Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Orion Children’s Books
Publication Date: September 27th 2016

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Suffering is like anything else. Live with it long enough, you learn to like the taste.”

After completing the most complex heist in history Kaz and his gang are double crossed. With his spider kidnapped and out thirty million kruge he has to find a way to change the game. New enemies keep appearing and the stakes are higher than ever. Will a bunch of criminals be able to weather the storm?

Bardugo has created a fantastic cast of characters with dubious morals that leads to a far more exciting story than good guy wins again. Using the groundwork set up in her original trilogy the world is already well-developed and complex, but Ketterdam is a creature all it’s own. It’s nice to see a small peace of world come so vibrantly to life.

Crooked Kingdom is slightly more of slow boil than it’s predecessor, one long con working up to a grand finale but all the action is still there. Each scheme is more interesting than the last and it is immensely satisfying to watch things unfold in terror before figuring out Kaz has everything in control.

Despite the objective brilliance of her world and plot, Bardugo’s characters outshine everything. The glimpses into their past are both intriguing and incredibly important for understanding why they are who they are. The dialogue is funny, deep and natural. Kaz is a monster, but one that readers will root for with all their hearts despite his awful deeds. Bardugo’s cast is diverse, interesting and all equally well-developed with their own point of view chapters.

I think, most of all, Bardugo’s portrayal of damaged but flourishing people is what really makes this book a masterpiece. A cripple with awful PTSD. A multiple rape survivor. Two addicts struggling to stay clean. A person raised in hate learning to be better than before. A boy who can’t read struggling with self-image. Their various issues are made clear – but they are not their sickness. Bardugo has made them strong, funny, and real. They are not caricatures to be pitied.

Funny, heartbreaking, exciting and well written. Bardugo has hit the nail on the head again and I cannot remember the last time I devoured a story that tasted so sweet.

For Fans Of: The Name of the Wind

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Genres: Poetry
Publisher: Createspace
Publication Date: November 4th 2014

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“The thing about writing is I can’t tell if it’s healing or destroying.”

Kaur’s poetry is immensely personal and powerful – but I just didn’t connect with it the way I’d hoped to. A modern poetry collection that focuses on abuse, love, loss and feminism it’s easy to see why milk and honey rose to popularity so quickly, but it’s simply not for everyone.

Ultimately I cannot truly judge something that is so personal to Kaur. Her emotions and past are laid bare on these pages but I see so little of myself here that I could not feel anything for most of the poems. I do love poetry and I have fell deeply in love with books of a similar style – just not this one.

I also felt a few of the themes were a bit repetitive. There were several poems about women having body hair, and though I am a strong supporter of hairy legs I don’t know if I am three plus poems emotional about it.

Kaur’s drawings are unique and interesting, some of the poems did connect with me but ultimately I didn’t really care for the collection. It felt like there was too little story and too much self-praise. The poems themselves aren’t particularly exceptional and there were several that were just large text blocks that hurt to read.

All in all many of the poems read like very pretty quotes to reblog or pin or place on a wall but don’t quite turn into nice poems.

I desperately searched for love in these pages, and came out empty handed and broken hearted.

For Fans Of: the princess saves herself in this one

Big Mushy Happy Lump by Sarah Andersen

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Genres: Comics, Humour
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Publication Date: March 7th 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A collection of Andersen’s popular short comics as well as some illustrated personal essays that showcase an awkward twenty-something with anxiety navigating life, relationships and sweaters.

As with the previous collection most millennials will find themselves in Andersen’s work. The art style is simple and effectively conveys humour, and a realistic portrayal of the character. The leg hair is a nice and very relatable touch.

Unlike Adulthood is a Myth, Big Mushy Happy Lump does have three longer pieces that combine comics and text to tell a story. One is humorous about the author’s habit of stealing sweaters while another is, while still funny, slightly more serious covering depression, anxiety and self-loathing.

Andersen draws comics that showcase little situations, everyday things where many people probably feel very isolated. People often think that they’re the only person who feels a certain way and I believe that Andersen has created a good dozen comics that will make people realize they are not alone.

Silly and fun, but will leave plenty of readers feeling immensely understood and connected.

For Fans Of: Hyperbole and a Half

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

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Genres: Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Group DAW Hardcover
Publication Date: March 27th 2007

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way.”

Told from two different perspectives, Kote a down on his luck innkeeper tells the story of his childhood when he was Kvothe. When he was beginning to become a hero.

Rothfuss has set up a story more masterfully than I have ever seen done, or can hope to see again. The tale begins with an old, rather boring, innkeeper but quickly switches to a story of his youth told in-universe in his own voice. He weaves a thrilling tale of magic, dragons, death and romance covering a span of several years.

The world of The Kingkiller Chronicles is complex, but Rothfuss manages to set it up throughout the story. Never drowning the reader with information but giving them just enough to keep thirst at bay. The series itself is split into three books, each representing a day on which Kvothe shares his story. The set-up for the narrative is beyond brilliant.

The story itself is not fast, but the steady pace is supremely satisfying. Despite being only the first of three days Kvothe experiences many mishaps and adventures. He is not altogether a noble hero, but he’s a good person and it’s easy to connect with him. His pain and joys will become the reader’s as soon as they delve into his story.

The cast is wide, so many characters are left without development but Rothfuss has made sure that every character is exactly developed enough to serve their purpose. Kvothe and several others are deliciously complex while side character’s feel alive without being overly complicated.

This is the work of a master. Unlike much high fantasy it does not waste a single page of some seven hundred. There is no padding here, Kvothe is telling his story in exactly the way that it must be told. It mixes brilliantly adventure, fantasy and memoir. Rothfuss makes even the mundane enjoyable.

Not a dull page. A breathtaking world with a relatable protagonist. And, though I hate to use these words, a must-read for all fantasy fans. A true epic.

For Fans Of: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT+
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: May 24th 2011

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Because ‘You’re perfect just the way you are,’ is what your guidance counsellor says. And she’s an alcoholic.”

A plane full of beauty pageant contestants crash lands on a deserted island. The girls must find a way to survive while keeping up their pageant training for when they are rescued. After all, there can only be one Miss Teen Dream!

The beginning of this novel is a fascinating satire, full of misogynistic tropes, fake brands, fake ads, and fun fact sheets about the girls. The Corporation informs the reader about the world the novel is set in, about what a good girl is like and what products they have to use to stay desirable. It’s a set-up for a very interesting story that parodies our world – but it loses itself along the way.

There was a cheesy action movie subplot that was more than the book needed. At some point, the book stops being about girls finding themselves, humour and feminism and turns into a very bad action movie. The book becomes TOO ridiculous in its attempts to be silly satire it just becomes over-the-top and more boring because of it. Evil lairs, ridiculous dictators and a ship full of hot boys all clash together in a huge mess.

The ending is a huge mess of an action scene, several convenient coincidences and just unsatisfying. The book tells the girl’s futures…which don’t seem much changed after a harrowing experience for the most part and bam happy ending even though the world isn’t changed for the better.

That’s not to say I disliked the book entirely. The premise is strong, and it does feature some good representation.Bray did make her main cast a little too large for her to handle, and the main ones were a fairly stereotypical (gun-loving Texan, dumb blondes etc.) but the thought was there. The fault is that this book just has no idea what it is or where it was going. It has elements of several potentially successful stories and tries to shove them all down the reader’s throat at once.

The highlights of this book are the “commercial breaks” and footnotes that build the world these girls live in. Period Pets, Lady Stache Off and other fun brands pepper the pages with good humour and great satire. I only wish these elements had been better explored instead devolving into a cheesy spy novel.

For Fans Of: Only Ever Yours

Who Killed Christopher Goodman by Allan Wolf

Genres: Young Adult
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: March 14th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that Christopher Goodman is kind. Who would ever want to hurt him? The events leading up to his murder leave everyone in town feeling at least a little guilty. Told through vignettes and different points of view the story explores the lives Christopher was involved in and the moment when he was ripped out of them.

This book is not so much about a crime or the murder, but about the events leading up to it. About how everyone deals with guilt and grief and imagines if things had only gone slightly differently. However, even in that aspect, it uses too many of its pages on the build-up and not enough on the effect.

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? is too short to really accomplish what it sets out to. The six different points of view are too many for so few pages and none of the characters receive proper development. It’s hard to get attached to so many characters in so few pages, and with a book like this one attachment to the characters is paramount.

The characters are reduced to a few tropes. Pretty girl who is shy. Farm girl who is bold. Classic coming of age boy character who is awkward. Weird kid. Redneck. Troublemaker. The attempts to give them depth are there but they ultimately feel forced and we’re left with cast of characters that we’re not really invested in.

I don’t feel there is a sense of mystery leading up to Christopher’s death – it’s clear from the opening who killed him. The focus is more on how they all feel as though they killed Christopher in a million small ways. How maybe if they had said this or done that he would be alive.

Inspired by a true crime the story is still mostly fictitious, it had a strong concept and the theme could be powerful but with too many characters for its page count, it falls a little flat.

For Fans of: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

The Book that Made Me by Judith Ridge

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Genres: Non-fiction, Anthology
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: March 14th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Authors are most often also avid readers – and as such the books they read usually influence their lives. Thirty-one authors write about the books that inspired them, changed them or just made them happy. From first childhood reads to books read in middle age, every reader knows the thrill of finding a book that stays with you.

There are a wealth of different stories in this book, along with comics interspersed throughout. The Book that Made Me captures the feelings all readers know of connecting with a specific book and knowing that you have been forever changed. The stories do start to feel a little blended after a while with ones being slightly too similar to distinguish.

Perhaps the most interesting stories are those written by authors of colour. Through these authors stories the importance of diversity in literature is clearly showcased. Several of the authors struggled to find people of their gender, religion or race in books when they were young. Some write because they want to see themselves in stories now in a way they were not able to as a child.

The stories are poignant, funny, touching and in general very well brought together. The childhood photos of the authors bring an incredible power to the stories that follow making it easy to picture the children they once were. However, too may of the stories felt similar to me – of course everyone’s experiences are unique but a few seemed to hit many of the same notes.

I do feel that this anthology will be better received by older readers who might have read more of the books mentioned (I felt very little connection with most of the life-changing books if I’d read them at all) or for fans of any particular author listed. It’s thrilling to read about other people who love books you also love deeply, or to dive into the mind of your favourite author.

The book is interesting either way, and a short read, but because the authors are strangers to me and the books were not ones I adored, it didn’t quite hit a home run. I still deeply enjoyed several stories, but many of then run together already.

For Fans of: The Secret Loves of Geek Girls

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy
Publisher: by Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: November 8th 2016

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“One to be a murderer. One to be a Martyr. One to be a Monarch. One to go Mad”

Catherine Pinkerton dreams of becoming a baker, but as a noblewoman in the kingdom of Hearts much more is expected of her. In fact, it seems like the King wants to ask for her hand in marriage! Catherine has no desire to be royalty, even less when she starts falling for the handsome court joker. Cath is determined to follow her dreams and find happiness, no matter what society or her parents want.

Some of the best stories are the ones where we already know the ending. I knew Meyer had set out to write an origin story for the Queen of Hearts and yet I was still so twisted up in the book that I began to believe in impossible endings just as much as every character did.

Unlike some retellings or in this case a pretelling, Heartless perfectly captures the whimsical world Caroll originally wrote. There is such care put into developing all the characters who would chronologically later be involved in Alice’s story from the mock turtle to the duchess. Meyer also manages to incorporate another famous rhyme fitting it in nearly seamlessly.

The world and characters are so masterfully crafted that it is easy to forget the inevitable end. Although there were a few loose strings, none of them were enough to really affect the pleasant reading experience. It’s also true that the romance is a little fast and the plot a little meandering at points. No book is truly perfect but I have fallen in love faster than the main characters.

Meyer’s choice to make a standalone bittersweet tragedy is wonderful. This could have definitely been a successful series should she have chosen to pursue it – but it’s more poignant when it comes to the end we are all waiting for. Meyer is unmatched when it comes to retelling fairytales, and though she chose to stay closer to the original source material with this particular book it was still incredibly successful.

A perfect prequel to a well-loved classic. This is not a book that will win every reader’s heart, but it’s quite possible you’ll be absolutely mad for it.

For Fans Of: The Looking Glass Wars

Blood of the Delphi by M.E. Vaughan

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Genres: New Adult, Fantasy, LGBT+
Publisher: Mag Mell Publishing
Publication Date: December 20th 2016

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Praise Harmatia, it is a city of gold and light. Praise it until it crumbles to dust.”

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through the author in exchange for an honest review.

Twelve years have passed since Prince Jionathan traded his life for Sverrin’s. Rufus is on the run, protecting Prince Joshua, the last Delphi prince. They are forced the live their life on the run. In the capital, others question their king. Arlen Zachary has seen things going downhill – Harmatia is not what it once was but there might be time to save it yet.

It was a bit difficult to get back into the series, I had forgotten a bit – but as soon as I was sucked in I was in love all over again. It is so rare that a sequel equals or surpasses the original but for Blood of the Delphi this is certainly the case. Vaughan’s world is more detailed and vivid than ever before and the plot is just as fast-paced and thrilling.

of course, it’s the characters and dialogue where Vaughan really shines. Every character is well thought through, even the villains have a rich character full of motives and for that reason it’s possible to feel their pain. My heart is rarely torn apart but it bleeds for these characters. They are so real and lovable and Vaughan is not afraid to rip them from her readers without mercy.

Touching on characters, no one does representation like Vaughan does. Her characters offer a wide range of diverse sexuality well represented. The characters are explicit about their sexuality and gender – there is not questioning what they are, no headcanons needed but it is not all they are. In a wonderful way, Vaughan has represented an array of sexualities without creating characters that are stereotypes or entirely governed by their sexual preferences. Vaughan includes representation with elegant skill making identities clear without smashing readers in the face with them.

Blood of the Delphi is an epic new adult fantasy that can be enjoyed by readers young and old alike. Vaughan has crafted a complex political world, multiple characters with varied motivations which we see through different POVs and an epic adventure that you’ll be desperate to keep reading. An expertly written high fantasy that I highly recommend. Fantasy is rarely done this well.

For Fans Of: Uprooted