Thursday, 5 March 2020

Book Review: The Wicked King

THE WICKED KING by Holly Black
#2 The Folk of the Air
3 Stars
Verdict: An okay middle book.

Me and 'middle books' of trilogies have beef. It's been a long time since I've really enjoyed one, and I'm starting to think it's me.

Why do they always spend the first two thirds of the book in story limbo? Why do they refuse to end in a satisfying manner and instead throw you over a cliff and expect you to hang on for the next hundred thousand words to be published?

Why does nothing good ever happen to the protagonist?

Wicked King is marginally better than the other middle books I've read recently. Still, it reads like A Guide to a Miserable Existence, by Jude Duarte, who wanders around for months on end before stuff finally starts to happen. Just when you're really interested, the book ends within the slice of a guillotine as it cuts off the last section, leaving you wondering what was that noise all about.

It's not a bad book. The main characters are complex but fleshed out. The world is the perfect balance of dangerous and magical. I liked the tricks and the quirky magical items, and the tension of war and romance makes for a good set up. If only the first half didn't feel so much like fluff, I would have enjoyed it more.

Much like a slap in the face, the ending is sharp and then its all over. Someone shouted, "TWIST!" and the book flipped upside down, dusted it's hand and said, "And that's that." What on earth does it all mean? What really happened? What were the characters who perpetrated the twists really after?

Or is the real question why did I ever expect to find true satisfaction from a middle book? Maybe I should burn all sequels from my bookshelf and let my imagination halfheartedly fill in the blanks. Then again, I bet book three will be excellent so it's not all for nothing. It's just a lot for the promise of something later.

Source: Bought it.
Also, it looks like I forgot to review book 1 back in August 2018. Whoops!

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Book Review: Noughts and Crosses

NOUGHTS AND CROSSES by Malorie Blackman
3 stars
Verdict: An important story but no-frills writing.

I’ve wanted to read this book since I was a child. Now fully grown and still enjoy YA fiction of all kinds, I couldn’t ignore how this has been recommended to me throughout the years. That’s why I don’t like that I didn’t enjoy it. Despite seeing its value as a teaching device, the truth is I found it taxing to reach the end.

Plot and themes aside, the author’s writing style isn’t one I particularly enjoy. The writing sticks mostly to dialogue so there’s almost no description, no visuals, no imagery or flare. There’s a slow grind to the fifty percent mark where the actual plot hits, and beforehand, the only real world-building is swapping around the words ‘white’ and ‘black’: a powerful idea in it's simplicity, but there's not really enough going on for half the book. Then years fly by in paragraphs, a writing choice that leaks the tension for me. Truth be told, I almost stopped reading after the first third because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to offer a raving review like I’d hoped.

I know the writing is designed to make the issue of race accessible to the young, but the style is flat as possible. I don’t think it needs to be quite so simple, and other books aimed at this age range aren’t. I found it hard to engage with it, no matter how much I wanted to like it. I couldn’t help but think this book is dated.

The pace did pick up around the halfway mark. The court room scenes were great and it ends on a striking note. I have to admit, the ending elevates the book in my opinion. It made me respect the author and felt very powerful in a thought-provoking way – finally engaging!

I also like where the story for the series is going. Book two sounds like it could be interesting, but I don’t think I’ll continue. I’m glad this book found popularity when it did, but I didn’t enjoy reading it.

Source: Bought it.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Book Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow

Girls of Paper and Fire #2
3 Stars
Verdict: Middle book syndrome.

Travelling? Check. Cliche twins? Check. Shaky love triangle? Check.

I'm afraid this book is suffering from middle book syndrome.

Book two picks up where we left off, tense and fast with plenty to question: is Lei being followed, is the king alive, can Ketai Hanno be trusted? With luscious writing and a fiery romance, it promises a grand adventure full of political intrigue, battles, and romance.

But then it sort of withers away.

We see Lei become reckless and riled up at silly times, and quite frankly putting her spur of the moment needs in front of her friends' safety. But when she's not riled up, she's travelling or eating or having one too many drinks. This all equates to not a lot of progress for your pages.

A band of new characters are introduced, including twins. Hopefully this isn't considered a spoiler as not all of these things happen can happen at once, but are there any books out there with twins which don't either a) only speak in 'banter', b) become mortal enemies, or c) one of them dies. I'd quite like to read a book where the twins are on the same side but don't quite understand each other at times and both survive the whole series.

The word 'sluice' is used a weird amount. Yes, I'm aware that's a strange thing to notice, but I think this speaks to my level of interest at times. The sense that all the exciting plot points are being saved for book three is sewn throughout the whole thing, and if you pull at that thread as you idly read on, the story falls apart.

I've bumped it up to three stars as I still have a hope for the series. I love the whole birth blessing pendant concept and there are a couple of brilliant moments. I'll admit the banter adds character to the dialogue. The scrap of plot progression within the palace blossoms in a way that makes me want to know more.

So I was disappointed but it was an okay read. I think it comes down to the story being stretched out into a trilogy when two books might have worked better. Maybe we should change YA trends?

Source: With thanks to the publisher via

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Book Review: Ace of Shades

ACE OF SHADES by Amanda Foody
4 Stars
Verdict: A mixed hand.

Prim and proper dancer, Enne Salta, braves the so-called City of Sin in search of her mother. She seeks out Levi Glaisyer, a young gang leader struggling to pull off the last leg in a financial scam. Gangster magic ensues!

I had mixed feeling about this story from start to finish, but did I enjoy it? Yes. Mostly. I felt critical while reading it, but I still enjoyed the ride.

It starts off fast, almost too fast, so that it has to slow down immediately after in order to build up the world and characters. The pace might plummet, but the world and characters are very well done.

I enjoyed Enne's growth from a stuffy prim and proper lady into a survivor, and I liked how she he clashed with Levi's laid back persona - textbook chemistry! Levi, on the other hand, is in over his head, and things only gets worse for him. I've heard lots of comparisons to Six of Crow's Kaz Brekker, and I'd say Levi isn't as strong, confident, or broken. If anything, he's more naive and...too soft to be a gang leader, really. I expected to learn more about his past throughout the book, but it stopped short of a real backstory. There are still unanswered questions about who Levi is.

The main problem for me with this one is the over-explanatory nature of the storytelling. Quick moments of dialogue were often dragged out for several pages by side explanations and general exposition. The same ideas were repeated over and over: Lourdes is probably dead, Levi needs more volts, New Reynes is bad. At times, it felt like we were reminded of these things every chapter, as if we might forget what we're reading.

That said, the world building is imaginative.  Those little ideas that make you smile, think, imagine, and escape - this book is full of them.

So the world is creative, the characters are diverse and bounce off each other well, and the writing flows. The downside? Repetition, exposition, and pace. Those are pretty big things, unfortunately. It makes it hard to recommend, but as I said at the start, I enjoyed it.

Source: Bought it.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Book Review: Ash Princess

ASH PRINCESS by Laura Sebastian
5 Stars
Verdict: An unexpected page-turner.

When Theodosia was six, her country was invaded, her people enslaved, and her mother, the queen, was murdered before her eyes. The Kaiser crowned Theo 'Ash Princess', a joke to court and a prisoner to torture. As the rebellion suffers it's greatest fall yet, Theo decides now is the time for her to fight back.

I wasn't expecting much for this one. Pretty cover, pretty name, but make no mistakes, this is not a pretty book. Don’t let the word ‘Princess’ fool you, this is a cutthroat story from the very start. And, yes, pun intended, thank you very much.

As for trigger warnings, this book ticks a lot of boxes. It involves physical and emotional abuse. Rape is mentioned and there is a violent scene that's difficult to read through. It's a story of colonisation by a ruthless leader who humiliates and tortures a sixteen year old girl as a lesson to his enemies, so that's something for you to consider before buying it.

The gritter nature of this book is one of the things I quite liked. The threat of what the Kaiser might do was always, always there. The stakes were high, so every move Theo made, every time she worried or doubted herself, I really felt it. On top of that, the writing flowed well making it easy to get lost in. It's definitely a page turner.

The world building is a tease. The idea of the Gods and gems for power, and Theo not wanting to use her magic in case it upsets the balance… This book is playing the long game. We’re unable to see the bigger world as we, too, are trapped in the castle with Theo. I’m excited to see where the series goes and how the world opens up. I love what I've read so far!

All in all, this book had me flipping pages and plotting what might happen next, and I found it a gripping read. I can't wait for book two.

Source: Bought it.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone

5 Stars
Verdict: So good it hurts.

The night magic died, Zélie watched her mother's murder as the Maji were slaughtered. Now Zélie has a chance to bring back magic. With the help of her brother and a rogue princess, she must outrun the crown prince and battle her self-doubts to restore magic to the world.

This West-African inspired fantasy is powerful and all round awesome from start to finish. The writing is emotive and imaginative, the pacing is as perfect as it gets, and the characters are real with flaws and charm.

I hardly know what to say. A brilliant book like this tells the editor in me to shut up and enjoy the ride, so I'd need to read it again to offer more of a critique. If every book was as good as this one, I would never be able to stop reading.

The struggles, anger, and pain are carved into this book so deeply that the desires bleed through the pages and the triumphs feel earned. The emotion in this book is explosive: Inan's constant struggle between what he's been told to believe and what he feels inside; Tzain's pain from always taking the brunt of his sister's mistakes; Zélie's constant struggle just to exist; Amari's fight within herself to find strength. I cannot wait for book two.

The only flaw I can think of? There's a lot of hype...but I think the book can handle it. It's a good, original story, well-written, with great characters and a complex villain POV. I mean, what more do you need?

Source: Bought it!

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Book Review: The Darkest Minds

THE DARKEST MINDS by Alexandra Bracken
4 Stars
Verdict: A sluggish start but a spectacular ending.

We've heard it all before. Kids start developing powers at puberty and the government has locked them all up in 'rehabilitation' centres. Ruby, terrified of her powers, is just trying to survive when the resistance takes too much of an interest in how she could help them fight the government.

This story could do with an exposition comb run through it, alongside a pair of thought-thinning scissors. It’s a slow read for the most part, dense with info and thought dumping, which left me craving action, plot, and active characters. My first impressions were not great. I actually stopped reading this after the first ten percent earlier this year.

Six months later and a third of the way in, I was gearing up for a two star review. I love kids-with-powers stories, but it sounded too much like other dystopians. I felt impatient for it to move along into fresher material. After all, how much world-building is necessary when we've heard it all before?

Then it got interesting. Ruby escapes the plot prison that is Thurmond. We meet some quirky and passionate characters that help breathe some life into Ruby, and things start happening. Slowly. The dialogue is still bogged down by too many descriptions and thought assessments, and Ruby spends a lot of time circling the same hopes and fears. Brushing that aside, the character moments were enjoyable.

By the last third, we’ve got all sorts. Action, twists, romance, and character development! I couldn’t put it down for long as the story kept building to a spectacular ending.

By the end of this book, I was in love. I cared about the characters and loved how they had changed by the end of it. So the writing style is a bit on the thick side and it took a while to get going – its still a great book to me. Here’s hoping that book 2 kicks off quicker than this one.

Source: Bought it!