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

Flame in the Mist – Renee Ahdieh Review

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Rating: ★★★

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

I knew absolutely nothing about this book when I went into it. The only thing I knew was that I really, really wanted to read Renee Ahdieh’s previous series The Wrath and the Dawn, and so I hoped Flame in the Mist would grab my attention in the same way. Renee’s writing is really wonderful, and I liked the characters and the setting of this novel, but some aspects of the story and the fantasy system fell flat to me and didn’t feel properly brought to life.

Flame in the Mist is about Mariko, the daughter of a prominent samurai, who is attacked by the mysterious bandits the Black Clan as she travels to marry a man she has never met in the imperial city. Furious and determined to prove her worth to her family as more than a pawn to be sold in marriage, Mariko sets out on a mission to find the Black Clan, infiltrate them, and find out who paid them to kill her. She dons the disguise of a boy and does just that, and delves into a world of secrets, lies, intrigue and war.

I enjoyed Mariko’s character and the Black Clan as a group. At first, I thought that Mariko might be a typical feisty strong female lead, but she is more than that. I appreciated that her strength lay more in her mind than in her physical abilities – she is not a fighter, although she tries. I also liked that we see her grapple with doubts and questions, as well as with a desire to be brave even though she cannot escape the fact that she is terrified. Okami and Ranmaru are the other two central characters in the Black Clan, and Mariko’s brother, who we follow as he tries to track his missing sister. I enjoyed reading about the connections between these characters, and especially that there were different types of relationships. The romance does not overpower the story at all, but instead there is just the right amount of love for me, and there are also great friendships in the novel. My main issue was that the book swaps perspectives between these characters quite a bit, as well as some other minor characters, and sometimes the way this was done felt disjointed and confusing, and I felt like Renee Ahdieh spread the narration too thinly among too many characters.

I have tried to pick apart exactly why I couldn’t connect to this story fully, and I couldn’t find a single reason. The opening half of the story felt very flat to me, principally because I couldn’t really understand why Mariko was doing what she was doing. I understood that she resented being married off, and I understood that she wanted to prove that she was more than just a weak girl, but I couldn’t understand how she made the link from that to infiltrating the Black Clan to discover why they had tried to kill her. After the initial section of Mariko trying to find the Clan, we then have to sit through a large chunk which consists of her being treated as a sort of servant, and read as Okami and Ranmaru question whether they trust her. I think that because I was bored in this first section, I missed some vital details about the characters Okami and Ranmaru that made the second part harder to understand and get excited about, even though I felt like the story was picking up. I couldn’t remember the details about the pair’s history, and I’m still not sure I understand it.

The fantasy was also a bit vague. I found it so intriguing – there were trees that suck the blood out of people, and foxes made of smoke, and characters that could fly. But I had no idea where any of this came from and how it worked. I felt like the magical aspects of the book were quite randomly dropped into the book and for quite a large chunk of the book I wasn’t sure if this was a fantasy novel or a sort of historical novel. When magic did turn up, it was merely shown for a passage, then it vanished again. It felt so random that I felt like it could have been taken out of the novel altogether and the story would have still functioned equally well without it.

Overall, there were parts of this book that I liked a lot and others that, although I didn’t dislike, I just didn’t really get. I would have loved for the story to have picked up quicker and for aspects of the novel to have been a bit clearer, specifically the magic system and the characters’ pasts and goals. Although I didn’t love this book, I think that I will read the second instalment of this duology when it is released just to see where the characters end up and where the story goes.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon Review

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Rating; ★★★★★

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

I was so excited to read this novel and when I finally got a copy, I was overjoyed. The synopsis had me feeling some noughties rom-com meets Bend It Like Beckham vibes, and that’s exactly what I got. I loved the blend of the lighthearted teen romance with the infusion of Dimple and Rishi’s cultural backgrounds and their families, and the whole story really comes to life as you read it.

Dimple and Rishi have both been sent to Insomnia Con, a prestigious summer camp, to meet each other by their parents. The only problem is that only Rishi knows that this is a set-up. He is excited to meet his potential future wife and spend six wonderful weeks with her, but when he meets Dimple, he realises that she knew nothing of the plan. Dimple was under the impression that her parents were finally letting her focus on her career, and she’s furious that she’s been tricked. When Dimple and Rishi get paired together on a project, it seems like things couldn’t get any worse. Except they do. Dimple realises that perhaps she’s let her anger blind her, and she starts to wonder if perhaps she and Rishi and more compatible than she thought.

My favourite part of this novel was the characters. Dimple and Rishi are both so different. Dimple is feisty, independent, and stubborn. She dreams of being a web developers and I loved how passionate she is about her goals. Despite the romance storyline, I never felt like Dimple’s personality and goals were being sacrificed or like her character was being diluted in any way which I often feel in romance novels. Rishi on the other hand is a romantic and he loves all of the traditions that Dimple feels constrained by. He can’t wait to marry and have kids, everything that his parents want, but he doesn’t know if he’s following in their footsteps rather than pursuing his own dream – comics.  I loved reading about their families and their Indian culture. You can really tell that this novel is own voices in my opinion, because it never felt forced or superficial, the descriptions and conversations between family members felt real.

I loved that despite the storylines of the romance between Dimple and Rishi and the Insomnia Con competition there was also the interior battles that the characters are facing. Both Dimple and Rishi have to learn what it is exactly that they want, not what they’ve been told they should want or what they’ve told themselves they should want. It is a storyline that I think plenty of readers could relate to, and I definitely could myself.  I also love that despite the two of them obviously helping each other learn things along the way, neither one’s achievements were completely dependent on the other. Both Dimple and Rishi are extremely talented at what they do, and they both love it. Sometimes they just need a little shove to realise that they need to dive in.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a really fun and lighthearted novel, a great read for the summer. It gave me noughties romcom vibes to the extent that I was imagining  movie sequences in my head as I read it. It was easy to hand out 5-stars to this as I had such a good time reading it, and I hope you look into a getting a copy yourself soon!

For fans of: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

The Way Back Home – Allan Stratton Review

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Rating; ★★★★

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

The Way Back Home is about a young girl called Zoe Bird who loves her grandmother more than anything and is furious when she is put into a care home. Fed up with her own life in the town, where she is bullied relentlessly and her parents don’t listen to her, she decides to escape with her mother to Toronto, where her long-lost uncle lives. There were parts of this book that I really liked, and other parts that I just didn’t really feel made an impact on me, and overall it balanced out to be just that. Good, but not great.

Zoe’s relationship with her grandmother is one of the best parts of this novel. Zoe on her own was not a character that I liked. I really do not connect to characters who are rude for no reason, and I felt like, although I can relate to the struggles of seeing a loved one be put into a care home, Zoe’s anger and attitude to her parents felt a bit exaggerated at times. Generally, the parts of Zoe’s life that did not directly link to the story with her grandmother felt a little two-dimensional, like her cousin Madi’s character. I guess none of it felt real enough to me, it all just felt a bit too much of a caricature. However, seeing Zoe with her aunt on their trip was really endearing or Zoe’s character. We see that Zoe is kind and loyal behind all the anger that she harbours, and her desire to look after her grandmother isn’t a pipe dream, but she actually does it.

On the other hand, I felt like this is a perfect example of a character that is just too dumb to live. The whole way through this book I was waiting for the moment where someone would shake Zoe by the shoulders and ask her what the hell she was doing. I admire the way that Zoe and her grandmother’s relationship was written, but it also felt a bit ridiculous. Having seen Alzheimer’s in my own family, I know how difficult it is to deal with, and I find it hard even now, let alone when I was fourteen or fifteen. The whole story in this respects felt a bit naive, but once you look past the recklessness of it and how unreal the situation is, you can sort of enjoy the story.

Finally, the best part for me was the story with Uncle Teddy. I loved seeing the story unfold and the family come back together and especially Zoe discovering the truth of the family secret. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who goes onto read this book, but it was refreshing and I felt like it was handled well, exposing some common experiences whilst not being insensitive. However, I was really confused at how the rest of the storylines played out around this. Zoe’s family reunite with one side of their family, only to turn around to the other side of their family and completely cut them off. When you read the book, you do see that their relationships are not exactly healthy, but I felt like for a book about families coming back together and looking past each other’s problem, perhaps this could have made an effort at humanising Aunt Jess and cousin Madi a little more to make it feel more cohesive.

Overall, I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t not like it. It was okay, with good bits and bad bits. I think perhaps my own experiences with the subject matter made it difficult to connect to because it felt silly to me, but it didn’t ruin the book for me.

Bookish Tags, Other

First Line Fridays: 19th May

Welcome to the new 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!

I’m hoping this is a way for me to get more excited about books I’ve put on my TBR shelf and forgotten about so this week I’ve randomly chosen among my unread books.

So, let’s begin.

At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, they say. Depart immediately to open country.

Do you have any idea what this book is?

Have you read it before?

Is it on your reading list too?

Keep scrolling to find out…

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

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Goodreads summary:

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, [Doerr] illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.  

This book was pretty much everywhere when it first came out. I kept seeing it in bookshops and was drawn in by the stunning cover. I am really interested fiction set in the World Wars, in any format, whether book, film, or television series. I was even more intrigued to see the story being told about two children, even though this isn’t a children’s book.

Hopefully I get around to reading this book soon!

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Spontaneous – Aaron Starmer Review

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Rating: ★★★

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

This book has a lot going for it. I went into this novel not knowing much about it, and was blown away by the originality of the concept. A town where teenagers begin spontaneously combusting? Well, you have caught my attention right there! The author really caught the voice of Mara, and there was a great balance between humour and the not-so-humorous concept of kids blowing up. However, the plot petered out about halfway through and I couldn’t find my flow with this book again.

Now, I usually keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, but there are some vague spoilers in this review, so if you want to be really surprised when you read this book, be warned.

Mara is a senior when one of her classmates blows up right before her eyes. Soon, kids are blowing up all over Covington. At school, at parties, at home, in cars. It’s a tragedy, a mystery, a curse – the Covington Curse. The police get involved, the President is sending messages of goodwill, reporters are flocking to Covington, but nobody can figure out how to stop the curse. It seems like all the youth of Covington are destined to a gory end. As if this isn’t bad enough, school has been closed down for safety reasons, Covington has become a quarantine town, and the senior students are pariahs in their own town. Can Mara get to the bottom of the curse, and will she survive?

The first half of this book was so much fun. This is going to sound really weird, but Starmer had a really great way of making these repeated cases of spontaneous combustion sound hilarious. Mara is a sarcastic, cynical girl with wit deserving of a daytime chat show. I loved reading her comments on the situation, her descriptions of the different people around town, and her crude sense of humour. However, at around the halfway point, understandably, the story became less about people randomly blowing up and more about trying to figure out why. This was where, in my opinion, the book started to drift, until by the end, it was just a bit of a mess.

I think my main issue was that the issue of the curse was left unresolved. There was so much mystery around the curse, and there were so many different theories being thrown around, from the students, from the police, from journalists and every single other character in the novel, that it felt like the author had just decided he couldn’t be bothered to finish the storyline. The middle section of the book completely abandoned this story. Instead, we read chapters and chapters of the seniors of Covington getting their lives back on track by reopening their school and convincing teachers to come back to teach them. This was cute for a few chapters, but eventually, I wanted to get back to the real story. Why were people exploding? Towards the end, people started exploding all over the place again, which made me think we would get somewhere, but we didn’t. All of this drama had happened for no reason! I feel like Starmer maybe intended for readers to come away with a message of making the most of your lives, but really, I was just annoyed. I felt ripped off, like the first half of the novel was leading me to something, tempting me with the lure of plot twists and shocking revelations, only to take it away. It’s like when a TV show opens with a really exciting premise, but 5 seasons later you’re still waiting for the explanation to a story from the first series.

Overall, even though I was really annoyed by route that this book took, I gave it 3 stars because Mara’s voice was so funny. I felt like even though she was snarky and rude, it didn’t feel forced and two-dimensional like it does for other ‘tough girl’ characters in YA literature. Instead of feeling like a caricature, she just felt like a real life Daria character, and I loved that. I also loved that she didn’t feel like a stereotype. She wasn’t a loner, but she wasn’t the most popular, she was very flawed, and very funny. I want a TV show about Mara. Not necessarily this story, but definitely Mara.

 

Book Reviews, Interviews, Other

Author Interview – Jaq Hazell

14042558Not long ago, I read and reviewed the brilliant novel My Life As A Bench (here). After that, I had the pleasure of corresponding with author Jaq Hazell online and even asking her a few questions. To celebrate the publication of My Life As A Bench earlier this week on May 2nd, below is the complete Q&A.

If you don’t know anything about My Life As A Bench, you can find some useful links at the end of this post!

 

Where did the idea for My Life as Bench come from?

Sounds mad, but a bench spoke to me. There are loads of memorial benches near where I live and I often pause and read the plaques. One day I was out with my dog when I imagined one of the benches complaining about being a bench. The voice was young, someone that wanted to be free and have a laugh.

Did Ren come to you as a fully-formed character, or did you spend a lot of time developing her personality and family situation?

It began as a 300-word story, so all I knew was that Ren was a teenager and wanted to hang with her mates and have fun. Ren’s background, her love of singing and the story of how she abruptly left her life in Devon to move to London all developed over a long period of time.

The novel is told from the perspective of Ren, but she is trapped inside a bench. Did you find this difficult and what were the biggest challenges?

It was difficult and I almost gave up at one point. The first draft didn’t work. I had to find a way to make Ren (who is dead) remain active. She had to want something and that triggered the idea about Ren learning to “break through” in order to talk to the living.

There are a lot of references to songs that Ren loves. Did music play a big role in the writing process?

I love music but can’t sing a note so it was fun to write about someone who has a talent for singing. Ren is a massive Amy Winehouse fan and I enjoyed researching the artists that inspired Amy, while also checking out more recent tracks that feature in the party scenes.

Do you have a favourite scene in My Life as a Bench?

I’m particularly fond of the character Lionel and I like it when he makes his entrance. Lionel wasn’t planned. I didn’t know he was there until he started to speak. I also like it when Ren tries to break through and talk to people that sit on the bench. We’re all hardwired to be frightened of ghosts, but maybe it’s really tough being a ghost.

Is there a particular message or lesson that you would like readers to take from this book?

I never write with any message or lesson in mind, but I suppose the message that Ren’s life and death conveys is that we should all grab life while we can and make the best of it.

How long did it take you to write My Life as a Bench and did you always know how the story would unfold?

It probably took a couple of years on and off. It’s hard to say because I did leave it alone for a while (as I rewrote my psychological thriller I Came to Find a Girl), and then I went back to it for yet another rewrite. I had a rough idea of the ending when I started, but the first draft bears little resemblance to the finished novel. Ren is dead but she’s still active. She can’t rest because there is something she wants.

What are the best and most challenging parts of being a writer?

There’s nothing better than a day when you feel your writing has gone well. Every novel is a challenge and they all present their own problems. Solutions to plot issues can’t be forced and if a novel has stalled it’s best to do something else – take the dog out or cook dinner. The answer will always arrive when you least expect it, perhaps while taking a shower or when you’re about to fall asleep.

When and where do you write?

I’m up early and out with my dog, Basil, and then it’s back to my extremely messy desk where I sit for most of the day. Eventually, Basil hassles me for a second walk and my family arrive home. I can, however, write pretty much anywhere – trains are good, and I often write if I’m stuck in the car waiting for one of my kids.

What five books would you take with you to a desert island?

I’d take Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte for its mad passion, atmosphere and gloomy weather to remind me of home. Solo Faces by James Salter is a novel about mountain climbing that could just as easily be about writing and I love his spare, deceptively-simple writing style. ‘I know a Man’ by Robert Creeley is my favourite poem and I’d take his collected poems to gain an overview of his work. I’m currently reading The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney. It’s darkly funny and sweary and I’d take that along to finish and my last choice would be Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. It’s only just come out and I’m curious to see his take on the afterlife – it has talking ghosts!

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Goodreads / Amazon / Waterstones 

Thanks so much to Jaq Hazell for answering these questions with so much thought and care. I really hope you all enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed being a part of it.

 

 

Bookish Tags, Other

T5W: Favorite SFF Cover Art

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 topic is favourite Science Fiction & Fantasy cover art. Talking about book covers is one of my favourite topics, alongside the actual content of the books. Now, some of these books I’ve read, and some I haven’t but am hoping to. I’ve chosen these 5 purely for their looks – you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest, we’ve all done it.

1. Starflight – Melissa Landers

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I haven’t read a lot of science fiction novels, even though I love anything to do with space – something I am planning on fixing soon. This book cover perfectly captures everything that attracts me to science fiction. Jetting off to far off locations in a space ship, planets, stars, and probably some explosive drama along the way. I can’t wait to read this book.

2. Rebel of the Sands – Alwyn Hamilton

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This book is great inside as well as beautiful outside, but from when I saw this book on the shelves at the bookshop, I knew I wanted to see what was inside. I love the different tones of blue, and the gold foil on the pages reflects light and it’s just beautiful, and the way it all centres in on the landscape feels like it’s just drawing you in to the story.

You can read my review for Rebel of the Sands here.

3. The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater 

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To be honest, I know very little about this book and the Raven Cycle series as a whole, but they are on my list of books to read. I don’t want to read them just because they’re beautiful – I’ve heard that this series is great – but that might be a part of it. I love the way that the images on the covers look very dark and ominous, but the little splash of colour makes me imagine that a lot of excitement lies within its covers.

4. The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstein

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I haven’t read this, but the cover makes me want to. Just like with The Raven Cycle’s book covers, I feel like the cover captures your imagination without you even needing to know anything about it. I love the Victorian-style silhouette images of the man and the woman, and the simple black and white design with that dash of red. It attracts both the fantasy lover and the history nerd in me to the story.

5. Naondel – Maria Turtschinanoff

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If you’ve been keeping up with my blog posts recently, you’ll have seen that I just can’t keep talking about Maria Turtschinanoff. Her book Maresi is one of my favourites, and I can’t wait to read the next in the Red Abbey Chronicles. Apart from the fact that I love her writing, this cover is flawless. I love the blue and white lines, and the ship mast that looks like a face. It’s so simple, and yet so striking.

Have you read any of these books yourself? What do you think of them? Comment below with your favourite science fiction and fantasy covers, or tell me if you’ve made your own #T5W list!

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Out of Heart – Irfan Master Review

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Rating: ★

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

I really wanted this book to impress me, and I was optimistic for much of it, but I can’t lie. This book was so disappointing for me. I never understood what was happening, whether anything was happening at all, or what the point of it was. This really was not my cup of tea.

When Adam’s grandfather ‘Dadda’ dies, he and his family are shocked to discover that he donated his heart. They are even more shocked when Adam shows up at their house claiming to be the recipient of Dadda’s heart. William is quickly welcomed into the family and finds a home with them. Meanwhile, Adam spends his days enveloped in his artwork. To be honest, that’s basically it. I don’t know how to describe the ‘plot’ of this novel, because I couldn’t really pick one out for you. Things happened, once in a while, but they didn’t really seem to serve a larger purpose, and for most of the book, I had no idea where it was going and what the characters were looking for. I appreciate that one aspect of many of the characters, or at least William and Adam, was that they are sort of drifting through life, but I would have liked to have had a clearer idea of at least their short term goals, their feelings, their wishes.

Perhaps this was made worse by the fact that the writing is quite poetic and symbolic. Adam spends a lot of time making short little poems with random pairs of words, and the way that the novel is told is almost a sort of stream of consciousness narrative. I found this odd, especially for a YA contemporary novel, but I was willing to give it a try. I have enjoyed stream of consciousness literature before, so I was actually quite excited. However, my issue with the way it was used in this novel was that I don’t feel like any of the characters really stood their ground enough as individuals. The narrative would sometimes switch from one character to another, and by the end of the novel, I think most of the characters had been the focus of the narrative at some point, but the information we were given about them and the events happening were just a bit too wishy-washy and vague for me.

Vague seems to be the overall impression of this novel. I don’t mind reading novels that experiment with symbolism and narrative, I’m used to them, but I do think that there has to be a balance. There was clearly symbolism in this novel, there was a lot of talk of hearts (understandably), but if Irfan Master was hoping that his novel would make his readers think about something in particular, it didn’t achieve it with me. Even basic things missed me. For example, even now I’m not completely sure if Adam actually lives with his grandmother. I’m pretty sure she was mentioned at some point, but then she disappeared. There was another plot to do with Adam’s father, his younger sister, and domestic abuse, but for such a heavy topic, it just wasn’t explored at all.

This is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written, simply because I am completely lost for words over this novel. I read it, but I can’t find any wider meaning to it. It was just a string of events, and the attempts at symbolism and imagery completely went over my head. Nothing was explored, none of the characters stood out to me, and the plot was barely identifiable.

Bookish Tags, Other

T5W: Authors You Want to Read More From

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 topic is 5 authors you would like to read more of, and it was actually very difficult to only pick 5! I tried to pick authors who have books out that I haven’t read yet, rather than authors I love who simply haven’t written more books yet, which made it a bit more challenging, but I thought it might be a bit more interesting to talk about the masses of literature out there already that I haven’t yet been able to experience.

1. Neil Gaiman

 

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I love Neil Gaiman’s mind. His work is always original, and he has this great way of mixing dark and funny writing together which I love. Even if I’m not head over heels with a book, I am always head over heels with the way his brain works. His settings and characters are always unique, and he can make everything feel new and different and slightly creepy. I’ve loved everything I’ve seen of his work, from novels to his Doctor Who episodes (The Doctor’s Wife is one of the best episodes ever – fight me.)

I admit, I am a little in love with Neil Gaiman’s brain. And the man.

2. Kazuo Ishiguro

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Never Let Me Go is one of my favourite novels of all time. I loved the delicate blend of different genres and Cathy’s voice as a narrator telling her story to the reader. Even though this novel isn’t exciting in the jam-packed-with-action type of way, I devoured this book in a day. I think that perhaps one of the reasons why I didn’t go straight to Ishiguro’s other novels is the fact that Never Let Me Go isn’t really a clear-cut genre story, so I don’t know whether the other books will be similar or not. I do know that I loved his writing and characters though, so I think I need to buckle up and give it a try.

3. George R.R. Martin

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I have read all of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels and it is one of my favourite series. I haven’t read anything as expansive and exciting as these books, with such a vast array of complex characters. I love the moral ambiguity of his characters. Maybe the sheer size of this series, and the way that it feels like it is sometimes taking over my life, is the reason why I haven’t tried George RR Martin’s other books, but I would like to give them a try. I own a couple already, and I know that there is a lot out there to read across different genres and formats, from novels to short stories. There’s a lot to keep me entertained, it’s just a matter of time.

4. Maria Turtschaninoff

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Maresi was beautiful in so many ways. I loved the setting and world-building, the characters, the story, and the writing. It reminds me a bit of Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing in Never Let Me Go, with the narrator telling you the story after the events have happened, and Maresi’s tone was calm and dream-like like Cathy’s was. It is so refreshing to find an author whose writing feels so comfortable and easy, so I can’t wait to read Naondel, the second book in the Red Abbey Chronicles. I also know that Maria Turschaninoff has other books in Finnis. So, what do I have to do to get these translated to English?

5. Victoria Schwab

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I’ve read Schwab’s This Savage Song and am excited to see what happens in the sequel. Even though this book didn’t blow me away, I was impressed by her creativity and I have heard so many good things about her adult fantasy books published under the name V.E. Schwab, in particular A Darker Shade of Magic. From what I’ve read about these novels, I feel like I might get some Neil Gaiman vibes from Schwab’s writing, so I can’t wait to finally get around to reading these.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

The State of Grace – Rachel Lucas Review

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Rating: ★★

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

When I started writing this review, I thought that I was just disappointed, but then I realised that this book actually made me surprisingly angry. While the representation of ASD was good, the lack of plot and the frankly terrible secondary characters made this book really get on my nerves.

My main problem was the lack of actual plot. Grace has Autism. She struggles at school. Her best friend is Anna. She lives with her parents and sister, but her father travels a lot for work. She has a horse. She begins to date Gabe. There is a lot of stuff to Grace’s life, but there wasn’t a clear plot. Apart from her new relationship with Gabe, nothing at the end of the novel was different from the beginning, which made me wonder a bit what the point was. Towards the end, things began to pick up, but I felt like it was rushed and somewhat meaningless once it had finished. Grace makes a huge mistake trying to be cool, which makes her fear that her friends will hate her. This was understandable because Rachel Lucas does a really good job at getting us to understand the way Grace thinks, but Grace doesn’t actually do anything to solve this, which made it feel a bit lacklustre. Rather, everything was solved by other characters swooping in to save her and  assuring her that everything is fine. It’s not that I was looking for Grace to be magically cured of her autism and anxiety, but it would have been nice to have seen Grace do something to fix the mess that she made and take some ownership.

Rachel Lucas did a really good job at representing life with Autism. I’ve learned since that this is an #ownvoices novel, and you can definitely see the effects of this being told by someone who knows what it feels like to have Autism. We see Grace’s thought processes, how she handles people, and her daily life. I was really impressed at how Lucas shows us a little of what it feels to be overwhelmed by the world around you, and the way that it’s written really shows you how Grace struggles to deal with all of the sounds, sights, and smells around her. Grace was a really well developed character in this sense. However, I was a bit disappointed at the representation of Gabe’s ADHD, in that there basically was none. It was mentioned, and I thought that we might get so learn a bit about his experiences, but then this just disappeared for the entire rest of the novel. It felt odd that a novel that was clearly trying to represent one condition would so completely disregard another that it had purposefully mentioned.

This leads onto my final issue with the novel, which is simply that all of the secondary characters were completely two-dimensional. For example, we basically know nothing about Gabe other than that he is Polish, has ADHD, and watches Doctor Who. We don’t see his sense of humour or his feelings. We barely even see him talk, as when Gabe and Grace hang out, Lucas just skims over their dialogue and summarises their conversations for us. The same goes for Grace’s friendship with Anna. It was taken for granted that readers would just accept that Anna was Grace’s best friend because we were told that she was, but I would have liked to have seen Anna actually doing something to actively support Grace so that I could understand why Grace feels more comfortable with Anna than other people.

Grace’s mother and sister are shown a lot more, but they still felt so flat. Grace’s sister Leah is basically irrelevant for the entire story until she suddenly has alcohol poisoning, which was so random that I couldn’t believe it was happening. Grace’s mother is struggling with her marriage and has rekindled a friendship with an old friend called Eve, who is pushing her to return to work now that her daughters are older. Eve is portrayed as some sort of evil witch, and Grace’s mother as a brainless and bitter housewife. At the end, Grace’s mother realises that Eve has been a bad influence and returns to being blissfully happy with home life. This was a laughable twist of events, and really annoyed me. There is nothing wrong with Grace’s mother being interested in returning to work, but it was shown as a terrible, selfish thought on her part, and I just can’t believe that someone as inconsiderate Eve could exist. Characters were either good people or terrible people, there was no in between, and the terrible characters were given no chance for redemption or development. This made it really hard to take any of the secondary characters seriously because they were like caricatures of real people.

Overall, the only thing that saved this book for me was the delicate exploration of Grace’s mind in the opening half of this novel, and that’s the only thing that saved this from being a 1-star review. Even though there was barely any plot and the secondary characters were simplistic and cartoonish, I do feel like I did learn things about life with Autism.