The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen – Book Review

47965261Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Genre: YA, fantasy

Published: 2019


A future chieftain
A fugitive prince
A too-cunning bodyguard
And one grumpy gray tabby

Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. As the future chieftain of a shunned caste of mercy-killers, she relies on her wits and bone magic—drawn from the teeth of dead witches—to protect her band. The Crows take more abuse than coin, so when they’re called to collect the royal dead, Fie hopes they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.

When Fie discovers that Crown Prince Jasimir and his crafty bodyguard, Tavin, have faked their deaths to escape the ruthless Queen Rhusana, she’s ready to cut her losses—and perhaps their throats. But Jas offers a deal that she can’t refuse: make sure he lives to see the throne, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.

I picked this up because I’ve been slowly emerging from an awful reading slump and I generally go for YA in these situations, because I usually don’t have very high expectations from them, especially if it’s a debut. I’ve talked about this before. But I was also intrigued by the synopsis. I love me some bone magic. I’m happy to say I enjoyed this maybe more than I thought I would.

The writing is what I saw people have the biggest issue with. It’s a bit unusual, I’ll grant, but I didn’t mind. It was old fashioned. Like, words like ‘betwixt’ and ‘narry’ were used regularly. Also, the verb ‘to rut’ was used for more than just deer. It was a bit off-putting at first, but then I got used to it and it actually added to the whole vibe of the book. So I didn’t mind. It was otherwise a pretty well written book in my opinion.

The characters were okay. I didn’t love them, but I didn’t hate them either. I didn’t even mind the romance (which if you’ve been here for any length of time, you know I usually take issue with YA romances). It was somewhat insta-lovey, but there was at least an attempt to make the characters reasonable. I would have preferred it if they waited until at least the second book to get together at all. But alas, can’t have everything. It’s by no means a compelling romance, but I at least didn’t want to scream in frustration at it. And there was even the occasional chuckle at some of the dialogue. I also thought the dynamics between the other (non-romantically involved characters) was solid. Again, it wasn’t out of this world amazing, but I don’t really have any complaints about them.

I enjoyed the story. I thought it was fast paced and entertaining. It was actiony and I generally enjoy journey stories. I’ve heard people say that it was repetitive and I can see where they’re coming from, but I personally wasn’t bothered by it. It wasn’t so repetitive that it was boring, in my opinion. It wasn’t mind-blowing, or super original, but I found it to be a solid adventure story and I enjoyed it. I also liked the more overarching theme of oppression and the dynamics of a caste system.

My favourite aspect was the world. I thought it was really cool and I’m not sure if I will continue with this series or not, but if I ever do, it’s the world I’m most excited about. I liked the magic system and how it’s ties to the castes. I want to know more about the plague and also about the magic and the castes. Another thing I appreciated was that the diversity wasn’t super forced. I thought it was reasonably well integrated within the story and it didn’t grate and for the most part, I didn’t feel like it was trying to use diversity as a selling point. There was at least 1 character whose sexuality was 100% irrelevant to the story and could have just as well been left out, but I’m going to pick my battles.

Overall, I found it an enjoyable read. As I said, not sure yet whether I will continue with the series, but I did enjoy this one.

To Best The Boys by Mary Weber – Book Review

to best the boysRating: 2/5 stars

Genre: YA, fantasy

First published: 2019

Author: Mary Weber

Synopsis: Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port have received a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. The poorer residents look to see if their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women train in wifely duties and men pursue collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

Okay, I’ll be honest and say I didn’t go into this with very high expectations. I went in expecting a pretty predictable, cookie cutter YA fantasy. And I wasn’t wrong. It’s exactly what it is and it’s what I wanted to read. That’s why I picked it up. I was expecting a solid, 3 star enjoyable YA fantasy. However I ended up being quite frustrated with this book. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

Let’s first talk about the characters and plot. The characters were… cookie cutter. I didn’t care about them, they didn’t surprise me. They’re exactly what you’d expect from a mediocre YA. The plot, again, was pretty much what you’d expect. The romance was blatantly obvious from page 1 and you knew from the start where this was going to go. But it was entertaining, it kept me reading. I didn’t hate the characters or the plot. It was just the kind of story that doesn’t require a lot of concentration to read. Which is like I said, what I wanted to read as I am coming out of a pretty bad reading slump and I just wanted something easy to get me back into it.

The world building was… meh. I found it very unbelievable the way they had such concepts as stem cells, but electricity was a novelty. And that kind of brings me to the things the bothered me the most. This books revolves a lot around science. It’s about a girl who wants to go to university to become a scientist. Which is great. I’m a girl who went to university to be a scientist. I can relate to that and it appealed to me. But if you’re going to write a book that is so science heavy, DO SOME FREAKING RESEARCH!!!

Like I said, they had the concept of viruses and stem cells, but electric lights were like WOOOOWWWW!!! New invention. It would have only taken a quick google search to realise that stem cells are a fairly new and poorly understood thing even with the technology we have today. There’s no way that a society without so much as electricity would have discovered them. Same with viruses. You need an electron microscope to see viruses. You can’t see them under a regular light microscope like our dear Rhen did. Also, viruses are not living organisms. They’re bits of DNA with some protein around them. They can’t replicate themselves, that’s why they infect cells. And the reason why they don’t die out is because they don’t kill cells within minutes of entering them (like this book suggested). These are all very basic facts that would have taken very little research. And I know that they’re not essential to the story. Changing the terminology wouldn’t have made a difference to the story. But it’s just the principle. You’re trying to sell me this sciency MC but you don’t bother to do the most basic research?

There was this other scene with chemistry. They had to make a solution and Rhen again tries to identify the compounds by putting them under a light microscope. Like… a microscope is not a magic tool. All it does is make stuff a bit bigger. If you could see the chemical composition of substances under a light microscope, we would hold the secrets of life by now lol Like seriously, it’s REALLY HARD to image the structure of some compounds. Especially if they’re biochemical.

Anyway, I’ll stop with the science rant now. It’s something that really annoyed me though. I guess if you know less about science you might not notice these things. But they really annoyed me.

Another thing that kind of annoyed me was that I had the very strong feeling that this was copying two very beloved stories, quite blatantly. Namely, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Stalking Jack the Ripper. I just felt like this book took those two stories and meshed them together, but really without adding any kind of twist or originality. In other words, just blatantly copying. I don’t like that.

So yeah, I didn’t like this book. I think it’s a standalone, but if it’s not I won’t be continuing with the series. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to unhaul it the next time I clean up my shelves (which should be soon).

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty – Book Review

36215220Rating: 3.75/5

Genre: YA, fantasy

First published: 2017

Author: S. A. Chakraborty

Synopsis: Among the bustling markets of eighteenth century Cairo, the city’s outcasts eke out a living swindling rich Ottoman nobles and foreign invaders alike.

But alongside this new world the old stories linger. Tales of djinn and spirits. Of cities hidden among the swirling sands of the desert, full of enchantment, desire and riches. Where magic pours down every street, hanging in the air like dust.

Many wish their lives could be filled with such wonder, but not Nahri. She knows the trades she uses to get by are just tricks and sleights of hand: there’s nothing magical about them. She only wishes to one day leave Cairo, but as the saying goes…

Be careful what you wish for.

I definitely enjoyed this more than I thought I would. I was apprehensive about picking this up. I’m not sure what it was about it that made me not want to read it, I didn’t even know much about it going in, but there was something. However, there was a really good Kindle/Audible deal so I ended up getting both the ebook and narration for like £5, so I went for it. I’m glad I did. Even though I didn’t love the first novel and I had some issues with it, I think I might enjoy subsequent books more.

I really loved the setting and world building. I love desert settings and I love middle eastern mythology. So this was like a balm for my soul from that perspective and one of my complaints is that I wanted more of that world and mythology than we got and I’m hoping we’ll get more in the sequels. The atmosphere was so good, both in Cairo (even though I’ve never been to Cairo) and in Daevabad, which is the magic city. I ate it up. I loved it and it was everything I want from this kind of setting. It was rich, I could almost smell the scents and feel the heat. I just loved it.

Similarly, I loved the political plots and subplots, the layers and complexity there was to that were great. The way the different factions interacted and how they each had pretty good motives for what they did. It was really good tension, especially that we followed different characters who were on opposing factions and had opposing ideologies, so we got to see all of the sides and it was hard at times to decide who to root for. So I thought that was really well done and I look forward to seeing where that goes.

What I didn’t really like were the characters. They all kind of annoyed me. I felt like they were all acting like 16 year olds, even though they were in their 20s. I didn’t really like any of them and that often took me out of the story. Nahri was sometimes really annoying and frustrating in my opinion. I just found myself yelling at her “GIRL WHYYYY? Why are you like this?”. She frustrated me. And same goes for the other two main characters. I just got so frustrated with them. I liked some of them more than others, but overall, I just didn’t enjoy the characters.

Same goes for the relationships. I didn’t like the romance elements. I’m not sure if there’s a love triangle hinted or if that’s just supposed to be a friendship. I can’t tell, but either way, one of the characters involved is my least favourite character, so I just don’t like the relationship either way.

Another thing that bothered me a little bit is that the author says that she’s a convert to Islam and that that’s brought her a lot of joy, but then she goes on and makes the most devout character in her book also the most obnoxious and self-righteous. To the point where everyone finds his devoutness annoying and is, rightly so, in my opinion, rankled by his self-righteousness. And I’m like… on the one hand, you claim that Islam is so important to you, but on the other hand, you’re making the one character that truly cares about it in your book be so insufferable. I don’t like hypocrisy and that bothered me, it doesn’t have that much to do with the story and it may well not have been intentional. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me that finds this character this insufferable.

Overall, I ended up enjoying this more than I expected and I will be continuing with the series.

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky – Book Review

35228265Rating: 2/5

Genre: Sic-fi

First published: 2015

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Synopsis: A race for survival among the stars… Humanity’s last survivors escaped earth’s ruins to find a new home. But when they find it, can their desperation overcome it’s dangers? WHO WILL INHERIT THIS NEW EARTH? The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare. Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?

I unfortunately did not like this and the main reason was that it was unbelievable. It played fast and loose with science in a way that I couldn’t swallow. Obviously, playing fast and loose with science, or at least with science as we understand it, is a steeple of science-fiction, but the way it was done in this book didn’t agree with me. But first let’s talk about some good aspects.

I thought the writing itself was good. It was a well written book for the most part. I do think there were some weak points, not so much in style as in the way that it portrayed some of the characters. I will talk about this more later, in the spoilery section of this review. I’ve decided to keep everything in one review, instead of making a separate discussion post, but I will first get the spoiler free out of the way.

The pacing, I struggled with a little, not that it was necessarily bad… but I was expecting more of a thriller. Based on the synopsis, I was expecting something different, more actiony. So when that expectation wasn’t met, it just kind of put me off, which also contributed to my inability to enjoy this. I think it just came down to a bad synopsis. Though I do get that it’s kind of difficult to write a synopsis for this book without spoiling anything.

I couldn’t really connect to the characters. I didn’t care that much about them, whether they were human or non-human. I vaguely cared about one of them, but even with her, I was just meh. I felt a general disconnect from the story. A huge part of this was the “science”. It was very unbelievable in my opinion, I did not buy it. Science fiction obviously speculates about science-related stuff, but as I mentioned, I didn’t like how this book went about it. There has to remain an element of plausibility. And the thing is, the more rigorously scientific you try to be, the harder that plausibility is to preserve. What I mean is that if you write about something like space-travel (which this book does, but that’s not what I had an issue with) or teleportation or black holes, it’s much easier to seem plausible because we don’t have a ton of concrete information about it. So it’s easy to buy that 10,000 years from now, we will have space ships able to travel long distances into space, or that we will have cured cancer, or that we’ll be able to place ourselves in a kind of stasis or stuff like that. But if you write about something we currently have a decent understanding of, at least at a basic level, you can’t change it and still be believable. And in my opinion, this is what this book did and it took out of the story.

Also, another thing that took me out of the story because it just didn’t seem believable to me, was the way the non-human characters were written. There seems to be so much emphasis in the book that they are not human and therefore they think in completely different ways. But at the same time, they were very antropomorphised. They thought and acted like… well like a human trying to imagine what something as far removed from human as possible would think. And it was very jarring. I realise that the author of this book is human. But then he shouldn’t have attempted something like this if he can’t pull it off.

And with that, I think I’m going to move into the spoilery section. So from now on, read at your own peril.

Let’s start with my main issue. As you may or may not know, I’m a Geneticist. This book attempts to imagine a world where spiders evolve as the dominant species. So the premise is that humans are super advanced and have spread out in space, have terraformed a bunch of planets and one of these is set up as an experiment. They’ve somehow engineered some magic virus thing that somehow influences selection and therefore speeds up evolution. And this scientist infected a bunch of monkeys with the virus and planned to set them free on a new terraformed planet and watch new humans evolve. Which okay… a bit iffy with the magic virus. Not really sure how that would work, but acceptable for speculative fiction. But things go wrong, humans start a war that ultimately leads to their near extinction, all her moneys die and the only survivors are invertebrates which somehow also got infected with the magic virus. The scientist also survives in a satellite that was meant as an observation station for her experiment.

So the story focuses on portia labiata, a species of jumping spider, which is infected with the virus. As far as spiders go, these are pretty cute. A quick google search has told me that the author is a zoologist, which kind of makes me question his choices even more.

The way his spiders evolved and his magic virus worked was very Lamarckian. Everyone has heard of Darwin, but what a lot of people probably aren’t aware of is that his was  not the only theory of evolution going around back in the day. there was this other guy, Lamarck, who thought that learned or acquired traits were passed on from parents to offspring. For example, he proposed that in areas with very tall trees, giraffes have longer necks because they stretch out to get to the leaves and as a result their necks stretch out. which might be the case at least to a small extent. But he proposed that these elongated giraffes then passed their long necks to their offspring. Which is a theory that has been disproved. That’s not how traits are inherited. We don’t inherit what out parents have learnt or the physical attributes they’ve acquired (a weightlifter’s baby isn’t born with super buff muscles). The reason I’m explaining this is that… in this story, the magic virus somehow made it that the spiders were able to genetically transmit their knowledge???? It even got to the point where they were able to distill??? Their DNA knowledge… and drink it???? To learn stuff???? I found this so implausible. I don’t even know how to express my frustration with this. It tried so hard to sound… very scientific. But it gave no detail about how this magic virus worked to basically alter how genetics works. In fact, there was very little detail about any of the sciency stuff. But it was made to seem like there was detail. I don’t know if that makes sense. But basically, things were explained without actually being explained. It’s like if someone tried to explain something they didn’t understand, but they wanted you to think that they know what they’re talking about. It was so frustrating for me to read. It would have been better if there was no explanation at all.

Another thing that I was very confused about was…. how did the spiders know what the scientific name of their species was???? And why did they all have human names. One of the spiders we follow is Portia… because she’s a descendant of portia labiata. Or rather, we follow a whole bunch of different Portias throughout the evolution of the spider species. But they just kind of merge together into one Portia. There’s also a series of Biancas and Violas and Fabiens. Why do these spiders have human names???? They can’t even speak with voices. They communicate through vibrations and sign language. How would they name themselves names like this, that are primarily auditory? Their names would be like… Stamp Wiggle Wave. Or Tremor Extended Foreleg. Or something that makes sense with the way that they communicate. The reason we have names like we do is because we primarily communicate verbally. I know it’s a little thing, but it bothered me so much.

One of the points this books is trying so hard to make is that there is nothing special about humans besides a fluke of evolution and that something very different from humans might have evolved instead. But it then proceeds to write about a civilisation of giant spiders that pretty much follow the patterns of human history and the issues that human society has faced and continues to face. Things like gender equality and religion and technology. It just makes me cringe just thinking about it. Because it’s almost like “Hmmm… how can I talk about these things in a new, interesting way? Oh, I know! GIANT SUPER SMART SPIDERS WHICH ARE EXACTLY LIKE PEOPLE BUT WE’LL PRETEND THEY’RE NOT!” But then of course in the end, they’re better than the humans because instead of killing the humans, they seek out harmonious living.

There are honestly so many other things I could pick on, but I’m getting really frustrated writing this. I’m not even sure why it makes me so mad, but I just got so frustrated with this book. Part of me doesn’t even want to give it 2 stars. But then it does have some merits, so I can’t really give it 1 star. But man, just so frustrated.

Fire & Heist by Sarah Beth Durst

fire and heistRating: 3.5/5

Genre: YA, fantasy

First published: 2018

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Synopsis: Leading your first heist is a major milestone in Sky Hawkin’s family—even more so than learning to talk, walk, or do long division. It’s a chance to gain power and acceptance within society. But stealing your first treasure can be complicated—especially when you’re a wyvern, a human capable of transforming into a dragon.

This book was such a pleasant surprise for me. I did a “read a chapter to decide if I’ll keep these books” kind of thing a while back and this was one of the books that I was thinking to unhaul because I thought I wouldn’t like it. But I ended up keeping it and really enjoying it. It’s a pretty light fantasy, I’d say it’s more of a contemporary than a fantasy, but it was so quick and fun. I really enjoyed the characters, I enjoyed the romance which rarely happens especially in contemporaries for me. I just genuinely had a fun time with this book.

The plot was fairly generic. There wasn’t anything massively surprising about it, but it was still enjoyable. It was predictable, but not boring. I love heist stories and while this wasn’t the most ingenious and elaborate heist ever, I had a good time with reading it. The writing style is I think where a lot of the enjoyability of the book comes from. It’s really funny, it’s a first person narration and I really liked the main character. Another thing that happens very rarely in YA contemporaries for me. But I really liked her, she felt like an actual person and she was funny.

It’s also very short and fast paced. It’s the kind of book you can easily read in one day. there was I would say more focus on friendship and family relationships than there was on the romance, which spoke to my soul and is probably why I enjoyed the romance as much as I did. I love seeing family and friendship dynamics in books far more than I like seeing romance ones, especially in YA where every single one feels the same.

So yeah, very pleasantly surprised. Glad I gave it a shot before unhauling it and if you’re looking for a fun, fast, fantasy-ish but more contemporary book, give this one a try.

Onyx and Ivory by Mindee Arnett – Book Review

Rating: 2/5onyx and ivory

Genre: YA, fantasy

First published: 2018

Author: Mindee Arnett

Synopsis: They call her Traitor Kate. It’s a title Kate Brighton inherited from her father after he tried to assassinate the high king years ago. Now Kate lives as an outcast, clinging to the fringes of society as a member of the Relay, the imperial courier service. Only those most skilled in riding and bow hunting ride for the Relay; and only the fastest survive, for when dark falls, the nightdrakes—deadly flightless dragons—come out to hunt. Fortunately, Kate has a secret edge: she is a wilder, born with magic that allows her to influence the minds of animals.

Animal magic and horse riding feature predominantly? Plus DRAGONS? I was excited. Sadly, I can’t say a lot of good things about this book, except that the author clearly knows about horses. Which as a horse lover, I enjoyed.

The concept was really cool. There was a cool world and cool magic. But the story was boring, mediocre and tropey and so were the characters. And I feel like that’s something very common in fantasy, particularly YA. People have these great ideas for a setting/magic system. But don’t have a good story to tell. If you don’t have a good story to tell, if you don’t have compelling characters, it doesn’t matter how cool your world is. It’s just going to be meh. It’s so obvious that the author didn’t really have a solid story to tell. So many things happen that make no sense. Characters do things, or don’d do things just for plot convenience. For example **minor spoiler ahead, if you want to avoid, skip the bold text*** Kate can control animals. She has always been able to. It’s second nature to her. She has also worked for some time as a relay person. And yet, it takes her most of the book to even think of trying to control the dragons that have been trying to EAT her throughout her entire relay career. That’s something that literally anyone else would have done instinctually. It was so obviously for plot convenience. 

Then there was, of course, the romance. Which wasn’t insta-love. I’ll give it that. The characters had a past. But it was otherwise so bad and clicheed and just uuuuuggghhh. I hated it especially that it just took over. And that’s another thing that happens when fantasy authors don’t have a solid story to tell. The story just becomes a romance masquerading as a fantasy adventure story.And I feel betrayed every time. Especially when it’s just not a good love story. It’s a boring one that I’ve read hundreds of times before. Instead of focusing on it, it could have focused on the dragons and on the cool tid-bits of the world that we got to see. Even just that would have made the book a lot better. It still would have lacked any substantial story, but at least I would have read interesting, unique filler, instead of a tired romance that I could not have cared less about if I tried.

I read this book quite a while ago and only just got to reviewing it. I intended to make this a mini review, but clearly I still feel very strongly about this book and how much it disappointed me, so it turned out into a full-length review. But yeah, to summarise, cool concept. Terrible execution.

Sadie by Courtney Summers – Book Review

34810320Rating: 4.75/5

Genre: Mystery, thriller, YA

First published: 2018

Author: Courtney Summers

Synopsis: A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

I’d been seeing this book around for some time and had heard some good reviews but for some reason, I wasn’t super tempted by it. But then I saw that the audiobook had a full cast, so I got it and boy am I glad I did. Turns out those good reviews were good for a reason. I definitely recommend it as an audiobook, I think that greatly enhances the experience.

This book was so compelling from start to finish. The story was compelling, the way it was told was compelling, the characters… everything about it just drew me in. We get two perspectives, one is Sadie’s and the other is West McCray’s and they complement one another. It’s almost like we’re following two separate mysteries. One that Sadie is trying to figure out and one that West is trying to figure out. Despite that, I have to say I really wish we got more information about some of the things going on. But at the same time, it would not have been as realistic a book and as good if we did get more information. But I just enjoyed and cared about Sadie’s story so much that I wish I knew more of the details. And throughout the book, you get the sense that that’s West’s desire as well.

I often have problems with thrillers. It’s a genre that I really love. I’ve always loved crime mysteries and thrillers, but they need to be truly compelling. A lot of mystery books are super tropey and, as one of my friends puts it ‘basic bitch thrillers’. And I just get so bored with those. So every time I pick up a thriller, I get nervous. But this book was everything that I love about thrillers.

Also, I really appreciated the rep that we got. Sadie has a stutter and that’s definitely something that I’ve never seen in a book before. I actually worked with someone who had a stutter last year and as a result I got curious about the condition and did a little bit of research into it and it’s something that we actually don’t know much about in terms of what causes it. So being in Sadie’s head was really useful for me. I don’t know if the author has any personal experience with it or she’s just done a lot of research, but I thought the representation was accurate and it helped me understand better what someone with the condition might be going through and all the ways in which people are insensitive or biased because of it. So, I really appreciated that as well.

So yeah, definitely recommend. If you can get the audiobook, I recommend that because the production is great. I feel it really adds to the story. I don’t know what else to say about it. With this kind of books, the less you know going into it, the better, really. Which is why I truncated the synopsis in this review. I didn’t know much more than that going into it and I think that provides the best experience.

Alice by Christina Henry – Book Review

30231057Rating: 3.5

Genre: Horror, fantasy, adult

First published: 2015

Author: Christina Henry

Synopsis: In a warren of crumbling buildings called the Old City, a hospital echoes with the screams of the poor souls inside. Inside, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood…Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.


This was the dark fairy-tale retelling that so many books aspire to be. I absolutely loved the re-imagining, the twists on the story and characters we know. It was very well written, very atmospheric. In case it wasn’t obvious, this is an Alice in Wonderland retelling.

The writing style was really… I don’t even know what the right word for it is. I want to say old-fashioned, but not in a dense or cumbersome way. But just the way the book was written made you feel like you were in Victorian London. Just that kind of vibe and atmosphere. And I loved it. It is a little bit steampunk, I think. Not heavily, but there is that vibe. And definitely London, with all its grit and pollution. It always felt like it was dark. At some point the MC remarks that it always seemed to be nighttime in the Old City. I adored the atmosphere. It was everything I wanted.

As I said before, I also loved the twists on the story. I didn’t know what to expect even though I’m familiar with the story of Alice in Wonderland and the characters, I never quite knew what to expect. But as I was reading and meeting each new character, it made sense. The twists were very well done. The story in general was very well written. It kept me hooked and wanting to know what’s going on. I wanted to find out what had happened to Alice that she couldn’t remember. How did the characters get to where they were. It was just overall a good story.

My main issue and the reason I didn’t rate it higher is because as I said, it was very heavy on violence and sexual abuse and appalling treatment of women. I’m not sure that we come across even one female character who wasn’t abused at some point. And some of the abuses were absolutely horrifying. And yes, this is a horror story and it’s to be expected to some extent. But I thought this was somewhat excessive and while it was addressed, I felt it could have been addressed more and more of the women could have been given agency and treated as more than just at most, victims of abuse and at worst, just meat. And now thinking about it, the two female characters (aside from the MC) who had some agency both betrayed the MC.

And another thing was the portrayal of men. I felt like women were portrayed as helpless victims and men as degenerate savages. There was almost this notion that all men are this close to losing it and raping and murdering. Like literally, there is only one male character who isn’t portrayed as being a moment away from either succumbing to lust or homicidal rage and he’s instead portrayed as being self-serving and a bit sadistic. So that really bothered me. I get that this was meant to be a really dark story and it explored the darkest aspects of humanity. But you can do that without implying that that’s all there is. And that all men are scumbags given the chance and all women are victims.

So, this is a good story, very well written, but I took issue with the portrayal of both men and women in it. I found it problematic and not sufficiently addressed. I still think I’ll continue with the series, but if you want to pick this up, do be aware of these things and if you can’t stomach it, then best pass this one up.

The Martian by Andy Weir – Book Review

24737104Rating: 5/5 stars

Genre: Sci-fi

First published: 2012

Author: Andy Weir

Synopsis: I’m stranded on Mars.

I have no way to communicate with Earth.

I’m in a Habitat designed to last 31 days.

If the Oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.

So yeah. I’m screwed.

I put this book off for the longest time, thinking I wasn’t going to enjoy if for some reason. I’m so glad I picked it up though because I flew through it in a day and I had such a good time reading it. This book is so much fun.

I really liked the main character, Mark, he was really funny and he managed to not succumb to utter despair in the midst of this absolutely terrifying situation. He found the motivation and willpower to keep on. And as someone who has struggled with depression, it was so nice and encouraging to read about. And also all the people on earth coming together and dedicating so many resources for just one human life, I thought that was absolutely beautiful and I do think that we have that in us. It’s what we should be like all the time, if only we weren’t so broken. It was really heartwarming to read about.

The book was very fast paced and easy to read, like I said, flew through it in one day. It’s mainly written in the form of Mark’s logs, so it’s kind of informal. It feels like it’s spoken to you, which I really enjoyed. And there’s just always stuff happening and somehow, it’s all very exciting and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Even potatoes are exciting when they’re Martian potatoes.

But I think for me personally, the most enjoyable part was how he used science to survive. As a scientist and a total nerd, I thought that was the coolest thing EVER. I got so excited about the chemistry and maths and physics and biology that he was using to survive. Usually heroes are charming or can fight really well or have magic or power or influence. But he just had science. And that’s just awesome. I always love stories where people use science to be badasses.

All in all, this book was a joy. I actually read it at a time when I was quite down and it cheered me up. I wish I could erase it from my brain and read it again.

The Dark Vault by V.E. Schwab – Book Review

41564017Rating: 3/5

Genre: Fantasy, YA, paranormal

Published: 2018

Author: V. E. Schwab

Synopsis: Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Mackenzie Bishop’s grandfather first brought her here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now her grandfather is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often-violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

This story had a super cool concept. I usually really love Victoria Schwab’s story ideas and this was no exception. However, I didn’t love the series as much as some of her other works. I could tell that it was one of her earlier works, and while I still enjoyed it, it just wasn’t as well written and I usually tend to rate books on a curve if I’ve read other books by the same author. Had I read it earlier in both my reader life and my V.E. Schwab career, I would have loved this much more.

The world was by far my favourite. The concept is so cool. The whole between life and death thing, mixed with monster hunting. It’s just so cool. And Victoria’s writing really brings the world to life. The plot and characters were weaker than I’m used to. Although I really enjoyed the mysteries in both the first and the and the second book, I really didn’t like that there was in each book a suggestion of a love triangle which was used as a plot device. And I really don’t like love triangles and there was a different one in each book. But as I said, they were mainly used as a plot device and were then dropped as soon as they weren’t needed for the plot anymore. Which I thought was just kind of bad writing and there were better ways to move the plot forward than through teenage horniness. So I didn’t really like that.

The characters were okay. They weren’t bad characters, but they felt a lot more cookie-cutter than Victoria’s characters usually are. So I found myself not caring very much for them. I liked them well enough, but in the way that you like bread. You know, very basic. There wasn’t really anything to dislike because while they weren’t uni-dimensional, they just had very predictable motives and were a bit tropey. So I didn’t connect with them as much as I would have liked to.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this series. I’m glad I read it and I recognise that this was one of her first series and she’s since evolved as a writer. It’s definitely a Victoria Schwab book in style and creativity, but it’s not as well executed as some of her later novels.