Stalking Jack The Ripper (Stalking Jack The Ripper #1) Review

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Book: Stalking Jack The Ripper

Author: Keri Maniscalco

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-Audrey Rose has very few conversations with other female characters and they all revolve around men.

I specifically saved this book up to read during the Autumn, even though I don’t usually plan my reads around the seasons, just because pretty much everything about this book screams “dark Autumn night”, which made it perfect for my September #RockMyTBR read. I’d generally heard really good things about this book, and I’m happy to say I really enjoyed it, I thought it was an interesting take on the Jack The Ripper murders, with a compelling protagonist, even if it was slightly slow paced at times. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

The story’s shocking twists and turns, augmented with real, sinister period photos, will make this dazzling, #1 New York Times bestselling debut from author Kerri Maniscalco impossible to forget.

My favourite thing about this book was definitely the protagonist. Audrey Rose was a great main character, she was smart and witty and curious and I just really loved her. Did she have a tendency to put herself in dangerous situations without thinking? Yes. But I loved that she wanted to stretch the boundaries of what was expected from women in that time and refused to accept the limitations that people wanted to place on her. I also loved that she was a woman interested in science, because women in STEM are rare enough in contemporary fiction, let alone historical and that she was both interested in autopsies and forensic science, whilst not shunning traditional feminine things.

I have to say though, I was disappointed by the lack of other women surrounding Audrey in the book. We have her aunt and her cousin, but they make only fleeting appearances, for most of the book, Audrey is surrounded by her male relatives and Thomas. I think it’s kind of an easy way out, a way to pay lip service to your book being “feminist” without actually doing the work, you have the token woman who is pushing the boundaries of her society, but she can be the only one. The other female characters in the book are all underdeveloped and barely there, which really disappointed me.

Audrey Rose is also mentioned as having Indian heritage, but again, this seemed to be just paid lip service to, and considering that at that point, Britain had colonised India, it seemed like something that should have been explored more. The Timekeeper trilogy had a character with similar heritage, Daphne, and her connection to that was explored much more and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the book that did it better was written by a biracial author, and this one was not.

I loved the banter between Audrey Rose and her love interest, Thomas Cresswell, I thought that was done really well, and you all know what a sucker I am for great dialogue, especially when it’s witty banter! Thomas himself though, I did find incredibly irritating at times, most reviewers seemed to really love him but I thought he was kind of a jerk through most of the book, though he did grow on me toward the end. I didn’t mind their romance, but at the same time, I would have been happy enough if they’d just been friends.

I liked that Audrey Rose’s family was involved in the story, so often in YA, we don’t really get to see the characters’ parents (though I might be biased here because I read a lot of fantasy and nine times out of ten, the parents are dead), and here, her father, brother and uncle were actually pretty integral to the plot, which I thought was great.

I loved how the book included pictures from the actual time period, including Jack The Ripper’s actual letters, I thought that was such a cool touch and really added to my reading experience.

Like I mentioned up top, the pacing did lag in places, but I actually didn’t really mind that too much? Some chapters were a little over long and I felt as I was getting to the conclusion of the book that it probably could have been shortened a little, but overall, it was actually a pretty fast read for me, and even when it was a little slow, I was intrigued enough by the mystery that I didn’t really mind.

I enjoyed the writing style, I thought it fitted the dark, macabre tone of the book, although I did think some of the descriptions were a little bit gory for me, but that’s nothing on the author’s ability, just that I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to blood and gore! I also liked that it fitted the time period of the book, there might have been some anachronisms here and there, but by and large, the language was appropriate to the time which I appreciated, because 1888 teenagers are obviously not going to speak or think the same way as 2019 ones!

I loved the chapter titles, too few books do chapter titles and the ones here were really great, I love it when chapter titles take a line from the chapter because I spend the entire chapter searching for the title and feel such a sense of satisfaction when I do!

As for the mystery itself, the suspect list is kind of limited, for reasons I can’t really explain without giving it away, so in that respect, the reveal wasn’t necessarily that surprising because there were only so many people that it could be. However, I was really surprised by the motives of the killer, because I did not see that coming. I’m not sure how scientifically probable the Ripper’s plan was, it seemed a little outlandish and improbable to me, but then again I’m not a scientist, so how would I know?

I found the blurb quite misleading although I can’t really explain why without giving away massive spoilers but let’s just say it had me completely on the wrong track for a while, and I don’t know whether that was intentional, or whether I just completely misinterpreted what it meant!

In terms of the historical accuracy, generally it’s quite decent, Maniscalco has definitely done her research into the Ripper murders and she explains the historical liberties that she took in her author’s note at the end. She did have a tendency to have Audrey Rose “predict” future events, like stating the first organ transplant would happen, which Audrey would have no way of knowing, and her attitude to Thomas smoking is pretty anachronistic since at the time, people did not know that smoking was bad for you.

The ending was way too easy, I felt like it wrapped up without making any of the characters have to face the difficult choices that the book had been building up to, so I was a little disappointed in that. It did however wrap up in a way that was satisfying as a standalone, but also left you wanting more, so I appreciated that. I know that there are three more books in the series, but I’m assuming they all follow the idea of a standalone mystery which is wrapped up by the end of the book, which I quite like.

Overall, I really enjoyed this historical mystery, it was an interesting take on an unsolved mystery, with a compelling protagonist and gripping writing and I look forward to seeing where Audrey Rose and Thomas go in the next book.

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of my October #RockMyTBR book, The Last Namsara, by Kristen Ciccarelli.

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Into The Crooked Place (Into The Crooked Place #1) Review (ARC)

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Book: Into The Crooked Place (Into The Crooked Place #1)

Author: Alexandra Christo

Published By: Hot Key Books

Expected Publication: 8th October

Format: Physical copy, paperback

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Saxony, Karam and Tavia’s conversation on the train, they talk about Crafters and their families and make jokes about the train.

Thanks to Hot Key Books for giving my friend Hannah a free copy of this book, and thanks to Hannah for lending it to me! This in no way influenced my opinion of it.

I read Alexandra Christo’s debut, To Kill A Kingdom earlier this year as part of my #RockMyTBR Challenge, and I loved it, it’s one of my favourite books I’ve read this year, so naturally when I heard that she had a second novel, coming out this year, I knew I had to read it. My friend Hannah (who also loved TKAK) won an ARC of this at YALC and she was kind enough to let me borrow it when she was done. I’m happy to say that I really enjoyed this one, perhaps not quite as much as TKAK, but it was still really good and I’m so excited to get the next one when it comes out, hopefully next year! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Magic rules the city of Creije Capital and Tavia Syn knows just how many tricks she needs up her sleeve to survive. Selling dark magic on the streets for her kingpin, she keeps clear of other crooks, counting the days until her debt is paid and she can flee her criminal life.

But then, one day, with her freedom in sight, Tavia uncovers a sinister plot that threatens to destroy the realm she calls home. Desperate to put an end to her kingpin’s plan, Tavia forms an unlikely alliance with three crooks even more deadly than her:

Wesley, the kingpin’s prodigy and most renewed criminal in the realm

Karam, an underground fighter with a penchant for killing first and forgetting to ask questions

And Saxony, a Crafter in hiding who will stop at nothing to avenge her family

With the reluctant saviours assembled, they embark on a quest to put an end to the dark magic before it’s too late. But even if they can take down the kingpin and save the realm, the one thing they can’t do is trust each other.

The first thing I want to talk about with this book is the writing style, because I really, really love Alexandra Christo’s writing. Like with TKAK, she starts with a killer first line, and the writing through the rest of the book is just stunning as well, dark and immersive, it really fits the tone of the book. I also love the way she does dialogue, there’s plenty of witty banter between the characters (though not quite to the same level as Lira and Elian in TKAK) which of course I loved, particularly between Tavia and Karam. She also balances the four POVs really well, each character has such a distinct voice that you’re never confused as to whose chapter it is (although there are of course chapter headings).

I also really enjoyed the magic system, I thought it was very creative. Basically you have Crafters, who have true magic, and are the only ones who can create new magic and then you have Buskers, who basically use these kind of magic tricks, that are just a shade of what the Crafters can do, and I thought that was really interesting, I’ve not seen a magic system like that before. What I will say though, is while I thought the magic was done well, I’d have like a little more world-building in other respects. We get a decent idea of what Crejie was like, but we don’t really learn about the rest of Uskhanaya or any of the other realms and I’d like to see more of that in the next book.

The pacing was a bit uneven, it’s quite slow paced to start off with and takes a long time to get to the exciting part of the book, and then towards the climax, it starts to feel a little rushed. I didn’t find the pacing a massive problem, because I loved the characters and the payoff was good, but I hope in the next book, the pacing is a bit more even throughout.

I loved the characters, they are all various shades of morally grey, there’s no one you could really consider a hero in this book, they all live in the anti-hero realm which I have to say I loved. Tavia and Saxony were my favourites of the four, I think I found their stories most captivating and I just really loved their humour, but I also enjoyed Karam and her biting wit. It took a bit more time for Wesley to grow on me, he’s quite closed off and it takes a while to really see what’s under his gang boss bravado, but I found he became more endearing to me as the book went on.

I loved the dynamic between the group, they’re four very different people, united by one shared goal and that made for very interesting interactions between them. I loved the friendship between Saxony and Tavia, but it was Karam and Tavia and the development of their friendship through the book that really caught my eye. They go from enemies to friends and that’s not something I really see a lot between two female characters in books, so I really appreciated Christo turning girl-girl hate on its head and showing how two women who start out as enemies can become friends. It was also quite interesting to see how Arjun, Karam’s Crafter friend from home, changed the dynamic of the group.

You can sometimes find with groups like these that the characters often get separated out, and you don’t always see everyone interact, but I think Christo did a great job of establishing all the different relationships between the characters in the quartet, I didn’t feel like at the end of the book, “Oh that pair didn’t really get explored” so I loved that too.

There was great diversity in this book as well, out of the four protagonists, I think three of them are POC, Karam, Saxony and Wesley, which is awesome, and Saxony and Karam are LGBTQ+ as well, which is great.

I loved how everyone’s families played into this book as well, though the parents are largely absent (classic fantasy), we get to see how everyone’s family experiences and backgrounds have played into how they got to where they are which I really liked. Though there is romance, and well done romance as well, I feel like the friendships/enmities between the group, and their differing family relationships played much more of a role than the romances which I liked. I also really loved that we got to see a platonic male/female friendship here, even if it did occur in the context where one of them is gay, because they are so ridiculously rare.

Speaking of the romance, I really loved how this book explored a couple that had been in a relationship previously, and who were broken up at the start of the book, exploring their feelings, because so often YA is about first relationships so it was quite interesting to see a pair, especially an LGBTQ+ pair who were previously a couple, exploring their new dynamic, and finding their way back to each other. I did like the slow burn romance between Wesley and Tavia as well, I thought it was well done, there, but not overshadowing the main action of the plot.

There were twists and turns throughout, I did guess one of the big ones, so I wasn’t quite as shocked when that was revealed, but there was a great twist that I definitely didn’t see coming, so I loved that (I’m going to do a blog post about twists and whether seeing them coming is a good thing or not, because I know there are some differing opinions about that in the book community).

I thought Christo was really great at capturing the emotions of these characters and making me feel something as a reader, with each of the character’s backstories and the things they have to face throughout the book, I really felt for them all, especially in one particular section towards the end, which I thought was really well done, but I don’t want to spoil things here by talking about why!

The Kingpin kind of disappointed me, I didn’t find him particularly scary as a villain, he’s just this kind of shadowy figure that we don’t really know much about, so it was hard to invest in him as this all-powerful villain. I understood the gang’s motives for wanting to kill him, and I supported them in achieving their goal, but the actual Kingpin himself, I could take or leave.

I loved the ending, that final chapter got me so excited for the next book, and waiting till next year to find out what’s going to happen next is going to be very difficult!

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, the pacing & world building could have been better, but I loved the characters and writing and I am really excited for the sequel in this duology!

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of Stalking Jack The Ripper, my September #RockMyTBR book, which I just finished, so my review of it should be up tomorrow.

 

Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2) Review (Audiobook)

Lair of Dreams (The Diviners, #2)

Book: Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)

Author: Libba Bray

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: January LaVoy

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Ling and Wei Mei (I think that’s how her name is spelt, I don’t know since I listened rather than read) talk about the dreamscape and how to control things in it.

After reading the first Diviners book back in July, I enjoyed it, but had kind of mixed feelings. I was unsure whether to continue with the series, but my friend Nicola assured me that the series did get better, and less confusing in the later books, so I decided to try the other two books. I’m glad I did, because I did enjoy this book a lot more than the previous one, the narrative felt more cohesive, the many disparate characters more joined together, and there were more seeds for future books being set up, it definitely seemed to drive the series forward more than the last book.

Here is a short synopsis of the book:

After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. Now that the world knows of her ability to “read” objects, and therefore, read the past, she has become a media darling, earning the title, “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” But not everyone is so accepting of the Diviners’ abilities…
Meanwhile, mysterious deaths have been turning up in the city, victims of an unknown sleeping sickness. Can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld and catch a killer?
 

Like the last book, I definitely think my favourite thing about this book was the narration. January LaVoy is brilliant at making these books come to life, she really captures the spooky feeling, and is wonderful at different voices to boot, so it’s easy to keep track of who is who, which is no mean feat when you’re dealing with such a sprawling cast of characters.

Libba Bray’s writing is also lovely and evocative, it really sets the scene and though I’m not very good at picturing things in my head, I definitely got the feeling of being in New York in the 1920s with all these spooky, paranormal things going on, so mission accomplished in that respect. The 1920s slang still kind of annoyed me, but it didn’t feel like there was quite as much of it in this book, and one of the characters even made fun of it, so it felt a bit more self referential this time, which was good.

Then we get to the characters. Obviously there is a very large cast of them, but I feel like this book does a better job of having an ensemble cast, rather than having four leads and other characters that just seem to pop up occasionally. Where the first book was largely Evie’s, this book focuses more on Henry and new character Ling, who are dreamwalkers and I liked them quite a bit more than Evie, so I wasn’t annoyed by the shift in focus. There are still characters that feel somewhat circumstantial for most of the book, largely Memphis and Theta, but they do all come together in the end and it was nice to see them all work together. Mabel, who was quite flat in the first book, came into her own a lot more in this one, and I was glad she finally stood up for herself.

We get a lot more of Henry and his backstory in this book, which I loved because I really like Henry, I’ve always had a soft spot for musicians and Henry is lovely and charming & I really felt for him after learning more about his backstory. I also find his friendship with Theta really lovely, how supportive of each other they are, and how much they genuinely love each other (in a platonic way, Henry is gay) and even through their ups and downs in this book, it’s clear how much they care.

We also meet new character Ling Chan in this book, who is a biracial (Irish/Chinese) dreamwalker and I really loved her. She has such a dry, sarcastic sense of humour, which of course I loved & her friendship with Henry was definitely a standout part of this book for me. She also uses crutches and leg braces, as her legs were affected by infantile paralysis, and it was so awesome to see a disabled character where their disability was important, but it their entire story wasn’t centred around that. Also a disabled character in a historical fiction book? YES. Ling, I think, is my favourite character in this series, maybe tying with Sam, she’s very serious and into science but also has great humour and I really loved that.

Evie still frustrated me in this book, in fact probably more than in the last book. I appreciated that Bray showed the effects that the events of The Diviners had on her, and the fact that she’s clearly suffering from PTSD but I still found her pretty frustrating. She’s a terrible friend, she’s selfish, she thinks drinking and partying will solve all her problems, I just found it quite frustrating watching her self-destruct. I did appreciate that in this book though, her friends were more willing to call her on her bullshit, especially Sam, because it was about time that someone mentioned her drinking problem.

The love triangle once again frustrated me, because I think Evie and Sam have so much more chemistry than Evie and Jericho and honestly Jericho is just dull? Sam is charming and cheeky and just a lot more fun than Jericho and I think Evie and him bounce off each other much better than Evie and Jericho. I also think that they bring out the best in each other, as neither is afraid to call the other out when they’re being stupid. Also I actually really enjoy Sam and Jericho’s friendship, it’s strange but it works and I don’t really want the love triangle to ruin it.

Speaking of Sam, I liked that in this book, we got to see a lot more of his past and his family background, I really liked getting to see how he came to be the person that he is, and I really enjoyed his investigations with Evie into Project Buffalo.

I definitely think this book leaned into the supernatural powers more, we get to see the full range of everyone’s powers, it’s not just Evie and her object reading that we get to see in this book, we have dreamwalking, we have invisibility, we have healing, prophecy, burning things….there’s a large range of supernatural powers to enjoy. Dreamwalking is definitely my favourite one though, I thought it was so cool!

I thought the mystery was much better done in this book, whilst I still worked out what was going on before it was revealed, there were clues throughout the book and you could work it out, it wasn’t as out and out obvious from the beginning as it was in the first book.

I also enjoyed the diversity in this book, we have POC, LGBTQ+ and disabled characters, and unlike the first book, this book actually explored what those characters would have faced in the time period in a deeper way which I appreciated. There was however some employment of the tragic gay stereotype and whilst I did feel the emotion from the story, it definitely does play into stereotypes about historical gays. Bray doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of the 1920s, particularly when it comes to race, and I definitely appreciated that.

I thought it was a shame that Will had basically no role in this book, as I liked learning a little more about his role in Project Buffalo, and I also like seeing parental figures play more of a role in their teens lives, so hopefully he is more involved in the next book.

There are quite a lot of story threads to keep track of in this book, and whilst it was easier than in the first book, it still got a bit confusing at times. Memphis still seems to be largely separate from the others, where Theta is linked through Evie and Henry to the rest of the group, Memphis doesn’t really have any real connection, so he still seems somewhat on the sidelines.

I’m really not a fan of Jericho, he’s very severe and serious, and unlike Ling, doesn’t have the deadpan humour to make up for it. I also really hated what Jericho did to Mabel, I thought it was really unfair of him to lead her on when he knew he liked Evie.

I still have a lot of questions about the overarching plot, I’m intrigued by Project Buffalo and would love to know more, I assume the guys named after the Founding Fathers are involved? Why are they studying Diviners? Why are there so many of them? Why are they stronger together? Who is the Man in the Stovepipe Hat? Who is the King of Crows? How was Will involved? I have so many questions and this book didn’t really answer any of them, so I’m hoping the next book will! I also want to know why Sam doesn’t remember any of the Project Buffalo testing as it seems like he was old enough to.

I hope Theta gets a bit more of a plot in the next book, she is involved here, but largely in relation to Memphis and Henry and in the next book, I’d love it if she got more of her own storyline, she has such an interesting past and I’d love the next book to explore that more, it definitely seems like it will from where she ended up in this book.

I did feel like it was a little overly long, it was over 20 hours, and it still didn’t feel like there was enough content to fill that. In addition it was quite slow paced, and only really started to pick up about halfway through.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, I thought it was a lot better than the first book in terms of balancing the characters, a better developed mystery and a lot more work done to further the overarching plot of the book, though I still felt that it was overly long!

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of Into The Crooked Place, by Alexandra Christo, which will probably be up next week, prior to its release date on the 8th October.

 

 

Speak Review

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Book: Speak

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Melinda and Heather talk about decorating her room & Melinda and Ivy discuss her art project.

I received this book from Hachette’s Children’s Group and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger Warnings: Rape, depression, PTSD, self harm

Speak is one of those books that you always hear about as a classic YA book, it was first published twenty years ago, which is kind of remarkable given the subject matter, society has been so quiet about the realities of sexual assault for a long time, so the fact that a book like this was published twenty years ago, and paved the way for books that followed is definitely a big deal. Having said that, the book wasn’t quite as good as I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think it’s important, but it didn’t have the emotional punch I was expecting and I found the writing and the characters a bit bland. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The first ten lies they tell you in high school.

“Speak up for yourself—we want to know what you have to say.”

From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication.

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

I think the biggest thing that didn’t work for me with this book was the style that it was written in. Now this is probably a more, it’s not you, it’s me kind of thing, but I really don’t like reading diary formats. This book was no exception. I understand why Anderson decided to write the book in this way, the stream of consciousness style does fit with the story she was telling, but just personally, I didn’t really enjoy it. I also found the fact that there was no real chapter separation quite difficult because there wasn’t really a natural stopping point when I wanted to put the book down.

Speaking of the writing, I didn’t mind it, but it wasn’t nothing particularly special. I found it quite simplistic, which is fine, not all books have to have complex prose, but it was also kind of bland. I wanted to feel more emotion from the writing and I just didn’t. I did enjoy Melinda’s sarcasm and dry humour though, if the author had managed to infuse the same spark into the rest of her writing, I probably would have enjoyed the book more.

Melinda herself, I had mixed feelings about. For most of the book, because of her PTSD, she’s quite apathetic, she doesn’t really care about anything and though of course you come to understand why, it could be a little infuriating at times reading her thoughts. I also found her quite hard to connect to, to start off with and though that changed throughout the book, it was tough going for a while because I didn’t really understand why I should care.

For a very short book, I found this one incredibly slow. There’s not really a plot as such, it’s more of a stream of consciousness of Melinda coming to terms with what happened to her, and for a book that was only 230 odd pages long, it felt like it was a lot longer. We don’t actually get to the revelation of what happened to Melinda until about 150 odd pages through, which is quite a long time to wait, especially since I already knew what the book was about before reading. I would rather we’d found out what happened to Melinda earlier and then spent longer on the aftermath. I felt the ending was a little rushed because of this, although I was glad that it ended up in a hopeful place rather than a dark one.

It was definitely nice to read about a younger teen, Melinda is only about 14, and the younger teens (13-15) have definitely suffered from a lack of books aimed at their particular age group in recent years, so it’s nice to see a book that features a younger teen as the protagonist, even if it is a 20 year old one!

I definitely feel like more people should have been worried about Melinda. Her parents were awful, blaming her for her poor grades, and getting frustrated at her not speaking, but they don’t bother to try and find out what’s going on. That’s not to say that Melinda would have told them, but it didn’t seem like there was much of a concerted effort to help Melinda, even though she was failing school and becoming withdrawn from everyone.

I didn’t feel like the secondary characters were particularly fleshed out, this was probably because it was from Melinda’s POV, and she was pretty withdrawn from everyone, but still, from a reader’s POV, I would have liked it if the side characters had been a little more fleshed out, I would probably have enjoyed the book more. I was very glad she didn’t go down the romance route with David and Melinda though, considering everything Melinda had to go through.

Overall, I can see why this book is so important, and I definitely think that sexual assault is a topic that needs to be discussed, but I’ve read more recent books about the topic that I’ve felt packed more of an emotional punch (like Asking For It by Louise O’Neill). However, without this book, books like that probably wouldn’t exist, so it definitely has to be commended for that.

I’m not quite sure what my next review will be, as two of the books I’m currently reading are October ARCs. It will probably be my current audio read, Lair of Dreams, by Libba Bray, the second Diviners book (depending on how long that takes me to read).

An Ember In The Ashes Review (An Ember In The Ashes #1)

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Book: An Ember In The Ashes (An Ember In The Ashes #1)

Author: Sabaa Tahir

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Laia and Izzi have a discussion about the Commandant.

An Ember In The Ashes is one of those books that has been on my TBR FOREVER (okay well like two years, but still) and it’s also one of those that you constantly hear about on Book Twitter, but for whatever reason it took me forever to get around to it. An Ember In The Ashes was my #RockMyTBR challenge book for August, and I have to admit I was pretty excited due to all the hype I had seen about it. Sadly however, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I was expecting to, I thought the world building was lacking, and the characters were flat and difficult to connect with. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death.

When Laia’s grandparents are brutally murdered and her brother arrested for treason by the empire, the only people she has left to turn to are the rebels.

But in exchange for their help in saving her brother, they demand that Laia spy on the ruthless Commandant of Blackcliff, the Empire’s greatest military academy. Should she fail it’s more than her brother’s freedom at risk . . . Laia’s very life is at stake.

There, she meets Elias, the academy’s finest soldier. But Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined – and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

I think the characters were probably my biggest issue with this book. Despite the fact that the book is written in first person POV, it felt like both Elias and Laia were keeping the reader at a distance, I didn’t feel like I got to know either of them as closely as I would usually expect in a book that is written in first person POV.

Both Elias and Laia were incredibly passive actors in their own stories. They didn’t drive the plot, instead, the plot kind of just happened around them. Laia in particular, was incredibly naive and willing to believe everything that she was told, rather than questioning it. Elias was also quite frustrating, he only really seemed to care about the plight of the slaves and the Scholars when there was something at stake for him (ie Laia).

At least Laia, who starts the story as quite a weak, and scared girl has some convincing character development throughout, she grows into her strength and I liked how she wasn’t necessarily your standard “kickass” heroine. Don’t get me wrong, I love those girls, but I think it’s important to show the quieter kind of strength and endurance that Laia has in this book as well. Elias on the other hand, doesn’t really seem to change much throughout the book, he spends most of his time being angsty about one thing or another and whilst that’s fine and totally believable for a teenage boy, it just wasn’t that fun to read about. I felt like both of them were kind of flat, reliant on one or two characters traits and there wasn’t really anything about either of them that pulled me in.

I also felt that the world building was very limited. As I talked about in a recent Jo Talks post, I don’t really picture things in my head when I read, so that’s not really an issue, but even if I did, there was barely anything to picture here. We are given barely any markers as to what the world looks like and although we are given maps at the beginning, most of the action takes place at Blackcliff anyway. We get that the Scholars are the conquered, and the Martials are the conquerors and vague descriptors of other groups in society, but when it comes to how the world was established or any kind of detail to do with it, we don’t really get that.

I get that Tahir wanted to create a brutal world, but I hated the fact that rape was used as a plot device. Whenever she wants to signify that someone is a bad guy, they attempt to rape someone. The female slaves are constantly threatened, as is Helene, and I just don’t think that it was necessary. We are often told, more than shown that the world is brutal, we hear second hand about things that the Commandant has done, and things the characters have experienced.

I did like that the world was diverse, many of the lead characters are POC which is great to see in a fantasy novel.

When it came to the romance in this book, I got very frustrated. We essentially have two love triangles, Elias/Laia/Keenan and Elias/Laia/Helene and honestly neither of them were necessary. Elias has barely known Laia a few days and suddenly he’s desperate to protect her? Also he is willing to kill his best friend of over a decade for a girl he’s known a couple of weeks? No. No. No. The Helene/Elias pairing could have had some legs in it, given that the two of them have been friends for years, but I honestly wish Tahir had left that one at friendship because WE NEED MORE PLATONIC MALE/FEMALE FRIENDSHIPS IN YA. Elias and Helene could have been such a great one, but of course there had to be something romantic there. Laia and Elias’ relationship also has veins of the slave/master trope, which is never a comfortable one to read, even if she is there as a spy.

Generally the chapter lengths were okay, but there were some chapters, especially in the first half that were overly long for me. The book in general felt like it ran overly long, it was over 400 pages and it felt like there were only really about 350-360 pages of story.

For a fantasy novel, this book didn’t really feel fantastical enough for me. There’s very little magic, aside from a few supernatural creatures and the Augurs who are able to read minds and not die. But there’s no foundation for these in the book, so they just feel as if they don’t fit. It honestly felt like it would have worked better as a dystopia than a fantasy, at least for me.

I would have loved to have seen more of Helene, for all the talk of Elias being an awesome warrior, Helene is constantly saving his butt, and I feel like her POV would be very interesting as a woman surviving in a male dominated world. For me, I actually felt like the side characters like Cook, and Izzi, and Helene, and The Commandant, were more interesting than Elias and Laia. I’m particularly dying to know Cook’s backstory!

I felt like the villains were a bit flat. Marcus was really just flat out evil, with no depth or complexity to him. The Commandant had more potential and we do get hints at her backstory, but I wish her motivations had been explored a bit more throughout, rather than just one conversation with Elias at the end. I also wish her relationship with Elias had been explored more, because I think that has the potential to be very interesting and we only really scratched the surface of it in this book.

Considering all the gender stereotyping in this book, and the general established beliefs about women in this world, there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense. Like the most powerful person at Blackcliff & the one in charge of the army is a woman, yet the world believes that women are inferior? Also a girl is chosen for the Trials, so they will consider having an Empress, yet they hate women? Don’t get me wrong, I love women in power, but within the internal logic of the world, it doesn’t make sense.

The whole idea of the Trials, also lacks logic, when there are plenty of adults that would probably want the job of Emperor, why choose from a group of barely graduated teenagers? The Trials themselves are also quite predictable, and we barely get to see what happens in them because Elias (despite supposedly being a good warrior) is either knocked out, delirious, or refusing to take part in most of them. They also don’t really test the kids’ ability to lead, rather just their ability to be brutal and whilst I’m sure that is an essential part of being Emperor/Empress in this world, I’m sure there’s more to the job than that and they don’t really test any of the other skills that would make someone a good leader.

The writing was decent enough, there were some nice passages, but nothing that made me completely fall in love with the book.

Overall, this book just didn’t live up to the hype for me. There was definite potential, and I think I will still read onto the sequel, but the characters and the world building fell somewhat flat to me, I found it hard to relate to the characters and the world definitely needed to be a lot more fleshed out.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of my latest Netgalley read Speak, which I’m almost done with, it should probably be up midway through the month.

 

You Review (Audiobook)

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Book: You

Author: Caroline Kepnes

Narrator: Santino Fontana

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-By this book’s very conceit, it fails, I mean a book about a stalker passing the Bechdel test? That would be incredibly ironic. Anyway, since this book is narrated by Joe, in a second person perspective, there’s really no way for it to ever pass.

Ever since I watched the TV show on Netflix at the end of last year, I’ve been intrigued by You. I really enjoyed the show, but the book is very different to anything else I usually read, and I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d like it in book form. I decided to try it on audio, since I found the narration the most interesting part of the show, and I’m glad I did because I honestly don’t think I would have finished it if I’d read the physical book. I loved Santino Fontana’s narration, and found the second person perspective interesting, but Kepnes’ writing style I could take or leave.

Here is a short synopsis of the book:

When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

So as I said at the top of this review, I really enjoyed the narration for this one. I’ve been really lucky with audiobook narrators in my admittedly relatively short time listening, but I think Santino Fontana is my favourite yet. He’s brilliant at accents and he captures Joe’s creepy douchebaggery perfectly. Even when I wasn’t loving the writing, which was admittedly quite often, Santino’s narration kept me going, his performance was so good.

When it comes to the writing, I’m somewhat torn. I did like the use of the second person perspective, I thought that was a really good idea and definitely added to the creep factor of the book. However, because of Joe’s character, the writing was somewhat vulgar (a lot of use of the C word which I really didn’t like), and quite repetitive. Also this may be a very personal thing, but Joe refers to “panties” a lot, and it made me shudder every time it was mentioned. There’s also quite a lot of explicit sex, which I think was definitely toned down for the show and I much preferred it that way than how it was in the book.

Obviously the characters are all extremely messed up. Joe is obviously the worst culprit, being that he’s a legitimate psychopath, I felt like the show humanised him more, the book was a lot more raw in how awful Joe was and it’s a lot harder to sympathise with him than in the show, which I think is good given that he is EVIL (this is not to say that the show makes him look good, it definitely doesn’t). Having said that, Kepnes is very good at showing how Joe acts convincingly normal, so you can see somewhat how Beck falls for his act.

Beck is quite an interesting one, because she’s not the “ideal victim”. Beck is selfish, and vain and attention seeking, the kind of girl that is always labelled as “asking for it” and I like that Kepnes did that, because no matter how many issues Beck has (and she has many), what Joe does to her is WRONG and I always think these kinds of stories are more interesting when they don’t follow society’s idea of a “perfect victim”. I will say though, that because we are in Joe’s head, we get a very one sided view of who Beck is and she’s not given the chance to develop as much, which I think is a shame.

The side characters are also woefully underdeveloped, since Joe only really has eyes for Beck. Peach could have been really interesting and I feel like the show explored that a lot more. The show uses her more as a foil for Joe, but in the book she’s basically just a vapid, selfish girl with not much else to her personality. It’s also not great that the only lesbian character in the book is villainised for having an attraction to her friend (though she does sexually assault Beck at one point, which is not okay).

I didn’t really understand how Joe kept getting away with everything, a good stalker he may be, but he was not a very good murderer and there really should have been enough evidence for the police to put him behind bars if they had really looked into any of his murders.

I also didn’t think the book needed to be as long as it was, it kind of lagged in the middle, there was a lot of repetition of the same events over and over again, and I reckon had it been a bit more streamlined, it would have been a more enjoyable read. I also felt like it was slightly overloaded with pop culture references, most of which were quite dated!

The ending fell a bit flat for me as well, it was pretty predictable, there was really only one way this story was going to end (which I think I could have worked out, even if I hadn’t seen the show before reading) and I found it a bit anti-climactic. I suppose there’s no really satisfying ending to a book like this, but I just felt a but underwhelmed by the way this one worked out.

Overall, I liked this book, but I think this is one of the rare times where the TV show was actually better than its source material. I really enjoyed the narration, and the plot was mostly engaging but the writing and the length somewhat let down the rest of the book for me. I probably will still read the second book, but I’m not going to be rushing to do it before Season 2 of the show comes out in December.

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of my August #RockMyTBR book, which will probably be up at the beginning of next month.

 

Vengeful (Villains #2) Review

Vengeful (Villains, #2)

Book: Vengeful (Villains #2)

Author: VE Schwab

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Marcella and June have a conversation where they discuss their powers and how they got them, which does not revolve around men.

Yes, I know, I know, it took me FOREVER to get to this book, especially since I finished Vicious the week before it came out, but in my defence, it came out at the beginning of fourth year and I was super busy! But I finally got around to it, and am obviously kicking myself for not having time for it for so long because it was AMAZING. I really enjoyed the first book, but this one had the volume turned up 1000%, I loved all the badass women, I loved all the new EO powers, V’s writing was as always amazing, and all the new characters were brilliant. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Eli Ever and Victor Vale were only medical students when their mutual discovery that near-death experiences can, under the right conditions, manifest extraordinary abilities.

They were best friends, and rivals, and then enemies. They were dead, then alive, and then—Eli killed Victor, once and for all.

Or so he thought—but Sydney Clarke felt otherwise, and used her own superpower to tip the scales. Now, a trio hides in the shadows, while another takes advantages of post-death life to take over the city of Merit.

If there can be life after death—will there be calm after vengeance, or will chaos rule?

As with any VE Schwab book, her writing in this book was spectacular, every sentence sucks you in, she has such a masterful way with words that I honestly knew from the very first sentence that I was going to love it, which has been the way with most of my favourite books. It’s hard for me to exactly describe what I love so much about her writing, it just has this way of pulling you in, making you feel like you are a part of the story too and honestly I just find it totally addictive!

I also am in awe of her pacing, this book is over 570 pages long, and yet I never felt like I was bored, it helped that the chapters were short, because that meant I could read more in each session, but this book was much better paced than Vicious, which was 200 pages shorter and unlike a lot of long books, definitely did not feel like it was as long as it was.

I really loved that the women took centre stage in this book, I’d obviously heard before I read it that there were more women in this book and that they were going to play a major role but it was definitely great to read for myself. I loved the exploration of women and power, and getting to see women take control. The two new women in this book are Marcella and June, who are both awesome badasses in their own way: I liked that Schwab doesn’t monolith her female characters, they all have their own strengths and powers and flaws. Sydney also plays a major role in this book, watching her develop her powers and struggle with growing up whilst still maintaining the outward appearance of a thirteen year old was great. Her body image issues due to her lack of aging was also a very interesting aspect of her storyline in this book.

Marcella and June were particular favourites of mine in this book: Marcella is just so done with all the men who have ever underestimated her and wants to take the power that is rightfully hers, and June is powerful in a more subtle and less flashy way, and I love how well their powers fit with their personalities. Both of their powers were really awesome too, Marcella can ruin things with a single touch (even people) and June has the power to shapeshift, which was AMAZING. I loved Marcella’s death, it was such an awesome way to open the book and I hope we get more background on June’s death if we do get another Villains book, though I have to admit I did kind of like the mystery there.

The switching timelines were far easier for me to follow in this book than in Vicious, I don’t know if it was just that I was expecting it this time and so was more used to it, or if Schwab is just a more skilled writer now and did the transitions between the past and present better, honestly it was probably a combination of both. The plot of this book was complex and engaging without being difficult to understand which was perfect.

We got Eli’s backstory in this book which was awesome, I can’t say that I totally feel for him, but I do understand him a lot more now, and it was good to see where he came from and how he came to be who we know from Vicious. We got to see some particularly awesome flashes from his past, including how he originally met Eli, and how he originally ended up at Lockland.

I also loved that Schwab included Marcella’s backstory as well, it fleshed out an already awesome character, and really enhanced her present storyline. Schwab definitely knows how to use flashbacks effectively in a way that informs character decisions in the present timeline.

The worldbuilding in this book is, as per usual fantastic. You don’t get as much of a sense of place as you do in the Shades of Magic books, but honestly, I found that I didn’t really care, the powers and the limits of the world are established so well that you still feel like you’re in a fully fleshed out world, even if you don’t necessarily know what everything looks like.

Schwab is so skilled at fleshing out her villains, none of them are wholly good or wholly evil, they all live in shades of morally grey which makes them so much more interesting to read about than purely evil villains. I was rooting for even the most morally deplorable characters in this book, because as Schwab shows us, nothing is ever as simple as good vs evil. Honestly, Dr Haverty was the only person in this book who I felt was truly evil, and even he had quite an interesting role to play in the story.

Mitch, Victor and Sydney’s little family was another one of my favourite things about this book, I have such a soft spot for found families, it’s one of my favourite tropes, and I just love how much this trio obviously care for each other.

It was very interesting how Schwab explored religion in this book through Eli, for me and the books I read, it’s quite rare to see a religious character and it was really cool to see how his religion influenced his attitude to his powers, and other EOs. I also liked how each part of the book was named after a different part of the Bible.

Marcella introduced a new element to the Eli/Victor rivalry in this book, and it was interesting to see how the two of them interacted both with her, and with each other, and though I can’t say much about what happens between the three of them, because it would be a massive spoiler, I can say that I loved it!

Stell’s storyline was quite an interesting one in this book, he works for EON, and is ostensibly meant to be capturing EOs, but he seems to have quite a complicated relationship with EOs and their status as human/not and I enjoyed seeing him struggle with this throughout the book, especially as he has to decide how to use Eli when Marcella’s threat becomes greater.

Dom also had a really interesting role in this book, as he straddles both worlds, as part of EON and being part of Victor’s little crew (he’s a spy on the inside for them) and I wasn’t expecting to grow to love him quite as much as I did by the end of the book. He’s not really in Vicious much, so we didn’t really get to know him all that well in the last book, but in this book, you really get to see him come into his own.

The powers of the EOs in this book are awesome, and I loved that as well as introducing new characters with new powers, Schwab showed us how the powers of the EOs we already knew, like Victor and Sydney could be extended, so we got to see elements of their powers that we didn’t see in Vicious and that also fitted well with the fact that it had been five years since we last saw them (in the timeline) so of course their powers had grown and developed.

I only have one little, tiny nitpick of this book, and it was that the use of full names vs nicknames wasn’t consistent. Characters would be referred to by one, then switch to the other and back again quite quickly. I know it’s common if you use a nickname to occasionally go by your full name in certain situations, but I think for reading purposes, I’d rather authors decide on one version of the name or the other.

As in all Schwab’s books, or at least the ones I’ve read, there are queer characters in this, Victor is confirmed asexual, which is brilliant as that’s rep that you don’t often get to see in books. I feel like June might be lesbian or bisexual (definitely not straight), given how she talks about Sydney, but that’s not confirmed on page, so don’t quote me on that one!

Vengeful wrapped up really well, in a way that was satisfying and it definitely could conclude the Villains series, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen Schwab say that she wants to do a third book and there is definitely enough still left to explore that I would welcome a third instalment of this series (and with that ending I’d be very interested in seeing how she did a third book)!

Overall, I thought Vengeful was an absolute masterpiece, filled with badass, awesome female characters,  so much moral complexity, an engaging and brilliant plot, creatively told and incredible writing. I am honestly in awe of VE Schwab’s talent and I seriously hope she does do another Villains book, because I would love to see these characters again!

My Rating: 5/5

My next review will be of my latest audiobook You, which I only have about 3 hours left of, it’s been an interesting one, definitely very different from my usual reads!