Fawkes Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Fawkes

Author: Nadine Brandes

Published By: Thomas Nelson Fiction

Expected Publication: 10th July (whoops!)

Format: e-book

Thank you to Thomas Nelson Fiction and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, I was super excited with it because 17th century historical fantasy is not something that I come across very often and I love this period of history, so it was definitely something that I was really excited to read.

First off, the concept of the story is so darn cool. Like a retelling of the Gunpowder Plot in an England where everyone uses magical masks to control colours? Definitely one of the more inventive fantasy that I’ve read in a while-I read a lot of fantasy so sometimes it’s difficult to find books that feel new and fresh and original and this one definitely did.

Because the book takes place over two years, the plot is quite slow to start off with, it’s only toward the end of the first section “Grey” and the beginning of the second section “Black” that the pace really starts to pick up as the Gunpowder plot really starts to get underway. It does get better in terms of pace, but those first hundred pages or so were a little bit of a slog to get through as not much is really happening. However once the pace picks up, things get really exciting, especially in the last few sections when the story is getting to its climax.

My interest in the magic system was definitely what kept me reading in the first part of the book when the plot was a little slow-I thought it was so cool and creative. Basically everyone has a mask which they can use to manipulate different colours, the whole idea is that each person should only be able to control one colour but there are some people who want to be able to use all the colours through the use of White Light. The idea of using masks has always fascinated me so combining these with being able to manipulate objects through the use of different colours? Yup, I will never not be obsessed with this magic system.

I wasn’t overly attached to the narrator Thomas at first. He seemed a bit bland and I wasn’t entirely keen on some of the sexist views he espoused at the beginning of the book (he comments that the main female character Emma is better than other girls because she doesn’t show any cleavage *eyeroll*) but I LOVED his character development throughout the book. At first Thomas kind of just seems like he is floating along and not really making any choices of his own but as he grows and learns more throughout the book, he starts striking out on his own and becoming more independent and really thinking about what he wants and what is actually best for the country and by the end I just wanted to give the boy a hug. At the start of the book, I was like, yeah Thomas is okay, but he’s a bit bland and boring and by the end I was like LOOK AT MY BOY, HE’S BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH AND HE’S JUST TRYING HIS BEST AND I MUST PROTECT THE PRECIOUS (I only have two speeds for characters apparently, bland indifference or must protect at all costs). He has a bit of a hero complex but that’s understandable for a 17th century man and for the most part I did find it kind of endearing. It was great to see a YA novel with a male first person narrator, that’s much rarer that it really should be.

The main female character Emma, I just adored. I love historical women who want to go outside of the box society has set for them, and Emma just totally embodies that. She wants to strike out on her own and paint for a living and no one will hire her to be an apprentice even though she’s an amazing artist and skilled at using colour power (because sexism) but she doesn’t let the fact that no one is willing to give her a chance stop her from trying. She’s super powerful, and really brave and compassionate and I loved getting to see such a well rounded female character. She’s also black, because yes, black people did exist in 17th Century Britain and the author does explore the racism that she faces, but at the same time, Emma’s story isn’t totally about that.

I loved seeing the development of the relationship between Thomas and Emma, they have a really sweet relationship and Thomas learns and grows so much from Emma, at first he’s like MUST BE A MAN AND PROTECT and then he’s like, okay, this girl can stand up for herself. His relationship with Emma is also key in his decisions towards the end of the book. Emma also learns and grows from Thomas as well, as she sees what she really wants out of a relationship and learns that she does not have to stay with the boy who is blackmailing her. It was so nice to see a relationship in a YA book that is based on mutual respect, we need more of these!

If you know the history of the Gunpowder Plot, the story is relatively predictable (and of course, you will know how it ends before you get there) but Nadine’s magical twists and turns mean that the predictability of the historical part of the story never gets boring. I particularly loved the villain of the story, without wanting to give away too much, he was really great and I thought the Stone Plague was a great way of adapting the plague at the time to fit a magical story.

I loved how much the father/son relationship of Guy and Thomas was central to the story, as parent/child relationships are so rare in YA and it was great to see their relationship grow and develop through the story, especially since they had been estranged before the events of the story, so they are really just meeting each other for the first time.

The whole Keeper/Igniter war is very reminiscent of the Catholic/Protestant divisions in the 17th century, and I’m pretty sure that White Light is supposed to signify God, but it’s not whack you over the head with it religion, so if you’re not a big fan of books with religious themes, don’t worry, they are here, but they are relatively subtle and I thought it was quite a clever way to combine religion with the fantasy aspects of the book.

I liked the way that the real life plotters were incorporated into the book, aside from Catesby, I didn’t really know much about the other plotters so it was great to get to learn a bit more about the plotters that you don’t hear as much about through this book. The whole thing at Holbeche House, I had no idea that actually happened, I assumed they were all caught at the same time, so that was definitely interesting to find out about-I love it when I read historical books and they teach me something new!

I liked how White Light was kind of snarky and had a sense of humour-my favourite kind of character, even though White Light is more of a presence than a character, but you get my point!

There were a few gruesome bits, especially involving the plague, so if you are a bit squeamish, just be pre-warned that there are some gross bits in this book!

The ending was bittersweet, I’m glad that the author stuck to the history, because we all know how the Gunpowder Plot worked out, though it was heartbreaking to read about but also that there was a glimmer of hope for Thomas and Emma, because it would have kind of sucked if she had ended with the death of Guy Fawkes (it’s history guys, the end to the Gunpowder Plot is not a spoiler) and just left on that sad note, without offering any sort of hope for the future, so it was nice to have a not totally depressing ending!

Overall, this was a really great historical fantasy, such a unique and creative take on a well known historical event and it was definitely great to read a historical book about a time period that is not explored enough in my opinion. I am definitely looking forward to reading Nadine Brandes’ next book because its about the Romanovs and I LOVE the Romanovs!

My Rating: 4/5

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-Emma is really the only named female character in this book because 17th century, of course we can’t have more than one woman……*eyerolls viciously*

My next review will be of Days of Blood and Starlight, the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

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Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha #1) Review

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Book: Children of Blood and Bone

Author: Tomi Adeyemi

This book was another one of my YALC prep reads, though I only finished it on the first day of YALC hence why you are getting the review of it now, and in a slightly sad turn of events, I didn’t get to meet Tomi Adeyemi in the end because her signing queue was simply too long for her to get to everyone in the time she had, awesome for her, slightly sad for me and my friend. Anyway, the hype surrounding this book was huge, so I was slightly nervous to read it in case it didn’t live up to my expectations, but thankfully, it was AMAZING and is definitely now one of my favourite books of the year. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us. 
Now we rise. 

Zelie remembers when the soil of Orisha hummed with magic. When different clans ruled – Burners igniting flames, Tiders beckoning waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoning forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, anyone with powers was targeted and killed, leaving Zelie without a mother and her people without hope. Only a few people remain with the power to use magic, and they must remain hidden. 

Zelie is one such person. Now she has a chance to bring back magic to her people and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zelie must learn to harness her powers and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. 

Danger lurks in Orisha, where strange creatures prowl, and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zelie herself as she struggles to come to terms with the strength of her magic – and her growing feelings for an enemy.

This book was just….ugh…I apologise in advance for this being a likely totally flaily and probably incoherent review but I am just super in love with this book and this world and these characters that I can’t even…..it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t get a chance to meet Tomi Adeyemi at YALC because I am totally not coherent about my love for this book yet.

Obviously the diversity in this book is absolutely amazing. I can’t even remember the last time I read a book with an all black cast, if I ever have which I’m not sure about, so that was so amazing to see and I can’t even imagine how great it must be for black readers to see that kind of representation on page, since I’m a white woman who never really has to think about seeing myself represented in books, so yeah, it was definitely great to have an #ownvoices all black story and I seriously hope the success of this book means that we’ll get to see more of these types of story, particularly in fantasy novels.

I thought the world building was so great, I loved all the different maji clans and the history behind each clan’s magic, I thought Orisha as a country with all the culture, the animals, the food, the currency was really well thought out, I could have done with maybe seeing a bit more of different Orishan places, but I think overall Tomi Adeyemi did a really good job: Orisha was quite a sprawling, complex world but I felt like I really knew their history and culture and everything by the end which is always what you want. I also loved that there were ten different clans and we got to explore lots of different types of magic, I thought that was super cool. It was also interesting to have a world where religion played such a big role, I have known a lot of fantasy books that have utilised a religion of sorts but it is usually background, Zelie’s belief in her gods had a big impact on her actions in the book, so that was interesting to see.

I loved most of the characters, I thought all the main characters were well developed and complex and each went through their own journeys through the book. I wasn’t overly keen on Zelie at the beginning, I understood why she was so angry and I appreciated that Adeyemi allowed her to be angry because often girls in books aren’t, I just felt like she was unnecessarily cruel to Amari in the beginning and that she didn’t really learn from her reckless, impulsive decisions and it was left to everyone else to get her out of the mistakes she had made; I could definitely understand Tzain’s exasperation with her! I did feel like she developed through the book and I definitely felt for her pain and everything she went through, I just didn’t love her to quite the same extent as I loved Amari. Amari was definitely my fave of this book, she goes through such a journey from scared princess to powerful warrior (who still loves to do hair and makeup and is traditionally feminine, which is great to see) and I found her quite easy to root for, because she clearly wants to try and do the right thing and she’s overcome a lot of abuse from her father.

Inan, I had slightly complicated feelings about. His motivations are just as complicated as Zelie and Amari’s and you do feel bad for him, because like Amari, he is overcoming abuse from their father (Inan is Amari’s brother) but I did find his chapters rather repetitive and sometimes you just wanted to scream at him “MAKE UP YOUR MIND”. However I appreciated that Adeyemi didn’t just make him a cookie cutter villain and explored his motivations and tensions between magic and his loyalty to the crown.

Tzain was the one main character that I felt fell kind of flat. Perhaps it was because he wasn’t a POV character in this book, but it kind of felt like his only purpose was saving Zelie’s ass when she did something stupid (ie frequently) or mooning over Amari. I hope that in the next book, he gets a POV so he can be explored more because I reckon he could be really interesting, we just haven’t seen enough of him yet.

I liked that the cause for and against magic wasn’t black and white, you get to see the oppression of those with magic, which is clearly wrong, but you also get to see how dangerous magic can be, and you can sort of understand where the King is coming from even if his method of dealing with it is totally barbaric and definitely is not the way to deal. It made the book a lot more interesting than if it was just “Magic is amazing, the King is awful”.

I wish the King had been more developed as a villain though, you get some understanding of what he did to his children and what motivates him, but he did feel like somewhat of a flat villain at times and I think he could have been expanded upon more.

I loved the sibling relationships between Tzain and Zelie and Inan and Amari, though I felt like Inan and Amari’s relationship could have been more developed. However I did love that familial relationships were front and centre in this book, because so often they are ignored, so it was great to see that!

The romance was the one place where the book kind of fell flat for me and it contributed to the pacing issues I had with the book. The start of the book was a little slow, but it soon picked up but then as soon as the romance between Zelie and Inan was introduced it felt like everything slowed down and concentrated way too much on them rather than the overarching plot. I also felt like Zelie and Inan’s romance didn’t really make sense, they hated each other and then ten seconds later, they seemed to be proclaiming their love and planning for a new Orisha together. It didn’t feel earned, so I wasn’t invested in it at all. Tzain and Amari’s relationship never really developed past the crush stage, but I kind of had to wonder why that was there, since it was a little weird to have all four characters paired up with each other, especially since they were two groups of siblings! Personally, I felt the romance feels more from Zelie and Amari and seriously hope they become a thing in the next book, since I definitely read possible lesbian vibes between Amari and her maid and I’m pretty sure, whether she’s bisexual or a lesbian, Amari definitely didn’t read as straight to me!

There were so many great action sequences but at times it did feel like the violence was a bit gratuitous, like the whole boat death match sequence, they could have got the stone another way and it didn’t really add much to the book.

The chapters were generally quite short which I appreciated-it made the book a lot more easily digestible for me as I was mostly reading it on my bus journeys to and from work!

I loved having the map and the explanations of the different Maji clans at the beginning, they were very useful to refer to throughout the book and the map was beautiful!

I’m always a bit wary about the use of mind reading powers in books as there are a lot of iffy issues with consent there, and I found that as well as that, there were generally a couple of iffy scenes where the girls would say no to something (like Amari not wanting to dance and then Tzain dragging her to do it anyway, and Inan pushing Zelie up against a tree) and the boys would ignore them and I felt like that could have been easily rectified or at least acknowledged.

It would have helped me if there had been a glossary for the unfamiliar Yoruba words, I loved the inclusion of the language but it would have been nice to know how to pronounce those words I was reading!

This book explored so many really important issues, prejudice, colourism, slavery, police brutality, it was great to see these things talked about in such an open way as they are all really important things that we definitely need to talk about more.

The alternating three POVs were for the most part done really well, though on occasion, particularly between Zelie and Amari’s POVs, I would get confused as to which character was narrating!

I did generally like Adeyemi’s writing style, though it did seem slightly overwritten in parts and occasionally, the dialogue was overly formal and stilted. Plus the dreaded “breath she didn’t know she was holding” line appeared and I know it can be a genuine thing in anxiety to not realise that you are holding your breath, but I wish authors could find a different way to express it because it’s so overused!

The author’s note at the end, explaining her inspirations for the book was extremely powerful and if you don’t usually read the author’s notes then definitely do this time because she explains her real life inspirations for the book, and it was quite heartrending to read.

THE END, OH MY GOSH THE END, THAT WAS JUST MEAN. I did feel like the end was a little rush, because of all the romance stuff in the middle, by the time we got to the end, it felt like both the author and the characters were racing through and I really needed a second to take a breath! Having said that, I loved the way everything wrapped up, even though that ending was cruel, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book.

Overall, I really loved this book, despite the few small problems I had with it, and can definitely understand why everyone has been hyping it up so much, it’s a wonderful, diverse, fantasy world with great characters and a great plot and 2019 cannot come soon enough because I NEED to know what happens next. Definitely a top book of 2018 for sure!

My Rating: 4.5/5 (0.5 off for the pacing problems and my lack of love for the romance)

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Zelie and Amari talk about magic and the things they need to do to save Orisha.

My next review will be of my current Netgalley read, Fawkes, a retelling of the Gunpowder plot, which I’m really enjoying.

Radio Silence Review

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Book: Radio Silence

Author: Alice Oseman

This book is another one of my YALC prep reads, as Alice Oseman is one of the authors attending YALC, it is also one of the books I received from my lovely #otspsecretsister from the last round I took part it, Amy (@YAundermyskin) so it knocked two items off my goals for the year which was good. It seems like everyone and their friend loves this book, and whilst I did enjoy it, I didn’t love it quite as much as everyone else seems to. I did love the focus on friendship rather than romance and I thought the diversity was great and the school struggles were very relatable, but I felt like the plot kind of dragged a bit. Here is a short synopsis of the novel:

What if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong?

Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.

But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.

Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down. Suffocating with guilt, she knows that she has to confront her past…

She has to confess why Carys disappeared…

Meanwhile at uni, Aled is alone, fighting even darker secrets.

It’s only by facing up to your fears that you can overcome them. And it’s only by being your true self that you can find happiness.

Frances is going to need every bit of courage she has

I’m not really entirely sure how I feel about this book. There were some parts of it that were so so good and other parts that I was like, eh, can’t really care less about. I’m going to talk about both, and hope that I can kind of reconcile the sort of meh feelings that I had about this book.

So the good stuff first. I loved the focus on friendship, I thought that was really great and having a book that had a male/female plationic friendship at its centre was so refreshing as they are still annoyingly rare! Aled and Frances’ friendship, at least for the first half of the book was so lovely and it was great to read a book that put friendship above romance for a change, because at least for me, my friendships have always been the most important thing in my life. Though on the topic of friends, I felt like Frances complaining that her friends only liked her because they didn’t know the real her was a little annoying because she never gave them the chance, and she never actually tried to get to know them either, so I felt when she said that Aled was the first person who ever really got her, like “well you didn’t exactly try to let your friends get to know you” and then she’s surprised when she really likes Raine even though she’s been friends with her for years? Yeah I did not get that at all.

I loved the diversity, nearly every member of the main cast is queer, and Frances and Daniel are also POC, Raine is also a POC though her sexual orientation is not outright stated. It was refreshing to see a book where so much diversity was so easily interwoven into the book and it was great to see Aled, Frances, Daniel and Carys all directly say that they were demisexual, bisexual, gay and lesbian respectively, on page.

I also loved Frances’ relationship with her mum, it was great to see a supportive and present parent in a YA book, plus her mum seemed super awesome!

I found the struggles about sixth form and what to do for Uni very relatable and realistic, sixth form is such a confusing time and it’s so difficult to decide at 18 what you want to do for the rest of your life, honestly four years later, I’m still not entirely sure? So that part was great to read about, though it felt like Frances’ teachers weren’t that involved, which didn’t ring true to me, because in my experience of sixth form, my teachers were super involved in the whole applying to Uni process, we had mock interviews, practice personal statements, our teachers talked to us all the time about what we were applying for and there was even more preparation involved for those applying to Oxbridge, so someone like Frances who was Cambridge bound and supposedly at a really good school, I find it hard to believe that she was so unprepared and flustered at her interview and that only one of her teachers suggested that English Lit wasn’t right for her. From my experience, I feel like a student like Frances wouldn’t have got so far through the application process without someone suggesting that perhaps English Lit wasn’t what she was passionate about and Oxbridge perhaps wasn’t for her.

There was some nice representation of mental health at University as well with Aled, which I liked as I feel like that’s a topic that sometimes falls through the cracks and its such a prevalent issue.

The chapters were a nice length, I liked that they were mostly short, it made the book a lot faster to get through, even when it was dragging. I also liked the fandom references, I thought the podcast was really creative and I liked the social media aspects, though they did feel in parts overdone.

Now onto the things I didn’t like so much. I felt like the book was quite slow paced, even though there was a lot happening which was weird. We kind of had the same things over and over again, school, Spoons, clubs, Frances and Aled hanging out, and repeat for most of the book, which is fine, that’s what most teenagers’ lives are like, I just found myself bored. It was a very weird combination of too many subplots: Frances and Uni, Aled and his mother, his missing sister, Radio Silence, Aled’s mental health issues etc and yet everything moving a too slow a pace. For a lot of the book, all the different parts felt a bit disjointed and it did all come together at the end, but I felt like the different strands were too uneven for most of the book.

I also felt like quite a lot of the characters were a bit shallow, Frances not so much because we’re in her head so we get to understand her motivations a bit more, and Aled was decently well rounded as well, but Raine and Daniel and Carys and both Frances and Aled’s mums felt a bit shallow. This is especially true of Aled’s mum, who is abusive but we don’t really get any indication of why she is that way, so she just comes of as one dimensionally evil. I also found Frances kind of irritating at times because she complains so much about things but then doesn’t do anything to change her situation and doesn’t really seem to be aware of what a privileged position she’s in. I also felt like Aled overreacted a bit to a certain event in the book. I don’t know, I just didn’t feel like all of the characters were entirely well rounded.

I also felt like the story was a little long for my liking, which is weird because it’s only four hundred pages, which is relatively standard for me, but at times it just felt like the story would never end! I think perhaps it was because it was a contemporary, I’m used to reading fantasies of four hundred pages plus, but contemporaries tend to be around the 300-380 odd page mark, so the fact that this was quite long considering probably contributed to my feeling that it was slow paced.

There is also a section of animal cruelty, not described on page, but even the mention of that was enough to turn me off. For content warnings, this book contains a character with depression, not outright stated as such but pretty clearly described, emotional abuse, child abuse and suicide ideation.

I didn’t really buy that Frances wearing funky clothes and liking an Internet podcast would have meant her friends would have thought her weird and she would have been ostracized: this book was published in 2016, a lot of people liked funky fandom clothes and internet podcasts then and even when it was written I don’t think it would have been seen as weird as the author made it out to be.

So overall there were definitely good aspects to this story, I feel like it had just been too hyped up for me and didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Honestly, if I had read this when I was in sixth form, I probably would have been just as hyped about it as everyone else, but now I’m almost done with Uni, I see Frances in a different way than I would have when I was 16, I probably would have loved her at 16, at 21 she irritated me. I’m definitely glad that a book with such good diversity and a male/female platonic friendship at its centre is so popular, it just wasn’t for me.

My Rating: 3/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Frances and Raine have a conversation about their grades, and later on about white privilege.

My next review will be of my final YALC prep read, the one I am reading at the moment, Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi.

 

 

Legendary (Caraval #2) Review

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Book: Legendary (Caraval #2)

Author: Stephanie Garber

This book was one of my most anticipated books of this year, as Caraval was one of my favourite books that I read last year and I couldn’t wait to dive back into the magical world that Stephanie Garber created, this time seeing it through the eyes of Scarlett’s younger sister Tella. Now I’ve been burned a little by my most anticipated reads this year as none of them have been quite as good as I was hoping, but not so with Legendary! Legendary ups the stakes from its predecessor, creating a thoroughly spellbinding story that I could not put down and devoured in just over a week. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…the games have only just begun.

We pick up pretty much just after we left off in Caraval, with the ball to celebrate the end of the game from the last book, so if you don’t have a great memory, I’d recommend refreshing yourself with at least how the last book ended, because we don’t get any recaps, we just dive straight into the story.

The book is narrated by Tella, Scarlett’s younger sister this time around and I have to admit, I much prefer her to her sister. Tella is more daring and reckless, she’s impulsive and a little naive and she makes mistakes, but she felt like a flawed, complex character to me and I found her voice a lot more engaging than Scarlett’s which made her easier to root for. We didn’t really get to see much of Tella in the last book, so it was interesting here to dive further into her motivations for her actions in the last game and to get to see that she’s so much more than she was made out to be in Caraval, she’s flirtatious and feminine and she likes pretty dresses yes, which makes people underestimate her but she’s so much stronger and smarter than everyone gives her credit for and I loved that. There was a great fight scene between her and one of the Fates, which I really loved.

I found the pace much better in this one, in the first book, it felt like the first half dragged and then the second half was much more fast paced, but this book felt like it had a much more even pace, it’s still quite slow, but it’s a beautiful unraveling of a mystery and I still felt really engaged and wanting to know what was going to happen with Tella and the game next. The chapters were a nice length, and though some were overly long, overall they were much more even and this helped with the pace feeling a bit more even here than it was in Caraval.

The writing was lovely, but it did feel like the author went overboard on some of metaphors sometimes (“smells like ink and secrets-what on earth do secrets smell like!) and there were quite a few repetitive phrases throughout the book, still for the most part, the writing created a real atmosphere and you felt like you were in the game-I especially loved the descriptions of the many, many, pretty dresses that Tella got to wear, I swear, I would risk my life in Caraval if it meant I could wear some of those clothes.

There were so many twists and turns and mysteries in this book, I was constantly intrigued throughout and wanting to know what would happen next.

I appreciated that there was a lot more worldbuilding in this book for the world outside of the game, last time we got a great idea of how Caraval worked, but not necessarily the outside world, this time we get to see a new location, Valenda, and get more insight into the religion and the mythology of the world, as Garber introduces the Fates, god-like beings who have spent centuries trapped inside a deck of cursed tarot cards. I thought the Fates were really interesting and look forward to seeing more of them in the next book. Jacks, The Prince of Hearts, was a captivating new villain and the introduction of the Fates has definitely expanded the scope of Garber’s world.

I loved the map at the beginning, it was so cool!

There were quite a few spelling errors and missing words here and there, which I found quite jarring. I know this is more an editing problem, but I think perhaps slightly more thorough proofreading was required because they were quite noticeable!

There was a LOT of romance in this book, which I didn’t mind because the chemistry between Dante and Tella was seriously strong, but I did feel like some of the romance plot could have been used to develop the relationship between the sisters on page, because much like in Caraval, it felt like we were only told how close Tella and Scarlett were as sisters and not really shown, and Tella’s romantic relationships kind of overshadow her relationship with her sister. I’m also worried we might be building towards a love triangle between Tella, Dante and Jacks (there were hints of it in this book) which I really don’t want because I still despise love triangles, even though I think this one could potentially be done well.

I was worried that having a second book set at a Caraval would be a bit boring and repetitive but the game is totally different this time around, so don’t worry too much about that, though I do wonder what will happen in the final book, since there’s no way there can be three Caravals in one year!

It was interesting to get more background on Scarlett and Tella’s mother (wow those two have seriously terrible parents!) and it will be interesting to see how everything plays out with her given the events of this book.

I wasn’t sure about Scarlett in this book, she’s more in the background, but she seemed to be doing a lot of shady stuff in this book and after what’s revealed about what she was doing at the end of the book, I’m not sure how I feel about her anymore, because what she’s doing….yeah it’s not great. I’ll be interested to see the fallout of her decisions in the next book and how it affects her relationship with her sister.

It felt like the Empress Elantine was a bit underutilized, she had the potential to be a really interesting character, but I wasn’t sure that she was used to her full effect.

We get some more insight into Legend’s identity this book, and I found the final “reveal” scene, a little bit anti-climactic because you’d essentially already been told before that point and it didn’t have the impact for me that I think Stephanie Garber intended. The resolution to everything felt a bit easy, I was really impressed with how Garber managed to keep the stakes high throughout the book and I was constantly worried for Tella, but the way everything resolved just felt a little too…..neat. I’m sure there’ll be some fallout from everything that happened in the next book, but for this one, the solution felt a little….deus ex machina-ey!

The ending…..wow! I have so many questions and theories about it, especially as to who the missing heir is, because I sense there is a lot more to that story and if my theory is correct then it could be pretty exciting. Stephanie Garber certainly knows how to end a book with a bang!

My Rating: 4.5/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Tella and Aiko, the game’s cartographer, have a discussion about her mother’s history. Tella also talks with Empress Elantine about her mother.

My next review will be of my next YALC prep read (yes I am still doing that, I just took a break for a week), Radio Silence, by Alice Oseman.

 

A Thousand Perfect Notes Review (e-ARC)

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Book: A Thousand Perfect Notes

Author: C.G. Drews

Published By: Orchard Books

Expected Publication: 7th June (whoops!)

Format: e-book

Thanks to Orchard Books and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early. I have been following the author’s blog (PaperFury!) for the past couple of years and was really excited to read her debut novel, however, I would like to add that the fact that I like and follow the author’s blog had no bearing on my opinions of her novel, these are my honest opinions.

I knew one day I would probably be reviewing Cait’s book on my blog, but I had no idea it would be so soon. As soon as Cait announced her book deal, I was super excited to finally get the chance to read one of her books, and so naturally, I requested it as soon as it was available on UK Netgalley. I have to admit, I didn’t love this one quite as much as I was hoping to, it took me longer than it really should have for me to get into, given that this book is not even 300 pages long, the plot was a little sparse, the setting wasn’t entirely clear and it wasn’t even mentioned until right near the end of the book and there were certain aspects of the writing style I didn’t love. However, I did enjoy the characters and I thought the child abuse was handled thoughtfully and I could really feel for Beck’s pain, so it wasn’t entirely a loss, it just wasn’t quite as good as I was hoping for a book I’d been anticipating for quite a while. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

An emotionally charged story of music, abuse and, ultimately, hope.

Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music – because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?

I will freely admit that my interest in this book came more from the fact that Cait was writing it than my interest in the topic, anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m not a massive contemporary YA fan, and although this book does fall on the darker side of contemporary YA that I tend to prefer, I think some of the problems I had with this book are issues I have with a lot of contemporary books, a lot of the time it doesn’t feel like there’s much happening and I don’t really find reading about people’s everyday lives engaging. It wasn’t really until the last couple of chapters of the book that I felt like things were really happening, so for about 75-80% of the book, I felt like I was just watching the characters go through the motions and wasn’t particularly engaged with what they were doing even if I liked them.

It also irritated me that for 90% of the book, I didn’t really know the setting? I actually thought it might be England for a bit, but then Beck doesn’t wear school uniform, so that wouldn’t work, I knew it wasn’t America because Beck refers to the Maestro as “mum” not “mom”, and then I figured Australia because that’s where the author is from, which turned out to be right, but I wish it had been clearer sooner as it’s kind of disconcerting reading a contemporary when you can’t figure out what the setting is.

I did like the characters. I could definitely feel for Beck and his struggle between wanting to protect his sister and therefore play the piano even though he hates it so his mother won’t hurt her and wanting to write his own music. It’s awful to see how low his self esteem is, and watch his mother reinforcing that. I did feel like as a character, he was a bit flat, but considering his home situation, that made sense and I kind of grew to love him anyway! Joey was without a doubt my favourite character in the book, she’s kind of vicious because of her abusive mother, but she’s also cute and likes pink, and glitter and chocolate and you can understand why Beck wants to protect her so much, their sibling relationship was one of my favourite parts of this book.

As for August, I’m kind of in two minds about her. In the beginning, she felt like just a classic hippy stereotype but I came to appreciate her more as the book goes on, she’s a genuinely nice and kind person and really just wants to help Beck out and her family were completely hilarious, it was nice to have a supportive family shown alongside Beck’s abusive mother, because it makes the contrast even sharper.

I liked seeing Beck and August’s friendship develop, they have great banter (Drews certainly has a talent for writing witty banter, something I always appreciate) and it’s nice to see Beck slowly open up more to August and end up developing a genuine connection with her. There’s hints of romance, but rest assured, this is not a love cures all situation and whilst August might give Beck a brief escape from his horrible home life, his relationship with her isn’t the solution to his home problems.

You could definitely feel Drews’ unique voice in there, though I don’t know if that’s just because I’ve been reading her blog for so long, though I can’t necessarily decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing, as oftentimes it feels like Drews, as the author is speaking to you, rather than the characters? I don’t know, it’s just something I noticed whilst I was reading.

I liked certain aspects of the writing, but not others. Drews definitely has a talent for writing dialogue, and the witty banter between the characters was a highlight of the book for me. But it felt like the writing was often a little overdramatic? There were a lot of overdrawn metaphors, and dramatic pauses with the sentences written down the pages and it just felt like a little …..much. Sometimes less is more and I felt like Drews went too far the other way with her writing.

Beck’s mother is an absolute monster and Drews definitely captures how scary and evil she is and you feel Beck’s fear every time she approaches him, not sure whether she’s going to hit her or not and I appreciated that Drews used a woman as the abuser in this story, because so often we see men as the abusers and we forget that women can be just as capable of abusing their children. It was horrible seeing what Beck and Joey went through. However, I felt like there could have been perhaps a little more nuance in her character? I haven’t experienced abuse myself (thankfully) but I feel like the reasons abusers are so good at hiding their abuse is because they aren’t always outwardly awful and although Drews did try to draw some nuance into the Maestro’s character, I reckon there could have been more.

There’s obviously a lot of trigger warnings for this book, as stated by the author, the book contains domestic violence, scenes with blood, self harm fantasies, child abuse and neglect. There’s also emotional abuse as well, so if you are sensitive to any of those things, then avoid this book, it is NOT a light, happy, fluffy book.

Music was almost another character in this book, and I loved that, even though I’m always a little wary reading about music, because it’s not quite the same as listening to it, but Drews showed both Beck’s obsession and hatred of music so well, everything in his life revolves around it, so it definitely feels like another character in the book, even if all the stuff about classical musicians meant very little to me, given that my only experience of playing music was several years of playing clarinet (quite badly) at school!

The chapters were a little long, which considering not much was happening for most of the book contributed to me finding it hard to get into.

I felt like the ending was kind of rushed? I was finally starting to get into things and then it was over! I did like the ending, that it wasn’t a happily ever after for Beck, but that despite being kind of sad, it was still hopeful. So that was good, but it did feel like it came kind of abruptly!

Overall, this was a decent debut, and I reckon if I hadn’t had such high expectations of the book because I’ve been anticipating reading a book by Cait for so long, I might have liked it more. As it is, I was just expecting a bit more from this, especially given how much people were raving about it, but for the most part I found the plot kind of lacking, and although I liked the characters, that wasn’t enough to carry the story for me. I think Cait will definitely go from strength to strength as she writes more and that this was just a starting point and it was by no means bad, it just didn’t blow me away either.

My rating: 3.5/5 (would have been 3 but I added an extra .5 for the last 15%)

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-There are three named characters, August, Joey and Ida (the Maestro) but since Joey is five, she doesn’t really have more than a sentence or two conversations with anyone and August and Ida barely interact.

My next review will be of Legendary, the sequel to Caraval by Stephanie Garber.

 

Things A Bright Girl Can Do Review

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Book: Things A Bright Girl Can Do

Author: Sally Nicholls

This book is the first of my YALC prep books, as the author is going to be at YALC this year and I was planning on read this book this year anyway, since it was the centenary of The Representation of The People Act 1918, which gave women over 30 and female graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as all men, the right to vote. I was really excited to read this book, as I love the suffragettes and did a whole module on gender in Britain in this time period for one of my history modules last year, but I was slightly disappointed that actually this book is less about the suffragettes and more about the British war effort, which wasn’t exactly what I picked the book up for? The book started out strong, but as soon as it got into the war parts, it felt kind of clunky and the plot was a little sparse. As an introduction to the suffragettes, this book does alright, but for me, someone who already knows quite a lot about the movement, I found it a bit lacking in places. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Through rallies and marches, in polite drawing rooms and freezing prison cells and the poverty-stricken slums of the East End, three courageous young women join the fight for the vote.

Evelyn is seventeen, and though she is rich and clever, she may never be allowed to follow her older brother to university. Enraged that she is expected to marry her childhood sweetheart rather than be educated, she joins the Suffragettes, and vows to pay the ultimate price for women’s freedom.

May is fifteen, and already sworn to the cause, though she and her fellow Suffragists refuse violence. When she meets Nell, a girl who’s grown up in hardship, she sees a kindred spirit. Together and in love, the two girls start to dream of a world where all kinds of women have their place.

But the fight for freedom will challenge Evelyn, May and Nell more than they ever could believe. As war looms, just how much are they willing to sacrifice?

This story follows three girls during their fight for suffrage and WWI, each from a different class and family background, and the different reasons they have for wanting the vote and the methods they use to obtain it. In this respect, the book does well, seeing three young women of varying classes using different ways to fight for the vote is interesting and it’s also interesting to see how obtaining the vote would have a different impact on each of them. However one of the major flaws in this book is that there is no crossover between Evelyn and the two other girls! May literally gives Evelyn a handbill at the beginning of the book and that is all, she never crosses paths with Evelyn again and Nell never even meets her! Whilst that might be because of their family backgrounds, because Evelyn’s story is so separate from May and Nell’s, it makes the transitions between chapters seem kind of clunky,

Speaking of major flaws, there is a glaring omission of WOC in this book, and considering there was quite a big contingent of Indian suffragettes in the UK, it seems odd that there is only one passing mention of an Indian suffragette in the book. It would have been really interesting to see the struggles of women of colour in the suffrage movement and the fact that they aren’t there? Yup it definitely raised my eyebrows a bit, because the suffrage movement was not just a white women movement.

Evelyn was probably my favourite character in the book, I could relate to her most strongly, I reckon if I had been a girl in the 1910s, Evelyn is probably closest to who I would be. She wants the vote because she wants the same access to education that her brother has and feels it unfair that she is denied because she is a girl. She can come across as a little immature and naive at times, but I think that’s quite natural given her age and upbringing. Reading about her hunger strike was so harrowing. However, after the war starts, Evelyn’s storyline spins away from her education and more towards her romance with Teddy, which I didn’t love, not because I didn’t like her and Teddy together (I actually thought Teddy was quite sweet) but given how hard she fought to get her education, I would have liked to have seen more of her at Oxford.

May was perhaps my least favourite of the three, like Evelyn, she’s kind of headstrong and passionate, but she’s the sort of person whose views are so deeply entrenched that trying to talk to her if you have different views is like banging up against a brick wall, so I felt quite sorry for Nell in that respect. May is also quite immature and she seems to have blinkers on for a lot of the book, thinking that her way of seeing the world is the only way that’s right. She improved towards the end of the book, but by that time it was kind of too late for me to really like her.

In terms of storyline, Nell’s is probably the most interesting of the three and the one where we get to see the worst impact of the war. It was horrifying for me to read her chapters, where her family were practically starving and she’s so desperate to try and get a job to help them out, but no one will hire her because she dresses like a boy. I felt like I could really root for Nell because I could see how much she wanted to help her family. I felt awful for Nell when May was being a total brat about her getting a job to help her family because the job was involved in the war effort. It was also really heartening for me to see where Nell ended up at the end of the book.

There is some LGBTQ+ rep as May is a lesbian, sapphic and Nell…..well it’s a little more difficult to say what Nell is, as she reads as trans or potentially non-binary, it’s not explicitly stated, but she does express feelings of questioning her gender so I feel like defining her relationship with May as a “gay” one might be wrong, I don’t know! Anyway, so there’s LGBTQ+ rep and as far as I can tell, it’s pretty good, though there is obviously some internalised homophobia because of the time period. I also felt like May and Nell kind of rushed into a relationship and it always feels like May is more into it than Nell is, though seeing that it makes what happens later understandable.  It was also nice to see a teen relationship in a book that didn’t end in “true love forever” and a break up that was relatively healthy and the two characters moved on with their lives and weren’t necessarily pining for each other years later. There was also some good PTSD rep with exploring how Teddy (and by extension Evelyn) dealt with coming home from the war.

The chapter lengths were nice, pretty much all under twenty pages and a variation of some longer ones and some shorter ones which I liked. I liked the quirky little chapter titles as well, referencing something that was said or something that happened in the chapter, I thought that was cool-I love chapter titles, I wish more books had them!

Like I said at the start, I would have loved to see more stuff with the suffragettes and maybe less of the war as I found the suffragette stuff more engaging than the war stuff and that was more what I was expecting and the plot felt a little sparse during the war years. The language also takes a bit of getting used to as the characters either speak in a very old fashioned formal way (Evelyn and to an extent May) or in an old fashioned cockney way (Nell).

The ending is kind of anticlimactic, we end abruptly at the 1918 act that allows some women the vote, but we barely get to see the character’s reactions to that or the fallout for them. I wished we could have seen what happened to Evelyn post 1917, we get to see Nell and May react to the 1918 vote but we barely get to see Evelyn’s reaction.

Overall, this was a good introductory book for people who want to learn about the suffragettes and WWI but I would definitely recommend it more for younger teens as the writing style is quite simplistic, and it doesn’t really go very in depth on the suffrage movement. It was a decent enough book but wasn’t quite what I was expecting and could have been improved with more focus on the suffrage movement, the inclusion of WOC and more focus on Evelyn’s education.

My Rating: 3/5

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-May and Nell talk about many things that are not to do with men and Evelyn talks to her fellow suffragettes about actions they take part in.

My next review will be my e-ARC of A Thousand Perfect Notes, a little later than planned, but ah well!

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).