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: “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.

My book reviews

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 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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