Sunday, 9 September 2018

Nevernight

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Book Title: Nevernight
Author: Jay Kristoff
Series: The Nevernight Chronicle #1
Date Started: August 30th 2018
Date Completed: September 8th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Romance
Quality Rating: Five Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Five Stars
Final Rating: Five stars
Review:

Nevernight was great. I could leave it there, honestly. It's a firm favourite of mine now and I'm resisting the temptation to go straight onto the next one. There's such an attitude - a bite to it. Humour, spark, whatever you want to call it, just a little bit of flair that sets it apart from the other assassin student stories that seem to be appearing everywhere at the moment. Really, this is my kind of genre and everything that I love about it in one place. Consider me bought.

Well written choreography and fighting is hard to come by. My first recommendation is always to go to Derek Landy for reference, but Kristoff has definitely made his mark with it. Battle sequences are really only a small part of the book, but when they are there they're done well. Not only is the action itself described in a way you can visualise, there's some solid thought-out strategy mixed in there. When you have a protagonist like Mia it immediately elevates it, because of course she's got a good head on her shoulders. Having her not already adept at the physical training and more knowledgeable in other areas was refreshing too. It always helps to ease your audience in and how duality in any person so we root for them more.

The main criticism I come across for this book is its slow start. Which is fair enough, because I don't think I've come across anyone who hasn't been questioning it at the beginning. There's a lot of exposition to give, and some travelling and introductions to do. But goddamn, once it gets going it ramps up fast. And there's still a few little blips dotted through, but for the amount of enjoyment I got out of it past the initial build-up, I really can't complain.

I'm not generally a massive fan of the school trope, magic or not. It can so easily become predictable and boring (most of the time we end up with Mean Girls but no where near as good), but there's plenty of other things going on between the lines, and Kristoff kind of uses it to trick you into a false sense of security. There's a pretty dramatic twist towards the end of the story, and while I knew it was coming (I'd been put under a bet by someone to see if I could work it out), I didn't expect it in that way at that moment. And for those of us with suspicious natures and a pretty good knowledge of story mechanics, there's still a lot of value in that. There's still anticipation in how it's going to happen, so why the hell not.

So you've met Celaena Sardothien (fallen in love with her), and your idol is Inej Ghafa, and don't forget the marvelous Lila Bard. Well, since you have a weak spot for heroines who curse and arm themselves to the teeth, meet Mia Corvere. Because, once again, you're screwed. I can't tell you how happy it made me to proeprly feel the attitude and swears coming off of her, and for no one to question it (it's the little things, right?). But I'm also happy that we aren't completely diving into the anti-hero thing just for the sake of it. Throughout Nevernight, people point out that Mia doesn't really belong in a homocidal assassion school, even though she's more than tough enough and has kinda murderous tendancies. But she's also kind and openly so - it's great that we have no-shit heroines, but empathy can be shown without being a weakness and still with a little spark.

Give me more. Now. (Please?) Obviously the series is going to expand its reach and build up even higher in the stakes than it is, but I was happy that Nevernight completed its own act as well. And things change pretty dramatically over the course of the book; it's not just Point A to B, it's all the way down to F and we're not finished yet. I'm excited about what happens all the way down at Z.

Monday, 27 August 2018

The Oyster Thief

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Book Title: The Oyster Thief
Author: Sonia Faruqi
Date Started: August 20th 2018
Date Completed: August 27th 2018
Genres: Fantasy
Quality Rating: Two Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Two Stars
Final Rating: Two stars
Review:

◆ Thanks to NetGalley and Pegasus Books for this ebook for review ◆

Well, that was disappointing. I got around 15% through this book, and had been looking for an excuse since the first chapter. Was there a specific thing that annoyed me no end? No. But everything just... wasn't very good.

The writing is so analytical and over-descriptive that it just becomes boring. Simple tasks take a page because it's just being filled iwth unnecessary words. And the description isn't even adding anything! It's there for the sake of sounding poetic, I guess. But it comes across more like a textbook than narration. At times it just feels pretentious and vapid. I mean, these names, come on. They aren't artistic choices or symbolic, it's just trying to create a style without doing the groundwork.

Upon reading a few other reviews, I've seen The Oyster Thief described as 'awkwardly formal', which is dead on. It might be that the author is trying to recreate a fairytale style. If so, then the direct dialogue would be okay, but then you need to have symbolic imagery. It's all about subtext. Dialogue isn't believable if the characters come straight out and say what they're thinking, because people don't talk like that. We don't say what's bothering us, but it's there in the subtext. Yeah, fairytales use a slightly different style where they speak plainly, but in those cases the subtext/moral/meaning or whatever else you want to call it is in the setting, the action, the imagery.

Ultimately, why I gave up on this book was because nothing was happening. I mean, nothing. I was sat there thinking 'are you going to give me a plot line or just tell me everyone's life stories?' Not only does it distract from the plot, but I really didn't care. In the brief moments of (cliché) where the the story held together for a moment, it depended so much on how invested I was in the characters. Which, sadly, was missing.

In all honesty, it feels like a kid's book, and not a very good one - definitely not what you want from an adult fantasy. To give credit where it's due, the idea could've been good but I don't think the choice of style and the decision to stop making edits at this stage were at all right. As it is, this book wasn't really worth it.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

The Other Side of Dawn

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Book Title: The Other Side of Dawn
Author: John Marsden
Series: Tomorrow #7
Date Started: August 12th 2018
Date Completed: August 20th 2018
Genres: Action, Dystopian
Quality Rating: Four Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Stars
Final Rating: Four stars
Review:

It's pretty weird finishing this series since I've been reading it for about eight or nine years. And it was a good conclusion, even if it wasn't exactly what I expected. But then again one of the reasons I've always come back to these books is that I can't really predict what's going to happen.

Marsden's writing is pretty straightforward, so it's accessible for a lot of ages. But there's still a lot of personality in the narration. A lot of that is to do with Ellie herself who narrates the story as she writes it down. But the action is impeccably done, and despite having a very basic knowledge of Australia (mostly from these books) I could picture everything that was happening as it happened. There's a very cinematic flare to it in that way.

Of course, the biggest thing to comment on is the genre. Forget Hunger Games and Divergent, this is how teenagers actually operate in war. They may be resourceful and resilient, but they're people and they're not military trained. What I've always adored about this story (and the film too) is how honest and brutal it is with warfare - without becoming a parade of gore and guts and death and torture. Because there's a lot more to the human experience in horrific circumstances than that, especially if they have the imagination and recklessness of teenagers, and each responds differently.

I have to admit, I was surprised at how docile this was for the final novel. There's no big epic climax or last stand, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Those things don't really happen that much in reality. Instead you have bursts of action packed in the whole way - as this series absolutely does. Sometimes the ending comes as a surprise and a shock all at once, but I think as a reader the relief floods in a lot more when you're expecting it just as little as the character does. The Other Side of Dawn shows how you don't always need a massive final battle to satisfyingly wrap up a story.

For those of you that have read my previous Tomorrow reviews, I'm sure it will come as no surprise that our heroine Ellie gets her own little paragraph. Because, really, she's the the absolute hero, star, idol of these books. Don't get me wrong, there isn't really one character that is underdeveloped or unbelievable, but Ellie is one of the strongest characters I've ever read (let alone the fact that she's a leading lady written by a man, which of course comes with its difficulties). She's so human and messed up and brave. I've rained praises on the realist approach of these books, and Ellie is the cornerstone of that. It's hard to write a character going through so much with such an assertive personality, because she's inevitably going to be reduced to sobbing shell at some point. To write a fiercely loyal person who ends up cursing her closest friends. An intelligent human who we still believe is clever even after they've made some quite crucial mistakes.

The Tomorrow series really should get more praise, it deals with what is a heavy subject with such maturity, grace and excitement. I'm getting quite short tempered with the publishers and readers that call it a kids book (were you paying attention to when they have to kill people, the way in which they do it, and how it haunts them?). I'm definitely going to read the sequel trilogy when I get the chance because, again, I don't know what Marsden has waiting for me.

Monday, 6 August 2018

BookTubeAThon 2018 Wrap Up

Having not been sure if I was going to take part in the BookTubeAThon this year, I think I've had my most successful yet. If you don't know, the BookTubeAThon is an annual read-a-thon organised by Ariel Bissett. Over a week - the 30th of July to the 5th of August this year - you read as much as you can, and have the option to take part in challenges, competitions and other various activies across social media. The links below have more information, as well as a run-down of everything that's happened this week.
YouTube - www.youtube.com/user/BookTubeAThon
Twiter - twitter.com/BookTubeAThon
Instagram - www.instagram.com/booktubeathon
Fancy New Website - www.booktubeathon.com

Books Read in the BookTubeAThon 2018

Ash and Quill (The Great Library #3) 34683268 24737115 Girl Meets Boy
20744836 18949959 22521286 The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic (Grisha Verse, #0.5, #2.5, #2.6)

Ash and Quill, Rachel Caine
The Carnelian Crow, Colleen Gleason
Trace Evidence, Kathy Reichs & Brendan Reichs
Girl Meets Boy, Ali Smith
The Madman's Daughter, Megan Shepherd
The Curse of Gloamglozer, Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
The Paper Magician, Charlie N. Holmberg
The Language of Thorns, Leigh Bardugo

So I didn't use the reading challenges to help me pick out my books to read - because I didn't know if I was going to take part in advance (and wasn't hugely inspired by the challenges themselves this year), I mostly just picked what I was feeling in the mood for. And I think it's why I got through so much. Instead of trying to fit things into predetermined categories, I was just going with what my gut wanted. I read three different 1800s gothic-style adventure-mysteries, and two short story collections because I got excited about them and wanted more. I think next year, unless the challenges are especially attractive, I might do the same again and just pick my books as I go along.

As usual, I'm more interesetd in the pages I read than the number of books. Because I have no qualms about leaving books unfinished if I'm not enjoying them, it's a better way for me to track how much I've got through. I also started this year's BookTubeAThon finishing off the end of Ash and Quill; I still want it to go towards my count, but I didn't read the whole thing during the event. So, last year I read 1,629 pages, and 1,647 in 2016. So 1,600 is the general trend. Here's how I did this year.

Day 1: Monday 30th July
Books and Pages Read:
42 pages of Ash and Quill (finished!)
198 pages of The Carnelian Crow
Pages Read Today: 240 pages
Total Pages Read: 240 pages

Day 2: Tuesday 31st July
Books and Pages Read:
111 pages of The Carnelian Crow (finished!)
304 pages of Trace Evidence (finished!)
Pages Read Today: 415 pages
Total Pages Read: 655 pages

Day 3: Wednesday 1st August
Books and Pages Read:
30 pages of The Curse of Gloamglozer
Pages Read Today: 30 pages
Total Pages Read: 685 pages

Day 4: Thursday 2nd August
Books and Pages Read:
15 pages of The Curse of Gloamglozer
177 pages of Girl Meets Boy (finished!)
Pages Read Today: 192 pages
Total Pages Read: 877 pages

Day 5: Friday 3rd August
Books and Pages Read:
133 pages of The Madman's Daughter (finished!)
54 pages of The Curse of Gloamglozer
Pages Read Today: 187 pages
Total Pages Read: 1,064 pages

Day 6: Saturday 4th August
Books and Pages Read:
27 pages of The Curse of Gloamglozer (finished!)
160 pages of The Paper Magician
51 pages of The Language of Thorns
Pages Read Today: 238 pages
Total Pages Read: 1,302 pages

Day 7: Sunday 5th August
Books and Pages Read:
66 pages of The Paper Magician (finished!)
48 pages of The Language of Thorns
Pages Read Today: 114 pages
Total Pages Read: 1,416 pages

So that bit where I said I did better than usual? Lol, nope. (This is why I like to see how I've done with pages rather than books.) But, I did enjoy this year and balanced it pretty well with my other activities in the week. I'm glad I took part, even if I didn't get to be invovled in the social media stuff and didn't beat my personal goal.

How did you do this year? And what do you think about using challenges or choosing as you go along like I tried this year? Don't forget to go to the website and sign up for your 2018 reading certificate, I'm excitd to get mine. Thanks for visiting, and happy BookTubeAThon.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

The Paper Magician

The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy, #1)

Book Title: The Paper Magician
Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
Series: The Paper Magician Triology #1
Date Started: August 4th 2018
Date Completed: August 5th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Historical, Adventure
Quality Rating: Three Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Three Stars
Final Rating: Three stars
Review:

This book was exactly what I wanted when I read it. It was during the BookTubeAThon, I'd been really getting into 18th century-style magical Londons, and I wanted somehting just enjoyable and quick. The Paper Magician was all of those things.

It's a really interesting idea, and the discipline of paper magic was really nicely done. It was well explained and imaginative; I hadn't quite seen anything like it before - and that's a real feat. Unfortunately, past this area the rest was a bit lacking. I think it'll probably come up more in the sequels, but for now it felt like only the paper magic had been paid much attention to. I still don't understand how it fits into the world's magic politics, or even really how the whole magic education works. In The Paper Magician we follow our protagonist on an apprenticeship, but we don't know much about where this fits in the grand scheme of things. This could've been particuarly useful considering the whole context and tone of the world was kind of unclear: clearly 18th century inspired, but there were modern things like plastic and definitely more modern relaionships, but mentions of things that could also be steampunk? The world outside of the little cottage we find ourselves in is still a mystery, but it wasn't one the author was interested in solving for us.

Part of me feels like this was like a prequel to the actual story (I mean, the main conflict is a tool to reveal a massive amount of exposition for the protagonist - well done in the circumstances, but also a bit unsatisfying). There were so many questions posed and none of them answered, because they weren't really relevant to this exact story. This was the Act One where our heroine is thrown into a new situation and has to catch up with the other characters who have several years groundwork on the story. I can't quite decide if that was handled well or poorly; on the one hand having that exposition communicated with its own plot line makes it far more engaging and easier to process. But on the other, why is our protagonist's story so saturated by stories that aren't her own? Yes, I know I'm reading too much into it - at the end of the day, it was enjoyable to read. But my brain can't help feeling a bit confused at the author's choices.

The one thing that I think might be a decider for some people is the romance, and I have to say I was a bit uncomfortable with the teacher/student 11-year-gap relationship. But aside that it's very instalove, the vagueness of the world again confused the tone of this. Is it totally fine? Because that kind of thing isn't generally thought of as fine. Yet teachers/professors/whatever-they-were-supposed-to-be basically got told it directly to these faces and didn't comment or even really react. It's not of massive consequence to the story (yet) but it stopped me from being able to properly engage. That being said, the way in which the author shows falling in love was so interesting, and again merged it very well with the main quest storyline.

The Paper Magician feels like a very short introduction to the series, and even though I had my issues with it I did enjoy reading it and will probably go on to read the next books. It's imaginative and fun, but it didn't feel like a fully-formed book.

Friday, 3 August 2018

The Madman's Daughter

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Book Title: The Madman's Daughter
Author: Megan Shepherd
Series: The Madman's Daughter #1
Date Started: August 2nd 2018
Date Completed: August 3rd 2018
Genres: Romance, Historical, Mystery, Horror
Quality Rating: Five Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Five Stars
Final Rating: Five stars
Review:

I didn't finish reading The Madman's Daughter because wow, this was a car crash for me. Apparently I'm in the minority here, and that's fine. I'm glad some people enjoyed their time reading this book. I just definitely wasn't one of them.

To start with, nothing has enough establishment to be worth anything. We're given the context after the punchline so it doesn't have an impact. You're going to tell me oh! That's my old servant who I was really close to and think about everday, only I didn't tell you, reader, until he was standing right in front of me so I could have an excuse for fawning over him. It's not even like it's hard to go back a few pages in editing and mention a piece of information. As it is, the audience doesn't get to go through the story with the character because they don't know what they need to, they just sit there and get told things when the character feels like telling them.

And Juliet, for me, sounded like priviledged whining. Yes, she's had some horrible experiences and her fair share of misfortune, but you can't throw the sad orphan cliche into my face and expect me to immediately root for her. Oh, no I used to be rich but then I was left on the streets, but I was perfectly fine and managed to become a servant in a laboratory (which is obviously the worst place I could have found), but it's fine because my rich friend still takes me to all the lavish parties. Also I'm so naive and innocent, but I'm clever I'll have you know. I just choose to spend my time fawning over boys and doing nothing to drive my own story forward - see, I really have the worst of all lives, pity me, pity me.

(Do I think I was maybe harsh that description? A little. But do I think it has fair grounds? Yes. And did I have a lot of fun doing it? Absolutely.)

Apparently this is also a world in which teenagers has high school parties in the 1800s. Where girls who fought back managed to get away without being ostracised; where orphans were fine just being on the street; where boys weren't thinking about marriage at 19, and girls weren't being married off or betrothed in their teens. Alright, not all historical novels have to be absolutely faithful to their time period, but if you're doing a retelling of the gothic genre surely it's a time to try and replicate that tone the best you can?

And there are certainly some efforts to try and recreate the time period in the prose. Hell, I was uncomfortable with the way people of colour and those bearing disfigurment were talked about because it was trying to show the social attitudes at the time, I guess. I mean, admittedly, all the characters are flat as a pancake, but I still wasn't comfortable with the fact that you have the main cast and then an ensemble of natives with disfigurements, whose only qualities are that they're natives and they have disfigurements. (Maybe that changes later in the book, but by the halfway point it certainly hadn't shifted, and so much attnetion was being given to shoving a love triangle down your throat that I wasn't hopeful.) I also wasn't happy with the way sexual harrassment was dealt with. While I get the desire for representation and the opoprtunity to show girls fighting back, the whole world felt so unbelievable that it couldn't come across as anything more than ticking the 'tough issues' box. It's brushed off so casually, and doesn't seem to have repercussions, that I didn't feel like it was actually addressing the issue.

And goddamnit, why is there a love triangle? Why?! What is the purpose of it? There's basically no story other than the love triangle. Everything that happens is purely to create tension between the boys, or between Juliet's father and the boys, or give Juliet an excuse to get all personal and defensive of one of the boys. There are so many things that wouldn't logically happen, but do because the author wants the love triangle there and it's so damn frustrating. Have we not moved on from this? Have we not realised that protagonists that you put in love triangles end up coming across as selfish and mean any way you put it because they're leading two people on? There could've been a story here, but you could barely see it if there was.

There seems to be a misunderstanding of the gothic genre for torture-porn and brooding selfishness. There's so much more to it about relationships and how the way we manage the human experience affects those around us, but for me this book was a love triangle trying to be set in an Edgar Allen Poe meets Pretty Little Liars universe. Maybe that's your thing, in which case go crazy. I just think it was more concerned with appealing to specific genres than about telling a story.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Girl Meets Boy

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Book Title: Girl Meets Boy
Author: Ali Smith
Date Started: August 2nd 2018
Date Completed: August 2nd 2018
Genres: Romance, Contemporary
Quality Rating: Five Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Five Stars
Final Rating: Five stars
Review:

◆ Thanks to NetGalley and Canongate for this ebook for review ◆

Girl Meets Boy was one of the most wonderful books I've ever read. Impactful with its purpose and intimate with its style, Smith retells the story of Iphis with a new myth; one of acceptance, acitivism and love.

Smith shows intimacy with such a gentleness and quiet. Representation of homosexual relationships - especially between women - have long battled with the desire to be shown as just as fierce, but without the partiarchal competition that seems to be coded into our expectations of what romance should be. Smith doesn't try and pick one direction because she isn't really doing it for the sake of ticking the representation box; two of her heroines are lesbians because, well, they happen to be lesbians. It's a part of them, it's not there to move the story on. I think what caught me so deeply about this novel was the fact that the characters are so naturally themselves, in both their moments alone and with other people. Being able to show the difference between the two is what clinches it. That intimacy in the relationships, but also almost with the reader too, is what speaks so personally to the audience. There are sparks of humour that feel like in-jokes when we've seen them in the private world of a character before they share them on the outside.

The novel is just the right length, even under 200 pages. There's something to be said for a story that knows what it needs and fulfills that. While I understand the risks of publishing short books, there are so many out there that are padded with unnecessary filler that distracts from the actual story. Girl Meets Boy is short but to the point, and all the more powerful for it. The audience is left staring at the moral of the story (quite literally), and that's what makes it like a myth.

And the way in which Iphis' story is retold is so creative. It injects just the right amount of modernity to make it feel immediately relevant, while keeping those little ties back to the inspiration. For a Classics lover like, you get the feminist retelling as well as the storytelling of the original (of course the heroines know the Greek myths, of course they do). Iphis wasn't a myth I was quite as familiar with, but I still felt like I was in on the narrative. There are some retellings that are the spitting image of the original with a flowery sentence every few lines, or some are so distant from its inspirations that if you don't know the original to begin with you miss out on half the point of the whole book. Retellings are a wonderful platform for new commentary on the human experience within society, but some authors seem to forget that a commentary should be accessible by those it's commenting on. But Smith knows what she's doing; whether it's simply paralleling the myth of Iphis with her own heroines, or letting you sit down and enjoy our girls whispering the story to each other in bed, you don't have to have taken a classics degree to fall into this novel and (happily) never find your way out again.

Maybe it's particular to me, but I could see parts of myeslf in almost every character. And that's a truly rare and important thing. I'm definitely not the spitting image of any of our heroines and their supporting characters - I don't think I've ever found a character that I identify wholly with - but peering through the cracks and seeing individual qualities, reactions, and instincts reflected in a fictional creation still works wonders on the imagination. And it captures the essence of mythmaking because everything immediately feels cathartic because for once you feel as much like you're going through it with them as you can claim in a book review to make it sound nice.

I've always enjoyed reading Smith's stories, and there's no end to the way she can offer you an unexpected perspective on the human experience. But never have I fallen so in love with one of her books. This book caught me like a fish and it will be beloved to me for years to come.