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Review: Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

***

3/5 Stars

I definitely found this read to be enjoyable, but unfortunately I did not find it all that satisfying.

It needed more.

The world was bloody and unyielding. The characters were fierce and very, very intriguing.

But everything needed to be fleshed out more. 

I flew through this book and was enamoured with the style of the world and the crisp narrative Young wields like a well-honed dagger. However, I feel like this story needed another 100 pages. Give me more robust plot building, slower relationship development, and for gods’ sake, DIG INTO THE LORE. 

I ended the read with far too many questions. The end battle felt too easy and rushed. Who in the eff were the Herja? Why were they a thing? Why were they so brutal? Why, why, why?

I could continue asking questions, but all of them would spoil the entire book for others, so I’ll keep them to myself.

As a whole, this book brimmed with possibility. The idea was lovely. There were some snippets of excellent descriptive writing that made me sigh in pleasure. The violence was well done and bluntly painted for the reader. I quite liked the protagonist, though I didn’t really get to know her as well as I would have liked.

Which is why I give this book 3 stars. It was decent, and I liked the premise. It just needed more length and robust building.

Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

****

4/5 Stars

Well, here was a fun, shallow ride with a greedy protagonist chock full of flaws.

Alessandra is a character who is materialistic, conceited, greedy, and bloodthirsty. She’s not meant to be all that likeable…which is why I immediately liked her. Seriously, the first few pages made me laugh out loud. “His last word was my name. I won.” 

This book doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is – a romantic story with a vain main character who also stands strong as a woman who decides what she gets to do with her body. She doesn’t give a sh** about formality or virtue – she does what she pleases.

I know there are some people who didn’t like this book for some of the things it places in a positive light. But I recognize that the author simply wrote the characters the way she built them – flawed and vain.

I did want more of the magic system. Of the gods and devils. How does this world turn? There are guns, and mention of electricity. But carriages? It reads like a medieval fantasy but the science is there. I need more! Gimme mooooore.

Alessandra and her friend’s ranking system hilariously reminded me of me and my friends in grade eight. Felt a bit immature but it was silly fun.

And that’s really what this book was when you boil down to it: silly fun. 4 stars is a bit steep, sure, but it was easy to give it that rating because I enjoyed the ride. Books are allowed to be simply entertaining! I may be brutal with my reviews sometimes, but mostly that’s when a plot is oddly weak or the writing needs help. Levenseller does well on both counts.

Aaaand that’s all I have to say on this read. It was quick, digestible, entertaining, and interesting. Easy 4 stars!

Review: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

*****

5/5 Stars

Minor spoilers ahead.

There are times when a character in a book stares at you, right into your soul, and you know without an inkling of a doubt that you’re connected. It’s an eerie connection that’s both comforting and terrifying, because seeing yourself in a fictional character with clearly described traits and flaws makes you feel far too seen.

And yet it’s beautiful.

Elsa in The Four Winds is one of those characters for me. Reading about her emotions, tucked carefully aside because of her inability to properly discuss them, smacked me right in the heart. I’ve always struggled with feeling invisible, unwanted, not important to the people around me. I’ve craved recognition, have always wanted to be a person that others want to have around, have always wanted to feel effortlessly beautiful. So reading Elsa’s pain and quiet fortitude was a strange solace.

She also always assumes everything that goes wrong is inherently her fault. Even when she can’t think how, she knows she is the reason things haven’t gone the way they should. Another thing I do, too.

Of course, outside of that, our similarities end. But that one small connection is what made me crave this book. I wanted to read her journey, see how she traverses the Great Depression..

I also connected with Loreda, Elsa’s daughter. Not immediately, but later, when she felt abandoned and unloved by her father. I, too, have an absent father, one who never tried to make me feel like I was important to him, one who essentially turned his back on me. The pain of it is aching and merciless. It doesn’t fade. It just continues to pummel your heart until the bruises are permanent.

The scene where Loreda discovered Rafe’s departure was almost too difficult for me to read. Her question, why would you leave me?, nearly undid me, because I’ve also had it rolling in my mind my entire life.

This is my first Kristin Hannah book, and I’m absolutely stunned. I’ve been eyeing the Nightingale for some time but just haven’t spent the money on it yet. Now I most definitely will, because if The Four Winds is any indication, Hannah has a complex, heartfelt voice that beautifully captures the struggles of her characters. I felt like I was living in the 30s, experiencing the crash of 29 and the following drought. I saw the dust, the run-down farms, the sack dresses.

I witnessed the divide between cultures and religions, like weeds stubbornly swaying in the broken soil. I felt the rise of hope and its inevitable crash as the characters fled to California.

I also experienced how desperately broken our society is. This book really cemented to me just how fractured humanity truly is, and always has been. There are always people looking down on others, grinding them beneath their heels, dismissing their hardships. It’s eerie how this book is a reflection on history and how it repeats itself.

Will we ever learn?

Will we ever wash out the blood? Open our minds? Build a world strengthened by kindness and understanding, equality and empathy? Or are we cursed to cycle through violence and suffering and hate, over and over and over again?

Those are the questions this book left me with.

A heartbreaking 5 star read, written with a frank voice that doesn’t intrude with the story, but rather allows it space to breathe.

Review: A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

****

4/5 Stars

The Iliad and The Odyssey have long held my heart in their bloody fingers.

The fierce tales of so many heroes and gods have never ceased to sharpen my attention. I’ve always been enamoured of anything Greek, of the breathless, cruel glory of all of the characters tucked within the epics. 

When I first heard of A Thousand Ships, I hoped for something similar to Madeline Miller’s beautiful Circe. The frank views of the women in the shadows of the Trojan War? Yes. A thousand times yes.

However, this blunt novel is drastically different from Miller’s romantic, lush work. At first I found myself disappointed…but then I was unceremoniously seduced by the familiar tone of the story, made unfamiliar by the voices that have so long been dismissed. While I craved the connection I felt towards Circe, I understood the importance of having so many different voices showing their piece of the fabric of Troy and its demise. 

The ripple effect of its fall was just as stunningly brutal as the war itself, made even more stunning by the tales of the women. Of their subtle strengths and powerful hearts. Of their bravery and their vengeance. 

Where Miller’s voice is one of poetry and lush beauty, Haynes’s narrative is clear and chimes without any extra adornment. She allows the stories of the women to read simply and frankly. It gives a basic kind of power to the words, and I, one who much prefers lyrical voices to blunt ones, enjoyed it immensely. It proved to me that beauty is still easily tucked into a narrative if the writer has a keen understanding of what she’s doing. 

A lovely, much needed read. I’m happy I picked this book up.

Review: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

***

3/5 Stars

This book did not meet my expectations.

The premise was so incredible – a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in glittering 1920s Shanghai?

Yes. Please.

And yet I struggled to care about anything throughout this book. I did not like the two main characters, and their ‘romance’ was completely and mournfully bland. The secondary characters were so much more vibrant and interesting than the two protagonists.

The twists and turns were not done in a deft manner. I called them far before they were given to me. Any suspense was subtle, and the climax felt woefully anti-climactic.

Some scenes didn’t feel necessary, or completely forced. The drinking scene, for instance. The ‘rough’ character they encountered, who forced them to take shots, made no sense. Why would they trust this guy? Why would they willingly get so drunk? I’ll tell you why – Gong just needed the two characters to get well inebriated for the next scene she had planned.

As for the writing, I truly think Gong has an astounding talent. Unfortunately, she hasn’t honed it yet. She has a lovely, lyrical style that has moments of overwriting. There were some off-putting instances where she would have some stunning narrative interspersed with jarringly basic writing a lot of YA is cursed with. She consistently falls into the trap of telling readers things rather than showing us. The fictional dream was shattered for me over and over again because of this, and perhaps that is part of the reason I did not care one whit about anything.

Seriously, her writing is an odd blend of excellent and amateur. I honestly believe she will become a writer to be truly reckoned with one day, especially since there are a couple passages in These Violent Delights that really showcase her talent. The prologue and Chapter 12 are the strongest pieces of writing in this book, though they were also a bit jarring, as they are in present tense while the rest of the novel is in past tense.

I sound harsh. But mainly because I’m disappointed and because I think Gong can most definitely write, she just hasn’t found her stride yet.

I have yet to decide if I’ll read These Violent Ends or not.

Review: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

*****

5/5 Stars

An emotional, ravaging, beautiful 5 star read.

This book tells the much needed story of the women who are tucked away in biblical stories. I am not a religious individual, but I AM a lover of excellent narrative and history, so this book embraced me in it’s stunning prose and kept me there until the last page, where I shed a small tear over the beauty of Dinah’s story.

I don’t know if the characters portrayed in this book were ever real people. I DO know that human society has gone through many different types of evolution. Beliefs have undulated and fluctuated over the centuries. As have morals. The way every day life is structured has shifted over the many years of human existence. Society started somewhere.

The Red Tent delves into the female flesh of history. It discusses the survival of people and shows the enormous contrast between civilizations. It’s frank with the cold judgement and expectation of the Jacobites. It illustrates the strength, grace, and pain women most likely went through so deep into the roots of our history.

It paints the ebb and flow of love. How people took delight in the curves of passion and the beauty of intimacy. It made me think about what it is to be a natural human, unfettered by today’s lofty expectations fed by social media. What kind of woman would I have become if I had lived in such a demanding time? Would my strength have flourished in its own subtle way, or would I have wilted from the weight of a world so thoroughly owned by men?

The writing was achingly beautiful. I was engrossed in the everyday life of Jacob’s women, and in Dinah’s slow progression. My heart broke for her time and again.

I don’t have any complaints about this book. It was written to showcase what could have happened with the women in this time, and it did what it sought to do.

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

**

2/5 Stars

I wasn’t going to post this review, but a reviewer must be honest, else they stand to lose their quality as a reviewer. 

First, please realize that I enjoyed Maas’s other work quite a bit, albeit with some complaints.

Now, diving into this review…I honestly don’t understand the hype this book has.

The writing is so incredibly weak. It tells rather than shows nearly everything, and the character of Celaena is mind-bogglingly flawed and I simply couldn’t stand her.

She is the bestest assassin in all of the lands who loves parties and eating mysterious candy, who doesn’t wake up when people slip into her room unannounced. She’s a frightened little girl when it comes to a demon.

She reads like a clueless teenager, not a skilled assassin who has led a life of trauma and blood. I don’t care that her character is meant to be frivolous. An assassin who dresses to impress is fine – but an assassin who gushes about the most ridiculous things does not read confidently. Her darkness is not as rampant as it should be.

I am impressed with the growth Maas goes through as a writer. Her more recent work, while still imperfect and fraught with repetition, showcases much stronger and mature writing. Her Court books didn’t make me feel like I was attempting to read the work of a frilly 15 year old. 

It’s insane to me how bad this book is compared to her other work.

I didn’t care about anything until the climactic fight. Each chapter was a chore to read. I groaned out loud multiple times, and only managed to sink into the story when Celaena was (small spoiler) up against Cain. 

That’s the main reason why I’ll get to the other books in this series at some point. I’m assuming her writing in ToG strengthens over time. 

Overall, I can’t stand this ‘assassin.’ I gave zero shits about the plot until the end. I’m only giving the rest of the books a chance because I know Maas eventually grows into herself as a writer. She learns how to craft imagery with much more skill, and settles into her niche of describing human emotion and dialogue. 

Unfortunately, this book does not show any of the talent she definitely has. But she’s sold many, many copies, so perhaps I’m just blind to something.

Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

****

4/5 Stars

The reaction I had to this book was much milder than I anticipated.

Perhaps because my expectations were incredibly high. Or perhaps because this book has a mellow charm to it, despite its sharp, lengthy story, a charm that kept me invested because of its laborious heat that never burned hot enough to have me fully engrossed.

The writing is stunning. It reaches into the depths of the craft and winds beauty with each phrase. It paints images and feel with intelligent poise. Schwab’s ten years spent on this book did not go to waste.

I had no desire to fly through the pages. I enjoyed Addie’s story, and appreciated the keen expertise of Schwab’s work. But it was a slow read that never sped up. Maybe it’s not meant to be a pulse-pounding read, but I found myself craving something slightly more.

Saying that, the story is beautiful. The themes heart-wrenching. The ending did not give me joy, only a sorrow for what comes next. Because no matter what, Luc is not a hero. And he is not meant to be. Which means the hope many find when they reach the end of a story is not found at the end of this one.

I respect the steel in Addie. The strength in Henry as he stands, head bent against the many storms. I am intrigued by Luc, though I cringe from him, as again, he is no hero.

This book made me think. Made me remember just how sweetly flavoured a well-written book tastes. And for that alone, I give this read 4 stars.

Review: A Reaper At The Gates by Sabaa Tahir

****

4/5 Stars

I nearly gave this book 3 stars, but the last half drew its rating back to 4.

The thread that carries the story is made of steel, though the material surrounding the thread felt weak and flawed. The pace was off in the first half of the book – it took me all week to slog through it. The writing felt bland. Like the author was desperate to toss so much into the book that she lost her lyrical energy. But! Near the end her lovely narrative reappeared. The strength regained its footing. I devoured the second half in one night.

The Blood Shrike, who was my least favourite character in the other two books, was my favourite in this book. She felt the most consistent. Laia…I did not like Laia this time around. I didn’t like how she was constantly going against everyone’s advice. Sure, she’s independent and on a destined path. But UGH. Heroines who are constantly getting themselves into trouble because they ignore those around them PISS ME OFF. Her strength and determination near the end redeemed her, thankfully.

I’m also slightly disappointed with Keris. She is such an intriguing character. Polished and so dynamically malicious. But seriously..spoilers her ultimate goal is world domination? Is she going to have an evil laugh all flinch to hear in the next book? The Nightbringer is an excellent antagonist. Keris WAS until she was given such a tropey goal. It doesn’t fit her.

And Elias. Oh, Elias. For the most part, I really enjoyed his chapters. Learning more about the magic of the world and the history of the jinn was great. But everytime he ignored the very clear warning bells and kept making the same mistakes over and over…I wanted to throttle him. My heart does ache for him and Laia.

I’ll get to the last book eventually. I’m suffering from series exhaustion, which could be part of the reason why it was a bit tough for me to give this book a 4 star rating.

Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

****

4/5 Stars

Here was a read that flickered with flame edged with a cold and bewildering violence. Here was a YA that was both unoriginal and yet fresh. It took on the Empire vs Rebellion trope and hinted at shattering it in future books.

I really enjoyed reading it. I tore through it fairly quickly, and am about to pop out to the store to get the next installment. That’s always a sign that I’m hooked.

The romance piece was my favourite part. Not because it was cheesy, or spicy, or anything like that…but because it was a little more realistic in the sense that the characters weren’t immediately madly in love and blind to everything and everyone else around them.

I really appreciated how BOTH protagonists were drawn to other people before their relationship began to smolder. And even during, while the sparks were still figuring out how to properly light, they were both noticing and thinking about other potential love interests. It’s so normal. Real world relationships aren’t black and white. You meet so many people, and more than one will intrigue you until your heart grows into the acceptance of a single person.

The writing was a blend of rich and blunt. There were times it took a moment to paint, and others where all that mattered was the action. Quick, concise sentences that snapped through each breath. Honestly, this was one of the best written YA I’ve read in a while. I’ve grown used to repetitive writing, weak phrases, and strange punctuation. Tahir, thankfully, actually spent time honing this book.

Why not 5 stars? Because I felt like the beginning trauma didn’t hit Laia hard enough. Sure, adrenaline does wonders to a body and a mind, and she had to keep moving or die…but surely the horrors of the first chapter would have haunted her a little more than what we were shown. I know the author could have sank into it more, as she does so with Elias, so that’s my main complaint.

Time for book two!