The King of Crows (The Diviners #4) Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The King Of Crows (The Diviners #4)

Author: Libba Bray

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: January LaVoy

BECHDEL TEST: Uncertain, again, I didn’t keep track massively well!

Content Warnings: Racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, sexism, eugenics, blood, gore, animal death, mentions of suicidal thoughts, mentions of rape and abuse, mentions of slavery (there’s probably more that I may have left out)

So here we are, the final book in the Diviners series! I actually can’t remember a time I finished a book series this quickly, I usually read as they come out, and by the time I started The Diviners, there was only this book left to come, so I actually finished all these books less than a year after I first started the series. I think the only recent series that I finished as fast, or maybe faster, is the Shades of Magic trilogy which I absolutely devoured back in 2016/early 2017.

Anyway, naturally I was really excited for The King of Crows, especially after I really loved Before The Devil Breaks You. And I did enjoy it, but I wasn’t quite as blown over by this series conclusion as I hoped I was going to be. The pacing, something I think I’ve complained about with this series before, was totally off and honestly I think it was a lot longer than it really needed to be. That being said, of course I loved the characters, and I did find the conclusion satisfying, so it wasn’t a total loss as a series finale. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The breath-taking finale to the epic New York Times bestseller, The Diviners, from Printz winner and beloved author, Libba Bray.

After the horrifying explosion that claimed one of their own, the Diviners find themselves wanted by the US government, and on the brink of war with the King of Crows.

While Memphis and Isaiah run for their lives from the mysterious Shadow Men, Isaiah receives a startling vision of a girl, Sarah Beth Olson, who could shift the balance in their struggle for peace. Sarah Beth says she knows how to stop the King of Crows-but, she will need the Diviners’ help to do it.

Elsewhere, Jericho has returned after his escape from Jake Marlowe’s estate, where he has learned the shocking truth behind the King of Crow’s plans. Now, the Diviners must travel to Bountiful, Nebraska, in hopes of joining forces with Sarah Beth and to stop the King of Crows and his army of the dead forever.

But as rumors of towns becoming ghost towns and the dead developing unprecedented powers begin to surface, all hope seems to be lost.

In this sweeping finale, The Diviners will be forced to confront their greatest fears and learn to rely on one another if they hope to save the nation, and world from catastrophe…

So as I mentioned above, my biggest problem with this book was definitely the pacing. It was very uneven. The first half does a pretty good job at building the tension, but then it really lagged in the middle and the conclusion was just totally rushed. Someone on Goodreads described the middle of this book as like the infamous Camping sections in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows and I really feel like they hit the nail on the head. It felt like all the stakes and tension had been completely drained and the Diviners were just wandering the country aimlessly. Obviously that’s not true, but as a reader it felt kind of pointless. I don’t care what Memphis and Henry and Bill are doing in Mississippi, I want to know how the King of Crows is gonna go down!

I also feel like the book was just too long? I get that maybe Libba Bray wanted all her books to be of a similar length and maybe that her readers were expecting a long book, but I just didn’t feel that the book needed to be as long as it was. I mean one of the chapters on the audio was over an hour long! There was plenty from this book that could have been cut and the story wouldn’t have lost anything.

One of my other major problems with this was something that I complained about in my reviews of both The Diviners and Lair of Dreams. The Diviners works best when the whole group is together, it thrives off that group dynamic. We had that in Before The Devil Breaks You, but here we’re back to the group being split up for a large portion to the book, and I didn’t really like that. I appreciated that we got to explore different dynamics within the group (the amusement of Jericho and Ling being stuck on the road together was something I didn’t know I needed) and I also loved getting to see Evie and Theta’s friendship more, but I still would have liked more of the whole group together.

With such a big cast of characters, it’s pretty much a guarantee that some get lost in the shuffle. The books have been pretty good about giving everyone a chance to shine, but I still felt kind of sad that some of my faves weren’t featured as prominently in this book. For me, I wished Henry, Ling and Sam had more time to shine in this book, Henry especially because I feel like he was barely used after Lair of Dreams? Also I really, really love Sam and just wanted to see more of him.

Speaking of Sam, I felt like the mission to rescue him was kind of rushed? I mean it was such a huge part of the way the last book ended, and it just seemed way, way too easy. I also would have liked it if his trauma from being hooked up to the eye was explored more, Libba Bray has been so good in the other books about dealing with characters’ trauma and it would have been nice if Sam had been given the same care. His reunion with his mother is also another moment that I would have liked to have been given more consideration, since the two haven’t seen each other in a decade!

I said this in the last review, and I’ll say it again, The King of Crows is a lame villain. I get what Libba Bray was trying to go for, with the whole “the villain is the evils of humanity” but I prefer my villains to be less abstract. The King of Crows felt kind of wishy-washy and I always felt like Jake Marlowe was the real villain of the story anyway.

I feel like I’ve complained a lot about a book that I actually did enjoy, so let me focus a little on the good parts of this book for a moment. The narration, as it has been for the other three books, was amazing. January LaVoy is a real talent, and I definitely hope to find more audiobooks she has narrated in the future. I also really loved Libba Bray’s writing, it was so creepy and eerie.

And of course, I love these characters. I have my favourites (Sam, Henry, Ling, Theta) and those I love a little less (Memphis, Jericho, Evie, though she has grown on me) but ultimately as a group, their dynamic is so brilliant that it doesn’t even matter if you love some more than the others. You are rooting for all of them, as their own little family. It’s been brilliant to see their development over the course of the series, particularly for Evie and Theta, I feel like those two have definitely grown the most from where they were in book one to where they end up. Seeing Theta reclaim her power and come into her own is probably one of the most gratifying arcs of the series for me.

I also really liked that Evie finally faced up to her mother again, her issues with her family have been something that have been hanging over her for the whole series and it was great to see her embracing herself and realising that she doesn’t need the acceptance of her family, because she’s created her own. Her arcs were actually weirdly some of my favourite in this book, seeing her grapple with her grief over Mabel’s death was really emotional and I’m glad that Bray didn’t gloss over all the feelings she had about that. I would have liked it if her feelings over Will hadn’t been brushed over as quickly, granted you don’t have much time to process when you’re saving the world, but it did seem like a bit of an oversight.

The representation in this was also, of course, really good. I love the wide range of diversity, we have POC, we have LGBTQA+ characters, we have a Jewish character, we have a disabled character, there’s a lot to love about the diversity in this cast. I also love that Bray doesn’t shy away from talking about mental health, the frank discussion that Evie and Theta have about depression and suicidal thoughts is difficult to listen to, no doubt, but I love that she was willing to go there and not shy away from it.

This book is the first one that takes place largely away from New York, and whilst I appreciate that Bray was trying to show life in the 1920’s away from big cities, I feel like a lot of the series’ character comes from the setting and that this book was definitely missing something there.

I do have a small bone to pick about Ling’s asexuality here. Obviously, I’m not part of that community, so I’m not an authority on this, but I did feel a little uncomfortable with parts of her story here. I didn’t love that Bray made out like the only way that Alma could be with Ling was if she was able to have sex with other people. Of course people have different levels of sexual attraction and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s pretty harmful messaging to send that the only way someone can be in a relationship with an asexual person is to have sex with other people.

I loved how Libba Bray explored internalised misogyny with Ling though, I thought it was really cool and one of the best parts of Jericho and Ling’s little sojourn with the Haymakers as she does have a tendency to judge Evie much more harshly than Henry for very similar behaviour and it was great to see that acknowledge on page.

I do like that these books touch on politics, but it felt a little heavy handed here, more so than in the first few books. There were whole chapters here that were basically devoted to talking about America’s history and facing up to the demons of the past, which is fine, it’s the theme of the series, but I didn’t really need entire chapters of Memphis talking about the country’s history. I feel like she could have got the point across without having entire chapters about it.

I was expecting more action for this being a final book, there was some, but not quite as much as I was hoping for.

There were a lot of stupid decisions made by the characters, and I felt like Bray kind of wrote herself into a corner with some of them. I can’t really talk too many specifics as it would be spoilery, but a few times there were plot points she needed to happen at the end of the book, and she then had to deus ex machina her way out because of stuff that had happened earlier in the book.

I did find the ending satisfying, even if it was perhaps a little rushed. It also felt from the epilogue of the book that Bray might be setting up for a future spinoff series with The Diviners, which I seriously hope is true, because I don’t want this to be the end for the gang forever!

Overall, this was a satisfying end to The Diviners series, even if it wasn’t my favourite book in the series. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a decent send off for Sam, Evie, Theta, Ling, Jericho, Isaiah, Memphis and Henry. I hope that one day we will see them all again!

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of Sara Holland’s newest release, Havenfall, which I have almost finished, so you guys should be getting that within the next week!

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday #258

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Hi all! I hope you’ve had a good week since I last did one of these and you’re not getting too bored, if like me, you are currently on lockdown!

It’s week 3 of lockdown here and honestly, it’s starting to feel like first semester of Uni again, where I was bored and kind of lonely, except at least then I could go to trampolining and horse riding, and run whenever I felt the need to be out of my flat. Still, silver linings, we had lovely weather over the weekend and I was able to sit outside and read on our balcony at home which was nice and really made me feel better, so I’m looking forward to some more good weather like that this week.

Anyway, as it’s Tuesday, I have another Top Ten Tuesday for you guys, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. I actually have no idea what this week’s topic was meant to be as I wrote this post in January, the week that I left for Cape Town and the topics for April weren’t up yet (and obviously I didn’t know I would be returning home early) so I’ve kind of just made things up as I went along for the next few weeks of posts!.

Thanks to Jana for having the topics scheduled so far in advance, it really helped me out in prepping everything before I left!

This week, I’ve decided to talk about my Top Ten Least Favourite Books, as we did a Favourite Books post way back when I first started doing Top Ten Tuesdays and I thought it would be fun to do a ranty equivalent. This is no shame on you if you did like the books on my list, they just did not work for me! (Also, I’m only including books I finished on this list, since obviously I didn’t like ones that I didn’t finish).

  1. Lord of The Flies-William Golding

Ugh, this is possibly my least favourite book that I was ever assigned at school. It’s so boring, it’s not even written that well, and who really needs another book about how awful men can be? Like we get it.

2. The Fault In Our Stars-John Green

Yes, I know millions of people loved this book and it’s a famous bestseller or whatever, but it just wasn’t for me. I found it really boring, I thought the characters were really pretentious and did not read like believable teenagers (and I was the same age as Hazel and Gus when I read it, that’s not me at 23 saying that) and I just thought the plot was super predictable.

3. One Day-David Nicholls

Again, I just found this one really dull. Dexter was a massive ass, I didn’t really like the repetitive nature of the book, and honestly, it didn’t feel like either of them really changed all that much until right at the end. I also really hate the movie for this one, Anne Hathaway’s Yorkshire accent is atrocious!

4. We Are Blood and Thunder-Kesia Lupo

This is one I read more recently, last year in fact and there was a ridiculous amount of hype over it, but I genuinely just couldn’t see it. I found it really, really dull, barely anything happens till the end, both narrators are super flat and I wasn’t a massive fan of the writing either.

5. The Invisible Library-Genevieve Cogman

This one had a promising concept but poor delivery. It really kills me because I should have LOVED THIS, librarian spies anyone? But the author just threw too much into it, it was like it was trying to be all kinds of fantasy at once, with the dragons and the spies and the time travel and werewolves and vampire and Fae…..you get it, it was all just too much. I was too confused to really get into it, and then on top of that, the characters were really flat as well!

6. The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Nighttime-Mark Haddon

This one has received quite a bit of pushback from members of the autistic community as not great representation and honestly, I can see why, Haddon’s characterisation of Christopher is incredibly stereotypical and not massively nuanced, the author has admitted that he did basically no research into autism before writing the book and honestly I’d rather support autistic authors telling their own stories than allistic ones who can’t even be bothered to do research.

7. Glass Sword-Victoria Aveyard

I mean I probably should have known this book wouldn’t work well for me, given that I didn’t exactly love Red Queen, but I REALLY HATED this book. It was so slow, it wasn’t all that well written, the plot was dull, the characters were underdeveloped….I could go on, but basically me and this book did not get on, and I did not finish the rest of the series.

8. Sea Witch-Sarah Henning

Again, this should have been so good! An origin story for Ursula/The Sea Witch, it should have been amazing. But instead of being all dark and twisted and fun, it was a boring trudge through a 17th century Danish inspired world, where basically nothing happened, the characters were flat and the focus was all over the place.

9. Not If I Save You First-Ally Carter

I loved Ally Carter’s Heist Society books, but this book was just bad. It was so boring, the plot was basically just the two main characters trudging through Alaska and though Maddie did grow on me, Logan was completely flat as a character. The writing wasn’t great, the villains’ motivations were flat, honestly, there was very little I liked about this book.

10. Graceling-Kristin Cashore

Ugh I know this was like a big book in YA Fantasy, but I could not stand it. I hated Katsa, I didn’t like the way that she looked down on other women, that she completely shut down her emotions because she thought the only way to be strong was to be strong physically and despised all feminine things. Thankfully, we’re past seeing that kind of character as the ideal, and this book was published ten years ago, when that was more of a thing, but still, I didn’t enjoy reading it. I also didn’t like Katsa and Po’s relationship, and generally, I just thought it was a really slow, boring book, that lacked in world and character development.

So there we go, those are my Top Ten Least Favourite Books. Do we share any? What did you think of these books? Let me know in the comments!

I will be back next week with another Top Ten Tuesday, which again will be a different topic to the scheduled one. I’m going to be talking about Top Ten Sequels I Want To Read, otherwise known as my Sequel List of Shame, those second/third/fourth books in a series that I have left languishing on my shelves, even though I read the first books ages ago!

#RockMyTBR January-March Update (2020)

Hi everyone! It’s slightly unusual for it to be April and me to be doing my first TBR challenge update of the year, but then nothing about this year has exactly been usual now has it? I did intend to keep up to date with these whilst I was away in Cape Town, but I just didn’t have the time/the internet, to be able to. So instead, you guys get a super chunky update of everything that I’ve read in the past few months! I’m going to do slightly longer thoughts on the books I’ve read as I don’t have reviews for them, so this is kind of going to act as a mini review round up as well.

Anyway, for everyone who isn’t familiar, the #RockMyTBR Challenge is a challenge originally started by Sarah K at The YA Book Traveler, which I’ve kind of taken for myself over the last few years. The aim of the challenge is pretty simple: you take a list of books from your TBR (I always do 12, one for each month of the year) and read them over the course of a year. I usually do one of these updates each month to keep you guys posted on what I’ve been reading, but I didn’t do any whilst I was in South Africa from January-March, so this is going to act as a reading roundup for the last three months. In that time, I read 10 books, which is pretty decent for me:

42425501. sy475 Crossfire (Noughts and Crosses #5) by Malorie Blackman:

I was really excited for this one, as the Noughts and Crosses series was one of my favourites when I was a kid, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. Potentially that’s just me now being a lot older than I was when I first read Noughts and Crosses, but I felt like it just didn’t have the same emotional impact as the other books in the series. I also wasn’t a massive fan of the new protagonists, Libby and Troy, though I did enjoy catching up with Sephy and Callie Rose. Still, it was a fast read, and it left off in an exciting place, so I hope there’s a sequel. I read this one from 30th December-9th January.

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Libby discusses the upcoming student elections with her friends.

44048331. sx318 Escaping From Houdini (Stalking Jack The Ripper #3) by Keri Maniscalco:

This was definitely my favourite of the Stalking Jack The Ripper series! I loved the setting of the cruise ship and I thought the murders were really creative, whilst not be overcomplicated like the ones in Hunting Prince Dracula. It’s probably not too much of a surprise that this was my favourite book, as it features a travelling carnival and I’m trash for circus/carnival stories. I read this one from 6th-16th January. I highly recommend doing the audiobooks for this series, I read them in that format for books 2-4 and the narrator, Nicola Barber is brilliant!

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Audrey Rose and Liza discuss her scientific reading.

41045102. sy475 Circe by Madeline Miller:

This one was my January #RockMyTBR read. I’m a massive Greek mythology nerd, so we probably all could have predicted that this would be a great one for me right? As expected, I really loved this one, Madeline Miller has such a beautiful writing style and I love how she interwove all of these other Greek myths within Circe’s story. It felt like a really timely examination of women and power as well. I read this one from 9th-25th January.

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Circe and Penelope talk about witchcraft.

52136105. sx318 sy475 Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin:

I was really excited for this one, but I found it such a letdown. It was trying to do the same thing that Circe did, I think, look at women reclaiming their power after being abused by men but I don’t think it did it as well. I appreciated that Capin allowed Jade to be angry and I definitely think there’s more room for that in fiction, and I loved the idea of a Macbeth retelling, but I just didn’t think it was executed all that well. I didn’t love the writing style and I felt like all the characters were kind of flat. I read this one from 6th January-1st February (on and off).

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-All the girls conversations revolve around their revenge plot on the boys.

43523326. sx318 Capturing The Devil (Stalking Jack The Ripper #4) by Keri Maniscalco:

And so we go from my favourite book in the SJTR series, to my least favourite. I had really high hopes for this one and definitely ended up disappointed. The mystery could have been good, but the author spent far too much time focusing on the romance between Audrey Rose and Thomas that everything else kind of got lost. The mystery ended up being rushed and it didn’t feel like the satisfying conclusion to this series that I wanted as I spent most of my time being frustrated at both Audrey Rose and Thomas! I read this one from 18th January-5th February.

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-All of Audrey Rose’s conversations with other women revolve around Thomas.

29588505. sy475 Truthwitch by Susan Dennard:

I’ve been really wanting to try a Susan Dennard book after loving her social media for the past few months, and Truthwitch did not disappoint! I really loved the characters and the world, though I did find some of the world-building a little confusing. The plot did feel a little slow paced at times, but on the whole, I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the sequel soon. I read this one from 25th January-14th February.

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Iseult and her mother discuss her escape.

44651522. sy475 Wilder Girls by Rory Power

I reckon this one was more a case of wrong book, wrong reader. I liked the concept of this, but I’ve never really been much of a horror reader, so I did find parts of it incredibly gross. It was also kind of slow paced and dull for most of the book, we barely know what’s happening and then when we do find out, it’s cut off abruptly. This had the potential to be a great story, but it just didn’t quite live up to that potential, at least for me. I read this one from 22nd January-23rd February.

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-The girls talk about the Tox.

21518344. sy475 Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell:

This was my February #RockMyTBR read. Again, we had a great concept, not so great execution, it seems to be a theme so far this year. I loved the idea of a Peter Pan/Captain Hook retelling, but in practice, I didn’t love this book. It TOOK ME SO LONG TO READ and it wasn’t even that long of a book! It was so slow paced, and I can’t say I really LOVED any of the characters. It got better towards the end, but still kind of disappointing. I read this one from 15th February-8th March.

BECHDEL TEST: PASS: Olivia and Gwen have a brief conversation about Gwen’s mother.

45046766Night Spinner by Addie Thorley:

The inside of this one was definitely as beautiful as its cover! It’s a Hunchback of Notre Dame retelling, and though I’m not really familiar with the original story (only the Disney movie), I loved what Thorley did with it. It was such a unique world (kind of arctic tundra like) and concept. I really enjoyed the world building and the characters and though it was maybe a tad slow to start, when it got going, it really got going! I can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel. I read this from 10th February-15th March.

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Enebish, Inkar and Oyunna talk about their faith.

42815556Spin The Dawn by Elizabeth Lim:

And finally my most recent read. This was my #RockMyTBR read for March. Again, I loved the idea but in practice, it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been. It felt like two story ideas combined into one and neither was developed to the extent that it should have been. I read this one from 8th March-1st April. I actually do have a review for this one, so you can check out more of my thoughts here:

https://jjbookblog.wordpress.com/2020/04/02/spin-the-dawn-the-blood-of-the-stars-1-review/

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Maia and Lady Sarnai talk about the dresses.

So that’s everything that I read from January-March of this year, here’s what I have coming up in April:

The City of Brass-S.A. Chakraborty

This was originally going to be my June #RockMyTBR read, but I switched it with The Gilded Wolves, as Brittany from my Goodreads book group (YA Addicted Book Club) picked it for me to read this month as part of our monthly Pick It For Me. I’m really excited for this one, it sounds so good and I’ve heard such good things about it from so many people.

The King of Crows (The Diviners #4)-Libba Bray

I’ve been slowly making my way through this since February, and I’m very nearly done, I’ve got about two hours left on the audiobook! I’ve had mixed feelings about this one, there’s things I’ve really loved and things I haven’t so much, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting from the last book in this series. Still, I’m getting excited about the way things are turning out.

Havenfall-Sara Holland

This is my current Netgalley read, I’ve only got about 9 chapters left so I should have finished it soon. I’m not really sure how to feel about this one, I like the idea and I usually love portal fantasies, but I’ve found this one a bit….dull? I don’t know, we’ll see how the rest of the book goes.

Coraline-Neil Gaiman

The YA Addicted Book Club have chosen this as our monthly read for April, and I’m really excited because I’ve never read any Neil Gaiman before. I watched the film of this a while back, but I’ll be interested to see what the book is like.

Windwitch-Susan Dennard

Like I said above, I really enjoyed Truthwitch when I read it back in February and as Coraline is a very short book, I should be able to get to the audio of this before the month is over. I’ll be interested to see where Safi, Iseult, Merik and Aeduan go on their adventures next.

The Enigma Game-Elizabeth Wein

I love Elizabeth Wein’s historical fiction, so I’m really excited that I got approved for her new one on Netgalley. I’m hoping I’ll love this one just as much as Code Name Verity.

What has everyone else been reading in the last few months? How has your Goodreads Challenge been going? I’m 4 books ahead of schedule on mine, so I’m really happy with that. What books are you looking forward to this year? Let me know in the comments!

Spin The Dawn (The Blood of The Stars #1) Review

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Book: Spin The Dawn (The Blood of Stars #1)

Author: Elizabeth Lim

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Maia and Lady Sarnai have a brief discussion about her dresses.

Content Warnings: Ableism? (main character pretends to be disabled for a significant portion of the novel), hints of homophobia, mentions of alcoholism, death of parents and loved ones, mentions of war, sexual harrasment, spiders, violence

What’s this? A review? Of a book I read in 2020? I know, I know, it has been a while since my blog which ostensibly reviews books has had an actual book review on it. I had intended to catch up on reviews of books that I read in Cape Town, but I realised it was going to take me too long to catch up on all of those, so instead, I’m just going to start my reviews from now and do mini reviews for the books I read in Cape Town in my first #RockMyTBR Challenge Update of the year.

Anyway, Spin The Dawn was my #RockMyTBR book for March and I was really excited about it because I had heard such good things. Sadly, it seems like this was yet another victim of the hype monster. I enjoyed it, but found it somewhat underwhelming. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

I loved the concept of this, it sounded really creative. Project Runway meets Mulan? It sounded brilliant. Sadly, it failed to fully live up to the potential promised in the blurb. For one thing, the Project Runway aspect? Lasted barely a third of the book. I was expecting a really cutthroat competition, with everyone putting up a real fight to win, but it seemed like our protagonist just breezed through. It’s a shame, because the tailoring aspect was something that made this book stand out and it didn’t seem to be utilized enough. Also Mulan? The only real similarity was that the protagonist dresses as a boy and the aim is to help her family.

The map at the start of the book was definitely a plus, I always love it when fantasy books have maps!

Nothing for Maia seemed to be a challenge at all. Obviously it’s a foregone conclusion how the story is going to work out, but you need to see your protagonist struggling at least a little and everything felt far too easy. The quest to find the sun, moon and stars which is supposedly so difficult that the people who have previously attempted it have died? No problem. The tailoring contest? A breeze. Sewing three impossible dresses? Easy. You get the picture, the entire plot relied on deus ex machinas and conveniences that meant nothing for Maia was ever a real challenge.

Despite that, I did like Maia initially. She was feisty, she really cared about her family, she was ambitious and wanted to win the competition so badly. I liked that she was stronger in different ways than your typical YA heroine. All that changed when the romance was introduced though, and once again, any semblance of her personality was absorbed into Edan.

Speaking of Edan, he had entirely no personality whatsoever. I am so done with YA romances being with completely bland boys. It’s so difficult to feel chemistry between characters when one of them seems to have hardly any personality at all. I’m also really done with the “hundreds of years old guy falls in love with teenage girl” trope, it’s no less icky, the ten thousandth time you read it as it was the first.

I did like the diverse world, it was great to have a world that is populated entirely by POC and I enjoyed the Chinese influences, though it did feel like they were very lightly done. I think this was a byproduct of the lack of world-building. We get some details about the world, the food, sewing techniques, that kind of thing, but I felt like there could have been a lot more.

For a fantasy, it’s also kind of magic lite, there are some hints of magic, but by and large, the magic is very little and it’s not really explained all that well.

This brings me to another issue with the world, as great as the racial diversity was, the world was incredibly hetero and cisnormative. It feels like an oversight for a novel published in 2019, which is using cross-dressing tropes, to not even explore the main character’s relationship with her gender or sexuality. There are even a few badly placed “no homo” jokes where Maia worries about being perceived as gay, which didn’t sit very well with me.

I also hated that Maia didn’t really have any significant female relationships. I don’t know if this is because she’s disguised as a boy for part of the book, but even then that comes back to male/female platonic relationships in books, even perceived ones, needing to be more of a thing. By nature of the story, Maia is the only one, the “exceptional” woman, but I would have loved it if we got to see her relationships with other women more.

The side characters were also really flat, which was a shame because they had the potential to be interesting. Lady Sarnai in particular, we don’t really get to see her motivations as the book is in Maia’s POV, but I was really interested in her and how she happens to be impervious to Edan’s magic and I would have liked that to be explored more. I also felt like this book was really lacking in a villain, we get a couple of villain-like characters but no one that felt like that really posed a threat.

The second part of the book felt like a completely different story to the first and third parts. I think the author just took on too much with this story, a sewing contest to become the imperial tailor and the quest to retrieve the sun, moon and stars, could have been two separate stories. It managed the strange feat of feeling like it was too crammed and also feeling slow paced at the same time!

The ending was my absolute biggest bug bear with the book though. I can’t really say why because it would be massively spoilery, but it was a real let down and felt kind of redundant because the main character made a really stupid decision that really didn’t achieve what she wanted it to and it seemed like she could have used her choice so much better!

Overall, this book could have been really fantastic but it just failed to reach it’s full potential. Yes, the cool concept was there, but it tried to do way too much and as always, the romance squandered any real character development on the part of the main character. I may still read the sequel, but I will go into it with much lower expectations.

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of my latest audiobook read, The King of Crows, the final book in Libba Bray’s Diviners series! I’m almost done and THINGS ARE GETTING REAL!

Top Ten Tuesday #257

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Hi all! I hope you’ve had a good week since I last did one of these. I’m not going to lie, I’m going ever so slightly stir crazy in lockdown. I have watched some great TV, currently watching the latest series of Outlander, but the fact that I’ve watched almost all of the shows that I missed in South Africa in less than a week, is a little concerning if this lockdown goes on as long as expected!

Anyway, I’m back with another Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week, we’re talking Ten Signs You’re A Book Lover, which should be a really fun one to do, though I would like to point out before I start that these are all things I do, and it’s great if they apply to you to, but really, the only prerequisite for loving books, is well….loving books!

  1. You have many fancy bookmarks specifically designed for the purpose…..but you usually end up marking your books with anything you can find lying around in your house e.g. old receipts, train tickets, random scraps of paper etc

I do usually manage to use my designated bookmarks, but I would be lying if I said I’d never used a scrap of paper or an old receipt or a train ticket to mark my page because I could not find said bookmark!

2. You never leave the house without a book

Literally wherever I am going, I will have a book on me. On the bus to work? Yup, I take a book. Have a doctor’s appointment? The book is there. Going to meet up with friends? Book. Pretty much wherever I go, I have a book in some form on me, whether it be a physical book or an audiobook, because you never know when you might be left waiting and in need of a book.

3. Your family is constantly telling you that you have too many books

This is obviously not true because you can never have too many books. I like options. But yes, many a book lover has heard from many a family member, “Do you really need more books?”, usually when they receive more book post. The answer to the above question is of course always yes.

4. You do not have enough shelf space for all your books

This might not be true for every book lover, not everyone buys all their books, but it is true for me. I honestly can’t remember the last time all my books fitted on my shelves, for years I have had to double stack, and/or had boxes of books under my shelves because they can’t all fit on them!

5. You are constantly talking about the books you are reading

I mean this is kind of a given. I spend hours and hours talking about the books I read, either with my friends, or online with others in the book community. I love reading books of course, but even more than that, I love talking to people about the books I’m reading!

6. When you go on holiday, you always take slightly more books than you think you’re going to need….running out of books would be a disaster

When I came over to Cape Town, I definitely brought more books than I actually thought I was going to read, because there is nothing worse than going on holiday somewhere and finding out before your holiday is over that you have finished all of your reading material. It’s always better to have more books than to have not enough.

7. You have shelves on Goodreads for books that aren’t coming out for several years

This is maybe more a sign of being a book blogger than someone who reads but doesn’t blog, but it’s definitely been true for me, because I find out more about books that are being released, I usually have shelves for books that aren’t coming out for two or more years, or haven’t even had a release date announced yet!

8. You get excited about meeting your favourite authors

I know not everyone does, and you’re certainly not any less of a book lover if you don’t want to meet your favourite authors, but for me, getting to meet my favourite authors is one of my favourite things about being a reader. Yes, I usually say or do something which makes me cringe, but I do love getting to meet the people behind my favourite books.

9. You stay up far longer than you intend to because you want to read “Just One More Chapter” and before you know it, you’ve finished the book

You know that feeling when you’re reading a really good book, and you just can’t find a point where you’re willing to put it down, so before you know it you’ve finished the entire thing? I use staying up late as an example because I tend to read before bed, but it can happen at any time of day.

10. Your friends and family never know what books to get you, because they have no idea what you haven’t read/don’t own

I’ve been told that apparently I’m really tricky to buy books for, even by my friends, who know my reading taste quite well, just because I own so many books that it’s difficult for them to figure out one that I won’t already have bought myself!

So there we go, my Ten Signs You’re A Book Lover. Have you experienced any of these? What do you think are the signs that you’re a book lover? Let me know in the comments!

I will be back next week with another Top Ten Tuesday, which will be slightly different from the scheduled TTT topic as I wrote these when the topics for April were not yet up, I was obviously expecting to be away slightly longer!  I’m going to be talking about my Top Ten Least Favourite Books, as I shared my Favourite Books way back when, and I thought it would be quite fun to do a ranty post!

Book Vs Movie: The Princess Diaries

Hi everyone! For this month’s Book Vs Movie, I’m going to be talking about The Princess Diaries, arguably Meg Cabot’s most famous series, which was made into an equally well known movie starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews. I actually saw the film long before I read the book, so that was my first impression of those characters rather than the book.

Book Thoughts:

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I actually can’t remember how old I was when I read these books, I know that they were my sister’s and I borrowed them from her, I think I was about 14/15, so roughly the same age as Mia is in this book. I obviously had the film in mind when I read this and they’re quite different beasts, Mia from the book is more spoiled, Lily is just plain awful, Grandmere (Clarisse) is definitely much harsher and it’s harder to see why Lily and Mia are friends, because whilst Lily in the film is kind of overbearing, she’s not as plain mean as Lily from the books. I’ve also never been a massive fan of diary entries as a form of storytelling, so I wasn’t massively keen on that. Having said that, I clearly did enjoy the books because I read all of them, they were quite funny and short and easy to read.

Movie Thoughts:

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Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of differences between the book and the movie, but in this case, I actually liked that. Movie Mia still has the same spirit as Book Mia, but I found her a whole lot less irritating and Grandmere is a lot nicer and they have a much better relationship in the film. I thought the cast for this was great, and I think it’s another one of those cases where the story worked better for me in film format than it did in the books.

Movie or Book Judgement:

Movie! I liked the book, but I found the movie a whole lot more fun.

That’s it for this month’s Book Vs Movie, I will be back next month with another post, this time talking about the book and film versions of Divergent.

Jo Talks: South African Adventures!

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Hi everyone! I hope you are all safe and have been keeping well in the current uncertain health climate. The UK is on lockdown for three weeks, and as I currently don’t have a job, I will be keeping busy with lots of blogging and reading and watching TV, whilst we wait for the world to return to some semblance of normal.

Anyway, for my first discussion post back, I wanted to talk a little about what I’ve been doing for the past few months whilst I’ve been out in Cape Town, since I haven’t really been talking about it much on the blog. We may not be able to travel physically right now, but I can relive my travels virtually for you guys!

I went out to Cape Town back in January, for a project that was meant to last twelve weeks (though in the end I had to leave after ten). I was based in Muizenberg, which is a coastal suburb in the Western Cape, and my office was less than five minutes away from the beach! My project was obviously Journalism, and I was writing for Cape Chameleon, an online magazine run by Projects Abroad, the volunteer organisation I was working for.

I got thrown in the deep end pretty swiftly, as soon as I arrived, I had to come up with an article idea and write a pitch based on that month’s theme of Human Rights. I had seen about the #AmINext movement on Twitter, a few months prior and I was interested in seeing what had happened since then, with gender based violence still being a prevalent issue in South African society. Initially, it was quite a struggle to get people who were willing to talk to me about it, but my supervisor and I managed to secure three interviews in the end. The article turned out really well, and it was a great start to my time in Cape Town. I got to interview some really cool people, and talking to a woman from Rape Crisis in Cape Town really inspired me. One of the best parts of being a journalist is getting to hear stories of people doing amazing things and to share those stories is a real joy.

Over the next nine weeks, I wrote an article per week, which might not seem like a lot, but when you have to research, organise interviews and write the article, all in one week, the work quickly piles up!

It could be a bit frustrating when you were reaching out to sources for an article and it seemed like no one was getting back to you. This was especially true when I was sorting out my controversial topic articles, because the subjects I covered were quite sensitive (gender based violence and illegal abortion), so people were more reluctant to talk to me. People also seemed to be slower to get back to me than I’d encountered before in the UK, so that was another hurdle to work around, especially when you working on quite tight deadlines. Still, it’s all part of being a journalist, and persistence paid off in the end, I was able to get the interviews I wanted.

Working in South Africa was obviously quite different from working in the UK: my office was pretty relaxed, and there were only a few volunteers on my project: for the last month I was there, I was the only one. This was actually quite nice, as it meant our supervisor was able to help us more on an individual level, and I liked the more laid back atmosphere, it was definitely very different to newsrooms in the UK that I’ve been in!

I also loved the freedom of getting to choose what I wanted to write and really revelled in that opportunity, as I know when I get a job, I won’t always get to choose the stories that I get to work on. This meant that the portfolio of articles I ended up with really reflected me and the kinds of stories that matter to me, which was brilliant.

Outside of my work, obviously there was a lot to explore and do in Cape Town over almost three months. I made a great group of friends, there were five of us girls who hung around together a lot and we’re already planning on meeting back up again when we’re all able to travel once more! It was great to get to meet people from different places around the world: in our group, there were two of us from the UK, two from Holland and another girl from Denmark. We’d have socials every week organised by Projects Abroad, but we also had our weekends and evenings free to explore what Cape Town had to offer.

I did a lot of really cool things in my time in Cape Town. Obviously the Safari and the whole Garden Route trip was a highlight, a group of us spent three days travelling along the Garden Route, which is basically a road trip you can do along the coast of South Africa, where there are a lot of tourist attractions. It’s a pretty packed weekend, but it was so much fun. Going on Safari is something I’ve always wanted to do, and it definitely lived up to all my expectations, I loved getting to see all these animals in the wild. The highlight was definitely the lions, but it was just so cool to get to see animals that close, with no glass or cages. We also explored these really cool caves, the Cango Caves, went ziplining and canoeing and went out to these really gorgeous viewpoints.

I would definitely recommend doing the Cape Peninsula tour as well if you do go to Cape Town. This is a lot shorter than the Garden Route, it’s just a day tour but it was super fun: we got to see beautiful views from the Cape Point lighthouse, the Cape of Good Hope and Chapman’s Peak Drive. We also visited the penguins at Boulders Beach (yes, South Africa has penguins!) and took a boat cruise to see the seals in Hout Bay.

I definitely took advantage of the sunny weather as much as I could by doing a lot of outdoor activities. I particularly loved going to the outdoor cinema, watching films under the stars is definitely not something that’s all that common in the UK, it’s too cold most of the time! Me being me, of course, I jumped on the opportunity to go horse riding on the beach, as I’ve not ridden on the beach in years. We also tried sandboarding, which was something super fun that I would never have got to try at home.

One of the things I really loved about Cape Town, and South Africa in general was the sheer abundance of food markets. We have markets in the UK, but not to the same extent and it was such a cool thing. These markets had so many different food options from around the world and it was so great to be able to support local businesses whilst I was out there.

The last several months in South Africa were even more than I could ever have imagined they would be. I went out to improve my skills as a journalist, and I definitely did that. I got to speak to so many amazing people whilst I was out there, and I really stretched myself as a journalist. This was particularly true with my controversial topic articles: gender based violence and illegal abortion.

For both, I was really worried about covering the subject matter sensitively, and obviously coming from a different culture, you have to be really careful that you approach them in a non-judgemental way. When I pitched the article about abortion to my supervisor, I was really worried that she would reject it as too controversial but she really supported me, and honestly, those two articles actually turned out to be the ones I was most proud of. I learned that I didn’t have to stick within my comfort zone, and I could stretch myself to cover difficult topics, and do them well.

Obviously, it wasn’t ideal that my time in South Africa came to an abrupt end because of coronavirus. But in the ten weeks that I was there, I had the most incredible time and it’s an experience that I’m never going to forget. Getting to live and work as a journalist in a different country has always been a dream of mine, and I feel so lucky that I got to do it right out of University. I made the most amazing friends, I got to do so many wonderful things and I got to explore a wonderful country. It was my first time in Africa and it definitely won’t be the last, I will be going back as soon as I’m able to travel again!

Obviously I have about a million and one pictures that I could share, but I’ll leave you guys with a few of my favourites:

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Riding on Noordhoek Beach

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Up close with the lions!

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Up at the top of Table Mountain

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On Cape Point Lighthouse

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing whilst I’ve been on semi-hiatus the past few months! I really enjoyed my time away, and though of course I wish I was coming back in better circumstances, I have missed blogging and am really looking forward to getting back into the swing of things and posting more now that I’m home.

If you’d like to read any of my articles, here’s the link to Cape Chameleon, my articles are pretty easy to find as they’re all recent!
https://capechameleon.co.za/

I know this has been a super long post, but I have one more admin thing before I leave you all for today. I obviously was still reading a lot whilst I was away and whilst usually I would review everything I read on here, I’ve decided I’m not going to write up full length reviews for the nine books I read whilst I was gone. Instead, I’ll start afresh with my latest read, and instead do a round up of mini reviews in a longer #RockMyTBR update post. Reviews are incredibly time consuming for me, and it makes more sense to do it this way, especially since I was not keeping notes whilst I was away.

I’ll be back next month with more actual book talk, though I don’t know what about yet. In the meantime, I should have my #RockMyTBR roundup of January-March in the next few days, so keep an eye out for that.