The Hazel Wood Review (e-ARC)

35997403Book: The Hazel Wood

Author: Melissa Albert

Published By: Penguin Random House

Expected Publication: 8th February (whoops!)

Format: e-book

Thanks to Penguin and Netgalley for allowing me a free copy of this book, it in no way influenced my opinion of it.

The Hazel Wood was definitely one of the most hyped fantasy YA debuts coming into 2018, so naturally I was very excited to read it, as it promised a darker take on the traditional fairytale (very Jo) and my friend Hannah had read the ARC she got from YALC and loved it and we usually have very similar reading tastes. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as I was hoping to, I found it slow paced and confusing, and not really what I was expecting at all. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD. 

To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began . . .

My major problem with this book was the pacing. The first 200 odd pages of this book was so slow! It was all set up and road-tripping and just generally quite dull. I mean I’m a fantasy reader, so I have a stronger tolerance for a “journey story” than most, but I reckon if you’d cut out most of the road trip aspects of this book, you would have had a much more streamlined, faster paced, more enjoyable story.The chapters were overly long and because it took so long to get to the Hinterland part of the story, the climax was rushed. It took me well over a month to finish this and I kept dipping in and out because I wasn’t really that engaged.  I think I was also a bit jarred that the book spent so long in the modern world, I was kind of expecting them to be in the Hinterland pretty much from the start and I found all of the contemporary aspects of the story pretty boring. It also meant the book felt a little disjointed, it didn’t feel like the whole thing flowed as one story. The book reads more as a YA contemporary with fantastical aspects than a straight up fantasy, which would have been fine if that had been what I was expecting.

I wasn’t overly keen on Albert’s writing? She relies on a very flowery style of prose, that I have always hated, I prefer it when authors say what they want to say without too much flowery description. I mean it fitted with the style of the book that she was writing, but just for me, personally, I didn’t like it.

I wasn’t all that keen on our main character Alice, she’s rude and angry and bitter and I just found it quite difficult to root for her most of the time (her saving grace was that she really cared about her mum) and even when the reasons for her behaviour were explained, that didn’t really change the fact that she annoyed me for a decent portion of the book, which is not really what you want from a main character of any book. The only thing I could relate to her on was the fact that she disliked people touching her hair, a trait we share!

The other major character was Finch, and I wasn’t really sure about him either. I should relate to a super-obsessed fan boy, being a fangirl myself, but it felt like that was his only real trait, as a character, he felt kind of flat to me, he felt like a token POC rather than a well developed character.  I also felt like Ella should have had more of a role, since parents are so hard to find in YA fantasies, the author should have made more of her, because we only really get to hear from Alice how much she loves her mum, we don’t really get to see much of their relationship. There’s also a bit where they get pulled over by the police and Alice is really rude, Finch tries to explain to her the relationship between black people and the police and why what she did could have been dangerous for him, but she just brushed him off, which I didn’t love. She also has a tendency to be a bit abusive towards Finch, which again, not okay.

I loved the little tales from the Hinterland, in fact, had this been a collection of short stories from the Hinterland, I probably would have enjoyed it more, because they had the darkness, the creepiness that I was expecting from this book. I’ve found out that the author is planning on doing these, so I will definitely be reading that book, even if I didn’t love this one!

There are kind of hints of romance, but nothing major which I liked because I don’t think they really would have fitted in this book.

I did like the parts of the book where Alice was in the Hinterland, but I also found myself kind of confused. I didn’t feel like the author explained things very well and for the most part, I felt confused and disoriented and couldn’t really understand what was going on. I felt like the explanation for everything was like “it’s a fairytale” but if you are creating a fantasy world, even if it is fairytale inspired, it should have clearly defined rules. I would have liked it if we got to spend more time in the Hinterland and really got to know it, because it was a really interesting concept but never properly explained.

There were a few twists, none of which I predicted, but I will say that some worked better than others, the main one was pleasing and explained a lot of things that had been confusing me, but some of the others were not so good.

The climax of the story was really unsatisfying and I felt like it relied on a lot of Deus Ex Machina to make it work, which is never a good sign, it didn’t feel earned, which was a shame.

I was also kind of expecting it to be darker? Like there were some dark moments, but for a supposedly dark fantasy, it was a little light for me and the creepy aspect wasn’t played up as much as I would have liked.

I don’t really understand why there’s going to be a sequel as the book doesn’t really seem to lend itself to one, it works fine as a standalone.

There were quite a lot of pop culture references, some of which landed better than others, the “Janet” Good Place reference in the Hinterland was a particularly favourite, but it felt like the author kind of relied a little too much on obscure pop culture references.

Overall, this book had a lot of potential, but I feel like it didn’t deliver. I loved the Hinterland and the fairytale stories we got peppered through the book, but the characters and the pacing really let the book down. I feel like had the book embraced the fantasy elements more, it would have been a lot better and whilst I’m looking forward to the Tales From The Hinterland collection, I won’t be reading the sequel to this.

My Rating: 3/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-I did have to search the book pretty hard for this, it’s not the best when it comes to named female characters interacting with each other, as it’s mostly Finch and Alice interacting during the book, but there are conversations between Janet, Ingrid and Alice and Audrey and Alice at the end that means this book squeaks past the test.

My next review will be of the final book in Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of The Sands trilogy, Hero At The Fall.

 

 

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Moxie Review

35383830

Book: Moxie

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

I heard of Moxie for the first time at YALC last year and really wanted to get an ARC of it (because you know, feminism) but unfortunately was unlucky and didn’t manage to. Then thankfully, my wonderful #otspsecretsister from the last round of the Secret Sister project, got me this book as part of my November package and I just this month, finally got around to reading it! I didn’t love it quite as much as The Exact Opposite of Okay, but I think it’s aimed towards a different type of feminist, TEOOO is more established feminist, the main character in that labels herself a feminist and is very sure of herself and her identity, whereas this book is more about finding your place in feminism, and at two years younger than Izzy, Viv is a little more unsure of herself and her role in the feminist movement. This would be an excellent starter book for younger feminists, who aren’t quite sure of themselves yet and don’t know how they can make a difference, it was empowering for me and I’m pretty assured and confident in my identity as a feminist, so I can’t imagine how empowering it would be for a 15/16 year old who isn’t quite sure of themselves yet! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

It’s time to fight like a girl!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her high school teachers who think the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mum was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates Moxie, a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond and spread the Moxie message. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realises that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

TIME TO FIGHT LIKE A GIRL

A page-turning read with a feminist message, for anyone who has ever had to deal with #everydaysexism

I really liked Viv, she was unsure of herself at the beginning, didn’t know what she could do or how she could help with everything that was happening at her school, but she grew into it and became more confident in her fight against sexism. She’s a realistically drawn and relatable teen, she has more experience with fantasy boyfriends than real ones (aka me at sixteen, plenty of book boyfriends, not even the hint of a real one), she wants to keep her head down and avoid trouble, doesn’t want to do anything to get too noticed, wants to make her mum and grandparents proud and most of all get out of her small town, and I think there’s definitely a lot that teenage girls will be able to relate to in her character, I certainly did (and I’m no longer sixteen!). There were moments when Viv irritated me, like when she was all over Seth & couldn’t stop thinking about him and when she was lying to her friends about Moxie, even when they were getting into trouble for it, but I feel like the over-obsession about a boyfriend is probably pretty normal for a teen girl (I didn’t have a boyfriend at sixteen, so please correct me if I’m wrong) and I did understand why she didn’t want anyone to know about Moxie.

It was lovely to see a YA character that had a close relationship with their parent! It’s such a rarity that we even see parents in YA (though I’ll admit, mainly a fantasy reader, so I’m used to a hell of a lot of orphans!), so it was lovely to see how close Viv and her Mum were and I liked that Viv’s issues with her mum dating played a role in the story, because that’s a pretty natural issue for a daughter of a single mum to have (also yay for single mums, very underrepresented group in fiction!). It would have been nice if there had been more interaction between Viv and the boyfriend as she basically pretty much prejudges him for being a Republican without really getting to know him and because Viv doesn’t get to know him, neither do we, so we have no idea if her hatred of him is founded or not. It also seemed contrary to their relationship that Viv didn’t tell her mum about Moxie sooner, especially given that she got the idea from her mum’s Riot Grrrl zines. As well as her mum, we also get to see Viv with her grandparents, which is an even rarer occurrence in YA.

I didn’t quite understand why Viv’s mum didn’t help her more with her issues at school, especially since she went to the same high school and is a feminist herself, she must have known what the school was like, so it seems strange that she wouldn’t have tried to help her daughter out a little. It seemed strange that the school was so sexist and not a single one of the parents called them out on it, even though they must have heard at least a little of what was going on from their kids. I find it hard to believe a real school would be able to get away with ignoring so much bad behaviour, but then I went to school in the UK and stuff like that was never really an issue in any of the schools I was in (though granted, I went to an all girls school for three years, and the two years I was at a mixed school, I was younger and although boys bullied me, it wasn’t sexual harrassment).

The romance was nice, but I felt it was ultimately unnecessary. Seth was really there to play up the “not all men” angle, which he uses a lot in the book, to infuriating effect and I reckon he could have served the same role as a friend of Viv’s not necessarily her boyfriend. Still Seth was sweet, and I appreciated that Mathieu didn’t make him out to be the perfect ally, and showed that even though he was supportive, as a guy, there are certain things he just didn’t “get”. It was nice to see a supportive, healthy relationship in YA, even if I didn’t think the book necessarily needed the romance.

I loved that this book was all about girls supporting girls and that there was no unnecessary girl on girl hate! Like I am all here for these supportive female friendships, we need more of them. Even when it seemed like there was potential for some girl on girl hate, with Viv’s old friend Claudia and her new friend Lucy, it never materialised and though the two girls aren’t exactly best buddies at first, they do support each other and eventually grow to be good friends, which I loved.

I loved Viv’s friend Lucy, she was so happy and bubbly but also fierce and feminist and willing to fight to make the school better and I reckon if she was real, then we would probably be friends.

I did feel like the story dragged at points, the chapters were overly long and there were a lot of sections in the middle where not much was happening, it was just Viv hanging out with and mooning over Seth.

I liked that the book showed all different types of feminists, some who are loud and proud like Lucy, some who come into it more slowly like Viv and some who need a little more convincing, like Claudia. I feel like the media has a tendency to portray feminists as a kind of monolithic group and that’s not really true at all.

There were some attempts at intersectionality, through black side characters, Viv’s friends Claudia and Lucy are Hispanic and there is an f/f relationship shown briefly, but I think the author could have gone much deeper with it, some parts did feel a bit tokenistic. It’s nice that the author made sure that Moxie was inclusive, making a point about the Riot Grrrls not being, but I think she could have gone a lot further with it.

I liked the inclusion of the actual zines in the book, I thought they were a really cool idea and it was great that we got to see them.

It was kind of funny that when Viv talked about her classes, she only ever talked about History and English! Like we get that you’re not going to show every single aspect of a character’s school day, but maybe mix it up with a different class every now and then so it doesn’t look like your character only takes two subjects!

I loved that Seth asked Viv for permission to kiss her for the first time, it was super cute and a really easy way to get consent into the book-it’s really simple authors, you should all be doing it! I saw a couple of reviewers saying that it was wrong of Viv to expect Seth to kiss her first, but we’ve all been brought up in a patriarchal society, everyone has a few hangups because of that, and speaking from personal experience, I was ridiculously nervous when I had my first kiss, so I appreciated that I wasn’t the one who initiated it!

I would have liked a little more nuance in the male characters in this. For the most part, they’re all kind of one dimensional sexist pigs (except Seth), and whilst there are lots of guys who are like that, most sexism is less blatant and more insidious, not all sexists are as outwardly awful as the boys in this book, sometimes it can just be an innocent seeming but incredibly loaded comment and it would have been nice to see a little more nuance there!

There are mentions of sexual assault throughout this book, so that’s something to bear in mind, if that would be triggering for you. I didn’t love that Viv’s friend Claudia only came into Moxie because of sexual assault and whilst I’m sure that sexual assault can inspire a desire for feminism in someone, it made me feel rather uncomfortable and it wasn’t the only instance of this happening in the book either.

I liked that the author wanted to link Moxie to the Riot Grrrl movement and talk about feminist bands of the 90’s but this kind of backfired when it seemed like the only 90’s punk band the author knew was Bikini Kill!

It might have been nice to see a few more male allies to the Moxie movement, but I did love that the book was so focused on female empowerment.

The book is perhaps a little short to deal with all of the nuanced issues involved in feminism, and I reckon it is probably better for younger readers as the writing kind of read that way, like it was aimed more towards the younger end of the YA spectrum, like 13-15 rather than 16-18. I think that’s good though, since YA tends to focus on characters at the older end of the spectrum, it’s nice to find a YA book that whilst it might focus on a 16 year old, could easily be read and enjoyed by a younger teen (and I would say younger teens might get more out of it, since it’s all about discovering your feminist voice).

Overall, I really liked this book, it had it’s issues, definitely could have used more intersectionality, but as an introduction to feminism for younger readers, I think it did it’s job really well and I felt really empowered by reading it, so I would definitely shove this in the hands of young teen readers, in the age of #metoo and #timesup, books like this are more important than ever!

My Rating: 3.5/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-So many conversations between different named female characters about things other than boys, mostly related to Moxie.

My next review will be of Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, which I’m finally almost done with!

Orphan Monster Spy Review (ARC)

36909741Book: Orphan Monster Spy

Author: Matt Killeen

Published By: Usborne Publishing Ltd

Expected Publication: 8th March (whoops!)

Format: Physical copy, paperback

Thanks to Usborne for letting me have a free copy of this book, this in no way influenced my opinion of it.

I was approached by Usborne YA last year and asked if I wanted to review Orphan Monster Spy for the blog, I naturally was very excited because it was the first time I had really been approached to review a book by a publisher as opposed to the other way around. This book was also blurbed by Elizabeth Wein, whose books I have really enjoyed so of course that made me interested in reading this one. It sounded like something really interesting and different, and it definitely delivered on that, however it wasn’t quite as exciting as I was hoping for. The pacing was definitely off, it started off really exciting and threw you right into the action but then everything slowed down until right at the end when it got intense again. Here’s a short synopsis of the book:

A Jewish girl-turned-spy must infiltrate an elite Nazi boarding school in this highly commercial, relentlessly nail-biting World War II drama!

After her mother is shot at a checkpoint, fifteen-year-old Sarah–blonde, blue-eyed, and Jewish–finds herself on the run from a government that wants to see every person like her dead. Then Sarah meets a mysterious man with an ambiguous accent, a suspiciously bare apartment, and a lockbox full of weapons. He’s a spy, and he needs Sarah to become one, too, to pull off a mission he can’t attempt on his own: infiltrate a boarding school attended by the daughters of top Nazi brass, befriend the daughter of a key scientist, and steal the blueprints to a bomb that could destroy the cities of Western Europe. With years of training from her actress mother in the art of impersonation, Sarah thinks she’s ready. But nothing prepares her for her cutthroat schoolmates, and soon she finds herself in a battle for survival unlike any she’d ever imagined.

I did like that this was a different take on a WWII story. Pretty much all of my historical fiction reading has focused on WWII, because that seems to be one of the most popular eras to explore in historical fiction (at least in YA) and so I’ve read a lot of takes on it by now, it’s difficult to find something original, but this was definitely something new.

Sarah was a very intriguing character, I liked how she used her acting and gymnastic training to help her out with her spy missions and how the book explored the intricacies of morality through Sarah, she initially thinks of herself as the hero and the Nazi girls as the monsters but it becomes clear throughout the book that the situation is far more complex than that, and that was really interesting. The problem was aside from Sarah, the other characters weren’t particularly well developed, the Captain was intriguing but he’s deliberately meant to be this kind of mysterious character, and we’re seeing him through Sarah’s eyes so we see what she sees. Still I think all of the side characters could have done with some more fleshing out.

The story does rely on a lot of conveniences, most of the time it feels like Sarah is incredibly lucky and she doesn’t really seem to do much spy work, she just kind of falls into the right solution.

There are some incredibly brutal and intense scenes which could potentially be triggering for survivors of abuse and sexual assault, so I just wanted to warn right off that this book is probably not suitable for younger teens. The sexual assault storyline seemed kind of gratuitous and I don’t feel like it was necessary

I liked Sarah’s relationship with the Captain and wished it had been explored more, though their motivations towards each other remain unclear, I’m still not entirely sure why Sarah wanted to stay on with the Captain and be a spy, when she could have quite easily got on the ship to Switzerland and sailed to safety. The Captain’s motivations are a little clearer, he needs Sarah in order to infiltrate the school, but it’s unclear why exactly he helped Sarah in the first place as initially he had not intention of using her for the mission.

I’m not Jewish, so I can’t speak authoritatively on the Jewish representation in this, but I did like that this was a WWII story with a Jewish main character where the focus wasn’t on the Holocaust. Obviously the Holocaust was a massive deal and is definitely something we need to talk about, but it was refreshing to read a story with a Jewish heroine at the centre that wasn’t about the Holocaust and I thought it was a sensitive portrayal of a Jewish girl in Nazi Germany.

The ending was incredibly anti-climactic, because of the slow pace throughout the story, everything feels really rushed and then it just comes to a very sudden conclusion. I hope that there’s a sequel to this book because it felt like there were a lot of unanswered questions and the story ends at the beginning of 1940, there’s five more years of the war, so plenty of scope for more stories for Sarah and the Captain.

Overall, this was a different take on a quite saturated area of historical fiction, but it didn’t quite reach the potential of it’s premise, I was expecting a more action packed spy thriller and it wasn’t quite that, but I did appreciate that the author tried something different with the traditional WWII story and I think there is great potential for future instalments of Sarah’s adventures, should the author choose.

My Rating: 3/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Sarah does have conversations with the other girls at school about things that do not have to do with boys.

My next review will be of Moxie, by Jennifer Mathieu.

 

 

Wintersong Review

33393824Book: Wintersong

Author: S.Jae Jones

As part of my New Year’s Resolution to actually read the books I’ve received as part of the #otspsecretsister project since participating in rounds from August 2016-January 2018, one of my books for February was Wintersong, a book I received from my second #otspsecretsister Jinger. I was really excited for this one as I’d never read anything based on Labyrinth before and I’d heard a fair bit of hype about it, plus I love music, so I thought a fantasy where music was a huge component would be a good one for me. Sadly it didn’t live up to my expectations and whilst I enjoyed the first half or so, I found myself getting bored the longer the story went on. The pace was insanely slow and the plot, what little there was of it, was confusing at times. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The last night of the year. Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride…

All her life, Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, dangerous Goblin King. They’ve enraptured her mind, her spirit, and inspired her musical compositions. Now eighteen and helping to run her family’s inn, Liesl can’t help but feel that her musical dreams and childhood fantasies are slipping away.

But when her own sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl has no choice but to journey to the Underground to save her. Drawn to the strange, captivating world she finds―and the mysterious man who rules it―she soon faces an impossible decision. And with time and the old laws working against her, Liesl must discover who she truly is before her fate is sealed.

Dark, romantic, and powerful, S. Jae-Jones’s Wintersong will sweep you away into a world you won’t soon forget.

I liked that the story was a retelling of more unusual tales, you have the movie Labyrinth, the poem The Goblin Market, German mythology and various aspects of other mythologies as well, so I liked that, it felt very different to anything else I’d read before, which was nice as often retellings tend to all be of the same five stories that have been done a million times over.

I liked that the chapters all had names, but I wish they’d been numbered too, I find it a lot easier to keep track of where I am in a book if the chapters are numbered.

The pacing was incredibly slow. I’m talking ridiculous levels here. It was over a hundred pages before Liesl and the Goblin King even really properly interacted and still after they did, it felt like the author was just playing for time until Liesl inevitably escaped. I just felt like nothing was happening, and my eyes were kind of glazing over, waiting for the next thing to actually happen. The overly long chapters certainly didn’t help matters. I reckon you could have cut a good 200 pages from this book without really losing anything.

I felt like the worldbuilding was kind of flat? I mean we’re in this underground lair with this mysterious character, these goblins and these changelings who are created from wishes, it’s a pretty cool setting, but it’s not really explored at all! Same with the world above, it’s this kind of 17th/18th century AustriaI, but we don’t really get to see any of it properly. The wish magic was kind of cool, but again, it gets shafted in favour of the romance.

The writing was nice but it felt kind of insubstantial because nothing was really happening, it’s like the words were pretty on the surface but there wasn’t really anything beneath because neither the characters on the plot felt like they had any purpose to them. Also by the end if I read “austere young man” one more time, I would have screamed.

I liked the inclusion of music, I knew some of the basic terms because I used to play clarinet but some of the others went over my head. I liked the idea of music playing a big role but in practice, most fantasy readers probably aren’t seasoned musicians and so classical music terms mean very little to us!

I would have liked it if Liesl’s relationships with her siblings had been explored more, it’s clear that they’re very important to her and Kathe is the whole reason she goes Underground in the first place, but they could have been developed so much more. Honestly I didn’t really care about either Kathe or Josef, they both felt flat to me, so I couldn’t understand why Liesl did either.

As for Liesl, I wasn’t overly keen. I get that the author was trying to do something different by having a YA heroine who was defined by her talent rather than her beauty but everytime Liesl described herself as plain it made me want to scream Like hon, yes we get it you’re plain, we heard you the last few hundred times you said it. I don’t know, I just didn’t feel connected to her, didn’t feel like I could root for her.

A lot of the time I honestly just felt confused. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening, it felt like I was having to do a lot of reading between the lines to work out what was happening and it was exhausting.

The Goblin King was intriguing, but also frustrating, because we never really got to know him very well, even in Liesl relationship with him, he was always this kind of mysterious, spectral figure. Their romance kind of took over the story and I wasn’t really interested in that, because I don’t really love age gap romances between immortals and humans. There was a bit of sex, but honestly from the blurb I was expecting way more and this is an unusual thing for me to complain about because I don’t really like sex scenes in books! It’s not that I minded that the romance didn’t get overly sexy, I was glad it wasn’t but it felt like the book didn’t offer what it had promised in that area. It was also annoying that Liesl had to discover her self-worth through her relationship with him and not through herself, that’s not a great message to be sending young girls.

It’s honestly hard for me to say more because I was so confused most of the time, so I didn’t really have an opinion on much and even if I did, there wasn’t much happening to have an opinion on. The ending in particular was kind of anti-climactic, everything had been building to that point and then it just stopped.

Overall, this story had so much promise and potential in the beginning, but quickly dovetailed into something incredibly confusing. It could have been an amazing story, if I only had actually been able to comprehend what was going on!

My rating: 2.5/5 stars

Bechdel Test: FAIL-Liesl barely interacts with other female characters after the first half of the book and when she does, their conversations are always about men, if not initially then they always come back to men.

My next review will be of Orphan, Monster, Spy by Matt Killeen.

The Exact Opposite of Okay Review (ARC)

35817737Book: The Exact Opposite of Okay

Author: Laura Steven

Published By: Electric Monkey

Expected Publication: 8th March (what is this madness? An ARC review on time for once?)

Format: Physical copy, paperback

Thanks to Electric Monkey for allowing me to have a free copy of this book! This in no way influenced my opinion of it.

I got an ARC of The Exact Opposite of Okay at YALC last year and I was super excited to read it as it was one both me and my friend Hannah were determined to get. We kept going back to the stand every time that they did ARC drops in the hope of getting one and eventually, on the Saturday, we were both lucky enough to get one. This book sounded exactly up my street, feminism and humour? Yes please! I was a little worried that it wouldn’t live up to expectations I had in my head, but I shouldn’t have, this book is funny, unapologetically feminist and a must read for all teenagers, boy or girl. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Izzy O’Neill is an aspiring comic, an impoverished orphan, and a Slut Extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s what the malicious website flying round the school says. Izzy can try all she wants to laugh it off – after all, her sex life, her terms – but when pictures emerge of her doing the dirty with a politician’s son, her life suddenly becomes the centre of a national scandal. Izzy’s never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. But keeping her head up will take everything she has…

First off, I have to talk about Izzy because she was the main reason why I loved this book so much. I related so darn hard to her! Her very dry, sarcastic, crass and kind of immature sense of humour is so similar to mine and the way she uses humour as a shield against the tough stuff happening in her life…..yup been there. When I was reading her internal monologue, some of the little asides she made during the book, I kept going, yup, yup, yup. So naturally because I related to her a lot, I was really rooting for her and got suitably angry on her behalf when everything went down. Also the fact that she and her friends were always eating and she spent a large amount of time thinking about food-yup. Just reading about her and her friends felt so relatable to my own friendship group (we spend a lot of time ribbing each other as well) and that really endeared me to this book. The voice is definitely one of the strongest attributes of this book, such a relatable, realistic teenage voice.

I did love the humour, I was laughing almost constantly whilst reading, but I will say the entire book does feel very British despite being set in America. I get that this is probably because Laura Steven is British but the book had to be set in America for the revenge porn plot to work (it’s illegal in the UK), but still, the juxtaposition between the setting and the voice of the book was kind of jarring when the voice sounds very British and the setting is American. I don’t know whether other reviewers have noticed this, or if it was just especially jarring to me because I’m British. Ironically though, the fact that Izzy’s voice smacked of British humour was one of the reasons I probably related so hard to her!

I loved Izzy’s development throughout the novel, how she goes from really confident and self assured, to putting on a front, to finally embracing her vulnerabilities, to getting angry and wanting to fight back. It felt like a really natural journey for her to go through and I liked that she came out the other side having grown and learned something.

Izzy and Ajita’s friendship was just goals. As I mentioned before, it kind of reminded me of me and my own friends, just the way they constantly ribbed each other but would fight tooth and nail for the other one and were so supportive, it was just a really lovely portrayal of female friendship. I also loved that for once, romance took a backseat to friendship in this book!

There was some nice diversity in the book, Izzy’s friend Ajita is Nepali and LGBTQ+ and there’s some interesting exploration of what this means for her, though I would have liked to have seen more of that. Carson, the main love interest is black, and Izzy and Ajita’s friend Meg is in a wheelchair. This all felt very natural and was just kind of there in the background of the book.

It was nice to see a poorer protagonist take centre stage in this book, so often YA protagonists are middle class, and you don’t really get to see many books focusing on a working class experience, but Izzy and her grandmother are poor and this informs a lot of Izzy’s character and her interactions with people. It also added to the social commentary of the book, talking about how wrong it is that some elderly people have to continue working to the detriment of their health because they can’t afford not to, and really played into Izzy’s interactions with Danny.

Speaking of Danny, my gosh I don’t think I’ve ever been more mad at a fictional character. Danny is the definition of white male privilege and TEOOO (and Izzy) is not afraid to call him out on it. One of the things I loved so much about this book is that it really delves into the “Friend Zone” and explores what that really means and that is something we don’t see enough of in YA. It also, very harshly and effectively debunks the “Nice Guy” trope. I think we all know a “Nice Guy” and will definitely recognise guys we have known, or gone out with in Danny.

I would have liked to have seen Meg more, she seemed like a really fun character and I hope that the sequel to this book will focus on the new “Tripod” of Izzy, Meg and Ajita.

The positive attitude towards sex in this book was so refreshing, it’s definitely something I could have used when I was a teen and I can’t imagine how empowering this book will be to teenage girls in embracing their sexuality.

Mrs Crannon was awesome and it was nice to see a really positive teacher figure in this book!

I liked the inclusion of the Bitches Bite Back posts at the end, especially the one about the Friend Zone!

Overall, this book was funny, feminist and incredibly timely and I think if you read one contemporary YA book this year, it should be this one. It explores slut shaming, Nice Guys, the Friend Zone, poverty, feminism and revenge porn all in a very humorous and accessible way. I can’t wait to read the sequel!

My Rating: 4/5

Bechdel Test: PASS-Honestly I would have been disappointed if it hadn’t! Izzy has numerous conversations with other female characters in this book that had nothing to do with boys.

By A Charm and A Curse Review (e-ARC)

By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell

Book: By A Charm and A Curse

Author: Jaime Questell

Published By: Entangled Teen

Expected Publication: 6th February

Format: e-book

Thank you to Entangled Teen and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, it was one of my most anticipated debuts of 2018, so I was super excited to get to read it before it released!

I was really excited for By A Charm and A Curse, because I have enjoyed circus/carnival type stories in the past, and am super obsessed with The Greatest Showman, so naturally, reading a book with a circus setting was right up my alley, plus the idea of a curse being transferred by a kiss was really cool to me. There were some things which could have been improved, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was refreshing to read a shorter, standalone fantasy story, when I usually read thick tomes that are part of series! Here is a synopsis of the book:

Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame…and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.

Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either—dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for. 

Everything—including his life—could end with just one kiss. 

First off, I loved the concept, it was definitely different to the other types of circus stories that I’ve read before, and whilst the idea of a kiss being used to break a curse is quite a common one, I quite liked that in this one it was the kiss that caused all of the problems.

The setting was also really cool, I liked that it was a modern day circus, in both Caraval and The Night Circus, the circus/carnival type setting was more ethereal, more magical, but this one was a more recognisable circus, with all the things you would usually expect, acrobats, horses, food stalls that kind of thing and I really liked that, you had this modern setting, but still with that sense of awe and wonder that you get from Caraval and The Night Circus.

I also loved the dynamics between the characters, as a group, you could definitely tell they had known each other and worked together a long time, it felt like a really authentic dynamic and it was nice to read. I would have liked to get to know the side characters a little better though, it seemed as if they were just there to prop up Emma and Benjamin rather than having any significant role in the plot. Emma and Sidney in particular had a rather interesting dynamic, as he

The curse was amazing, so creepy! Emma basically turns into a sort of living version of Pinocchio, she turns completely solid and cold and like a puppet in human form and it was awful to see her go through that but it was also such a cool idea. I liked seeing how Emma struggled and adjusted to her new life and how she became a part of the little circus family.

I would have liked Emma to be a tad more developed, it has to be said. I liked that we got to see how the curse affected her and how it ultimately made her stronger, I liked that she didn’t wallow in her new life, she worked to try and find a way to solve her problem but I felt like Ben got a lot more of a backstory than she did and I would have liked to learn just a bit more about her, as it seemed like Ben’s story was a lot more important to the plot, despite Emma being the main character. Still, I did  like her and was rooting for her to break the curse.

Ben seemed nice, I mean I wouldn’t say he was my favourite main character ever, but he was sweet and caring and that was a nice change from a lot of the morally ambiguous YA love interests! I will say that sometimes I got a little confused about Emma and Benjamin’s narrations, their voices could have been more distinctive, I did occasionally get confused and think one was narrating when it was actually the other! Emma and Ben’s romance was sweet, I liked that even though yes they were instantly attracted to each other, their relationship developed in a really natural, authentic way, it wasn’t like they were telling each other they loved one another in a week or something.

I will admit, I got a little annoyed at some of the carnival members, like you see this poor person suffering, but you don’t even try to help break the curse, you just keep going because this benefits you? How selfish is that! It seemed weird to me that they hadn’t tried to break the curse before now.

The curse was a little difficult to understand at first, but as the story went on and we got more explanation, it made a lot more sense and I was amazed at how much detail Jaime put in to the passing on of the curse and the history of it and everything, it was really cool!

There were a few uncorrected proof errors, but that’s to be expected and nothing that annoyed me so much I had to stop reading.

Ben’s mother was incredibly intense and I didn’t really like her, also her subplot with Sidney was really weird and I’m not sure how much it added to the plot, aside from offering a reason as to why she wasn’t keen on Emma and Benjamin being together.

It was nice to see teens drinking in USYA, I feel like that’s not something that is shown very much? Although to be fair, I don’t know what the teen drinking culture in the US is like, so I don’t know whether it’s realistic that not many teens drink in USYA or not!

I liked that the chapters were short, it meant the book had a nice flow and a nice pace to it and I never found myself getting bored by the story which was good!

I definitely felt for the characters and the stakes they were up against because every time something happened because of the charm weakening I felt really bad for them and wanted them to fix it! I also thought it was really clever, how the explanation for the charm weakening tied into to how to break the curse.

The climax was totally thrilling, I was on the edge of my seat just reading it, and there were definitely shocks along the way! I liked the ending as well, despite some of the events of the book, it ended on a happy and positive note, closed in the sense that you know there’s not going to be a sequel, but open in the fact that it ends with lots of possibilities for the characters in the future and I think that’s a really good way to end things.

Overall, this was a fast paced, unique little carnival story, and I really enjoyed it! I would definitely read more by this author in the future.

My Rating: 4/5

Bechdel Test: Pass, Emma and Jules have a conversation at the beginning that doesn’t revolve around boys and the female cast members talk about the curse throughout.

To win a By A Charm and A Curse swag pack, use the link below (US only, sorry!):

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1cb554951221/

The Fandom Review (ARC)

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Book: The Fandom

Author: Anna Day

Published By: Chicken House

Expected Publication: 4th January (yes I know, this is very late!)

Format: Physical copy, paperback

Thanks to Chicken House for allowing me to have an ARC of this book, even if it did take me a while to get through it!

I got an ARC of The Fandom when I was at YALC last summer, and initially I was really excited. I mean a group of friends at Comic Con, getting transported into their favourite fictional world? Sounds like every book lover’s dream right? However I found the actual book quite a struggle to get through, the plot lagged for most of the book and then everything was far too fast at the end and you had no time to take anything in. Also the fact that the book came about as a result of an Ideas Contest and the author wasn’t actually the one who originated the idea just doesn’t sit right with me. I also wasn’t a massive fan of the writing, the author repeated a lot of the same phrases over and over again. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Cosplay ready, Violet and her friends are at Comic-Con.

They can’t wait to meet the fandom of mega movie, The Gallows Dance. What they’re not expecting is to be catapulted by freak accident into their favourite world – for real. Fuelled by love, guilt and fear, can the friends put the plot back on track and get out? The fate of the story is in their hands …

A fast-paced, genre-flipping YA fantasy adventure from a brand new author, writing in homage to the best YA fiction.

It’s an interesting concept, but I felt like this book couldn’t decide what it wanted to be? Was it a dystopia, a contemporary, a fantasy? It could have been any of the above and whilst I do love it when authors bend genre tropes and explore more than one genre in their books, in this particular book, it felt really clumsy, not as if the author was wanting to subvert the tropes  of different genres, but that she simply couldn’t decide what kind of story she wanted to write, so threw everything plus the kitchen sink into this book.

I also felt like the story was insanely predictable, I mean it starts off with Violet giving a presentation about The Gallows Dance and pretty much telling us the plot of the rest of the book, so you know exactly what is going to happen, right up until the final page. Sure there are a few surprises along the way, but for the most part, the entire plot of the book is highlighted in a few pages at the beginning, which means there’s absolutely no tension, even in places where there should be. You know exactly what is going to happen and how things are going to end up, so it’s really difficult to care, even when the characters are in precarious positions. There are some okay twists, but even then, you know that the story can only end one way, so they lose any impact that they may have had.

I never really felt connected to any of the the characters, they just didn’t feel fleshed out enough to me. Violet and her inferiority complex got irritating real fast, Alice felt like just your stereotypical blonde and Katie, who might have been interesting, just wasn’t given enough page time for you to really care about her. Nate was quite cute but again, I didn’t feel totally connected to him.

I liked the romantic twist with Violet falling for the wrong guy, but her romance with Ash didn’t feel totally believable, Ash was kind of bland and their love seemed pretty instalovey to me, sure they had a more believable connection that Rose and Willow, but they still weren’t very shippable to me, and it just seemed like their romance was in here because it’s a YA and there “has” to be a romance.

The friendships, oh my. Alice, Violet and Katie’s friendship was totally toxic, or at least, both their friendships with Alice were, particularly Violet and Alice. They barely even seem to like each other and Violet and Katie say horrible things about Alice, slut shaming her constantly and Alice seems to look down on both of them. I know bitchy friendships are part of school life, but personally? Don’t want to read about them. The world pits women against each other enough, without us doing it in fiction too. I quite liked Katie and Violet’s friendship, in fact it kind of seemed like there might have been something more there, at least on Violet’s end and I wish that had been explored more. Katie was quite funny, with all her inventive curses!

There was absolutely no sense of urgency, knowing how the story was going to end ahead of time, made me feel like I was just going through the motions, exactly like Violet seemed to be for most of the story.

I liked Violet’s relationship with her little brother, it felt like a very authentic sibling relationship and even though it was irritating how she kept infantilising him, as a younger sibling myself, I can relate to that one! It was nice to see a brother/sister relationship in YA, I feel like those are often neglected? Or maybe that’s just me? Nate totally didn’t deserve what happened to him in the end.

The action sequences were decent, but again, they lacked urgency because we already knew the ending.

It’s completely unbelievable that none of them were injured by having fricking scaffolding collapse on them, like I’m sorry, there’s just no way, if you are crushed by tonnes of heavy metal, you will get more than a fricking bump on the head!

It was great that they all learned something and seemed to have changed from their experience in The Gallows Dance, I liked that the author showed that, it would have been completely unbelievable that they would have gone through all of that without having changed at least a little.

There was a scene in the Gallows Dance part where Violet is almost sexually assaulted by a guard (someone steps in before it goes too far), and I thought that was totally unnecessary and a step too far, with everything happening in that area in real life at the moment, it’s not something we need to casually see in fiction as well.

I liked how the author expanded on the stories of the side characters in her fictional universe, so often we don’t get to see the stories of minor characters in novels, so it was nice to see that.

There were way too many info dumps about things that happened in canon and then we had to see those scenes play out after having just been told about them, it just didn’t feel at all authentic!

It definitely felt more for younger teens than older ones in the way that it was written, the repetitive style, the language, I don’t know, just something about it felt a lot more like something I would have loved when I was 13, than when I was 16/17, not that that’s a bad thing, we need more books for younger teens!

The mocking of dystopian novels felt a bit much, I get the author was trying to be clever and subvert genre tropes, but it didn’t feel like it was done in a loving way, it felt like the author was being way harsh on everything that had come before, and again, dystopia has changed a lot in the past ten or so years since The Hunger Games and Divergent, so it doesn’t land as well as it might have had this book been published earlier. Subvert tropes all you want, but you can do it without besmirching the books that got you to where you are now.

Overall, The Fandom had potential, but the way it was executed was poor, it was poorly written and incredibly predictable, the characters felt flat, I was not here for the incredibly toxic teen friendship and it was pretty slow, right up until the end where it went too fast and then didn’t explain anything. Also the ending was completely unsatisfying!

My Rating: 3/5

Bechdel Test: PASS-Alice, Katie and Violet have several conversations that don’t revolve around boys.

My next review will be of Jaime Questell’s A Charm And A Curse, which should hopefully be going up next week as part of a review tour for it.