A Spark of Light Review (e-ARC)

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Book: A Spark of Light

Author: Jodi Picoult

Published By: Hodder & Stoughton

Expected Publication: 30th October (Sorry!)

Format: e-book

Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, this was one of my most anticipated releases of 2018 since I have been waiting for Jodi Picoult to do a book about abortion for a long time and I was not disappointed with the results, A Spark of Light is an emotional, nuanced look at a very difficult topic and allows the reader to explore all the different angles of the debate in a very personal way as we follow the characters at the clinic through a very traumatic day, from end to beginning. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Jodi Picoult—one of the most fearless writers of our time—tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.

Jodi Picoult’s writing is always great, emotional and powerful and that was true of A Spark of Light as well, but I wanted to draw particular attention to the opening of this book in my review because I thought it was really great-we come in at the end of the hostage situation, so I found it very impressive that within the opening paragraph, I was already feeling for the characters and the situation they had found themselves in and wanted to know more about how they got there.

There’s quite a large cast of characters and the perspective shifting did take a little time for me to get used to, but I appreciated that there were so many different characters, because you get to see such a wide range of perspectives. My personal favourite was Dr Louie Ward, the Catholic abortion doctor, who rather than his faith preventing him from performing abortions, it reinforced his belief in choice. It was a perspective that I can’t say I’ve really seen before, and it was nice to see a religious person also believe in choice as so often it is presented as an either/or scenario in media, so it was nice to have a book that didn’t show the two as mutually exclusive. The fact that this character is based on a real abortion doctor, made me love him even more.

We also have Wren, a fifteen year old girl, her father Hugh and her aunt Bex. Wren and Bex are caught in the shooting, Hugh is the hostage negotiator. I loved how Hugh and Wren’s bond was shown throughout the story, their father/daughter bond was very heartwarming and seeing how his bond with his daughter affected how Hugh negotiated with the hostage taker was very interesting. I liked how father/daughter relationships were central to this book, as the hostage taker’s motives are very much tied to his own daughter and it was interesting to see how the two relationships contrasted. I also liked that through Olive (an older woman at the clinic) and Wren, Picoult explored the other services offered by women’s health clinics as abortion is so often the focus that people forget these places provide other vital services as well.

Janine was a particularly interesting character for me, she is a pro-life advocate who comes to the clinic as a spy, trying to find evidence that the clinic was coercing women into having an abortion. I’m pro-choice, so my initial instinct towards her was slightly sceptical as I often feel that pro-lifers are kind of hypocritical, but I did come to feel for her as more of her backstory was revealed through the book, even if I don’t necessarily agree with her ideas.

I really loved Izzy, she had such gumption, she wasn’t afraid to stand up and do what was right in order to help people, even if doing so would get her killed and she stayed impressively level headed through the crisis. Her conflict between her own poor upbringing and her boyfriend coming from a wealthy family felt incredibly realistic and it was interesting to see how this conflict contributed to why she ended up at the clinic-one of my favourite twists of the novel, because I really didn’t see it coming. I also felt incredibly for Joy and Olive, as their journeys to the clinic were quite emotional.

Interspersed with the clinic story, is the story of a young girl who performed an illegal abortion by taking pills at home (in Mississippi, it is illegal to have an abortion without the presence of a doctor). At first, I was kind of confused as to why this story was included but it becomes clearer the further through the book you get and is actually vital to what is happening at the clinic. Beth’s story actually made me really mad, it’s these kinds of things that make it really hard for me to understand pro-lifers, because without the option of choice, women resort to desperate and often unsafe ways to end pregnancy. I felt really sorry for Beth, especially that she felt she had no other option than to risk her own life in order to exercise her right to choose, which should have been freely available to her.

I think Picoult did very well at explaining the shooter’s motivations, though he was easily my least favourite character in the book (obviously), it is clear why he did what he did and his love for his daughter was endearing, even if he did not really show it in the right way.

As much as Picoult obviously attempts to balance both sides of the issue, it is quite clear which side of the debate she lands on, and the pro-life characters, with the exception of Janine and George, do come across as more caricaturish than the pro-choice ones. However, I did like that the book never felt preachy, all characters are given the chance to show their viewpoints and it’s up to the reader to decide which they agree with.

The reverse chronology, I know will be hit or miss with most people. I did find it confusing initially, particularly at the points in each chapter when the timelines intersect going into the next hour (which you have already read) but I actually ended up enjoying it-telling the story this way means you get to learn about the characters and their situations as you go through and by the end I had real empathy for all of them. You get little tidbits in each section about something that happened earlier in the day that you will then learn about, and far from decreasing the tension, I found that knowing the ending first actually increased the tension for me because I really wanted to know what had happened to the women in the clinic to bring them to that point.

I did feel like the chapters were a little overly long, most of the sections were 20+ pages long and as someone who likes to read before I go to bed, that’s a bit long for me. It might have been better if each section was broken up a little more, so that you weren’t facing such a huge chunk of text in each section but that could just be me!

Jodi obviously meticulously researches her books, and I definitely feel like I know a lot more about Mississippi abortion laws after this book, I love that I always come out of her books knowing things that I didn’t know before-although a lot of the real life information she used in this book made me very angry considering it shows how little respect lawmakers have for women’s right to choose. I also particularly loved the author’s note of this book, where she goes into her research process a little and talks about what motivated her to write this book, it was incredibly powerful and I would advise anyone who doesn’t usually read the author’s note to definitely do so this time.

The section where an abortion is performed is rather graphic, I wasn’t expecting Jodi to go into so much detail and I did find it a little unsettling but that’s more because I’m slightly squeamish than anything else, and I’m quite glad she did include it because I have knowledge about the process now that I didn’t before.

Jodi Picoult’s books always come with a healthy dose of mind blowing twists, and this book was no exception, although I actually predicted one of the major twists myself this time, which made me very happy as I don’t usually do it! The end of the book in particular had me with my mouth hanging open, because I really wasn’t expecting that at all.

There were some uncorrected proof errors, but that was only to be expected and I’m sure these have been edited in the final version.

I will admit, I did find the epilogue a little frustrating-I would have liked to find out what happened to each of the women who survived the hostage situation, though I do appreciate that the cliffhanger from the first chapter was resolved, it didn’t leave me as satisfied as I would have liked. However, the story is about what brought the women to the clinic rather than what they do after, so I understand why Picoult chose not to go down this route, I just prefer to have everything all wrapped up and the ending was a little too open for me.

My Rating: 4/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-It would have been very surprising if this book hadn’t passed, considering the subject matter, many named women in this book speak to each other about topics which weren’t about men.

My next review will be of my final #RockMyTBR book of the year, though I have changed it from Wonder Woman: Warbringer to Our Dark Duet as I wasn’t feeling too engaged with the former a and am enjoying the latter far more.

 

 

 

 

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Night of Cake and Puppets (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2.5) Review

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Book: Night of Cake and Puppets (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2.5)

Author: Laini Taylor & Jim Di Bartolo (illustrator)

This was my November #RockMyTBR book and after being decidedly disappointed with the second instalment in the series, Days of Blood and Starlight, I was really hoping that I would enjoy this one more. Thankfully I did! I wasn’t expecting to, because as you all know by now, books filled with fluffy romance aren’t usually my thing, but every once in a while, the inner romantic does come out and she really did find this very cute. It’s no secret that I much prefer Zuzana and Mik’s romance to Karou and Akiva’s, so getting to spend a whole book with them was great. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

In this stand-alone companion to the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone series comes the story of Mik and Zuzana’s fantastical first date—as a gorgeously illustrated gift edition with bonus content included.

Petite though she may be, Zuzana is not known for timidity. Her best friend, Karou, calls her “rabid fairy,” her “voodoo eyes” are said to freeze blood, and even her older brother fears her wrath. But when it comes to the simple matter of talking to Mik, or “Violin Boy,” her courage deserts her. Now, enough is enough. Zuzana is determined to make the first move, and she has a fistful of magic and a plan. It’s a wonderfully elaborate treasure hunt of a plan that will take Mik all over Prague on a cold winter’s night before leading him to the treasure: herself! Violin Boy is not going to know what hit him.

New York Times bestselling author Laini Taylor brings to life a night only hinted at in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy—the magical first date of fan-favorites Zuzana and Mik. Originally published as an ebook, this new print edition will include breathtaking black and white illustrations, plus bonus content in a gorgeous package perfect for new and current fans of the series.

First of all I have to talk about the illustrations because they really did make this book for me! I don’t really know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m not a particularly visual reader, I can’t picture scenes from books in my head as I am reading, I’m much more aural, I hear character conversations but as for picturing what they look like? No idea. So the illustrations actually really helped me here, because I had a visual reference for everything that was going on in the book. I honestly wish more books had illustrations because they would really help me out!

Some of the chapters I felt were a little long, but I didn’t mind as much because the illustrations really helped break them up and since it was quite a short book anyway, it was easy enough to get through.

I loved the chapter titles, they were so funny-seriously more books should have chapter titles, they really enhance the reading experience for me.

The plot itself is kind of light, it does what it says on the tin, it’s the story of Zuzana and Mik’s first date, so it’s nothing particularly earthshattering, but it is incredibly cute, it made the inner romantic in me swoon a little at how beautiful their date ended up being, I could only wish for something that gorgeous!

I liked the dual person POV, you get to see the night from both sides, although Zuzana’s chapters were somewhat more engaging than Mik’s but that was to be expected, given that out of the two of them, she has the more engaging personality and they were both first person POVs, so naturally Zuzana’s voice comes across stronger.

The atmosphere of the book was wonderful, the snowy Prague setting really added to the magic and romance of the night and I loved how all the disparate elements, the snow, the puppets, the cake, Mik’s violin, all came together to make a beautifully romantic night. The writing was also beautiful and really added to the romantic atmosphere of the book.

I have to admit, throughout the book, I kept thinking, it’s a good job that Mik likes Zuzana otherwise the whole treasure map with her as a prize thing would have come off incredibly creepy and stalkerish rather than sweet!

I loved all the text messages between Karou and Zuzana throughout the book, they were very relatable and added a measure of reality to an otherwise quite fantastical story.

It was really nice to finally have the details filled in about Zuzana and Mik’s relationship as it was kind of glossed over in Daughter of Smoke and Bone and I think I understand them better as a couple after reading this book.

There’s honestly not much more to say, it was a cute, romantic story that acted as a very nice filler for the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hopefully the third book has the same level of enjoyment as this one rather than Days of Blood and Starlight, as I’d really like to finish this series on a high!

My Rating: 4/5

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-By it’s nature, this book kind of has to fail as Zuzana and Mik are the only two characters who had dialogue and even Karou and Zuzana’s texts are of course about Mik, since the whole story is about their relationship.

My next review will be of my final #RockMyTBR book of the year, Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer, which I’m super excited for because I loved the Wonder Woman film.

Midnight (Skulduggery Pleasant #11) Review

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Book: Midnight (Skulduggery Pleasant #11)

Author: Derek Landy

It’s no secret by now how much I love the Skulduggery Pleasant series, and the level of excitement I had for Phase 2 of the series was intense. I have to say though, it has yet to really hit its stride. Resurrection was mostly set up for the new series, which was to be expected, as the first book in this new phase of the series. Midnight is still on kind of shaky ground, I can see the potential for amazing books in the rest of the series, but there’s still some….well let’s call them teething issues to work through. First of all, the first and second halves of this book kind of felt like two different stories, which did make sense when I read the afterword, but I still kind of felt like they didn’t really fit together. For the first half, we have all these refugees coming from Mevolent’s world and the second half is all about Alice being kidnapped. Both are great plotlines on their own, but together? Yeah they don’t really work all that well. I think this second phase of the series is still finding its feet, and whilst I have high hopes for the rest of the series, this book wasn’t as good as I was hoping. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain are back in their most gripping story yet, as book 11, Midnight, picks up where Resurrection left off – and runs.

For years, Valkyrie Cain has struggled to keep her loved ones safe from harm, plunging into battle — time and time again — by Skulduggery Pleasant’s side, and always emerging triumphant.

But now the very thing that Valkyrie fights for is in danger, as a ruthless killer snatches her little sister in order to lure Valkyrie into a final confrontation. With Skulduggery racing to catch up and young sorcerer Omen scrambling along behind, Valkyrie only has twelve hours to find Alice before it’s too late.
The clock is ticking…

First off I kind of have to talk about the pacing, because that was definitely the biggest issue in this book. The first half plods along at a rather leisurely pace and then the second half goes at breakneck speed, so fast that you don’t really have time to consider what’s going on. I’m not sure if I’ve ever said any of Derek Landy’s books have pacing issues before, but they were glaringly obvious in this book. Also as I talked about, the two halves didn’t really fit together very well, the first and second half felt like they were part of different stories, which did make sense when Derek Landy explained how much he’d had to chop and change Midnight after Resurrection’s publication in the afterword, but at the same time it was kind of jarring.

There were also way too many subplots in the first half of the book, between the refugees from Mavolent’s world, Abysinnia’s secret child, Sebastain the plague doctor, it was really hard to keep track of what was happening and it felt like some of the things were just there to set up for future books rather than actually adding anything to this particular story.

The chapters lengths were good though, the one thing Derek Landy always does well is keep the chapters to a relatively short length, honestly they were the saving grace with all the pacing problems in this book, I was still managing to get through the story despite the fact that I wasn’t totally engaged with what was going on because the chapters kept ticking along. The book itself however was definitely overly long given that the main part only really happened in the last 40 odd chapters of the book, the entire opening could probably have been cut without losing anything.

The Skulduggery/Valkyrie dynamic is the cornerstone of this series and they’re split apart for most of this book. I do love getting to see the character that Valkyrie has grown into because I like I said in my review for Resurrection, I like her a lot more now she’s grown up, she still has the sarcastic sense of humour which makes for such a great dynamic with Skulduggery, but she’s more mature, less certain, less arrogant now and that makes it much easier to root for her. Whilst Skulduggery and Valkyrie being apart does give Valkyrie the chance for lots of action hero moments of her own, it feels somewhat like the life of the series has been sucked out? The friendship between Val and Skulduggery added some warmth, light and humour to the series and that felt like it was lacking here. It also feels like Skulduggery has been somewhat pushed to the side, which was a shame given that he’s my favourite character.

It was lovely to see Skulduggery finally getting to meet Valkyrie’s family-it’s something I’ve been waiting for for a long time and it did not disappoint. Desmond in particular was ridiculously hilarious, asking lots of stupid questions about magic.

The Omen subplots were kind of dull, I enjoyed him in the last book, but in this book I didn’t really see much point to his character being there, because he just didn’t add anything to the story. I’m hoping that in the next book, he’s given more to do, because I do like him, I just didn’t think his character was actually needed in this particular book.

Valkyrie’s new sensitive powers are quite interesting and whilst I don’t love Derek Landy doing the whole “special snowflake, first of her kind” thing with her, I think there’s a lot of potential with these new powers and I can’t wait to see how she develops into these new powers-Valkyrie growing into her magic was one of the most interesting parts of phase 1 of the series, so it would be great to see something similar here.

I said I wasn’t keen about the remnant of Darquesse in the first book, but I actually enjoyed her more here, it’s an interesting dynamic she and Valkyrie have and whilst I still hope that Darquesse herself isn’t brought back fully, I think that having Kes around could be interesting for future instalments.

I didn’t really understand the point of Sebastian the plague doctor in this book, I’m hoping that his storyline gels more with the rest of the story in future books.

There were some good discussions of consent in this book, which was nice to see-it’s definitely something that needs to be talked about more in YA.

The Flanery subplots didn’t really fit well with the story either, again that made sense when I read the afterword, as Flanery was initially meant to have a much bigger role and was toned down after Trump was elected, but he’s still kind of annoying and I don’t really see his role in the story.

I think one of the major problems with this arc is that a compelling villain hasn’t really appeared yet. Flanery is simply a caricature, Cadaverous is slightly more menacing, but still not great and Abysinnia has yet to really do anything to cement her villain status. I’m slightly disappointed that Landy, who brought us Mevolent, Serpine, Lord Vile and Darquesse hasn’t been able to come up with a better villain for this series, but I’m willing to give Abysinnia the benefit of the doubt that we are building up to her really evil moment.

There were some big reveals at the end that gives me hope for the rest of the series, but at the moment, Phase 2 has definitely been lacking the same spark that Phase 1 had. The trademark Landy dialogue and humour is still there, but it feels like the story is lacking…..well apologies for a slightly spoiler here, but you won’t understand it till you read the book anyway, soul. I’m hoping that this is just teething problems and the books will get better from here on out, because I really don’t want this second era of Skulduggery Pleasant to ruin the first one for me!

My Rating: 3/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Valkyrie has several conversations with other female characters (Reverie, Militsa, China, Hannah) that do not revolve around men.

My next review will be of Night of Cake and Puppets, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone novella, which will be coming for you very soon as I have already finished it!

For A Muse of Fire (For A Muse of Fire #1) Review (ARC)

For a Muse of Fire (For a Muse of Fire, #1)

Book: For A Muse of Fire (For A Muse of Fire #1)

Author: Heidi Heilig

Expected Publication: 25th September (Yes, I know, I know)

Format: Physical copy, paperback

Thank you to Heather Doss who sent me the copy of For A Muse of Fire to read early through the #bookishwish on Twitter.

I actually saw a tweet about this book from the author herself in which she compared it to…well honestly I don’t remember the exact comparison but it was something I liked, so I instantly added it to my TBR and then very kindly, Heather Doss accepted my bookish wish from Twitter and sent a proof all the way from the US for me (thank you, Heather!) so I got to read this book a little early (though granted, it took till after the book was officially released to finish it, but since it’s probably not going to be released in the UK till next year, I guess I still technically read it early!). Here is a short synopsis of the book:

A young woman with a dangerous power she barely understands. A smuggler with secrets of his own. A country torn between a merciless colonial army, a terrifying tyrant, and a feared rebel leader. The first book in a new trilogy from Heidi Heilig.

Jetta’s family is famed as the most talented troupe of shadow players in the land. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets seem to move without string or stick—a trade secret, they say. In truth, Jetta can see the souls of the recently departed and bind them to the puppets with her blood. But the old ways are forbidden ever since the colonial army conquered their country, so Jetta must never show, never tell. Her skill and fame are her family’s way to earn a spot aboard the royal ship to Aquitan, where shadow plays are the latest rage, and where rumor has it the Mad King has a spring that cures his ills. Because seeing spirits is not the only thing that plagues Jetta. But as rebellion seethes and as Jetta meets a young smuggler, she will face truths and decisions that she never imagined—and safety will never seem so far away.

Heidi Heilig creates a world inspired by Asian cultures and French colonialism.

First off, the premise for this was pretty darn awesome. A combination of Asian and French, a main character with necromancy talents and bipolar disorder and the whole shadow puppet element? Yeah, the whole thing made for the premise of a brilliant story.

I loved Jetta as a main character, she was very complex, both kind and caring & very family focused, and seemingly quite sweet natured, but she’s also reckless, impulsive and could be quite savage at times, she’s the literal definition of a Slytherpuff. Her bipolar disorder (the author also has the same disorder, so this story is #ownvoices for that), informs a lot of her actions and it was great to see a fantasy where the main character suffers from a mental illness and this informs the way they act but is never the singular important part of them, it’s just another aspect of their character.

It was also so lovely to have a fantasy story where the main character’s family plays such an important role. Jetta’s parents are not just there, they have an important role to play in her story and her love for her family is a really defining part of her character and that was so lovely and refreshing to see in a YA fantasy.

The diversity in this story was just fantastic,  nearly all the main characters are POC as it takes place in an Asian inspired world and of course, Jetta, has bipolar disorder. Apparently the author has also confirmed that Jetta is queer, though that is only implied, not directly mentioned on page.

I loved the world, though I could have potentially done with a bit more world building, the idea of the fusion of Asian culture with French colonialism was a great one but I didn’t feel like the world leaped off the page as much as it could have. I thought Jetta’s necromancy powers were awesome, though again, they could have been a bit more developed. Still I think it has real potential and I can’t wait to return to it and learn a little more in the second book. The whole idea of binding the souls of the dead to shadow puppets (or other objects) to command them, is an awesome idea and I loved seeing Jetta’s powers expand through the book.

The way the book was set out was also great, with the little ephemera of song lyrics, play scripts and letters relating to the story between each chapter  and it was laid out in a three act structure, like a play which was very pleasing. The little snippets of the stories for the puppet plays that Jetta and her family put on were particular highlights for me.

As a love interest, Leo felt kind of bland, and as much as I loved the positive representation of sex workers, the girls at Le Perl weren’t really given enough time to be developed either. Having said that, I did love the way Leo as a biracial character was represented, his struggles with not fitting in on either side of his heritage felt very authentic (he is also an #ownvoices character as Heilig is biracial herself).

It was nice to have the content warnings in the front of the book, I feel like that’s something that should be more normalised throughout publishing.

I loved that we got a reference page for all the characters at the front of the book, there were a lot of characters and it was nice to have that to refer to when I got confused over who people were, particular with the Emperor and the Boy King who I was constantly mixing up. I also would have appreciated a glossary for the French terms, since I don’t speak French (at least not very well!), so that would have been helpful.

The maps that will be present in the final version were obviously missing from the ARC copy that I read, which I understand as it’s an unfinished copy, but I can’t wait to see them in the final version.

The book was relatively slow paced, it only really picks up in the third act, and I also found certain parts a little confusing, since part of Jetta’s bipolar (or malheur as it’s called in the book) is missing random gaps of time which I understand but as a reader it was a little disconcerting.

I loved the writing, Heidi Heilig is amazing at painting a picture with words and even though I’m not a very visual reader, so I didn’t exactly picture everything in my mind, I could feel the atmosphere around me, which was great.

I could have done with more context for the Rebellion, we kind of just get thrown into it, and although I understand the basic jist of the whole Aquitans colonizing the Chakrans, it would have been nice to get a bit more backstory on that, and I really want to meet the Tiger!

I can’t really talk about Jetta’s heritage much without giving away huge spoilers, but I just want to say that I think there are some plot holes that the author didn’t really think about there and I’m hoping they’re explained more in the next book.

I would have liked to see more of Theodora as I thought she was a really interesting character who wasn’t really explored enough. I’m hoping to see more of her in the next book, and to see her interactions with Leo and Jetta as they should be very interesting after the events of this book.

The ending was really exciting and the last few chapters hold some great stuff that have made me really excited for the next book. Jetta makes some….well let’s just say interesting….decisions that will no doubt have major repercussions for the next book.

Overall, this was a promising start to what looks to be a great new fantasy series, it was wonderfully diverse, had a very cool premise and an interesting and complicated main character, and although the pacing and world building could have been improved here and there, I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book in the series.

My Rating: 3.5/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Jetta and Cheeky (one of the dancers at Le Perl) have a discussion about clothes.

My next review will be of Midnight, the latest Skulduggery Pleasant book by Derek Landy. Fair warning though, it may be a while till that review materializes as a) I have to finish the book and b) I am super busy in November so will not be blogging as much as I normally like to.

Sea Witch Review (e-ARC)

Sea Witch

Book: Sea Witch

Author: Sarah Henning

Published By: HarperCollins (UK)

Expected Publication: 31st July (oops! So sorry!)

Format: e-book

Thank you to HarperCollins and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, I love a good villain origin story and it was great to have the chance to read it pre-publication.

I was super excited for this book, despite The Little Mermaid not being my favourite fairytale (or at least not my favourite Disney movie!) because I do love a good villain origin story and since Ursula/The Sea Witch, is a great villain, I was expecting lots of darkness and evilness from this story. Sadly, I didn’t quite get what I expected, and instead of being a fun, magic filled, villainous romp, Sea Witch was more of a dry, historical retelling of witches in 17th/18th? (honestly I’m not really sure what century) Denmark with a hint of fairytales mixed in.

The pacing was ridiculously slow, it took a good 70% of the book for anything to happen, most of the time, it was just the characters milling about, celebrating a big Danish festival, drooling over each other and just generally going about their daily lives. Now I understand that books can’t be non-stop action all the time and I would probably be pretty bored if they were, but if I have to wait until the book is nearly over for anything to happen, then I’m sorry, but you’re doing something wrong.

I found the characters incredibly difficult to connect to. Evie didn’t really seem to have all that much personality, neither did any of the other characters, and since they all felt flat to me, I struggled to care about any of their struggles. Iker and Nik were just your average flat male love interests, who existed to serve no purpose other than provide romantic conflict for the story and even then, that didn’t really work because neither character seemed to have chemistry with their respective romantic interests. Annemette was the most interesting of the four main characters, but even then, it took far too long to get to the good parts of her character. I also would have liked to know more about Evie, Iker and Nik’s relationship with Anna before she died as that would have been helpful for context later in the book.

Each chapter had a flashback to the characters’ past between them, and whilst I understand what the author was going for with these, they just felt extremely choppy and made the transitions between each chapter seem rough. The writing quality in the flashback chapters was also significantly lesser than in the rest of the book, a lot of repetitive phrases were used and annoyingly, all the characters were referred to by hair colour rather than name!

The Danish world was cool and I think if it had been developed more then the mix of Danish history with magic could have worked really well but like much of the story, the world was also underdeveloped: there wasn’t really enough of Evie being a Witch for the story to be considered fantasy but not really enough history for it to be considered historical either, so it kind of occupied this weird hybrid space where it was trying to be both but ended up being neither.

The twists were meant to be exciting, but they were kind of predictable, so instead of feeling WTF just happened when they came up, it was more of a “Thank goodness, it’s finally been revealed”.

The writing, aside from in the flashback chapters was decent enough, but nothing earth shattering.

There was no obvious representation of race, sexuality, disability in the story at all, and there’s no reason why in magical Denmark there couldn’t be people who weren’t white, straight, cis or ablebodied. Also, the two female characters, whilst initially seeming friends, had an incredibly shallow friendship which descended into girl on girl hate by the end of the book, which is one of my biggest pet peeves.

It would also have been helpful to have a glossary and pronunciation guide, as there were several unfamiliar Danish words throughout the book, and I like to know what unfamiliar words mean and how to pronounce them!

This book also had one of the tropes that I have a serious love/hate relationship with, the best friend is secretly in love with the MC. Now don’t get me wrong, some of my favourite romances are friends-to-lovers ones, and I do think that all the best romances in books start with friendship, but I don’t think every male/female friendship needs to lead to romance, it gives the wrong impression to teenage girls that they can’t have a platonic relationship with boys.

The plots were all kind of a bit of mess as well, you have the mystery of Annemette, you have the romances, you have the witch stuff, you have it being a little mermaid retelling, you have the Danish history, it was all a bit of a mish mash and none of it really fit in a cohesive way.

Overall, I loved the concept of this book, but felt that the execution fell short, everything needed to be developed more, the world, the characters, the history. It had so much potential to be a cool, dark, witchy villain origin story, but it tried to combine too many things and in the end, didn’t manage to be any of the things that it was attempting to be.

My Rating: 2.5/5

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-The female characters in this book only real interactions are always about the men in their lives, because you know….that’s all women talk about *severe eye roll*.

My next review will be of For A Muse of Fire, which will be coming for you very soon, I’m running a little behind on reviews because I had an essay due last week, I’m sorry!

 

Vicious (Villains #1) Review

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Book: Vicious

Author: VE Schwab

Vicious was my September #RockMyTBR book and I was super excited for it, because VE Schwab is one of my absolute favourite authors and I’ve heard nothing but amazing stuff about this book. I’ll admit, I didn’t love it quite as much as the Shades of Magic trilogy, but I wasn’t too surprised by that as I do prefer fantasy to sci-fi esque stories and Vicious definitely falls more into the latter category than the former. The non-linear format kind of confused me at first, but once everything started to come together, I totally understood why V chose to tell the story that way and thought it was really clever. I also loved all of the morally ambiguous characters and how you could still root for them even when they weren’t great people. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

A masterful tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, and superpowers.

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.
Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question. 

This book was a very character driven story: the plot itself was quite simple, essentially Victor and Eli were friends once and after their experimentation into superpowers, Victor ends up in jail for ten years and when he gets out, he wants revenge on his former friend. Usually I do prefer plot driven stories, and I will admit that the pacing was a little off through this book despite it taking place over a short period of time, but fortunately, the characters in this story were strong enough that it wasn’t such a deal breaker that I wasn’t always compelled by the plot.

Eli and Victor were both very intriguing and complex characters and I loved reading about them. Their friendship/enmity was really interesting to read about and it was quite cool seeing both the parallels (and there are many) and differences between their characters. Victor comes off as the more sympathetic one, because we get to spend more time in his head, but even then, he certainly couldn’t be characterised as “good”. Eli was the more obviously psychopathic one, he didn’t really seem to have any redeeming qualities, but I still really enjoyed reading about him-it was quite interesting to see the differences in how they both viewed themselves, Eli sees himself as this saviour type figure whereas Victor is quite openly cruel and happy to be the villain. I found Victor quite refreshing because unlike Eli, he didn’t think he was being evil for the greater good, he was quite conscious of his cruel streak and was unapologetic about it, which I liked. It was very cool that their powers were essentially polar opposites, I think that just highlighted both the similarities and differences in their characters.

I also really loved the side characters, they were all really well thought out and generally well developed (aside from Serena, who I felt could have been developed a little more) and refreshingly complex-often side characters can feel a bit flat, this was not the case here. Sydney & Mitch were both great and I loved the little dysfunctional family that they formed with Victor. Mitch was definitely the most likeable character in the book, he just wanted to keep everyone safe and I just wanted to give him a big hug most of the time. Sydney starts off as an innocent little girl, but you can see that innocence slowly creeping away through the book which was definitely cool to see-I can’t wait to see what she does after some of the events of the climax of the book.

The A-linear storytelling was a bit confusing at first, since we were jumping around all these different time periods without all that much context, but once everything started to come together, I enjoyed the unusual narrative style, though I did feel like the pace somewhat lagged in places. I did like however that the chapters were very short, it made the book a lot easier to get into-I think had the book had the a-linear story and super long chapters, I probably would have given up! I also loved that the story, whilst being a-linear was also kind of circular, the story starts and ends with the characters in the same place-the graveyard, so it does give you a sense that the narrative has come full circle. I liked that the book was under 400 pages as well, it meant there was no unnecessary filler.

I loved the EO powers, I thought they were all really cool, and quite different from the powers that you often see in superheroes (or in this case supervillians!) and I thought the whole system of becoming an EO, through a Near Death Experience and then your power being whatever you desired at the point of your death, was so cool and really well thought out. That side of the world building was really well done, the only thing I would say is that I would have quite liked the setting and timing of the story to have been more embellished, all we get is that it takes place in a urban setting sometime in the near future and for an author who I know is extremely good at worldbuilding, the vagueness was a little disappointing.

There was a refreshing lack of romance in this book-that is none! I love that VE Schwab doesn’t always focus on the romantic storyline, this book had so many different types of relationships, friendships, sibling relationships, found families, and they were all platonic, it was wonderful. Romance definitely wouldn’t have fit in this novel, so I’m very glad that V didn’t shoehorn it in!

There was a dog! I love it when books have animal companions and Sydney’s dog Dol was a great addition to the motley crew of Victor, Mitch and Sydney.

The climax was really exciting, though I did feel like it was a little rushed and I didn’t love that there was a new EO introduced just for plot reasons because it felt like he didn’t have the time to get the same development as the other characters. Even though I was spoiled for the ending, I was still left with my mouth hanging open, it was that good. I can’t wait to see what happens in Vengeful!

Overall, this was a really cool, unique book and despite it taking me a while to get into the story due to the narrative style, I thought the characters were really great and I loved that VE Schwab did something completely different and unexpected-I don’t think I’ll ever read a book like this from anyone else, so that’s pretty awesome!

My Rating: 4/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Sydney and Serena do have a few brief conversations that don’t revolve around men.

I don’t know what my next review will be, since I can’t really decide what I want to read at the moment, so I guess you guys will find out once I’ve read it!

 

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6)

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Book: Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6)

Author: Sarah J Maas

I will admit, I wasn’t looking forward to Tower of Dawn. Chaol has always been my least favourite of the main Throne of Glass gang and I didn’t really see the point of an entire full length novel from his perspective, I thought it would be really boring and just annoy me. But then my friend Nicola was bugging me to read it after she read it last year, she said I would really love it, that it was very similar to my favourite book of this series, Heir of Fire and that I just had to read it. So after putting it off for a year, partly due to lack of interest in Chaol and partly due to genuinely not having enough time to read a 600+ page tome during University term time, I finally got around to it this summer and I have to admit: Nicola was right. I didn’t love this book quite as much as Heir of Fire, but it definitely did have a very similar vibe and Chaol’s journey of healing was beautiful to read about. I did think, as I have done with all SJM books since Heir of Fire, that this book could have been trimmed by a good hundred pages or so and not really lost anything, but I loved getting to read about a whole new part of the Throne of Glass world, I loved getting to see Yrene again and I grew to, if not exactly love Chaol, have a fondness for him that definitely was not there before! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

In the next installment of the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series, follow Chaol on his sweeping journey to a distant empire.

Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since the glass castle shattered, since his men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken.

His only shot at recovery lies with the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme in Antica—the stronghold of the southern continent’s mighty empire. And with war looming over Dorian and Aelin back home, their survival might lie with Chaol and Nesryn convincing its rulers to ally with them.

But what they discover in Antica will change them both—and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined.

First of all, I have to talk about the world building in this book, because it was INCREDIBLE. We get to see a whole new continent in this book, the Southern Continent and it has such a different culture to the world that we are used to in Throne of Glass normally, Erilea, it’s based of the Mongolian Empire and Sarah J Maas goes into such depth about the culture and the politics and religion and food and everything of the Empire and I was like-YES. I feel like Sarah J Maas has spent more time developing the romances than anything else in Rifthold sometimes and it was great to have a book when she went really heavy duty into the world building. Antica was an awesome location for this book to take place in!

I also loved that this book definitely had more diversity in it than the other books in the Throne of Glass series. It feels like Sarah has really listened to the complaints from readers about the overall “whiteness” of the Northern Continent, and in this book, pretty much every character is a POC which was awesome to see. We also got a f/f couple in the form of the Khagan’s daughter Hasar and her lover Renia, which was lovely to see.

And then of course we have Chaol in his wheelchair. I know that a lot of readers, including myself were a bit nervous about the way that SJM was going to handle Chaol’s disability in this book. Now, I am not disabled, so I cannot speak to how accurate the representation is, but I’m going to link you guys to Brittany’s review of this book as she is a disabled reviewer and is obviously a lot more able to speak to the nuances of the disabled representation in this book than I am as an ablebodied person: https://reverieandink.com/towerofdawn/

I will say that for those who are worried that Chaol will magically be up and out of his chair within a few chapters, that things are not that simple. Chaol’s journey of emotional and physical recovery is the main, and in my opinion the most satisfying arc of this book. It is not as simple as a few sessions with a healer and he’s up and about again: he has to do some really tough physical and emotional work and it is really satisfying to get to see him work through a lot of the trauma that he has been through over the past few books and I came out of this book with a lot more respect for him as a character than I had going in.

I can’t really talk about how Chaol’s healing works out without being overly spoilery: it doesn’t fall into the magical cure trope which was good but I feel like the way everything was resolved was overly complicated and Sarah J Maas could have reached the same end point without having to include the solution she did, which involved one of my least favourite tropes (I am really sorry for how vague this is but I am so scared of spoiling the ending for people!). There were just a couple of things that bothered me about his healing: 1) there is no way a paraplegic who is recently recovering would be able to just jump on a horse and start galloping it, riding in general requires a lot of strength from your legs, hips and butt and there is no way that you are going to have enough strength to go much faster than a walk when you haven’t been back at it that long and your muscles have been atrophying from disuse. I’m not a medical expert obviously, but I have been riding for most of my life and I’m pretty sure even if you are an accomplished rider, if you become disabled, you’re not just going to be able to jump back on a horse and be at the same level you were before and 2) he probably should have been supported during his first time walking.

So yeah Chaol grew on me. I think I was looking at all of his flaws in Queen of Shadows and didn’t appreciate the good things about him, how loyal and kind and respectful he was and whilst he still had his moments of being whiny and annoying and a little self righteous, I definitely feel warmer towards him than I did going into this book and by the end I was really rooting for him, which was lovely.

Yrene from The Assassin and The Healer becomes a main character in this one (you really must read The Assassin’s Blade before you read this one because a couple of characters from it pop up) and I have to say I really loved her! She’s quite different to SJM’s other female characters, she has the same temper and sass, but she’s quieter, more introspective and obviously more focused on healing things than destroying them. I quite liked that with Yrene, SJM showed she could do female characters who are badass in a non-warrior type way! I loved how Yrene and Chaol’s relationship developed: how they basically hate each other at first, then they have some snarky banter, then slowly become friends and then into romance-it was nice to see a proper slow burn romance in one of Sarah’s books again! I’m really looking forward to seeing Yrene and Aelin meet again as well.

Nesryn is the other main POV character in this (we switch between Chaol, Yrene and Nesryn) and whilst I enjoyed her arc of coming home and finding out where she belonged and liked that she got her own adventure, separate from Chaol’s, she still felt a little flat for me. I feel like I still don’t know her all that well and that her main trait is just “warrior”. Still I like that she now has more purpose than just being Chaol’s girl and I think that she will get more time to develop in the last book.

There were so many awesome sibling dynamics in this book: the Khagan has five children and we get to see a lot of sibling interactions between the oldest four which was awesome to see because they are siblings who clearly love each other a lot and yet would stab each other to get the throne and that is my favourite kind of sibling! I think Hasar and Aelin’s meeting is going to be electric.

I loved the ruks! They’re these like bird type creatures, sort of like gigantic eagles I think and they were super cool-though not quite as great as the wyverns.

I still don’t really understand SJM’s need to pair up every single one of her main characters, especially when they are ALL HETERO RELATIONSHIPS. I mean how many more hetero relationships can you write? I would really love Manon/Asterin to be a thing in the last book, but I feel like that’s not going to happen. It feels like a lot of the characters are paired up for convenience rather than having an actual connection, which is not great.

I was however very glad that there were fewer awkward sex scenes in this one-don’t get me wrong, there are some and many veiled awkward references to manhood and “riding” but significantly less than in Empire of Storms or A Court of Mist and Fury. I love Sarah J Maas’ writing, I really think she has a way with words and there were some really beautifully written sections of this, but 99% of her sex scenes make me feel super awkward, I think there was one in Empire of Storms that I liked, but I’m starting to think that was a serious anomaly!

It did however bother me that there seemed to be a ridiculous focus on how physically attractive characters are, particularly the female characters. I didn’t need to hear how much Chaol loved Yrene’s breasts and hips so many times. I didn’t need all the awkward insinuations about his manhood and the constant need for SJM to reassure us how masculine he was. That was one thing I really loved about Nesryn’s new love interest Sartaq actually, we didn’t have to constantly hear about how “buff” he is or have him going all hyper male over Nesryn, he treated her as an equal and I loved that.

There are some really vital reveals in this book with relation to the war and the Valg, so you really cannot miss it if you don’t want to be totally confused at what is going on in the next book! The time also runs concurrently to Empire of Storms, so it starts where Queen of Shadows leaves off and ends I think a little after where Empire of Storms ends, that can be a bit confusing, but I quite liked the way Sarah managed to integrate the two timelines.

I really did hate the giant spiders-warning for arachnophobics (like me), they are back in this book!

The plot was quite slow for a good 60-70% of the book, it did get better in the second half, but the first half was mostly world building, which I didn’t mind too much as I was really into the new world that was introduced, but it would have been nice if things had got moving a little bit faster. Still I’m used to the slow pace of SJM books by now-I just wish that some of the fillery chapters had been cut, it would have streamlined the story, which it sorely needed! The second half was definitely better than the first in terms of action and the conclusion was pretty exciting! There was a lot of political intrigue and manoeuvrings in this as well, which I really loved.

I liked that there was no shitty overprotective Fae male bullshit in this, it made it a lot easier to read! Chaol does still fall into the toxic masculinity trap at times, but he does grow throughout the book and I did appreciate that it always felt like he respected that Yrene was her own person who could make her own decisions.

There were a few classic SJM tropes that I don’t love in regards to relationships which happened here, the “I loved you the moment I saw you” even though the text says the exact opposite and some other infuriating things that I can’t talk about because it would be spoilery, but in general, I will say that I liked Yrene and Chaol and Nesryn and Sartaq’s relationships better than the trashfire that is Rowaelin.

That epilogue though: JUST I CAN’T EVEN, KINGDOM OF ASH IS GONNA BREAK MY HEART AND I AM NOT PREPARED AND YET I NEED IT SO MUCH.

So yeah, overall, this was a pretty awesome addition to the Throne of Glass series, and very much worth your time, even if you don’t love Chaol, because of the great worldbuilding, the beautiful healing journey, some genuinely sweet relationships and some big reveals that will definitely change the course of the next book!

My Rating: 4/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Yrene and Hafiza have a conversation at the beginning of the book about healing and Yrene’s future plans.

My next review will be of my September #RockMyTBR book Vicious, by V.E. Schwab. I’m so excited for this one, it has been forever since I last read a V.E. Schwab book!