Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

S.T.A.G.S – M.A. Bennett Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

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

WOW! I am still reeling from this book even though I finished it hours ago, and if I didn't have a serious need to get through some books on my reading list before school starts, I would delve right back into S.T.A.G.S again from the beginning to see how many more little details I missed. I've already tweeted and told friends that this book is like Hogwarts meets How to Get Away With Murder, but there is honestly so much in this book to get excited about, and I hope I can control my excitement enough to write a coherent review.

S.T.A.G.S stands for St Aidan the Great School. It is the prestigious boarding school that Greer, the protagonist, has won a scholarship to attend for sixth form. Intimidated and lonely, surrounded by children who are wealthier than her and know all the rules better than she does, she is intrigued and excited when she receives The Invitation. She has been invited to spend a weekend 'huntin, shootin, fishin,' at Longcross, the manor house belonging to the school's golden boy, Henry de Warlencourt, along with his gang, called the Medievals, and two other misfits. However, Greer's belief that she might have finally been welcomed into S.T.A.G.S begins to waver. As each of the bloodsports ends in a well-timed 'accident', the three guests begin to wonder whether they are the predators, or the prey.

This novel has a mystery feel to it from the beginning. I loved how Bennett uses foreboding so well, instantly telling us from the start that a 'murder' takes place, and that there is something ominous going on in S.T.A.G.S, and yet, like Greer herself, we can't quite figure out what it is. Just as she does, we're suspicious of characters, and then we see them in a slightly more flattering light and we wonder whether they're really the bad guys at all, or whether they're just misunderstood. I liked how she alternated tense scenes, like the hunting scenes, with Downton Abbey-esque dinners, more romantic scenes, or slightly friendlier chats with the Medievals. It meant that your idea of the characters was never set in stone, and they changed with every scene. Until the very last page, you can't quite put your finger down on the problem, you can't figure out who the real bad guy is, where the 'bad guys' end and the 'good guys' begin, and how Greer and her friends will ever be able to escape.

The plot moves forward constantly, and even where the pace of the story is slower, there is always tension bubbling away beneath the surface. Every conversation that the characters have, every room that we enter, every little detail means something, and you are kept on your toes throughout. I loved the way that the three guests at Longcross, Greer, Nel, and Shafeen, come together to try and figure out what is really going on at Longcross, and discover that the seemingly harmless traditions of not using technology hide something far darker underneath. I never felt that Bennett's writing dragged the story down, even though she often described things like buildings and dresses, because she did so in a way that felt natural to Greer's voice and fit in with the story, and always picked up details that she had mentioned and made them important later in the story. She has an excellent skill at weaving details and storylines together in a way that you suspect they will add up to something more significant, but can't quite figure it out. In fact, right up until the last page, she is pulling tricks out of her sleeve and shocking you.

Underneath all of this excitement, mystery, and suspense, there are deeper themes of class, race, and tradition. Even if the setting of S.T.A.G.S and Longcross is as establishment as it comes, and as alien to you as it was to Greer and me, this book is not Downton Abbey or Hogwarts-esque. It isn't even, as Greer jokes, Mean Girls-esque. It is dark, thrilling, and thought-provoking. It makes you question establishment and traditions, and also wonder what deep, dark secrets could be lurking in plain sight.

I've said this in a few reviews recently, but this is definitely one of my books of the year, and even after writing this review, I'm still reeling. I just know that I'll read anything that M.A. Bennett writes after this.

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Book Reviews, Historical, Young Adult, Young Adult Historical

Following Ophelia – Sophia Bennett Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I always enjoy books about art, artists, painting. The descriptions are always more vivid, drawing your attention to details that are sometimes taken for granted – the way light shines on fabric, the shade of sky in the morning. Following Ophelia did just that, as well as delivering an exciting story, an amazing protagonist, and an insight into both Victorian London and pre-Raphaelite society.

Mary Adams is new to London, having left her home in Kent to work as a scullery maid. Amongst the tiresome and endless work however, she catches the eye of London’s artistic circles, with her striking red hair and green eyes, that mark her out as the next ‘stunner’. She begins to model in secret for Felix Dawson, a promising but as yet unknown painter, who makes her feel seen and important, and is ferried about by her new friends under the fake name ‘Persephone Lavelle’. However, as big as London may be, society is small, and should her secret be found out, she could lose everything. When it comes under threat, Sophia has some startling decisions to make.

I took to Mary instantly. The book opens as she leans precariously over the edge of the ship transporting her through London, and she is instantly marked out as adventurous and slightly rebellious. She is clumsy but clever, and I admired her brain and wit. As she started modelling, I wondered when she would begin to do things for herself, however. It seemed like everything was happening to Mary, instead of because of her, and she was happy being pampered and adored by artists and their friends. Nevertheless, she proved me wrong, and my love for her doubled when Mary herself began to notice the shallow nature of the society she was keeping. She began to wish for something more than being stolen away from her life as a maid in secret to live as a lady in disguise, and realised that life as a lady and a model gave her little more freedom than life as a friend. It is only towards the later half of the book that Mary really begins to make her own choices, but this character growth was my favourite part of the novel, as we really see her grow and take ownership for her choices and her life.

I really love how Sophia Bennett has brought Victorian London and the art of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood into YA literature, and she did an excellent job at crafting this world. Her writing was beautiful and she described everything from dresses to houses and streets so well that you can imagine everything in your mind as you read, but it never felt convoluted and was never at the expense of plot. It all simply wove together perfectly. Further, I liked that significant figures in Victorian art kept popping up throughout the novel, such as Effie Gray, Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal popped up throughout the novel, sometimes as speaking characters and sometimes in the background, but there was never an info-dump or a feeling that I didn’t understand who the person was. Instead, Bennett feeds us tidbits of information about the artists and their lives throughout the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed Following Ophelia and would class it as one of my favourite reads of 2017. I rarely read historical novels as I become wary of having to learn too many facts to enjoy the story, and I rarely see Historical works in the Young Adult section, but Bennett managed to take an area of Victorian history and make it accessible and fun, creating her own story for the setting and a strong character that keeps us hooked with her adventures and her personal growth. I was surprised to see at the end of the book an advert for a sequel, and although I am usually apprehensive about YA series that are not fantasy or sci-fi, I can’t wait to follow Mary/Persephone in her story.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Piglettes – Clementine Beauvais Review

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Rating: ★★★

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

Piglettes is a fun and comedic story about three young girls who over the course of a summer, find friendship, adventure, and courage. It both follows the recent trend in ‘feminist’ YA whilst also feeling more light-hearted and warm than many others. The novel has been translated from French, and as you can probably tell from the cover art, it is a feel-good summer read.

Piglettes is about Mireille, Astrid, and Hakima, three teenage girls who are awarded the prizes for three ugliest girls in their school in a competition hosted by their classmates. Whilst Mireille has experienced this before and wears an armour of sarcastic pride, she takes the two younger newcomers to the gang under her wing. The girls are all very different, and they discover that they are all seeking different things. Mireille wants to find her biological father. Astrid wants to follow her favourite band wherever they go. Hakima want a chance to avenge her brother’s trauma in war. When the girls discover that there is a chance for all of them to achieve these goals in Paris, they set out on a journey to do so, and prove a point while they’re at it. They cycle to Paris selling homemade sausages along the way, and amass a loyal following, but more importantly, build strong bonds between themselves.

I loved the light-hearted comedy of this novel. Mireille is a brilliant narrator, and she genuinely made me laugh at times. Clementine Beauvais did a really good job at creating a unique voice for Mireille and it really brought the rest of the novel to life. It was easy to get to know Mireille as a character, whether through her witty jokes to the other girls or her sarky backchat with her mother and step-father, or even just reading her thoughts.  I was also impressed at the breadth of issues that the novel explores despite keeping this light-hearted and funny tone. For example, the story of Hakima’s brother who suffered life-changing injuring serving in the army and is traumatised by what he sees as a failure on his part to save his friends.

This novel toed quite a thin line between being a ‘message’ book and being a light-hearted comedy. It was refreshing to read about three empowered young girls in an exciting story about proving others wrong and achieving their dreams without feeling like the author was waving a banner in your face. On the other hand, there were parts of the novel that seemed to drag on and without Mireille’s humorous narration, the novel would just have felt boring. Particularly, a sequence where the girls attend a party hosted by university students felt unnecessary and pointless. Further, there was little action or drama in the form of plot twists, and any tension or problems was quite low-level and so easy to ‘overcome’ for the characters.

Overall I still feel like the book as a whole works well enough. It is not particularly deep or serious, but not all books have to be. The characters set a goal and worked to achieve it. By the end of the novel, they had learned a great deal. I appreciated that the culmination of their stories is not necessarily what they were expecting at the beginning of the novel, and they came to terms with these new circumstances.

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

Seraphina – Rachel Hartman Review

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Rating: ★★★

I love fantasy, but it can be difficult to find original twists on old ideas. This is a perfect example of that. Rachel Hartman’s novel takes dragons and makes them into something new and fresh, and crafts a world full of complexities, nooks and crannies. I loved reading Seraphina, and while I think that the plot could have been tightened up in parts, I really enjoyed it.

Seraphina is the newly hired assistant music mistress at the Goreddi palace, but she has arrived at a period of turmoil. Prince Rufus has just been violently murdered, and it appears that a dragon is to blame. Tensions rise between the humans and dragons, who have lived side by side in Goredd since a peace treaty between the two sides was signed forty years previously. In the novel, Seraphina gets drawn into helping Prince Lucian to investigate the murder, and balances this not only with court politics and her duties as the music mistress, but also with keeping a dark secret that could get her killed.

My favourite thing about this novel was Hartman’s world-building. I was sucked into this world where humans and dragons live side by side, and loved learning about all of the different facets of the society. I was intrigued by how dragons took on a human form, the rules that they lived by, and all of the more subtle details that Hartman included, like how a dragon in human form still had a particular smell, how dragons take care of their scales, how dragons are by nature logical and cold, and have to keep their emotions in check so as to not become too ‘human’. There is so much to unpick and love in this novel without even discussing the plot, and I am a sucker for a well-crafted fantasy world.

Although I did have some issues with the plot, I still found the story to be intriguing enough to keep me entertained. The plot was exciting and I loved how the different aspects and characters featured in the book all linked together like pieces of a puzzle. My main issue was that I found it difficult to care all that much about Prince Rufus, and I kept forgetting that he was at the heart of the investigation. I think I would have preferred it if we had at least seen a glimpse of him at the start of the novel to get a feel for his character, rather than jump right into a world that is grieving for him. Also, while I was excited when I found out Seraphina’s secret, I resented her ‘powers’ a bit for seeming a bit too useful, in a sense, and didn’t understand why they existed. I also found the ‘resolution’ to her secret being revealed to feel a little rushed.

Unfortunately, I felt like some of the weaker aspects of the plot reflected less than well on the characters. For example, Seraphina as a character was great to begin with. She was smart and ‘prickly’, and I admired reading about a YA female fantasy protagonist with a hard-earned and well-respected job. I liked her curiosity, her loyalty and her complicated feelings towards Orma and dragons. However, she seemed to fall in love with Lucian from one page to the next and with no warning apart from the fact that it was somewhat expected considering that he is a prince that kept popping up in her path. Although Lucian and Seraphina do spend time together and seem to get on, I wasn’t getting any romantic vibes, sexual tension, or flirtation going on between them, and the sudden declaration of love from Seraphina felt forced by the author, and in my opinion, makes her look a bit flighty.

Overall however, the world-building was enough to keep me hooked in this book. I wanted to know if the peace would survive, I wanted to know whose side the dragons were on, I wanted to know which dragons I could trust and who was secretly a dragon in disguise. This saved the novel from some of the less perfect aspects, and redeemed it in my eyes. Whilst I will definitely be putting the sequel to Seraphina, Shadow Scale, on my to-read list, I won’t be pushing it straight to the top of the list.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★

I had heard so much about this book before I read it, mostly in the form of raring reviews. When I finally landed a copy, I barely waited before starting to read it, and I was not disappointed. This is an example of a book really living up to the buzz around it, and now I completely understand why this book is so loved.

This book (I’m not going to write the whole title out again!) is narrated by Aristotle, or Ari. He is a lonely fifteen year old kid at the start of the book. He feels out of place in most places, uncomfortable with people his own age, and doesn’t know where he belongs. Then, one day, he meets the light, colourful and bubbly Dante. After initially bonding over their unusual names, they form a strong friendship, but as time goes on and Dante discovers that he feels more for Ari, Ari battles with his own feelings.

What made this book for me was that the relationship between Ari and Dante was more than your typical YA romance. Their friendship was real and founded on more than physical attraction. They actually have things in common and shared experiences that bind them. In fact, there is very little romance involved in this novel until near the end, and this means that we get to know the characters as themselves and appreciate their relationship to a deeper level. For someone who doesn’t always appreciate romantic storylines being the central plot of a novel, this made it much easier to appreciate the storyline.

I also adored the writing in this novel. The style is so calm and mellow, that it really let Ari’s emotions rise to the surface.  Benjamin Alire Sáenz has a way with words that really enables him to capture exactly what Ari is feeling and put it in a way that you understand it too. This is really important as the novel doesn’t have a clearly defined plot, it simply follows the central relationship over a few years. There are events over the course of the novel, of course, but they don’t form separate stories of their own. Without this excellent writing style, the book could have quickly become boring for me, but I was swept away by his writing and devoured the book in a single day.

The only reason why I haven’t given this book five stars is because I felt that the pacing could have been better. Ari’s own stubbornness and fear keeps him from coming to terms with how he feels, but I felt that there wasn’t enough foreshadowing or hints at how he really felt in the earlier parts of the novel, which meant that the ending of the story felt a tiny bit contrived and fake. I went along with it and enjoyed it anyway because I loved the characters and the writing style, but it did nag me a bit and I felt like this could have been done a bit better for the sake of consistency.

Overall, this book had well-developed characters and excellent writing, which are the most important things in a book for me. Although I found the plot to be a bit weak at points, I could look past these because I loved the other parts of the book. If you haven’t read this, I would definitely recommend it, even if you don’t typically read YA literature.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

My Heart and Other Black Holes – Jasmine Warga Review

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Rating:★★★★

I was concerned starting this book that it would fall into a lot of cliches, and to be fair, it did – a lot of cliches. However, I still enjoyed this book. The writing and the characters meant that the cliche plot didn’t stop me appreciating the book.

My Heart and Other Black Holes revolves around sixteen year old Aysel and Roman, who meet via a Suicide Partners website. Both want to die, and they agree to do it together, a month from their first meeting. They’re both running away from something, but as they spend more and more time together, Aysel starts to wonder if running away is really necessary, or if all you need is someone who understands you. Eventually, Aysel realises that there is more to live for than there is to run away from, but the clock is ticking, and Roman is much more committed to the plan than she is.

The first cliche that I was apprehensive of in this novel was the suicidal teen story. Obviously, suicide and depression are very important issues to address in fiction, but sometimes I worry that teen novels romanticise mental illness as characteristics and quirks. Warga addressed the feelings of both Aysel and Roman well enough that their problems didn’t feel like they were just being used to advance a plot. Aysel’s father committed a horrific crime a few years before, and she is running away from the fear that she is just as bad as he is. Roman is running away from guilt that he could have stopped a tragedy in his family. Warga wrote this after the death of a close friend and you can see clearly that her writing is influenced by real experiences. This novel is dark, because it honestly addresses the characters’ experiences, and while it is heart-wrenching at times, this means that overall, mental illness doesn’t feel like a prop.

Further, the characters both feel real and less like quirky caricatures than they sometimes feel in other teen novels that address characters with health problems. Instead of being one-dimensional and cookie-cutter characters that serve the author’s purpose of writing about their mental health problems, Aysel and Roman were multi-faceted and fun to read. Personally, I loved Aysel’s interest in physics and how it influences her narration of the story. She also talks us through some of her memories, and we see how these affect her, without an annoying info-dump or cringe-y flashback. Both Aysel and Roman have their own sense of humour and wit, and overall, they were just a lot of fun to read and very likeable characters.

All of these little cliches, however, developed into what felt like one big cliche. I don’t want to ruin the ending, but my feelings around the ending made me feel unsure about the  novel as a whole. On the one hand, all of the little cliches developed into a bigger cliche ending that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Lifetime movie. While this felt refreshing compared to other teen novels about mental health that sometimes feel like they romanticise huge tragedies, the ending isn’t objectively super happy. Rather, it is an open-ended and hopeful conclusion. However, the ending did feel a little rushed, and so the cliche aspect of the ending was emphasised until it was much stronger than it actually might have been.

Overall, it’s just my ambiguous feeling to the ending of My Heart and Other Black Holes that dampened my feelings to the novel overall. The characters were well-crafted and multi-faceted, and Jasmine Warga’s writing is excellent. While it was a really good read, I don’t feel like it made an impact in the same way that other novels on this topic has, but at the same time, I didn’t think that any aspects of her exposition of mental health and suicide was problematic or unresolved.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

The Vegetarian – Han Kong Review

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Rating: ★★★★

This book was recommended to me by a friend who absolutely loved it, and  I was intrigued by it because she had said she found it difficult to describe properly. To put it simply, this is a book about a woman who spontaneously decides to become a vegetarian,  and the effects of this decision. The novel actually touches upon issues such as women’s place in society, freedom, identity and mental health.

Yeong-hye and her husband have an ordinary and average life. They are ordinary and average people. That is why Yeong-hye’s decision to stop eating meat shocks her husband so much. In the first section of the novel, that is narrated by him, he tries and fails to understand his wife’s decision to change her eating habits, and how she can completely disregard his comfort, and her own appearance. He is angry that she would make such a decision without running it by him first, subject him to her dietary choices, and frankly, make any decision by herself. The subsequent two sections of the novel are also narrated by those close to Yeong-hye: her brother-in-law and her sister, as Yeong-hye is admitted into psychiatric care multiple times.

Although this is about Yeong-hye’s choice to stop eating meat, it is actually about much more than that. From the first section onwards, we see that what is really shocking to people is that she has made any decision for herself at all, that she stands by it, and that she defies tradition – her family are a family of meat-lovers, and even try to force feed her at a family dinner. Eventually, Yeong-hye’s lifestyle becomes even more radical, as her whole identity changes and she begins to become more and more like a plant, stripping to absorb sunlight and insisting that she doesn’t need food, only water. Although her decisions are seen by others as a sign of lunacy, by the end of the novel, in the section narrated by her sister, we wonder which character is most trapped.

I have read some modernist works before, and the style of writing in The Vegetarian is quite simple, so I didn’t find the novel too difficult to grasp. In fact, I read it in one day as it is quite short. I enjoyed the symbolism and the way it addressed themes such as women’s subjugation. I think that it approached this theme really well, as we see different aspects of control over women throughout the book, w whether it is her Yeong-hye’s husband’s expectation that his wife always think of his feelings first and put them before her own, her father’s violence, her brother-in-law’s obsession with her, or her sister’s doubt over how her sister is being treated.. We also barely see Yeong-hye speak herself, and her story is wholly told by those around her. However, I am grateful that this book wasn’t longer. By the end of the novel, I was starting to, not lose my way, but grow a bit tired of symbolism and allegory and wanted to return to my usual explicit action and plot. I was starting to read faster just to get ahead in the book, and so I think that I probably will have missed details in the final chapter, which I will probably return to so that I can really look at it properly.

Overall, I can see why this book made such waves when it first came out, and why it is receiving so much attention. It looks at various themes about women and society through the lenses of different characters, and really makes you think about how they play out in reality. Although I started to get bored towards the end, I put that down mainly to the fact that I wanted to finish the book by the end of the night. Whilst modernism isn’t for everyone and can be a bit difficult to get your head around or get back into if, like me, you studied modernist texts as a student, but this book at just under 200 pages isn’t too much to handle in my opinion, and unlike some older classics in modern fiction, its prose isn’t rambling or confusing at all, so it might be a good place to start.

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, Contemporary

After You – Jojo Moyes Review

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Rating:★★

I kept forgetting to write this review, not because updating this blog is not important to me, but because I literally kept forgetting that I had even read this book. Where Me Before You stayed with me for days, I could barely be bothered to finish this one, and once I had, I realised that it had left no impact at all.

After You is the sequel to Me Before You, which you’ve probably heard about. If not, you can read my review for that book here. If you want to avoid spoilers for the first book (there’s a pretty big spoiler ahead) then, as much as I love that you have come here to read this post, I would advise you to skip this post altogether – here are some alternatives!

After You picks up a few years after Me Before You’s dramatic ending. Louisa has done what Will wanted her to do after his death – she has travelled, met people and done exciting things, but now she is back in London, working another dead-end job, and has realised that she hasn’t dealt with her grief at all, but rather has just been shoving it aside. After an accidental fall from her rooftop garden, which family think was a suicide attempt, Louisa is forced to enter a grief support group. Meanwhile, a shocking revelation in the form of a strange girl appears on her doorstep and Louisa must revisit her time with Will again.

I’ll get to the point quickly – this review really didn’t need to happen. I suspected that this would be the case before I read it, but I kept pushing on in the hopes that I would be proven wrong. Unfortunately, I was right. The mysterious new character’s identity was such a cliche that, for me, the book read too much like mediocre fanfiction. I think that as Me Before You was so driven by the relationship between Louisa and Will, Louisa on her own with a bunch (literally, so many) new characters with either a tenuous link or no link at all to the original story just didn’t work. I didn’t really care about any of the new characters, for example, I could barely differentiate one support group member from the other, and the ‘will they won’t they’ romance storyline was dull, because the relationship lacked the same banter and drama that Louisa and Will had.

I almost never wish that I hadn’t read a book before, but After You is pushing me to the limit. A quick google search told me that there will be a third book to this series. Why? Me Before You was a great, striking standalone novel, and as much as you might wonder what happened to a character after a novel ends, that isn’t enough justification to extend a story that has finished. The rest of Louisa’s story, frankly, is just not interesting in the way that Me Before You. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to say that I’ll not be reading the next book about Louisa, but i case it wasn’t clear, I won’t. I would rather just think of Me Before You as a standalone book.

Have you read After You, and if so, what did you think? What are some series that you think would have been left as a standalone, or stretched on too long?

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

Naondel – Maria Turtschaninoff Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★★

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

If you check out my review of Maria Turtschaninoff Maresi, the first book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, you’ll know how much I loved it. I had to read the second instalment in the series, and it was both more of what I wanted and something new and exciting. Maria’s writing is exquisite, and I love how she weaves her stories slowly and subtly, and the story in this book was so different to Maresi that it still felt new.

First of all, although this is the second book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, Naondel is a prequel to Maresi and not a sequel. It tells the story of the first women who founded the Red Abbey, the women-only society on the island of Menos that Maresi is set in. The majority of the story takes place in the palace of Ohaddin and starts with Kabira. She visits the Sovereign’s palace and meets Iskan, the son of the Vizier who sweeps her off her feet. Iskan is intrigued and obsessed by the mysterious source of magical power in Kabira’s lands, the spirit of Anji, and tricks Kabira into marrying him for control over it. Over the years, we see Kabira as well as Iskan’s subsequent wives, concubines, and slaves, as they suffer mercilessly under his rule, until they finally decide to escape. There is a reason why the Red Abbey Chronicles are being hailed as ‘feminist fantasy’, and that is because these novels focus on women – their strengths, their dreams, their fears, and their stories.

The novel is told through many different perspectives and these various stories take us to many different locations in Maria’s world. Sometimes I am apprehensive when authors do multiple perspectives as it can often feel confusing and the characters can feel superficial, but Maria Turtschaninoff does not fall into this trap. I have absolutely loved the way that she writes since I first opened Maresi, particularly in that her novel’s form is that of written accounts by the characters, looking back on their experiences. This novel consists of the written account of the women once they have arrives on Menos, and it is easy to believe that these are real women remembering their lives. You really get a feel for them as human beings through this structure, and this way of telling the story means that the story builds up over time, just as the characters become clearer and more distinct to you as the novel goes on. I also love how this format means you get a really good idea of the characters’ personal journeys over time. For example, when the novel begins, Kabira is a teenager, and we see her age until she is an old woman, and we see her not only through her own eyes, but through those of the other women as well, so we get a really well fleshed out image of her.

I’m constantly amazed by how Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing seems so effortless. I’m sure that endless hours go into crafting her work to make it so perfect, but as a reader, I felt like every choice of word was perfect, and even though the words are simple, there were many passages that blew me away. She also expertly manages to craft a unique magical world whilst not making it feel overcomplicated or confusing using the different characters to teach us this. Instead of having a huge info-dump, we learn through each of the characters’ different skills. Kabira has grown up with Anji, Garai has grown up with a close affinity to the land, Orseola is a dreamweaver (one of my favourite stories), and Sulani is a warrior woman. They each bring their own knowledge, talents and skills to the story and to the team, so that by the end of the novel, we see women who don’t even all like each other that much form a strong community together.

I honestly feel like I could talk forever about how much I love Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing. I enjoyed Naondel not only for the self-contained story within its pages but also because it adds another wonderful layer to the story that we see in Maresi. Learning about the origins of the Red Abbey and the way of life that Maresi lives was interesting and exciting. As I said with Maresi, I think a wide range of people could love this series. It has something for everyone, whether you are new to the fantasy genre or you have loved it for years as I have, whether you read adult or YA, whether you don’t read a lot at all. There is something in the Red Abbey Chronicles for everyone.