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!

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Book Review: Everything Everything

3 Stars
Verdict: Cute romance and creative storytelling.

Madeline has a rare immune system disease called SCID that basically means she's allergic to the world. She stays at home, inside, every single day. She’s home-schooled by her mother and doesn't know anyone her age, until Olly moves in across the road and sees her through her window.

This book struck me as perfectly okay. It’s a quick read, great writing, and a super cute romance, but nothing in particular to rave about.

The epistolary style means it's short and fast with a mix of different styles: letters, texts, emails, drawings and more. It's a fun and creative way to tell a story. The novelty wears thin but then again, it's short and sweet.

The ending ruined it for me. For the sake of liking this author and the book beforehand, I’m going to pretend that didn’t happen.

I guess I found this take on the sick kids trope not fresh enough. I've recently finished Five Feet Apart and it played out very similarly. The teens are lonely. They know they should stay apart, but then: click. There's a spark, followed by a motherly character warning them not to pursue. Maybe one of them decides to shake off the other, but it's too late. They're already in love. I prefer Yoon’s writing but the ending in Two Feet Apart just felt more realistic and honest. Neither of them compared to The Fault In Our Stars, which felt like more than just a sick kids book to me (but maybe that’s just because I read it first?).

Okay, so maybe I should give this trope a rest for a while?

What I can say is the writer is fabulous. I really loved The Sun Is Also A Star, and this just didn't compare story-wise. If you're wondering which book to read, go for the other one! At least, that's what I would recommend.

Source: Bought it.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Book Review: Cinder

CINDER by Marissa Meyer
4 Stars
Verdict: A quick and quirky retelling.

Ever thought to yourself, what if Cinderella was a cyborg in futuristic Beijing at the brink of war against the moon? Probably not, and no one else has either because this book is an undeniably original retelling with lots of quirks. While it might not explore its concepts in much depth, it’s a lighthearted read with a pace that doesn’t have time for yawns.

The writing is smooth, quick, entertaining; a perfect fit for Cinder’s snarky attitude. I liked the banter between Kai and Cinder, both as snarky as each other…although I’m not sold on the romance of this book. Kai felt pushy at times and the chemistry disappeared once Cinder made it clear where she stood. I think I’d have liked the author to handle the situation with more depth so that it felt less like pressurising and more like a puzzle Kai was trying to solve. 

A few of the plot’s flaws actually felt more like strengths when reading it. The main twists are entirely guessable, so it becomes more about when the secrets will come out over what they’ll be. It didn’t stick too closely to Cinderella, but the structure of the well-known tale lingers in the back of your mind whilst reading, having you wonder how it will all come together.

There is more Q&A than should really be in a book of its size and complexity, and the story could have moved along further if the characters would just spit it out. I guess I never understood what was wrong with being a cyborg in the first place, or why the doctor didn’t just tell Cinder what was going on. Instead of moving forwards, the story tending to circle round the same bits of tension. I felt like the book could have dove deeper, fleshed out the lunar world or even just the cyborg society just that little bit more.

All in all, it’s got that readable quality.

Source: Bought it.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Book Review: Outrun The Moon

3 Stars
Verdict: Historically rich, plot thin.

Mercy is a fifteen-year-old girl with 'bossy cheeks' and a nose for business, and it’s her smarts and strong will that help her set up a meeting to possibly join St Clare’s School for Girls. Growing up in San Francisco Chinatown, 1906, there’s not many opportunities for a girl of her race, but Mercy hopes to wrangle a full scholarship at St Clare's and become a woman of business who can support her family.

Mercy comes across as intelligent, witty, and much older than her fifteen years, if only out of necessity. I loved how the author used the mother’s fortune telling to help build non-cliche descriptions of the characters. The odd line here and there, full of Chinese culture or unique imagery, really made me fall in love with the writing.

Sadly, I became disenchanted along the way. The story begins as a battle against adversity as a young woman strikes deals and talks her way into succeeding her goals, and I liked where it was going. Then disaster struck. The plot died. The whole host of not-so-interesting characters took centre stage, or perhaps there were too many to feel attached to?

Either way, it felt like not as much happened after the earthquake, and the plot I was invested in disappeared. I liked the historical richness and how the community came together, and Francesca’s story had some interesting turns - it just felt like a lot of pages were spent on not so much intrigue. By the end, I was reading to finish rather than for enjoyment.

I have to say, the ending didn’t meet what I had hoped either. I think it struggled to keep my attention as the plot thinned and the story changed direction. The reveal around Harry and some of the other coincidental turns made it feel too neat. But, again, it’s beautifully written and full of authenticity. I would recommend this to the right sort of person, I just don't think it was for me.

Source: Bought it myself.