Book Reviews

Daughter of the Burning City – Amanda Foody Review (& Giveaway!)

Giveaway details at the end of this post! 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks 

Rating: ★★★

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

YA fantasy, carnival setting, murder and mystery and magic, there was a lot to be excited about here. The setting and the story felt new and unique, but there were aspects of the storytelling that felt flat to me.

Sorina has grown up in the Gomorrah Festival, a travelling circus city filled to the brim with wonder and magic, a safe haven for jynx-workers who have been rejected by their own people for having magic. Sorina is one of those, adopted by the proprietor fo the festival, she now runs a Freak Show alongside her family. There is Nicoleta who has superhuman strength, Hawk who can fly, Gill breathes underwater, conjoined twins Unu and Du, and more. But, when they begin dying in unusual circumstances, Sorina has to race against the clock to discover who is behind the crimes before she loses them all. To make things even more complicated, Sorina’s family shouldn’t be able to die, because they’re not real. Sorina’s magic talent is the ability to create lifelike illusions, and her masterpieces are her family themselves. Each member of her family is a figment of her own imagination. On top of this, Sorina can see without having any eyes. As you can see, there is a lot of interesting magic in this book. It was a lot of fun to read about these different skills, and the characters felt new and original. One of the plots of this book is her investigation alongside newfound friend Luca to try find the murderer inside Gomorrah. They meet different jynx-workers everyday, trying to find someone with the ability to kill illusions. This plot was fun to read because of the different magic skills that Foody creates. Further, if you’re into romance, there is a sweet, if somewhat predictable, relationship that develops between Luca and Sorina to keep you entertained.

 

However, in my opinion, the world-building fell flat once you left Gomorrah. The second investigation that Sorina undertakes is alongside her father, who believes the murderer is outside of Gomorrah, and is trying to attack him through his daughter. The issue was that the whole story from there on out was complex, but undeveloped. There was mention of a mysterious Alliance, built of the different cities that Gomorrah travelled through, and they were plotting to start a trade war (from what I could understand). There was very little development to this story into the characters outside of Gomorrah, or the locations. In fact, they were barely mentioned in passing! It was a shame that this part of the book was so underdeveloped because it played such a vital part to the plot, and I feel like if this had been done properly, it would have really elevated the book. I love fantasy worlds with interesting structures and societies, but I would have preferred it if Foody had just left this out of the book and focused on Gomorrah. It would have been simpler, but sometimes less is more, and this story just weighed the book down.

Further, some of the logistics of the world and the plot just didn’t make sense to me. For one, I didn’t understand how Gomorrah travelled. Did everyone pack up their tent and just walk? Are there animals to pull the caravans around? How do the city walls travel with the city itself? This might not be important to the story itself, but I found it difficult to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the story sometimes, because I kept wondering just how the city worked. Second, sometimes the plot felt a little clunky, particularly in the way that Sorina figures out the truth about who is behind the murders of her relatives. There were details that were very clunkily ‘hinted’ at, and revelations that just came too easily to Sorina. I would have preferred it if the mystery had unravelled more subtly, but I would have been able to accept this weakness of plot if the world had been better written.

Overall, Daughter of the Burning City had a lot of potential to be great but I just felt like it fell flat. I was hoping that perhaps it was the first book in a series, and maybe Amanda Foody would go on to develop the world more and salvage the first book with the second. I would have probably read a sequel to this book, because there were aspects of the world building that captured my imagination, but unfortunately it is a standalone. It’s a shame that this book didn’t impress me as much as I hoped, but there were definitely good aspects to it. It is worth giving a chance if you enjoy fantasy and mystery, and maybe you will love it more than I did!

GIVEAWAY: Would you like to win a copy of Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody? Head over to my instagram account (@inkdropsbooks) for a chance to win! 

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

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns – Julie C. Dao

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Rating: ★★★★★

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

I’ve been following this book for what feels like ages, ever since I stumbled upon a tweet by Julie C Dao celebrating getting a book deal. In the months since, I’ve seen excitement for the book continue to grow, with readers and authors alike talking about it, so I was chuffed when I finally got a copy. I’m so pleased to say that this book actually surpassed my expectations, feeding my love for morally grey characters and leaving me wanting more and more of Julie’s writing.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an East-Asian inspired fantasy novel about a young girl, Xifeng, who is determined to become Empress of her kingdom, Feng-Lu. It seems impossible, after all, she is only a seamstress, far from the Imperial City, but her aunt’s fortune telling cards tell of her destiny as Empress, and she does not question fate. After leaving home to head to the Imperial City, it seems that the stars have aligned to help Xifeng reach her goal. She is accepted into the Emperor’s household, but as a maid. A bigger problem is the fact that the Emperor has a wife, two other concubines, and four sons. How will Xifeng secure her fate, and how far will she go to get it?

My favourite thing about this book was that Xifeng was not a nice girl. That seems harsh, and perhaps it is, but it’s also true. I don’t mean this in a nitpicking way. Xifeng is selfish, ambitious, and determined to the point of being willing to walk over anyone else to get what she wants. She has set her sights on being Empress, and she will do anything, and does more than the unimaginable, to get it. There were scenes that were difficult to read, and events in the book that change your opinion of Xifeng for good, but it all adds to the complexity of the tale, and of Xifeng herself.

When the book begins, we don’t yet know if she is an unwilling pawn in a game of her aunt’s, whether she even wants to follow this path that has been set out before her, but as Xifeng takes step after step down the path, and as she knocks opponents and obstacles out of her way, we see her accepting her own desires, and embracing her ambitious selfishness and the darkness that lies within her soul. By the end of the novel, there is no doubt that Xifeng is not the pure, innocent girl that we thought she was at the start of the novel. She is dark, evil even, but having followed her along her whole journey, it is difficult to ignore the humanity in her that even she has set aside. Xifeng’s characterisation made this book so easy to read for me.

I loved seeing the exploration of her character reach new depths, and couldn’t get enough of deciphering her morals, or lack of them. What seemed like a bit of a cookie cutter female protagonist in the first pages, turned out to be a character of many layers, with surprises lurking beneath each and every one. When the book ended, I was shocked. I kept expecting a redemption arc, a sorrowful and repenting protagonist, eager to right her wrongs, but Xifeng doesn’t regret anything that she has done to get what she wants, and as horrifying as that is, I also found it refreshing and exciting to read a character do so confidently.

Overall, I really adored Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, and I’d love to read it again in the future to explore Xifeng some more. Whilst this book might not be for readers who like to like their protagonists, or for those who don’t like violence and gore, I would still recommend giving it a try and letting it challenge you. I like morally ambiguous characters, and still, Xifeng even challenged me. Julie C Dao writes Xifeng in a way that you still hold out some hope for her, and you’re so reluctant to let go of it, and that made reading Forest of a Thousand Lanterns a really interesting experience for me personally. I really think that this book has pushed the boundaries of YA fiction, and I hope to see more books like it.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

There’s Someone Inside Your House – Stephanie Perkins Review

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Rating:★★★

I mentioned this book in my End of the Year Book Tag post a few months ago as the book I was looking forward to reading this autumn, and I finally got around to it! There’s Someone Inside Your House was great, and even if some aspects fell a little flat, the story was fun enough for this to not bother me.  There’s Someone Inside Your House is a blend of teen fun and gruesome slasher fiction, with thrills and suspense to keep you hooked until the end.

Makani Young has been living in Osborne, a small town in the middle of nowhere, for a year since she ran away from a haunting past in Hawaii. Life with her grandmother has been quiet, normal, but that all ends now, because someone is murdering teenagers in Osborne in gruesome attacks, and it seems that there is nothing anybody can do to protect themselves. As the attacks draw nearer and nearer to home, Makani not only has to try to protect herself and the ones she loves, but also has to ask herself if the killer’s identity could be someone she knows.

First of all, I’ll start by saying that Stephanie Perkins is great at writing really tense scenes. The parts of the book that walk us through the attacks had so much suspense that I could not bear to put the book down during them. She drops nuggets of information throughout the text to tease you, and you feel yourself getting more and more anxious even though the characters often have no idea what is going on. These scenes were by far my favourite parts of the book, and the tension in them was high enough that, even though other parts of the book were not, I could ride on the coattails of that tension in the quieter parts of the book.

That being said, one weakness in the plot of this slasher/horror story was that, without spoiling the story, for much fo the book, the actual serial killer plot at the heart of the novel felt too detached from the main characters. At various points in the novel, Makani and her friends try to decipher the identity of the killer, or his motive for choosing particular victims, but it is difficult to try and take part in this activity yourself as a reader because we never meet the victims before they are killed. I knew nothing about the people in Osborne outside of Makani and her friends, I didn’t understand the different high school cliques and friendships, so how was I supposed to try and come up with my own theory?

This links into a more overriding weakness which is that of the characters being a bit too flat for my liking. Makani and Ollie are the main characters, and they aren’t boring to read, but there isn’t much to them. They have already hooked up before the novel begins, and they start dating more seriously. They’re a cute couple, but that’s about it. Makani and Ollie both have their own tragic backstories, but that does not make a vivid character. Similarly, I could not tell apart Makani’s two best friends Darby and Alex, which is lucky because they served no other purpose than to show that Makani had friends. All of the characters in There’s Someone Inside Your House are entirely two-dimensional; the victims are just there to die, the murderer is just there to kill, the cop character just drives around answering phone calls, Makani’s grandmother is just there to be a parental figure.

If it weren’t for Stephanie Perkins’s ability to build tension in the few scenes were action does happen, the whole novel would have been completely flat, because I wouldn’t have cared at all. I didn’t read because I cared particularly about the characters, but rather because it was exciting and got my adrenaline pumping a little bit to read the scenes where the attacker made his appearance.

Overall, There’s Someone Inside Your House isn’t a fantastic book, but it is good fun. I enjoyed it while I was reading it thanks to Stephanie Perkins’s writing, but the substance of the book, when you take a second, deeper look at it, isn’t really there.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

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Rating: ★★★

I have found it so hard to review this book because it is so unlike most of the books I have read. Junot Díaz’s writing is unique and effortless, it is a beautiful read and loved the intertwining of stories, but I sometimes felt like the overall story and unity of the various plots suffered under the weight of them all.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is, obviously, about Oscar. He is an overweight, nerdy, and eternally lovesick Dominican boy who lives with his mother and sister. He wants desperately to experience love, and although he experiences it very often, he has yet to have it be returned. Díaz’s narrative spreads not only across Oscar’s formative years, but as far back as previous generations, exploring the curse, or Fuku, that they believe has overshadowed their lives for decades.

I did enjoy this aspect of intergenerational storytelling, and particularly in the context of talking about an immigrant Latino family, it felt very appropriate. In my own Latin American upbringing, I have always been raised to consider my family history to be as strong a part of my identity as my own likes and dislikes, so I could really relate to this method of exploring Oscar’s life and beliefs and the events that had formed him. The experiences of his relatives even years before directly impacted his life, and by the end, we not only see a clear chain of events across generations, but also wonder whether the Fuku is real.

The downside to this was that sometimes I just found this secondary stories to drag on a bit. There were things that I didn’t understand the importance of, meanwhile other storylines were left by the wayside and I would have liked to have had the chance to explore more. As interesting as the stories of the different characters were as standalone stories, and even though by their end I could see how they linked in to Oscar’s story, sometimes while reading them I felt lost in their story and struggled to see the importance of some of the detail. Also, despite understanding that these events and people formed Oscar’s own identity and life, I felt like Oscar’s own story at times felt weak. For example, the final chapters of his story felt simply silly at times, and whilst his neediness and desperation for love had been endearing, I simply grew frustrated with his narrow-mindedness and decisions, and the ending, rather than feeling poignant and moving, just felt a bit – dare I say it – stupid.

Overall, I do appreciate Junot Díaz’s talent in writing this book, and I do appreciate the various features of its structure and storytelling, but I simply didn’t like the plot. It felt disjointed at times, and the main plot and character disappointed me.

Book Reviews, Contemporary, Historical

The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood

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Rating: ★★★★

I’ve wanted to read more work by Margaret Atwood since I read The Handmaid’s Tale at school, but I’ve never gotten around to it. When a friend recommended this book to me, and then by lucky coincidence I found a second hand copy a few days later, I decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed. Atwood’s writing is so easy to read but its simplicity is wound up with subtle commentary on the world around us.

The Penelopiad is a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey. In the original tale, Odysseus leaves his home and wife to fight for Helen in the Trojan War, setting off on a decades long journey battling monsters and sleeping with goddesses. When he returns home, a hundred suitors are vying for his wife’s attention, and he kills them all, and his wife’s twelve maids, for betraying him. Atwood’s version, however, gives Penelope a voice of her own, agency, and strength. In this story, Penelope’s role is more than just that of a sitting duck. She develops a scheme of her own to, alongside her maids, keep the suitors at bay, by lying to and manipulating them. Although when Odysseus returns home her experiences are ignored, the story gives her a life, depth, and character.

Atwood shows us Penelope’s life before she met Odysseus, her views of him, or her cousin Helen, of the island where he takes her, of her life when he disappears. We see the life of a woman who hears nothing of her husband for decades but rumours of his exciting travels, death-defying feats, and different sexual partners, all whilst she remains at home trying to be the perfect wife. My favourite part of it, however, was the fact that Margaret shows us Penelope’s life after death. The story is told by Penelope from the other side of the River Styx, looking back on her life. It’s interesting to hear a story told by someone who has the benefit of hindsight, and even better, we see her interactions with the people that she knew in life, and so, in a very small amount of pages, Atwood shows us all of these ancient characters in a variety of different positions, and at various times of their lives. For example, Penelope’s twelve maids appear as a chorus after every chapter, giving their own commentary on the events.

The Penelopiad is a very short book, and so it was a quick, single-day read, and I really enjoyed it. I have not read The Odyssey, but I was familiar with the story, and I always find it interesting to see retellings of familiar stories. I loved the focus on the women in the story, who are relegated to minor, background roles in the original, but are now given a starring role. I also liked how Atwood gave Penelope depth, but that her character was not typically ‘nice’. She is a faithful wife, but that is not all that she is – she has a mind of her own. Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Penelopiad, and I can’t wait to read some more of Atwood’s work.

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