P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 26th 2015

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Lara Jean, I think you half-fall in love with every person you meet. It’s part of your charm. You’re in love with love.”

Lara Jean and Peter were only pretending to date…at least they were pretending at first. As things get more serious Lara Jean realizes that relationships are not as easy as they seem. Things are further complicated when her final letter returns to her. Is it possible to love two boys at the same time?

Far too often romance books build teenage love up as an unending, but P.S. I Still Love You manages to maintain that first loves ARE very important but that doesn’t mean that they’ll be the last. It’s very firm about relationships with friends, lovers and families changing and ending, but it’s also clear about those relationships mattering despite how long they last.

The relationships showcased are also diverse and interesting. Lara Jean’s relationship with her single father and her sisters. Her father and sister’s relationship with the woman next door. Lara Jean’s friendship with a lady in the old folk’s home. It’s nice to see family and friends given emphasis in a romance novel.

It also shines a brilliant spotlight on the double standards between men and women. The harm a single video can cause and how to move past that. How even adults are guilty of seeing people a certain way depending on how they handle their personal sex life.

The ending felt a little like the book had just run out of time. Suddenly all the plotlines are shut down into the happy ending. The addition of a love triangle which gathers speed and then crashes as quickly as it started up seem unnecessary. There’d been one in the previous book and this one, while not terribly written, could have been left out.

Lara Jean is also slightly more childish in this novel. Before she was innocent and endearing, now there are moments where she just seems entirely petty. It’s not unrealistic for a teenage girl in her first relationship but it’s a touch irritating.

This book keeps the plot rolling along and has so many interesting characters and relationships that it’s difficult not to overlook the faults entirely. Jenny Han is up there with Stephanie Perkins in writing young adult romance that makes your heart flutter without feeling overblown and cheesy. A cute and clever read.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Anna and the French Kiss

Sanctuary by Zainab T. Khan

Genres: Young Adult
Publication Date: December 2015

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

“There were so many ethnic groups, each with its own language, and one just can’t learn all of the languages. While they had been beautiful and weird in their own way, they were also difficult. As for English, almost everyone knew it. A bit, anyway.”

A short look into the lives of several characters living in a multicultural town.

I feel as though Sanctuary was too short to do as much as it wanted to do. The idea behind the story requires that the cast be wide and diverse but with only fifty pages none of the characters get the sort of development they deserve. There are hints of romance and while one progresses pretty reasonably the second one seems to shoot out of no where. It doesn’t have time to develop but it’s tossed on us suddenly anyways and it feels almost exactly like Summer and Blake’s relationship from A Bucket Full of Awesome.

In fact many of the issues in this story are carried over from the author’s previous book. The same characters are present with slightly different interests and names. The adults feel largely like teenagers and there’s barely any distinction between adults in their twenties or those approaching their mid-forties. There are characters having children and getting married but they all feel about fifteen or sixteen and the writing makes it very difficult to tell unles it’s stated.

Other languages are peppered throughout the story, but unfortunately that’s more of a detriment than anything. Often the other language bits are not explained and just as often they’re not beng used properly. At one point a character speaks in French but the other characters react as if he’s spoken Italian. When languages do appear in full passages (though I’m referencing mainly the French as I am not fluent in anything else) it looks as though it’s just been put through Google translate.

This is an incredibly interesting idea, and I’ve seen stories of cultural towns with various residents go well (see Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio) but this just felt poorly researched. Most characters feel like a stereotype of their culture, each abiding very strictly to cultural norms without deviating as individuals do. With the number of characters the story hopes to flesh out it lacks both the length and the research to be successful.

Read this if you’re a fan of:  Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio

Dragon Age: Asunder by David Gaider

Genres:  Fantasy, Adventure
Publisher: Titan Publishing Company
Publication Date: 2011

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Cole wasn’t dead. Yet at the same time, he didn’t exist, and he walked amongst the living.”

Strange murders have been happening in the White Spire. Rhys stands accused but he is innocent, and he believes he knows who the culprit is. He is about to be punished for his alleged crimes when he’s sent on a mission to retrieve a wayward tranquil mage. What he and the others discover will change the Circle and the mages forever.

Gaider has proven himself in the realm of gaming time and time again. His plot crafting in the Dragon Age series is amazing, which is why it was so disappointing to see this book fall flat.

The story feels distant. There is plenty of description of setting and fighting, but I never felt absorbed in the story.  It feels flat and empty. The writing feels as though it has potential but it’s stuck in the wrong medium. The descriptions felt like descriptive audio for something meant to be seen, not read.

The characters never reach their full potential. There are good ideas but Gaider never delves too deep into most of their characters. The relationships (particularly Rhys and Adrian’s friendship) feel stilted. The characters feel like they have a single motivation each and very little depth otherwise. Adrian is a character who wants freedom no matter what and is very angry about it, and that’s her entire character.

It was mediocre at best and the only highlight was the character of Cole, who was later taken on by Weekes in the games and written better. This is not even going into how a tie-in novel fails to observe previous events or lore in game in favour of doing whatever Gaider wants. Even some event that were not player-choices, things that happened no matter the play-through, Gaider chose to ignore.

If I read another tie-in novel for this series it will more than likely be by Patrick Weekes as I have no desire to wade through another novel by Gaider. Weekes has already proven himself more capable in the character department, and I hope that will cross over into his novel work.

Gaider is a brilliant writer of games, the world he made for Dragon Age is a huge part of it’s success, but he seems incredibly out of his element with this novel.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Red Queen

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls by Hope Nicholson

Genres: Anthology, Non-fiction, Comics
Publisher: Bedside Press December 2015
Publication Date: December 2015

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Sansa Stark loves lemon cake, and so does the girl I love.” 

A non-fiction anthology about geek girls and the girls and boys they love. Comics, short stories and prose all blend together in a fantastically diverse collection following fandom-driven women through stories of romance, sex and lost love.

The diversity in this book is astounding. Women of different races, backgrounds, sexualities, it’s very easy to find a story to relate with regardless of what your identity is like.Fandom is used to explore love, issues of race and gender, used to cope or to grow as a person.

The various tones and writing styles mean that there is something enjoyable for everyone. The standouts for me were “Minas Tirith” by Maguerite Bennett, “Cherry” by Cherelle Higgins and “Regards to the Goblin King” by Megan Kearney. I could list quite a few more that captured my heart, but I’ll leave it at my top three. There were stories that I found less engaging. Comics that I found too short or lacking any real depth, but judge as a whole this anthology is fantastic.

So many of the stories make it easy to forget the novels non-fiction status. They are written beautifully and evoke just as many feelings as fiction stories do. It’s unique, honest and a wonderful look into the world of women involved with fandom. A wonderful read for ANYONE who considers themselves a geek and loves stories.

Read this if you’re a fan of: Geektastic

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Genres:  Anthology, Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 3rd 2015

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I wonder, Are fictions safe places? And then I ask myself, Should they be safe places?”

A collection of stories by Gaiman meant to upset, disturb and prompt deeper thought from readers. Trigger Warning explores the darker parts of life. Explores things that create disquiet in the soul, the things that make us what we are.

There is no shortage of oddities in any of these stories, unfortunately that doesn’t stop many of the stories from falling flat. A lot of the short fictions Gaiman has included are just odd, but not in an interesting way. At times stories just feel like they’re dragging on even though nothing much is happening.

Collections are tricky, very rarely can an author include twenty or more great stories. The problem then becomes that the middle stories between the masterpieces feel weaker in comparison. Neil Gaiman is an excellent author, but by putting all the stories back to back it’s easy to see which are the stars and which are the padding.

“Orange”, “The Case of Death and Honey”, and “Nothing O’Clock” stand out as the three most captivating stories. “Orange” is written in a refreshing and unique questionnaire style and tells a strange, slightly off-putting tale. The other two tales are based off of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who respectively and would fit in nicely with the original material. “The Sleeper and the Spindle” was perhaps my favourite, but I have reviewed that previously.

Despite Neil Gaiman’s reputation for producing unforgettable work, Trigger Warning is forgettable as a whole. It does contain a few diamonds in the rough but as a whole the book averages out to just that: average.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

A Bucket Full of Awesome by Zainab T. Khan

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Publication Date: February 14th 2015

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

“Reasonable things would never bring you joy as much as unreasonable ones do.”

Summer Wallace is a basketball loving tom-boy who wants to do nothing more than spend all her days on The Court. Unfortunately a cancer diagnosis interferes with her plans. Summer isn’t hopeful that she’ll make it out alive. Instead she decides to spend all her free time trying to complete a bucket list with her best friend and resident bad-boy Blake Knight.

There is a lot to talk about in this novel, but the best place to start is with Summer Wallace. The main character fits the “Not Like Other Girls” trope so well it’s ridiculous. In fact at one point she notes “…as much as I hate to relate myself to those overly stupid creatures also known as girls.” This is not interesting character depth. She’s also abusive, selfish and rude. It isn’t endearing. Near the end of the novel there is an attempt to redeem her, something along the lines of “she actually does charity work and is really insecure and sweet.” Rarely in the novel do we see Summer be anything but cruel to the people who care about her.

Her age is also an issue. She’s meant to be nearly twenty, but is written far younger. She has strange relationships with adults who treat her like a half-child and half-adult hybrid that bears minimum responsibility for anything but still needs to be treated maturely. If the story had her in high school still it would have felt a lot better stylistically. As it is it felt like a pale imitation of depth and relationships between the characters. It told us how things were and never bothered showing any evidence.

This is my main issue with the book. Summer has lung cancer. That’s a heavy topic and when dealing with topics like cancer, depression and anything this serious there should be a lot of research put into it. Of course you can fictionalize things, but it should be grounded in some research.  It felt like cancer was a minor inconvenience at best, only when it was convenient did cancer actually become an issue. Even when it was at it worst it wasn’t realistic and it isn’t a topic that should have been written about so carefully. Cancer was treated as a device to emotionally manipulate characters and readers when needed instead of the horrifying disease it is.

The story itself seemed to hinge on convenient things. It bolted through the entire bucket list with extreme improbability. Every character is willing to bow to Summer so she can get what she wants. There is rarely a snag in her plans and there’s always a convenient alternative to her less realistic wishes. It’s also trying painfully hard to have deep quotes.

It was a good premise, and there were some enjoyable parts. It’s writing was weak but the ideas were decent. There were a few scenes that had me interested in how Blake and Summer intended to pull something off. The idea had potential. If the bucket list was cut down (thirty some items was too many to make each meaningful), and the characters were looked at it could be a solid read. As it stands the characters were shallow, the research just wasn’t there and the plot moves too fast forward without ever going deep enough.

It definitely feels a lot like The Fault in our Stars. It lacks the quirky style and depth and it just falls flat where the other succeeded.

Read this if you’re a fan of: The Fault in our Stars

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Illustrated
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: May 3rd 2014

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Learning how to be strong, to feel her own emotions and not another’s, had been hard; but once you learned the trick of it, you did not forget.”

A retelling of beloved classic, Sleeping Beauty. A young queen and three dwarves set out to rescue a princess, and several towns, from eternal slumber. The queen soon discovers however, that not everything is what it seems to be.

This book is, above all, a beautiful piece of art. The use of gold ink to accent the black makes it feel magical and old. Riddell has made this story stunning. He has taken what would be a very average story and made it extravagant and lovely.

The story itself is rather average. It is certainly an interesting twist on Sleeping Beauty and it did take me somewhere I didn’t expect but it still felt somewhat hollow. It is an excellent fairy tale. It feels the way that all the classic fairy tales do and it’s clear that Gaiman was careful to write in that style, to really capture the heart of old works. Unfortunately, it’s not quite up to par with what you’d expect from Gaiman.

The story feels short and underdeveloped. It doesn’t feel like much happens and the ending was unsatisfying. For the length of the story I felt it was far too prose heavy and didn’t create enough meaningful drama or action.

The art alone makes it incredibly worth the read. The story definitely has the right feel, but it’s also definitely missing something that I can’t quite put my finger on.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The School for Good and Evil

Fairest by Marissa Meyer

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopian
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: January 27th 2015

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“She cried for the girl who had never belonged. A girl who tried so hard, harder than anyone else, and still never had anything to show for it.”

A prequel to the other stories in The Lunar Chronicles, Fairest dives into the backstory of Lunar Queen Levana. A story of love, war and heartbreak, Queen Levana finally receives the depth that any good villain deserves.

There is a saying in writing that “every villain is the hero of their own story”. Now there is some argument about whether or not this is always true, but it certainly is in the case of Levana. She wants what is best for her country, and is striving for it. She is interested in her country, unlike the rest of her family. She is willing to devote herself to what she believes is the greater good.

This is not to say that Levana is entirely sympathetic. She is, at least to some degree, mad. At first she’s desperate for affection, desperate to feel beautiful, which is something anyone can feel sympathy for. However when she uses her lunar gift to force herself on a man things start to go downhill. She begins the novel a bright young girl, and slowly devolves into a disgusting, self-loathing woman worthy of the contempt readers will feel for her during the rest of the series.

It definitely adds more depth to the series. It lets us get into the villain’s head, understand her, maybe pity her but not love her. It is made very clear that she is wicked (something she even thinks of herself on occasion) even if she was not born that way. The book is brilliant, even without a protagonist the reader wants to support. In fact an absolutely despicable protagonist is what makes this short book so wonderful.

Like all Meyer’s books it’s beautifully written, and worth reading before the final installment.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Cinder

Spirit Level by Sarah N. Harvey

Genres: Young Adult, LGBT+
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Publication Date: February 2nd 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A copy of this novel was received from LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

Harry is depressed after losing her best friend slash boyfriend Byron. Trying to fill her life up she begins a search for her half-siblings. She finds two sisters and three brothers. One of her sisters, Meredith, is searching for their donor and Harry isn’t certain she’s comfortable with that. She is definitely comfortable with Meredith’s cute best friend though, something Meredith doesn’t seem please about.

This book is full of diverse cast, most notably Alex who’s a transgender man. Diverse books are important, and this one definitely knows it’s subject matter. It has intelligent writing about homelessness, sex work, transgendered people and depression. It showcases several non-traditional families as being functional and examines the relationships between sperm donor and offspring. How half-siblings might relate to each other, the problem is it’s focusing on a few too many things. This book is a hodgepodge of representation, plotlines, characters and relationships.

I felt like the synopsis of this book robbed me of the chance to read it. The official gives away over half the plot of the novel. Things that should be huge and exciting reveals for readers, such as Meredith’s lies and Alex being trans, are right in the back blurb. These are not issues that incite the story but rather the actual climax. After that the book sort of just stops.

The book begins slows, but then picks up pace too fast for it’s own good. There are so many things happening that it feels like the book isn’t certain where it’s headed. There’s a good story about Alex and Harry being together and how Meredith factors in. There’s a good story about finding their donor. There’s a good story about the homeless girls Harry’s mum works with. None of the stories manage to be solid. Some characters vanish for entire chapters until they’re needed. In particular Harry has a best friend she doesn’t mention or think about until near the end of the book.

It’s important for books to have multiple levels, but this one couldn’t seem to decide on a plotline to follow. It darted between several stories and left none of them with the development it deserved.

The main plot suffers the most for it’s underdevelopment.There are characters the author clearly wants readers to sympathize with, but the ending makes it nearly impossible to. Alex looks weak and Meredith is left looking like a monster. Spirit Level tosses out some “doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance” line and hopes that readers will just accept it instead of actually showing us that the characters are worth a second chance.

There’s no real resolution. One of the plots is very suddenly brought to a (sort of) satisfying end and the other three or so are left unfinished and it doesn’t feel intentional. It feels like a book cut off in the middle. It’s a shame, because the book was enjoyable and fast paced, but the ending leaves me feeling hollow. There is no satisfaction in the way the book ends. There are too many loose ends for it to feel finished.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Unspeakable

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens
Publication Date: September 1st 2015

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“She was a whirling cloud of death, a queen of shadows, and these men were already carrion.”

Celaena Sardothien is ready to shed her old identity and become who she was always meant to be. She’s going to return to Rifthold and put an end to the King of Ardalan once and for all. She must save her cousin while working with the ex-captain of the guard and her ex-lover. What she didn’t plan on was for the prince to be her enemy, his body inhabited by a dark force with no signs of her friend beyond.

This book feels very much like it’s building up towards something huge and then the end is too quick and clean. Things do go wrong for Celaena, but nothing ever goes so wrong that she can’t just sweep it away. At least nothing since she lost Sam.

Manon’s story line is the real gem, just like it was during Heir of Fire. She’d really developing and changing as a character and her relationship with her thirteen and newly introduced Elide are wonderfully written. Manon is complex and powerful, and a hero without being entirely good. The same could be said for Celaena, but other than her own occasional self-pity her actions are never seen as selfish.

That’s not to say Celaena hasn’t changed. She’d definitely come quite far from the volatile character in the first novel. She’s still a little too much though. She’s beautiful, incredibly powerful, incredibly intelligent, essentially good, and while I have no problem with characters being that way they should at least have something terrible happen to them. We know Celaena’s past is terrible but throughout the main series she rarely loses anything. There were such high stakes and then everything goes…pretty fine.

Also I got a little sick midway through reading her every action as being feline.

Lyssandra is a brilliant new character and a personal favourite. Her little twist is something I honestly didn’t expect. She’s sympathetic, and powerful without seeming as unrelatable as I feel Celaena to be.

It was a good read, and these are all mostly minor issues. It set up fantastically for the next book in the series. It’s laced with anticipation for huge events to come.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Game of Thrones