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

Traitor to the Throne – Alwyn Hamilton Review

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Taken from @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating:★★★★★

Why did I put this book off for so long? Was it the 500+ pages? Was it the possibility of Sagging Middle Syndrome? Did I just want to avoid having to wait so long for the next book? Probably a mix of the three. Whatever it was, I am so glad that I finally got around to reading Traitor to the Throne. I loved the first book (read my review here), and this one continued with the exciting plot and characters, and sets up the series for an explosive ending that I am already buzzing to read.

This book picks up some time after Rebel of the Sands. Amani has been with Prince Ahmed’s rebellion for a while now, but near the start of the book she is captured and taken to the Sultan’s palace where she is kept as a prisoner in his harem, bound to the Sultan who wants to use her Demji powers for himself. Amani decides to use her position to her advantage and begins spying on the Sultan, trying to learn as much as she can for the Rebellion, but this is a treacherous game. If it is discovered that she is a rebel, the punishment would be severe, not only for her but for her friends, and the Sultan knows exactly how to manipulate her.

The new setting means that the story takes a completely different tone. While Rebel of the Sands felt to me a bit like playing Temple Run – running and jumping and fighting at 100 mph – Traitor to the Throne is a much more slow burn story. It is politics and scheming and power plays. It is backstabbing and turncoats and disguises. Who is Amani’s ally and who is her enemy? We’re never quite sure. We see a different side to Amani in this novel because we get to see her planning her moves and making her own way. She no longer has a team of rebels at her side – she doesn’t even have Jin, and to make matters worse, the Sultan knows exactly how to control a Demji. With pieces of iron under her skin, Amani is cut off from her magic, and she can do nothing but obey all of the Sultan’s orders. She is bound to the very man who she is fighting to overthrow, and a slip of the tongue could reveal everything. While I found the first few chapters difficult to get into, once I remembered who all of the characters were and got used to the slight time jump between Rebel and Traitor, I got used to the harem setting and loved it.

I also loved all of the new characters that we got to meet in the harem. The characters in the rebellion are all very bold and bright, with magical powers and/or strong personalities that clash and make themselves known. In the harem, everything is more subtle, and I loved this shift. In Rebel, it was easy for Amani to know who she could be herself around, but in the harem she doesn’t have that luxury. I loved the atmosphere of the harem as this sort of miniature realm ruled by the politics of the Sultim’s wives. I also loved the Sultan’s character and found him a lot of fun. I’m glad that he wasn’t obviously evil, and even Amani begins to question her alliance. She spends time with him and listens to the reasons behind his decisions, his motivations and goals, and begins to doubt whether Ahmed, for all his good intentions, can really be a ruler. I always enjoy seeing this sort of moral ambiguity and find it so much more interesting than a villain who shows no humanity. I also loved the changes we see in Amani over the course of this novel. She begins to make her own decisions, plotting her own moves, and stepping up to take the lead when it seems like the rebellion may crumble. I actually felt a surge of pride at  her becoming a leader in her own right, and I can’t wait to see what other changes we see in her in the final instalment of the trilogy.

Traitor to the Throne isn’t just an interesting setting though, there was a great plot as well. As I said, this novel’s plot is a lot more slow burn than the first, and for much of the novel, you are just getting bits and pieces of information without really knowing where it’s going, but Hamilton’s writing, the setting and characters mean that you don’t get bored or feel lost. There is a real sense of mystery and suspense, and you know that something is building. When the action finally does kick off towards the end of the novel, it is intense. I loved the clashing of the rebellion with the harem, and the rebellion finally becoming ‘mainstream’ so that it poses a direct threat to the Sultan. Without spoiling the end of the novel, the final chapters of Traitor to the Throne are filled with so much action, plot twists and shocks that I didn’t really know what to do with myself  by the time I finished.

I wasn’t sure quite how I would feel about the change of tone and setting in Traitor to the Throne. I had enjoyed the action of Rebel so much that I wasn’t sure if Amani and the story would feel the same in the more political setting, but there was nothing to fear. I had so much fun reading Traitor to the Throne, and Hamilton has really set up the series for an exciting ending.

 

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Bookish Tags, Other

T5W: Favourite Angsty Romances

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s theme is Favourite Angsty Romances, so without further ado, let’s jump right in!

1. Gus and Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

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I don’t think you can get much more angsty than John Green generally, and especially not this novel. While I think Looking For Alaska is definitely much more angsty, the romance in this novel captured my heart from the start. Gus and Hazel are so cute, and I’m sure you don’t need telling where the angst in this comes from. I’ll just end by saying that this was one of my first experiences at truly heartbreaking YA.

2. Jude and Oscar from I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson 

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This book is my favourite. Everything about this novel is angst, from beginning to end, but not in an annoying, eye-roll kind of way, but in a gushing, make you want to cry and laugh and scream and punch something all at once. Jude and Oscar are so angsty that it made my heart feel like it was being squeezed at times. I mean, you can’t get much more angsty than: “I gave up practically the whole word for you…The sun, stars, ocean, trees, everything, I gave it all up for you.”

3. Twylla and Lief from The Sin Eater’s Daughter – Melinda Salisbury

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Twylla is the human embodiment of the goddess Daunen, the Queen’s executioner, and her touch is fatal. As if that isn’t enough to make her relationship to her new guard Lief risky to say the least, she is also engaged to the Prince. There is so much standing between Twylla and Lief that their romance is already angsty enough, and that’s before the main story of The Sin Eater’s Daughter even begins. Once the trilogy gets going, this relationship only gets more and more angsty.

4. Maddy and Olly from Everything, Everything – Nicola Yoon 

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Another great romance story that makes you not only squeal with excitement and butterflies but also squirm in apprehension at what might go off. Not only is the romance in this novel heightened by the fact that Maddy could literally die from an allergic reaction to anything and everything, but she can’t even be safe with Olly himself.

5. Celaena and Sam Throne of Glass series – Sarah J. Maas

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At first I chose Chaol and Celaena, then I chose Aelin and Rowan, then I decided to not choose any in particular, then I remembered that there are also all the other relationships, from Dorian and Sorscha to Elide and Lorcan. This series is so filled to the brim with angsty, steamy romances that I couldn’t choose for ages, but in the end I chose Celaena and Sam because they are the sweetest of the lot in my opinion and have the most dramatic end. I don’t think anyone can quite fit angsty romance into epic fantasy like Sarah J Maas can, and even though sometimes I am a bit fed up with the prevalence of romantic pairings in the series, I still get obsessed with them.

 

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard Review

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Rating: ★★★★

Continuing on my 2017 trend of reading more YA contemporary novels than I ever have before in my life, I chose to read A Quiet Sort of Thunder, hoping to find a blend between sweet romance and something more substantial. This book definitely delivers. Not only does Thunder have wonderful characters and relationships at its centre, but it also brilliantly represents and brings attention to the experiences of people who find it difficult to communicate or communicate in different ways. Although I found that the story lagged at times, I definitely learned a lot reading this novel and it made me want to keep learning.

Steffi Brons has selective mutism and severe anxiety, and has done for most of her life. She can only speak around certain persons close to her, and is mostly invisible to those around her. But when she meets Rhys, who is deaf, she finds that communicating with him is easier than with anyone else. With BSL, it doesn’t matter if Steffi doesn’t speak, but even without any pressure to speak, Steffi is finding her voice, and the confidence to use it.

Sara Barnard’s representation of Steffi’s anxieties and selective mutism were both interesting and moving. As someone who has experienced severe shyness and anxiety, I could relate to Steffi’s fears and concerns about interacting with people in public. While I had heard of selective mutism, I had never seen it explored in so much detail. You can really tell that Sara did in-depth research when writing this novel, and I felt like her writing really helps you to get into Steffi’s head. There were some really moving passages that broke my heart, and I was rooting for Steffi the whole way through as she continued on her journey to confidence in herself. I also loved that, despite the main characters rarely speaking out loud, this didn’t hinder the story at all. They sign to each other and their ‘speech’ is told in bold rather than quotation marks, and there was greater focus on facial expressions and body language than in many other novels, which I really enjoyed. I also loved the BSL diagrams, in both the inside covers of the book, the chapter beginnings, and littered throughout the text.

My main concern about this novel was that it would fall into the cliche of a new love interest ‘healing’ the main character’s ‘ailment’. I was worried that Rhys would be the reason for Steffi finding her voice, and I would have hated that. In fact, there are several reasons for Steffi becoming more confident. She is taking new medication, which she is keeping a secret, she is seeing a therapist, and she also has great, supportive, people around her. I loved that Sara found a subtle balance between these things, meaning that there isn’t one single cure for Steffi, but rather a combination of factors that help her to push herself to her limits. Neither one works without the others, they all help her to take steps forward, and I really loved the important role that not only Rhys, but her friend Tem and her family play in helping her. One of my favourite moments was when Steffi, in an emergency, has to find help in a place that she has never been before. She not only deals with a panic attack, but then several of her fears, from talking to strangers to making phone calls, all while thinking that she is failing for being nervous. Sara does a really good job at helping you to get into Steffi’s state of mind and understanding her point of view, leading to a really insightful reading experience.

At times I did feel like the novel didn’t develop much in plot outside of the central relationship between Rhys and Steffi, but the novel was well written and interesting enough to not make this a huge deal. It wasn’t that Steffi didn’t have any goals in the novel, because she did – being able to speak – but I would have liked for there to have been a more specific goal. Perhaps a particular challenge or a goal that she was focused on throughout the novel. There is her desire to go to university, but this is quite vague and in the background of the novel, being mentioned a few times but not central to her thoughts. However, even without this, we do still get to see Steffi’s development and journey throughout the novel and see how she copes in different difficult situations. The fact that Sara’s writing helps you to relate to the character so much means that you can deal with the novel not being more plot-driven, and the fact that I cared for the character meant that I didn’t mind just reading her thoughts.

Overall, this book was incredibly well written, insightful and respectful. The characters are  relatable and their experiences are moving. It is filled with important insights into anxiety, deafness, and other difficulties that people may have in communicating and makes you much more aware of the challenges that people may face.This is a great balance between stories based on Steffi’s relationships, whether with Rhys, her best friend Tem, or her family members, and the challenges that she faces outside of those relationships.

 

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Unconventional – Maggie Harcourt Review

 

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Rating: ★★★★

Continuing the recent trend of YA contemporary books convincing me that I’m wrong when I say I don’t really enjoy YA contemporary books, Unconventional is one of the most enjoyable reads in a while. It was fun, light, and made me swoon. I loved the characters, the romance, and the convention setting. It’s a book for people who like books, so I fell right into it.

I actually knew nothing about Unconventional when I picked it up, but I had seen some bloggers raving about it on social media, but this book is about a girl who runs conventions (clever title alert!). Lexi Angelo lives, breathes and eats conventions. Her dad has been planning them for years, and she loves being his trusty assistant. Every year, the pair of them, along with other similar convention families that she has grown up with, put on convention after convention, and when the season is over, they plan for the next. When Lexi reads the yet to be released fantasy novel Piecekeepers, she knows that it’s going to be the next big thing. She tells her dad that they have to get the author, Haydn Swift, as a guest at their next convention. Little does she know however, that her and Haydn Swift have met before, and it wasn’t good. But Haydn is more than he seems. Over the course of the convention season, Lexi and Haydn meet several times, and during late night conversations and emails, she realises that Haydn is just one side of him. The real man, Aiden, is shy, and kind, and funny. Can she get to grips with Aiden’s two lives, and can she let go of her own perfectly scheduled life?

The best things about this book were the characters and the setting. I loved the convention setting, and the fact that the book is set almost exclusively during conventions. I also felt like the setting brought Lexi’s character to life as we see her at work. We see her running around, solving problems, ordering people around via walkie-talkie. Lexi is great at her job, and I really enjoyed seeing a YA protagonist at work like this. The other convention kids were also so much fun. Cosplaying Samira, Bede, and Nadiya always provided some humour to make a scene more fun, and I liked seeing really healthy friendships between kids who have grown up together There was no cliched friend backstabbing, or falling out, these guys know each other inside and out, and they love each other – even if they do argue about who is going to handle the registration desk.

The relationship between Aiden and Lexi was also a lot of fun to read. This novel is not a story with twisting plots or surprises, it is predictable, but it is also sweet. Aiden and Lexi start off on the wrong foot, and then we see them getting to know each other over the course of the next few conventions, and I really enjoyed these scenes. They were like something straight out of a romcom, filled with teasing and playing, and getting accidentally locked in rooms together. I had no problem with the predictability of this story, because the writing is light and funny, but I did find it hard to relate to Lexi’s anxieties when it came to the relationship. I felt like I would have liked a bigger ‘problem’ to come between Aiden and Lexi, because to be honest, I just didn’t see the problem. Lexi worries that Haydn is so different to Aiden, but I didn’t understand why she couldn’t just accept that he had a public persona when he was ‘working’. When the pair finally did have a fight towards the end of the novel, I was excited to see the fallout and the reunion, but I didn’t feel like this was really addressed. The resolution to the problem was sort of skimmed over too much in my opinion, as if the book was racing towards its romantic end without ironing out the story first.

Although I have said that the story is a fun, light, and predictable read, I was also quite moved by Lexi’s personal story. Lexi loves conventions, and she’s good at them, but over the course of the novel she has to accept that maybe her world is bigger than just conventions. I liked her realisation that there was so much more that she could try and see, but I would have liked to have seen a little more of her future, or at least more of a conclusion as I felt like her epiphany was a bit general and open-ended. I also would have liked to have learned a bit more about her time at school. There are quite a few hints that Lexi doesn’t manage to balance school and conventions very well and that she feels like a bit of an outcast. Although I understand that her ‘normal’ life is quite separate from conventions, it would have been nice to have seen a teensy bit. Especially considering that the novel is set between spring and autumn,  I was at least expecting to see a mention of the exams that a sixth form student would be sitting in that time. It felt a bit odd, for a novel with teenage characters that felt so real, so just skim over something that is such a big part of your life at that age.

Overall though, Unconventional was so much fun. I felt like some aspects of the story and Lexi’s life were only dealt with superficially, but that doesn’t mean that the book isn’t a hell of a lot of fun. I laughed out loud at several points reading this book, and swooned – along with Lexi. After all, who doesn’t want to fall in love with a young, dashing author with great hair?

 

 

Book Reviews, Historical

The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Steadman Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★★

This book did so much to my emotions while I read it that I barely know where to start with this review! The Light Between Oceans is such a moving, riveting, and tragic story about people making the wrong choice, for the right reasons, and making the right choice even though it will hurt someone. It will push you to question what you would do in the characters’ positions, and although it might seem simple from the outside, it will make you root for each character in turn so that you just don’t know anymore.

Tom Sherbourne has returned to Australia after serving as a soldier in the Great War, and takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a solitary, harsh island. He marries the young, bold Isabel and brings her home with him, where they set about building their life together. They are happy to begin with, but miscarriages and stillbirths mar their joy. Then, one day, a boat washes up on the shore, and inside it is a man – dead – and a baby girl. Tom should report it, but Isabel has fallen in love with the little girl, and she has suffered so much. However, it is easier to live with this choice on the solitary island than it is on the homeland. When Tom and Isabel return to the mainland with the baby, named Lucy, Tom hears about a local woman who lost her husband and baby daughter at sea. Faced with the truth, he must decide what to do, knowing that whatever he decides to do, somebody will suffer.

My favourite thing about this novel was the writing. Steadman’s prose is absolutely beautiful, almost poetic to read. I would happily read page after page of Steadman’s writing. Every word helps you to get into the characters’ mindsets. She expertly describes life of Janus Rock, the characters’ relationships, their daily lives, and it is the atmosphere that she creates of a sort of grey, dreary and lonesome island that allows the story and emotional turmoil of the characters to stand out. I felt that this high quality of writing was really important for me to connect with the characters and enjoy the novel, as the actual story itself is quite harrowing. Not only is it sad, but it’s filled with characters making decisions that are morally questionable – to say the least. If the writing had been more simplistic, I think that many of these situations would have felt too clear-cut, and because I wouldn’t have related to the characters, I wouldn’t have felt challenged by their choices, and the story would have just felt like heartbreak and bad decision after heartbreak and bad decision.

I have read some criticisms of this book where people are argued that it is too sad or that they can’t stand the characters’ decisions, but I felt like Steadman’s writing made it possible for me to inhabit both Tom and Isabel’s minds, see what they were going through, and understand that sometimes our minds can be clouded by emotion. At times, Tom is confident that he must return Lucy to her true mother, but he can’t face robbing his wife, who is his whole world, of her only joy. Meanwhile, when we meet Isabel has been worn down by the death of her own babies. She loves Lucy, she needs Lucy, and she sees herself as Lucy’s mother. We also see Lucy’s real mother, and her own sorrow. The true triumph of this book for me is that, just as Tom didn’t know what he should do, I didn’t either. It can be easy to criticise people and say ‘Why would you do X when Y is clearly the best choice?’ but in this book, I really felt for all the characters. I was heartbroken for all of the characters. I wanted them all to get their happy ending.

This isn’t a novel with a dramatic, fast-paced plot, but rather the action lies in the emotion. This was fine with me, I love exploring people’s inner lives, their choices, morals, choices. As I’ve said, Steadman’s writing made this book really stand out to me, but others who maybe prefer more plot over emotion might find this book a little boring. What I did like about the plot is that this isn’t a novel that is littered with secondary plots, with random events that distract you from the main storyline, and pointless characters. The story says firmly fixed on the main story – Lucy. Personally, I loved that. The author chose a topic, stuck with it, and delivered. I never felt confused or weighed down by rambling narrative because the subject of the passage is simple – Lucy, Isabel, Tom. So, even if you maybe prefer a plot that develops quickly, that isn’t to say that this book isn’t for you.

 

Bookish Tags, Other

T5W: Books You Felt Betrayed By

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s theme is Books You Felt Betrayed By, so, let’s jump straight in!

1. The Queen of the Tearling – Erika Johansen

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I’ve spoken about feeling betrayed by this book a few times on my blog (1, 2), so it seems apt to take the top spot here. To be honest, every time I think about my high expectations going into this book and how disappointed I felt at the other end, I get angry. This trilogy had so much buzz around it that I was expecting a book of epic proportions. Instead, I got a book in which nothing happened. This is a book about a young girl becoming a Queen, deciding how she wants to rule, and having to face the fallout of her decisions. My issue was that there was no fallout. Instead, the book builds up to action, promises action, and then leaves that action for the sequel. I enjoyed this book until I realised that the action wasn’t coming, and felt like I had been conned out of money and time. This is, to me, a prime example of stories being stretched out into series because series are more popular or profitable perhaps, without there actually being enough content to fill a trilogy.

You can read my full review for this book here.

2. Go Set A Watchman – Harper Lee

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I’m pretty sure this was everyone’s most disappointing read of 2015. However, to be fair, I don’t think it’s completely down to the book itself. This was not a sequel, as marketing suggested, but actually Harper Lee’s first draft for To Kill A Mockingbird, and she didn’t want it to be published. For all those readers looking for a sequel, this was bound to be a disappointment. Central characters were completely different to how we remember them, like Atticus, or missing altogether, like Jem and Boo Radley (which was my favourite aspect of the book). It was an odd choice to market this book as a sequel, knowing that so many much-loved aspects of To Kill A Mockingbird were missing, and this was one of the few times I wished I hadn’t read a book altogether.

You can read my full review for this book here.

3. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley 

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I was so exciting coming into this book. It’s set in Victorian London, there’s a seemingly magical watch, a mysterious old man, Japanese influences, and a murder-mystery-esque storyline at the centre. It should have been like a fantasy Sherlock Holmes or Ripper Street, but instead, this book just bored me. Although Natasha Pulley’s writing is sensational – she describes things beautifully – and I enjoyed the ambiguity about whether or not there was magic involved, I felt like the plot itself faded into the background too much and I couldn’t remember what the point of the story was and what the characters’ aims were. I think that this book was maybe too convoluted with various threads of storylines, for example, there is one part of the book that takes place before the main timeline in Japan, but in my opinion, this could have simply been woven into the main storyline, and it would have been less confusing and the book as a whole would have flowed better. Everything else was there – characters, setting, fantasy – to make this a firm favourite, but it was just the lack of plot that made it difficult.

4. A Court of Thorns and Roses – Sarah J. Maas

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Sarah J. Maas is a fantastic writer. When I read this book, I was completely wrapped up in her Throne of Glass Series, which I had just started, but where Throne of Glass is a thrilling fantasy epic full of drama and action, ACOTAR just dragged on. For the first half of the book, barely anything happened, and we simply follow Feyre around as she decides whether she wants to paint and falls in love with Tamlin. This book really let me down in two ways. I found Feyre to be annoying, boring, and frankly, too dumb to live. She made so many terrible decisions and always managed to get out of them alive, and never learning her lesson. The second way was in the setting. I know that Sarah J. Maas can create fascinating worlds from the Throne of Glass series, and the map in the book tells us that Prythian has many different kingdoms – The Summer Court, The Winter Court, The Spring Court, The Autumn Court, The Day Court, The Night Court, and The Dawn Court – which probably all have their own distinct characteristics. However, mostly we just see the Spring Court, and I think so much more could have been done here.

You can read my full review for this book here.

5. An Abundance of Katherines – John Green

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When I read this, I was just riding off the coattails of The Fault In Our Stars and Looking For Alaska. I was into my angsty teen novels with fuzzy romances and tear-jerking tragedies, and John Green was the man for me. However, this book was so boring. I didn’t understand the purpose of the book, and I couldn’t relate to or sympathise for the main character Colin. Whilst in the other John Green books I had read, I had enjoyed the characters, even if they are somewhat overly quirky, but it took so much effort to not throw this book out the window because I hated Colin so much. He complains the whole way through, his obsession with anagrams was annoying, and the whole Katherine obsession felt creepy. This book was so disappointing that it has turned me off reading any more John Green novels since! Maybe one day, when the memory of An Abundance of Katherines has faded from my memory, I will be able to read Paper Towns, but for now, I’d rather read something else.

 

Now, if you enjoyed these books, that’s great! This is just a list of my own personal opinions, and whether you agreed or disagreed, I would love to hear your comments below. What are your top 5 most disappointing reads, and what are your thoughts on the books listed above?

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

If Birds Fly Back – Carlie Sorosiak Review

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Expected publication: June 27th 2017

Rating: ★★★★★

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

This book blew me away! I was excited to read this because I had heard quite a bit about it on the grapevine (the grapevine being Twitter) but I was a little worried that it would be too corny for me, a little too: quirky characters + quirky situation = major eyerolls. In reality, this book was so moving, with beautiful writing and beautiful stories.

If Birds Fly Back is about two characters, Linny and Sebastian, drawn together by the return of prolific Miami writer Alvaro Herrera, who disappeared three years prior. Linny wants to know why Alvaro returned, in the hopes that it might help her figure out how to bring her sister, who has run away, back home. Sebastian has grown up not knowing who his father is, and now he’s looking for answers. Over the course of the summer, the pair of them try to get the answers they need from Alvaro, but while they may not get the answers that they were looking for, they discover much, much more.

The characters in this novel were brilliantly written. I felt like I knew both Linny and Sebastian so well, and I always wanted to know Alvaro more, just like they did. Both Linny and Sebastian are smart, funny, a little shy, but mostly, they’re lost. Linny is desperate to bring her sister home, and she doesn’t have the guts to break her parents’ hearts by telling them that she doesn’t want to be a doctor, she wants to make movies. Meanwhile, Sebastian is also struggling with figuring out who he is. He thinks that meeting his father will help him to solve it, just like Linny thinks that finding her sister will put her back together. They come together in their missions to fix themselves, and when they do, it’s wonderful.

Sorosiak is really good at writing lovey-dovey scenes – I mean, really good. I was swooning. The relationship between Linny and Sebastian was the perfect balance of friendship and romance for me. I was worried at one point that this would be an instal-love situation, where from one moment to the next, suddenly the characters are in love with each other, but really there was so much more to their relationship. They’re helping each other out, comforting each other, having fun, sharing secrets and mainly, helping each other to free themselves. None of the scenes felt bland, or sickly sweet, but they were the ideal mix of fun, emotion, and romance. Whether the pair are sharing a moment in a ball pit, awkwardly watching a movie, or hiding out in a closet, it always felt fun to read the development of the novel’s main romance. Sorosiak really captures the characters’ different feelings, whether its having a crush, falling in love, grief, or something as simple as feeling like you’re going to melt from the intense summer heat.

My favourite thing about the book was probably the split narration between Linny and Sebastian. They had distinct narrative voices, and I liked that they occasionally made sarcastic jokes so that it felt a little like a diary, but not often enough that it felt too much like the author was trying to make a conscious effort to make the characters look ≈cool≈. It was just enough to make them feel real. I also really liked the little details that give you some more insight into their state of mind, so with Linny, each chapter begins with a section of her notes on disappearances and reappearances, and ends with a section from a screenplay that she is writing about being abandoned. Sebastian’s chapters are littered with quotes from the science book that he is reading, and his own notes on theories. This really captures their struggles of feeling lost and abandoned, but also their particular interests and how they deal with their feelings. They’re both looking for explanations, but Linny is looking for it in stories, and Sebastian in science.

This book was absolutely marvellous. I was really impressed with it. I’m a little shocked to be saying this, because I never really thought anybody could reach these heights, but I recommend this to anyone who has read and enjoyed Jandy Nelson’s books. I got the same vibes as I do reading Jandy’s books, the same gentle balance of great characters, great romance, great stories and great writing. This is a perfect book for anyone who likes YA contemporary, and even if you don’t read young adult books, If Birds Fly Back still a wonderful story of love and loss and finding yourself.

 

Book Reviews, Historical, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating:★★★

This book was a bit like when you look at a recipe for a cake and when you read the list of ingredients you think ‘Well, that’s going to be the best cake I’ve ever had’ and then you eat it and it’s just plain, dry, and the icing-to-cake ratio is completely off. This is historical magical realism, with mystery, suspense, a hint of steampunk and romance, but all these aspects just didn’t sit right for me, and although Natasha Pulley’s writing was beautiful, I ended up finding this book confusing, slow, and difficult to finish.

The book starts in 1883, when Thaniel Steepleton, your average civil servant, returns to his tiny flat to find a costly golden pocket watch on his pillow. He tries to sell it, but nobody will take it, and so he appears to be stuck with it. However, he realises that there is something odd about the watch when it saves his life from an explosion that tears through Scotland Yard. He sets about investigating, and meets the Japanese watchmaker Keita Mori, whose creations are whimsical, unlike any clockwork he has ever seen, and who Thaniel suspects is hiding something. Elsewhere, Grace Carrow is battling her family’s expectations of her as she studies physics at Oxford and pursues her dream of making a scientific breakthrough that will help her gain her independence.

One thing that I loved about this book was the setting. Victorian London really comes to life, and Pulley makes you feel like you are there, among the grimy streets, at Whitehall, getting the tube, standing in the rain. At times, the book feels like Sherlockian, with a whimsical element to it that makes everything stand out just a little bit more. I also really enjoyed the Japanese elements that feature throughout the story. Keita Mori is Japanese, but he is far from a token POC character. Through flashbacks, we see his life in Japan, we learn about Japanese history, we see an entire Japanese community in London and a second Japanese character features heavily in Grace Carrow’s storyline. Mori’s shop was another favourite setting. I loved Pulley’s descriptions of all of the different clockwork creations, and despite being told repeatedly that they are just clockwork, you find yourself wondering whether there is something more to it.

There is an element of fantasy, but it isn’t in your face. A better term might be magical realism. There was clearly more to Mori than meets the eye, and I was eager to find out what it was. When we do find out, I was excited to see where the story would go. You do find out the truth, but unfortunately, I felt like all the fun was lost after this point, and the novel went from being magical and mysterious to being a bore. I was confused about how this ‘fantasy’ element worked, and how it fitted in with the characters’ storyline. Although I did get it, I felt like it was far too technical and confusing at times. Much like Mori’s clockwork, there were far too many different elements to understand, and I felt like it dragged the plot down a bit. A more simple explanation could have been better and given the story itself more room to shine.

Apart from these brilliant parts of the book, the simple reality is that this book was boring. It was so slow and I was just reading it without understanding what the characters were looking for, what they were trying to do and how they were hoping to get there. Even though the inciting action of this novel is the explosion at the start and Thaniel’s attempts to find out who was behind it, this fades into the backdrop of this story and when it stepped back into the forefront towards the end I was confused and a bit lost. I had basically forgotten all about it. I think that some storylines made the book too busy, like the scenes set in Japan, which would have worked better woven into the main storyline in my opinion

I’m gutted that this book wasn’t everything I thought it would be. I was really expecting this to blow me away, but it just fell flat in so many ways. I found myself fighting to get through it, and once I did, I wasn’t satisfied at all. I would have liked to have seen more character development for the characters, particularly Grace and Mori, and I might have enjoyed the story more if the plot was clearer throughout the book. I liked that the plot was mainly one of mystery and intrigue and that romance did not play a big part, but unfortunately, the romantic storyline that did feature fell flat in my opinion because the characters and the plot were so difficult to grasp.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Everything, Everything – Nicola Yoon Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★

This book caught my eye because, well, because I’m pretty sure you can’t be into YA at the moment without having caught wind of Nicola Yoon’s novels. Both of them have been huge hits, and this novel Everything, Everything has even been made into a movie starring Amandla Sandberg. I just had to read this book and see what the fuss was about, and I get it. I really do. I read this book in less than a day, and if I hadn’t had things to do, I would have read it in one sitting. Madeline is captivating, and the story, and Nicola Yoon’s writing, swallowed me whole.

Madeline is 18 years old, but she spends every day cooped up in her completely clean, safe, cocoon of a house. Why? She has a condition called SCID, which means that she is effectively allergic to the world. One step outside, and something could trigger all sorts of horrible reactions. The world is literally out to kill her. Madeline is content with her life, which consists solely of her mother, her nurse Carla, her Skype tutors, and her books – that is, until a family move in next door. Olly is energetic, running up walls and jumping onto the roof; he is kind, protecting his mother from his abusive father; he is funny, communicating with Madeline by mimed conversations through the window and then through online messages. However, the more Madeline gets to interact with the outside world, the more she wants to be in it, and she has to decide whether life is better lived safely, or fully.

Madeline is such a wonderful main character and her voice is so strong that you feel like you know her. I love the way that Nicola Yoon has various different types of chapter in the book, so that you get a sense for different sides of Madeline. Some of the chapters were simple retellings of what is happening, while others were computer screenshots, or  diagrams, maps or IM conversations. These broke up the structure of the novel in a really fun way, because events that were perhaps more ordinary, like Madeline buying an entirely new wardrobe, could be put across to the reader quickly with a drawing. Others really got across the emotion that Madeline is feeling, whether it is the dream that is described in writing in the form of a spiral, or a map of her broken heart. They also bring you closer to Madeline in that you feel like you are reading her personal journal, seeing the doodles that she makes for her eyes only.

I also really enjoyed the relationship between Madeline and Olly. I loved the contrast between Olly and Madeline, and the fact that he in a way, symbolises everything that Madeline is missing outside. He wears all black to her all white, and while she is trapped inside her house, he is running around and practicing parkour. At the same time, he didn’t feel like a YA love interest cliche. He wasn’t a bad boy, he wasn’t cruel, he wasn’t a John Green quirky nerd. He felt as real as she did, and I never found myself wondering what was so special about Olly. He was genuinely nice. I also liked that although both of the characters come from very different family backgrounds, they both have to face the same challenge of finding a way to be free of their family’s control, and the idea that love can trap you as well as free you. This might seem a little vague, but I promise you, if you read this book you will see what I mean. This novel doesn’t portray love as being simple, and for such a short book, I think Nicola Yoon really explores the nature of love in all its forms really well, from Madeline’s controlling mother, acting out of love and trying to protect her daughter, to Olly’s mother who can’t find it in her to take herself out of a dangerous situation.

My only issue with this book was that I felt like the plot twist – without revealing anything spoiler-y – was a cop-out. All of the problems facing Madeline were solved with a flick of Yoon’s wrist, and the consequences of this plot twist didn’t felt properly dealt with enough. To be honest though, this was annoying, but it didn’t ruin the book for me. My favourite parts of the novel were the characters and their relationship, and this wasn’t really dampened by the weak plot. If Nicola Yoon had explored the various revelations made in a more nuanced way, this book would have been a 5-star read.

Overall, this book had so many wonderful aspects. I really recommend this if you are looking for a short and sweet read, whether you typically read YA or not, this is a brilliant and entertaining novel, and I can’t wait to read more of Nicola Yoon’s work.

Bookish Tags, Other

First Line Fridays: 10th March

Welcome to the first instalment of a new feature here at Ink Drops Books!

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?  If you want to make your own post, feel free to use or edit the banner above, and follow the rules below:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

This seems like a lot of fun to me. A lot of the time, when I’m shopping for books, apart from looking at the cover and blurb, I’ll read the first few sentences to get a bit of a feel for the writing style, so apart from this being a bit of fun, maybe you’ll be interested by some of the books that I include.

So, let’s begin.

Even when there are no prisoners, I can still hear the screams. They live in the walls like ghosts and echo in between footsteps.

Any idea what book this could be?

Read on to find out…

Keep scrolling…

The Sin-Eater’s Daughter – Melinda Salisbury

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Summary

Sixteen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she’s engaged to the prince, no one speaks to her. No one even looks at her. Because Twylla isn’t a member of the court. She’s the executioner.As the goddess-embodied, Twylla kills with a single touch. So each week, she’s taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love her. Who could care for a girl with murder in her veins? Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to her touch, avoids her.But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose playful smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he’s able to look past Twylla’s executioner robes and see the girl, not the goddess. Yet a treasonous romance is the least of Twylla’s problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies-a plan that requires an unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favor of a doomed love?

I picked up this book after it was recommended to me by a friend, and while this book is not one of my favourites, the series as a whole is fantastic. The world gradually gets bigger, the fantasy elements more and more developed, and the characters become stronger and more vivid. To top it all off, Melinda Salisbury is a wonderful writer, and I especially love the way that she describes scenes.

You can read my full review for this book here.