. There were certain things though, like running water in showers on board of the ship that seemed a bit too out of place, when everything else was just bunk beds and wooden furniture. (Well, I get that the author wanted to keep her girls clean, but it stuck out to me.)

The world building was intriguing, but very few things were explained. I went into the book thinking that it was a piracy age book, a colonist era, so to say. But there were mentions of the old world, and some of the technology was apparently inherited from a different time period, so the book should be classified as more of a dystopian adventure book, rather than fantasy. There were no fantasy elements in it, no magic, no supernatural abilities. Can’t say I was too let down by the lack of those, but “Seafire” turned out to be not what I had expected.

My second pet peeve with the book - besides the unfortunate prologue - was the love plotline. “Seafire” is full of teen girls, who live and fight side by side. Some of the same sex relationships were implied, but almost nothing stated outright. I was entirely sure that Caledonia was in love with her best friend and was in the relationship with her until another person came into the picture. The way the author kept throwing Caledonia together with another person felt as if she was trying to create a love triangle on purpose. But since nothing that Caledonia did or said reflected her true feelings - except for her eternal guilt for what had happened - it was really frustrating.

Do not get me wrong - I did like other characters and other pairings, but I assumed that the book written by a queer author would have more queer relationships in it. Big, visible, spelt out relationships, and not just a hint here or there. I think there was only one same-sex kiss in the book, but even that was not between lovers. I know that it can be argued that “Seafire” is not about sexuality or coming out - and I agree with that and would love to have any book in any genre with characters who just naturally happen to be in love, regardless of gender or sexuality, and not a coming of age story in a contemporary setting - but when you have the plot where all prerequisites of it exist, but the book still goes like “Nah, they are just BFFs who have been through a lot”, that is a tad upsetting.

I do want to stress that I adored the concept of “Seafire”, and all the action in the book. I was there for epic sea battles, and we got them. I did have some problems with the execution, but the way the book left off, I am very excited about the sequel. I want more books like “Seafire”. I am just sad that it did not fully live up to my expectations.

Overall, “Seafire” was a fun read, and I am very grateful to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an ARC.

“Seafire” is coming out on August 28, 2018.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Book review: "Legendary" (Caraval #2) by Stephanie Garber (audiobook)

Legendary

If you read my review of “Caraval” last year, you probably can guess that I had a lot of reservations about “Legendary”. I felt let down by “Caraval” so much that I even considered not picking up the sequel. But since I am a glutton for punishment, I did request a physical copy of “Legendary” from the library. I must say, Stephanie Garber’s books have stunning covers, both US and UK editions.

I thought that I could get through “Legendary” but quickly realized that I didn’t care much to read the physical copy and got myself an audiobook instead.

Synopsis

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister's. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval...the games have only just begun.

Review

Whatever I said about the writing and plot holes in “Caraval”, sadly, still applies for “Legendary”. The characters seem to be two-dimensional, flat, their traits exaggerated beyond measure. The writing only follows the same route: the book is full of beautiful but completely useless in their abundance similes and metaphors like, “and her dress was made out of blue silk and midnight stars” (not an exact quote, but you get the meaning). It would have felt more magical and profound if not for the complete lack of world building and character development. Using pretty words won’t help the lack of plot.

“Caraval” was told from Scarlet's point of view. Her main objective in the first book was to find her missing sister Donatella. She does find her, but the ending has a twist that left a sour taste in my mouth. I felt that Donatella had betrayed her sister, and there was nothing that could redeem her in my eyes, even though Scarlet, naturally, forgives her sister. (I had a problem with it also because Scarlet should have had PTSD after everything that happened, but her feelings and mental state after events in “Caraval” were not addressed.)

Donatella was portrayed as spoiled, uncontrollable, impulsive, and greedy. Yes, Scarlet still loved her and forgave her, but that was how Donatella was depicted in the book. And I hated her.

In “Legendary” though, Donatella is portrayed as impulsive, yes, but also very determined to save and protect her sister in any way possible. Her character voice in the second book changed so much that I couldn’t believe my eyes. Donatella is fierce and unbending but also very gullible, which really goes against her character who reminds us again and again that “she does not kiss the same boys twice”. I found that annoying as her character seemed to be inconsistent with what she was in the first book - at least, this is how it felt to me.

Throughout “Legendary”, Donatella is being almost thrown at one of the villains of the story by the author. She constantly says that she should not trust him and that she is disgusted by what he did, etc., but she is still attracted to him. I found that too unrealistic, as that character went beyond the mere trope of “a bad boy”. He was written as a real villain, who would even force himself on Donatella (there were at least one or two kisses that she did not consent for), and somehow she also found that exciting. I think that Stephanie Garber was trying very hard to create some sort of a love triangle, but it felt forced and unattractive to me.

The author tried to include some red herrings in the narrative, but it was done in such a blunt way that it was just ridiculous. For almost two-thirds of the book, Donatella kept saying that she couldn't believe that THIS could be true. And lo and behold, it turns out to be true. What a twist!

The only thing that “Legendary” made me happy about was Dante. I love his character, and we get to see more of him in this book, which was exciting. My favourite moment in the book was: “And, oh glory, he was shirtless. So very shirtless.”

(I keep hoping to see at least some LGBTQ+ representation in Caraval trilogy, but alas. My headcanon is that Dante is bisexual or polysexual - that would have been very cool.)

Scarlet was barely present in the book, and the way Donatella sees her is also skewed, in my opinion, from what she truly is as a character. At some point, Donatella even starts to doubt her sister. And, once again, big surprise - she shouldn’t have!

I think that overall Stephanie’s writing did improve from book one. “Legendary” is heavy on romance and not so heavy on fantasy and magic, which is a big let down once again. I love Rebecca’s narration - it was the only thing to keep me from giving up on his book. I will most probably pick up the last book in the trilogy in audio as well. I have no idea where the plot would go in book 3, as there is barely any plot, to begin with. I guess we need to get our happy ending for everyone so there will be more romance. Oh boy.

Plot: 2.5 stars
Narration: 4 stars
Overall rating: 3.25 stars

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Book review: "The Saturday Night Ghost Club" by Craig Davidson

The Saturday Night Ghost Club  

I requested “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” for review from Penguin Random House Canada. I never read anything by this author, and I was interested in exploring more of Canadian literature.

Synopsis

 

When neurosurgeon Jake Breaker operates, he knows he's handling more than a patient's delicate brain tissue--he's altering their seat of consciousness, their golden vault of memory. And memory, Jake knows well, can be a tricky thing.

When growing up in 1980s Niagara Falls, a.k.a. Cataract City--a seedy but magical, slightly haunted place--one of Jake's closest confidantes was his uncle Calvin, a sweet but eccentric misfit enamored of occult artefacts and outlandish conspiracy theories. The summer Jake turned twelve, Calvin invited him to join the "Saturday Night Ghost Club"--a seemingly light-hearted project to investigate some of Cataract City's more macabre urban myths. Over the course of that life-altering summer, Jake not only fell in love and began to imagine his future, he slowly, painfully came to realize that his uncle's preoccupation with chilling legends sprang from something buried so deep in his past that Calvin himself was unaware of it.

Review

 

I rarely pick up books the moment I receive them, but something about “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” pulled me to it. I went into the book almost blind, knowing only that it was set in the 80s, in Niagara Falls Ontario, and that the author was Canadian.

I remember reading the first page of “The Saturday Night Ghost Club”, and then another one, and another one. Twenty pages into the book and I already knew that I was going to love it. Fifty pages in - I knew that I was going to give this book a high rating. Halfway into the book - I was requesting more books by Craig Davidson from the library.

“The Saturday Night Ghost Club” is a literary novel, but it blends scientific facts with memoir like reminiscences of the main protagonist’s, Jake, in such an effortless way, that at times, I had to remind myself that there is no real neurosurgeon by the name of Jake Breaker working at St. Michael’s Hospital, right across the street from me.

Craig Davidson’s writing feels effortless, lightweight, even when he talks about haunting memories, prescription pills, and brain tumours. “The Saturday Night Ghost Club”, however, is not all about science. It is, in fact, a heartfelt and nostalgic recounter of childhood memories. Jake, the neurosurgeon, exists in the periphery of the book, popping in only to make a reference to something that would make sense only at the very end of the book. Most of the time, it is Jake, the twelve-year-old boy, who is the main protagonist of the story.

Even though I love literary fiction, I often struggle with contemporary or historical fiction, when I feel that I have no connection with places or events. With “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” I had no problems fully emerging myself into the story. Every location and every memory felt tangible, covered in cobwebs and dust, but still vivid.

I loved everything about the story and the plot. I did, however, guess where it was heading when I was about one third into the book, but it did not diminish the pleasure of reading it. There is something to be said about small towns that manage to both to make you nostalgic and send a chill down your spine. There were, definitely, moments in “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” when I felt disturbed by the turn of events, but mostly it was a rather fun read.

I can’t say whom I liked more in “The Saturday Night Ghost Club”. I loved Jack; I liked his friend Billy, his sister Dove; I liked his uncle Cal. I even liked that video store owner Lex. I did not like him at first, but later he grew on me. There are a lot of relationships in this book that seem easy at the first glimpse, but as the plot develops, you learn that everyone carries secrets, sometimes not even their own.

The ending of “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” was exactly like I expected it to be: heartfelt, bittersweet, and very real. I wish it could have been less real so that I could pretend that it is a happy ending. In a way, it was a happy ending. But at the same time, it was not. What made it so heartbreaking for me was not even what actually happened, but how everyone came together to deal with it.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” is a masterfully crafted novel with enough twists and thrown in scientific facts about brains to keep you on your toes till the very last page. I can not wait to read more works by Craig Davidson. “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” is going to be one of my favourite reads of 2018.

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

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Blog: ARC August TBR

ARC August Guess what I am doing in August? ?

A book blogger friend at Read.Sleep.Repeat is hosting an annual ARC August challenge, and I decided to participate! This means that in the month of August I have to try and read as many ARCs as I can. It is a great way to tackle some of those books that have been sitting on my shelf.

There will be a readathon on August 4-5, which I doubt I would be able to participate in since I will be in NYC, but I will try. There is also going to be a bookish bingo, that I am very excited about! And the best part - you can potentially win some bookish prizes!! ?

Use hashtag #ARCAugust on social media to track your progress and see how others are doing. (You can follow me @foxcloudsblog on Twitter and Instagram.)

Now, onto my ARC August TBR.

My main goal is to read a bunch of eARCs that I have sitting on my Kindle - and I have a lot of them. Some of them have been waiting to be read for months. (It is making me rather anxious.) But of course, I have physical ARCs on my TBR too.

My top priorities are "City of Ghosts" by Victoria Schwab, "The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein" by Kiersten White, and "Seafire" by Natalie C. Parker. The rest I will read if I have time. (I hope I will as I am very excited about all of these!)

*"The Unbinding of Mary Reade" is actually not an ARC. This is the final copy from the library, but I was sent an eARC of this book, I just didn't read it on time in June. ?

ARC August TBR

Aren't they all wonderful books? ?? Can't wait to start ARC August!

I will have an ARC August TBR video on my channel next week.

Cheers!

N.

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Book review: Everless (Everless #1) by Sara Holland

Everless  

This year has been rather generous on new young adult fantasy series. One of the early 2018 debut novels is Everless by Sara Holland. I saw this book pop up a lot on BookTube, which, naturally, attracted me to it. Everless came out in January, but I only finished it in summer, even though it was readily available at my library.

 

Synopsis

 

In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

 

Review

 

I read the first hundred pages or so of Everless almost in one go and then got stuck. The beginning was engaging and well written, however very quickly the book fell into the pit of tropes and cliches.

We have a female protagonist, Jules, who is repeatedly told not to go to the Gerlings’ estate by her father, but, naturally, it is the only way to help her father, and Jules goes against his wishes. Of course, there is more to the story: half-forgotten memories and old friendships. There is a crush that happens unexpectedly for Jules - but can be seen a mile away by the reader. There is an obvious love triangle, which includes a naive but well-wishing girl, a good boy, and an archetypical bad boy.

For some reason, the very beginning of Everless reminded me Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Perhaps, it was the idea of a girl with unknown powers going to the very place she should avoid at all costs and working as a servant. Even a love triangle was similar. But, naturally, the plot was different.

You can imagine that with that type of a setting, I was rolling my eyes a lot. But I have little patience for cliches. I must say, however, that for a debut novel Sara Holland did an excellent job with creating the world and her writing style is light enough that the book flows well. It is an easy read which helped me finish it eventually.

The magic system of this world, which is connected directly to the society and economic structure, is what makes Everless stand out from other young adult fantasy novels. I liked the idea of blood being tied directly to years of life that could be turned into a coin and used to pay for things. It is a fascinating concept. Unfortunately, everything else in Everless was cliched.

I guess about the betrayal long before it happened. I knew who would turn out to be a villain. I did enjoy the experience of reading this book, though, so I plan on continuing with the series. My favourite part was when Jules explored an abandoned town and the scene with the Queen.

I think that overall for me Everless was more about the world building than characters or plot. I want to see more of that world developed and explored. I feel that the author has the potential of making this story much better. Everless may not be the book I would want to own, but I am looking forward to the sequel.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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Book review: The Swan Riders by Erin Bow (audiobook)

The Swan Riders  

This review might contain spoilers as it is book 2 in the duology.

I listened to the first book in the series, The Scorpion Rules, in audio and intended to pick up The Swan Riders in audio format too. The first book dragged a lot in the beginning, and I briefly considered reading the sequel in paper as I felt I could skip over boring parts. I checked out The Swan Riders from the library. I tried reading it but it was even less exciting, so I switched back to an audiobook.

I had a lot of reservations before starting The Swan Riders, but I wanted to finish the story, so I persevered.

Synopsis

 

Greta Stuart had always known her future: die young. She was her country's crown princess, and also its hostage, destined to be the first casualty in an inevitable war. But when the war came it broke all the rules, and Greta forged a different path.

She is no longer princess. No longer hostage. No longer human. Greta Stuart has become an AI.

If she can survive the transition, Greta will earn a place alongside Talis, the AI who rules the world. Talis is a big believer in peace through superior firepower. But some problems are too personal to obliterate from orbit, and for those there are the Swan Riders: a small band of humans who serve the AIs as part army, part cult.

Now two of the Swan Riders are escorting Talis and Greta across post-apocalyptic Saskatchewan. But Greta’s fate has stirred her nation into open rebellion, and the dry grassland may hide insurgents who want to rescue her – or see her killed. Including Elian, the boy she saved—the boy who wants to change the world, with a knife if necessary. Even the infinitely loyal Swan Riders may not be everything they seem.

Greta’s fate—and the fate of her world—are balanced on the edge of a knife in this smart, sly, electrifying adventure.

Review

 

I knew what I was getting into when I picked up The Swan Riders. I knew that I would once again have issues with narration (the narrator is Madeleine Maby and I did not like the way she chose to voice the characters) and the plot, and even though I was not too much invested into Greta’s fate, I was curious enough to give it a go.

Talis (or Michael) remained my favourite over the course of the books. I think his character is multifaceted and goes through the most development. It was good to see Elian too, but this book is more about the swan riders and Talis than it is even about Greta. I liked the glimpses into the lives of swan riders and their struggles. I did find that a lot of things about the plot and the world were still convoluted and not explained adequately.

Whatever LGBTQ+ representation we had in the first book diminished even more in The Swan Riders. My hopes were crushed. Greta chose Elian over and over again, even though she kept remembering her best friend and lover, Xia, with a lot of longing.

I had an impression that The Swan Riders was more fast-paced than The Scorpion Rules, but all the issues that I had with glossing over the plot holes with existential statements about love and life remained the same. I was used to it by then, but I kept rolling my eyes, thinking that if I had to summarize the book, it would sound less grand and apocalyptic than the official blurb made it seem.

The book finishes in the way that it can potentially have a sequel. I do not know if it should though. I am curious about the fates of my favourite characters, but I am okay with this being just a duology. I think the idea behind the books was more appealing to me than the actual final product.

A shame.

Just like The Scorpion Rules paperback, The Swan Riders has a gorgeous cover. I am saddened that I didn’t like the books enough to keep them on my shelf.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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Book review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (audiobook)

The Hazel Wood  

This review might contain spoilers.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is the first book in the new, young adult, fantasy trilogy. The moment I heard about this book, it became one of my most anticipated releases of 2018. I ordered my first Owlcrate subscription box and received an exclusive cover edition of The Hazel Wood. I was so happy!

Months later, my excitement abated a bit, but I still wanted to read the book. When I found out that Rebecca Soler narrates the audiobook version, I immediately ordered it from Audible.

Synopsis

 

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Review

 

I have mixed feelings about The Hazel Wood. First of all, Rebecca’s narration is fabulous, and whatever misgivings I have about the book, they have nothing to do with the narrator.

For some reason, I expected The Hazel Wood to be like “The Darkest Part of the Forest” by Holly Black (which is one of my most favourite YA fantasy novels - I am still not over the fact that it is a stand-alone). But it is different, although, at times, especially moments about the forests and Hinterland dwellers coming through to the real world did remind me of Holly Black writing. Alice, the main protagonist, sometimes reminded me of Kate from This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab - she is a straightforward and unapologetic girl with anger management issues.

And that is the problem with The Hazel Wood - it reminded me of other books I have already read. Not too much, but enough that I felt as if the story was not original enough. I loved the idea of travelling between worlds and the book with creepy fairy tales. That is definitely something that I enjoy in stories. More so, Melissa does an excellent job at developing the plot and characters and weaving in references here and there.

The main protagonist is Alice Proserpine - her first name, obviously, refers to Alice from Wonderland, and her last name - to Proserpine (or Persephone in Ancient Greece), the ancient Roman goddess, who was kidnapped by the god of Underworld. Thankfully, Alice from The Hazelwood had a better fate than that of Persephone.

There were other literary references, multiple mentions of Kurt Vonnegut, Harry Potter, and other classics.

Alice, her mother Ella (which is short for Vanilla, by the way), her grandmother Althea - all seem to have rather sonorous names creating almost alliteration. Even, Ellery (Finch) fits into the trend.

Alice is not a likeable character, and she is not supposed to be one. But seeing as the narrative is told from her perspective, it is hard to be completely detached from her personality. I neither liked nor disliked Alice. I felt that she was well developed, but failed to make me care about her as a character. Same about the plot. The Hazel Wood failed to make me care.

The only character whom I liked was Finch. I did not like him from the very beginning, but I liked him later, for his determination and excitement about the Althea Proserpine’s book and Hinterland. He was also very sweet to Alice, and even though later we learned about some of his ulterior motives, it still does not cancel out the fact that he did a lot for her.

And she was a shitty friend in return.

Sadly, Finch’s fate turned out to be a sad one, and seeing as he was the only character of colour in the book, his mistreatment by the plot does not sit well with me. I thought about it a lot. It is possible to argue that Finch got exactly what he wanted (I can’t really say more for fear of spoiling it all), but I just don’t like the way it was delivered in the book.

There was a reference to the police mistreatment of people of colour in the book. And there was at least one canon same-sex couple. I must give it to Melissa, she did try to cross her Ts to make the book diverse and appealing to all readers, but I still found that the book was lacking in this regard as well.

I am torn. I can compare The Hazel Wood to a slightly warped mirror reflection - everything seems to be in place, but at the same something is off. I wish I loved this book, but I didn’t. I liked the wrapper but not the filling.

I still plan to continue with the series - although the ending of The Hazel Wood wrapped up so nicely, I am surprised it is not a stand-alone - I hope that since it was a debut novel, the sequel will be better.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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I created a mood board inspired by The Hazel Wood, as it is a very atmospheric book. I made two versions - one with black and another with biracial Finch. (Since the book didn’t specify and I loved both images that I found.)

Version #1

The Hazel Wood mood board 1

 

Version #2

 

The Hazel Wood mood board 2

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Book review: "The Poet X" by Elizabeth Acevedo (audiobook)

The Poet X  

I heard of "The Poet X" on social media but didn’t think I would be interested in reading it. After devouring “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds, I felt that no other young adult contemporary poetry book would beat that. Unfamiliar with slam poetry, I assumed that it would be too out of my comfort zone, but when I accidentally came across the audiobook on my OverDrive, I decided to give it ago.

Synopsis

 

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

 

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighbourhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

 

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

 

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

 

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

 

Review

 

To understand the impact this book had on me, you have to know two things: one - Elizabeth Acevedo is a slam poet and narrates the book herself; two - she is a daughter of Dominican immigrants, and the "The Poet X" reads in many ways as a memoir. If I were presented with this book as a completely fictitious narrative, it wouldn’t have swept me off my feet the way "The Poet X" did. Elizabeth narrates it in the way her protagonist is - blunt, emotional, unapologetic, fierce.

 

Brought up in a conservative family, with the mother who speaks to God more than she talks to her own daughter, and the father, who is more absent than present, Xiomara is left to tend to herself as she struggles with her blooming emotions. She is not allowed to even talk to boys. She is not allowed to speak up. She is not allowed to doubt things that she was taught. But Xiomara does all of those things, and her journey is an emotional rollercoaster.

 

There are so many reasons to love this book: it is written by a female poet of colour; its plot would appeal to any teen reader; there is first love, and heartbreak, and parents being cruel when trying to be kind. But my favourite thing was Elizabeth’s voice. Low and husky, it felt so tangible that it felt as if "The Poet X" was being told only to me and nobody else. It was a secret that I was made privy to.

 

Listening to the audiobook, I could see Xiomara in front of my eyes, scribbling fearlessly, relentlessly, in her notebook - a line after a line, a poem after a poem. I flew through this audiobook, my heart in my throat, as I desperately hoped for a happy ending for Xiomara. Few YA contemporary books make me anxious about character’s future. With "The Poet X", I wanted - no, needed - a happy ending. Too many things could go wrong, and I wished for this book to prove me wrong.

 

And it did.

 

Even though I immensely enjoyed "The Poet X", I struggled with the rating. The book is positioned as both a novel and a poetry collection, which you would not know unless you pick up a physical book. Each chapter is indeed formatted as a poem and even has a title. But listening to an audiobook felt as if it was a prose narrative through and through, except for in certain moments the author changed the tone and rhythm of her narration. I am not too familiar with slam poetry, but I have been to spoken poetry readings, and I love prose poetry, so I am a bit on the fence with this book. For me, it was mostly the prose with just a hint of poetry at times, and I wish we had gotten more rhythm, intonation and voice inflexion. All of those were present in "The Poet X" but not as much as I would have preferred given the format of the book. I wanted more of it all.

 

The plot and the characters are excellent, as well as the audiobook narration, but the formatting of the book seemed not to fit the idea behind it. I still loved everything about the book, but if I were a bookseller, I would be confused with whether to categorise it as a poetry collection or contemporary young adult.

 

If you have an option of choosing between a physical copy and an audiobook - go with the audio. Elizabeth is a professional slam poet and knows how to read her book.

 

My heart got squeezed so many times while I was listening to "The Poet X". It is a fabulous read, and I wish more people would be talking about it.

 

Highly recommend.

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

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Book review: "The Scorpion Rules" (Prisoners of Peace #1) by Erin Bow

The Scorpion Rules  

 

I purchased “The Scorpion Rules” back in a day when it came out in this gorgeous paperback. I saw this book mentioned again and again in YA LGBTQ+ recommendations and was excited to read it. But as it often happens with impulse purchases, I didn’t pick up the book until much later.

 

I was quite in the mood for a YA Sci-Fi audiobook after listening to Nyxia, and while browsing Overdrive library, I saw that “The Scorpion Rules” was immediately available.

I downloaded it to my iPhone and started listening to it right away. I had only a vague recollection of the plot of “The Scorpion Rules” from the back of the book. I knew that the book had diverse characters, was generally considered to be sci-fi, and was somehow related to Canada. For the sake of accurate spelling of names, I am providing the official synopsis below.

 

Synopsis

 

A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages. The Children of Peace - sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals - are raised together in small, isolated schools called Prefectures. There, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.

 

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of the North American Prefecture. Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace — even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water — she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.

 

Enter Elián Palnik, the Prefecture’s newest hostage and biggest problem. Greta’s world begins to tilt the moment she sees Elián dragged into the school in chains. The Prefecture’s insidious surveillance, its small punishments and rewards, can make no dent in Elián, who is not interested in dignity and tradition, and doesn’t even accept the right of the UN to keep hostages.

 

What will happen to Elián and Greta as their two nations inch closer to war?

 

Review

 

I listened to “The Scorpion Rules” for about 10 minutes, paused and went online to look up the narrator. The audiobook is narrated by Madeleine Maby, who, judging by her website and extensive Audible presence, is a rather experienced voice actor. I was not impressed though at all. Madeleine gives all characters distinctive voices, but her intonation is clipped and artificial. (There were mentions of accents in the book, but it still didn’t make much sense to me.) I would have understood if she narrated for AI in that manner, but it was all of the characters in different variations. I found the narration for Greta the most annoying as she talked in the way that Siri or an artificial intelligence might, with odd stops between words and occasional uprise in intonation. Elian’s southern accent came and went, and seemed to be more prominent whenever there was a line in the book referring to it.

 

I was so not impressed by the narration, that I even considered switching to a paper book. However, I decided to stick to the audiobook as I wanted to listen to something during the commute or work breaks. Getting over the narration style was a bit difficult, but I somewhat got used to it by the end of the book.

 

Now, onto the plot. Sadly, I was somewhat disappointed by it too. I think “The Scorpion Rules” is more character driven than plot driven, which is usually fine by me, but not in this case. It took awhile for me to get into the plot. The first third of the book, I was bored and couldn’t figure out why things were the way they were. There is a lot of exposition in the book, which I do not like. We have even quotes and reciting from the AI that at times seemed a bit unfitting to the main narrative. I enjoyed the world but didn’t like the fact that I could barely make head or tail of local politics, not to mention rivalries and alliances between countries.

 

Regarding characters, I liked Michael the best, from the moment he made an appearance. Everything about him, his character, the circumstances of his arrival, the complications, etc. - I liked everything. But regardless of role in the plot of “The Scorpion Rules”, Greta and Elian were the main protagonists (which is confirmed in the synopsis), and I did have a lot of problems with both of them.

 

Greta seemed too plain to be anything special, and yet she was. She was too all over the place in her emotions and affections, and yet she was described as exceptional and strong. Elian seemed perpetually confused and rebellious, even when nothing was happening to warrant either. I could not understand Greta’s feelings towards Elian. She viewed him as someone who needs care and protection and at the same time - as someone dangerous.

 

There are a lot of descriptions in the text of what characters felt, lots of comparisons - the language flows most of the time quite wonderfully. However, I often felt that the lack of actual reasoning and plot holes were being hidden behind grand statements about life and sacrifice and characters’ feelings. We were often being told that something was happening just because it was happening. I would have been able to oversee it if there was more action, but too frequently it felt as if nothing was moving at all. And when something was happening, we were not really told why. At times, I could feel my mind drifting, as I was almost bored with the book. Perhaps, it is once again the fault of the narrator, who failed to make “The Scorpion Rules” sound engaging enough.

 

“The Scorpion Rules” disappointed me from the standpoint of LGBTQ+ representation too. The book is tagged and listed on GoodReads as having prominent LGBTQ+ characters, however, the only female/female relationship proved not to be strong enough to overcome the obstacles (add to that a cliched presence of a male protagonist - obviously), and the only male/male couple was not given any visibility until the tragic end. Yes, we get various sexualities in the book, and there is some sort of a gender swap, so to say, which can be viewed as gender dysphoria almost, but I am hesitant to say that it can be viewed as a representation for genderfluid or transgender people. Perhaps, it was not intended as either at all, and it was my wishful thinking trying to find more representation in the book.

 

The Children of Peace and Swan Riders come from various countries and therefore from different racial and cultural backgrounds. I liked that about “The Scorpion Rules”. In my opinion, the cultural representation was handled well.

 

Perhaps, if I approached “The Scorpion Rules” in physical format, I would have connected with the characters better. Unfortunately, I finished the audiobook feeling somewhat cheated. I didn’t get the representation I was looking for; the plot was murky; the characters - annoying, and the only thing that I liked about the novel - the world itself - was presented to us through obvious exposition, which often felt detached from the plot.

 

I like “The Scorpion Rules” much more as an idea for a book or a sales pitch, as opposed to the actual result. I can’t tell if it is the writing style that I have more problems with or the narration of the audiobook - or, maybe, both. “The Scorpion Rules”, as well as some other books by Erin Bow, received favourable reviews from multiple sources and was even listed in Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Books of 2015. I still decided to continue with the series, in spite of feeling disappointed by the first book.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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Book review: "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear" by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic  

Years ago, when Elizabeth Gilbert’s "Eat, Pray, Love" came out and everyone was obsessing over that book and then the movie, I, honestly, could not care less. I was far from being thirty-something, experiencing a mid-life crisis, or interested in a self-discovering journey across the world. More so, I was turned away by the title that sounded too "privileged, rich, devoted Christian, American" to me, when I was neither of those things.

I made assumptions about the author and her books and steered away from both.

Once “Big Magic” came out, it seemed as if it was everywhere: in stores, on people’s Instagram accounts, on recommendations lists. I was getting tired of being recommended the book by the author, who was so very much unlike me.

Finally, almost against my own will, I checked out a copy of “Big Magic” from the library. I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was all about. I won’t pretend that I didn’t ignore the book on my shelf for a few weeks until I finally picked it up.

Now let me be clear here. I am not a huge fan of non-fiction books - it is probably the only genre I would never voluntarily pick up to read. With “Big Magic”, I decided that I needed to read it if only to be able to tell people if asked, that I read it and hated it.

And then a strange thing happened.

I did not hate it. At all. The realization of that left me a bit stunned.

A decade ago, I was too young to sympathize with the author or the life hurdles she might have gone through at the time. Now, being same age as Elizabeth at the time of “Eat, Pray, Love” (which is referenced in “Big Magic” a lot), I found myself less opposed to the idea of reading about another woman’s journey and self-rediscovery.

“Big Magic” is both a self-help book and a memoir. It is a curious blend of things that Elizabeth discovered herself about her writing and creative process and the things she learned from others. Where I expected the book to be patronizing - it is written by the award-winning and bestselling author after all - it was very humble; where I expected it to be complicated, it was lighthearted in tone; where I thought I would hate it - I liked it enough to order my own copy.

I can’t call “Big Magic” revolutionary or eye-opening. It was, however, entertaining and inspiring in its way. I felt less alone, when I read about Elizabeth’s writing process, the ideas that come and go, and inspiration behind her books. How some of her works, however, do not do very well. How she also struggles with mental illnesses. How she had to make sacrifices in her life.

Suddenly, I could fully understand Elizabeth Gilbert, and it took me by surprise. It seems I had to grow up to appreciate her work.

I am looking forward to receiving my copy of “Big Magic” as I want to go through the book again and underline all of my favourite quotes. I picked up this book when I was not feeling well and needed some light reading, and it turned out that I needed to read “Big Magic”. I can’t claim that it pulled me out of my funk completely, but it certainly helped.

Even if you consider yourself to be the most uncreative person ever, I still recommend you read this book. If you hate memoirs - as I do - still read this book as it is not a dry recounting of past events but a lively and engaging story. If you scoff at self-help books - I will still suggest you give “Big Magic” a go, as this book is much better than many self-help books out there, especially if you consider yourself to at least somewhat creative.

I am very happy that I gave “Big Magic” a chance, even though it was initially for wrong reasons.

 

Rating: 3.5 stars

 

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