Book Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Summary: The world is divided between Reds and Silvers, the latter are an elite who are in possession of god-like powers. When Mare Barrow, a Red, accidentally displays a set of stunning Silver powers in front of the King and Queen and their court, they have no choice but to proclaim her as a long lost Silver heiress. Mare accepts this role and uses her newly gained position to spy for the Scarlet Guard, a Red rebel organization working on overthrowing the monarchy. Mare is thrust into a world of power and jealousy where anyone can betray anyone.

Thoughts: I really loved this book, YA cliches and all. The one thing that really ruined this whole experience for me was that the MAJOR plot twist in this book was spoiled for me before I read the book. Basically, I read this book knowing what was going to happen, but hoping it wouldn’t and tricking myself into thinking that I read that spoiler wrong. I didn’t. The less you know, the better your experience will be. Half the time I was reading the book, knowing what was going to happen, all I could think was WTH MARE!! You were warned so many times, why didn’t you listen????? But even though I really enjoyed this book, I can’t say that it’s unlike anything I’ve read  before because I’ve read many similar books that if they were meshed together would result in Red Queen. The social structure of Red and Silver reminded me of the social structure in Red Rising though much less complex. At the same time, it also read like Divergent and The Hunger Games but set in a world like Mistborn’s but not. I do recommend you read this. The writing is excellent and Mare is a very relatable character. The story will be slow at the start, but the plot twist is worth it because it will blow your mind (if it hadn’t been spoiled for you). I’m still bitter over that!

Stars: 4/5

Book Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Summary: Safi, a witch with the ability to tell truths from lies is hunted by nations on the brink of war. Her best-friend, Iseult, is on the run with her, but a dark shadow that turns people’s blood to acid haunts Iseult’s dreams that could mean the end of the world.

Thoughts
: Why do I have so many mixed feelings about books that I love lately!? I loved this book!! That’s for sure even though there were things that could have been improved. We will get to that. My favourite thing about Truthwitch was the world building because it was unlike anything I’ve read before. It reminded me a little of the Legend of Korra in the best way possible. This story is told from the perspective of four people. Safi is a Truthwitch. Iseult is a Threadwitch. Merrick is a Windwitch tasked with getting Safi to safety from the Emperor who wants to marry her and use her for her powers. And Aeduan is a Bloodwitch hired by the Emperor but who also has his own agenda and is on the hunt for Safi. Even though I hated Aeduan at the start because he read very scary, I ended up loving him the most by the end and I feel like there is still so much I want to know about him. I think out of all the four characters, his character development was the best because there was a very stark change from the Bloodwitch first introduced to the one that I got to know by the end. First and foremost this is a story about friendship and I haven’t read a lot of (or any) fantasy books that revolve around female friendships. I loved Safi and Iseult’s relationship and how they kept finding each other after getting separated and how they tried to help each other at the cost of their own lives. I really wanted to know more about them in this book but the plot was very fast paced and it didn’t really settle down long enough for me to get to know the characters as much as I would have wanted to. The ending was very dramatic but it also felt a bit rushed. So many things were happening and I just kept feeling like I forgot to read a few chapters leading up to the showdown. Not that it wasn’t clear because it was but I would have liked a chapter or two that would have prepared me for what was to come. For a fantasy this was a very fast read and a very enjoyable one and I will be picking up Windwitch when it comes out!

Stars
: 4/5

Book Review: Nowhere But Here by Katie McGarry

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Emily likes her life but she’s curious about her biological father—the one who chose life in a motorcycle club, the Reign of Terror, over being a parent. But when a reluctant visit turns to an extended summer vacation among relatives she never knew she had, one thing becomes clear: nothing is what it seems. Not the club, not her secret-keeping father and not Oz, a guy with suck-me-in blue eyes who can help her understand them both. Oz wants one thing: to join the Reign of Terror. And while Emily—the gorgeous and sheltered daughter of the club’s most respected member—is in town, he’s going to prove it to her. So when her father asks him to keep her safe from a rival club with a score to settle, Oz knows it’s his shot at his dream. What he doesn’t count on is that Emily just might turn that dream upside down.

Thoughts: I would never have bought this book if it wasn’t given to me. That’s how big of an idiot I am! I got it for free as I was leaving Dymocks in Sydney two years ago, because they were just giving out free books. Just. Giving. Out. Free. Books! And it’s been sitting on my bookshelf gathering dust all that time until I recently picked it up and ended up finishing it in one day. I would have finished it in one sitting if I could’ve. The book was very fast paced for a romance novel, which is one of the things I loved about it. Emily is a good girl from out of town who falls in love with Oz, who is a bad boy, but also isn’t because he’s a softie at heart. I loved all the family secrets and how they all came to be revealed. I wasn’t expecting the secrets to be what they were, but they didn’t come as a big surprise either. There were some cliches and a few scenes that made me roll my eyes but still, I enjoyed reading this book and I am officially committed to the Thunder Road series. I feel like there’s lots of potential for further character development and I can’t wait to see where it goes.

Stars: 4/5

Book Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Summary: Disguised as a boy, Amani escapes her oppressive desert town on the back of a mythical horse and accompanied by a foreign stranger called Jin. Her plans of reaching the capital of the Empire to strike out on her own are thwarted when she gets pulled into Jin’s world of espionage and rebellion.

Thoughts: I have so many mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I loved the mythology and the mythical creatures introduced in this book. I loved the slightly steampunk take on a Middle Eastern fantasy, which is very rare to see. But, it read so much like a western forced into a Middle Eastern setting. And that’s not the part that knocks off a few stars. What I didn’t like was the most likely unconscious stereotyping of oppressed females and sexist patriarchal figures. Amani was supposed to counteract that as this strong-willed, stubborn and very kickass main character. And that she was, but Amani had very little flaws to sympathize with. She wasn’t as complex as I was hoping she would be. While I read, there were parts that were so fast paced I wouldn’t be able to put the book down for eighty pages or so, and then the pacing slowed down and I didn’t pick the book up for a day. I think the first eighty pages of the book and the last eighty pages were my favorite. And now moving back to the good stuff… One of the things I did enjoy was Amani’s constant banter with Jin. I loved their chemistry, even if it wasn’t very showy. Alwyn Hamilton’s writing was beautiful, and there were times where I read and re-read her sentences just to let the pretty wording and sentence structure sink in. I think with more research, better characterization and a faster paced plot, this book would have been almost flawless.

Stars: 3/5

Book Review: Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Summary: Naila’s conservative immigrant parents allow her to make her own choices, except one. In following with their cultural traditions, they will choose her husband for her. But Naila breaks their rule and falls in love with Saif. And when her parents find out, they take her to Pakistan to remind her of her roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when her parents marry her off. Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.

Thoughts: This book wasn’t what I expected, it was so much better! This is the kind of book you read in one sitting. I thought it’d be a light read about a girl who falls in love with a boy and disapproving parents wanting her to strongly marry someone else, but I didn’t expect her to be actually forced into the marriage. Like forced, forced. Really forced. This wasn’t about an arranged marriage, this was about a forced marriage. I was so shocked and horrified, and it was so heartbreaking having to watch Naila go through this, knowing that this is something that happens in the world. I live in a  culture where arranged marriages are the norm, more or less, but there is always a choice. Otherwise, it’d be illegal. This was different, and you can check out Aisha Saeed’s guest post on YA Highway explaining the differences between Arranged Marriages and Forced Marriages, where she goes into more detail on the differences between the two for those of you interested. The writing was very straight-forward, without any fancy prose, and I liked that it was that way because the focus was on other more important things. I felt like I wanted more from the ending. It all wrapped up very nicely, and maybe that’s part of what made it a 4 star instead of a 5 for me. Nevertheless, the ending was more realistic than the explosive one I had mind. I loved Naila’s hope throughout and her stubbornness to keep trying to escape and not give in to this life that was forced on her. Her struggle to reclaim her own life and make her own choices was hard, and her perseverance really made this book as beautiful and hopeful to read as it was sad and tragic.

Stars: 4/5

Book Review: A Drop of Night by Stefan Bachmann

Summary: A modern day group of teenagers are chosen to participate in an all-expense-paid trip to France where they will explore the underground Palais des Papillons, which has been hidden since the French Revolution. In 1792, Auriele flees the revolution and hides in the Palais des Papillons. The story alternates between past and present as the teenagers try to uncover the secrets of the palace.

Thoughts: This is one of the strangest books I’ve read in a while. It’s a mix of genres: Horror, paranormal, science-fiction, thriller, historical – and they meshed together really well. However, this book gave me the creeps. I had to turn on all the lights in my room and push the doors wide open to read this comfortably because I just didn’t know what to think. I loved that the book kept surprising me and it never took the turn that I expected it to take, but that very thing also kept throwing me off because I had to constantly stop and readjust my focus. I think my favorite thing about this book was Anouk, the main character. Her narration made the book enjoyable to read. Her sarcasm and cynicism and dark humor somehow made the book lighter. I loved how self-aware she was and how her mind kept trying to figure out what was happening. Every time I’d wonder: but why is that? or how come? and this doesn’t make sense she’d point it out and ask the right questions at the right time to dispel my confusion. So even when things seemed to come out of nowhere, her narration made sense of it. I loved how the setting shifted from Anouk to Auriele, and how one person’s discovery complimented the other person’s problem and made sense of it. The one thing I couldn’t wrap my mind around was how easy some of the explanations for the weird things that were happening were – and I just couldn’t believe that it was just that easy. This had to knock a star off my review. I’m not sure if this vague review will convince you to pick this up because half the charm of this book is that you go in expecting one thing only to be hit in the face with something else. If you’re into that, then I recommend you read this. It’s a fast-paced page-turner and it took me a day to finish it, so if you’re looking for a quick read that will keep you on your toes, then look no further.

Stars: 3.5/5

Book Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Summary: Lee Westfall has a gift – she can sense gold in the world around her. After her parents are murdered for her abilities, Lee disguises herself as a boy and flees west to California – where gold has just been discovered. But the journey is a dangerous one to make, and Lee is still chased by her parents’ murderer who will stop at nothing until Lee belongs to him.

Thoughts: I did not expect to love this book as much as I did. I’ll let you know upfront that the two main reasons I bought this book are 1- the cover was just too beautiful to see on the bookstore’s shelf and walk away from 2- the title was very promising and made me want to read the book without even turning it around to know what the book was about. Obviously when I realized what a rare setting this is in YA (Gold-rush era), my excitement was further piqued. I loved Lee from the very first page – she was so honest, kind, good and loving – all things I shy away from in a main character because I like them more complex than that. But with Lee, I didn’t seem to mind. If anything, it made her more endearing. She was always smart and hard-working and perceptive of herself and those around her. The story followed Lee as she joins a company of people trekking to California, a perilous journey that takes the better half of a year. Throughout that time, friendships were formed and enemies too. I loved seeing Lee grow and learn from those around her and seeing how all their relationships changed the deeper into the journey they went. By the end of the book, I ended up loving characters I really disliked at the start. This is one of those books where you travel vicariously through a character and get to enjoy all sorts of beautiful scenery. That was very beautiful done. The one thing that didn’t meet my expectations was the ending – it was fast and short and I was preparing myself for a showdown that didn’t come. However, I think the ending suited the story well because Lee wasn’t driven by the need to avenge her parents, but by the desire to shed away her disguise and secrets and let the people who have become like a family to her see her and accept her for who she really is. I tore through the book and stayed up all night to finish, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.

Stars: 4/5

Book Review: Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Summary: Set in 1956, in an alternate world where Hitler and the Axis powers win the war, the story follows a former death camp prisoner named Yael who joins a motorcycle race that spans continents to win  and assassinate Hitler with the hopes of ending his tyrannical rule.

Thoughts: The history geek in me cannot stop gushing. This was a fast-paced, emotionally-charged, adventure-filled and action-packed book that I could not put down and did not want to finish. I loved the attention to historical detail, despite the fact that some (if not many) things were hypothetical what-ifs that were nevertheless based on very true and very harrowing events. I loved how well Graudin wove in the sci-fi elements so flawlessly that it read more like magical realism than historical science-fiction. Those sic-fi elements being that Yael is a survivor of human experimentation and harsh medical testing that resulted in her becoming a skin-shifter – capable of changing her appearance to look like anyone. I loved how determined Yael was to achieve her goal and the fact that she had to be ruthless to keep her cover and get it done, only made me love her more. If you haven’t read this book yet, and you’re a fan of historical novels with a creative twist, then I suggest you pick this up as soon as you can!

Stars: 5/5

Book Review: Madame Tussad’s Apprentice

Summary: After a failed robbery, Celie is caught and about to be arrested. Until Madame Tussad realizes how incredibly talented at drawing Celie is and intervenes, taking her on as her apprentice instead to help recreate the setting and waxwork for Madame Tussad’s wax museum.

Thoughts: This book was highly recommended by a friend of mine, which is one of the reasons why I went into this with high expectations. At first, I was a little surprised because Celie’s voice read more middle-grade than young-adult, but as I read, I realized that despite how young she sounds she’s actually a clever and observant girl. Which is one of the things I loved about her. The story takes place at a very difficult time when France is divided between the very wealthy and the starving poor. The French Revolution is slowly building up when the story starts and blows up in full force by the end. I enjoyed the representation of the Revolution. It was violent and bloody and I loved how Celie’s perspective of it changes the more she sees. Basically, Celie is a girl torn between joining the revolution or staying out of it and the choice she makes will determine her life and future. I enjoyed this book, almost loved it if not for the ending, which I expected to be much stronger. This is a beautiful story about second-chances and friendship set against a very dramatic time in history. If you’re a fan of historical novels with reformed criminals and daring escapes, you will love this book.

Stars: 4/5

Book Review: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Summary: Greta is a Child Of Peace, one of the many children of world leaders who are held hostage by an Artificial Intelligence in a post-apocalyptic world to prevents wars between nations. As soon as she turns eighteen, she will be free to leave the Precepture where the children are kept. If she can survive that long. But when Elian arrives and defies the machines that control their lives and keep them in line, he opens Greta’s eyes to the brutality of the rule they live under and she begins to learn more about her strength and power as her country and Elian’s declare war on one another – endangering both their lives and that of their nations.

Thoughts: I was instantly attracted to this book after reading the blurb. How could I not? It had everything I loved. Politics. Artificial Intelligence. Dystopian elements. War. Goats. Emphasis on GOATS! The first few chapters built the story up so well, and I was so sure that it would not disappoint me. Keeping aside the fact that it follows a trend very dormant in dystopian fiction: a stranger comes to a place where everyone is living contently and shows them that everything is not as it seems and they begin to see that he’s right and so on etc. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around most of the things that were happening. There were so many technical terms that made the book read like a political manifesto – which wasn’t a problem because they were all clear to me but they made the book read cold and technical and therefore I couldn’t empathize with the main character because of the lack of emotions and feelings and by the end of the book, there was little to no character development. Greta read more like an AI than the AI itself. In fact, some of the characters were set up earlier to read like they would be very important players in the plot, but they just fell short and lost their purpose. The secondary characters were confusing and I lost track of who was who because there was no way I could tell them apart. There was nothing to distinguish them in behavior, mannerism, patterns of speech etc. While I enjoyed some facets of the world-building, and maybe the main focus on this is one of the reasons why character and plot suffered, it was too simplistic and too confusing at the same time. I wanted to stop reading half-way through but I hate giving up on books and I always hold on to the hope that it would get better towards the end, and in this case, I was just relieved when I finished it and I don’t think I’d be picking up the sequel any time soon. And I hate that because I was really looking forward to more goats!

Stars: 2/5

Book Review: Front Lines by Michael Grant

Summary: Set in an alternate WW2 where young women are called to fight alongside men, the story follows three girls who have to prove themselves through boot camp and then survive the gruesome reality of the front lines.

Thoughts: I enjoyed reading through every page of this book, but what I loved most was character diversity. You have your farm-girl tomboy, and the sharp and ambitious analyst, and the kind and naive medic and all those characters come together to create a very heart-felt story. The bloody and gruesome aspects of the war are still there, but there’s a lot of heart and courage at the center of the book – despite all the grief. I loved that Grant showed the difficulty of being girls in the army, and all the sexism they had to deal with and had to prove themselves against. But what I loved most, is that the men’s sexist behavior differed from girl to girl (as is usually true in real life) based on background and ethnicity. I loved that Grant, staying true to the reality of the times (1940’s) chose to portray the sexism, racism and anti-semitism in a way that made me cringe and feel kind-of uncomfortable. But I appreciate honest and uncensored truths and I loved that he didn’t hold back.

Stars: 4/5