Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) Review

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Book: Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2)

Author: Leigh Bardugo

This book was my #RockMyTBR book for June, and definitely one of the most anticipated books on the list that Twitter chose for me last year, as I had read the previous book for the same challenge last year and absolutely loved it. This one, I have to say I didn’t love quite as much. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kaz and the rest of the gang and I loved being back in Ketterdam with these characters, but I felt this time that the “job” plot was a little convoluted. In the first book, they had a clear goal, get to the Ice Court, get Kuwei out and get their money. The goal in this book is just as clear, take down Van Eck and Pekka Rollins, but I found that the plot for doing so got increasingly convoluted and it wasn’t as easy to follow because it kept changing! I also found it kind of slow. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off the most daring heist imaginable.
But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re fighting for their lives.
Double-crossed and badly weakened, they’re low on resources, allies and hope.
While a war rages on the city’s streets, the team’s fragile loyalties are stretched to breaking point.
Kaz and his crew will have to make sure they’re on the winning side… no matter what the cost.

Okay so yeah, I was kind of disappointed in this book. I loved Six of Crows, sure it was slow at the beginning, but I loved the characters, the heist was cool, the twists and turns were unpredictable but made sense and the characters were working towards a clear goal. It was a much more straightforward story.

Crooked Kingdom on the other hand? Yeah not so much. The pacing was hugely off, the chapter lengths were really uneven as were the parts, you’d have chapters of like 20+ pages and then suddenly one that was only 6! The first part had only 4 chapters, then the last part had like 12? Yeah not great. There was so much plotting and planning and scheming and then there’d be like maybe a couple of chapters with some action and then more plotting, I just didn’t feel really engaged with what was going on. Plus the job got increasingly convoluted as the whole thing went on, you had all the stuff with the silos that had basically no payoff whatsoever, the auction, getting Inej back, there was so much going on and yet at the same time it still felt like it was going really slowly? I don’t know, like I said, the pacing was just really odd.

I still loved the characters, well most of them anyway, I’m not overly keen on Kaz still, I felt like he needed to come across more stumbling blocks, the fact that he was this perfect criminal mastermind who always knew what to do when everything went wrong? Yeah, I might have liked to see a little more doubt. Plus, the whole, everything goes to shit, but it was really part of Kaz’s plan all along thing? That got old fast. For once, I would have liked it if the others had been in on Kaz’s plans as well. The great thing is though, that even if you don’t love one of the characters, you still want them there, because the dynamic of the six of them as a group is what really makes this story work, and without a single one of them, the banter would just die. I love the way Leigh Bardugo does dialogue, it really shows the dynamic of the group well, and I found myself laughing out loud more than once in this book.

Jesper and Nina are still my favourite characters and I enjoyed seeing their struggles in this book, Jesper with his gambling addiction and his relationship with his father and trying to get Kaz to forgive him after the last book and Nina with her struggles with parem and learning to use her new powers and everything. Plus the two of them really just lighten the mood when things start to get dark! I also loved that we got Wylan’s POV in this story, it was great to see him get some more development and to see his relationship with his father through his eyes.

Having said that I liked the addition of Wylan’s POV, I will admit that I felt like there were too many POVs in this book, which seems like kind of an oxymoron, but you would have one character’s POV, something exciting would happen and then we would jump to someone else and wouldn’t get back to them till like 4 or 5 chapters later. I feel like this story only really needed Wylan, Nina, Jesper and Inej’s narrations, Kaz’s and Matthias’ didn’t really add anything for me.

The plot was kind of repetitive for my taste, we’d have planning, plan goes wrong, new plan, that plan goes wrong and cycle, rinse, repeat. I feel like if we’d just had the Inej rescue at the beginning and then working towards the final plan at the end, the whole book would have been a lot more streamlined, the plot wouldn’t have been as convoluted and we could have avoided the repetitive cycle that the book got stuck in. The stakes also didn’t feel as high in this book as the other one, the Ice Court was the impossible heist, this book was just a series of mini jobs and never at any point did I feel like the characters weren’t going to make it out.

The relationships were…..well I had the same problem as in the first book, I didn’t really understand why everyone had to be paired up. Sure, the romance doesn’t overtake the plot of the book, and that was good, but I found that the only relationship I really felt invested in was Jesper and Wylan’s. Kaz and Inej, honestly I felt like Inej deserved better and watching them hide their feelings from each other just got infuriating, and Nina and Matthias? Well again, I just didn’t feel invested, although I could kind of understand more of what drew them together. I honestly preferred seeing the development of Jesper and his father’s relationship through the book than any of the romantic relationships.

Speaking of Jesper’s dad, it was really cool to see a fantasy book where a parent could actually be integrated into the plot and be useful for what the main characters are doing, just goes to show that a parent doesn’t have to be a hurdle to overcome for a YA fantasy, they can be useful for the narrative!

The backstory parts, much like in Six of Crows, I did like reading them, but it felt like they were clumsily integrated into the action and took us away from what was happening in the main plot. Inej’s backstory was particularly tough to read and just a warning for survivors of sexual assault it could be potentially triggering. Kaz’s journey with PTSD was equally intense, so again, for people who suffer from it, it could also be potentially triggering.

I probably would have appreciated the Grisha cameos more if I’d read the whole Grisha trilogy, but it was fun to see Genya, who I now know from Shadow and Bone and it did make me look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

I didn’t really understand what the point of Dunyasha was, she was basically employed as a distraction for Inej and I reckon she could have had the potential to be much more but was used in the wrong way.

I can’t really talk about certain things that happen at the end because of spoilers, but let’s just say that what happened really hurt, but it wasn’t the event itself that hurt, more the impact on the other people involved. I’ll admit, it did feel kind of gratuitous, I don’t think anything would have been lost if this particular event hadn’t happened, but it will be interesting to see how it’s dealt with in King of Scars.

The ending was kind of anticlimactic, I felt like Bardugo should have ended it with the last Kaz/Inej interaction because that was genuinely sweet and would have gone out on a high. I understand that if she had, then the whole Pekka thing would have been left unresolved, but it was clear enough that Kaz was going to get his revenge on him without us having to see it.

I wanted so much more from this book. I loved the characters, but the convoluted plot and the pacing and everything meant that this book never reached the heights of its predecessor. Having said that, I know Leigh Bardugo has said at some point that there will be a third Six of Crows book and I am so on board for that, because I still have questions and I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to the Dregs yet!

My Rating: 3.5/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Nina and Inej have conversations that are not about men, Inej and Dunyasha’s conversations aren’t about men and although Nina is with Matthias when she meets the Grisha, her initial conversation with Genya and Zoya are not entirely focused on men.

My next review will be of my first YALC prep read Things A Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls (if I don’t finish A Thousand Perfect Notes first).

 

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Ace of Shades (The Shadow Game #1) Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Ace of Shades (The Shadow Game #1)

Author: Amanda Foody

Published By: HQ Young Adult

Expected Publication: 17th May (whoops!)

Format: e-book

Thanks to HQ Young Adult and Netgalley for allowing me to read this early! This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2018 so reading it early was a dream come true (but in no way affected my review).

I was part of Amanda Foody’s Shadow Gang, the group that did promo for this book and was doing a lot of promo for it over on my Instagram through March leading up to the US release in April, so naturally I really wanted to get to read it early. I only got it a couple of weeks before the UK release, but that was better than nothing and I’m glad to say that I did in fact enjoy it. It was a pretty slow starter, but as the book picked up, I fell more and more in love with it and after the way it ended, I am definitely super excited for the sequel! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Welcome to the City of Sin, where casino families reign, gangs infest the streets…
and secrets hide in every shadow.

Enne Salta was raised as a proper young lady, and no lady would willingly visit New Reynes, the so-called City of Sin. But when her mother goes missing, Enne must leave her finishing school—and her reputation—behind to follow her mother’s trail to the city where no one survives uncorrupted.

Frightened and alone, her only lead is a name: Levi Glaisyer. Unfortunately, Levi is not the gentleman she expected—he’s a street lord and a con man. Levi is also only one payment away from cleaning up a rapidly unraveling investment scam, so he doesn’t have time to investigate a woman leading a dangerous double life. Enne’s offer of compensation, however, could be the solution to all his problems.

Their search for clues leads them through glamorous casinos, illicit cabarets and into the clutches of a ruthless mafia donna. As Enne unearths an impossible secret about her past, Levi’s enemies catch up to them, ensnaring him in a vicious execution game where the players always lose. To save him, Enne will need to surrender herself to the city…

And she’ll need to play

So yeah, things started off quite slowly, the chapters were kind of long and there were sections that had a lot of infodumping, so I wasn’t totally enthralled by it at first, but I stuck with it and I would definitely implore you guys to as well if you get stuck in the beginning, the chapter lengths level out and the plot is a slowly unfurling mystery with a great payoff!

I loved the world that Amanda Foody created, I thought it was really inventive and cool, it’s a kind of 1920s Vegas style world, with casinos and gangs and motorcars and everything, so yeah, the setting was definitely very immersive and probably my favourite part of this book. The way Amanda Foody writes, you definitely feel yourself being pulled into the City of Sin, she writes atmosphere and setting so well, it’s like you are there with the characters. I also thought the magic system, with the blood and split talents, each one being inherited from one parent was really cool, although I kind of wish it had been expanded upon more and I hope that it will be in the sequel. This type of magic system allowed for lots of different types of magic, which I loved, because often in fantasies, everyone with magic has one particular type so it was great to get to see lots of different abilities showcased in this book. I could have done with a little more world building, what we did get was good, but I wanted to know more about the history of New Reynes, the Mizers and the talents and how everything came to be and more about how the volts worked, but that’s probably just me being a world building nerd.

The characters were also great. Enne annoyed me at first, but I think that was the idea, because her character development over the course of the book is amazing, she starts off as this uptight, proper girl but over the ten days that this book takes place, she really grows, she becomes this amazing badass girl but still retains her feminine qualities, like loving lipstick and dresses and heels and I loved that! So often authors will only let their female characters be strong and fierce if they’re also tomboys because god forbid a woman can be strong and fierce and still like lipstick, so it was refreshing to see Enne not be like that. Levi, I wasn’t quite as keen on, he didn’t stand out for me as much as Enne, I don’t really know what it was about him, I just didn’t really connect to him and I didn’t find him that convincing as a street lord, he wasn’t fierce enough, in fact I found him to be kind of a wimp and I didn’t think he was really clever enough for me to take him seriously as a con artist. Still I did love how much he cared for his gang, and for Enne, that endeared him more to me. I wished that the main side characters, Lola and Jac had been utilised more, especially Lola, because I found her really interesting and I liked her burgeoning friendship with Enne, so it would have been great to see more of her. Jac was kind of a brotherly figure to Levi, so it would have been nice to have explored that relationship more.

One thing I didn’t love about the worldbuilding was the made up curse words and some of the gang lingo. Stuff like muck, and shatz and missy, I found their use kind of irritating. I get that having some of their own special words is part of worldbuilding but this just felt like a lazy way of avoiding using actual swear words, and like why? This is a YA book, I can guarantee that the teens who are reading it will know swear words! Perhaps it’s me being British, we tend to be a bit more liberal around swearing, but it just really annoyed me!

The villains in this book were great, both freaking terrifying. Vianca, the mafia donna of the casino Levi works at, was awful, her power can be used to literally control people and it’s pretty darn awful, but I loved seeing an unapologetic female character and there are so few female villains in books, so it was great to see one here. The other main villain, Sedric Torren, is just incredibly creepy and is heavily implied (if not outright stated) to be a paedophile, so yeah, pretty horrible and you could definitely understand why both Levi and Enne were so scared of him.

There is some good diverse representation in this book, Levi is black and bisexual, and Enne’s adopted mother Lourdes is gender fluid (although she is kind of more talked about than actually seen so I don’t know if I can exactly call it rep). I think we could have done with some more, but it was definitely a good start. Lourdes is kind of an enigma through the book, but I kind of don’t feel like we’ve heard the last of her, I think she’s gonna pop back up in the next book, even with what supposedly happened to her in this book.

I liked how the plot around Enne’s family unfurled, I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but I liked the way things played out there, even if it was a little cliched and I look forward to seeing what she does next now that she knows about her heritage.

The romance was…..I don’t really know what to think about it. It was weird in that it felt kind of like instalove and yet still a slow burn at the same time. Half the time I was screeching at Enne and Levi to kiss already and the other half I was like, why? They barely know each other! So yeah, I haven’t really made up my mind how I feel about Enne and Levi’s potential romance yet-nothing really happened with regards to that in this book, so I’ll see how I feel about it in the next book.

I really liked the actual Shadow Game part of the book, but it felt kind of rushed, because it only came up right at the very end of the book. I understand why, but I wish we had maybe got to it a bit sooner and that the rules had been explained a bit better because I still don’t quite understand how it all worked. That was a problem throughout the book really, the pacing was off all the way through, it was too slow to start with and then the climax was rushed (this seems to be a quite common trend for me in a lot of the books I read).

Like I said earlier, I liked how Amanda Foody wrote the setting, that was cool, but I didn’t always love her writing, there were some overwrought YA type metaphors, like “She was a blade disguised as a girl” etc. It wasn’t so much that I hated it, but it definitely did niggle at me.

The epilogue was so intense, we get introduced to a new character, who seems very interesting and after the way everything went down towards the end of the book, it certainly seems like the sequel is going to be really intense!

Overall, I did enjoy this book. I don’t think it quite lived up to the potential of its premise, but the magic system and the world were really interesting and I loved the character development that Enne had throughout the book and the end of this book sets up for some really exciting stuff happening in the next book. I think this world is quite ambitious and Foody just didn’t manage to fit everything that needed to be explained in, but I’m hoping we will get more of this in the next book. I think it’s a really creative world that Amanda Foody has come up with here and I look forward to seeing what happens next.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Bechdel Test: PASS-Lola and Enne have several conversations in the book that don’t revolve around men.

My next review will be of the second book in the Six of Crows duology, Crooked Kingdom (well maybe, if I don’t finish my e-ARC of A Thousand Perfect Notes first).

 

 

The Burning Maze (Trials of Apollo #3) Review

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Book: The Burning Maze (Trials of Apollo #3)

Author: Rick Riordan

I love the Percy Jackson-verse and everything that Rick Riordan has created within it, but I have to admit that this book didn’t live up to my expectations. I would say it’s just me getting older and perhaps not enjoying the Rick Riordan formula as much as I once did, but I don’t think that’s it. I still enjoyed the classic Rick Riordan humour, I loved Apollo and watching all of my favourite characters go on quests, so it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s just that I was expecting…..more? From the second book, I was expecting something really exciting and for me, this book was definitely suffering from middle book syndrome, it felt much slower paced to me than the others, despite taking place over the same short time period and 400 pages for this book actually felt quite long, whilst usually Rick Riordan books fly by for me. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Lester Papadopoulos was once the glorious god Apollo – now he’s an awkward (mortal) teenager stuck on earth, out of favour with Zeus, and without his powers.

The way out? A series of scary and dangerous trials, of course.

With two particularly scary and dangerous trial already under his belt, Lester must now journey to the Labyrinth – a burning maze that at its centre contains an Oracle whose puzzles may hold the key to a return to godly glory.

But The Labyrinth holds a far more deadly threat – the third Roman emperor, part of a group of three Roman rulers bent on death and destruction.

The mortal and immortal worlds won’t be safe whilst they live, and only Lester and his demigod friends have the power, bravery (and luck) to stop them . . .

So yeah, like I said, the pace in this book was definitely off. It’s strange, pacing is usually something Rick Riordan does really well, he’s good at keeping me on the edge of my seat, but this book definitely wasn’t one of his best when it came to pacing. There were some really great action sequences, the start was really intense with Meg, Grover and Apollo escaping through the Labyrinth from a bunch of strixes (these massive bloodthirsty owl type things) and there were some really great action sequences through the book as well, but for the most part, at least until about halfway through the book or so, it felt like they were just getting from point A to point B with nothing really at stake. I was glad he upped the ante in the second half of the book, but then I felt like things kind of fizzled out towards the climax. I hope that in the next book the pacing is slightly better because this definitely felt like middle book slump.

I still loved Apollo’s narration and his character development; he’s really facing human mortality and what that means and that’s quite an interesting turn for where his character is at right now. He’s still kind of useless when it comes to fighting and definitely reliant on his demigod (and satyr!) friends, but he’s definitely growing and having to face a lot of tough truths and that was good. The humour was still really on point and whilst I bemoan that the pacing was off, where there were action sequences, I loved how Rick Riordan combined them so effortlessly with humour.

Piper returns in this book, and whilst I have been down on her in the past, I actually enjoyed her in this book. It felt like Rick Riordan was allowing her to be her own character again rather than a copy and paste replacement for Annabeth, and I appreciated seeing her being given her own character growth that wasn’t intertwined with Jason. I forgot that Piper can actually be pretty badass when needs be and I honestly don’t think Apollo would have survived this book without her! Getting to see her face off against Medea again was definitely an unexpected highlight, I wasn’t expecting to see Medea back again, she’s definitely one of the better of Rick Riordan’s villains and her dynamic with Piper is electric.

I was so glad to see Grover back in this book and playing an active role in proceedings again, he was such a key part of the original Percy Jackson series, and was overlooked in Heroes of Olympus, so it was awesome to get to see him back again and involved in quests, plus his friendship with Meg was another unexpected delight!

I liked that we got to see more of Meg’s backstory in this book, it definitely helped her feel like more of a well rounded character, and I thought she really came into her own in this book. I will always have a soft spot for Meg, she’s such a vicious little thing and fierce girls have a way of worming themselves into my heart. Plus I love that she shows that children of Demeter can still be really cool. I also liked all the dryads in this book, Rick Riordan has a way of making even side characters memorable! I also loved seeing her friendship with Piper, it warmed my heart, almost like an older sister/younger sister type thing and I hope we get to see the two of them together again before the end of the series.

I have to admit, I think Rick Riordan overdoes it with the pop culture references, they suit Apollo as a character, but even I didn’t understand some of them, so I feel like they might fly right over the heads of the 9-12 audience this series is actually aimed at! I do love the additions of the little haikus at the start of each chapter though.

I wished we had got to see what happened with Leo at Camp Jupiter, I get that wasn’t possible because it’s Apollo’s book, he’s narrating it and he wasn’t there, but I thought that might have actually been more exciting!

Rick Riordan does really well with talking weapons, first Jack in the Magnus Chase series and then the Arrow of Dodona in this, which delivers its messages in Shakespearean English, it’s utilised just enough that it’s still funny but doesn’t get frustrating.

I like how all the prophecies from the different oracles are delivered in different forms and I have to admit, this one was my favourite, them having to work out the prophecy via crossword clues? It was certainly different.

I wasn’t expecting the third emperor to be who it was, I won’t spoil anything by revealing who it was, but I was expecting someone else so I was quite surprised. I feel like this one, despite supposedly being the scariest was actually somewhat of a middle ground between Nero and Commodus-I actually found Nero scarier-or at least more sinister.

It was cool to see the Labyrinth again-The Battle of the Labyrinth was my favourite Percy Jackson book, so I was happy to see the Labyrinth returning here.

I can’t really talk about the major event of this book without talking spoilers, but all I really have to say on the matter, is that it didn’t have the emotional impact that I think was intended because I wasn’t overly in love with the character that it happened to anyway, but I will be interested to see the repercussions of this event in the next book and I definitely think it has raised the stakes for the rest of the books. These emperors are not playing around people!

This book was definitely suffering from middle book syndrome, but there is still a lot to enjoy in there, Apollo being ridiculous, Piper being cool for a change, evil emperors,  talking weapons, Grover’s return, Meg McCaffrey being a vicious little creature and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what the fourth book has in store (though I just found out that I have to wait until next Autumn and I am not happy!) as we are teased for the return of one of my absolute favourite characters by the end of the book and the prophecy they are given is really intriguing, so I look forward to seeing how everything plays out as we head towards the climax of the series (is it just me, or have three years gone by really fast?).

My Rating: 3/5

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-The fact that this is narrated by Apollo means that any conversations include him, so even though there are plenty of female characters, by the rules of the Bechdel Test, I have to fail it.

(This is an example of why the Bechdel Test does not always work, because there are several strong women in this series, but I have to fail it because they don’t have any one on one conversations that I can rate).

My next review will be of Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours, the first book that I am reading in preparation for YALC in July (I can’t believe I’m doing YALC prep reading already!).

Not If I Save You First Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Not If I Save You First

Author: Ally Carter

Published By: Orchard Books

Expected Publication: 27th March (oops!)

Format: e-book

Thanks to Orchard Books and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early. I loved Ally Carter’s Heist Society series, so I was excited to get a chance to read her new book.

I loved Ally Carter’s Heist Society series when I read it when I was about 15/16, so I was quite excited to read something new from her. Sadly, Not If I Save You First wasn’t quite what I was expecting, I was hoping for a fun, action packed survival story and whilst I certainly got the survival story, I didn’t find it fun or action packed. The Heist Society books are so fun and creative and the characters so vibrant and I guess I was hoping for the same here, but it felt like I could’ve just been reading a guidebook to Alaska! It was very slow paced and not much really happened, honestly I probably should have DNFed it but because it was an Ally Carter book, I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Dear Logan,
Someday I’m going to write a book: How Not to Die in Alaska – A Girl’s Guide to Fashionable Survival.

I bet you don’t know that a hair pin can make an excellent fishing hook. You may think you can use just any kind of mud for mud masks, but trust me, you CAN’T! In a pinch, nothing starts a fire like nail polish remover. Alaska is tough. You might know this, if you ever replied to my letters.

After Maddie’s Secret Service dad takes a bullet for the president, he takes Maddie somewhere he thinks they’ll be safe – far away from the White House and the president’s son, Logan.

But when Logan comes to Alaska, so does the danger.

If there’s one thing Alaska has taught Maddie, it’s how to survive. And now her best friend’s life depends on it …

I had high hopes at the beginning of this story. It started out well enough, with cute little Maddie and Logan at the White House and the set up of the kidnapping and Maddie going off to Alaska, but then it all kind of went downhill from there. I was hoping for something a lot more fast paced and intense, but instead, it was a kind of meandering survival story that I struggled to keep my interest in.

I wasn’t overly thrilled about Maddie as a character at first, I found her a little annoying, but she did grow on me through the book, I liked that she was girly and feminine and instead of that being a hindrance to her survival skills, she used it to her advantage, because often girls are allowed to be strong and able to survive but they can’t be feminine so I liked that Ally Carter showed this super girly girl who was also able survive out in the wilderness. I mean there were still definitely moments where she annoyed me, but by the end of the book I had come to appreciate her, though I did feel like she read as more 13 than 16 (and her nickname, Mad Dog, really bugged me). Logan on the other hand, felt totally flat, just your bog standard, cookie cutter, teen love interest, with nothing particularly interesting about him.

The pacing was ridiculously slow, I feel like I was dozing off through most of the book because NOTHING was happening. It was just Maddie and Logan being herded around the wilderness by evil Russian guy. I cannot stand books where half the chapters are the characters just walking around doing nothing and there was a lot of that here. You know a book is bad when it’s only just over 300 pages and it feels LONG.

I also didn’t really find Maddie and Logan’s romance believable, like you haven’t seen each other for six years and yet now you’re in love? Yup, no don’t buy it. You change a lot from 10 to 16 and I can’t imagine that things would happen that fast, you barely know who the other person is now and yet all you can think about is kissing them?

It was cool that it was set in Alaska, but I wish the author hadn’t felt the need to mention it every five seconds. Every other sentence seemed to be, “And in Alaska…..” I get that the author had clearly done a lot of research on Alaska and wanted to show it, but I feel like there could have been a better way for her to get it across.

I also found a lot of it kind of far fetched? I don’t buy that Maddie would have been able to annoy the evil Russian spy into submission and trick him that easily, or that Logan would have been able to carry Maddie across the Alaskan wilderness and survive, despite only having been there a day. Nor would Maddie have been able to kick the butts of two fully grown men after having fallen down a cliff and taken a bullet to the shoulder after only having survived on berries. I’m all for suspending disbelief in fiction, but this book asked for a little too much from me.

The villains didn’t really seem to have great motivations, I was kind of fuzzy on them, it didn’t really seem like they had a good reason for wanting to kill the First Lady and then kidnap her son six years later? And was the fact that they were Russian meant to be a comment on the election, because if so, I think it was a little heavy handed. Aside from Stefan, none of them seemed to have any real motivations for doing what they did and it felt like this was kind of glossed over.

The writing wasn’t great either, it was rather sparse prose and the dialogue was super, super corny!

Overall, I was really disappointed in this book. I was hoping for a fun, action packed book and instead I got a confused snooze fest of a book and not what I was expecting from the woman who wrote one of my favourite gangs of criminals. I missed the fun banter, and group dynamic of Kat’s crew. This was a kind of forgettable story and honestly? I wish I hadn’t requested it, I could have spent my time better reading something else.

My Rating: 2/5

Bechdel Test: FAIL-Maddie is the only named female character in this book, so it automatically fails. Seriously, how hard is it to have one other female character for her to have a conversation with?

My next review will be of the latest Trials of Apollo book, The Burning Maze.

 

Daughter of The Burning City Review

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Book: Daughter of The Burning City

Author: Amanda Foody

I actually got approved for an ARC of this on Netgalley but never got around to reading it, so I then picked up a physical copy at YALC last year. I loved the sound of this one, it’s another Carnival/Circus style YA, in the vein of Caraval and The Night Circus, but it’s much darker and more mysterious and I loved the unique concept of a circus style murder mystery. The magic system was unlike anything I’d ever read before, I loved the setting and whilst I think the author gave herself perhaps too much of a task trying to fit all of this sprawling world into one standalone book which is only just over 400 pages, I still really enjoyed it and thought it was a solid debut from Amanda Foody. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.

First off, I loved the concept of this book. The idea of integrating a murder mystery into a circus style setting and having the victims be illusions? I mean that is some creative stuff and I have to give Amanda Foody props for that. I’ve read quite a few circus set YA books, especially in the last few years and I have to say that this one definitely stands out as unique amongst them, not only in the way the book’s plot unfolds, but the characters, the circus itself, the magic system, the illusions, I definitely won’t be forgetting Gomorrah anytime soon!

Whilst I did love the magic system, and that people could have all types of magic, whether it be charms, mind reading, fortune telling, creating illusions like Sorina, I did feel like it could have been explained better and this comes back to a larger problem with this book; the world building. I think Amanda Foody created great bones for this world, Gomorrah was a very cool setting, the magic was interesting, the illusions were great, I liked the obvious biblical influences but I think she could have gone into a lot more depth. For me, 400 pages actually wasn’t quite long enough, I could have done with more explanations on how these people came to have jynx work, exactly why the Up Mountains are so prejudiced against those with it, more of an explanation of how exactly Sorina could see etc. The bones are there, it just needed to be expanded on. Also all of the politics were a bit confusing, and I think that had the book been a bit longer, the politics of the Up Mountain/Down Mountain divide could have been explained better. I think Amanda Foody crammed a lot of stuff into a standalone and didn’t fully develop it, so either the book needed to be longer or there needed to be more books!

I went back and forth on the main character Sorina. I didn’t love how easily she was manipulated and how indecisive she could be, but I did love how protective she was of her family and how determined she was to find out what happened to them and I think she was a lot braver than she actually gave herself credit for. Sure, there were times that I wanted to shake her for being so stupid, but sixteen year old girls aren’t perfect, they can be indecisive and naive and I appreciated that this book showed that. Plus, I absolutely loved her illusion magic and actually wished we could have seen more of it, as I feel like the book (and Sorina herself) barely scratched the surface of what she could do.

I really needed there to be a map! So many different places are mentioned, within Gomorrah and the rest of the world, and I couldn’t really place them because I didn’t have a visual. It would have been nice, and definitely would have added to the wonderful aesthetics of the book, had I had a map of both Gomorrah and the Up and Down Mountains to refer to throughout the book.

I liked all of the diverse sexuality representation in this, it was weaved in so naturally and matter of factly and I feel like that’s what we want to get to? A place where characters can be gay and it’s an important part of their character, but it’s not the only thing about them. Sorina is bisexual, one of her illusions, Nicoleta is a lesbian and Sorina’s love interest Luca is on the asexual spectrum. I will say that I felt like Luca’s sexuality was a little confused and I wasn’t sure exactly whether he was asexual or demisexual, it seemed like from what Luca said, the author was going for demisexual, but it did feel a bit muddled to me-however, I do not identify as on the asexual spectrum, so I would refer to actual asexual reviewers for more clarification on the asexual rep. Sorina also had quite frequent bouts of anxiety and panic attacks and I thought that was handled well.

The illusions did feel a little bit flat to me, I cared about them because Sorina cared about them, but it felt as if they were designed to have one characteristic and one characteristic only. Still, I was just as determined as Sorina to find out what happened to her family. I also felt like they were all introduced a bit too fast at the beginning and started getting killed off quite quickly so I didn’t feel like I really got a chance to get to know some of them.

The plot was a little bit slow to develop, I mean on the one hand, this worked quite well as the mystery was given time to unfurl but on the other hand, there did come a point when I was getting a bit ancy to find out what happened. I will say though that I never found myself feeling bored, even when the plot was feeling a bit slow, so that was definitely a good thing. The chapters were also a little lengthy, which is never great for me, I prefer things short and sweet!

I loved the addition of the sketches of Sorina’s illusions and the killer’s notes on them, I thought they added to the creepy vibe of the book.

I really loved Sorina’s love interest Luca, I loved his slightly morbid sense of humour, how he was smart and slightly cocky and how I couldn’t decide from one page to the next whether I wanted to hug him or slap him! He and Sorina had great banter and I loved how their romance developed quite slowly throughout the book, I mean Sorina has a crush on him almost straight away, but it takes a while for anything to really develop.

The writing was very visual and atmospheric, which I appreciated, because as a reader, I’m not great at picturing things for myself, I’m much more auditory, I can hear conversations between characters in my head but picturing scenes? Nah mate! Nevertheless, I appreciate it when authors paint a really vivid picture with their words because even if I can’t actually see it in my head, I can feel it.

I felt like the end was a bit anticlimactic and had it ended a couple of chapters earlier, the end might have had more impact, much as I liked seeing how things had turned out for everyone, I felt like the end of Chapter 25 would have had more impact as an ending.

Overall, this was a really creative, unique, dark fantasy murder mystery and whilst there were certain kinks that needed to be worked out with the world building and characters, it showed a lot of promise for a debut author. This works well enough as a standalone, but I would love to see a sequel to it, because I feel like there’s so much more of Gomorrah to be explored!

My Rating: 3.5/5

BECHDEL TEST: Pass-I had to search pretty hard for it, but there is a conversation between Hawk and Sorina that is not about men and passes the test-this book definitely could have done better on it though.

My next review will be of the latest Trials of Apollo book, The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan.

 

Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity #2) Review

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Book: Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity #2)

Author: Elizabeth Wein

This was originally supposed to be my April #RockMyTBR read, but I switched it with The Language of Thorns because I was in the middle of exams and The Language of Thorns was shorter. In hindsight, that was a good decision, not just because of the respective lengths of the books, but also because Rose is quite a heavy, emotional book and I don’t think I could have dealt with it on top of my exams. Code Name Verity was one of my favourite books of 2016, and whilst I didn’t love this one quite as much as Verity, it still definitely packs an emotional punch, so much so that I actually cried whilst reading it, which is something that rarely ever happens to me. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Rose Justice is a young American ATA pilot, delivering planes and taxiing pilots for the RAF in the UK during the summer of 1944. A budding poet who feels most alive while flying, she discovers that not all battles are fought in the air. An unforgettable journey from innocence to experience from the author of the best-selling, multi-award-nominated Code Name Verity. From the exhilaration of being the youngest pilot in the British air transport auxiliary, to the aftermath of surviving the notorious Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp, Rose’s story is one of courage in the face of adversity. Code Name Verity is shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.

It’s hard not to talk about this book without mentioning the companion, and I do say companion, because this book is more of a companion to CNV than a direct sequel, with the only connecting factors being a few character cameos, so I’m going to start with it right off the bat. Rose Under Fire is a very different beast to Code Name Verity. The storytelling structure is similar, Wein uses the same journal/diary type format for both, but Code Name Verity is more of a mystery/thriller/historical hybrid, whereas Rose is more of a straight historical fiction book. There are a lot of reviews I’ve read with people who have felt disappointed in Rose Under Fire because it wasn’t as exciting or suspenseful as Code Name Verity, but I don’t think it was meant to be. Of course Verity was exciting, the main character was a spy, and the whole novel was about her confession and discovering what happened to her. Rose is telling a different story and whilst it might not be as exciting, it is just as emotional and hardhitting.

Rose’s narrative voice is closer to Maddie’s than Julie’s, it’s not as engaging, she’s not as strong a personality as Julie, but personally I related to her more. I have a lot of Julie’s humour, but for the most part, I’m more like Rose, quieter and more introspective, not so much the life and soul of the party, a dreamer, but also feisty when needs be and as much as I found Julie’s voice more engaging than Rose, I can definitely see more of myself in her (though her last name, Justice, is incredibly on the nose). I also don’t agree with reviewers who say that she’s boring, I found her struggles with PTSD following her experiences in the war really harrowing and I thought she was strong and brave through everything she went through, but she also acted in a way that was very relatable for a teenage girl, even one in such horrifying circumstances.

It was an incredibly emotional read for me, the second half in particular was really hard going, I actually cried and that is very rare for me whilst reading-I didn’t even cry in Code Name Verity. Everything that Rose and her friends go through in Ravensbruck is truly heart-wrenching and the fact that this actually happened to thousands of women makes it even more emotional. The middle section gets tough at times, yet despite that, I felt like I just couldn’t stop reading, I had to know how everything turned out. Still, just a heads up, the Ravensbruck section is HARD. It’s raw, and violent, and tough to read about and I can’t even imagine how much harder it must have been to go through it. It was the little details that made it for me, the gas chambers and the punishments and everything I knew about, and yeah they’re awful, obviously but the little details, like the first horrors of camp being about losing your hair and having to improvise a sanitary pad when you got you period? Those things really hit home for me.

Honestly aside from a few cameos, from Maddie and Anna Engel who I totally forgot was a guard for Julie in Code Name Verity until I saw a review that mentioned it, this book isn’t really that related to Verity at all. I would still recommend reading Verity first though, as there are spoilers from that book in this one. It was really nice to see Maddie again and find out what she was up to, even though I’m not sure she was entirely necessary to Rose’s story.

I loved Rose’s Camp Family, all of the Rabbits were amazing, especially Roza, who was so tough and scrappy and yeah kind of thorny and prickly, even a little bitchy at times, but I loved her so much. I reckon if Roza was real, we would definitely be friends and I could totally understand why Rose loved her so much. I loved that they really did feel like a family, friendship was such a part of Code Name Verity and I was glad to see female friendship at the forefront of this story as well. There were so many incredible female characters in this book, and that’s something I love about Wein’s writing, she always puts women front and centre in a time when they were often overlooked. Honestly all of the side characters were so interesting, any one of them could have their own books explaining their backstories before the war. My particular favourites though were of course Roza and Anna Engel (who was apparently in Code Name Verity, though I don’t remember). Anna Engel was such an interesting, complicated, morally grey character and if Wein ever wanted to write a spin-off novel about her, I would definitely read it.

I didn’t know anything really about the Rabbits, or Ravensbruck (other than that it existed) before this book, and Wein’s research really showed here because she clearly knew a lot about both, and the details were what made it particularly harrowing. I love it when historical fiction authors take well known periods but explore lesser known parts of them-there is a wealth of historical fiction based in the Holocaust era, but nothing that I’ve read so far about Ravensbruck, and I love it when I come out of a historical novel feeling like I know more.

I’ve seen many people complain about the inclusion of Rose’s poetry and that it wasn’t very good, I can’t really comment on that aspect as I’m not well versed (pardon the pun) in poetry, but I like the inclusion of it. When you’re going through something that’s hard to deal with (hard seems like an understatement here but just go with it), of course you develop a coping mechanism and it seemed natural to me that Rose, going through the horrifying experience that she was, needed a way to deal with it and I can definitely relate to using writing as a way of dealing with things.

The pacing was a little all over the place. Basically the book is set up in three parts, one is Rose pre-Ravensbruck, one is Ravensbruck and one is the Nuremberg trials, post WWII. The book gets off to a very slow start. Once we get to Ravensbruck, the plot isn’t necessarily fast paced, but the story is more engaging and I couldn’t stop turning the pages because I needed to see how Rose had ended up in Paris and what had happened to her to make her so damaged. The end section is rather clunky and could probably have done with being a bit shorter. There’s a transition between the first and second parts with letters between Maddie and Rose’s family, that I felt I could probably have done without.

There are some reviewers who say the book lacked suspense because we know at the beginning of Rose’s section who makes it out of Ravensbruck and who doesn’t. I disagree with this, because even though I knew that Rose and her friends would get out, I still felt nervous for them, every time there was a selection, I wondered whether they’d get chosen, so for me, the fear and anxiety that they must have felt was definitely still there!

There were some things that felt a bit far fetched, the fact that Rose could relay these whole conversations between women whose language she didn’t even understand? Yeah, doesn’t make too much sense and there was a whole section at the end when they were getting out of Ravensbruck that was incredibly far fetched, I don’t think it would actually have ever happened during the war.

There were also reviewers who complained that there were not enough Jewish prisoners in Ravensbruck, given the time period that the novel was set in. I have to admit, this didn’t cross my mind whilst reading, but having looked into it more, it makes sense given the time period of the novel. Rose arrives at Ravensbruck in 1944, and nearly all of the Jewish prisoners from Ravensbruck had been transferred to Auschwitz in 1942 and 1943, so it makes sense that Rose doesn’t come across many during her time at the camp, by the time Rose arrived, in real time, nearly all of the Jewish prisoners would have been sent to Auschwitz as part of the Final Solution.

Rose gives a slightly different perspective on the camp experience, being a prisoner of war from the Allied side, who had not been living in occupied territory before she was captured, so she’s kind of like a conduit for the reader, we discover the horrors of the concentration camp along with her (though knowing considerably more than she does).

There’s a particular line at the end of the book that seems to cause some controversy among readers, where Maddie tells Rose that Julie never would have survived what Rose did. I don’t think that she means that Julie couldn’t have survived the concentration camp, that she wasn’t strong or brave enough to do so, because she absolutely would have, I think what Maddie meant was that the SS would have been much harsher on her than they were on Rose (and she did not have it easy), as it’s hinted at in CNV that Julie would be sent to a concentration camp to have medical experiments done to her, much like the Rabbits and that Maddie didn’t think she would have survived that.

I felt like the ending was kind of anti-climactic, I reckon the end of Part 2 would probably have made a better ending, but I liked that it ended on a hopeful note, as hope runs strongly through the book, even in the darkest days of Ravensbruck, when all hope seems to be lost, Rose and her friends still manage to retain some hope, so it seems right that the book ended on a hopeful note as well.

So yeah, this was a very different book to Code Name Verity, but I liked that. Rose’s story is unique and her own and it’s hard and it’s horrifying at times, but we need stories like this. A strong theme in this book is “Tell The World”, something the girls repeat over and over, they have to survive so they can tell the world what was done to them, and whilst Rose and her friends might not be real, they represent a lot of very real women who did go through the things they went through and we cannot forget about them.

My Rating: 3/5

BECHDEL TEST: Pass-This book passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, Rose and her friends, all named, talked about many things that are not to do with men, usually relating to the war and the camp.

My next review will be of Daughter of The Burning City, by Amanda Foody.

 

Almost Love Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Almost Love

Author: Louise O’Neill

Published by: Quercus Books

Expected Publication: 1st March (whoops!)

Format: e-book

Thank you to Quercus Books and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, I really enjoyed (okay well enjoyed is the wrong word, but found it really important) Asking For It by the same author, so I was excited to read her first (I think) adult book.

I was excited to read Almost Love because I found Asking For It such an important and powerful take on rape and rape culture and I knew that Louise O’Neill writes a lot about feminism and women’s issues and flawed female characters, all things that really attract me to her work. I was interested to see what her take on an obsessive relationship would be. Sadly I found that I didn’t enjoy Almost Love as much as I was hoping to (though again, I’m not sure enjoy is the right word for a book like this). It was an incredibly slow book for me to read, as there didn’t really seem to be much plot to it and I found the main character absolutely unbearable. I appreciate what Louise O’Neill was trying to do with this book, but it just didn’t really work for me. Here is a synopsis of the book:

When Sarah falls for Matthew, she falls hard.

So it doesn’t matter that he’s twenty years older. That he sees her only in secret. That, slowly but surely, she’s sacrificing everything else in her life to be with him.

Sarah’s friends are worried. Her father can’t understand how she could allow herself to be used like this. And she’s on the verge of losing her job.

But Sarah can’t help it. She is addicted to being desired by Matthew.

And love is supposed to hurt.

Isn’t it?

First off, I feel like I have to talk about the main character because I feel like this book will live or die for you based on how you feel about her. Sarah is, to put it quite plainly, a bitch. She’s awful, truly, a terrible friend, she’s judgemental, she’s vain, she’s incredibly self-obsessed, she’s selfish, she gets jealous of others for having success in their lives but she never TRIES to do anything to change her circumstances, she’s incredibly immature……I could go on. I understand the point that O’Neill was trying to make with this character, that female characters are held to too high of a standard, that they’re not allowed to be unlikeable or have flaws, I got that and I appreciate that O’Neill shows that women don’t have to be nice all the time. HOWEVER, when I can’t find any redeemable characteristics at all in a main character, male or female, it makes it very hard for me to like a book. Sarah frustrated me so much and I just couldn’t connect to her at all. I mean maybe if I’d been in that kind of relationship, if I’d been the girl who obsessed over whether a guy was going to text me or not, then I’d get it more, but I’ve only been in one relationship and it was never really like that. I didn’t feel any empathy towards Sarah and when you can’t relate or feel any empathy towards a main character of a book, it makes that book a really hard read!

The book is told in alternating first person and third person and switches between the past and the present, which makes for quite confusing reading because you’ll be in the past for a bit and then just when you’re getting used to that, you’ll be flicked back into the present and will suddenly be in third person. The intended effect is that you see how damaged Sarah’s thinking is when you’re inside her head and then can see how this has affected her, which I think does work, but it is confusing for a while!

There are a lot of sections of just back and forth text messaging between Sarah and Matthew and I get that O’Neill is trying to show Sarah’s damaging obsession and Matthew’s indifference, but pages and pages of text conversation are not exactly thrilling!

I couldn’t really understand Sarah’s infatuation with Matthew, he was a slimy, weaselly asshole who as far as I could tell had no real redeeming features and just wanted to use her for sex and it got me so frustrated that she couldn’t see that! Again, maybe it’s just my lack of experience with relationships showing, but I just don’t get how you could want someone who treats you that badly.

I felt worse for Sarah’s friends and family than I did for Sarah herself. They were the ones who seemed to bear the brunt of her obsession for Matthew, even three years later, her boyfriend Oisin is treated terribly by her because of what happened with Matthew-but it wasn’t his fault! It wasn’t his fault what Matthew did to her and her taking it out on him because he wasn’t the one she had wanted, even though he actually treated her better than Matthew did, was really harsh. Sarah is needlessly harsh to her dad, her friends, to everyone in her life and why? I just didn’t really understand it at all.

I felt especially bad for Fionn, who clearly had feelings for Sarah, and all she wanted to do was use him as her emotional punching bag for her “relationship” with Matthew. I kind of wish that had been explored more, because his feelings are only really hinted at and I think it might have been nice if it had been explored more, though I understand why it wasn’t since the past is entirely from Sarah’s point of view.

The ending was really anti-climactic, and though you see a hint of hope for Sarah, and some acknowledgement that she’s treated people in her life badly, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of real conclusion to her story, it just sort of ends.

Overall, this book had a lot of potential, but I don’t feel like it really lived up to it. Sarah was completely insufferable and I couldn’t connect or empathise with her, there was very little in the way of plot, it was mostly just Sarah being awful to people and the format was a little confusing. I will definitely be reading more of Louise O’Neill’s work because I love how she centres women and feminism in them, but this one wasn’t really for me.

My Rating: 2.5/5

Bechdel Test: FAIL-By the very nature of this book, it kind of has to fail the Bechdel test because Sarah is so unbearably obsessed with Matthew that’s all she really talks about with anyone, male or female.

My next review will be of my May #RockMyTBR book Rose Under Fire, which I will have for you tomorrow, as I just finished it today!