Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Holding Up the Universe – Jennifer Niven Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★

I was so certain that I was going to love this book – after all, I adored All the Bright Places (also by Jennifer Neven) and heard a lot of hype around this title when it was released last year. However, this book was such a disappointment. The characters were one-dimensional, the story felt contrived, and I just couldn’t get into the story.

Much like All the Bright Places, Holding Up the Universe includes two teenage protagonists, each with their own ‘issue’. Here, Libby Strout is returning to school after years of battling with weight problems, which were so bad that she had to be rescued from her house with a crane and was dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’. She is hoping to not only be a normal teenager again but also to pursue her dream of dancing. Meanwhile, Jack Masselin’s cool, popular, and slightly mean persona hides a secret – Jack has prosopagnosia, which means he can’t remember or recognise faces. He forgets a face the minute he turns away from it, meaning he can’t even recognise his own family.

I myself don’t quite understand where this novel went wrong, except that it all felt a little too formulaic, like Niven had followed a recipe for a good, angsty YA romance. Both protagonists have their unique traits, a goal, a secret and/or a tragedy. They meet and initially do not see eye to eye, but after being thrown together, they see past the mask that the other has put up to come to love the person underneath. Whilst they help each other in pursuing some goal, they also pursue goals independently, and so grow as people as well as as a couple. My issue was these characteristics all felt too pragmatic, like they were just there because Niven needed something to make her characters stand out, but the characters didn’t seem well developed outside of these traits. Libby is defined by her mother’s death, her weight, and her dancing, just as Jack is defined by his secret illness, his douche-y personality, and his goal of building a robot for his younger brother. They had friends outside of each other, and they had family members with their own problems, but these were all one-dimensional too. Jack’s girlfriend is just a cookie-cutter high school bitch, and I can’t even remember if Libby had one, two, or three friends because they were all basically just background characters that I couldn’t distinguish from each other. To make matters worse, the story’s development fell into huge cliches, like the characters happening to show up at the same party even though they operate in completely different circles, or like Libby’s being the only face that Jack can recognise (I almost choked).

I quickly grew disillusioned with this book because I could see from the beginning that this recipe for an angsty teen romance was being followed, and it felt like every other angsty teen romance where the characters are battling something feels. I kept pushing through in the hopes that something would happen that would perhaps change everything, a huge plot twist maybe, but nothing came. The characters that I met in the beginning were basically the same, and none of the problems that they faced felt that significant compared to what the characters had gone through before the story began. For example, the bullying that Libby faces is horrible, but compared to what we had been told she had already gone through (bullying on a national scale) and how she had gone on national television to defend herself, it didn’t feel like a big enough deal to drive the story. The ‘problem’ that the pair face as a couple is so negligible I couldn’t really understand why it was a thing, and I can’t even remember whether Jack faced any new problems that weren’t set out from the moment we met him, those being his prosopagnosia and his family situation.

Overall, this book was so disappointing for me. I expected so much more, but the characters were flat and didn’t come to life in the way that I saw Niven’s characters come to life in All the Bright Places, and the story was, frankly, bland. I always try to write as balanced reviews as possible, but this book just felt too run-of-the-mill and cliche for my liking.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

American Gods – Neil Gaiman Review

 

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★★

I said in a T5W post a few weeks ago that I was desperate to read more of Neil Gaiman’s work, and with the release of the television adaptation of this book, American Gods seemed like a good place to start. I was so excited to read this, and I was well rewarded for making it through the 600+ pages with a winding tale of mythology, fantasy, magic, murder, and American road trips.

At the start of the novel, Shadow is awaiting release from prison so that he can return home to his beloved wife Laura, however, days before his release, he is told that his wife has died suddenly and allowed to return home early. On the journey home, he meets the mysterious and charismatic Wednesday who offers him a lucrative job for him, and having no other options, Shadow agrees. This leads him on a journey with Wednesday that takes him to intriguing locations in small town America, and also introduces him to a vast array of gods, old and new gods, loved and forgotten gods, gods that he had never heard of.

It was impossible to not be drawn into the cast of this novel. There are so many interesting gods in this novel that I had mostly never heard of. While I had heard of big names like Odin and Loki, Mr Jaquel who was the Egyptian god Anubis, and Eostre, the goddess of Easter, I hadn’t heard of others like the Zorya sisters, Czernobog and the characters of Mad Sweeney and Whiskey Jack. What I loved was that the characters are often initially introduced as ordinary characters, and then we piece together what gods they actually are. I also really enjoyed the new gods, such as the technology kid and Media. The concept of gods dying if they are forgotten was interesting to read not only as a plot point but also as a sort of commentary of modern society, and it makes you think about what makes certain deities and beliefs fade away and what makes certain aspects of our modern lives like television and freeways take their place.

Second, I absolutely loved how this book crosses so many genres. There was fantasy, mystery, adventure, love, history, and my personal favourite, the murder mystery that takes place in the town of Lakeside. I always looked forward to the ‘Coming to America’ chapters, which take the form of individual short stories describing how certain gods were brought to America by all sorts of figures, from travelling tribes, to prisoners who were transported to America, to slaves and modern immigrants. Neil Gaiman did a really good job of developing these characters well so that you felt a connection to them even in a short time. My favourite was probably that of Salim and the jinn, but all of these stories are emotional and tell stories of people from all over the world throughout history.

I didn’t know how long this novel was, and at times it did feel quite dense, but it always paid off in the end. I think I am getting out of the habit of reading longer novels, but American Gods was overall a lot of fun with lots of plot twist that I didn’t see coming – maybe I am slow, maybe they were obvious to other people, but they definitely shocked me! I am definitely looking forward to continuing my journey of reading as much of Neil Gaiman’s work as I can get my hands on.

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Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

The Mechanical Bird: A Tale of Two Ladies – Glenn Song Review

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Rating: ★★

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

I was excited to read this for various reasons: it’s steampunk, includes two women grasping at the opportunity to attend university, and it’s the first book in a series. I was intrigued by the short length of this book and at just over 100 pages I was looking for a novella, but in fact, A Tale of Two Ladies felt more like the opening of a full-length novel than a story in itself, which is the reason for the low rating in this case.

Alicia and Elena are from very different worlds. Alicia is a country farm girl who has dreamed of flying since childhood. Elena is a noblewoman who loved mathematics but is being pushed into marriage by her traditional mother. When the kingdom goes to war, the university in the capital city of Aeterall opens its doors to women for the first time, and these two women both jump at the chance to chase their dreams. This story follows their journey to becoming students at the university, from filling in their applications to meeting briefly at the university’s entrance tests and interviews. I understand from the description that this is a serial, but personally, for me, there was not enough of a story arc in this book. I think that the first part of a series in particular should always have a self-contained story to it as well as being the beginning to an overarching story so that people can enjoy the book in and of itself, but this was just an opening to a larger story.

Apart from the flaws with the plot in this book, I really liked other aspects of this story, and definitely think that if it had been the opening to a full-length novel I would have kept reading. I was getting strong Anne of Green Gables vibes from Alicia’s character, who loves her family and seems to live partly in her dreams of flying. I also enjoyed Elena’s rebellious streak and her resistance to her mother’s choice of husband – there was also a moment with a biscuit that made me laugh out loud. The story in general, with two women from different walks of life meeting and clashing at university, also reminded me of Wicked, which I enjoyed. I liked how the two women clashed somewhat, but there was still a hint at a future relationship. However, I did have some issues with the character development, especially for Elena. She seemed smart and funny in the first half of the novel, but at the university she was suddenly socially awkward and incapable of verbal communication, which felt odd. I would have liked some more consistency here.

I definitely feel like Glenn Song has all of the ingredients for something really fun and exciting – the world-building was good, the steampunk concept was intriguing, and the characters are easy to get behind in their respective goals. With some tweaking, I think that this could be a great opening to a really interesting novel, but on its own, The Mechanical Bird: A Tale of Two Ladies just doesn’t stand up all that well.

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.

 

Book Reviews, Contemporary

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★

The Versions of Us wasn’t like any other novels I had read before. The story is that of Eva and Jim’s lives, from their days at Cambridge University, but it isn’t just the one story. This book tells you three parallel stories, all starting from the same day when Eva and Jim first cross paths. Reading this was unlike any other reading experience, and the book really makes you think about all of the different possible routes that your life could take, even if it was a bit confusing at times.

The three stories in this novel start at the same place. Jim is walking through Cambridge, Eva is cycling through. She swerves and loses her balance. In one, Eva and Jim meet and fall in love, in another, they miss each other and go on in their separate paths, and the third is an unlucky mix of the two. Each of the three stories shows Eva and Jim’s lives after that initial moment. They marry; they live happily; they break up; they have children; they marry other people; they become successful; they fail to achieve their dreams; they suffer tragedies; they travel the world. This novel is an exploration of life, of missed chances, of fate, and of love. Can two people be ‘meant for each other’? Is it possible that you will somehow find your way to the person you are supposed to be with? Or is everything just a result of your choices, and of things that weren’t your choice to make?

the-versions-of-usThe stories themselves are not extraordinary. These are the lives of ordinary people, doing ordinary things, but that is what makes this novel so wonderful. It really made me think about all of the little choices you make everyday. Just as in one story, Eva suffers a punctured tire that Jim helps her to fix, but in another, misses the nail completely and keeps cycling past, it makes you think, what if I had gotten an earlier train this morning, or crossed the road one block later? The fact that the lives are so realistic means that you can relate to the stories. At times, it felt a bit like I was just reading about ordinary events and it was almost too real, like there was no escapism or excitement in the novel, especially in the parts where the characters are stuck in pretty awful situations or tough parts of their lives, but this really was a book of ups and downs, trumps and losses.

I felt so many emotions reading this book. I felt excitement at the things that were happening in Eva and Jim’s (and everyone else’s) lives, I felt anger at their choices, frustration and the things they couldn’t help, pity for the things that happened to them. I loved that none of the three stories can be described as ‘the happy story’ or ‘the one where everything goes wrong.’ In each story, Eva and Jim are thrown together, pulled apart, and it means that, although you’re hoping that they make the choices that you want them to make, you’re also stuck with this feeling of hopelessness when you realise that there are some things in life that you can’t control.

At times, particularly as the stories develop and grow more and more complex, with more and more characters and events to remember, The Versions of Us can be quite confusing. There were times when I would have to flick back to remember which of the stories I was reading, but I found this to only be a small issue. I enjoyed reading the stories and finding out what would happen next way too much to let it bother me too much. You might have to push through some parts of the book that are perhaps more challenging to understand, or bits that just dampen the mood, but if you finish, I’m sure you’ll find this book to be a rewarding and fun experience that really makes you think about life. Not only your life, but all the other possible lives that could be.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell Review

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Rating: ★★★

I struggled quite a lot with coming to a conclusion about how I felt about this book. On the one hand, I liked that the characters felt real and different to the typical YA contemporary protagonist, but I also am not a big fan of novels that have romance as its main storyline and I didn’t feel like this book’s writing was enough to my tastes for me to be really swept away by it. I didn’t really feel that fuzzy warmth that you look to feel from a love story, but I enjoyed the characters’ families and their storylines.

Eleanor & Park is about the titular characters and their relationship. Eleanor has just moved back in with her mother, siblings and her mother’s abusive husband, so she’s new to the school. To make things worse, she dresses all wrong, and she’s overweight (Rainbow Rowell wrote a really interesting comment piece on this here). Park is half-Korean, loves bands and comic books and lives with both parents and his brother in domestic bliss. While you can’t judge a book called Eleanor & Park for being predictable for focusing on the relationship between Eleanor and Park, I just felt like the actual development of the relationship was boring, and it wasn’t until the very end of the novel that I actually felt emotionally affected by the book. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, I do usually enjoy YA contemporaries enough to get past this. However, in this novel, I didn’t feel like there was enough emotion in the writing and I didn’t once come away feeling butterflies in my stomach. It simply felt like I was reading two characters back and forth, reading their actions and speech, and the emotion behind the actions just wasn’t strong enough for me. While it was clear that this relationship was a sincere and sweet relationship, I just would have really loved to feel it more strongly.

On the other hand, I loved the strong role that each of the characters’ families play in the book. YA books often relegate parents to the background of characters’ storylines, which I personally find unrealistic – after all, I see my parents everyday, and I don’t understand how you could ever take me without my family. In this novel however, both families feature heavily, not only in providing context for the central relationship but actually contributing to the plot of the novel. I liked the contrast between the two families, as Park’s family is so loving compared to Eleanor’s. I also think that, while I didn’t think Rowell’s writing really succeeded in making me care a lot about the romance storyline, I did feel really strongly with regard to Eleanor’s home setting. It didn’t feel sensationalised in the way that abusive family dynamics can be made to feel in media, instead, Rowell made the tension in the household clear, even if there was no direct violence. There are scenes where Eleanor’s step-father isn’t even scene, and you can still feel his oppressive presence.

Overall, I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t not like it. I think that I would have loved the novel if the writing had been a bit more to my liking, perhaps less simple and conversational in tone and more descriptive about the characters’ emotions. This was a good book, but I just don’t think it was the right book for me, and sometimes that just happens. I know that other people love this book, so if you like YA contemporary, or sweet romances, definitely give this book a try and tell me what you think!

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

One of Us Is Lying – Karen M. McManus Review

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Expected publication: May 30th 2017

Rating: ★★★★★

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

This book blew me away. It didn’t want to put it down, and I wish it was possible to wipe my memory and start it from the beginning again, because there were so many intriguing mysteries, surprising plot twists, and shocking revelations.

One of Us Is Lying starts with five high school kids who all end up in detention after having been found with phones in class. Bronwyn is ‘the brain’, a straight-A student who is heading to Yale. Cooper is ‘the athlete’ and is already a bit of a baseball star, hoping to be scouted for a major league team. Addy is ‘the beauty’, with a perfect boyfriend and a whole gang of friends. Nate is ‘the criminal’, on probation for dealing drugs. And then there’s Simon, ‘the outcast’, hated throughout Bayview High for his school gossip app About That. Five students go into detention, but only four come out. Simon dies from an allergic reaction, and police believe that someone poisoned him, and it must have been one of the students in the room. They all had motive to kill Simon, but they all insist they’re innocent, so who is lying? Who killed Simon?

This book’s plot is a thrill, a rollercoaster ride. Each of the characters is harbouring their own secret that comes out over the course of the novel, and then more secrets, and more. It was as if the book was peeling away layers to the characters, which I loved. I also enjoyed that each of the four characters had their own chapters told in first person narrative. Although sometimes, multiple narrators can make books confusing, Karen McManus really did this well. We get to know the characters intimately, their fears, desires, and feelings, and I never felt like the book was spreading itself too thin among so many characters. I also liked how despite this first person narration, the secrets that are revealed still come as a surprise. We get hints from the characters, but McManus still keeps the big revelations back for maximum impact. It was told as if the characters were lying to themselves, which felt natural and honest, and you suspect each of them in turn several times, even though you do like them. Because they’ve lied to themselves already, you feel like you can’t even trust their own thoughts, and this mystery and suspense was refreshing to read in YA contemporary.

Apart from loving Karen McManus’s writing style, I loved each of her characters. I really appreciate that they are a diverse group – for one, Bronwyn is Colombian (which, being Colombian myself and not seeing Latinos represented in literature, made me so happy), and there are other things that come to light over the course of the novel (that I can’t reveal because of spoilers!). I also loved that, although they look like cliche high school characters at the beginning, they are very intricate and complex characters. My favourite was Addy, who is literally described as a doormat, but who undergoes a real change over the course of the novel’s events. Even before she undergoes these changes, I still enjoyed seeing a female character not be represented as a ‘strong female character’, but the complete opposite. Yes, Addy was weak, but it was addressed as a part of her character and recognised, and her character development was inspiring and made me root for her. I also loved Cooper’s storyline, and generally the overarching theme of the characters not being just their stereotype, but being able to come together to help each other out.

Although this is a murder mystery and a high school drama, this is also a novel about friendship and the normal problems that teenagers face growing up, accepting themselves for who they are and figuring themselves out. The plot was exciting, and the characters were so easy to love. It might only be March, but I’m pretty sure that this will be one of my favourite reads of 2017.

For fans of: We Were Liars – E. Lockhart 

 

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

My Life As A Bench – Jaq Hazell Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sleeping Prince – Melinda Salisbury Review

 

 

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

 

Rating: ★★★★

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

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

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

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

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

To read

YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Seven Days of You – Cecilia Vinesse Review

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Rating: ★★

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

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

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

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

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

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

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