Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

My Life As A Bench – Jaq Hazell Review

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Expected publication: May 2nd 2017
Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book was such a pleasant surprise. I was intrigued by the description, but to be honest, I was more curious than optimistic about it. It seemed like it would be weirdly executed and feel disjointed, rather than what it was, which was so much fun to read!

My Life As A Bench is about a seventeen year old girl called Lauren, or ‘Ren’, who is dead. That isn’t a spoiler, by the way, it’s just how the story begins. Ren has died, but she lives on in the bench that her father has had made in memory of her. Day in, day out, she looks out at the view of the River Thames from her bench, and relives her life. Although she has some companionship in the form of Leonard, the bench beside hers that houses the soul of an elderly man who died over twenty years before, she is completely alone, stuck watching as passersby walk past, sit on her, let their dogs urinate on her. Her family visit her regularly, but really it is her boyfriend Gabe that she is waiting for. When she finds out why Gabe hasn’t visited her, she is devastated, and must find a way to communicate with the living to help him.

What I really loved about this book is that although it is supernatural in a sense, it doesn’t feel like it. This book feels firmly like a YA coming of age story, even though the protagonist isn’t dead, and she isn’t going anywhere. Ren still goes on a journey over the course of the book, and she experiences vivid emotions like joy, love, sadness, anger, frustration. Even better, she is such a brilliant character and Hazell, in my opinion, captured the voice of an English teenager today so well that Ren jumps right off  the page. I felt like I knew her, like she was talking to me directly. Ren’s voice felt so real and personal that I didn’t even mind the way that the love story dominating the novel. Although I would have liked to have seen more of her life and relationships, it felt normal and fitting for her character; Ren was a selfish, and perhaps naive, teenager, and so even though I might not relate to the head-over-heels love for Gabe, it makes sense that after death, she would also be worried about the same things that she was worried about in life – her boyfriend.

Ren’s lively character contrasted so much with the fact that she is literally trapped in a bench, unable to communicate with the people that she wants to communicate with, that this book was often quite sad. It was interesting to read a book that felt so happy at times, but at other times made me feel so sorry for the main character. Every night, Ren relives her life, the friends that she made at her new school, her relationship with Gabe, and we are waiting for her to relive her ‘death day’ so we can find out what happened. These passages, where she is reliving falling in love and hanging out with her friends feel like any other YA contemporary drama, like a Jenny Han novel, but then Ren is brought back to reality by someone’s dog urinating on her bench, or kids making out on her. You really feel for her and her situation, and you want her to figure out whatever it is that she needs to figure out.

My only issue with this novel was that, in hindsight, there didn’t seem to be a clear plot progression. Yes, Ren was trying to find out how she died, and she did so,  and there was closure, but the problem wasn’t really solved. Although this was explained and in a way that is quite realistic, I just found myself being genuinely concerned for Ren. Was she going to be stuck in the bench for decades just like Lionel was? It was implied by Lionel’s character that the dead can ‘pass over’ in a sense and no longer live in their bench, and I thought that this would probably apply to Ren, but at the end, she is still in the bench, and I don’t want her to be stuck in the bench! She doesn’t deserve to be stuck in a bench, even if the people she loves do visit her all the time.

Overall, this book was great fun and a really unique and original concept. I was so impressed by the way Jaq Hazell captured Ren’s voice and character so well and made her feel so read, and the way that the concept itself didn’t feel weird or out of place. The whole story flowed and the two storylines, Ren in the bench and Ren’s memories, gelled together really well.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

The Sleeping Prince – Melinda Salisbury Review

 

 

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

 

Rating: ★★★★

The Sleeping Prince is the sequel to The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury which I reviewed recently (here). While I found The Sin Eater’s Daughter somewhat disappointing, The Sleeping Prince was the complete opposite. I went into it expecting it to be like the first book, but this was the complete opposite. The characters were relatable and jumped right off the page, the relationships were more complex, and the storyline had me hooked from the start.

Something to note if you go into this book after reading The Sin Eater’s Daughter is that The Sleeping Prince follows a new set of characters. Gone are Twylla and Lief, the Prince and the Queen. In this book, we’re introduced to Errin, who from the very beginning captured me. Her and her mother have had to move to a village near the border of their kingdom after her father died and they were thrust into poverty. She had to leave her apprenticeship to be an apothecary and she is barely scraping by. She is also harbouring a grave secret that could put them both in danger. Her mother is sick with what Errin thinks is a magical disease that makes her go crazy when the full moon is out. When the village is evacuated because the Sleeping Prince (the story from the first book) is going to invade, Errin faces the great problem of how to get her mother to safety without anybody realising what’s wrong with her.

sleeping-prince_melinda-salisbury_fullUnlike Twylla in the first book, Errin is so proactive and determined to get her way. She always has a plan, and refuses to let the world trample all over her. Throughout the book, I felt more and more like I respected her genuinely for not only the backstory that Salisbury gives her, but for the things that she did throughout the book. She travels across the kingdom, hunts people down, fights enemies, and all the while, she is just focusing on her family and getting them to safety, not glory or victory. I also enjoyed the other characters that were introduced, such as the mysterious Silas, and eventually when the story meets up with that of the first book, it did so in a completely surprising way that I was not expecting. The characters from the first book that made a reappearance in this one were more three-dimensional and alive than in the first book, and seeing them working together (or against each other) gave the whole book a different dynamic to the first.

Another thing that I really loved about The Sleeping Prince was that we got to see some more of the magic in Melinda Salisbury’s world. The first book was completely set within the castle grounds, but in this book we are in a different kingdom, we learn more about the myths and history of the world, the different types of magic and creatures, and so much more. The world really expanded in this book which gives you so much to think about and enjoy.

When I started reading this book, I wasn’t expecting too much, to be honest. I had enjoyed the first book, but I had found it to be slow-paced, and I didn’t really like the characters. If the books were longer, I don’t think I would have got this far into the series. However, I feel like Melinda Salisbury is always pulling something out of her sleeve to change your mind. I thought this book would be okay, but I actually really enjoyed reading it and whizzed through without wanting to put it down. Now I absolutely cannot wait to read the next instalment, so look out for the review to The Scarecrow Queen!

To read

YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Seven Days of You – Cecilia Vinesse Review

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Rating: ★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Seven Days of You is about a seventeen year old girl called Sophia who has lived in Tokyo for most of her life, until now. She has a week until she has to move back to New Jersey with her mother and her sister Alison. A week left with her friends Mika and David and with the city that she calls home. However, just in time for her final week, Jamie returns to Tokyo after spending a few years away, and Sophia is not happy. Jamie is Mika’s best friend, and used to be hers, until just before he left, he did something to upset her. She hasn’t forgiven him, and it’s bad enough that she has to leave in a week without having to spend her last week with him. Unfortunately, I really didn’t like the characters in this book or the story, and apart from the references to Tokyo, there wasn’t much that I enjoyed about this book.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Sophia and Jamie get together (it’s kind of obvious). For me, it was all a bit weird. One minute Sophia was saying that she hated Jamie, and the next minute she was kissing him, and suddenly she loved him. I understand that the whole point of this novel was that there are only seven days, and so of course there would be a degree of ‘insta-love’, but this was just on a whole new level of fast for me, considering that she couldn’t stand him for about half of the week, so it wasn’t really seven days, it was more like three. The whole progression and history of this relationship just really ticked me off. I didn’t get it at all. Including their “history of heartbreak”, which I personally didn’t think was heartbreaking enough. When I did find out what the event that ended Sophia’s initial friendship with Jamie was, it just felt immature and like the characters, particularly Sophia, probably should have gotten over it by now.

This leads swiftly on to my second point, which is that almost every single relationship in this book annoyed me. Sophia’s friends are terrible people for most of the book, and I really couldn’t understand why she couldn’t  see that for herself.Thankfully, Sophia does realise this around halfway through, which is nice, but then I didn’t like the way that she realised it! Much like her drama with Jamie, I really felt like she was getting angry and emotional at the wrong things and in a really melodramatic way. I felt that Sophia got angry mainly at one event, without seeing the bigger picture and realising that her friends just generally didn’t respect her or treat her in the way that she deserved. Although Vinesse did show Sophia’s friendships with Mika and Caroline developing and overcoming some problems, I would have liked to see the same thing with the relationship with David. Considering that Sophia goes some way to realising that she deserves to be treated better, I would have really appreciated seeing her facing the worst culprit, and also to see that worst culprit redeem himself a little.

seven-days-of-you-cecilia-vinesseThere were thankfully some aspects of this book that I did like. I liked Sophia’s family, but I would have liked to have seen more of them. The storyline about her relationship with her father was really well done considering that her father only actually appears once in the whole novel in a phone call. I also liked Alison and the way that the sisters’ relationship appears cold on the surface but beneath that is really caring. I would have loved to have seen more of the mother, because I’m sure that she would be a great character. There was a point where Alison says that their mother doesn’t like them to do  things that aren’t gender-neutral, which would have been something interesting to read about, and as a professor she could have been made into a character that is unlike most single mothers we read about in YA. I would have liked some more exploration of this family dynamic. Sophia at one point says that they’re like the three witches of Macbeth, and I would have loved it if they had felt like that, instead of three one-dimensional characters.

The setting was by far my favourite part of this novel. If Seven Days of You had not been set in Tokyo, I don’t think that I would have finished it, but Cecilia Vinesse does a really good job of making you feel like you’re in Tokyo. She described the hustle and bustle of the city really well. I could see the colours, feel the people rushing by, hear the sound of traffic, and I wish I could eat all the food that she describes. Everything in my head was in technicolour. I would have liked to have seen some Japanese characters, and the lack of any authentic Japanese perspectives was a huge flaw for me. I also enjoyed the constant countdown to Sophia’s departure, and the idea that Sophia is living her life counting down to particular events, but is learning to enjoy each moment.

Unfortunately, this novel really wasn’t my style. I didn’t like the central relationships, either the friendships or the romantic relationship, and the only relationships that I was interested in – the family relationships – weren’t developed enough for my liking. The Tokyo setting saved this book from being a one-star review for me, as it made everything feel just that little bit more exciting and colourful.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Caraval – Stephanie Garber Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★★

This book was one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2017 because I started hearing buzz about it months ago. Caraval promises magic and wonder and adventure, and it definitely delivers. This book had me hooked from start to finish, and I didn’t get bored at any point reading it.

Scarlett lives on an island called Trisda with her younger sister Tella and her cruel father Governor Dragna. Ever since she was a child, she has wanted to attend Caraval, a magical show hosted by the mysterious Legend. She wrote letters to Legend every year asking him to visit their island, but now Scarlett is going to be married, and all she yearns for is safety and security away from her father, which her fiance is offering. To her surprise, however, the very year Scarlett writes to tell Legend that she can no longer go to Caraval is the year that he invites her, her sister, and her fiance, but once she arrives, Scarlett is separated from her sister Tella. To find her, Scarlett must win the game, but not everything in Caraval is as it seems.

Scarlett is a wonderful protagonist, and I really enjoyed reading her journey as a character. At the beginning, despite wanting to go to Caraval since she was a child, Scarlett is too scared to go, and throughout the story, she is terrified of making a mistake, of ruining her life, of failure. Over the course of the novel, however, we see Scarlett start to take more risks, we see her take a ‘leap of faith’, and learn to dream again. I found this to be a really moving storyline, even apart from the sibling relationship at its core. I love that Scarlett and Tella are such different characters, but despite everything that happens in the story, they love each other more than anything. At times, Stephanie Garber makes you wonder if Tella is even a good character, but by the end of it, you realise that no matter their flaws, Scarlett and Tella love each other more than anything and they are willing to do anything to help each other out.

Caraval itself was so fascinating that it almost feels like a distinct character in its own right. Garber’s writing really brings it to life and I really loved the way that she described everything with colours and smells so that you felt like you were there with the characters. The game itself is so exciting to read as it is always changing, and I kept thinking of the plot as a bit like a mystical whodunnit set in a magical theme park. I loved the idea of all these different guests trying to solve this puzzle, and you trying to figure it out alongside them. The different performers in Caraval were a really interesting aspect to the book as you never really know who is a player like Scarlett and who is a performer, whether they’re telling the truth or whether it’s a ploy to get Scarlett to go down the wrong path. You’re trying to pick apart everything that happens and help Scarlett find the right answer.

It was also great fun to read about the actual magic itself. Stephanie Garber’s world-building was brilliant, but I like that you never feel like you’re having a load of information dumped on you and you have to try and understand how it all works. You simply get fed tidbits of magic as you go, from the dress that changes to fit Scarlett’s mood, the cider that helps you see clearly, and the fact that you don’t pay for things with money, but with secrets, lies, and dreams. The fact that the story takes place completely at night added another layer of intrigue, and the different settings in Caraval like the tunnels, the Castillo, and the dress shop made it feel a bit like a game of Cluedo. I had as much fun exploring the actual location of Caraval as I did following Scarlett as she tried to find her sister, and I hope that in the second book we get to see even more of Garber’s fascinating imagination.
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Book Reviews, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Rebel of the Sands – Alwyn Hamilton Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★★

Rebel of the Sands is Alwyn Hamilton’s debut and the first in a trilogy that I cannot wait to finish. I already have the second book waiting at the top of my reading list, and I’m still riding a high from reading Rebel. If you’re looking for a thrilling, fantasy novel to transport you to a fantastic, original setting, this is definitely the book for you.

Rebel’s protagonist is Amani, a young girl who lives in a dead-end town in Miraji, where magical creatures made of sand roam the desert. She can’t wait to get out of Dustwalk, the town where she has grown up, and the opportunity presents itself when a mysterious foreigner shows up in her shop, on the run from the Sultan’s soldiers. Soon, she’s fleeing Dustwalk on a magical horse with a wanted criminal, but she can’t begin to imagine where her journey will take her.

Amani captures your heart from the beginning of the novel. She jumps right off the page. What I loved about her was that despite growing up in a place where she’s sure to end up either dead or married, neither of which she is particularly excited for, she still manages to be independent and fiercely ambitious. In the very first chapter, we see her sneak out of her home to a shooting competition, where she just about clears the floor with her brilliant shooting skills, and throughout the book, we see her putting herself and her goals first. At the same time, she isn’t a cruel character. She prioritises herself, but Hamilton manages to make her endearing all the same. Even if she is knocking people out and taking their money, you’re still rooting for her. Even better however, is the arc that we see Amani go through. She definitely isn’t the same girl at the end of the novel as she is at the start, and we see her begin to question herself quite early on. Without spoiling it for you, if you’re anything like me, there will be several points during the book where you will be fighting to keep yourself from cheering out loud for Amani.

The world that Alwyn Hamilton creates is one of the most fascinating settings I have ever read. It is so different from anything I had ever read before, and she crafts it perfectly. Hamilton herself describes it as a mixture between an ‘Arabian Nights’ desert, and a Wild West desert, and that is exactly how it comes across. I loved the mix between the historical feel of the setting with the much more modern additions like guns and trains, which made the setting feel unique. The magical creatures were also very original, with djinni, mythical horses (made of sand!), skinwalkers, demdjis… Every aspect of Alwyn Hamilton’s world is unique and fascinating, and I can’t wait to see what she does in the next two books! I hope we get to see more of the different locations in the world, and even more of the magic.

Now, some people might say that certain aspects of this are predictable, and even I might have said it if this book wasn’t so exciting and well-written, but I really don’t care about the predictable love story in Rebel, or other storylines that I won’t reveal. The chemistry between Amani and Jin was so intense that at one point I had to put down the book and take a breather! I loved the to and fro, even if I did know where it was going, and their dialogue was witty and easy to read. Even though it was predictable, I didn’t find it soppy or cheesy, and I hope that Alwyn develops and deepens the relationship in the later books. I’d love to see Jin and Amani not only get through crap situations together, but also face some crap between each other. I’m sure that she’ll make the love story in this series feel new, original, and exciting just like every other aspect of her book is.

Overall, I can’t really explain how much I enjoyed this book. Amani starts off as your typical ‘strong female character’, but throughout the book you see her soften and start to question herself. The central relationship, the world and the magic was all so much fun, and Alwyn Hamilton writes so well that I felt like I was watching an action movie unfold in my mind. I am racing towards the second book Traitor to the Throne like a buraqi in the desert, so look out for my review of that in the next few weeks!

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven Review

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

 

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

“You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.” 

This is the best YA contemporary novel I have read since I read Jandy Nelson’s books last year. Jennifer Niven’s writing is brilliant, and there is a great balance between the endearing relationship that is at the centre of the novel, and the far more weighty issues that it discusses.

all-the-bright-places-jktThe tagline of this book is “the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die” and there isn’t really much more to say without going into spoilers. Violet Markey has just suffered a great loss, and during one of her lowest moments, she meets Theodore Finch, who spends his days assessing different methods of committing suicide. Their story starts when Finch saves  Violet, who was wandered up onto a roof, and is standing on the edge, and from there, the story begins.

Both Violet and Finch were so well written that they felt like real people. I loved reading their conversations, especially Finch, who is so lively and funny. Niven adds another layer to the story in the form of a school project, where Finch and Violet have to explore Indiana and write about the hidden locations that they have found. This means that we get to see them going on a series of adventures, which was a lot nicer than reading about two teenagers falling in love in a ‘normal’ setting like at school.

This book is obviously quite ‘deep’. It deals with very sensitive issues like grief, mental illness and depression, but I feel like Jennifer Niven dealt with these issues very sensitively, but also with sincerity and honesty. She captures the characters and their emotions so well that you really relate to their emotions, which helps you to understand a little of what they are feeling, and you feel captivated by the story, even though a voice in the back of your mind tells you where it’s going to end.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

The Sin Eater’s Daughter – Melinda Salisbury

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Rating: ★ ★ ★

This book was so passionately recommended to me by a friend that I was dying to read it by the time I picked it up. The concept seemed so intriguing that I was sure it would be great, and although the concept of it was, I found the book as a whole to be a little disappointing.

Twylla lives in the palace, and is engaged to the prince, but that doesn’t mean she’s happy. She is the embodiment of the goddess Daunen, which mean that her touch is fatal and she must serve as the Queen’s executioner. The only people who are immune to her touch, and so not terrified of her, are the royal family themselves, but they barely speak to her, and so she is mostly alone. However, this all changes when Twylla is assigned a new guard – Lief. He treats her like an ordinary girl, talks to her, tells her stories, and jokes around with her, but more importantly, he can touch her. Twylla must figure out how much of what she has been told is truth, and how much is a lie, and what her place in the world is now that everything is being thrown into doubt.

I absolutely loved the idea of a girl who can kill with her touch. I absolutely loved the idea of a girl who isn’t sure whether she really is who people say she is. Everything about this sounded great to begin with, but Twylla just fell flat. Although I understand that her character is that of  a girl who has been raised pretty much in isolation, devoted to her goddess and to tradition, I didn’t feel like there was enough of an insight into Twylla’s mind to make me relate to her. She didn’t do anything because she’s terrified, but I didn’t see her thinking anything of note either. She spends the whole book afraid, while everyone else acts, and I kept waiting and wishing that she would do something to gain my respect, but it just didn’t come. Although I’m not exactly a big fan of stereotypical ‘strong female characters’, Twylla was the complete other extreme. I don’t feel like she deserved the title of heroine based on her actions in this book.

sineatersdaughterMost of this book is quite slow-paced and based around Twylla realising the dark realities of her life in the palace. To be honest, I had no idea where anything was going for most of it, but I didn’t mind because Melinda Salisbury’s writing is easy to read and, while not right up my street, I didn’t mind it. It didn’t linger too long on any one aspect like some writers do, and the book isn’t particularly long, so I didn’t get bored. However, that all changed towards the end of the novel. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that made me do such a drastic switch from being sort of uninterested but reading because I didn’t want to give up to making me stay up late into the night to finish it! The last few chapters moved so quickly, and everything – I mean everything – went to hell. All of the passages from earlier in the novel that I didn’t really know the relevance of suddenly were relevant and fit together like a puzzle. While I would have liked for the drama to have been a bit more evenly spread, it didn’t really ruin the reading experience because it’s quite a short book, but it does mean that if you get bored, you just have to stick it out.

The final part of this novel that I’m going to discuss is the romance plot. It was predictable from the moment I read the blurb, but predictable isn’t necessarily bad. Lief wasn’t a bad character or love interest, but he also fell a little bit flat because he just seemed too perfect. I’m not sure if there is a male equivalent of a Mary Sue, but Lief was it (Google tells me it’s Gary-Stu, but that sounds stupid, so I’m not going to use it). While there were some plot twists with regards to this, I just didn’t really care about Lief or the love story. I resented how quickly the relationship developed and deepened, but this won’t bother people who are more into love stories than I am, and the way that Melinda Salisbury wrapped up this novel rescued this plot line as well.

Update: Since reviewing this book, I’ve reviewed the second book in the series The Sleeping Prince. You can read that review here!