ARC Review: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

51spzngtyrlBorne by Jeff Vandermeer

Genre: Sci-Fi / Post-Apocalyptic

Publisher: Fourth Estate, 15th June 2017

My Rating: 5_star_rating_system_5_stars

Synopsis: A ruined city of the future lives in fear of a despotic, gigantic flying bear, driven mad by the tortures inflicted on him by the Company, a mysterious biotech firm. A scavenger, Rachel, finds a creature entangled in his fur. She names it Borne.

At first, Borne looks like nothing at all― a green lump that might be a discard from the Company. But he reminds Rachel of her homeland, an island nation long lost to rising seas, and she prevents her lover, Wick, from rendering down Borne as raw genetic material for the special kind of drugs he sells.

But nothing is quite the way it seems: not the past, not the present, not the future. If Wick is hiding secrets, so is Rachel―and Borne most of all.

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My Review

Thanks to my aunt who kindly lent me this ARC copy!

If you’re someone who needs answers immediately when reading a book or watching a film, someone who, when something unexplained happens, asks, “Why did that happen?” or “Why did they say that?” instead of waiting a few more chapters or 15 minutes more to find out, or someone who is not content with ever knowing the answers at all, then this is not the kind of book for you.

However, if you’re someone who likes a bit of ambiguity, who likes to be confused in a good, page-turning kind of way, then Borne is for you.

I read Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy a few years ago and devoured each book one after the other. Usually, I leave a bit of a gap between books in a series if the series is already complete. However, I had so many questions, I needed to keep reading. That trilogy was fantastically creepy, suspenseful, horrifying and twisted. So that should give you a good idea of what Borne is like.

Borne, I would say, is the slightly calmer younger brother of The Southern Reach Trilogy. It’s still totally bizarre and full of some very creepy creations, but whereas that first trilogy was a full-throttle Sci-Fi Horror, Borne is more of just a Sci-Fi with a touch of Horror.

And immediately, the opening to Borne totally confused me. I had to go back and re-read sections because VanderMeer writes very intricately, yet with a throwaway attitude whereby he drops names of creations and places as if to say, “Keep up.” However, after the first twenty or so pages, I quickly settled into the rhythm and was captivated. VanderMeer has crafted a weird and wonderful story, with a bit more humour than his previous series, but with no less strangeness.

The story is narrated by Rachel, a young woman scavenging in a ruined city. She doesn’t quite know how she got there, but knows she travelled a dying Earth with her parents in search of salvation. Rachel lives with a man called Wick, who is a drug dealer of sorts, selling bits of ‘biotech’ to make a living. This crumbling city is haunted by a massive, murderous bear known as Mord. (Yes, you did read that right). One day, whilst searching Mord’s fur for bits to scavenge, Rachel finds a glowing blob that she takes home and calls Borne. She assumes it’s a strange plant, but it soon becomes apparent that Borne is much more.

Rachel herself is a great protagonist. Strong, hardened, but with a softness brought out in her by Borne. Borne, however, is the real star of the show, as the title would suggest. I won’t spoil what Borne is or much about him, but he’s a brilliant character. Innocent and funny, yet also deeply unnerving. He was crafted excellently and was easy to connect to, despite the fact he’s not even human. 

Wick was an odd character, but I ended up also liking him. I would say Wick is the most complex; you never really know what he’s thinking. He’s very flawed, yet clearly caring. I liked the dynamic the three characters had: Rachel, Borne and Wick. Despite the setting being just downright odd, the characters felt entirely real and relatable. 

And trust me, the setting is strange. It can be hard to imagine at times, but I find that VanderMeer manages to pull off describing these weird places. Whilst all my questions weren’t answered about the setting, I didn’t mind, and VanderMeer is able to write a setting and story shrouded in a bit of mystery, instead of feeling like he just couldn’t be bothered to tie up loose ends or have any reasoning behind particular aspects. The ending left me wanting to know more, but it didn’t feel incomplete. After The Southern Reach Trilogy, I have come to expect that VanderMeer likes to leave you guessing, and to leave parts open to interpretation. That works well for his novels, because any answers might actually ruin it in that they don’t feel right, or they feel anticlimactic.

For a while whilst reading, I compared Borne to The Southern Reach Trilogy and thought I liked the trilogy better as it was grittier and darker. However, thinking about it, Borne is totally its own entity and I shouldn’t compare it. Borne is a slightly ‘lighter’ read, and for that I found it had a little more meaning behind it rather than just being a brilliant idea. It’s a novel about loss and human nature, and can be quite moving at times. Not in the totally bleak and terrifying way of The Southern Reach Trilogy, but in a more bittersweet way.

If you haven’t tried any of VanderMeer’s books, I really recommend you do. If you’re not a Sci-Fi fan, and you’re scared easily, then you should probably skip them, but otherwise don’t be put off. They’re brilliantly imagined, entirely vivid and unique, and such gripping reads. Borne might be a softer introduction, but I honestly think VanderMeer has earned his place as one of my favourite authors, and I really look forward to more of his novels in future.

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Have you read any of VanderMeer’s books? What did you think of them? Do you want to read Borne? Let me know in the comments below!

caitlin

 

 

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Review: How Not To Disappear by Clare Furniss

51eg6tbo71lHow Not To Disappear by Clare Furniss

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary

Publisher: Simon and Schuster, 2016

My Rating: 5_star_rating_system_4_stars

Synopsis: Our memories are what make us who we are. Some are real. Some are made up. But they are the stories that tell us who we are. Without them we are nobody.

Hattie’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to ‘find himself” and Kat is in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum’s wedding. Oh, and she’s also just discovered that she’s pregnant with Reuben’s baby.

Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one even knew existed, comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery — Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are erased from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future.

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My Review

I bought How Not To Disappear with my final fiver at YALC last year and, overall, I’m glad I did. This was an interesting and unique addition to the YA Contemporary genre and definitely left me guessing.

For a start, it reads a little like a mystery. Hattie, pregnant by her best friend Reuben, finds a distraction from her worries when she learns of her great aunt, Gloria, who has the onset of dementia and wants to tell her story to one of the few living relatives she has left.

The story is actually written from two POVs, with Hattie and Gloria our narrators. Hattie narrates more, and Gloria’s chapters are used mainly to recount her story. I found this alternating POV quite refreshing in a YA novel. Usually, if there is more than one narrator, they will both be young adults. Yet here, we have one in her late teens and the other in her 70s (I think, I can’t remember if we ever learn her exact age). However, Gloria’s chapters, whilst they are her recounting her teens, her narration often slips into the voice and mindset of teenage Gloria. So, for anyone who is reading this review and worries Gloria’s chapters will be boring and ‘old’, they’re not. After all, Gloria is still very much the same spirited woman with a temper, she’s now just wiser and more worldly.

I liked both Hattie and Gloria, although Hattie did grate on me sometimes. In an effort to distract herself from making a decision on keeping or terminating her pregnancy, she constantly pushes Gloria with quite awkward and probing questions. Gloria’s story is not an easy one to swallow, and from the start it’s clear she’s a woman with a lot of barriers, and just agreeing to tell her story to her long-lost great niece is a big step for her. As such, I thought Hattie could be quite rude and pushy. I know she has her own things to think about, but it doesn’t mean Gloria’s very personal life story shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Gloria, on the other hand, was also rude, but I found it amusing. She has these barriers up for a reason and, in all honesty, I was more interested in her story than I was in Hattie’s. And whilst she was rude, she was also fierce, caring, wise. I really liked her.

As I said, the format was interesting and unique – a teenage girl going on a road trip with her great aunt to find ‘the end’ of the story. I became engrossed in both sides of the story: Hattie’s friendship with Reuben and her indecision with regards to the pregnancy, and Gloria’s dark past.

Let me just say, if you’re expecting a romance in this book, then don’t hold your breath. However, I was glad there wasn’t really a romance; that was another aspect of this YA Contemporary that was refreshing. It was very much about the two women and their decisions, not the men in their life. Besides, I wasn’t a fan of Reuben. He was selfish and thought he was god’s gift (which he really wasn’t). I also wasn’t sure why Hattie even wanted him as a friend to begin with.

The other characters we meet along the way are generally interesting, but mostly only if they’re connected to Gloria’s story, if I’m honest. As I mentioned previously, this book is also a bit of a mystery, and I didn’t guess the majority of its twists and turns correctly, which I was glad about. The characters are weaved well into these twists and reveals, which kept me reading.

The writing was generally good. Nothing exceptional, but it wasn’t horrendous, it was just normal. However, I don’t think the proofreader did an amazing job with this book. There were quite a lot of missing words etc. that I picked up on, which could be a little jarring. Despite these little hiccups, the story was still moving, and I found myself tearful towards the end. It’s definitely what I would call a ‘mature YA’, due to its one teenage narrator and one adult narrator, and the topics it deals with. I did think the pregnancy dilemma was handled well. It was perhaps a bit frustrating sometimes as Hattie wouldn’t face up to the reality of it, but I suspect that’s more just to do with me and what I know I’d do in her situation.

So, all in all, this was a refreshing addition to the genre, and I recommend it if you’re not a huge contemporary fan. I’m not, and this still interested me enough to keep reading. It wasn’t all floaty and airy like some YA Contemporary’s can be, nor was it overdone with romance. Instead, it was unique, sometimes dark, sometimes hopeful, and definitely worth a read.

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Have you read How Not To Disappear? What did you think? Or do you want to read it? Let me know in the comments below!

caitlin

 

Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

17907041Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Genre: Historical WWII fiction / Young Adult

Publisher: Electric Monkey, 2013

My Rating: 5_star_rating_system_5_stars

Synopsis: Rose Justice is a young American ATA pilot, delivering planes and taxiing pilots for the RAF in the UK during the summer of 1944. A budding poet who feels vividly alive while flying, she is forced to confront the hidden atrocities of war – and the most fearsome.

 

 

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They yelled in French and in Polish, English and German. “TELL THE WORLD! TELL THE WORLD! TELL THE WORLD!”

I read Code Name Verity, Wein’s first YA WWII novel about women during the war, quite a few years ago now. At the time, I loved it, as the World Wars are a time period I’m very interested in learning about. So, when I stumbled across the fact Wein had published another similar novel, I was over the moon. However, part of me worried it wouldn’t live up to the expectations of the first book.

That worry was pretty stupid, because of course Rose Under Fire was great. It tells the story of a young American girl who puts her passion for flying to use as she delivers planes for the allies in Britain, taking them to where they need to be for repairs or where fighter pilots need them. Rose is frustrated by the fact that the female ATA pilots cannot travel abroad. However, she has a few family connections, and strings are pulled that allow her to fly to a part of France recently liberated by the allies. That’s where something goes wrong.

The story has a slow start, but it’s not a bad kind of slow. It sets up Rose’s character well, the position of women in the air force, and what it was like for those in Britain during the Blitz. Wein is brilliant at crafting a believable voice for her first-person narrators. Both Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire are written in diary format. The little descriptions Wein throws in of Rose’s childhood are detailed yet short, building up a believable portrait of Rose Justice.

Rose is headstrong yet romantic, and it’s these qualities that get her through the horrors of the war as one headstrong mistake lands her in enemy territory, away from the relative safety she has known in Britain and America.

We don’t initially find out quite what’s happened to Rose. Her diary ends abruptly a quarter of the way through when she is supposed to be heading home from France and the voice changes to a friend. From this section, we glean that Rose has gone missing, presumed dead. Then, Rose’s voice returns some six months later. She has made it back from Ravensbruck, the concentration camp for women.

The rest of the book follows Rose as she writes about the horrors she has witnessed and endured, as well as the struggles she faces readjusting to life after the war. Wein details a horrific and vivid depiction of Ravensbruck, making sure not to dress-up the story in a way that makes it easier to read. This part of the story is harrowing, yet tinged with hope, as Rose finds a surrogate family in the camp, with two stand-out characters being Roza and Irina.

Roza in particular was a captivating character, especially because of who she was. Roza is one of the Rabbits, Polish girls who were experimented on by the Nazis in Ravensbruck. These experiments involved, in very simple terms, cutting into the girls legs and studying infection, as well as removing parts of bones. As a result, Roza struggles to walk, but what has been done to her only enhances her already feisty, and sometimes heartless, nature. Roza can be really quite rude and spiteful, and it seems these are qualities she has had since childhood. Yet, despite the fact she can say some very nasty things, I really warmed to her. She’s determined, vicious, intent on justice for what has happened to the Rabbits. You can’t entirely blame her for her sometimes savage remarks after the way she’s been treated since her capture at age 14. She was definitely the most nuanced, as well as flawed yet likeable, character.

Then there is Irina, who is a Soviet fighter pilot. Like Roza, she can also be a bit hard, but together with Rose she is instrumental in the survival of this ragtag family of girls: Rose, Roza, Irina, Karolina and Lisette. They are determined that the world will know what has gone on here, that the world will find out what was done to the Rabbits. As the American, Rose is singled out as the one with the connections to get the story out there.

I really grew to love these characters. Even at the darkest moments, they stick together, intent on getting Roza and the other Rabbits’ story out of the camp. Sometimes when reading, I struggled with the fact that this all really happened. Whilst Rose’s personal story or Karolina’s or Lisette’s didn’t specifically happen, Ravensbruck did exist, and so did the Rabbits.

I thought the story was brilliantly written. Harrowing, hopeful, and not afraid to shy away from the realities of the war and the lengths these women would go to to make sure the world knew, to make sure that at least some of them got out alive.

Perhaps my only criticism, which is not actually a criticism, is that it ended too soon. I was so engrossed that when I turned the final page, I was shocked to see the notes from the author. I turned back and forth, confused, and then re-read the final passage, in disbelief that I wouldn’t find out any more.

I cannot recommend Rose Under Fire and Code Name Verity enough. Even if you’re not a fan of WWII fiction, I urge you to read them. The writing and characterisation is great, and the stories open your eyes to the atrocities that have been committed, and the hope that endured.

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Sorry for the slightly late review, but I finished Rose Under Fire just before I went on holiday for a week! Anyway, have you read either of these books? What did you think of them? Or do you want to read them? Let me know in the comments below!

caitlin

Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

maze-runner-classic-redesignThe Maze Runner by James Dashner

Genre: Young Adult / Sci-Fi / Dystopian / Apocalyptic

Publisher: Chicken House

My Rating: 5_star_rating_system_4_stars

Synopsis: When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

Remember. Survive. Run.

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My Review

I decided to pick up The Maze Runner series after watching the first two film adaptations. I was pleasantly surprised by the first film and, whilst the second wasn’t as good, I still enjoyed it. So, I thought it was finally time I picked up the books.

The Maze Runner tells the story of a group of boys, known as Gladers, who are trapped at the centre of a seemingly unsolvable maze for some inconceivable reason. They have no real, concrete memories, except their names, and must carry on with life with no proper answers. Each month, one new boy is sent to the centre of the maze, known as the Glade, in a lift. They must learn the one rule of the Glade: no one, except the Runners, goes into the maze, especially after dark. At night, the doors to the maze close and the Grievers come out.

Yet, when Thomas turns up, the sense of order within the Glade begins to unravel. I thought the opening was done well; we’re just as confused as Thomas as he travels in the lift, before reaching the Glade and being greeted by a group of unsympathetic boys who won’t really tell him what’s going on, mainly because they don’t know themselves.

The characters were clear-cut from the beginning: curious Thomas, short-tempered Alby, intelligent Newt, innocent Chuck, distrustful Gally, confident Minho. I also realised that the films had been very true to the characters in the books, which was great. There was no worry here of the characters bleeding into one another, where the reader is unable to tell who’s who and who’s talking.

The suspense and mystery is also palpable from the outset. We learn everything as Thomas does, and I thought hints and revelations were dropped just at the right moments to keep you intrigued. I’ve seen some people complain that the beginning lagged, and yes whilst it did take a little while to get to the action, I was enjoying myself just learning about the characters, the dynamics of the Glade, and the mystery of the maze.

In fact, I think seeing the films first enhanced my enjoyment of the book. Like I said, I can see why some people would say the beginning wasn’t pacey enough, but having seen the film adaptation, I knew generally what was coming and was excited to see how scenes from the film panned out in the book, and what differences there were between the film and novel. Also, because I already liked these characters from the films, I didn’t need to learn to like them whilst reading the book.

However, one way in which the novel really fell short was the writing. It was pretty average. There was a fair bit of telling, not showing, and it was just quite clunky; that was obvious from the start. I felt at times the awkward writing bogged down the pace as sentences often didn’t flow well, but a lot of the time I managed to overlook it because of the plot points, which kept me reading.

Also, Thomas was definitely a bit more of a Gary Stu in the novel than in the film. Dylan O’Brien gave Thomas a lot of depth in the film, creating a character that was both confident and unsure. Whilst novel-Thomas was suitably flawed, the way he was a Gary Stu was that he seemed to have all the answers. Boys who had spent years in the Glade would not have thought of the same things as Thomas. In actuality, the author spent a lot of time having Thomas list things and other characters going “tried that”. However, whilst the characters would have “tried that”, they would not have been able to join the dots like Thomas, which felt a little unbelievable at times. Are you telling me no one else had really given that much thought to the WICKED acronym?

In addition, Thomas could also be quite passive. Things would happen to him, rather than him outright causing them. I felt that Thomas was much more active in the films, rather than someone who has things happen to them because they’re special in some way. This was also heightened when Teresa turned up, for reasons I won’t divulge as it’s spoilery, but I’m glad the films left out one particular plot point involving Thomas and Teresa.

However, back to some positives. I did really like the characters. I think Teresa is actually more interesting in the books than she is in the films, although I think Kaya Scodelario is a good actress. In a total contrast to Thomas, novel-Teresa was much more active than film-Teresa. I think Newt is also more passive in the films than he is in the books. In addition, the characterisation of Minho was executed a little better in the books. The same goes for Alby and Newt, and Frypan as well. Gally, however, was a better antagonist in the film adaptation than in the book.

Lastly, I didn’t mind the slang, such as “shuck” and “klunk”. I thought it would annoy me, as I presumed it would be used more in the book than in the film, but it was fine. It was a good way for characters to get their emotions across sometimes as the slang was clearly used in place of swearing, which is often taboo in YA that is marketable to younger teens.

So, overall, I think this was a solid start to the series in terms of plot and characterisation. However, it was definitely let down by average writing, so that knocked a star off the rating. But yes, whilst it was clunky, and some things were just a bit too convenient, I still enjoyed it. I honestly do recommend that maybe you watch the films before you try the books. The first two films are available on DVD, and the third is due out next year. I found, for once, that seeing the films enhanced my enjoyment of the novels.

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Have you read The Maze Runner? What did you think of it? Have you seen the film adaptations? Let me know in the comments below!

caitlin

 

ARC Review: Ariadnis by Josh Martin

51a2b9y2f2hlAriadnis by Josh Martin

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette, Feb 2017

My Rating: 5_star_rating_system_3_stars

Synopsis: Joomia and Aula are Chosen. They will never be normal. They can never be free.

On the last island on Erthe, Chosen Ones are destined to enter Ariadnis on the day they turn eighteen. There, they must undertake a mysterious and deadly challenge. For Joomia and Aula, this means competing against each other, to end the war that has seethed between their cities for nine generations.

As the day draws nearer, all thoughts are on the trial ahead. There’s no space for friendship. No time for love. However much the girls might crave them.

But how you prepare for a task you know nothing certain about? Nothing, except that you must win, at whatever cost, or lose everything.

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This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinion of the book in any way.

So, Ariadnis. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of this book from the lovely Books With Bite once again, and I was really excited to read it; the book even came with little cards depicting the characters.

However, Ariadnis fell short of expectations for me. Let me just say, this book mainly got three stars because the imagination behind it was excellent. The story and setting were fresh, and there was a lot of diversity too. I really applaud the author for not regurgitating the same old YA Fantasy story.

Yet, for me, it fell short in other areas. Mainly: writing, pacing, world-building and characterisation. And yes, I am contradicting myself by saying it fell short in world-building. So, let’s start there.

The story is set on a magical island where huge trees grow beneath a cliff face, housing the city of Metis, and huge trees also grow atop the cliff, home to the city of Athenas. The setting was really imaginative, but I just could not get my head round the concept; I really struggled to picture this cliff face and the trees so massive they could hold up cities. And I’m not talking about a big forest, I mean nine trees per city. And you can also travel down or up through the cliff to get to each city. And in the cliff is a magical place called Ariadnis. And the city on top of the cliff, Athenas, has hollowed out its trees, filled them with machines, encased the trunks in metal, and built their city atop huge dinner plates on the trees. My brain just could not wrap itself around the entire concept; it was almost too imaginative.

So, not only was I totally mind-boggled from the get go, the characters then start mentioning a place called ‘Erthe’ that was destroyed by big waves and a comet. ‘Okay cool,’ I thought, ‘so it’s like a different world just named similarly to ours.’ But then one of the characters mentions Hindi and India and suddenly I’m confused all over again. It’s our Earth, but there’s magic. Normally, this is a pretty normal concept  in Fantasy, mainly magical realism, but where did the magic come from? It hadn’t been there before, so why does suddenly everyone on this island have the ability to wield magic when no one alive in modern times could?

I was entirely confused, once again. I’m not a huge Fantasy reader; I like it, but I’m quite picky about what Fantasy I read. So, maybe a big Fantasy lover would be able to wrap their head around this world-building better. After all, I seem to be in the minority with these opinions compared to other reviewers.

Now, onto the writing and pacing. The writing was okay at the beginning – nothing special, but also nothing awful. However, I felt it began to unravel as the book progressed. The story is told in alternating POVs between the main characters Aula and Joomia in their respective cities. At first, their voices and story lines were easy to differentiate. However, when they eventually met up, I began to feel lost, especially because the POV would switch multiple times in a chapter. I would think I’m reading from Joomia’s perspective and then confuse myself, backtrack, and see actually it was Aula talking. I thought it would be easy to differentiate them as Aula is headstrong and uses ‘en’t’ all the time instead of ‘isn’t’, and Joomia is quiet and can only communicate via telepathy, shown in bold lettering, but I did end up becoming confused (again).

Really, what I think this book was lacking was precision. The ideas were great, but they needed a lot of skill to be pulled off correctly, and I felt that skill was lacking. It is a debut, so the second book may vastly improve, but it just felt too big and in need of more control.

The same goes for the pacing. The entire middle portion of the book sagged, which can often happen after the excitement of the inciting incident dies down and the climax is currently out of sight. Yet, oddly, things were happening, but it just didn’t feel like it. There were twists and a bit of action, but it all lacked a punch. I think this was also down to the writing; it wasn’t exciting enough. I don’t think it fell prey to telling instead of showing, but rather it just skipped over the action. Fight scenes were cut down to a couple of short paragraphs. Emotional scenes only took up half a page. I think it focused on the wrong details, and as such there was no suspense or tension.

In addition, as I didn’t really connect with the characters, any attempts at tension didn’t make me that nervous. The characters were clear-cut – I knew who was who – but for some reason they just didn’t excite me.

Also, one thing that did annoy me a bit was that everyone was horny all the time. Like all the time, at totally inappropriate moments. Someone would die and Aula or Joomia would be sad for five seconds before lusting over another character. It was like instalove but instead it was instahorny.

So, that concludes my main comments. I think Ariadnis was a great idea, but it lacked finesse and just wasn’t for me. Others might enjoy it, and certainly on Goodreads and Amazon there are a lot of glowing reviews, but if you’re not a big Fantasy fan, it may not be for you.

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Have you read Ariadnis? Did you enjoy it? Do you want to read it? Let me know in the comments below!

caitlin

ARC Review: The Memory Book by Lara Avery

30965236The Memory Book by Lara Avery

Genre: YA Contemporary

Publisher: Hachette

My Rating: 5_star_rating_system_4_stars

Synopsis: Samantha McCoy has it all mapped out. First she’s going to win the national debating championship, then she’s going to move to New York and become a human rights lawyer. But when Sammie discovers that a rare disease is going to take away her memory, the future she’d planned so perfectly is derailed before it’s started. What she needs is a new plan.

So the Memory Book is born: Sammie’s notes to her future self, a document of moments great and small. Realising that her life won’t wait to be lived, she sets out on a summer of firsts: The first party; The first rebellion; The first friendship; The last love.

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This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinion of the book in any way.

Let me just start this review by saying that I took just over a month to finish this book. However, that is not a reflection on my enjoyment of the book, but rather my apparent inability to work full-time and read (I’m working on it).

But anyway, let’s get on with the actual review.

I had seen a lot of people raving about The Memory Book on Twitter. I was eventually lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of the ARC, and I’m glad I did. This is a well-written and emotional novel, without being OTT cutesy and quirky like other YA Contemporaries with similar themes (I’m looking at you, The Fault In Our Stars). 

It follows the story of Samantha (Sammie, or Sam, and for the purposes of this review I’ll go with Sammie) McCoy and her diagnosis of Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC). It’s a degenerative disease with symptoms similar to dementia, caused by a build-up of cholesterol in the liver and spleen, eventually causing a blockage in the brain. It usually affects young children, but can sometimes be seen in teenagers and adults. It isn’t curable, and results in the loss of motor and cognitive functions, before eventually resulting in death.

Sammie struggles with her diagnosis at first, convinced that she won’t die and will fulfill her dreams of making it to New York for university and becoming a human rights lawyer. Sammie is willful, headstrong, confident in her intelligence, but not so socially confident. However, thankfully, she isn’t that typical YA Contemporary protagonist who moans all the time about being ugly when really she’s secretly beautiful.

The book is written from Sammie’s POV as she describes her day-to-day life for ‘Future Sam’. It’s a diary intended for the Future Sam who will be experiencing the main symptoms of NPC (ie, loss of memory) and so is an aid to help Future Sam remember what her goals are and what’s recently been happening in her life. This mode of story-telling was definitely unique. It’s a POV that could have bombed, but Avery crafted a strong and recognisable voice for Sammie, and I really got to know who Sammie was. Sometimes she annoyed me, and other times I really liked her, but that’s because she was a well-rounded and flawed protagonist. She also learnt from her mistakes, and so by the end of the book anything that had slightly grated on me about Sammie’s personality had been worked on, and I really loved her as a character in the final third.

The plot itself was interesting too. It wasn’t the most exciting in terms of drama for a Contemporary, but I was never bored and still enjoyed seeing the story meander along. In all honesty, I think any major plot drama would have overshadowed the quiet, honest and lyrical nature of the story, and would have turned it into some soap opera. So, for that, I’m glad that there was only really one scene of proper ‘drama’, and that towards the end of the book. Everything else was just the usual workings of life, but seen through the eyes of a girl succumbing to a genetic disease.

I thought the portrayal of the disease was handled sensitively. I can’t attest for how accurately it was handled, as I have no real experience of NPC and neither does the author, but it didn’t feel exaggerated to me or used solely as a plot device. As I said, this book is more about how Sammie discovers who she truly is, rather than being only about the disease. It was quite hard-hitting to read the occasional chapters where Sammie would have what she describes as an ‘episode’. This would be where her cognitive functions aren’t working normally, and so Sammie would be trying to type about her day but would just sound very confused and child-like.

As for the other characters, I wasn’t totally enamoured with them, but they didn’t feel flat. There is a romance in this book. I wasn’t all for it, but it’s what’s important to Sammie at the time, which is understandable, and it doesn’t dominate the whole book. The love interest is Stuart Shah, who’s a little older than Sammie and who she’s had a crush on for a long time. I didn’t think he was all that Sammie cracked him up to be, but I soon realised that was the whole point. I won’t give away any more, as it’d spoil the plot.

There’s also Sammie’s friends Maddie and Cooper. Maddie featured heavily at the beginning and middle of the book, but she just drifts off towards the end for no real reason. As for Cooper, Sammie and Cooper had been best friends as children, but went their separate ways in high school. However, their friendship soon begins to return, and I enjoyed the chapters with Cooper. He was funny and thoughtful and just who Sammie needed.

But what about the ending? Well, I sobbed. It’s very emotional and creeps up on you, even though really you see it coming from the beginning of the book. The ending definitely made me feel a sense of appreciation for where my life is right now, and thankful for what I have. That sounds really soppy but it’s true, and that’s what the book was aiming for; Avery definitely pulled that off well.

Also, I’d just like to add that the book is quite inclusive in terms of diversity. Stuart Shah is an Indian-American, Maddie is a lesbian and Sammie is a strong feminist who doesn’t make assumptions about people’s sexuality. So, those were definitely plus points.

Overall, The Memory Book was a solid 4/5. There was room for a few improvements, such as the pacing and tenses were a little off for the first third of the book, and I mentioned how the character of Maddie just faded into the background for no obvious reason towards the end. But, I really enjoyed it, and it was an emotional and bittersweet read. Sammie was a great protagonist and I loved her POV, and I thought the writing was fresh and raw. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more of Lara Avery’s books in future.

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Have you read The Memory Book? What did you think? Or do you want to read it? Let me know in the comments below!

caitlin

 

Review: Morning Star (Red Rising #3) by Pierce Brown


51nnve8he2l-_sy445_ql70_Morning Star 
by Pierce Brown

Genre: Sci-Fi / Young Adult / Dystopian

Publisher: Hodder

My Rating: 5_star_rating_system_5_stars

Synopsis: Darrow is the Reaper of Mars. Born to toil, carved to fight, destined to lead. But he is a broken man. Exposed as a Red in world ruled by Golds, he has been captured and tormented until he is something less than human. And yet, he is humanity’s last chance.

In facing a godlike, ruthless enemy, he must call on every last ounce of strength to prove that loyalty, friendship and love are more powerful than any cold-hearted machine of war.

He has been first Red, then Gold. Now, he must transcend them all. He must become the hero his people believe he is.

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My Review

Find my reviews of the first two books, Red Rising and Golden Son, here and here.

After a few very hectic weeks, I have finally managed to finish Morning Star, the final book in the Red Rising trilogy, and I’m pretty much lost for words. Be prepared for a long and rambly review of starstruck nonsense, because this is one of the best YA series out there.

This series has been pretty much faultless throughout. I like to think of this as Game of Thrones in space. It’s packed full of plot twists you will not see coming, like that one at the end of Golden Son, as well as an intricate cast of characters and a heart-stopping plot.

So, after that Golden Son ending, you’d be forgiven in thinking that it’s pretty much all over for Darrow and the Rising. But think again. Darrow has continued to grow throughout this series and he reaches his peak here in Morning Star. He’s still very much the Darrow we know and love, but he’s matured and gained even more knowledge and understanding of the world around him. If you want a good example of a character arc, look no further than Darrow. He is entirely fleshed-out and totally believable as a real person. He’s complex, nuanced, troubled and makes a ton of mistakes, not to mention he can be arrogant and hot-headed, but he grows and learns, humbled by the ending of Golden Son. In Morning Star, he has grown into a man worthy of the position that has been forced upon him.

Morning Star throws you right back into the story. I had so many questions I desperately needed answering, but this is a series that will leave you guessing and waiting in agony. It’s also a series that isn’t afraid to shock you and kill off your favourite characters (much like Game of Thrones), so I was constantly on edge reading this novel, but in a good way. If you know the characters are somehow going to get themselves out of every horrible situation, then the story loses its momentum and you cease to care. Brown, on the other hand, knows exactly how to keep the reader on their toes, and the plot-twists, whilst shocking, are always logical.

(Also, as a bit of an aside, I don’t usually like it when the second and/or third book in a series changes setting from the first. I grow attached to the setting in the first book, and a change of scenery in the sequels normally throws me and lessens my enjoyment. However, leaving the Institute in Red Rising and venturing out into the society proper was the next clear step. It wasn’t just a change for the sake of it, it worked, and it allowed the plot and characters to really grow. By Morning Star, the Institute seems like a nostalgic memory, rather than a time I really wished we would return to).

The reader has watched the setting and characters flourish, and finishing Morning Star made me feel like I’d been on a journey with these characters. The plot never falls stagnant but instead reaches new heights. Everything Darrow and the Sons of Ares have been working towards are now in sight, but we worry that things might not turn out right. This is probably one of the first series where I’ve genuinely feared for the protagonist’s life and wasn’t sure he’d survive the finale. The same goes for the other main characters. Mustang, Sevro, Ragnar, and the others are truly in danger of losing their lives for a vast majority of the book, and maybe some of them even do…

But there are no spoilers here. I don’t want to ruin the excitement and worry.

In terms of structure, I thought Morning Star had the best pacing of the three books. Whilst they’ve all been pretty full speed ahead, Morning Star was definitely the one that just kept pushing and pushing. There wasn’t much respite, and it was a little exhausting, but it never made the plot feel dull because there was just so much going on.

Honestly, I don’t really know what to say. I haven’t even written anything in my reading diary for Morning Star because all I could think of to write was ‘FLAWLESS’. This series is just too good. If you want to know how to write an epic Sci-Fi, then pick this up. Even if you’re not a Sci-Fi fan, I highly recommend it. I love Sci-Fi, but usually the sub-genres like post-apocalyptic etc. I like space sagas as long as they’re not too OTT, and whilst there can be jargon in this series, it never makes you feel out of your depth.

And neither does the world-building. It’s very intricate and complex, and whilst there are a few moments of info-dumping, it’s not widespread and boring like can often be the case in fantasy and sci-fi series. You really get a sense of what the setting and society is like without feeling like the author is boring you with unnecessary details.

I perhaps do have a couple of small criticisms for the series and this final installment, but they’re pretty minor. After all, no book is perfect. One thing was that the humour could be a bit hit and miss for me. Sometimes it would make me laugh out loud, other times I wouldn’t crack a smile. But humour is very subjective, so what would make me laugh might not make someone else laugh. The other thing was that whilst the climax was brilliant and everything I wanted, I felt the events after the climax, when the loose ends are tied up, was a bit rushed. I didn’t find out what had happened to a few characters and would have liked to see what they were up to following the climactic events, but then I suppose this will probably be addressed in the new sequel series.

Overall, this series and its final installment were pretty much faultless. It has an amazing cast of characters I’ve really grown to love and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed their changes and growth. Even when they’ve really pissed me off, I’ve still loved them because they’re flawed, including the characters that can’t quite decide if they’re friend or enemy (I’m looking at you, Cassius. So well-written!). The world-building is complex and interesting and wholly unique. And the plot, whilst it’s a rebellion plot that’s quite familiar in YA, it’s totally its own beast and doesn’t follow the same structures as other rebellion novels.

I am super excited for Iron Gold and the film adaptations, and I swear to god if they screw this series up on the big screen I am going to go wild. But yes, I am so sad this original trilogy is over, but so excited for the sequel trilogy to begin. This was a brilliant ending to a whirlwind series. If you love complex and flawed characters, rebellion and huge plot-twists you’ll never see coming, then this is the series for you. 

page-break Have you read this series? Did you enjoy it? Are you excited for the films and sequel trilogy? Let me know in the comments below!

caitlin

Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

61yu0nwigblAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Genre: Fantasy / Young Adult

Publisher: Harper Voyager, 2016

My Rating: 5_star_rating_system_4_stars

Synopsis: Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death.

When Laia’s grandparents are brutally murdered and her brother arrested for treason by the empire, the only people she has left to turn to are the rebels.

But in exchange for their help in saving her brother, they demand that Laia spy on the ruthless Commandant of Blackcliff, the Empire’s greatest military academy. Should she fail it’s more than her brother’s freedom at risk . . . Laia’s very life is at stake.

There, she meets Elias, the academy’s finest soldier. But Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined – and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

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I had heard so many good things about An Ember in the Ashes, and seen so much hype for A Torch Against the Night, that I couldn’t resist getting my hands on a copy. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed, however, there were a few flaws I’d like to address in this review. So buckle up, as I have a lot to discuss.

But let’s start with the good. Mainly, what I loved about it was how entertaining it was. The blurb doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the number of sub-plots that are weaved within the main arc of the story. The plot was complex and fleshed-out well and, whilst there were some things that grated on me, I was never not entertained or invested.

This especially includes the beginning. It was a fast-paced, action-packed opening that set up the story well. Whilst the action meant there was a fair bit of telling not showing when it came to the world-building and characters, I was still hooked.

Almost immediately, I found myself drawn to Elias’ chapters first. The story is told in alternating points of view from Laia, a Scholar hoping to free her captured brother, and Elias, a Martial trained to be a deadly fighter who wants nothing more than to abandon his post. I preferred Elias’ chapters to Laia’s and found him to be more engaging both in his personality and his situation. He was confident and passionate, but also struggling with his morality. As a result, he was much more enjoyable to learn about and had a stronger voice than Laia. I think I can definitely add him to my list of favourite characters.

However, Laia did display some good character development. When we first meet her, she is a meek and fearful girl. As the story progresses, she begins to find the strength she needs, although slowly. And whilst I really did enjoy having a heroine who wasn’t all badass and could kill a man with one well-time punch, Laia’s constant reminders to the reader of how weak she is did start to grate. Okay Laia, we know you’re a bit of a wet fish, we don’t need reminding; just get on with it.

Nevertheless, whilst Laia wasn’t your generic badass YA heroine, she did fall prey to another trope: the heroine who doesn’t notice just how beautiful she is and how all the men want her despite a number of blokes vying for her affections and everyone constantly telling her how pretty she is. I think I actually prefer the tough girl heroine to the ‘beautiful but doesn’t know it’ heroine.

And this leads on to probably my main issue. Rape is mentioned a lot in the book. Now, I wouldn’t usually mind that, except for the fact that rape was talked about constantly in a casual manner. This is partly where the book falls prey to telling not showing again, as we are often told of how the Martials rape Scholar slaves but never actually see anything. I know that this is a YA book and so scenes of rape may be deemed too distressing, but there are a few almost-rape scenes. However, they only really involve Laia. She is constantly threatened with rape because she’s just so beautiful and the Martial men will simply have to have her. Yet nothing truly happens. Except for the one time where it is about to be attempted by one of the antagonists, only for the hero to swoop in and save her and not actually add anything to the plot. And then when the suggestion of rape is used to stop an antagonist discovering Laia’s real whereabouts. It just felt like a plot device really and it was only ever an excuse for the hero to save the damsel in distress, or as a scapegoat, or to emphasise Laia’s beauty. I know that this is a brutal world, but I believe the display of brutality could have been handled better.

So yes, my main problems really lay around Laia’s characterisation and the flippancy with which rape was threatened. I’ve seen this mentioned in a few other reviews, but mainly it hasn’t been picked up on.

Nevertheless, like I said, I still really enjoyed the story. I loved Elias and greatly enjoyed many of the other characters.

Helene is a character who seems to either be loved or hated by readers. Personally, I neither loved nor hated her. I really liked her, but it was more her complexities that interested me. She really was the most complex character in the book and I applaud Tahir for her excellent writing of Helene. I never quite knew what Helene was going to do in any given situation (but not in a bad way) and, as a result, I looked forward to any scene she would be in. Her relationship with Elias was gripping and there was one scene in particular that I thought was really well written:

*SPOILER ALERT* 

 

 

When she confesses her love to Elias. That was a great scene and had me on the edge of my seat.

 

 

*SPOILER OVER*

I thought the romances (yes, plural) were kind of up and down in how I favoured them. There were a couple that didn’t interest me, including the main one that we’re obviously supposed to be rooting for, and then there’s one I definitely root for, but I won’t say which as I don’t want to spoil it. However, none of them were instalove! 

As for the antagonists, whilst I could take or leave Marcus, I thought the Commandant, Keris, was brutal. Cold, calculating, sadistic, she was an excellent villain, but she still had the complexity that the villain needs, the idea that there was once some good in her but circumstances snuffed it out. Whenever she was around, I worried for the safety of the characters.

Keenan was a secondary character that I thought was fine. Interesting enough and I felt a little sorry for him towards the end. Izzy I also liked, for the sense of purpose she found and her determination.

The writing was also fine. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever read and I didn’t really read any lines thinking ‘wow’, but it kept the pace moving well and did its job. However, one small problem I had was that the language sometimes sounded much too modern and American. When I first read the word ‘jackass’, it really threw me as I wasn’t expecting such an Americanism in a Fantasy setting. And yes, whilst it is Fantasy and not a real world, ‘jackass’ is such an American word and not really used anywhere else in the world that it felt quite jarring.

Which I suppose leads me onto the world-building. I really liked the setting overall and thought it was unique, especially with the Roman inspirations. However, I think it did need more fleshing-out. I’m still unsure as to what the Scholar race are really like. At first I was imagining them as being inspired by a South Asian or Middle Eastern setting, due to Laia’s dark hair and golden eyes, but then the constant references to the Scholar’s thirst for knowledge and philosophy made me think that maybe there were Ancient Greek influences, which would go along with the Roman theme. I was just really quite unsure as to what the Scholars were like and right now I can’t think of any way to describe their culture except for their desire to read and write and learn. I’m hoping that the world-building around the Scholars will be improved upon in the sequel.

So after nit-picking a lot of things, you’d probably think I’d give less than 4 stars. But all in all, I really did enjoy it. I loved Elias, really liked Helene, and I was totally caught up in the story itself. So, whilst there were a few faults, the fact that I enjoyed it so much is why I’ve given it 4 stars.

Overall, Tahir has crafted a good, complex story with a few standout characters, and I look forward to getting my hands on the sequel.

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Have you read An Ember in the Ashes? Did you enjoy it? Or do you want to read it? Let me know in the comments below!

caitlin

 

Review: Vivian Versus the Apocalypse by Katie Coyle

17825130 Vivian Versus the Apocalypse by Katie Coyle

Genre: Young Adult / Contemporary / Apocalyptic

Publisher: Hot Key Books

My Rating: 5_star_rating_system_3_stars

Synopsis: Vivian Apple never believed in the Church of America – unlike her fanatical parents. And as for the so-called impending ‘Rapture’, she knew she’d believe that when she saw it. But then Vivian wakes one day to a New World, and all that’s left of her parents are two empty spaces. The Believers have been taken, it seems. And for those left behind, the world is a desolate and eerie place. All Vivian has now are her memories and her volatile friend Harp.

Faced with a society on the brink of collapse, Vivian and Harp embark on a journey across America, in search of any family they have left, and determined to expose the truth about the Rapture. Three thousand miles through floods, fog and heat waves, Harp and Vivian and a boy with the bluest eyes and the kindest heart are driving on to their future.

But will this be a coming-of-age road trip with no return?

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I received this book from The Willoughby Book Club last year when I had a subscription for three months. I have to say, they’re really great at finding books that are right up your street. And whilst I’ve only given this book three stars, it’s definitely one that could have been five stars if it had only been executed better. It’s apocalyptic, after all, and we all know that’s my favourite.

The premise of Vivian Versus the Apocalypse is certainly an intriguing and original one. Despite my love for all things apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, I haven’t read an apocalyptic novel revolving around religion before. The idea in this is, obviously, that the Armageddon is closing in and God will be taking all of his believers to Heaven and leaving everyone else to perish in fire and brimstone.

From the get go, Vivian is extremely sceptical of this ‘Rapture’, as it’s called. But then, the morning after ‘Rapture’s Eve’, she returns home to find her parents gone. What ensues is an America falling into disarray, environmental disasters and the law being taken into people’s own hands. Sounds like a great story, right?

Well, yes and no. As I said, this is an excellent idea, but there were quite a few flaws. Character inconsistencies, plot holes, okay writing and a dull romance bogged down the pace of an otherwise good idea.

So let’s start with the characters. Our heroine is Vivian Apple, your typical YA Contemporary Plain Jane with a weird name. A self-confessed goody-two-shoes, Vivian at least has a redeeming factor in that her intelligence wins out over her rule-following persona, meaning she doesn’t subscribe to the archaic and damaging views of the Church of America and its leader, Beaton Frick.

However, a part of me wonders if the story would have been more interesting if goody-two-shoes Vivian, who has never rebelled until going against her parents and being a Non-Believer, had actually been a Believer at the beginning of the book and forced to confront the harsh realities of her corrupt religion. I found it a little hard to believe that a girl so intent on ‘being good’ would go against her beloved parents and not follow their religion, at least out of a sense of duty rather than actually subscribing to it.

Vivian’s inconsistencies are why I struggled to connect with her right from the beginning. She spends much of the book going back and forth between differing views and I really couldn’t put my finger on who she was, other than being a bit boring. Normally a 1st person narrative makes it easier to connect to the character, but there was nothing special about Vivian’s voice. In addition, Vivian’s attempts to rebel seemed more like childish outbursts to me, not the signs of a girl growing into a strong woman.

Other characters include Vivian’s ‘best friend’ of a few months, Harp. Harp was annoying and selfish for much of the book. She redeemed herself somewhat towards the end (as did Vivian a little when she actually showed some real guts at one point, rather than throwing a childish fit), but I was still never enamoured with Harp. Which was a shame because she was the only POC in the book, along with her older brother Raj. However, we never saw much of Raj, who felt more like the token gay POC there to add a little diversity and further the plot (or rather, not really further it because he’s forgotten about pretty quick).

Then there’s Peter, ‘the boy with the bluest eyes and the kindest heart’, who was dull dull dull and nothing else.

The one character I did like, however, was Edie. She had much more personality than the other characters. She was kind, a little dippy, and genuinely interesting.

But after moaning about the characters and their lack of development, what about the plot? As I said before, it was a great idea, it just wasn’t executed well. There were quite a few plot holes and loose ends that were never tied up (although they may be tied up in the sequel). For example, after the Rapture, we learn that only a small proportion of Believers were actually Raptured. However, America seems to fall into chaos. Suddenly, the police don’t exist. People are vandalising and even murdering. It just didn’t add up.

Then there was the romance, which was pretty lacklustre and Vivian’s pining was a bit annoying when she should be focussing on more pressing stuff like where the hell have her parents actually gone?! I felt the romance was unnecessary to the plot, but thankfully there was no instalove.

However, the plot and pace were redeemed somewhat by some reasonably good twists in the latter portion of the novel. A few I didn’t really see coming and, though they weren’t totally shocking, they were still an interesting surprise.

Yet after all this moaning, there were some other positives. For starters, the novel raised some interesting questions around religion and religious extremism that I thought were refreshing and thought-provoking. It definitely held up a mirror to some of America’s archaic Christian values and showed just how backwards these views can look to the rest of the world.

The novel also addressed the issue of family and how you don’t have to love someone just because they’re blood, as well as the idea that whilst your parents may not have anything inherently wrong with them, like suffering with addiction or being abusive, they can still fail you. I think this is something that isn’t addressed much in YA. Normally the parents are loving but conveniently on the sidelines of the story to allow the protagonist to do crazy things.

Also, the writing was okay. It wasn’t anything special, and it could be quite corny at times, especially with some dialogue, but it was perfectly reasonable and got the main points across. In addition, the novel was an interesting mix of Contemporary and Apocalyptic Thriller. The story kept me engaged enough to want to keep reading. It felt like it was trying to be the next How I Live Now but Coyle didn’t have the same finesse as Rosoff to pull it off.

Overall, it was definitely an interesting idea, but it was let down by plot holes and relatively bland characters. I know there’s a sequel, and I think I will pick it up in the future to see where the story goes, but not anytime soon. I have to say though, I do seem to be in the minority here with my mixed feelings on the novel. The vast majority of people seem to have enjoyed this book, so I think it’s still worth a go if you’re interested in it.

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Have you read Vivian Versus the Apocalypse? Did you enjoy it or not? Do you want to read it? Let me know in the comments below!

caitlin

Review: Gemina (Illuminae Files #2) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

51dvtx-9rylGemina (Illuminae Files #2) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre: Sci-Fi / Young Adult

Publisher: Rock the Boat

My Rating: 5_star_rating_system_5_stars

Synopsis: Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

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My Review

If you’re new to the Illuminae Files, then please give yourself a late Christmas present and get started on this series ASAP because wooooow is it good. You can check out my review of Illuminae here.

So how did Gemina compare to Illuminae? Well, just like Illuminae, I’ve given Gemina five stars. Once again the epistolary form really benefits the novel’s storytelling and character development. The plot jumps between the different formats and characters seamlessly, weaving a web of intrigue and questions. I was worried that a new cast might put me off a little, but actually I really enjoyed them, and Kaufman and Kristoff drop enough hints about the impending arrival of the Hypatia to keep you interested, as well as throwing a fair few spanners into the works.

This novel focuses on the main characters of Hanna Donnelly and Niklas Malikov fighting for their lives. I have to say that, whilst I really liked both of them, I think I prefer Kady and Ezra as protagonists, but only just. This is mainly because I struggled to put my finger on who Hanna exactly was – she felt a little like a watered-down version of Kady. Nik I preferred to Hanna; he was funny and crude, but once again he did share a lot of similarities with Ezra (and Ezra’s complexity was something I really loved and felt to be truly unique and captivating when it came to his character development).

That being said, I still really liked them. Maybe I was just trying to compare them to Kady and Ezra because I loved reading about them so much, but I at least thought Nik had a really interesting backstory. However, there was definitely one standout character for me in the form of Nik’s cousin Ella Malikova. She actually annoyed me ever-so-slightly at the beginning, but Nik makes a comment about Ella being full on and how it’s just her and, after that, I accepted her personality a lot more and came to enjoy any scenes involving her. She was witty, intelligent, crude like Nik, but also a realist and I liked that about her. And in addition to this (VERY MINOR SPOILER ALERT) she’s great disability rep. She doesn’t let anything stand in her way.

The rest of the cast consisted mainly of adults, same as Illuminae, which is why I think this is such an accessible series and definitely a crossover between YA and adult. There weren’t as many ‘big players’ in the adult cast as in Illuminae and I didn’t really become attached to any of them like I did with James McNulty, Winifred McCall and Byron Zhang, but it was still a large and interesting cast. Saying this, I probably didn’t become attached to any of the secondary characters as much simply because the majority of them here were the villains. But they were definitely compelling villains.

As for the plot, it was the strong point of the novel. Another complicated story with a myriad of sub-plots, I never got bored of it and couldn’t wait till everything collided for the big finale. Nevertheless, I do have a few critiques.

As you’ve already seen, I critiqued Hanna and Nik, feeling they weren’t quite as well-rounded as Kady and Ezra and how they felt too similar. Yet still I’ve given this book five stars. That’s because these critiques didn’t really effect my overall enjoyment of the novel. I still think it’s a pretty much flawless and incredibly unique series, and is 100% one of my favourites of all time. However, this is an honest review, and if I feel some things didn’t quite hit the mark, then I’m obviously going to point them out.

Anyway, after that ramble, my critique for the plotting is this: I felt that Kaufman and Kristoff tried to pull the same shock tactics as they did in Illuminae. Because of the similarities, these ‘shocks’ didn’t affect me. Something huge would happen and instead of my heart pounding or me actually sobbing for a good portion of the book (as happened with Illuminae) I actually just thought “nah, it’s fine, he/she will get out of this/hasn’t actually done that/won’t die”. And lo and behold, I was right. These big shocks that worked so well in Illuminae fell a little flat in Gemina because they were recycled. If you’ve read Gemina, you’ll probably know what I’m referring to.

And this leads to the fact that Gemina didn’t hit me quite as hard as Illuminae did. However, I think that’s down to the fact that Illuminae was just so new and different and daring. Once that’s been done, it’s hard to compete or improve upon it. Gemina did have lots of fresh ideas to contribute, I just wish there had been even more. Yet maybe if they had tried to push the boundaries even further than in Illuminae, the book might have become too unrealistic, which would have been even worse.

Overall, the new ideas that Gemina contributed (there were some big ‘uns) definitely outweighed the slight con of some recycled ideas. I wish this series won’t end and I’m going to be devastated when I’ve finished the final book. The entire thing is a whirlwind of action, humour, and emotion and, like I said in my Illuminae review, I don’t really know how Kaufman and Kristoff have pulled it all off.

I hope that my critiques haven’t deterred anyone because this is seriously one amazing series and I cannot recommend it enough; there were just a few very minor things I picked up on that I thought could have been tweaked. But all in all, Gemina was an excellent sequel; I think the wait for book 3 might just kill me.

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Have you read Gemina? What did you think of it? Do you agree with my review? Are you planning on reading it? Let me know in the comments below!

caitlin