Book Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Genre: Young adult, fantasy

Publishing Info: March 2018 by Hodder Paperbacks (first published 2017)

Pages: 532

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Since he was five years old, Lazlo Strange has been obsessed with the mythical lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to go in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself – in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors – and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

Strange the Dreamer is, well, strange and dreamlike, and absolutely beautiful. Laini Taylor’s writing is absolutely stunning. Her lyrical prose had me spellbound from the first page. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is one of my favourite books, so I had high expectations for Strange the Dreamer, which is the first novel in a separate duology.

The worldbuilding is phenomenal. I felt completely immersed in the world, as well as being captivated by the mysteries of Weep. I loved discovering the world along with Lazlo, and I was propelled through the first half of the book by my need to know the story behind the mystery of Weep. Even though it had a slower pace, I was intrigued enough for it to hold my attention. In the second half, we get to explore Weep itself, but I won’t tell you too much about that, because part of the wonder of this book was seeing the world unfurl through Lazlo’s eyes. It really is best going into this book not knowing what to expect, because the unexpected in this book is wonderful and mind-boggling.

The two main characters don’t meet until around halfway through the book, so the romance element did feel quite squidged into the second half. I believed Lazlo and Sarai’s feelings for each other and loved their scenes together, but it all happened in a relatively short space of time, and I would have liked more time for their connection to develop.  

There are no caricature villains here, but rather grey characters who do bad things, but you can completely understand the reasons behind their choices, which made for a really compelling cast of characters. There are two groups on opposing sides of a conflict, and the story is crafted in such a way that I felt empathy for both sides, rather than it being a simple case of good vs evil.

Strange the Dreamer is magical, but it also has dark undertones and ultimately explores the effects of tragedy and loss. There is deep meaning woven into this mystical story, and it provides important messages about issues in our own world.

The ending of this book broke my heart and left me feeling utterly devastated and breathless. There is a flicker of hope, but it comes with a price. I will definitely be getting my hands on the sequel, Muse of Nightmares.  

Book Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: 2017 by Orion Children’s Books (first published 2016)  

Pages: 560

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

When you can’t beat the odds, change the game.

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

Crooked Kingdom is the second book in the Six of Crows series. I feel there was a lot of pressure on this book since Six of Crows was so good, but Crooked Kingdom is even better. While Six of Crows was slow to get going and it took me a little while to warm to the characters, Crooked Kingdom hits the ground running. I didn’t realise quite how much I loved this crew of characters until I was reunited with them. As I was already invested in them and their stories, Crooked Kingdom had a grip on my heart right from the start.  

In Six of Crows, we see our gang travel to Fjerda for their heist, but in Crooked Kingdom the action is focused on Ketterdam. Leigh Bardugo does an amazing job of making the city come alive. The detail in the world building is phenomenal. There was a grittiness to this sequel which came from the setting and the closeness of that setting added to the intensity and suspense.

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Book Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Mass

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy    

Publishing Info: September 2014 by Bloomsbury

Pages: 562

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Consumed by guilt and rage, Celaena can’t bring herself to spill blood for the King of Adarlan. She must fight back…

The Immortal Queen will help her destroy the king – for a price. But as Celaena battles with her darkest memories and her heart breaks for a love that could never last, can she fulfil the bargain and head the almighty court of Terrasen? And who will stand with her?

Heir of Fire is the third book in Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series and so far it’s been getting better and better with each book. Sarah J. Maas introduces us to new locations and new characters in Heir of Fire which helped keep the story fresh. While the first two books were focused on Rifthold, Heir of Fire is split between three locations and storylines – Celaena in Wendlyn, Chaol and Dorian in Rifthold, and Manon in the Ferian Gap.

Celaena’s story and character development had me gripped the most. Celaena is broken and grieving after the events of Crown of Midnight and she grows a lot in this book. Celaena learns to use her magic and it is not easy. I appreciated that she didn’t get a grip of her magic instantaneously. It took time for her to learn to control her power. I’m not always keen on training sequences as they can be a bit samey and boring, but I didn’t find that at all in this book. Rowan is an interesting addition to the cast. He and Celaena don’t get on at first but their friendship grows as they realise they have more in common than they thought. I didn’t find the sections with Chaol and Dorian as entertaining. Although these parts were necessary for the plot, in places I just wasn’t that gripped by their storyline. Though I did like the introduction of Aedion Ashryver.

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Book Review: Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Publishing Info: May 2019 by Rock the Boat

Pages: 470

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

It’s 2380 and the graduating students of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Tyler Jones has been a star pupil who hopes to recruit the squad of his dreams but ends up with a mixed and volatile crew.

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem – that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

Vividly told in the seven voices of the team members, this is fast-paced, action-packed, wickedly humorous and fabulously entertaining.

Having absolutely loved Illuminae, it was a bit of a no-brainer for me to pick up the first in Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s new YA sci-fi series. Although it didn’t blow my socks off in quite the same way Illuminae did, Aurora Rising is a superb novel and a new favourite. I felt completely immersed in the futuristic world.  

Aurora Rising kicks off all guns blazing and hardly slows throughout the novel. I was gripped all the way through and didn’t want to put it down. The characters that make up Squad 312 and the dynamics between them are great. The group are thrown together at the beginning of the novel and forced to work together. I loved seeing their relationships develop slowly over the course of the story. The banter between them is hilarious. I found myself smiling through most of it which made it such a fun read. But then I also found myself with tears in my eyes at the end!

All the characters have interesting stories and the situations they’re thrown into are challenging for each of them in different ways. I loved how sassy and confident Scarlett is, yet also sensitive. Finian always has a comeback or witty quip, but there seems to be more to him under the surface. He’s also disabled and wears an exosuit, so I really appreciated the disability rep there as it was really well done. Cat is a bit hot-headed but also fiercely loyal to her best friend and leader, Tyler. Zila a quiet genius but there’s a lot we don’t know about her. Kal is a warrior fighting with his own nature. Auri is a girl out of time, unfamiliar with this big, new world and finds herself joining the squad. Tyler is their leader and a stickler for the rules, so when their mission goes off-course he has a good dose of conflict.

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TV Review: Bodyguard

Aired: 26 August – 23 September 2018 on BBC

Created by: Jed Mercurio

Written by: Jed Mercurio

Starring: Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes, Sophie Rundle

Genre: Drama, thriller

Rating: 4.5/5

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Image: BBC

It’s the show everyone seems to be talking about, and the most-watched, as it had the biggest BBC drama overnight viewing figures since the Doctor Who Christmas episode of 2008. The big question is – is it worth the hype? The answer to that question is simply yes. This review will be relatively spoiler free, so don’t worry about seeing any in this post. If, however, you decide not to read on for fear of spoilers, take one thing away: go and watch this show.

Bodyguard follows the story of David Budd, who is assigned to protect the Home Secretary, played by Keeley Hawes. The story is set in London in a time when the terrorist threat to the UK is very high. The plot unfurls across six episodes, and maintains high tension and mystery throughout. Tension and suspense drives the thrill of this series, and boy does it have bucketfuls of suspense. There are lots of twists and turns with conspiracies, and I found it totally unpredictable in the most exciting way.

I liked that it wasn’t too violent. So many TV shows these days have unnecessary violence. There was one scene where rather a lot of blood got splattered about, and David Budd does seem to regularly walk about with injuries and blood on his face. But the suspense is built from tense scenes, rather than violence, which I really liked. Nothing felt rushed. The slow build of scenes meant that suspense took the forefront in this series.

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Film Review: Spy

Release date: 5th June 2015

Director: Paul Feig

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Jude Law

Runtime: 120 minutes

Genre: Comedy, Action

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

I wasn’t sure if this film would be my sort of thing as I wasn’t a fan of McCarthy’s Bridesmaids (though I haven’t seen any of her other films) but being a massive Miranda fan thought I would check it out if only to see Miranda Hart on the big screen. In Spy McCarthy’s character, the deskbound CIA analyst, has to head out into the field when their field agents covers are blown and prevent the sale of a nuclear weapon.

A lot of the time comedy films are chuckle-worthy but not laugh-out-loud-worthy. This film was absolutely hilarious though and at times I couldn’t stop laughing. It was thoroughly entertaining but it also had a great plot to carry it as well. It was pretty fast paced and there wasn’t a dull moment at all. It was so packed full of action and laughs that I want to see it again! The digs at classic spy films such as James Bond are great too.

The acting was excellent. McCarthy was very funny obviously and Miranda Hart was great too. At times I thought Melissa McCarthy was a bit over the top though in the delivery of a couple of her funny lines and the use of the f word was a bit over the top too which is why I docked a 0.5 off my rating but for the most part it was very funny. From the sounds of it she plays a pretty similar role to previous things she has done but I haven’t really seen any of her other films so I can’t judge on that. The big surprise though was Jason Statham who was amazing. Typically I associate him with action films in which he plays a serious/dark character so I was quite surprised to find he would be in a comedy film. He was great at it though, his character was so funny and possibly my favourite character of the lot.

This is another short review as I can’t think what else to say because I loved it so much! It really was excellent and full of laughs. Highly recommended!

Book Review: The Blast by Sarah Perlmutter

The Blast by Sarah Perlmutter

Genre: Young Adult, Apocalypse, Dystopia, Science-Fiction

Publishing Info: Self-published, Amazon Kindle edition

Pages: 154

Star Rating: 4.5/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

After a series of blasts force Beatrice Hicks and her family into their prepper bunker, they emerge to discover they are among the survivors of a nuclear apocalypse. Fighting against rogue groups and coping with deaths are just some of the adjustments Beatrice must make to survive, but how will she maintain her humanity after the blast?

 

The Blast is a self-published novel by Sarah Perlmutter which shows a family’s attempt to survive the apocalypse. I’ve read a lot of books about what happens when society has been rebuilt after an apocalypse, but not one which is actually set at the time the apocalypse happens, so this was an interesting new read for me. I found it really refreshing to read and it is written very well, in a style which pulls you in.

The plot is somewhat typical of an apocalypse story – it is about survival. But what makes it great is the way the characters are handled and how they change and develop through the course of the novel. There was plenty of action and lots of unexpected turns which kept me glued to the page. It is quite short, more of a novella than a novel, but I like that. I think a lot of the time authors force stories into a novel length when there isn’t enough substance to make it that long. I think the length of The Blast is right for the content which is great.

The narrator, Beatrice, is forced to grow up before she has much chance to be a child. Her characterisation is great and her inner conflicts are shown really well. Over the course of the book she changes an awful lot as a character. Importantly, she isn’t without flaws, and is a really rounded, well thought-out character. The main characters are equally well depicted and they are all likable. There are many emotional and tragic moments made more so by the attachment one feels for the characters. However, it would have been good to see more development of the minor characters, particularly Mr and Mrs Becker and Mr and Mrs Smith. It felt like they were just shadows in the background. Just one scene with them would have allowed the reader to gain a better picture of them.

Overall I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves apocalypse and dystopian stories. But I also think people who don’t usually go for the genre would like it, as the topic and issues are dealt with so well. I gave it 4.5 stars, as is wasn’t quite perfect for me (though I am quite hard to please), but it was a really awesome book which I urge you to read.

Book Review: Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Genre: Young Adult, Science-Fiction, Dystopia/Utopia

Publishing Info: Wattpad serialisation September 2014 (originally published October 16, 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Pages: 400

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Incapable. Awkward. Artless. That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: She wants to fail. Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen to work the looms is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to manipulate the very fabric of reality. But if controlling what people eat, where they live, and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and used her hidden talent for a moment. Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her dad’s jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because tonight, they’ll come for her.

Crewel is the first book in Gennifer Albin’s gripping young adult series.

 

 

I read this book for free when it was posted as a serialisation on the writing website Wattpad, but I would have gladly bought it. The world Albin has created blew me away. This book stands out from many of the other dystopia/utopia young adults books because it has such a unique, original, and imaginative world and concept. The idea is that particular girls can manipulate ‘the weave’ and use it to manipulate the events in Arras. I can’t find the words to explain it right but Albin explains it very clearly and beautifully. Even if you don’t understand the concept right away it becomes more clear as the chapters go on.

Adelice is a strong character who wants to protect the people she cares about as much as she wants to get out of the Guild’s controlling hands. I like how she doesn’t lap up the lavish lifestyle the Guild provides for the Spinsters, not really caring for all the beauty treatments and expensive clothes. It shows she has an independent mind. I also like that she isn’t inherently rebellious like many other protagonists in the dystopia/utopia genre. Her parents drive her to rebel and hide her gifts to protect her from the Guild controlling her, which propels her into a path away from the rules.

The ‘villains’ of the story aren’t necessarily completely evil, and have their own motivations for their actions. They help move the book along as they continually attempt to push Adelice into a mould of the perfectly behaved and obedient Spinster.

The one thing that let the book down (and why I only gave it 4.5 stars instead of 5 stars) is that the love triangle sneaks into it. This crops up in so many young adult books that I find it incredibly annoying. In most books it isn’t necessary for the plot and if it is then it is a very weak plot device. However, it isn’t too bad in Crewel as Adelice’s whole world doesn’t revolve around her decision between these boys. It’s very much a side plot which comes up occasionally but which isn’t constantly being shoved in your face. The two ‘love interests’ have good personalities and they actually have a past which very much influences their actions, emotions and personality.

At first I wondered where the plot was going to go as at the start it is mostly about Adelice being at the academy. Then there are twists and turns and the plot begins to build up and get very exciting. I found myself unable to stop reading once I got into it. There are a few slow parts but mostly there is lots going on and it kept my attention.

Overall I was sad when it was finished and itching to get my hands on the next book. I was also disappointed to not be able to give it the stunning five stars I wanted to due to the love triangle issue. What makes this book special is how fresh and original it is and how amazing and imaginative the concept of the book is. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone interested in dystopia/utopia and is looking for something mind-blowingly unique and exciting.

Book Review: Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia

Publishing Info: Marion Lloyd Books; 1 edition (4 Jan 2012)

Pages: 417

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Saba lives in Silverlake, a wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms where her family scavenge from landfills left by the long-gone Wrecker civilization. After four cloaked horsemen kidnap her beloved twin brother Lugh, she teams up with daredevil Jack and the Free Hawks, a girl gang of Revolutionaries.

Saba learns that she is a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Saba and her new friends stage a showdown that change the course of her civilization.

I’m going to start off by saying this is one of the best young adult dystopias I have read (so far). Young’s writing style is fresh and enjoyable to read and really makes Saba’s voice very strong. The plot itself is full of action and twists and turns – it’s one of those books that just keeps you turning the pages.

The book is written in first person from Saba’s perspective with colloquial language, which makes Saba’s character even more real. There are no speech marks which initially is a little confusing as to who is speaking but it was something I got used to quite quickly. It is fairly easy to understand who is speaking once you have adjusted, as the way the characters speak is very individual to them.

Saba was a great heroine who had a very clear personality. And she wasn’t perfect. She can be quick tempered and cruel to her younger sister. But we can understand why and so we don’t hate her for it, because she also has very redeeming qualities. One of the strengths of the novel is character development – Saba clearly changed as a character due to her experiences (something many young adult novels seem to be lacking lately). The other characters were also strong although Saba definitely dominated.

The post-apocalyptic setting was well thought out. I got a real sense of how small the world felt to Saba since she hadn’t set foot outside of her home, Silverlake, before. I really believed in the world – there were no holes or slip-ups where something seemed out of place.

The plot was exciting and new, unlike so many other of the hundreds of dystopias on the shelves at the moment. I cared for the characters and wanted to know what was going to happen to them. I really felt I was on a journey with them. At no point did I know how it was going to end, or even what would happen in the next chapter. There were so many unexpected twists and turns. It was such a thrilling read.

I don’t often give five stars. It has to completely blow me away. This didn’t quite do it but was incredibly close so I gave it 4.5 stars. I would heartily recommend this to everyone, especially people who like dystopia and want to read an excellent, well written novel with an exciting plot and great characters.