Showing posts with label fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fantasy. Show all posts

Saturday, July 22, 2017

[Review] The Young Elites (#1) - Marie Lu: Witch Hunts and Renaissance Vibes

In THE YOUNG ELITES, Adelina survived a fever that gave her special powers. When she accidentally kills her father and is sentenced to death, someone saves her last minute.

What intrigued me: I didn't quite know what this was about but just heard anti-heroine and immediately got a copy.

Flawless writing but confusing setting

THE YOUNG ELITES is a typical fantasy take on witch hunts set in medieval-inspired world with Italian renaissance influences with a side of Greek mythology. The world is actually what I struggled the most with. Lu didn't manage to conjure up images in my mind and really grip me and get me invested in it. I struggled with the city names and settings from the first to last page, never quite knowing where what is taking place and how I'm supposed to picture it.

The powers of the Elites remind me a lot of fanfiction meets superheroes in a very unflattering way. Everyone who was affected by a fever years ago grew strangely-colored hair and weirdly colored eyes. Throw in a couple of scars and you got yourself the Elites. The concept is so nice but the execution makes me not want to take the Elites and their mission seriously. Paired with the fact that they're all gorgeous and good-looking and coming from rich families, I just couldn't. I was hoping to read about actual outcasts, to read about gritty, bitter antiheroes. THE YOUNG ELITES will definitely not give you that experience.

Too Angsty and Not Badass Enough

Nonetheless, Lu is an incredible writer. There is so much beauty and emotion packed within the first 50 pages that I thought I was going to love this. You can easily feel Adelina's pain and will find yourself rooting for her from the first page. I like the overall concept of these outcasts teaming up to reclaim the throne under the command of the wayward prince. It makes for a really interesting premise, but beyond that severely lacks in storytelling. 

The story takes forever to actually get going. It essentially feels like Adelina is walking through the world endlessly meeting new people who explain the world to her and give more info dumps, but you'll still find yourself confused by what's actually happening. It's such a slow story. I think with that premise THE YOUNG ELITES should have been an action-packed story about a secret society of badass warriors. It just doesn't read like that. 

Rating:

★★½

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

THE YOUNG ELITES feels like an angsty dystopia when it should've been the start of a series of blood-thirsty warrior chronicle books. It's definitely an interesting spin on the genre, but couldn't win my heart because the story itself just doesn't pack a punch.



Additional Info

Published: October 7th 2014
Pages: 355
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9780399167836

Synopsis:
"I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all. 

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen. 

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt."(Source: Goodreads)



Have you read THE YOUNG ELITES?

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Recommendation: Inkheart (Inkworld #1) - Cornelia Funke: Reading Book Characters to Life and Getting Sucked into Books

In INKHEART, Meggie's dad has the ability to read book characters into life.

What intrigued me: My dad got me a copy of this when I was 10 or 11 and it's been one of my favorite book series ever since.

Beautifully written and 100% original

Even though INKHEART was released more than 10 years ago it remains one of the most unique, original, and fascinating high fantasy releases I've ever read or heard about. The fantastic concept immediately sucks you into the story and paired with Funke's incredibly nuanced, beautiful writing it is an absolute delight. It definitely isn't an easy read though at about 500+ pages. INKHEART absolutely reads and feels like the start of an epic series. 

On the whole, INKHEART isn't my favorite Inkworld novel because it works more as an introduction. The beauty about the Inkworld books is that while each book feels concise and would as well work as a stand-alone, you'll be compelled to pick the next one up the second you finished. At the core this is a 1,500 page story. But then again, this series is so fantastic that even the weakest novel is a very clear five star read.

Not your usual YA read

The characters are masterfully planned with extensive backstories and such attention to detail that they will feel real to you and you'll catch yourself wondering if you could read them to life like Mo if you tried.

However, while this story remains excellent, after ten years of reading YA there are some things you have to know if you plan on picking this up. First - this isn't YA as we know it now. It's a mixture of MG and YA that works as a crossover title. INKHEART deals with dark themes while centering around a 12 year old protagonist. It's definitely not a read I'd recommend for MG age children/readers.

Second, this is a very slowly paced story. These books are meant - needed- to be read together. I personally started out with the second book INKSPELL, which is set in the Inkworld and remains my absolute favorite. INKHEART is a must-read. 

Rating:

★★★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

INKHEART is an absolute must-read for every book lover and high fantasy reader.



Additional Info

Published: June 1st 2005
Pages: 548
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: YA / Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 9780439709101

Synopsis:
"Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can "read" fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service.

Characters from books literally leap off the page in this engrossing fantasy. Meggie has had her father to herself since her mother went away when she was young. Mo taught her to read when she was five, and the two share a mutual love of books. He can "read" characters out of books. When she was three, he read aloud from a book called Inkheart and released characters into the real world. At the same time, Meggie's mother disappeared into the story. This "story within a story" will delight not just fantasy fans, but all readers who like an exciting plot with larger-than-life characters.
 "(Source: Goodreads)



Have you read any books by Cornelia Funke?

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

[Review] Uprooted - Naomi Novik: Magic, Fairy Tales, and Evil Trees




In UPROOTED, Agnieszka gets taken by the powerful wizard the Dragon and trained to become a witch. Together they try to protect the surrounding villages from the evil forest that's trying to kill everything near it.

What intrigued me: Recommended!

Incredibly Unique

UPROOTED is arguably the most unique fantasy novel to come out within the last two years. It is advertised as based on a Polish folk tale, and I have to say, I really felt it.

It reminded me a lot of the fairy tales I grew up with, but turned dark. 
The premise is very reminiscent of CRUEL BEAUTY, but don't let that deceive you. UPROOTED is not a story about a captive girl slowly falling in love with her rude captor, but more the story of a girl realizing her power. It's a coming-of-age novel if you will, but with magic.

The characters, mainly the Dragon and Agnieszka, are extremely well-written. I instantly loved the Dragon for his cold, mean, and downright condescending personality and adored Agnieszka for being the clumsy, likeable, and brave girl who'd try her best to annoy him as much as possible.

Too Dense?

The biggest criticism I have is definitely the writing. Novik has a very peculiar, unique writing style, composed of lots of descriptions, metaphors, etc. Very much more telling than showing. It reads slowly, taking long paragraphs for something to happen, and I found myself zoning out so often that it took me a catastrophically long time to read this.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, if you read this in your native language this might not bother you as much, and if you like flowery writing, you might enjoy this even more. I personally don't like this and it made it very hard for me to continue, even though I really, really like the story. It's undoubtedly an incredibly unique novel that's very skillfully written and more art than writing, but certainly not for everyone.

There is no way around saying that UPROOTED definitely would have benefited from being turned into a series. Because it is a stand-alone, set in such a complicated, intricate world with so many rules and peculiarities, it is extremely densely written. This just lowered my enthusiasm for it as I was reading, because it is really hard to concentrate when you're constantly being overwhelmed with background information in form of info dumps and flashbacks.

It really feels like UPROOTED is trying to be three books in one, and the relationships just don't come across as genuine as they could have been because the book is hurrying so much. Novik's writing style really doesn't work in combination with so much dense storytelling, sometimes she rushes from scene to scene, sometimes she needs one page to tell one action. Even though I am an avid advocate for stand-alones, I have to say I wish UPROOTED was the first in a series instead.

Rating:

★★☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

UPROOTED is definitely not for everyone. It's exceptionally well-written, unique book, but I suggest you pick this up in your native language and for you to be ready for lots of flowery writing. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend UPROOTED, but it's just one of those books that are hit or miss.


Additional Info

Published: May 19th 2015
Pages: 438
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9780804179034

Synopsis:
"Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
 "(Source: Goodreads)

Have you read UPROOTED?

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

[Review] Red Queen (#1) - Victoria Aveyard: Special Snowflakes and Silverblooded People





In RED QUEEN, Mare gets mistaken for a silver-blooded princess and is able to escape her fate as a red-blooded peasant to be forced to fight in a deadly war.

What intrigued me: Recommendation by a friend.

Wait, I've seen this before

RED QUEEN is the epitome of late to the party. It's a weird mix between futuristic dystopia and your average high fantasy class revolution. 
During the height of the 2011 dystopia hype, this maybe would've been original, this maybe would've been able to keep my interest, but having read dozens of dystopian books that follow the exact same scheme, this isn't anything special. If you haven't read lots of books in the genre, this might strike you as quite interesting, I just found it dull and repetitive. 

Especially the beginning is so reminiscent of THE WINNER'S CURSE that I thought I had picked up the wrong book for a moment. 
The social divide between two people, one overpowering the other because of their almost supernatural skill, is so annoyingly overdone that I couldn't take this seriously. The red-blooded and silver-blooded people, peasants and nobles respectively, didn't even seem interesting to me. I find the premise pretty silly to be honest, the only thing that's missing to make this novel read like a bad fan fiction is that the silvers all have unusual eye and hair colors. The weirdest thing is that the set up suggests we have a straight up class war situation, but then the book does a 360 and turns into THE SELECTION, revolution style.

Let's play cliche bingo

Although there is lots of world building, it only made me shrug. Aveyard is unable to mix the futuristic influences into her medieval-ish fantasy world without making it seem lazy and strange. RED QUEEN consists of all cliches you've seen in dystopian and high fantasy books, smashed together and pretending it's something new. And adding a dreaded love triangle between the childhood friend and the forbidden lover, AND another guy (!) just made me sigh endlessly. 

Paired with a special snowflake protagonist that inexplicably has ~magical powers~, RED QUEEN comes more across as a parody on the genre than a novel that's to be taken seriously.

Without an ounce of originality, RED QUEEN reads like a half-baked cross between your average fantasy novel and the x men, in the worst way.


Rating:

☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

No. I found it boring and full of cliches. RED QUEEN stuns with consisting of so many tropes that I'm surprised nobody has created a bingo sheet based on this.



Additional Info

Published: February 10th 2015
Pages: 383
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9780062310637

Synopsis:
"This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart."(Source: Goodreads)



Have you read RED QUEEN?

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Monday, April 3, 2017

[Review] Riders (#1) - Veronica Rossi: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Teen Edition





In RIDERS, Gideon is resurrected as the incarnation of War, a horseman of the apocalypse, and immediately captured to be interrogated.

What intrigued me: The concept! I'm always ready for apocalyptic ya!

Not really an apocalyptic slaughterfest -... sadly

Rossi made the decision to have protagonist Gideon tell the story of how he became War in retrospective, under the influence of a truth serum. There's a sense of mystery to the story because we only get bits of it at a time, and this is just what had me on my tiptoes the entire time and really got me invested. However, because Gideon is narrating, the story sort of loses its focus on the paranormal aspect early on and turns into a typical contemporary story with a nauseating amount of filler that's super exhausting to read.

Because the majority of the book is spent dealing with the origin story, we have to wait for things to get really going. I was hoping for action from the first page and chaos and destruction. Instead of a dystopian, chaotic read with a side of fast-paced fighting scenes, this reads more like a paranormal YA with a twist. This is where I think this book completely fails, because you can't just turn a killer premise like that into a boring origin story book when it has the potential to be epic. I assume we'll find the epicness in the sequels (which I'm not going to read)

Great characters saving the day

Even though the synopsis suggests it, there isn't much romance in this book, and I'm very thankful for that. Because it has a male narrator I was very skeptical and weary of this maybe turning into a cheesy instant love romance. What ultimately breaks this book's back isn't the romance but the sheer lack of world building and plot. Nothing really happens in this, and it's just an awkward, almost road trip feeling kind of contemporary. It's really, really, really a way calmer read than I expected.

Well, at least I liked the protagonist. Gideon is a class A macho army kid, and yeah, I dig it. His voice is interesting, his character well thought-out, and his perspective seems very realistic. I especially enjoyed his relationship with his sister, it's always nice to see siblings who love each other and stand up for each other. Gideon really is what ultimately gained the two stars because the plot is absolutely boring. I like Gideon, I like the idea of this book, but with a massive lack of world building and poor pace, RIDERS isn't anything special and definitely not a must-read.


Rating:

★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

RIDERS wasn't really what I expected and bored me more than it fascinated me. The interesting premise is pretty much wasted through the snail pace, which is a pity - I was ready to love this.



Additional Info

Published: February 6th 2016
Pages: 384
Publisher: Tor Teen
Genre: YA / Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 9780765382542

Synopsis:
"Nothing but death can keep eighteen-year-old Gideon Blake from achieving his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. As it turns out, it does.

While recovering from the accident that most definitely killed him, Gideon finds himself with strange new powers and a bizarre cuff he can’t remove. His death has brought to life his real destiny. He has become War, one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Over the coming weeks, he and the other horsemen—Conquest, Famine, and Death—are brought together by a beautiful but frustratingly secretive girl to help save humanity from an ancient evil on the emergence.

They fail.

Now—bound, bloodied, and drugged—Gideon is interrogated by the authorities about his role in a battle that has become an international incident. If he stands any chance of saving his friends and the girl he’s fallen for—not to mention all of humankind—he needs to convince the skeptical government officials the world is in imminent danger.

But will anyone believe him?(Source: Goodreads)


Do you like books about the apocalypse?

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

[Review] Soundless - Richelle Mead: Ableism and Cultural Appropriation





In SOUNDLESS, Fei, who grew up in a village of Deaf people who are slowly also losing their eyesight, suddenly is able to hear when her village is in danger.
What intrigued me: I really liked her Vampire Academy series.

How to offend disabled people: the book

You have to be very, very, very, very careful when writing about disability. Especially when you're not disabled yourself. SOUNDLESS is the story of a girl that lives in a village of Deaf people and suddenly starts hearing.  Mistake 1: Don't "cure" disabilities for plot. 

I was hoping for a book that celebrates disability and portrays it as the absolutely normal thing it is - but nah. Disabled people in Mead's fantasy world are the losers of this story because they can't hear unlike special snowflake protagonist Fei who was magically cured. This book certainly would've dearly benefited from a sensitivity reader, anyone with a disability would have whipped out their pitchfork when coming across this book.

SOUNDLESS is proof that you shouldn't write about marginalized people if you have no experience whatsoever with the things they go through and aren't willing to put the research and resources in to make sure that the portrayal accurate.

Who needs world building?

My bitterness aside - I signed up for the typical fantastic Mead writing with a great voice and I got it. The writing truly is exceptional. Mead's storytelling is flawlessly effortless. It's very descriptive, but I personally like this, because it adds to the calm and withdrawn atmosphere of the book. The world building may be easy to understand, but that's because it doesn't exist. Nothing in this book makes sense and we just have to deal with it. 

The signed conversations between Deaf people are a little difficult to read and get used to because there is no indication that's dialogue.

Mead put an equal amount of research into the Chinese folklore part as she put into the disability part. Exactly zilch. The only thing that's sort-of-Asian is the nature surrounding them, their names, and their clothes. Here and here are some reviews by Chinese reviewers who went into more detail on this.

Still, as much as I admire the writing, SOUNDLESS is just an epic fail overall because of how Mead handles disability and the Chinese characters, and a massive disappointment. 


Rating:

☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

If you have a disability or are very educated and passionate about disability issues, do yourself a favor and don't read this. It will only lead to high blood pressure. SOUNDLESS may be the most ableist book I've ever read, but let's not jinx it.



Additional Info

Published: November 10th 2015
Pages:  266
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781595147639

Synopsis:
"In a village without sound…

For as long as Fei can remember, no one in her village has been able to hear. Rocky terrain and frequent avalanches make it impossible to leave the village, so Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.

When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink. Many go hungry. Fei and all the people she loves are plunged into crisis, with nothing to look forward to but darkness and starvation.

One girl hears a call to action…

Until one night, Fei is awoken by a searing noise. Sound becomes her weapon.

She sets out to uncover what’s happened to her and to fight the dangers threatening her village. A handsome miner with a revolutionary spirit accompanies Fei on her quest, bringing with him new risks and the possibility of romance. They embark on a majestic journey from the peak of their jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiguo, where a startling truth will change their lives forever…

And unlocks a power that will save her people.
 "(Source: Goodreads)


Have you read books about deaf characters?

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Recommendation: The Bone Witch - Rin Chupeco: Necromancy and Witches

In THE BONE WITCH, Tea gets taken in by a seasoned necromancer after she accidentally resurrects her dead older brother Fox.

What intrigued me: Necromancy! How to sell a book to me in one word.

For both fantasy lovers and skeptics

THE BONE WITCH follows the story of a rookie witch traveling the kingdoms with her mentor and her undead brother, whom you'll grow to love for his deadpan commentaries. 

There's a second POV from a bard who seeks out a bone witch and plans to sing about her life, and those two POVs are drastically different in style. While the former reads almost happy-go-lucky and lets us explore the world in a haunting, yet light manner; the latter feels really heavy. From the rich language to the tone it's spiked with more back story and feels more traditionally fantasy than the other. Especially as a very skeptic high fantasy reader, I thoroughly enjoyed the variation. 

I believe that THE BONE WITCH resides somewhere at the intersection between a light paranormal and an epic high fantasy saga, which is the most evident through those two POVs. 
Chupeco can definitely do both, her writing is so versatile that I'm convinced it will be a delight for both seasoned fantasy readers and beginners. Essentially, the experience you'll have when reading this will range from flipping through the pages happily to just being stunned by sheer magical originality of it all. 


Beauty vs. Horror

What I love most about THE BONE WITCH is how effortlessly it combines beauty with horror. The daeva, terrifying demon beasts that can never be quite destroyed meet adorable happy villagers who wear hearts made of glass around their necks that display their feelings. Every so often Chupeco will present you with the most beautifully painted scenery, spiked with horrifying monsters. Paired with the Asian influences, that's such a winning combination that I am in awe. 

The world of THE BONE WITCH reminds me of an art deco painting, sprinkled with fairy-tale creatures that present themselves twisted and darkly. It reads like Tim Burton meets UPROOTED, which stuns just as much with originality and certainly rises up to my favorite high fantasy reads of all time.


Rating:

★★★★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

THE BONE WITCH presents us with a spell-binding, incredibly intricate world that you'll ache to explore. It absolutely caught me off guard, I didn't expect to fall in love with both the masterful writing and the uniqueness of it all. 

A must-read for all high fantasy lovers and definitely a suggestion to readers who like witches and just want to venture into high fantasy.



Additional Info

Published: March 7th 2017
Pages: 400
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781492635826

Synopsis:
"When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice."(Source: Goodreads)


Have you read books about necromancy?

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Friday, February 3, 2017

[Review] The Winner's Curse (The Winner's #1) - Marie Rutkoski: In Which Slavery Isn't All That Bad





In THE WINNER'S CURSE, Kestrel buys a slave and gets mixed up in a revolution.

What intrigued me: Gorgeous cover mostly, but also the hype.

So... slavery is okay, I guess?

I didn't really know what I was getting myself into when I started THE WINNER'S CURSE. I had no idea that it would be about slaves, and I had even less of an idea about the romance being between the slave owner and the slave! What can I say, I just find this incredibly distasteful and strange, especially as a minority myself, I don't want to read about the romanticization of slave trade.

THE WINNER'S CURSE is a prime example of how to not approach a sensitive topic and exactly the reason why I shy away from books written by white people about topics that influence the lives of POC. People never do their research. Rutkoski uses slave trade as a mere plot device to showcase her white savior protagonist and didn't even bother to portray the lives of slaves accurately. I'm not asking for historical accuracy here, it's high fantasy after all, but could we not act like the life as a slave is actually quite okay and they're basically just well-off servants? Could we not act like slavery doesn't involve torture, robbing people of their identities, robbing them of their homes, and treating them like actual human trash?

THE WINNER'S CURSE doesn't even once show us how horribly slaves are treated. The Valorians, the conquerors, are never actually shown beating their slaves. From a novel that's about such a topic you'd expect some graphic scenes. You'd expect something beyond just trading people like cattle. I assume Rutkoski decided not to show this because this would lead to us not rooting for the Valorians, aka Kestrel.

This is not a fictional scenario, slave trade exists to this day (!!!!). Could we not invalidate the experiences of minorities all over the world and act like it isn't all that bad and that you just have to wait for your rich white person to save you and give you the opportunity to revolt?

If at least the prose was great...

My personal feelings about the romance and the whole slavery thing aside, THE WINNER'S CURSE is not a skillfully written book. The writing is very technical, very emotionless. Lots of short sentences, lots of factual descriptions, even worse with changes in POV! I struggled with it a lot in the beginning because it's just not what I'm used to. 

The premise isn't that bad, despite Rutkoski not really bothering with world building. What made me lose all faith in the book is the fact that her protagonist Kestrel is an absolutely horrible person. She doesn't care about the slaves, she buys one herself even, and at no point tries to actually help the slaves. It's absolutely despicable to read about someone that doesn't understand slavery is bad - until she actually forms a bond with a slave. Wtf?!

I am tired, so, so, so tired. I can't believe that nobody bothers to mention this in reviews. I can't believe that nobody even seems to bother to get upset about this. 

Why is this so popular?

Rating:

☆☆

  


Overall: Do I Recommend?

I find this book incredibly offensive. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone and it's beyond me how you can close your eyes to the problematicness of it all. Privilege I guess. Thumbs down from me.


Additional Info

Published: March 4th 2015
Pages: 355
Publisher: Farrar Strauss Giroux
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9780374384685

Synopsis:
"Winning what you want may cost you everything you love... 

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. 

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. 

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined. "(Source: Goodreads)


Have you read THE WINNER'S CURSE?

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

[Review] Poison Study (Study #1) - Maria V. Snyder: Food Tasters and Poison





In POISON STUDY Yelena was arrested for murder and is released from the dungeon to become a food taster.


What intrigued me: I've seen this one around a lot.

Let me love you, Yelena!

The story starts right off with Yelena getting released from her dungeon, malnutritioned, almost hallucinating, and absolutely exhausted. POISON STUDY had me from the first page.

Snyder has a way of conjuring up images with words that make this novel easy to read and the fantasy world easily accessible. I often struggle with the High Fantasy genre because I don't really encounter concepts that fascinate me. Same with POISON STUDY to some extent - I didn't really care about the fictional region of Ixia that is ruled by different generals that have their own territories and force everyone to wear uniforms. 

I zoned out whenever there were intricate descriptions of uniforms. The whole world is certainly a weakness of POISON STUDY - the story about Yelena could take place in any other fictional world and be just as fantastic. I didn't find the world building particularly inventive or outstanding.

Making a murderer the food taster doesn't sound that interesting and groundbreaking of a story either, but it just is. There doesn't happen much in POISON STUDY, aside from Yelena getting attacked continuously by the soldier's of the father of the guy she killed, but yet it's ridiculously addicting. The writing is top-notch, the story feels like you are Yelena, you're experiencing everything first-hand and wandering through the castle yourself. I seldom have found myself so thrown right into a book as I read and grown attached to a protagonist.

Wonderfully refreshing concept

If you read a lot of YA and are very tired of seeing the same cliche tropes everywhere, POISON STUDY is the novel for you, because I don't think I counted a single one. No love triangles! No Mary Sue! No plot convenience! Actual danger! Consequences for messing up! It's so refreshing to read a book that makes you feel like the protagonist is in actual danger the whole time.

However, this book is very, very, very slowly paced. I did like this at first, but the more the pace slowed down, the more I disconnected from the characters. I do like to know what I'm getting myself into when I start a novel and the introduction of magic halfway in confused and annoyed me a little. POISON STUDY takes a completely different direction halfway in, causing me to lose interest completely. I was very enamored with the premise of the food taster and would have loved to just see an story about intrigues without any magic.

POISON STUDY awkwardly turns into Duel of the Magicians and this is just not what I'm personally interested in and/or signed up for. Regardless, I did enjoy this and think it's a good read!


Rating:

★★★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

POISON STUDY is a fantastically unique novel. I really needed this breath of fresh air and I can recommend this book to you, because it's just so creative and fun! If you don't mind a dash of magic, sure, go for this!



Additional Info

Published: March 1st 2007
Pages: 409
Publisher: Mira
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9780778324331

Synopsis:
"Choose: A quick death…Or slow poison...

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear...
 "(Source: Goodreads)

Have you read the Study series?

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

[Review] Nemesis (#1) - Anna Banks: Egyptians and Slaves

In NEMESIS, element forger and princess Sepora flees from her home kingdom of Serubel only to end up enslaved to her nemesis Tarik, the new king of Theoria.

What intrigued me: Not the cover, that's for sure. I came solely for the enemies to lovers trope.



CAUTION: NEMESIS is a book about slavery. The fact that the blurb uses "servitude" instead of slavery (probably in an attempt to sugarcoat) is simply appalling. Google indentured servitude. There's a difference.

Cultural Appropriation and Whitewashing

NEMESIS is pretty much a "how not to" guide for white authors looking to write books inspired by a culture that is not their own. It's fairly obvious that Banks neither used sensitivity readers nor did any research that went deeper than surface level. Learn from her mistakes:

NEMESIS draws heavily from Egyptian and Jewish history and culture. And with "draws from", I mean appropriates. Complete with white savior protagonist Sepora, who starts out as a slave and easily works her way up to becoming a close advisor of the king, mostly because she's so beautiful and unique. This isn't an homage / rewrite / whatever you want to call it. There are no people of color in this book. And no, "olive skin" does not count as a stand-in for brown or black. Since this book so heavily draws from these peoples history, the least it can do is not whitewash them.

NEMESIS doesn't commit and doesn't have the guts to make this an unapologetically African or even African-inspired story and therefore can only be called cultural appropriation. You can't take the existing history of marginalized people, take the bits you like, make it all butterflies and unicorns, and paint it all white to top it off. I have major problems with the way Banks portrays the Theorians, who are very clearly fictionalized brown/black Egyptians. While Banks does not portray them bluntly like savages, thankfully, her portrayal is full of racist micro aggressions. 

From calling their language, which very clearly is an allegory to East African languages, primitive, and generally making fun of their traditions, ridiculing pretty much every Egyptian-inspired and -coded tradition they have as redundant and ridiculous as seen through King Tarik's eyes - NEMESIS is incredibly offensive on so many levels. If King Tarik's POV represents how Banks sees people of color, I am absolutely speechless.  NEMESIS is not written for people of color. It really feels like an attack, as an African, to see an author draw very obvious inspiration from an African country but to dismiss pretty much every aspect of their culture that makes them what they are. I cannot speak for Banks' portrayal of the Serubel (faux-Jewish) people and I won't, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's just as bad.

It's not very flattering either that white Sepora's arch enemy is the "olive-skinned" (speak: faux-black) Tarik, king of Theoria. It's absolutely not a good idea to insinuate brown/black vs. white conflict without committing to it. This isn't a book about race, so this allusion doesn't belong here. Banks has no business writing about this in the first place.

...and look at all that wasted potential.

I was immediately impressed with the winged serpents and element-forging protagonist in NEMESIS. And Banks also has these interesting two POVs that really complement each other. 

While I'm not necessarily a fan of the writing, which is a little too simple, info-dumpy, and clunky for my personal taste, protagonists Tarik and Sepora's alternate storylines are surely interesting. Sepora's story consists of a lot of wandering around and reckless info-dumps which easily and quickly annoyed me, and Tarik's story packs a punch from the start, beginning with his father dying of a mysterious illness. 

NEMESIS could have been SO good. Exceptional, unapologetic, and big. This book could've been huge if it was only starring a diverse cast and if Banks had bothered to hire sensitivity readers, which she c l e a r l y did not. I generally do not want to read anything about slavery in a book that doesn't tackle race.
  • And I don't know, I don't understand in what world it is okay to pretend that all of these people were white. 
  • And I also don't know in what world writing a romance between a master and a slave without even doing as much as just mentioning the word slavery, and not approaching this topic with the sensitvity and respect it deserves, is okay. 
  • And I also don't know why it seems to be so hard to have the basic decency to hire a sensitivity reader if you're going to write about a culture that isn't your own. 



Rating:

★☆☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

NEMESIS blatantly whitewashes and culturally appropriates the history of Egyptian and Jewish peoples in the form of a fantasy rivalry between the fictional kingdoms of Serubel and Theoria. This book is about slavery while whitewashing it and using it as a plot device, which for me is absolutely a no-go, especially coming from a white author. And of course this features an obligatory master/slave romance. Don't let the blurb fool you, nobody is a "servant" in this book. It's slavery.

  • Note - even more problems: 
I have a major problem with the cover. I understand that painting their skin is a thing that Sepora's people do. But it just awkwardly seems like one step removed from blackface to me. Maybe that's far-fetched, I'm well-aware that people of color didn't invent painting their skin and don't own this, but considering that this is a practice commonly associated with the indigenous peoples of some Pacific Islands, some African countries, or New Zealand, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. 

If Sepora was a person of color I wouldn't even have to mention this. I don't understand why she had to be white. I know many people who were put off by this cover -specifically- because it shows a white person with full body paint in one color and decided not to read this book or anything else by this author. Which I absolutely understand knowing that the content of the book matches the cover.

[HEY JEWISH OR EGYPTIAN REVIEWERS - have you reviewed this book? I'd be happy to link your reviews here, just shoot me an email or comment or whatever!]


Additional Info

Published: October 5th 2016
Pages: 368
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781250070173

Synopsis:
"Princess Sepora of Serubel is the last Forger in all the five kingdoms. The spectorium she creates provides energy for all, but now her father has found a way to weaponize it, and his intentions to incite war force her to flee his grasp. She escapes across enemy lines into the kingdom of Theoria, but her plans to hide are thwarted when she is captured and placed in the young king’s servitude.

Tarik has just taken over rulership of Theoria, and must now face a new plague sweeping through his kingdom and killing his citizens. The last thing he needs is a troublesome servant vying for his attention. But Mistress Sepora will not be ignored. When the two finally meet face-to-face, they form an unlikely bond that complicates life in ways neither of them could have imagined.

Sepora's gift may be able to save Tarik’s kingdom. But should she risk exposing herself and her growing feelings for her nemesis?"
(Source: Goodreads)


So... that was exhausting. Tell me something nice? Maybe about an #ownvoices book that has good representation of people of color?

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Sunday, December 11, 2016

[Review] Timekeeper (#1) - Tara Sim: Steampunk and Time-Controlling Clocks | #ReadIndie

In TIMEKEEPER, time is controlled by clock towers in an alternate Victorian Era. When the clock towers start getting bombed, mechanic Danny grows curious.

What intrigued me: I heard about a bisexual character in this and immediately needed to get my hands on a copy.

Incredibly Original

TIMEKEEPER impressed me instantly with the rich world building. The second you open this book, you're sucked into the story, a Victorian-Era-inspired Steampunk world controlled by clocks. It sounds strange but works so well and is so delightfully refreshing and new. I've never read anything like this before.

As a Steampunk skeptic I was hesitant about picking this up, but Sim managed to convert me fully. TIMEKEEPER is absolutely not only a novel for fans of the genre, but also for people who'd like to try something different.

Lack of Urgency

The world building is the biggest strength but also the biggest weakness of TIMEKEEPER. A good chunk of the novel is spent feeding background information and letting protagonist Danny walk around to get a good look at everything that it has to offer. This leads to the premise quite quickly growing a little bit wonky. 
The idea with the clock towers getting attacked isn't necessarily the focus of it all and it did bother me because I felt like the story was deriving from its intended path a lot, in order to give the characters more screen time or to info dump. It just feels like urgency of the story just isn't addressed enough and that there isn't any real danger, else the characters would probably proceed more quickly or in the least with more caution.

The lack of urgency is probably due to the story's other plot line, mechanic Danny following in love with a physical manifestation of a clock tower he's repairing. It sounds strange and reads a little strange, too, it reminded me a little of those people who fall in love with inanimate objects. The concept is interesting, but I just didn't grow fond of it at all. Which is probably also due to the quite flat love interest whose only attribute is that he is incredibly lovely and adorable.



Rating:

★★★½

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

TIMEKEEPER is a cute little story for steampunk-enthusiasts and those who like their romance fluffy and superficial. It stuns with fantastically diverse characters in leading roles (PTSD, bisexual, gay, POC) and a very innovative world.

What's #ReadIndie?



Additional Info

Published: November 1st 2016
Pages: 368
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Genre: YA / Historical
ISBN: 9781510706187

Synopsis:
"Two o’clock was missing. 

In an alternate Victorian world controlled by clock towers, a damaged clock can fracture time—and a destroyed one can stop it completely.

It’s a truth that seventeen-year-old clock mechanic Danny Hart knows all too well; his father has been trapped in a Stopped town east of London for three years. Though Danny is a prodigy who can repair not only clockwork, but the very fabric of time, his fixation with staging a rescue is quickly becoming a concern to his superiors.

And so they assign him to Enfield, a town where the tower seems to be forever plagued with problems. Danny’s new apprentice both annoys and intrigues him, and though the boy is eager to work, he maintains a secretive distance. Danny soon discovers why: he is the tower’s clock spirit, a mythical being that oversees Enfield’s time. Though the boys are drawn together by their loneliness, Danny knows falling in love with a clock spirit is forbidden, and means risking everything he’s fought to achieve.

But when a series of bombings at nearby towers threaten to Stop more cities, Danny must race to prevent Enfield from becoming the next target or he’ll not only lose his father, but the boy he loves, forever."(Source: Goodreads)


Do you like steampunk?

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

[Review] Daughter of Smoke & Bone (#1) - Laini Taylor: Chimeras and Wish-Granting


In DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE, Karou who was raised by wish-granting chimeras yet knows nothing of their world, is cast into the human world after angels destroy the portals she uses to visit her family.

What intrigued me: Honestly? The hype about Taylor's writing. I didn't even know what this is about when I started it.

Promising

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE starts off with a lot of world-establishing backstory that I really would rather have skimmed. The awkward part is, the side characters that are used to establish the world aren't really that important after all and could have as well just have been omitted.

The real story and actual premise with the angel attack only starts about a hundred pages in (!!). In consequence, the book is structure-wise all over the place. While I do found the world very intriguing and absolutely longed for any and every explanation that clarifies the demon/chimera mythology, the book does its best not to do that, but play into clich├ęs instead.

...but everything goes wrong

The novel is divided into two parts: one being the introductory storyline, following Karou around and learning more about her family - fabulously developed world, super interesting concepts that are SO unique that I'm in awe. It's witty, it's charming, it's fun, it had all the ingredients for a five-star-read.

The second part though, is a cheesy, rushed and unnecessary instant love romance with a character that doesn't even talk to Karou until about 65% into the book, and that truly ruins the story. Not even the plot twist (that you could see from a mile away!), redeemed this book for me. I didn't enjoy anything involving the angel Akiva and felt utterly confused and thrown out of the story whenever he suddenly got his own point of view chapter for seemingly no reason.

To me, he absolutely destroyed this wonderful book. I don't have a problem with adding romance to this story per se, but his introduction is just way too late and his only attribute is his beauty. I don't understand why he was even in this, if Taylor wanted a love interest, I would have absolutely enjoyed seeing the hilariously cocky ex-boyfriend Kaz with Karou. It would have certainly made more sense, but like this I feel like his character is just a set up for the inevitable love triangle in the sequels.

I honestly don't know what happened here, the book absolutely changes directions half-way in and makes all the mistakes you can make to the point that this doesn't even feel like it's the same person writing the story anymore.


Rating:

★★☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE could have been epic. Its concept reminds me a lot of INKHEART, similarly bubbling with new ideas that I haven't seen in any other novel before, creating a rich and imaginative world. The romance, however, absolutely ruined this, causing DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE to be nothing but yet another urban fantasy read with a sappy instant-love romance and an unsympathetic melodramatic pretty-boy love interest.



Additional Info

Published: September 27th 2011
Pages:  418
Publisher: Little Brown Books
Genre: YA / Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 9780316134026

Synopsis:
"Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands", she speaks many languages - not all of them human - and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?"(Source: Goodreads)



 Have you read any books by Laini Taylor?

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

[Review] Inked (#1) - Eric Smith: Magical Tattoos and Adventure

In INKED, Caenum is due to receive his magical tattoo that marks his coming-of-age, when the Scribe who is supposed to perform the ritual gets in major trouble and needs his help.

What intrigued me: I've been folllowing the author on Twitter for a while and eventually grew interested in his writing.

Lovable Characters

INKED is essentially a classic adventure story. Wrapped up in a world spiked with extensive mythology and an innovative concept, it's very easy to lose yourself in. Caenum is a very likable character whose narration I thoroughly enjoyed. However, his spotlight is easily stolen by the side characters.

My favorite is the scribe, a sassy-yet-vulnerable boy called Kenzi, whom I immediately grew to love. You'd expect the main character in such a setting to be the one with the unique abilities and all, but for the most part it's not him. Such a fantastic twist to the whole narrative that made me rejoice with joy. 

I almost instantly fell in love with the relationship protagonist Caenum has to his best friend Dreya. If it weren't for this lovely friendship with some tension, I'd probably say this is more of a Middle Grade than Young Adult read. The prose is very simplistic and colorful, but definitely does read like the intended audience is on the lower side of YA. 

Own Spin to it All

The magical tattoos are an interesting factor that defines this world. In INKED, you get a tattoo that marks what your destiny and/or future profession will be. Smith managed to incorporate them flawlessly into a world that I inexpclibaly immediately associated with a  Disney made-for-TV movie. It's so colorful and upbeat, but does fall into a couple of stereotypes. 

The villains feel very stereotypical, having scars and shaved heads, and the protagonist accidentally stumbles on a conspiracy, as you'd expect from a chosen one story. Despite those stereotypical elements, I do feel like Smith manages to put his own spin on all of it. 

If it weren't for the comparison with Disney movies, I'd say this essentially reads like DESCENDANTS meets FURTHERMORE. INKED really surprised me with being unlike what you'd expect from the blurb and really bringing a breath of fresh air into the genre.


Rating:

★★★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

INKED is a lovely little read if you like light High Fantasy and YA that's on the lower side. It made for a fun bedside table read, I found it very entertaining and was pleasantly surprised!



Additional Info

Published: January 20th 2015
Pages: 250
Publisher: Bloomsbury Spark
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781619638594

Synopsis:
"Tattoos once were an act of rebellion. 

Now they decide your destiny the moment the magical Ink settles under your skin. 

And in a world where Ink controls your fate, Caenum can't escape soon enough. He is ready to run from his family, and his best friend Dreya, and the home he has known, just to have a chance at a choice. 

But when he upsets the very Scribe scheduled to give him his Ink on his eighteenth birthday, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that sends the corrupt, magic-fearing government, The Citadel, after him and those he loves. 

Now Caenum, Dreya, and their reluctant companion Kenzi must find their way to the Sanctuary, a secret town where those with the gift of magic are safe. Along the way, they learn the truth behind Ink, its dark origins, and why they are the only ones who can stop the Citadel."(Source: Goodreads)


What would your magical tattoo look like?

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