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 Uncrossing" by Melissa Eastlake

The Uncrossing  

I received an e-ARC of "The Uncrossing" by Melissa Eastlake from Entangled Teen in exchange for a free and honest review.

 

The moment I saw this book available for request, I immediately hit ‘send’ button. Gay boys, curses, and magic? Hell yeah!

However, when I started reading the book, my excitement dampened.

Let’s start with the plot.

 

Synopsis

 

Luke can uncross almost any curse—they unravel themselves for him like no one else. So working for the Kovrovs, one of the families controlling all the magic in New York, is exciting and dangerous, especially when he encounters the first curse he can't break. And it involves Jeremy, the beloved, sheltered prince of the Kovrov family—the one boy he absolutely shouldn't be falling for.

 

Jeremy's been in love with cocky, talented Luke since they were kids. But from their first kiss, something's missing. Jeremy's family keeps generations of deadly secrets, forcing him to choose between love and loyalty. As Luke fights to break the curse, a magical, citywide war starts crackling, and it's tied to Jeremy.

 

This might be the one curse Luke can't uncross. If true love's kiss fails, what's left for him and Jeremy?

 

Plot

 

The synopsis sounds more coherent and put together than the book itself. I loved the idea of an urban fantasy set in a modern New York City. I loved that it was all about old curses and family secrets. However, I found the execution of this plot as well as world building rather weak. Magic system seems to be connected to spells, blood, and voodoo-like curses, but the limitations of the magic, or how each character does what they do, is never really explained.

 

"The Uncrossing" lacks exposition to the point that I had to go back a page or two to visualize what is happening. It took me some time to get used to the narration. It is not a poorly written book, but it has holes that often left me floundering and second-guessing what I am reading.

 

Luke and Jeremy though. Ah, those two are absolutely adorable. I enjoyed all the characters in the book, although the attempts at creating morally ambiguous and grey characters, like Andrei and Sergei, with this sort of jumpy narration have largely failed, in my opinion. I liked them both, but some aspects just missed the mark for me.

 

Problematic aspects

 

Even though the book is great when it comes to diversity, the choice of cultural background for the characters left me slightly confused. The Kovrovs are Russian, while the Melnyk family is Ukrainian-Creole. I can not speak for the Creole culture, but I can speak for the Eastern European part.

 

The portrayal of a rich and influential Russian mafia family (because let’s be honest, this is what the Kovrov family is) is so stereotypical for western society to the point of being mildly offensive. The Ukrainians are portrayed as hardworking but poor.

 

Besides mentioning a prayer in Russian or some Russian or Ukrainian words, without actually mentioning them in the text, the cultural background of both families is shown only in their given names and the mention of borscht in the first chapter - which, let me be absolutely clear, nobody would ever serve to an important guest as a meal neither in Russia nor in Ukraine, unless we are speaking of a rural Russia in the feudal times.

 

There are reviewers who love to throw around complaints about “cultural appropriation”, but in spite of my feelings on the subject, "The Uncrossing" is hardly damaging. I would have, however, appreciated a more meaningful portrayal of both cultures. Both Russian and Ukrainian folklore have enough depth to provide inspiration for any fantasy setting or magic system.

 

I had problems with the world building and magic system, mild issues with some of the characters, but I adored the romance part in the book, although it is usually the least favourite plotline for me. I also felt that the ending of the book was better thought through than some middle parts. I found myself more engaged in the book after I hit 50-60%.

 

It is a debut novel, so I hope that Melissa would produce more fiction in the future. Hopefully, it would also be about queer boys and magic. It was overall a fun read, even though it took some time to get used to the style. Recommend for the fans of the YA LGBT books, otherwise, you might find it boring.

 

Personal rating: 3.5 stars

 

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Movie/book review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

"Everything, Everything" Movie  

"Everything, Everything" Movie review

 

I am one of those bookish people who have to read a book before the movie. It doesn’t always happen, but I strive for it. The only movie franchise that I have ever watched without reading books (not for the lack of trying) was The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. And I loved them a lot!

 

I admit it, I am a book snob. I always think that books are better than movies. Sometimes it is even hard to compare the two as movie scripts inevitably bring changes to the plot, and not always to the best effect.

 

It was one of the reasons why watching “Everything, Everything” the movie was very low on my priorities list. I am not very fond of romance stories, and even though I loved the book, I didn’t feel compelled to watch it on screen.

Thank goodness for transatlantic flights: I am ready to watch “Madagascar” movies for the upteenth time just to distract myself!

 

So, after watching The Boss Baby (which was cute), Smurfs: The Lost Village (which was fairly stupid) and rewatching “Penguins of Madagascar” (because they rock), I settled to watch “Everything, Everything”.

 

The movies has only one, rather unimaginative, tagline on IMDB: “A teenager who's spent her whole life confined to her home falls for the boy next door.”; and an average rating of 6.4. I didn’t have much hopes for the movie, as I knew the plot, but I hoped to be entertained by the characters, and sure I was!

 

I think that Amandla Stenberg is a perfect Maddy. I loved her acting and her sweet nature. She was, honestly, the best thing about this movie. I was not as impressed by Nick Robinson (Olly) as I felt that he was not gritty enough, if you will. I liked how their text conversations were translated into face to face conversations on screen. The presence of an astronaut was a nice touch. But otherwise the movie was not very visually imaginative. The books has some cool illustrations, that were missing from the movie.

 

I think my biggest disappointment with the "Everything, Everything" movie was that it failed to deliver a punch at the end. Everything showed on screen was sort of mellowed out, in my opinion. Maddy was less sick, her mother less obsessive, Olly less intriguing. I loved Olly in the book, but in the movie he was a bit mediocre, unfortunately. The imperfections and inconsistencies in treating serious illness are more visible on screen than in a book format too. (E.g., Maddy's mother or her nurse enters the house and goes through decontamination, washes her hands but then grabs the bag and brings it in? That looked very improbable.)

 

When I read the "Everything, Everything" book, I gave it a rather high rating of 4.5 stars. I really enjoyed it, it was sweet and resonated with my personal experience of being subjected to an obsessive care by a relative. However, since then I did read some reviews by people who pointed out that even though Maddy’s disability was not correctly portrayed and this representation is actually harmful. I admit that I did not think about the representation of serious chronic illness or disability when I read the book as it always held a bit of an unrealistic touch for me. As in, this is a mysterious disease and nobody knows what it is (which is actually not true, but it was my interpretation of it). Obviously, I can not speak on behalf of people who struggle with serious chronic illness or disability, but as my mother is severely allergic to animals (we are talking about not being able to share a space with an animal for any period of time), I do understand how this representation seems unhealthy and deems the character's situation as not serious enough. Especially, since the message is that it is okay to risk everything (family, health, life) for the sake of love.

 

Nope, don’t do that, kids.

 

I am not going to change my rating on Goodreads for this book, although I do now think that 4.5 stars was a bit too generous. However, I did enjoy "Everything, Everything" and the writing style, and still think that it was a great debut novel. Nicola Yoon is also a total sweetheart - I met her at BookCon in 2016. Too sad that the movie flopped for me.

 

Overall movie rating: 2.75 stars

 

"Everything, Everything" Book review

 

"Everything, Everything" Book

 

Written: November 2015

 

personal rating: 4.5 stars

 

This book deserves all the love and hype surrounding it! It is a very cute story about a girl who is allergic to everything. One day, a new family moves into a nearby house and she befriends their son.

 

I liked everything about this book. The way it is written. The fact that it is interrupted by illustrations and notes written by Madeline. The fact that this book has some similarities to "The Fault In Our Stars" but only it is way better and lighter and happier. (And also, HAWAII!)

 

The characters are unique and have very distinctive voices. I loved both Madeline and Olly. I loved the setting of the book. I loved all the descriptions.

 

I also loved the twist and the way the story resolved itself, even though I did suspect something like this would happen. (It also quite unexpectedly resonated with my own experience, which was a bit surprising.)

 

Can't say more but this book gave me rather happy, warm and fuzzy feeling. Even though it mostly about illness. Nicola Yoon has achieved something that John Green failed to do for me.

 

Read it. You will love it.

 

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Book review: "Black Bird of the Gallows" by Meg Kassel

 

"Black Bird of the Gallows" is a stand-alone, young adult urban fantasy novel with lots of supernatural and even slight horror notes. Let me start the review by saying that this is the most gorgeous cover I have seen this year! I was definitely attracted to the book based on the cover and the prospect of an urban fantasy (because crows and harbingers of death? Hell ya!) and was extremely lucky to receive a NetGalley copy from Entangled Teen. The book is officially coming out on September 5th, and I will provide the links at the bottom of my review.

 

Here is the official synopsis:

 

A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full.

Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece—and he’s not human.

What's more, she knows something most don't. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.

 

I was rather excited to read this book, but, unfortunately, it did not live up to the hype. It is not a bad debut novel, but it lacked depth and solidness of the plot and characterization. The idea of the crows being the supernatural creatures and harbingers of death is not a new one but Meg Kassel takes an interesting spin on it, adding more supernatural forces into the mix. However, a lot of the explanations of the magic and the rules of it were vague, undeveloped, and the ending had a very rushed and ‘Deus Ex Machina’ feel. (Considering how many of YA books tend to have an ending that can be summarized as “well, this happened because it happened”, I am starting to think that a lot of people have never read any classic literature. Go and read the Greeks. It has all been done before.) It was not the worst ending ever but I could tell that this was going to happen a mile ahead.

 

I did not like the fact that the author decided to title every chapter - it is my personal preference not to know what is going to happen in the chapter that I am about to read as all of those titles were basically spoilers. It sometimes took out the fun out of reading the story.

 

I liked all of the characters in the book, which is rare. Well, almost everyone - I am not counting the bullies at school. Angie is lovely, and her father is one of the best supporting characters in YA, as he has both a distinctive voice and is not just a plot device, as it often happens with parents or relatives in the genre. Angie goes through some serious character development, that was well-written and thought through. Her friends are great too - they were both funny, and reliable, and supportive, and everything about them was great for the story. The relationship that they had with Angie was great and I loved how close they remained throughout it all.

 

Let’s talk about Reece now. Okay, first things first: I love angsty and dark characters. I can live off angst. However, in case with Reece it was a  bit overdone. I liked the way he was introduced in the story, as well as his background, his family, etc. But as the book progressed, we were not given any new information or anything else, the author just recycled the same facts over and over again. The plot concerning Reece, his family and the curse can be summarized in a couple of sentences. It is a very alluring plot, but it lacks depth and, ultimately, originality.

 

Have you ever watched the movie "Meet Joe Black" with Brad Pitt? Reece sometimes reminded me of Joe. The Fernandez family had a very strong vibe of Edward Cullen’s family, just on a less violent side. Overall, I did get occasional Twilight vibes from the book (a lonely, angsty girl, who comes to live with her father; a supernaturally attractive and dangerous boy; “the death follows me around” sort of thing, etc), but I guess it can be said about a lot of supernatural or urban fantasy YA books that came out after Twilight Saga (by the way, I am not fan of those books at all).

 

I am not a huge fan of “insta-love” either but it somehow worked in this book. The amount of romance was a bit too much but it was not overly too sweet. I did, however, roll my eyes whenever those kids wanted to make out when the world was basically going to an end around them.

 

I found a couple of copy-editorial mistakes, where things disappeared or appeared out of blue, but since I was reading the ARC, I can not tell if those made it into the final version.

 

I have always loved crows but this books just reinforced my love for these birds. I will never look at the bees in the same way, though.

 

I would have been able to deal with all of those if the style was more solid. The author’s writing suffers from a very common mistake of ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’. The details of the curse are repeated over and over, as well as descriptions of things that happen at school, during the day, etc. Even with the first POV, it is still possible to avoid that. There was a whole passage almost at the very end of the book which was the repeated information, almost word to word, to what the characters had said just a page ago. It was glaringly obvious and redundant. A lot of things that happened during “the tragedy event” were told instead of described, and some of the details were so vague that I felt as if the author rushed through this part, when it should have been one of the major parts of the book.

 

Like I said, "Black Bird of the Gallows" is a debut novel, not the worst but not the best either. I found it cute, but not too original. It was refreshing to read a stand alone novel though. I do feel that the author has a potential to produce great stories, but lacks the skill at this point. Will definitely keep an eye on her future projects.

 

In spite of my opinion of the book, I do appreciate the opportunity provided to me by Entangled Teen to read and review the ARC.

 

Personal rating: ~ 3 stars

 

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Black Bird of the Gallows

Book review: Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles, #3.5) by Marissa Meyer (audiobook)

Fairest  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Fairest" is the book which is complementary to The Lunar Chronicles and should be read between "Cress", book three, and "Winter", the last book in the series. Initially, I even wanted to skip it, but since it was about Levana, the Queen of Luna, I figured, I might learn something new about her and Winter, who I already liked.

 

After ploughing through the six and a half hours of this audiobook, all of my thoughts can be summoned as “why on earth did Marissa Meyer write this book?”.

 

 

"Fairest" tells us the story of Levana, from her childhood and the tragic incident that happened (which was absolutely obvious and in no way as exciting of a mystery as one could think), to her quite obsessive fixation on Evret Hayle (which no sane person can ever call love), to her cruelty towards people whom she considered her family. Everything about Levana, with exception of her childhood, is despicable and did not make me sympathize with her any bit. If "Fairest" was supposed to be a redeeming story, in the same way as “Heartless” is, then it failed for me. "Fairest" did not make me like Levana or feel sorry for her. It only solidified my opinion of her being a cruel tyrant. I did sympathize with Levana when she was a child but it was very brief, and there is no redeeming what she did to Evret, Winter, Selene, and countless other characters in the books.

 

As a matter of fact, Levana in this book is extremely reminiscent of Catherine. To the point that it made me think that Levana was written as a doppelganger of Queen of Hearts. Naturally, Levana is a representation of all evil characters in fairy tales, the trope of “the evil stepmother”. And you know what? I was quite happy with hating Levana for being an evil queen. I did not need to know her sad story, because it didn’t change my perception of her at all.

 

To put it shortly, "Fairest| felt redundant and unnecessary for the narrative of The Lunar Chronicle series. Since it is positioned as a supplemental book between books three and four, it might be referenced later on in “Winter” (which would make sense), but for me it felt as a complete waste of time. I did like the characters of Evret and Channery, because they were new and unfamiliar to me, and we do get all of those things regarding mirrors and veils explained to us in this book. However, I don’t think, it should have been explained at all. The whole plot of "Fairest" could have been referenced as hints and snippets throughout the series without losing anything in the narrative. I would have even prefered it to be done this way as it would have made Levana’s character more mysterious and tragic. Having everything explained and described in so much detail made the plot too simplified, boring, and the book - way too long.

 

Alas, I wish I could give it higher rating, but as it stands, this book felt to me like a waste of time. I am glad I listened to it in audio, otherwise I would have DNF'ed it.

 

Narration: 4 stars

Plot: 1 star

Overall: 2.5 stars

 

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Fairest

Book review: Cress (The Lunar Chronicles, #3) by Marissa Meyer (audiobook)

 

After finishing Cinder and Scarlet in a quick succession, I was impatient to start Cress. The beginning of Cress was everything I wanted and expected - it was dramatic, fast paced and worked perfectly well.

 

Then came the slump. I listened to about one third of the audiobook and started to lose interest in what was happening. Mainly, it had to do with a very long and predictable journey through desert - everything that happened there, including the following kidnapping, I was able to foresee a mile away, which left me feeling ‘meh’ and reluctant to continue. I found myself turning to this audiobook less and less, and eventually had to have a little break.

 

I did continue with it, and once all of our character finally assembled in one place, the pace picked up again. I did, however, find some of the revelations very obvious, which saddened me. Although I find the narration pleasant and the storyline entertaining enough, it is not as engaging as I would have liked. At times, the series has a bit too much teenager’y drama and soap opera for me.

 

I do what to remark on the fact that although almost all characters went through some character development in this book, I still can not figure out Carswell Thorne. He was introduced at the end of “Cinder”/beginning of “Scarlet” and was depicted as a completely fluke, a self-absorbed moron and a failed conman, whose mind seemed to be only occupied by ladies and maintaining his good looks. I disliked him a lot at that point. Throughout “Scarlet” Thorne was developing into a better fleshed out character, but I still was not sold on his “a conman with a heart of gold” persona. I found it difficult to believe that Cress would fall for Thorne, when there was clearly nothing heroic about him.

 

By the end of “Cress”, however, Thorne is turning into a real hero. He is not afraid to admit to his less favourable deeds to Cress, and he is hiding less and less behind his jokes and over-exuberant confidence. Cress is slowly growing into a strong character in this story, perhaps, less than Cinder and Scarlet, but she is a real team member by the end of this novel. She saved the day more than once in this book, which I absolutely loved.

 

The only character, who has not failed to annoy me in every single book, is Emperor Kai. Not only he is willing to be a sacrifice lamb and go through the marriage with Levana, but he seems to completely incompetent in everything that he does. He is praised for his diplomatic skills, while he failed to secure future peace for his nation. His decision to marry Levana is not only the suicide but also a definite disaster for his nation, if he is, indeed, killed after Levana is crowned as the empress. It is a ridiculous decision, which the author is trying to portray as this big and important sacrifice, but it is just plain stupid. He is choosing to prolong the suffering of his nation (and his own) by implementing this short-term solution. Kai is completely oblivious to everything that is happening in the palace - he is not fully aware of the research, he doesn’t know that there are tunnels under the palace, etc. He seems to be surprised by the most obvious decisions and is fully dependant on his advisor Torin. I hope that he will undergo at least some character development in “Winter” as for now I don’t understand what Cinder (and Iko) see in him as he is not the Prince Charming I expected in this series. (I love the fact that all the female character in the series are badass in their own ways, but Kai just annoys me.)

 

I feel that this book could have worked really well with at least 50 pages cut out. It is long and the middle of the book is rather slow. The pace did pick up at the end, although I found the ending of “Cress” to be less dramatic and intense than the ending of the second book in the series.

 

I hoped that I would give this book a higher rating than books one and two, but alas. It is a good series, but so far it has failed to enamour me to it to give it anything higher than 3 stars.

 

Narration: 4 stars

Plot: 3 stars

Overall: 3 stars

 

Cress

Book review: The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye

Let me start this book review by saying that in spite of every fault that I found with this book, I still enjoyed it. It was a very quick and fun read. I did roll my eyes a lot while reading it. But it was also such an easy world to dive that I can easily see myself re-reading it (although I don't own a copy and got one from the library).

This review is mostly spoiler free. There might be some hints at things, but I am not explicitly stating anything.

This is a young adult fantasy novel set in imperial Russia, in 1825. There is a girl named Vika who is trained as an enchanter to potentially become an imperial enchanter for the tsar. However, it turns out that there is another enchanter, Nikolai, who is trained for the same purpose. Since according to the laws there can't be two enchanters, they have to enter the crown's game to proof their magic ability. It is fight to death as there can only be one enchanter alive.

I loved the premise of the book. It is a fast read told in third person (thank goodness) but the point of view switches to show us what is happening with different characters. Some of chapters are extremely short, which makes it feel as if you are flying through this 400 paged book.

I won't go much into detail about the plot itself. I think that the author did a good job describing the political situation of that time. Saint Petersburg is described very vividly as the life of common folk. I enjoyed that. I also liked the magic parts too. However, I did have a problem with the magic system itself.

When an author creates a fantasy world and a magic system, the worst mistake is to make your protagonists so powerful that their magic is basically limitless. I think this is what happened here. Both Vika and Nikolai can turn things into animals and birds, change shapes and colours of things, control elements, like water and fire, give magic qualities to inanimate objects, etc. They seem to be able to do everything with little impact on themselves. They don't use spells or spell books or wands. They only use energy and that's it.

Only by mid game, and the game takes pretty much 90% of the book, it becomes obvious that that sort of energy comes with payback. However, the fact that those boundaries were not established at any point of the novel and are sort of appearing out of blue in the middle of it was not good. (Also, at the beginning it was said that both enchanters were splitting the magic from the magic heart of their country. But later they are said to be using their own energy which made it confusing.)

When your characters are so powerful, and Vika and Nikolai were almost matched in power, it means that there can't be a winner. In this case the games become pointless as nobody can be called a winner, especially in a situation when both characters do not want to fight each other.

So, what do we get then? We get a villain! Finally a real villain, who is very angry, vengeful and powerful. But once again we do not no limits of power of this villain. Besides the appearance of this character was so "deus ex machina" that it felt very artificial and forced. This villain had a potential of becoming a real threat for the world, and of though there were some fundamental things that were done and caused big changes, it could have been way grander. I feel that it should have eclipsed the game, but it didn't.

Plus, this villain was dealt with so quickly - it really annoyed me. The villain existed for, perhaps, a third of the book and felt as if was forced in and out of narrative.

I really liked the characters in the book - all of them: Vika, Pasha, Nikolai. I think Nikolai might be my favourite, though. I did find the love triangle to be a bit of a tiring trope, and the ending had a very Romeo & Juliet feel about it (if you know what I mean). (And I also think that Nikolai would have been better off with Pasha, just saying *cough*) I did like the characters though. They seemed a bit immature at times and sometimes the fact that both Nikolai and Pasha sneaked into bars and taverns completely unrecognized seemed very unconvincing to me, but oh well.

I think the author liked the world and the characters she created so much that she didn't want to put them into a real danger, which is understandable (I did like the characters too as I mentioned!) but it is dangerous to do so as a writer, as you basically kill any plot in the book. If there is no danger or conflict - there is no point of telling a story.

In spite of plot holes and some shallowness and repetitiveness to the whole "the game is everything and I must kill my opponent because there can be only one of us but I don't want to do it but I have to" spiel, I found the book rather engaging. I am looking forward to reading book 2. Although I do hope it will fix everything that was wrong in book 1 from cultural perspective.

Here is the part 2 of my review in which I dissect everything the author got wrong when it comes to Russian culture, language, etc. I will try to avoid major spoilers.

I made a video review of this book in which I got really emotional about certain cultural mistakes in this book. I might have made it seem as if I was really upset by it. And I was. And still am. However, I do understand that someone who knows nothing about Russian Empire or Russian culture as a whole, obviously, will still enjoy the book for what it is worth. Whatever inconsistencies that I found do not hinder the plot in any way. I just found it very annoying that even though the author claimed to have done the research (and Evelyn in fact majored in Slavic languages and literature), there were still so many tiny things that she got wrong.

All of this could have been avoided if the author had a Russian speaking proofreader. I, obviously, don't know how publishing world works and if authors have the luxury of sharing their unpublished works or pieces of it with people outside of publishing circle (I feel that the answer might be a no), but I am pretty sure it is possible to get at least someone to double check some details, if needed.

I don't want it to seem as if I am personally attacking the author - god forbid! It is the last thing on my mind. I just want to show that, once again, research is everything, and even when you think that you know enough - double check your facts!

If you are not a Russian speaker or know nothing about the culture, this part of the review might seem to you as if I am nitpicking. But if other cultures have the luxury of pointing out everything that is wrong when they are represented in the media, why can't I?

I hope you will enjoy this part of my review too. Perhaps, you will learn something ;)

1) It was the most glaringly obvious mistake. Or rather it is a typo that slipped past the editor and/or author in the final product and it got repeated over and over.

There is a certain magic place that is mentioned as a meeting point for the tsar and the potential enchanters and it is called in Russian "Bolshebnoie Duplo" (The Enchanted Hollow). The problem is that there is a typo in "bolshebnoie". It is supposed to be "Volshebnoie". The first letter is wrong. It made me both laugh hysterically and roll my eyes when I read it first. But that is the editorial mistake.

However, the choice of word "duplo" is most probably a mistake of the author.

You see, English word "hollow" can mean an empty space or a cavity within anything. OR it can mean a valley. "The Enchanted Hollow" as a title for a meeting place in the book is a perfect choice. But the Russian word "duplo" has only 2 meanings: one is a cavity in a tree and another is a cavity in a tooth. That's it. "Duplo" in no way has the same broad meaning as "hollow". The meeting place was actually within a mountain which made its name "volshebnoie duplo" freaking hilarious. if I had to pick a word, I'd call it something like "volshebny grot" (the enchanted cave), but not "duplo". Never a "duplo".

2) The author does a great work describing typical food and cuisine in her book. I was really impressed as usually westerners' knowledge does not go beyond a potato salad (which is not a Russian dish, by the way - it is German/Austrian) or a cabbage soup. Evelyn mentions a lot of different types of food and there is only one tiny mistake that made me raise an eyebrow.

One of the most famous types of Russian bread is a dark rye bread which is very well-known to any Russian speaker as "Borodinsky" bread. The title of the bread comes from the battle of Borodino, which happened during war with Napoleon in 1812. But the bread itself was officially named like this (or rather the recipe for this sort of very dark rye bread) only in Soviet times after 1917. I have always known that but I went online to double check myself - and, yes, the mentions of this bread as "Borodinsky" bread start only in 1930s. Which means that in 1825 there was no way it could have been called that as the October Revolution has not happened (yet).

I am bit on the fence about this one. On one hand, mentioning "Borodinsky" bread is a homage to Russian cuisine and any Russian speaker would know exactly what bread is mentioned when reading this book. On the other hand, I am annoyed that this goes against historical facts.

3) Names. Oh, the names. The choice of names is great in this book! Finally we get some diversity that goes beyond overused "Natasha"s and "Tatiana"s. Evelyn uses the names of real royal family members too. More so, she even goes for typical kazakh names and last names too, which is great.

However, the way she picks and choses who would get a short version of the name and who wouldn't. I think the reason for this might have been not to confuse poor westerners with crazy abbreviations and pet names and diminutives. But for a Russian speaker's ear it was a bit weird to have Pasha (which is a diminutive for Pavel) but to name Nikolai only by his full name and not a short version of Kolya. Seeing as diminutives are used by family and close friends, having Nikolai address a tsar's son as Pasha, but Pasha calling Nikolai only Nikolai and nothing else, made it seem as if Nikolai was addressed politely and Pasha was not. Those two are close as brothers and yet one of them chooses to call his friend by his full name.

If it was politeness, I'd expect Nikolai to address Pasha more formally. But no.

Same thing for Vika. She is consistently addressed to as Vika, even though Vika is short for Viktoria. There was a passage in a book when she gets a formal invitation but she is mentioned as V. Andreyeva, which is a bit funny as she is never mentioned with her patronymic, while her father is and members of royal family are mentioned with their full names too (E.g., Pavel Alexandrovich Romanov).

I would also assume that the servants would be addressing Nikolai and Galina using first name and patronymic, not just first name, as it is a polite way. (Master Nikolai also works, but it was mentioned only a couple of times.)

Sergei and Galina, in spite of being siblings, also address each other by their full names. In case you are wondering: Galya is short for Galina and Seryozha - for Sergei. I would assume that at least at some point they'd revert to those diminutives.

3) The Russian language grammar is one of the most difficult in the world. I kid you not. It is worse than German and Chinese together. I am very happy that the author correctly used almost all words and phrases in the book. Including "Tvoe zdarovye" as "cheers/to your health" (which gets the most butchered by English speakers who confuse it with "za zdravye" which is a different saying). But "Myevo zdarovye" doesn't make sense as "myevo" is an incorrect form. It should have been something that sounds like "mayo" (mah-yo). Besides nobody ever says, even jokingly, "to my health". It will always be "to your health", even if it is meant as sarcastic and the person is drinking alone.

4) "Tikho" Mountain sounds like a cool name. "Tikho" means quiet. But it is not an adjective but an adverb in this case. Or an imperative. Should have been "Tikhaya" Mountain. Otherwise it seems as if you are trying to shush the mountain. (Which I find incredibly funny.)

5) Why, out of blue, do they call the scroll as "Russe" Scroll? Huh? Just so that we know for a fact that it is a Russian scroll? As I assume that it is a French "Russe" because it is not a Russian word that I can recognize. I would have picked a Russian world for the scroll that has rules to a very traditional game which is very important for the country's magic. Would have made more sense, right?

6) And the last but definitely not the least - at some point there is a very quick scene in a church, and there are mentions of pews and books of psalms. I am sorry, but there are no pews in Russian Orthodox Church! You can google the interior images if you want. People are only allowed to stand or kneel and that's it. There have never been pews and never will be. They might be present in Greek Orthodox Church, but not in Russian. Sometimes there are chairs or benches at far corners of a church, but they are not there for people who come for the mass. I have never in my life seen rows of pews in a Russian church (like in other Christian churches) or any books of psalms or bibles. Never ever.

I might have missed something but this is pretty much it.

Everything else was quite on point, I think. I do understand that the majority of these mistakes would have been difficult to research but that is why I said that authors should always strive to get a good proofreader or a beta or a consultant.

I went into this book with low expectations as I never expect any westerners to get Russian culture and more so the language right. But Evelyn did pleasantly surprised me. A lot of things (the historical and political background, cuisine, relationships between tsar and his wife and children, etc.) were quite well researched and represented. I just wish this book didn't feel so much as a debut novel. It has a lot of potential but both those little language/culture blunders and holes in the plot made me wish the author would have spent extra time on this novel.

Nevertheless, I do appreciate what Evelyn has done - she created one of the most unique fantasy worlds that exists on the book market right now. And the fact that it is my culture that is in question - made me even more happy.

Will I continue with the series? Yes. Will I re-read the book? Quite possible. (Will I ever stop laughing over "Bolshebnoie Duplo"? Probably never.)

I gave the overall rating of 3 stars to this book. It was not bad, but could have been better.

(Thank you for reading this far! Now I am thinking of reading Grisha trilogy. I wonder if it is better or?...)

Personal rating: 3 stars

Book review: "You Know Me Well" by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

Let me start with saying that I really enjoyed this book (in some ways more than I expected), even though it is your typical "in love with your best friend/high school/coming of age/figuring things out" type of story. I have read too many of those and only because it was by both authors that I read and enjoyed previously, I picked it up. (And also because it was my pick for BookTube-A-Thon readathon.)

I read very few books which were co-writing and recently the one that I read (by indie authors) made me cringe so hard as I could totally tell who wrote which part and the switching point of view was not working at all.

This book is written extremely well. I read books by David Levithan (for whatever reason I only vaguely recall his writing style) and I read "Everything Leads to You" by Nina LaCour (which I liked but found too slow placed for me), so I expected to be able to tell exactly who wrote which part - and it is quite obvious, even before you pick the book. BUT even though POVs of Mark and Kate are different, they have their own voices, they do compliment each other and you don't get the feeling as if you are reading two separate books. Writing was great. It was more paced than I expected it to be and equally heartwarming (and heartbreaking) and funny.

The parents are barely present in the story, which is typical for these books. Both Kate and Mark at times seemed a bit older than they were.

Even though both of main characters in the book are gay, it is not the focus of the story. The focus is on the relationships: Mark is in love with his friend and Kate is in love with a girl, she has not met yet. There is no "coming out" aspect in the story at all, which is really refreshing. Nobody is agonizing over being gay or coming out to parents. The focus is on relationships and feelings. I was worried this might turn into another "coming out" story but thank goodness it wasn't. Thank you, David and Nina!

There were some parts that I did not particularly like. For example, how hard Kate was trying to impress that girl or how Mark and Kate were ready to lie to seem cool, essentially. Even though they said that they would tell the truth if asked directly.

Both Mark and Kate are very easy to relate too. Their characters would have been rather cliched (Mark is into sports and Kate is very artsy) if they were less two dimensional. Both Mark and Kate have certain fears and feel the pressure of expectations. Kate is suffering from anxiety and the fact that it is never really addressed directly as a mental health issue made me a bit disappointed.

In many ways this book reminded me of less known "Anything Could Happen" by Will Walton. It has a similar story line (without added perspective by Kate) and a similar ending. If you like your heartstrings to be played with and you are feeling nostalgic about your first love at high school - read this book. (And also read "Anything Could Happen" and "Simon vs Homo Sapiens Agenda" because those are very similar in tone and feeling, and after reading this you will probably need Simon to make you feel better.)

This book has several quote worthy lines and I had fun reading it.

Personal rating: 4.5 stars

Book review: The Darkest Part of the Forest

I started reading this book and fell in love with the writing style immediately. I loved it so much that after reading 20 pages of a library book, I went and purchased my own copy. Because I knew that this book would become one of my favourite reads of this year.

It is a stand alone YA novel based on folklore/fairy tales.  Seeing how tightly the world of fairies is tied to the real world, I am almost tempted to call it magical realism and not fantasy.

It is the very first book I have ever read by Holly Black and, oh boy, did she exceed all of my expectations.

There is a boy and a girl, who live in a small town. There is a forest where fairies live. A girl used to slay monsters, a boy used to tame them with his magical music. There is a horned boy sleeping in a glass coffin. There is a some evil threatening to hurt everyone. And there is someone leaving obscure clues to our characters.

I am bad at summaries but the story is a whimsical action packed narration that gave me everything I could have dreamed of: a strong female lead, lost children trope, magic, one or two broken hearts, lots of monsters, and queer themes.

I wish I could write a more coherent review (the one in which I don't squee and gush and yell at people to read this book).

I am very glad that it is a stand alone novel, as the market right now seems to be oversaturated with book series, but at the same time I wish I could spend more time in the universe.

Can't really talk about the ending as it would a spoiler. But you have to read it! It is wonderful!

Personal rating: 5 stars

Book review: "Otherbound" by Corinne Duyvis

img_3506 "Otherbound" is, undoubtedly, a very unique novel. It is a YA fantasy novel, told from two perspectives - one is a disabled boy in our world and another is a disabled girl in a fantasy world. Whenever Nolan blinks, he is not Nolan, but Amara - a mute girl servant who has to protect the cursed princess. Because Nolan can't quite literary close his eyes even for a second, unless Amara is asleep, he is considered to be epileptic, as he is constantly sucked into a different reality.

This book has two very diverse protagonists who have to deal with a lot of hardships in their lives. They are connected in some inconceivable way, which is very disruptive for their lives. They want nothing more but to be rid of this link. But when they try to do it, something goes wrong.

I don't want to say much about the plot as I might give something away.

I liked the book although the jerky narrative sometimes made it a bit difficult for me to get into. I really tried to like Amara, but she seemed too volitive and unpredictable for me. I liked Nolan way better, and I found his perspective to be more engaging, even though I did love Amara's world and their system of magic. I disliked Nolan's parents though, even though they were trying really hard.

I can't say much about the princess as I tried liking her and failed. But the plot line surrounding her is really well done.

Overall, it was a very pleasurable read. Not something that I would like to read again, but definitely a book that deserves attention. I had a bit of an issue with the way the plot was wrapped up at the end, but I want to give the author kudos for keeping me on my toes till the very end.

Personal rating: 4 stars

Book review: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

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Personal rating: 5 stars

Nothing could have prepared me for this book. In spite of a promising title, it turned out to be more real and less happy than I expected it would. There are a lot of coming of age (and coming out) stories out there right now in YA, but this one has a gritty and realistic feel to it that kept me nailed to the ground all the time. Poverty, drugs, violence, mental health, suicide, death - all of that is not sugar coated but that left out in the open as it is, forcing you to deal not only with the mounting affection that you feel towards the characters but also the gnawing worry that this story may not have a happy ending.

In the internet talk of nowadays, the books gave me THE FEELS.

And I am okay with that. I am okay with recurring "no homo" catch phrase (which usually makes my eyes bleed); with the violence and pain; with futuristic "magic pill" that will make you forget who you are and the reasons WHY you needed to forget in the first place; with the fact that my heart started to disintegrate piece by piece from the page one - to the point that by the end of the book I was ready to sign up for a Leteo procedure myself.

This book is not what it seems at first glance. It is deeper, more touching, more serious, more personal. Don't let those smiley faces fool you. You will crying by the end of it, whether you want it or not.

Well done, Adam! I can't wait to read more books by you.

p.s. I got this book from the library, because I wanted to read a hard copy, even though I got an ebook copy on Kindle when it was on sale some time ago.

Bookshelves Reorganization // August 30, 2015

 

My bookshelf reorganization looked way easier than it turned out to be. ???????? Probably this is the only good outcome (the opportunity to reorganize things) out of the whole mess.

On the right is the photo of my reorganized bookshelves. Took me almost an hour but I managed to cram everything in 3 shelves. ????????

From the bottom to the top:

1) The biggest books and hardbacks. Alexandre Dumas books (how many copies can you spot? ????), Sherlock Holmes, crime, sci-fi books and others.

2) My favourite shelf: high fantasy, Katherine Kurtz, Lynn Flewelling, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, etc; middle grade; Divergent series, contemporary, plays, classics. A complete mix but my favourite and well read books.

3) TBR/YA/recent purchases shelf. The majority of books are unread and also some are just first books in the series that I plan to buy and read later.

Book Review: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

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This is the weirdest YA book I have ever read. (Well, it is not as gory or dark or weird as Poppy Brite's novels, as it is still YA, but it is right up that alley if you take one of her books and make it funny and light as opposed to heartbreaking.) But what can I say - I loved it.

It is written in the first point of view and there are some recurring topics as well as even recurring sentences that may seem slightly weird but it all works together. Two best friends, a small town in the middle of nowhere, a strange, long time ago abandoned experiment. It is difficult to summarize the book without giving away the plot (or the plot twist at the end which I totally should have seen coming, but I didn't, because just like the main characters I was caught in the moment).

It is a weird story but it is also a very touching one. Besides all the weirdness which is happening (and if you are not squeamish and are not afraid of bugs - believe me, you will be) this book is also a coming of age story (which includes exploring one's sexuality, talking or thinking about sex 24/7, and smoking - you know, the usual).

This books has a great line which resonated with me greatly. Page 162. You know what I mean. It is probably one of the most accurate descriptions of bisexuality that I have ever read.

I don't want to spoil this story to anyone, but I just want to say that this book taught me two things:

1) adolescent boys are always horny

2) bugs only do two things - eat and fuck.

My advice: do not read this book while dealing with bug infestation - it will make your skin crawl big time. This is book not for everyone, but I loved it.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

IMG_9176 I didn't know much about this book. I saw it recommended on booktube and it sounded really interesting. I got it from the library (had to wait 3 weeks, for some reason) and was surprised to see that it is not too thick and has illustrations. I read it in one sitting, after finishing The Fault In Our Stars, which probably wasn't such a smart move, seeing as there is an recurring theme of cancer (which I didn't know about "A Monster Calls").

But I loved this book so damn much.

It has a wonderful, unique story and absolutely gorgeous illustrations. Everything is black and white which adds to the atmosphere. The story is about a boy, Conor, who lives with his sick mother, and one day he is visited by a monster in the middle of the night. The boy is not scared, because even though it is a monster, it is not THE monster from THE nightmare. The monster tells him three stories, but Conor has to tell him the fourth. There is also an estranged father and a grandmother, with whom Conor has trouble connecting.

I can't say much because it will reveal the plot, but it is a gorgeous book, very touching, deep, emotional, and very captivating. Not to mention the art. THE ART. It is not a graphic novel, but the illustrations play a huge part, wonderfully adding to the narrative. If I had to define the genre, I'd say it is YA with magical realism elements.

I really want to own this book now. I really really want to.

But yes it should come with trigger warnings.

Rating: 5/5 stars.