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May 15, 2017

Mini Reviews: The Dark Days Club and The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman


Title: The Dark Days Club
Author: Alison Goodman
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: January 26, 2016
Genre(s): Paranormal, Fantasy
Source: Library
Pages: 482
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London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong  curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?
This book was initially hard to get into. It chafed me to read about how antiquated the norms in the 1800s were. I was so not here for Helen obeying her uncle and brother, her aunt obeying her husband and the general lack of freedom that women had, not to mention how casually people assumed and said that women couldn’t think or act as well as men. NOPE. These practices were all very normal to Helen, and although she wished things were different, she blamed herself for thinking that way and actively tried to squash such ~rebellious thoughts. While I understood that, I couldn’t really relate or sympathize (which makes me sound like a jerk). The way she addressed and thought of Carlston using his title “Lord” brought a level of formality to their interaction that made it incredibly hard for me to ship them or even care about Carlston. Also Selburn was an unfortunate Nice Guy character and I hated him with every bit of my soul. Finally, I had no clue what purpose Margaret or Hammond served and I wish their backstories were explored a little more thoroughly.

But otherwise! I really liked the book. Goodman’s style of writing super worked for me. The book moves really slowly but I was hooked early and fast, and it’s been really hard for me to find a book like that. All my recent five star reads have been quick, fast paced books. While Helen annoyed me a little throughout the book, it was evident that her character was developing bit by bit. The paranormal side of the book is quite simple, which I was okay with. The book is mostly character (specifically Helen’s character) and relationship driven, and the plot has more to do with Helen coming to terms with her identity and new role than it does with Reclaiming. This book was all about setting the stage for book two--getting Helen into the mindset of a Reclaimer, getting Darby to support and help Helen throughout, introducing Helen to the Carlston’s world, and introducing the two of them to one another. Character change is pretty glacial (sometimes to the point of frustration, tbh) in this book, but it in the end, I felt satisfied because it wasn't rushed.

Title: The Dark Days Pact
Author: Alison Goodman
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: January 31st, 2017
Genre(s): Paranormal, Fantasy
Source: Library
Pages: 496
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June 1812. Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club. Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen to spend the summer season in Brighton so that he can train her new Reclaimer powers. However, the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work have taken hold, and his sanity is beginning to slip. At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her. The stakes are even higher for Helen as she struggles to become the warrior that everyone expects her to be. 
The Dark Days Club was the book in which Goodman moved all the pieces into place for the roller coaster that was The Dark Days Pact. Book #1 left me thirsty for some actual Reclaimer-Deceiver action and yay, I got it! The one thing that continued to bring my investment in the book down was how flat the secondary characters were. I was supposed to ship Quinn and Darby I think, which lol wut. Selburn clearly exists to complete this weird quadrilateral that has been set up which I’m fine with because watching Helen put him in his place is joy. The whole point of Lady Margaret was to pit her against Helen for Carlston’s affections and show how Helen was soo much more level headed than her. I literally cannot think of anything else that Margaret did besides fawn over Carlston and disapprove of Helen, smh.

Everything in The Dark Days Pact is amplified--the intricacy of the plot, the speed of character development, the thrill in the action scenes. Reading about Helen navigating them while coming to terms with the fact that she has to lead and has to take on roles she never thought she’d have to AND deal with these weird tingly feelings whenever she looks at Carlston was such a delight. Again, in this book, the intricacy of the plot has more to do with people and character dynamics than Deceiver stuff. Goodman didn’t really delve into what Deceivers are, or their history and I didn’t really care because I was too busy enjoying Hammond and Helen and Carlston.

Goodman does slow, natural character development really well. Helen comes from a society where women defer to men for every major life decision, and she broke out of that mindset very slowly and uncertainly which was a very refreshing take on the “yer a wizard harry” trope (if that isn’t an official trope, I’m making it one). She trains and plans and tries her best, and the plot never works out conveniently for her. She fails some times and succeeds some other times. Yay reality!

Speaking of Helen and Carlston, they don’t interact a lot during the book, but when they do, it makes Helen and Carlston and ME go fluttery. I am going to come collecting for way more alone time than they got, come book 3. THERE IS A GENDERBENDING KISS SCENE WHICH LEGIT UNDID ME. The ending was one, long, bloody, action-packed ordeal (that I actually had to read several times because so much was happening) and the whole fiasco was nicely rounded off with the most gut-wrenching of cliffhangers.

Because, you know, JUSTICE.

May 11, 2017

Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas


Title: A Court of Wings and Ruin
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens Books
Publication Date: May 2nd 2017
Genre(s): High fantasy, young adult
Source: Bought
Pages: 699
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Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin's maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.
As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places. 

In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

This book is the textbook definition of a hot mess. This book is what you get when you try to bake a cake and pie together and you get is a mess that’s sort of well done in some places, raw in some others, and honestly you don’t even know what the middle is, other than a hot sticky mess, but oh well it’s chocolate goo so why not eat it. In plain english, this book might be long, but it drags in places it shouldn’t, and glosses over parts that shouldn’t.

Look, I’ve made it pretty clear in my past reviews that I think that SJM peaked with Heir of Fire. It took me a couple of books after that, but in ACOMAF, I made my peace with the fact that her books were not going to hit me hard in the feels ever again. So I’m not exactly surprised at how I found ACOWAR. In many ways, I feel like ACOTAR as a series is wasted potential, but somehow, it ends up being very readable, so I keep reading, and I keep reviewing, so here we are?

I don’t think these books are bad by any means. What they are, and what ACOWAR especially is, is lazy.

Whether you agree with me depends on what you want out of her books. Do you want a sole focus on character dynamics and romance scenes? Then this book is probably for you. I, for one, enjoyed Nesta’s arc in this book, as well as Azriel’s and Mor’s. Nesta’s and Cassian’s dynamic was so on point because it taught me something new about these characters that felt organic and natural. THAT, kids, is what we call character development. I’ve simply given up on Rhys because he is the definition of predictable and boring. He went from this mysterious what-is-his-deal person in book 1 to this 1000% fluffy bunny who can do no wrong ever. I can’t even call it lack of character development because there is literally no character to work with here here. But overall, I’m not complaining. If I read this book for a reason, it was to see where these characters were going and what they were going to do.

What I wanted, however, was world building and a non-boring plot, and this book most certainly did not deliver. It’s been three books and I literally know nothing about the cultures of any of the seven courts. And no, don’t point out that the book contained descriptions of their palaces and clothes and food and whatnot. That's what we call telling, not showing. The courts are at war against Hybern during pretty much the whole book and we don’t see the effects of war anywhere except during glossed over discussions. Cassian is the general of the Illyrian legions but do we get to see how he commands his armies? Nope. Do we get to see how Azriel operates his network of spies? Nope. Do we get to see how Mor operates and runs Velaris? Nope. Do we get to see Amren actually displaying how powerful and and skilled she is at battle? Nope. Do we get scenes of Rhys when he meets with his governors, addresses his armies as they prepare for battle? Nope. (I mean, why do that when we can read about him going down on Feyre, right)? Do we get the perspective of civilians during the war? Nope.

See what I mean by this book being lazy? And that’s just the characters that have already been established in the first two books. The newer characters? Don’t even ask me what Jurian was doing because he wasn’t on their side and then he was and then he...wasn’t? We got nothing, nothing about his motivations, his character, his personal side of the story. Every time I tried to understand plot, my brain felt it was being poked with a thousand needles so like a normal person, I just stopped trying and went with it.

I don’t even know what to say about the complete shitshow that that ending was. It was like throwing a pot of tropes at the wall and checking to see what stuck. One second there’s a magic mirror, and a Weaver and a Carver and some other creatures who weren’t even spared an explanation in this book (did I mention there were 700 whole pages in this book btw), and the next second we’re confronted with actual characters: Miriam, Drakon, Vassa, Feyre’s dad who barely had ten lines of dialogue before they’re done. Talk about the mother of all deux ex machinas.

I'm on a roll here, so I think it’s worth talking about Sarah J Maas’ prose as well, which I’ve usually had praise for, even if I didn’t like her books. But it’s getting super repetitive and hyperbolic. No matter the severity of, say, an offensive remark thrown at Feyre (which btw is every other chapter), Rhys will respond with maximum righteous stone cold anger and night fury and whatever and I was just SO bored. It’s actually astounding and annoying all at once how little incidents occur all the time and the characters’ response to them remains the exact name. Besides that, the responses are even worded the same way. DEAR? GOD?

And finally, the romance. I’m not making this up, I actually fell asleep while reading about Feyre and Rhys ~making love. That’s how god awfully boring they’ve become. They were at their most interesting when Feyre, as High Lady, acted with the authority and surety of any other High Lord and gave no shits about anyone who had a problem with it, and when Rhys supported and encouraged her. But their relationship underwent zero changes over the course of the whole book. Chapter after chapter, I was fed scenes where they loved each other (quite vigorously, I might add), caressed each other, bantered with each other, and engaged in PDA that was so intense that all the grown adults in the room had to avert their eyes. There is zero struggle in their relationship. No arguments, no growth, nothing. It’s just glowing sex from start to finish.

Did I mention this book was 700 pages long?

(I’m just going to very casually pretend that Amren and Varian never happened because LOL WTF?? As for Elain and Lucien, they are a Titanic-level unship. That’s all.)

I’d like to end with the three things that royally pissed me off the most. More than usual, I mean.

The first is Rhys dying-but-not-really. Listen, I would like to kill this trope with the fucking Cauldron. I’m so mad that this happened, and that he was brought back to life so easily and nonsensically. We are given literally zero explanation as to how he came back to life unless you count MAGIC KERNELS OF LIGHT.

The second is everything Amren-related. I’d grown really fond of Amren in ACOMAF, and while I saw her as part of the ~squad, I respected that she was different from them and had her own goals. I definitely expected her to just do her own thing, even if that meant leaving the group. I really, really hoped that her arc would end in her going home, and the squad helping her get there. But nooope, instead we get High Fae Amren! Gah.

The third is Tamlin. Everything, just everything about him. 90% of the time, I had literally no idea where Tamlin was at, what he was thinking, what his motivations were. That wouldn’t be such a problem, if he wasn’t so freaking integral to the plot. A huge part of ACOMAF was about Feyre dealing with the way Tamlin treated her and nowhere in this gargantuan book is there a follow up to that arc. Like, it just stopped being a problem and went away? There were SO many opportunities for Feyre to face Tamlin (as High Lady), call him out on his behaviour, for a real conversation about what happened, and they were all missed.

I’m a little mad at myself for even reading the whole book, but at the end of the day, it’s about readability, and this book has it and I sure as hell did enjoy myself.

October 05, 2016

Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Crooked Kingdom
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
Publication Date: September 27th, 2016
Genre(s): Young Adult, High Fantasy
Source: Borrowed
Pages: 561
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Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

This review has very mild spoilers.

With Crooked Kingdom, I somehow experienced the full spectrum of human emotion and loved every wretched second of it. I don't want to analyze this book, I just want to talk about how perfect it is. This book is perfect in every way that I can think of. It's a book me that makes me stop thinking about what's happening and makes me live the story. I was so disappointed with Ruin and Rising that I feared that Crooked Kingdom would finish the way Ruin and Rising did, like a spluttering flame that someone stomps out.

But in Crooked Kingdom, Bardugo has woven some otherwordly magic, a plot that is relentless and seamless, prose that makes you want to stop and go over every word you read so you don't miss anything, a world that is detailed, diverse, and multicultural, so real and believable that I only want to see more of it, and a band of characters that are vibrant, complex, flawed and brought me to my knees.

While the plot of the book is a lot of fun, super gritty with all the fighting and badassery and perfect in every way I can think of, (the loudest of shoutouts to Inej and Nina, literally the bravest characters I know), the real winner here was the characterization. It seriously blows my mind how Bardugo packs so much character detail and backstory in two books involving SIX characters and multiple POVs. I ended the book completely in love with all of them. Like I said in my review of Crooked Kingdom, there are three, three glorious ships and STUFF happened in all of them.

Wylan and Jesper are quite literally the CUTEST. Jesper's dad showing up was a surprising...surprise (wow I really how know I review a book) and I loved watching him interact with Jesper and Wylan and support them. How often do you see supportive parental figures in a high fantasy seriously? Wylan was so freaking relatable. An underdog, but a quiet, loyal, hardcore Hufflepuff who always came through for Jesper and supported him exactly in the way that he needed to be supported. I also liked how we get to learn a lot of Jesper's and Wylan's childhoods and about Zemeni culture. Like I said, not only do all the characters have detailed character arcs in the book, there is a lot of backstory involved as well. Obligatory HOW-did-you-accomplish-this-Bardugo-HOW.

A lot of people didn't warm to Matthias as well, but his arc was very important to me. Matthias was
all about reconsidering his Fjerdan ways and culture and trying to reconcile them with what he was
experiencing in Ketterdam and his feelings for Nina, and watching him overcome his prejudice and
reading the resolution of his arc absolutely destroyed me. In a very Froi-like manner, I loved how
he started off as resolutely believing what he had learnt about the Grisha from the Fjerdans and how
he learnt to unlearn all of that. To me, his arc meant that those people can change and learn and are absolutely worth saving and rooting for.

I don't....know how to talk about Inej and Kaz without melting into NOTHINGNESS. Inej Ghafa is made of some otherworldly magic and grit and bravery. I am in awe, I have no words, and I feel like anything I say about her will not do her justice. I have quite literally never read any character like her, made of quiet courage and will one hundred percent. Her family is present in her mind all the time, and she both longs to see them and wonders what they would think of the person she is now. Both Inej and Kaz have been affected by Ketterdam, Inej because of the time she spent indentured to Tante Heleen and Kaz, because of how he was scammed by Rollins, and the way they deal with that pain is in sharp contrast. They are definitely the most fleshed out and well developed of the gang, fighting to recover from their past and they deal with it in very different ways. Where Inej is quiet, fierce hope, Kaz is relentless and fixated on his goal of destroying Rollins and afraid of what lies after.

I really wanted this book to have more kissing. But I'm even happier that Bardugo refused to indulge me. This book is a shining example of how an author really, really listens to her characters lets them find their own way to each other. It would have been super unrealistic for Kaz to overcome his apprehensions of starting a real physical relationship in such a short span of time, or for Kaz and Inej to spend the book dwelling on each other for ages since they were literally running and fighting and scheming for their lives every other chapter. Yes, there was progress, and I'm very happy that the book ended in the hopeful way that it did, without resolving in either of them kissing because I would not have bought that.

IN CONCLUSION, I could talk about every page and chapter of this book for hours. The prose is so quotable, the world is so intricate and the character development is off the charts. There is so much I know I haven't talked about. This review is a very inadequate description of my feelings. My heart is SO full. Of awe, of wonder. I can't believe that books like this exist, books with worlds and cultures and characters that make me feel so, so damn much. Bardugo is a genius and that is fact. I can't wait to see what comes up next.

October 01, 2016

The Couple Next Door by Shari LapeƱa - Another mystery thriller



The Couple Next Door

T
itle: The Couple Next Door 
Author: Shari Lapena 
Publisher: Random House Canada
Publication date: August 23, 2016
Genre(s): Adult Mystery/thriller 
Source: Publisher
Pages: 320

How well do you know the couple next door? Or your husband? Or even—yourself?  

People are capable of almost anything. . . 
Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco  soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they've kept for years. 

The Couple Next Door starts off with a harmless get together between neighbours. However, the next thing we know, Anne and Marco's baby is kidnapped. The spotlight is put on the parents and their suspicious behaviour and past.. this leaves the readers confused and not being able to trust the narration.. my favourite thing when it comes to mystery novels: unreliable narrators. 

As the novel continued, the couple's not so perfect life and selves started to unravel.. I had my suspicions on who the kidnapper was and I was right... I feel when I guess the criminal too soon.. it gets boring to me.. especially when the reason behind the kidnapping was a bit.... anti climatic? however the author did have another twist in the end.. but I personally thought it was a bit too.... unrealistic? it just seemed the more I read.. the more the author seemed to through twist after twist at us just so no reader would have really predicted the ending? it seemed like that to me and that is why I would have rated the first half of the book 4 stars.. but the second half was really not satisfactory. 

I must say I really liked the addition of the detective's POV.. it brought outside insight into the situation, especially when we couldn't trust the narrators and wanted another opinion to this mystery. I have to say, I had some expectations from this book especially when I was a quarter of the way in.. and they weren't met, but it was still an overall enjoyable read, just not up to part with some other mystery novels I have read recently.