Category: Reviews (page 1 of 19)

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline MillerThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on September 20th, 2011
Genres: Historical Fiction, Retelling, LGBTQ+
Goodreads

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper - despite the displeasure of Achilles's mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

5 Stars

“He is a weapon, a killer. Do not forget it. You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”

The Song of Achilles is a coming-of-age story told from Patroclus’ point of view, combining romance, heroism, and tragedy. This was five stars worth of pain and hands down one of the best retellings I’ve ever read in my life.  

Let me commence by praising Madeline Miller’s beautiful and flawless writing. You can tell she had worked on this for a long, long time, for there wasn’t a single word out of place. Every word had its purpose, landed its mark. The Song of Achilles is one of the most quotable books I’ve read in my life. For this review, I could barely choose between these lines that comprise delicate wording, strong messages, and raw emotion.

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Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear Martin by Nic StoneDear Martin by Nic Stone
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers on October 17th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Goodreads

Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it's Justyce who is under attack.

3.5 Stars

“You ever consider that maybe you not supposed to ‘fit’? People who make history rarely do.”

Dear Martin is the third book I’ve read this year on discrimination against black American teens. I feel like this topic has gained an increasing amount of attention in YA literature, and this makes me extremely happy, for it is an issue in dire need of recognition and action. As a white person, I recognise my privilege and cannot fully comprehend the issues POC face, but each book I read and POC I talk to brings me closer to understanding.

In spite of being short, Dear Martin packs a punch by addressing police violence against black American individuals and being torn between two worlds through the eyes of a young man writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King. And this is where my unpopular opinion comes in: Though I enjoyed this book, I had expected more from the story as a whole. 

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Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Morning Star by Pierce BrownMorning Star by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising Saga #3
on February 9th, 2016
Pages: 524
Goodreads

Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied—and too glorious to surrender.

5 Stars

We will howl and fight till our last breath, not just in the mines of Mars, but on the shores of Venus, on the dunes of Io’s sulfur seas, in the glacial valleys of Pluto. We will fight in the towers of Ganymede and the ghettos of Luna and the storm-stricken oceans of Europa. And if we fall, others will take our place, because we are the tide. And we are rising.

My review for Morning Star was a tough one to write – not due to the amount of criticism but perhaps the lack of it. When I started this series roughly a year ago, I’d have never thought that this whole Red Rising business was going to be so bloodydamn epic. This series took me completely by surprise, and I’m happy to share my praise of Pierce Brown’s work with you – even knowing that my word vomit can never truly do this incredible book justice (and yes, it took me over half a year to type up this semi-coherent review).

Morning Star was a real peach of a final instalment. I think I’ve already said this about the sequel but Morning Star was darker, grittier, and bloodier than the previous instalments. Ever the master of character dynamics, politics, battles, and heart-stopping plot twists, Brown brought his finely atuned concert to a crescendo in Morning Star, and I will gladly send him the medical bills for all the heart attacks I suffered during this series but specifically reading the final instalment.

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Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Piecing Me Together by Renée WatsonPiecing Me Together by Renée Watson
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on February 8th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 272
Goodreads

Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she's ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. And Jade has: every day she rides the bus away from her friends and to the private school where she feels like an outsider, but where she has plenty of opportunities. But some opportunities she doesn't really welcome, like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for "at-risk" girls. Just because her mentor is black and graduated from the same high school doesn't mean she understands where Jade is coming from. She's tired of being singled out as someone who needs help, someone people want to fix. Jade wants to speak, to create, to express her joys and sorrows, her pain and her hope. Maybe there are some things she could show other women about understanding the world and finding ways to be real, to make a difference.

4 Stars

Sometimes I just want to be comfortable in this skin, this body. Want to cock my head back and laugh loud and free, all my teeth showing, and not be told I’m too rowdy, too ghetto.

It’s a shame that one book release on a certain topic – such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – can create such a buzz, whereas others focusing on similar, if not the same, topics are easily overlooked. Both of these books focus on race, injustice, and inequality, but go about addressing these themes in a very different manner.

While The Hate U Give addresses blunt police violence against black individuals, Piecing Me Together zooms in on a more subtle form of aggression, namely micro aggressions. It is a quiet, slow, and character-driven book about self-love, dreams, friendship, and the power of art. This book talks about what it means to be a black, to be a woman, and that having the same skin colour does not necessarily result in mutual understanding.

Though contemporary is not my go-to genre, I find myself enjoying it so much when I feel like a book is expanding my knowledge on issues I cannot relate to and teaching me something about life. Piecing Me Together is that kind of book. I found myself writing down quotes every other page. Though I consider myself a person who is aware of many struggles POC experience in their daily lives, this book has opened my eyes to a great deal more.

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You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney GardnerYou're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on March 7th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 297
Goodreads

When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.

Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up.

Out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off—and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.

2.5 Stars

“Silence is the loudest sound.”

You’re Welcome, Universe taught me so much about Deaf culture, and for this educational aspect alone, I’d love to give it five stars. Its theme is underpinned by lovely graphics every other page. Unfortunately, the good rep, diverse characters, and strong focus on friendship were overshadowed by an otherwise weak plot. A lovely concept that just… fell a bit flat. 

As an able-bodied person, and not knowing anyone who’s deaf, it was difficult for me to judge the accuracy of the rep, but throughout the book, I had a good feeling about it. I scanned the reviews for insight on personal experience and stumbled upon Cait’s review, which confirmed my impression that the Deaf rep was well researched. I recommend checking out other #OwnVoices reviews as well.

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An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret RogersonAn Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on September 26th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 300
Goodreads

Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There's only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.

Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

3.5 Stars

The vibes I got from An Enchantment of Ravens makes me place this somewhere between A Court of Thorns and Roses and Wintersong. The similarities to the former put aside, Margaret Rogerson created a set of lovely characters and an enchanting world. This is, however, a classic case of good ideas not being entirely able to make up for a weak, meandering plot. This author’s writing is promising, but her debut has been overhyped, I’d say.

When I’d first read the premise for this book, I’d gotten strong A Court of Thorns and Roses vibes from it, and I was hestitant to pick it up. You’ll see reviewers saying there were no parallels between the books, whereas others told me I might like it in spite of those. Well, I have since claimed my place in the latter group. Though this book does contain elements similar to A Court of Thorns and Roses, this does not mean you won’t like this book if SJM wasn’t your jam. Things that’ll remind you of the aforementioned book: The heroine who paints, the divided-into-seasons fae courts, the love interest with dark hair and amethyst eyes, and the plot catalyst of him barging into her home and demanding she stand trial for her crimes.

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Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira AhmedLove, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
Published by Hot Key Books on January 16th, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 288
Goodreads

A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape--perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacquelyn Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

Maya Aziz is torn between futures: the one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter (i.e.; staying nearby in Chicago and being matched with a "suitable" Muslim boy), and the one where she goes to film school in New York City--and maybe, just maybe, kisses a guy she's only known from afar. There's the also the fun stuff, like laughing with her best friend Violet, making on-the-spot documentaries, sneaking away for private swimming lessons at a secret pond in the woods. But her world is shattered when a suicide bomber strikes in the American heartland; by chance, he shares Maya's last name. What happens to the one Muslim family in town when their community is suddenly consumed with hatred and fear?

4 Stars

Love, Hate & Other Filters reads like a more serious When Dimple Met Rishi. It is because of its comparison with the latter that I’ve decided to bump up the rating from 3.5 to 4 stars. The two books, both written by authors of Indian origin (one Hindu, one Muslim), cannot but be compared due to the way they are written and the themes they touch upon. However, if you didn’t like Dimple or simply crave more serious topics in contemporary, then you’ll probably like Love, Hate & Other Filters more.

I’m scared. I’m not just scared that somehow I’ll be next; it’s a quieter fear and more insidious. I’m scared of the next Muslim ban. I’m scared of dad getting pulled into Secondary Security Screening at the airport for “random” questioning. I’m scared for the hijabi girls I know getting their scarves pulled off while they’re walking down the sidewalk––or worse. I’m scared of being the object of fear and loathing and suspicion again. Always.

As with most YA contemporaries, Love, Hate & Other Filters didn’t dig as deep as I would have liked and entailed a strong focus on romance. Nonetheless, Sara Ahmed has achieved a compelling depiction of an Indian Muslim girl’s battle with parental expectations, prejudice in a country she was born and calls home, and the joy and pain of a first crush.

I am not a Muslim and thus cannot judge this book from a point of authenticity. I review diverse books to my best knowledge and as a human being who cares. However, I suggest you also check for reviews by minority readers.

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Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross by Marie LuWarcross by Marie Lu
Series: Warcross #1
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on September 12th 2017
Genres: Science-Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Goodreads

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

2 Stars

Once again, I don’t get it.

I don’t know if it’s because I am currently fully burned out of YA or if Marie Lu just does not connect with me, but I truly do not understand the hype around Warcross. This novel is the epitome of ‘amazing premise, bad execution’. I was looking for a Japanese version of Ready Player One, and indeed the two novels are quite similar in plot, but Warcross didn’t even come close to Ready Player One in suspense, thrill or character development.

The book centres around Emika Chen, a young hacker and bounty hunter in NYC. As an orphan, she is struggling to make ends meet and dedicates her time to catching Warcross criminals. Warcross is a fully-immersive virtual reality combat game created by young billionaire, Hideo Tanaka, and the championships are watched by everyone around the world. When Emika accidentally hacks herself into the game she gets offered an undercover job as a player and spy in the game.

The premise may not be the most original but that doesn’t matter because it works. Competitions are one of my absolute favourite tropes in books (see Ready Player One, The Hunger Games, Wolf by Wolf, The Scorpio Races etc.) and so I found it surprising I didn’t like this book more. I should have loved it.

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Roar by Cora Carmack

Roar by Cora CarmackRoar by Cora Carmack
Series: Stormheart #1
Published by Tor Teen on June 13th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 380
Goodreads

In a land ruled and shaped by violent magical storms, power lies with those who control them.

Aurora Pavan comes from one of the oldest Stormling families in existence. Long ago, the ungifted pledged fealty and service to her family in exchange for safe haven, and a kingdom was carved out from the wildlands and sustained by magic capable of repelling the world’s deadliest foes. As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora’s been groomed to be the perfect queen. She’s intelligent and brave and honorable. But she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people.

To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora’s mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. At first, the prince seems like the perfect solution to all her problems. He’ll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more secrets Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her. When she dons a disguise and sneaks out of the palace one night to spy on him, she stumbles upon a black market dealing in the very thing she lacks—storm magic. And the people selling it? They’re not Stormlings. They’re storm hunters.

Legend says that her ancestors first gained their magic by facing a storm and stealing part of its essence. And when a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage.

She might not have magic now, but she can steal it if she’s brave enough.

Challenge a tempest. Survive it. And you become its master.

2 Stars

Instead of writing a YA fantasy, perhaps Cora Carmack should’ve written a handbook on ‘How To Ruin a Good Magic Concept With a Mediocre Plot And an Insufferable Romance 101’. Because, for me, that’s exactly what went wrong with Roar. Yet another female author who tried to pass possessiveness in men off as sexy, and I’m having none of it. 

When I picked this up, I knew I was not going to like the portrayal of men. So, I purposefully decided to focus on something else. The main character Aurora Pavan seemed interesting at first. A girl born without magic in an ancient royal family of Stormlings (= people who control the deadly storms ravaging the lands). Carmack gave me something I could work with: A princess who didn’t immediately receive the ‘special snowflake’ stamp from me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t connect with Aurora aka Rora aka Roar much otherwise. Aurora was entirely too naive and too reckless for her to appeal to me as a heroine. Her plans weren’t thought through, which brought much annoyment about, and she didn’t have any distinctive spark. Towards the ending, I had to give up the notion that Aurora was anything else but speciuuul, so unfortunately, that’s just another negative point I now have to add to this review.

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Now I Rise by Kiersten White

Now I Rise by Kiersten WhiteNow I Rise by Kiersten White
Published by Delacorte Press on June 27th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 471
Goodreads

She has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself.

After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won…and souls will be lost.

5 Stars

“Do not lose that hunger. You will always have to fight for everything. Even when you already have it, you will have to keep fighting to maintain it. You will have to be more ruthless, more brutal, more everything. Any weakness will undo everything you have accomplished. They will see any crack as evidence that they were right that a woman cannot do what you do.”

If you’re looking for a Young Adult novel that combines a Vlad the Impaler reimagining with a rich historical setting and a glorious feminist storyline, then The Conqueror’s Saga is your address. This series excites with multi-layered characters and fascinating character dynamics, intriguing political/war schemes and engaging personal endeavours. And I Darken was a slow build-up but I was really intrigued, especially by the sibling leads. The book’s ending gave me a hint that I was going to like where Kiersten White was headed with this story, and I was right.

Though Now I Rise is split into Lada’s and Radu’s separate storylines, it does not feel like a filler book. Compared to And I Darken, the sequel is grittier and bloodier. The stakes are raised, as each sibling yearns and fights to be something their harsh world will not permit them to be.

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