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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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: "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan

In Spirit  

A copy of "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan was kindly provided to me by Playwrights Canada Press in exchange for a free and honest review.

 

Summary

 

Twelve-year-old Molly was riding her new bicycle on a deserted road when a man in a truck pulled up next to her, saying he was lost. He asked if she could get in and help him back to the highway, and said he could bring her back to her bike after. Molly declined, out of interest for her own safety. The next things Molly remembers are dirt, branches, trees, pain, and darkness.

 

Molly is now a spirit.

Mustering up some courage, she pieces together her short life for herself and her family while she reassembles her bicycle—the same one that was found thrown into the trees on the side of the road. Juxtaposed with flashes of news, sounds, and videos, Molly’s chilling tale becomes more and more vivid, challenging humanity not to forget her presence and importance.

 

About author

 

Tara Beagan is a proud Ntlaka’pamux and Irish “Canadian” halfbreed based in Calgary, Alberta. She is co-founder/director of ARTICLE 11 with her most cherished collaborator, Andy Moro. She served as the artistic director of Native Earth Performing Arts from February 2011 to December 2013. A Dora Mavor Moore Award-winning playwright, she has been in residence at Cahoots Theatre, NEPA, the National Arts Centre, and Berton House. Five of her twenty plus plays have been published, and her first film script, 133 Skyway, co-written with Randy Redroad, won the imagineNATIVE award for best Canadian drama. Beagan is also a Dora and Betty Mitchell Award-nominated actor.

 

Review

 

Similar to my experience with “This Is How We Got Here”, I was lucky enough not only to receive a copy of “In Spirit” but also see Tara perform a piece from it at Playwrights Canada Press Fall Launch party and the readings as part of Native Earth’s Weesageechak Begins to Dance festival in November of 2017. Together with Keith Barker’s play, "In Spirit" by Tara Beagan was one of my most anticipated reads, and I am a bit sad I got around to reading and reviewing it only now.

 

"In Spirit" serves as an important message about an ongoing issue of missing and murdered indigenous girls and women in Canada. Based on a true story with amended names and places, it pulls us into a mind of a young girl, who is trying to figure out what had happened. Slowly, we realize that she is a spirit and what she is trying to piece together is not just a broken bicycle but is her murder.

"In Spirit" is one of those plays that makes you feel uncomfortable, guilty and sad. Aand as it should. Because no child deserves the fate that had befallen Molly. It can happen to anyone and is still happening. And we must feel responsible for it.

 

It is disconcerting to say that ‘I liked the play’ as the word ‘like’ seems to be inappropriate due to the subject matter. I liked Molly as a character and found her to be in some ways more mature than her age - the way she feels threatened by the stranger on an instinctive level and how she notices his eyes lose a smile, etc.

 

A broken bicycle represents her life and her fragile body - the image striking enough to be a character on its own in this play. As she picks up pieces one by one, marvelling at how similar this broken bike is to her new one, Molly attempts to reassemble her identity and her memories. It is heartbreaking to read, especially her mentions of the family and dogs.

 

Oh god, the dogs!

 

As Molly reflects on her life, we learn that every dog that she ever owned was killed in road accidents (as their house is next to a road). Molly says:

 

“But do you think one of them even stopped to see what it was they ran over? ... Not even once! And sometimes for sure other people saw what happened, and they didn’t even say nothing either.”

 

That paragraph strongly resonated with me. It almost feels as if Tara is alluring to the society and police who seem to be doing nothing about the violence against indigenous people, who are going missing or killed and nobody seems to care.

 

I had, however, some issues with stage directions. There was a moment in which Molly drops the handlebars she was holding, and next direction says that she still holds them, and then after another couple of lines, she drops them again.

 

I am a visual reader. When I read, I visualize all the events as in a movie. Which means that whenever there is a tiny inconsistency in my “brain movie” script - I will most probably pick on it.

 

With "In Spirit", I had some issues visualizing the events. The descriptions of visual and sound effects of the billboard were not enough for me to recreate a full image of the play in my head. Perhaps, it would have achieved the desired effect, had I an opportunity to watch it on stage.

 

Sparse stage directions forced me to lower the rating of this play. Some may not find it enough for axing one star, but as I only go by the script, I can’t have incomplete or inconsistent directions. Perhaps, it was intentional to give actors free reigns, but I felt as if the play was lacking something.

 

I encourage you to read this play and educate yourself on the issues that are still plaguing our society.

 

Together with links to GoodReads and Playwrights Press pages, I added some links to articles on the topic.

 

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Le 25e Salon du Livre de Toronto | Blogmas Day 2

(Let's pretend it is still December 2 and my French doesn't suck. ??) Aujourd’hui je suis allé a le 25e salon du livre de Toronto. C’est arrivé dans la bibliothèque de référence. Je étudie françaises c’est pourquoi notre professor a invitée nous là-bas. Nous avons regarde une présentation du livres pour enfants. Quelques livres est sur la famille et enfants. Quelques livres est sur adventure et science-fiction pour adolescents.

Il y avait un loterie et j'ai gagné un livre! La title est « Mica, fille de Transyl ». Très cool.

Voilà, voici les photos.

Book review: "27 Hours" by Tristina Wright

27 Hours  

I have received an e-ARC of this book from Entangled Teen in exchange for a free and honest review.

I found out about this new young adult, science-fiction novel at BookCon in New York City this year. I was browsing the app to find new authors or new book releases when I saw that this book promised queer characters, so of course I had to get my hands on a copy.

 

Sadly, by the time I got to the line for the "27 Hours" ARC, it was already capped. I was sad, but since I had other things to tend to, I didn’t even think about leaving a business card with the author or the rep. (Too bad too, as those business card were handmade by yours truly and they all are gone now. Just saying.)

 

I kept thinking about this book when I got back home and eventually decided to do something that usually do not do (because I am a chicken) to approach the author’s rep and ask for an ARC of "27 Hours". Not only I got put on the list for the ARC, I also got an opportunity to review some other books published by Entangled Teen. So, a special thank you goes to Melissa Montovani for giving me this opportunity!

 

Now, onto the book.

 

Synopsis

 

Rumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill, and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters, and for his strange abilities to vanish.

But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them.

Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she’s in love with Dahlia, her best friend. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from his mother's shadow, and to unlearn Epsilon's darkest secret.

They’ll both have to commit treason to find the truth.

During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

"27 Hours" is a sweeping, thrilling story featuring a stellar cast of queer teenagers battling to save their homes and possibly every human on Sahara as the clock ticks down to zero.

 

I freaking loved this book.

 

The plot is fast-paced with lots of twists and turns, that keep you on your toes. Granted, it is a young adult novel, so do not expect it to be on par with big names in literary fiction in terms of style or plot twists, but Tristina Wright knows her way around the prose and does it really well. The narrative flows easily. There wasn’t a moment in my reading when I would think: “ah, this is a bit slow”. It was action after action, and at times I needed a moment to process who was running where and who was almost killed this time.

 

Because I swear, all of the characters of "27 Hours" seem to have a death wish.

 

It is a well-constructed world, with enough composition and descriptions to fill you in as you go. I found the idea of mystic creatures, chimera (not gargoyles, thank you very much), living on the moon fascinating. The rules of the world are well defined, and even though at some point I was a bit confused about the hierarchy of HUBs and colonies, I felt quite comfortable while reading about the rest of it.

 

Characters

 

I think the characters of "27 Hours" is the best part of this novel. I have not read a single other young adult (or adult, for that matter) book that would have this much representation. We have characters of colour, various origins, ability, gender identities, and sexuality. There is no discrimination based on any of that either. However, using her characters’ voices, the author touches upon few very critical issues that exist in our world, making them sound as ridiculous and horrific as they truly are.

 

Quote 1

 

"It's... preconception, You hear gargoyle, and you think monster. What if..." Jude floundered for a comparison that was just as horrible and unconscionable. "Okay, what ifwe labeled certian people as monsters based on their skin color or hair color or gender or whatever? No matter what they did or had done or acted like. You'd have an issue with that, right?"

 

Quote 2

 

Humans weren't supposed to die at the hands of other humans, of people trained and sworn to protect them.

 

I loved this book, plain and simple. It gave me a band of incredibly brave teenagers, who are set on defending their home, even though it seems like a suicide mission. Who are willing to against everything they were taught. Who stand together in spite of differences that try to pull them apart.

 

I loved "27 Hours" so much that I doodled George. I am not an artist but it had to be done. Just because.

 

George from "27 Hours"

 

I loved all the characters in the book, I can’t even decide who is my favourite. And I ship all of the ships. Yes.

 

And today, I ordered my own copy of "27 Hours" - because I need to have something to console me as I impatiently wait for book two in this trilogy.

 

I am usually pretty fair with my rating. To be honest, I would give the plot itself only 4 stars. However, the diversity and representation in this book are so good, that it deserves an extra star. I can not wait to find out what happens next in the story.

 

Personal rating: 5 stars

 

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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: Heartless by Marissa Meyer (audiobook)

 

A year ago when several lucky booktubers were hauling an advanced reader’s copy of “Heartless”, a new stand alone novel by Marissa Meyer, I was feeling rather jealous. The ARC looked stunning and the final version was beautiful too. I had not read a single book by the author, but I was extremely interested in reading “Heartless”.

 

“Heartless” is a retelling of a story about Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. Catherine might be a daughter of marques, but her dream is to become a baker and open her bakery. Her mother, however, dreams of her daughter to be wed to the King of Hearts. Catherine is struggling to find the balance between her parents’ wishes and her own dreams, until one day she meets Jest, a royal joker, and she is immediately attracted to him. But nothing is what it seems, and their secret courtship is overshadowed not only by the impending marriage to the king, but also the attacks by hideous and murderous monster named Jabberwock.

 

In spite of a great premise, I felt disappointed by the book. I read the first 100 pages and then got stuck, not because I hated the writing or was completely not interested in the plot, but rather because the story felt too slow-paced and too reflective for my taste. I felt almost bored when I was reading it, that is why I found myself picking up the book less and less, until I put it aside for a month or two. Frustrated, I decided to switch to an audiobook version, especially since I found out that it was narrated by Rebecca Soler, who voiced Nimona, and whom I rather liked.

 

So, I switched to an audiobook, started from the very beginning, and found that, although it was much easier to get through “Heartless” while colouring or doing something else, I was still getting annoyed by the fact that almost nothing was happening. Cath seemed too weak-willed to turn into a real Queen of Hearts. Her shiness and modesty didn’t match with the image of the queen yelling “Off with their heads!”. Jest was intriguing enough, but too good to be true, and I kept waiting for a big dirty secret to be revealed about his past and, unfortunately, was let down. I found some of the secondary characters more interesting than Cath herself.

 

However, no matter how many problems I had with the action and plot, I found the world wonderfully written. Marissa Meyer did an amazing job intertwining all the elements from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass world together into something that was very fascinating on its own. I would have loved another book set in this world, but not related to “Hearltess” in the plot.

 

Although Rebecca Soler does a great job voicing different characters, I found her British accent quite annoying and unnecessary. Her Cheshire and Hatter sounded too similar at times. Her King was extremely annoying (purposefully, I assume). Jest was lovely, but I could barely stand Cath or her friend Mary-Ann (not sure if it was because Rebecca is so good of a narrator of it is because I just disliked the characters).

 

I think the downfall of Heartless for me lies in the predictability of the ending. I mean, we all know what kind of character Queen of Hearts was in Lewis Carroll’s books, so it was never about the ending, but rather about the journey to that ending. ‘The journey’ failed to deliver and ‘the ending’ was just as expected, which turned this book, to my surprise, into a three star read.

 

I enjoyed the book, I liked the world and some characters a lot. I think that it was very well written. But the plot line made me want to grab the book and shake it until everything gets mixed inside and all the puzzle pieces finally fall into right places. I am still on the fence about how I feel about the book. I liked it, but I might have overhyped it to myself (I wanted to be so badly swept off my feet by it!), so it turned out to be a letdown. It is in no way as bad as some other retellings - it is well written! But it could have been so much better!

 

Therefore, I am splitting the ratings as follows, as I am not able to give just one rating to this book:

 

Plot: 3 stars

World/characters: 4.5 stars

Narration: 4 stars

 

Overall: 3.5 stars

 

If the author ever decides to write another book in this universe, that would have a completely original plot, I would totally down for it. Otherwise, I am glad that I only spent an Audible credit for an audiobook and didn’t succumb to the urge to buy a physical copy, no matter how pretty the cover is.

P.S. I am totally NOT OKAY with what Marissa Meyer did with Jest and Hatter at the very end. NOPE. That was just UNFAIR.

 

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Heartless 

Book Review: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley (audiobook)

 

Have you ever discovered a hidden gem in a place you never expected to find one? I got this feeling when I started listening to “Magonia” audiobook. This book was on my radar some time ago, about a year or so. I even purchased it on Kindle when it was on sale. I never read it though and quickly forgot about it. Recently, I have been on a huge audiobook buying spree. I am an avid Audible user, but I also get books from the library and I had more than one person repeatedly tell me that I should use OverDrive to get audiobooks. I decided to give the OverDrive app a try (since the interface wasn’t inspiring confidence and I am too addicted to Audible anyway) and “Magonia” was the book that I downloaded as it was readily available.

I am not new to audiobooks. I have been using Audible for over 10 years now (no kidding) and I listened to audiobooks before that too. Needless to say, I can be very picky when it comes to narrators. That is why I was so excited when “Magonia” exceeded my expectations. The audiobook is narrated by Therese Plummer and Michael Crouch, neither of whom I ever listened to before. Therese, obviously, steals the show as her narration dominates the audiobook but they both are really good, and I think if it weren’t for their acting, I would have not enjoyed the audiobook this much.

“Magonia” is a book one in a young adult fantasy duology. It is told mainly from the point of view of its main protagonist, Aza Ray, a teenaged girl with a mysterious disease. Aza is weak and sick, constantly in and out of hospitals, but her spirit is very strong and her awareness of the world around her is astounding. Her best friend is a nerdish and adventurous Jason. He, as well as Aza’s family, her mother, father and younger sister, all are trying to equally support Aza and get ready for her eventual demise. One day Aza starts hearing someone calling her name. Everyone thinks, she is hallucinating, but Jason believes her.

And when one day, it finally happens - Aza dies and opens her eyes on a trading ship, sailing in the sky - Jason is the only one who keeps believing into impossible.

“Magonia” is a lyrical and reflective in tone, so it works perfectly as an audiobook. Therese is especially fabulous as she gives voices to different characters. She chirps and groans and whispers, and it is fascinating to listen to. (I found out that Therese also narrated two other books that I really enjoyed - “This Savage Song” by Victoria Schwab and “Rook” by Sharon Cameron -  and I can’t wait to listen to them as well!)

I found the world and magic system of Magonia original and intriguing. Can’t say that the actual plot line of the book is anything terribly special - the romance triangle, for one, is totally predictable. However, it is a very character driven plot, and it compensates for somewhat predictable plot twists. I loved all the characters, even the bad ones, just because they were so well developed. It is obvious that the author put a lot of effort into fleshing out the characters. I think I loved Jason the most. He is brilliant and nerdy, suffers from anxiety and is obviously somewhere on the autism spectrum, and recites Pi to keep Aza alive. He has two loving mothers, who care about him a lot. Aza's family is delightful too. I am always happy when YA fiction has lots of well written side characters and when the family members of main protagonists aren't there only to serve as a washed-out background prop.

The ending left me wanting to start the second book right away (it is still on hold at the library), although it does not really end with a big cliffhanger, but I can’t wait to see how this all gets resolved. And I definitely, definitely recommend you listen to this audiobook as opposed to reading a book. It is wonderful!

Plot: 3 stars

Performance: 5 stars

Overall: 4 stars

Book review: Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

IMG_2210 This review is long overdue. I admit, I have been putting off writing it as I had, and still have, very conflicted feelings about this book. Every booktuber I watched seemed to be madly in love with it. Its GoodReads ratio at the time of writing this post is 4.29 which a lot and much higher than some of my favourite books.

I will have to divide my review into part: what I liked and what I didn't. Naturally, it is my opinion, and if you liked the book - good for you.

When I saw this book hauled by several booktubers after BAE, I got really excited as it seemed to be a very interestingly put together book. I was under impression that it is a stand alone novel, so imagine my surprise when I learned that it is book one in The Illiminae Files series. (It was not mentioned by any of the reviewers and I found it out from the summary on the inside of the jacket.)

I am not going to summarize the book for you but I am just going to say that this book turned out to be a bit of a disappointment for me.

No real spoilers ahead, unless you would prefer to know nothing about the book.

What I liked:

  • the format and the way the narrative is constructed which is the main and the best thing about this book - I have read books that incorporate lists, letters, emails, texts, etc in the narrative, but this is the first time this is a book constructed as a dossier/files and there is no traditional narration.
  • the cover (which is really part of the above point) and the dust jacket are the work of art.
  • an epic space ships battle which reminded me of Star Trek and Star Wars and I haven't read any books like that in awhile.
  • the twist at the end made it worth pulling through the remaining 100 pages or so which were so boring.

What I disliked:

  • the plot is very simple; it can essentially be summarized in a paragraph and if it weren't for the unique narrative that stretched the book to 599 pages (and that's enormous for YA), the book would have been at least twice shorter.
  • there is little to no backstory to the relationship between Kady and Ezra, as the book starts with their break up, so it was really difficult for me to sympathize with their relationship. I basically felt nothing. Their "love you"s didn't feel real.
  • once again due to the format of the book I felt that we were not given an opportunity to properly get to know the characters, and although it is not uncommon to learn things about characters through other characters' perspective, I felt that we were not given enough to develop real attachment to them.
  • there is a lot of swearing in the book, that I have no problem with, but it is all blacked out or crossed out and it seriously was hurting my eyes and getting on my nerves. I do not enjoy excessive swearing, but I would have been okay with it, because all that crossing out was making my eyes cross.
  • deadly virus and bio weapons are cool plot devices, but I hate - and I mean that with a capital H - anything that has to do with zombies. I tend to avoid movies, tv shows, and books that have zombies in it, and finding out that in Illuminae this virus turns people into zombies became an unpleasant surprise for me. (I know, it is my personal preference, and I know a lot of people who love zombies, but I just can't handle the topic! The thought of being overcome with a virus that turns you into a killing machine that is not possible to reason with disgusts me. I am interested in themes of people using their humanity in other ways.) I am quite glad that it was a book and I didn't have to watch it on screen.
  • I felt that the narrative was a bit disjointed which made it hard for me to lose myself in the book. I tried. I honestly did. But I kept being distracted by the form.
  • I felt that the unique form of the book was taking my attention from the plot, and at times it felt as if I am reading a graphic novel.
  • The ending had a great twist, but what led to it, and some decisions and actions of the characters, as well as some plot turns felt a bit flat to me, a bit undeveloped (but once again it is hard to expect depth and development in the book that barely has any text in it).

As you can see, I have more things that I didn't like about this book (which is basically most of the plot) than what I liked (which is the format of the book). If I could give a separate rating, I'd rate plot as 3 stars and the format as 5 stars. I still don't know what to do with the overall rating as I enjoyed the book but it disappointed me in several ways (I am quite glad I got it from the library and didn't buy it). I am conflicted as to what I should put for it on GoodReads, as 3 stars is not fair and 4 stars is way too high (I think GoodReads should have half stars - it is so hard to rate books there!).

This book would definitely appeal to reads who haven't read good classic sci-fi novels and are new to the genre. It would also appeal to those who have never read a book that incorporates other media (photos, lists, emails, etc). It definitely deserves a read at least for the novelty's sake.

But if you are like me, who both prefers fleshed out narrative and hates zombies, pick up something else.

Will I be reading more books in the series? Maybe, when they become available at my library. They won't be high on my reading list though.

Overall rating: 3.5 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.

My first ever video!

Back in August I decided to try my hand at video editing. Obviously, I know nothing about it, and I used iMovie for the first time in my life, but I created something! And today I finally finished it and posted to YouTube (insert an image of me running around in panic). This is my TBR/reading progress video for August. Naturally, I posted my August wrap-up back in September, but I thought I might still share this video. Do not judge me harshly - I am very new to this ;)

And yes it is a stop motion video! Because I wanted to create one in a long time.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YO_U1doqEug[/embed]

Book Review: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

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There was so much frenzy surrounding this book and the movie, that I finally decided to pick up. I had my reservations about it, as the topic of cancer is very sensitive for me personally, and I was very wary. I worried that the book would be cheesy, or would gloss over some aspects of the disease, or that it would be just too difficult to read.

Somehow (and I still don't know how) I managed to avoid any spoilers regarding the ending. That is why what happened at the end, that death, came as a total surprise to me. (Yes, I must have been living under the rock, because I didn't see that one coming.)

I am not going to go into many details, as pretty much everyone knows what this book is about. Let me tell you about the things that I liked about this book.

When you face something as scary and huge as a terminal illness, after the shock wears off, you sort of accept it and it becomes part of your life. You become, for the better word, desensitized. You joke about it, you joke about death, about dying. Perhaps, it is a way for our brains to cope with it. This part of the book, from the perspective of all characters, was written beautifully. I know that some may think that it was too "teenager-ly", too playful or exaggerated at times, but it is not. This is how it is. This is how teenagers would be dealing with it (with laughter and hookups and egging somebody's car). Or anyone else for that matter.

Descriptions of medical procedures, hospitals, emotional strain and exhaustion of both the main character and her parents - they were described to the point. When you see someone you love dying from cancer and you know you can't do anything to help them, and everything which is done, medically, just prolongs the torture - yes, at some point you just think: God, I just want this to be over with.

A trip to Amsterdam was an unexpected treat, as I love that city.

Being disappointed in someone whom you used to admire tugged at my heart strings no less than the rest of the novel.

The book has several great passages that I saw quoted before, so kudos to John Green for not only breaking the hearts of teenagers but also creating memes.

I liked the book. I didn't love it, because I can't imagine ever loving a book about cancer. It was well written, although I admit that at some points I kept thinking that it was a bit too commercial novel. Nothing about this book could do wrong for readers, and it by all means just HAD to be made into a movie. I am not saying there is anything wrong in writing such a book (or recognizing the gap in the market for this sort of a story), but I admit that at certain tear jerking times I was almost rolling my eyes, as those moments were way too predictable for me.

I was a bit indecisive regarding the rating, as it is a good book, and I strongly recommend it for teens (not because of the love drama, but because the matters of life and death are important), but I just can't give it the top rating.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Review: Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

IMG_8995 I usually do not read graphic novels. It is hard for me to find a book with graphics that I really like, and I in general prefer books with more text. The only graphic/comic series that I have ever read, and loved, and am still reading is ElfQuest.

I saw this book recommended on BookTube and I was sort of intrigued. I picked it up from the library, as I didn't want to buy something that I was not going to read again. I decided to read it this morning while having a coffee and it was the quickest and the easiest read ever. I read in about an hour. I think it can be either classified as a middle grade or YA.

I enjoyed the graphics (they are sort of grey-blue, which I like) and the story is very curious. It is about a girl Anya, who struggles with her appearance, the fact that she is not popular at school, that she was not born in America (she is Russian and the book is peppered with some cultural differences/references/Russian words), that she has a crush on a popular guy; she smokes because she thinks it is cool, she tries really hard to fit in, etc. One day she falls into a hole in the ground. There, she meets a ghost of a girl named Emily. The ghost follows her home and wants to be her friend. Anya is excited, because Emily is really helpful, but soon it is starting to become overwhelming.

I found Anya to be a very likeable character, and it was very easy to relate to her, especially for me personally. I think it is a great and easy read and I highly recommend it. I hope that the author will release more books like that.

Rating: 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.

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

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I saw this book recommended by Regan on YouTube (PersureProject) and didn't really pay much attention to it, as I am not a huge fan of science fiction. I mean, I have read books in this genre and I quite enjoyed some of them, but I prefer watching the movies (like Star Wars and Star Trek) rather than reading it. Later I found out that there is a movie based on this book and it is coming to TIFF this year, so I, naturally, decided to read the book first. The wait time for the library copy was going to be insane (over 300 holds for about 30 copies), so I bought my own copy at Indigo.

I started reading it and immediately realized two things: a) I was enjoying it way more than I had expected, and b) it is going to be a terrific movie. The book was such an easy read, it was difficult to put it down! I read it in 2 or 3 days.

The main character Mark is one of the members of Ares 3, a Martian expedition, which gets aborted, and he is left behind, as his crew members believe him to be dead. Equipped with only his knowledge (he is an engineer and botanist) and whatever was left by the expedition, he is set to survive on Mars. His main goal is to find a way to let his crew or Earth know that he is still alive. Whether and how he could possibly be saved, considering the fact that the next mission is set to arrive in a couple of years, and the resources at hand were provided only for 30 days is the central point of the book. That and the whole fact that he is stranded on a very unfriendly planet.

This book is mostly narrated in the form of logs made by Mark (that is ,in the first point of view). There are also chapters showing what is happening with the rest of the crew and also the mission centre on Earth. I found Mark's voice to be very believable and extremely funny. The book is filled with astronomy, physics and chemistry stuff which made me, as an absolutely not scientific type, a bit confused at times, as it was hard for me to visualize some of the things that Mark was talking about (like an oxygenator). I think it all will be way easier to comprehend on screen.

I watched the trailer, by the way, and it looks very grand and epic and very Hollywood style. The book is not like that. It is way more personal, way less glamorous, so I would really suggest that you read the book first. I also have a feeling that they will make the movie way more dramatic, than the book itself. There is drama, don't get me wrong, but the way people deal with it, out of necessity and/or due to their character (like Mark), was way more lighthearted than one could think giving the circumstances.

The book is a celebration of human mind, resourcefulness and will to live. There is a very true to the point paragraph at the end of the book (which is actually used in the trailer, so, spoiler alert) that says that people are always willing to get together for a cause and help each other. I think it is very true and it is part of human nature. We just sometimes forget about it.

It is a funny and touching book and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Rating: 5/5 stars.