Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

A Tale Of Magic – Chris Colfer

Magic was outlawed in all four kingdoms – and that was putting it lightly. Legally, magic was the worst criminal act a person could commit, and socially, there was nothing considered more despicable.”

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Blurb: “Fourteen-year-old Brystal Evergreen has always known she was destined for great things–that is, if she can survive the oppressive Southern Kingdom. Her only escape are books, but since it’s illegal for women to read in her country, she has to find creative ways of acquiring them. Working as a maid at her local library gives her the perfect excuse to be near them and allows her to sneak a few titles home when no one is looking. But one day Brystal uncovers a secret section of the library and finds a book about magic that changes her life forever.”

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The best-selling author of the The Land Of Stories is back with another magic filled series. I found Chris Colfer’s previous to be hit and miss so it’s nice to get some refresh with something brand new.

While The Land Of Stories relied on classic fairy tale characters, A Tale Of Magic doesn’t which makes it wholly original to what readers have seen before from Chris Colfer. The story takes place in a kingdom where women are very restricted in what they are able to do, and where they are able to go to the point where when Brystal is given the opportunity to leave it is a relief. The world is expertly built and does a fantastic job of showcasing Colfer’s talents; every location the reader is taken to is vivid and distinctive. Brystal is a strong lead and I’m interested to see what her arc will be throughout the books. It’s so easy to get behind her as her magic begins to manifest and she pushes for more rights.

However, in terms of story I just didn’t really connect with it. I feel in places it was just a bit too long, given it’s the first in a series and there’s a lot of set up. I did have times when I found myself distracted or skim reading to get through some chapters.

A bold effort from Chris Colfer and I am intrigued to see what he comes up with next.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Starfish – Akemi Dawn Bowman

“Don’t live to please the starfish, especially when their happiness is at the expense of yours. That is not love. That is narcissism. There’s an entire ocean out there kiko, swim in it.”

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Blurb: “Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.”

Trigger warnings: talks of a suicide attempt, racism, emotional abuse.

Kiko is a character that I found to be very relatable: she’s incredibly anxious, channels all of her emotions into creative pursuits, is desperate to prove herself, and feels like she is solely identified by her connections to other people (for example, “friend of…”). On a side I can’t relate to, she is mixed race – part Japanese- and faces a lot of racism throughout the course of the book, primarily from her own mother.

The crux of the story is really centered around Kiko’s relationship with her mother which is incredibly mentally abusive. Her mother is dismissive, demanding, clearly disgusted by Kiko’s dreams or art school and her general facial features which she reiterates that Kiko got from her father. It is incredibly rage inducing to read at times and I felt just as suffocated as the character. The narrative plays into the idea of “what ifs” by certain interactions with the mother being followed by “what I wish I’d said” and “what I actually said.” I loved this element as, again, it’s incredibly relatable. So many people have experienced that hindsight of wishing they could stand up for themselves but instead choosing to stay quiet. Another narrative decision I adored is that every chapter ends with Kiko drawing, and each piece that she works on provides some overall framing for the events of the chapter, showing how she is physically channeling her experiences and emotions into art.

The introduction of Jamie, a boy from his early years, gives Kiko a positive space to grow as a character and also provides the reassurance she needs that what her mother is doing to her is wrong.

Kiko’s growth over the book is astounding and the way she begins to stand up for herself is something that I hope inspires teens, who feel like they are in a similar situation, to stand up and fight.

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Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, review

Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams

“Turns out the sadness that silence from the person you love brings can be temporarily erased by the dull thrill of attention from strangers.”

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Blurb: “Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places…including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth. As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”

Trigger warnings: sexual assault and violence, domestic abuse, racism, panic attacks.

I found out about this book through listening to the author on an episode of the Mostly Lit podcast and what initially attracted me to it was the fact that it follows a black woman in her mid-twenties. More often than not there’s a gap in this area of the market so I jumped at the chance to read it.

Queenie opens with the protagonist, of the same name, getting a smear test. Instantly relatable to any person with a vagina at this age. Very quickly it becomes clear that this character is facing several crossroads the main one being that her relationship with her white boyfriend, Tom, has fallen apart after an encounter with his racist family. Queenie can be a very difficult character to like as she spirals and willingly puts herself in a lot of dark and troubling situations; rejecting any attempts at help laid out in front of her. She enters worrying territory and doesn’t really begin to accept or process what she did and what she let happen until her body begins to feel the effects. She is called out by many characters in the text, and eventually seeks therapy, but there was something about the unexpected routes that has left me wondering whether I actually enjoyed this book by the end of it.

The audiobook, narrated by Shvorne Marks, was great because she used different voices for the characters and breathed so much personality into the side characters. I’d love to listen to more audiobooks narrated by her.

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Posted in Dystopian, review, young adult

The Extinction Trials: Rebel – S.M.Wilson

“But Lincoln knew that while there might be the chance of fertile land, more space and more food on Piloria, it all came at a cost. A cost he’d witnessed. Could humans and dinosaurs really inhabit the same continent?”

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Blurb: “Storm and Lincoln’s city is burning. The people are starving. The only place left to run is Piloria, the continent of monsters. It’s up to Storm and Lincoln to keep their people alive as they colonize this lethal paradise. But will the biggest threat to their survival be the monsters in the jungle…or the ones inside the encampment with them?”

The Extinction Trials has been a dinosaur filled saga that constantly questions what people are willing to do in order to survive. The final book in this series, The Extinction Trials: Exile, sees the inhabitants of Earthasia face the biggest decision of all: stay here and die, or move to a dinosaur infested island for the chance of a new life.

An interesting aspect to see of this book was the result of people getting a cure for an certain illness. In a world where everything is so heavily restricted I never really thought about the effects fixing a seemingly minor problem would have on the society. The city is even more overcrowded than before and, with the belief dinosaurs are no more, the masses seek to relocate. I thought it was interesting to see this two distinctive continents suddenly be reduced to one and watch the gap continue to grow between those who had been to Piloria before and those who hadn’t. I loved seeing the politics once again start to take over in a new setting as people decided they should remain in charge and essentially just colonise another island when raptors were just having a grand time running around eating people.

One small but unexpected thing I’ve loved consistently throughout this series is the perfect balance between the dual perspectives. Just when I was starting to wonder what Lincoln was doing, I’d turn the page to find his chapters. Also, S.M.Wilson has just a way with visual writing that at times I really felt like I was in Piloria myself.

However, this book really did suffer from “second book syndrome” despite being the finale. At 200 pages in, nothing had really happened and I was starting to wonder if anything ever would. It just didn’t have that push or urgency expected from the last book, and despite loving the first two so much, it was actually a disappointing end. Admittedly, I feel a little cheated.

The Extinction Trials: Exile, fell short of all the promise it had, but overall is a series very worth investing the time into.

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Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, review

Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

“If she knew how often I was thinking about her, she wouldn’t feel lonely.”

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Blurb: “Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things. Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.”

Trigger warnings: drug abuse, addiction, alcoholism, and abortion.

I recently read The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo and absolutely adored it. So when news hit that Taylor Jenkins Reid had a new book on the horizon, of course I was counting down the days.

After the success with my previous audiobook, I decided to pick up this one in the same format. I was not disappointed. There’s a whole cast and it’s absolutely brilliant. Every narrator seemed to know their character so well and conveyed their personalities perfectly. There wasn’t a single weak link; not one voice that put me off when it came to a particular point of view. Much like its predecessor, Daisy Jones & The Six reads as if an interview is being conducted. While listening to the story unfold, I couldn’t help but picture each other the characters sat in a chair talking about their role in this rock band while looking directly into a camera.

While Daisy’s name is in the title, it was the surrounding characters that really captured my attention. Billy, the vocalist of the band, deals heavily with alcohol addiction and he was captivating to listen to. Even though I hated most of what he did in the story, his perspective has left a lasting impression.

While music obviously plays a big part of the story, it was fascinating to see everything behind the scenes from recording studios, to being on the road, to leaving feuds behind when on stage. It’s an incredibly well-rounded story and Taylor Reid Jenkins did a brilliant job of managing all the different plot threads.

It was also so great to see all the female characters in this book fight to stand up for themselves in a male dominated industry.

Daisy Jones & The Six knocked me off my feet and scooped me back up right at the end, giving me lots to think about for a very long time.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Jackpot – Nic Stone

“I could say what I planned to: I think the lady is holding on to a big winner and doesn’t know it. That she made an impression on me, and I think she deserves to cash that ticket in and enjoy the rest of her time here in this often unkind world. But will he believe me?”

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Blurb: “Meet Rico: high school senior and afternoon-shift cashier at the Gas ‘n’ Go, who after school and work races home to take care of her younger brother. Every. Single. Day. When Rico sells a jackpot-winning lotto ticket, she thinks maybe her luck will finally change, but only if she–with some assistance from her popular and wildly rich classmate Zan–can find the ticket holder who hasn’t claimed the prize.”

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Nic Stone is the author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out which I both loved. So naturally I jumped at the chance to read a new book from her.

I’m a sucker for unlikely duos: people from different worlds working together. Rico is poor working all hours outside school whereas rich Zan is giving twenty dollars to classmates just so he can take their seats in class. While she is trying to keep her head above water with homework and paying rent, Zan has the luxuries that Rico could only dream of, even if the wealth is his parents and not his own. Zan messes up a lot over the course of the book in how he speaks about Rico’s situation but slowly he learns about the privilege he owns.

Jackpot is initially a treasure trail trying to find the kind woman on Christmas Eve who possibly forgot about her winning lottery ticket. But beyond that there’s discussions of poverty and class difference. A serious medical situation highlights the reality for so many Americans: not being able to afford healthcare. Rico’s mum says she would rather die than end up in hospital because the debt would end them.

The narrative is broken up by thoughts from inanimate object such as salt shakers in a diner the duo visited, or the winning lottery ticket itself. This was an interesting way of providing an outside perspective on the characters’ situation. They almost act as the narrator addressing the reader’s concerns.

Nic Stone has this incredibly way of writing that just sucks me into the characters lives and makes me feel so deeply for them. I have loved every single one of her books so far and I think Jackpot is my new favourite.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Infinity Son – Adam Silvera

“I’m dead set on living my one life right now, but I can’t say the same for my brother.”

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Blurb: “Growing up in New York, brothers Emil and Brighton always idolized the Spell Walkers—a vigilante group sworn to rid the world of specters. While the Spell Walkers and other celestials are born with powers, specters take them, violently stealing the essence of endangered magical creatures. Brighton wishes he had a power so he could join the fray. Emil just wants the fighting to stop. The cycle of violence has taken a toll, making it harder for anyone with a power to live peacefully and openly. In this climate of fear, a gang of specters has been growing bolder by the day. Then, in a brawl after a protest, Emil manifests a power of his own—one that puts him right at the heart of the conflict and sets him up to be the heroic Spell Walker Brighton always wanted to be.”

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Adam Silvera has always been a hit and miss author for me. I tend to find that I really love his ideas but the execution falls a little short. However, when I heard that his new book was not going to be a contemporary but in fact was a YA fantasy, I was really intrigued to see with what he’d come up with. Adam talks in the introduction of this book about his experiences with fantasy and gay fiction growing up and how it was something that he never really saw representation until he came across City Of Bones by Cassandra Clare. It made him realise those kinds of stories can be published and began working on his own. Initially, the heroes in this book were heterosexuals and changed to gay leads later on.

Emil and Brighton are brothers but totally different. Brighton is famous online and wants to be a celestial whereas Emil wants to live the most boring and mundane life possible. This world is made up of specters, celestials and spell walkers but there’s not much distinctive explanation given to fully understand what makes them different. With the main characters already existing in this world, daily things are told through dialogue more as a “you already know this” than a “we need to explain this to you and therefore the reader.” Emil is a gay teen but the nice thing to see is that it’s more a footnote in the wider story. While coming out stories are incredibly important, the ones where those characters just exist alongside their sexuality are equally important; especially in fantasy where diversity is sometimes lacking.

It’s multiple perspective which at times I felt was detrimental to the story. I wanted to learn more about Emil and Brighton in their little duo and the breaks away from them were sometimes jarring and done so to flesh out another part of the world.

The story is set as if this is in modern day so technology is used to capture footage of the magical beings and often swung a certain way to feed the agenda of respective sides. Interesting world building in a political sense but just wish the finer details of magic were explained a bit better. There’s a lot of “it’s not like that” at story clichés that end up being true such as the chosen one. It reminded me of how in movies they’d go “this isn’t a movie.” A small niggle but it felt like an attempt to distance itself from stories that existed within the world to try and make it more real and its own entity. 

The ending of this book was truly incredible and has me gasping that I have to wait even longer to find out what happens next. Adam Silvera’s first fantasy book is a triumph and I look forward to seeing him grow over the series in this new genre.

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Posted in adaptations, discussion

I Saw Harry Potter And The Cursed Child

“At it’s heart, we hope that the play reflects the beauty of theatre – the simple art of storytelling in its purest form.”

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[Note: For the sake of #keepthesecrets this is a spoiler free review]

Like pretty much every Harry Potter fan on the planet, when the script was released for the “eighth story”, I drowned in a sea of nostalgia as I sat and consumed the entire thing in the intended four hours. J.K.Rowling had spent many years eluding the character’s fates beyond the historic “nineteen years later” but nothing had ever been imortalised in ink. But after the rush of emotions at new Potter content subsided and I took the time to really process it, I found a lot of issues with it. In fact, I really didn’t like it at all. A lot of things felt cheap to me, like they’d been thrown in for fan service; and I was not alone as many other Potter fans expressed how it felt like fan fiction, while others defended it by saying it was intended to be seen, not read. So I cast it aside, making my jokes here and there, until my friend discovered that the £20 per part tickets I’d thought were tied to the “Friday Fourty” lottery were in fact purchasable through regular means. At £40 in total, despite my reservations, I said yes.

We were fortunate enough to get a two show day, meaning we saw Part One in the afternoon, followed by Part Two in the evening. Cheap seats get you the cheap views, so we were right up the balcony at the very top, with limited leg room and some restricted viewing. It got a tad annoying when people leaned forward for parts of scenes/actor placement at the front of stage and my view became restricted even more, but with the familiarity of the actors voices, and a prior knowledge of the show, I was able to still follow it when they were obscured.

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There are parts of the plot that I fully accept, don’t get me wrong (Harry’s PTSD is dealt with fantastically, Albus dealing with the pressure of a famous father, Albus & Scorpius’ friendship) but many aspects directly damage the original Potter series in terms of the timeline of events. And it’s something I’ve never been quite able to get past.

I tried to put these reservations aside going in because so many people I know who have seen the show said the visuals are incredible. Harry Potter And The Cursed Child has won more awards, just in London alone, than I can count and has been praised endlessly for its technical uses and staging. This love is very much well placed. The stage has to work for TWO separate plays and with the number of sets and plots, it blows my mind that this play does eight shows a week but half of them are different to the others. The magic never felt cheap or overused to satisfy its pre-existing audience; with the use of many familiar spells it felt right at home in the piece. So many scenes and little tricks had my jaw practically on the floor. While the books had your imagination, and the films had magic added in post, stage has nowhere to hide. And minus a very very small number due to the angle of our seats, I am totally convinced it’s all real magic. The technical, stage and visual effects are so expertly done that it’s smooth and slick. The people involved in bringing that to life deserve every good word and possible award. Part of me really wants to know how it was achieved, but the other part of me wants to blissfully continue as if what I witnessed was all real.

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Sadly, I found the acting quite weak. I think a lot of this is to do with the fact that characters such as Harry Potter are so well known through their previous portrayals that, even with new material, its really hard to deviate and put your own spin on it because fans are expecting what they already know. The new characters felt freer because there isn’t anything placed upon them. No one could tell them they’re “doing it wrong” because… well… it’s never been done before. The absolute standout for me in both parts was Jonathan Chase as Scorpius Malfoy. His delivery was just perfect and his timing often had me chuckling away in my seat and he was able to give a convincing emotional performance when needed. He was an absolute delight, but everyone around him just felt a little off.

I’m glad I took the opportunity to experience the story as it was intended to be seen, but it just didn’t make me feel how Potter normally does. I fully appreciate the amount of work, both on and off stage, that goes into continually making this the success it is. The show has no shortage of fans who love it, I just happen to not be one of those people.

Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

Again, But Better – Christine Riccio

“I needed to know there was at least one other 20+ person out there feeling as alone and lost as I was at the time and couldn’t find one. This is for all the teens, young adults, who feel like they’ve been left behind” – Christine Riccio.

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Blurb: “Shane has been doing college all wrong. Pre-med, stellar grades, and happy parents…sounds ideal—but Shane’s made zero friends, goes home every weekend, and romance…what’s that? Her life has been dorm, dining hall, class, repeat. Time’s a ticking, and she needs a change—there’s nothing like moving to a new country to really mix things up. Shane signs up for a semester abroad in London. She’s going to right all her college mistakes: make friends, pursue boys, and find adventure!”

I’ve followed Christine’s booktube and her her writing series ever since it began. I knew the moment it came out I would want to read it and, when that day arrived, I didn’t hesitate. As with all my reading lately, I picked up the audiobook and the narrator, Brittany Pressley was just incredible at doing voices to distinguish the characters and it really felt like I was listening to the story play out and that she really cared about what she was narrating.

Shane is a very relatable character: she’s a bundle of nerves, loves reading any YA books she can get her hands on, and also feels like she wasted most of her college experience because she was too afraid to leave her room. She sees this study abroad period to London as an opportunity to right everything that she’s been doing wrong; a chance to become someone new. I saw a lot of myself in Shane and I feel that if I’d have this book when I was 20 that it would have encouraged me out of my shell a bit more. I was right there with Shane through every awkward encounter. It really helps that she has a group of new friends around her to bounce around interactions with and show that growth she has throughout the book. However, as the romantic element of the story kicks in, those side characters I grew to love, such as Babe, were sidelined and ended up falling a bit flat.

Again, But Better tackles the idea of “what would you do differently if you could do everything again… but better?” It’s something I think everyone’s experienced at some point in their life and it was interesting to see that explored over the course of this book and I thought it was a really nice redirect in the story.

I had a few niggles which are as follows: Shane is basically Christine self-inserted into her own novel. I’ve trying to work out whether this comes from me knowing Christine from her videos as a lot of Shane’s personality and preferences are shared with Christine, though I feel like this would not be as obvious to someone who doesn’t know her prior to reading the book. There’s a lot of pop culture references used to frame the timeline which I don’t mind in contemporary (I like the little nods here and there) but there were so many that I reached a point where I actually wanted them to stop. A lot of them as well were incredibly niche book mentions that readers in 5 years time probably won’t know. One part of this that particularly grated was when Shane uses the abbreviation for The Fault In Our Stars, TFIOS, but when asked what it stands for by another character she doesn’t elaborate any further than “only the best book ever.”

In addition, there is fact that Shane’s love interest, Pilot, has a girlfriend but this doesn’t stop her trying to pursue him, and this isn’t really called out by anyone, let alone herself until the Pilot’s girlfriend actually comes to visit. This is something I’ve seen a lot of reviewers really hate but honestly, maybe it was the narrator doing such an amazing job, it didn’t really ruin my reading experience like I thought it might do.

The conclusion feels kind of rushed, almost like an afterthought to the main bulk of the story. But overall, I enjoyed Again But Better a lot more than I thought I would.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Unbound – Victoria Schwab

“I am Mackenzie Bishop. I am a keeper for the archive and I am the one who goes bump in the night, not the one who slips. I am the girl of steel, and this is all a bad dream.”

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Blurb: “Last summer, Mackenzie Bishop, a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive, almost lost her life to one. Now, as she starts her junior year at Hyde School, she’s struggling to get her life back. But moving on isn’t easy — not when her dreams are haunted by what happened. She knows the past is past, knows it cannot hurt her, but it feels so real, and when her nightmares begin to creep into her waking hours, she starts to wonder if she’s really safe.”

The sequel to The Archived sees Mackenzie Bishop is experiencing PTSD from the events in the previous book. She starts blacking out for significant periods of time and has to balance the job of being a keeper alongside going to school.

The same time flashes continue in this book, giving the reader further insight into Mackenzie’s relationship with her grandfather which keeps him present and reinforces the ideals he taught the protagonist. Wesley continues to be prominent and provides that outlet for Mackenzie to open herself up to and support her with the growing demands of being a keeper.

As always with Schwab’s books, there’s a big mystery and dangerous things to deal with which keeps the reader on their toes. No matter how many times I feel like I’ve worked out the big reveal, I’m surprised by the end result and that’s the magic that keeps my love for this author’s work alive.

The Unbound doesn’t shy away from the mental strain Mackenzie is going through. Alongside the trauma, she is trying to live a normal life. The pressure and tension build as she is nowhere near a door to the narrows while at school, and given the amount of time she spends there, the names on her list keep growing faster than she can take them out. It feels as if everything is building to the point of explosion and Schwab carries this through expertly.

While this book has many threads that I love about Schwab’s stories but compared to its predecessor, it falls a little flat. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that the world opens up but only follows Mackenzie. With no other perspectives to veer off to, it feels like the space is too big for the story its trying to tell.

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