Book Review: Shielded by KayLynn Flanders

Shielded by KayLynn Flanders

Genre: Young adult, fantasy

Publishing Info: July 2020 by Delacorte Press (Fairyloot edition)

Pages: 424

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It’s losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.

As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn’s–her brother’s–magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.

Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong–the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it’s too late–for her and for her entire kingdom.

Shielded wasn’t on my radar but it came in the Fairyloot July box so I decided to give it a go. My initial impressions weren’t so good, but this one grew on me as I read. The opening chapters felt very introductory and it took too long for the story to get going.

The section in the Wild dragged on and at times it read like a list of Jenna’s actions, just her doing one thing and then another and another. Since she spent so long in the Wild, I was expecting something that happened in that part to become significant later, but there wasn’t a meaningful connection to anything else, so this part of the book needn’t have taken so long. Besides being referred to as a dangerous place in between the two kingdoms, the Wild isn’t referred to much in the rest of the book.  

I didn’t enjoy the writing style. It could be a bit clunky, and I times I even felt confused. There were bits of dialogue or description which I had to read a few times to understand what the author meant, and sometimes I still didn’t understand. Between some of the chapters there were short one or two page snippets showing what the villains of the story were up to. They were written in a very vague way, perhaps to provoke intrigue in the reader, but I just felt confused. Speaking of the villains, they were quite one-dimensional and I didn’t really get much grasp of their motivations.  

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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: A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy    

Publishing Info: January 2020 by Bloomsbury YA

Pages: 445

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Harper has freed Pronce Rhen from the curse that almost destroyed his kingdom. Bit all is not well in Emberfall: rumours are rife thatthete is a rival heir with a stronger claim to the throne and that ‘Princess’ Harper of Disi is nothing but fraud.

Grey has fled the castle carrying a terrible secret. When he is discovered by soldiers and returned to Ironrose by force, Grey’s allegiances begin to shift. And as he grows closer to an enemy princess, he is forced to decide whether he will stand against Rhen for the crown he never wanted …

A Heart So Fierce and Broken is the anticipated sequel to Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely, which was one of my favourite reads of the year so far. I had high expectations for this book and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it quite as much as A Curse So Dark and Lonely.

While the first book is told in the alternating perspectives of Harper and Rhen, the sequel focuses on the POVs of Grey and Lia Mara. Grey is such a great character so I was excited to get to see his perspective, but I didn’t feel like he developed enough in this book considering a lot of the focus was on him. Lia Mara is a new character, daughter of Karis Luran, the queen of Syhl Shallow. I did like her, but didn’t connect with her as much as I did with Harper.  

I liked getting to know some characters from the first book more, such as Jake, as well as meeting new characters like Tycho and Nolla Verin. Harper was my favourite character from the first book, so I did miss her in this one. She only has, I think, one POV chapter and pops up a couple of times but that’s all. Although the first book was told from Harper and Rhen’s perspective, I still felt I got to know Grey through their POVs. Whereas in this book, I felt very disconnected from Harper and Rhen. Also, Rhen seemed really different. I know a lot happened in book one, and I always liked that he was a bit of a grey character, but he was portrayed essentially as a villain in this one and that shift was kind of strange. I think the book would have benefited from including more chapters from Harper and Rhen’s perspectives.

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Book Review: Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy    

Publishing Info: June 2020 by Page Street Kids (Fairyloot edition)

Pages: 385

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training, she plans on challenging her rival for the position of the queen’s next royal spy, but she’s forced to abandon her plan when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.

And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.

With her mysterious ability uncovered, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King—the only person powerful enough to control the haunted Dead Wood that separates the kingdoms and, ultimately, enforces peace. But the Spider King’s hold of the Dead Wood is weakening, and he needs Sirscha to use her newly awakened powers to obliterate the bloodthirsty forest. As war looms on the horizon, it’s up to Sirscha to learn what she can do and who she can trust before time runs out.

Forest of Souls is a fast-paced fantasy novel with an Asian-inspired setting and I absolutely loved it. I’ve read a lot of character-driven YA fantasy recently so I enjoyed reading something that was more plot-driven and a bit faster paced. The Dead Wood is so spooky! Some of the scenes were really atmospheric and creepy! The way the trees partly come to life and grab at the characters as they’re trying to get through the forest was really gripping. The world is painted really vividly and I loved learning about the various peoples, their cultures, history and magic, as I read.

There was no romance in this book and I have to say I was really happy about that. Every YA book seems to be either romance-heavy or at least have a main romantic subplot. So it was refreshing to read a fantasy novel that didn’t focus on romance or try and shoehorn a romance in.

Theyen was hands down the best character. He’s so full of sass and has some amazing lines. He really brought the scenes he was in to life. However, most of the supporting characters just didn’t seem very complex. By the end of the book we know hardly anything about them as the focus is so much on Sirscha. While I appreciated the book focused on her personal journey, I would have liked to have known the other characters more. Even though this book is clearly plot-driven, it would have benefited from the supporting characters having more depth. Having said that, I did love all the characters and can’t wait to see them again in the sequel.

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Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: KindleEdition, January 2017 by Hodder and Stoughton

Pages: 416

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

I was very conflicted over how to rate and review this book. I’ve had Caraval on my Kindle for a little while and was excited to finally get round to reading it. So many people love this series and the concept sounded really intriguing. Unfortunately I didn’t love it from the start. I didn’t enjoy the first half all that much, but things picked up in the second half and I found myself a lot more absorbed.

I can’t quite place my finger on why, but for some reason I just wasn’t hooked from the opening few chapters. Even once Scarlett reached Caraval, I didn’t feel engaged. I was expected to be enchanted by this story, but in the first half I was actually a little bored. I found Scarlet to be an irritating protagonist at the start. Her thoughts were very repetitive and I just didn’t connect with her character. She didn’t want to be there. So I didn’t want to be there. I think if Scarlett had been more excited about the magic and wonder of Caraval, I would have been too.

Scarlett’s focus is on finding Tella and there is some jeopardy around that, but we don’t get to know Tella that well at the beginning of the book, so I wasn’t really invested in the goal of finding her. I liked that she isn’t the cliché sweet sister, but I didn’t find her particularly likeable from what little we see of her before she disappears, so I just wasn’t worried about her. Later we do get to see there is more to Tella, but for most of the book I didn’t like her character.

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Book Review: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance  

Publishing Info: January 2017 by Simon and Schuster Children’s UK (first published 2016)

Pages: 669

Star Rating: 5/5

Back Cover Summary:

It’s been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.

Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn’t lead her in treacherous directions…

Making things even more complicated, Julian’s brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters’ help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn’t recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?

Glitz, glamours, and Shadowhunters abound in this heartrending opening to Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices series.

I have loved Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters series for what feels like a very long time. City of Bones was my introduction to her world many, many years ago. She releases books so quickly, I’m trying to catch up! I thought I might get bored of them, but I haven’t so far. I love returning to the world of the Shadowhunters every time I pick up one of her books.

Lady Midnight is the first in the Dark Artifices series and is set a few years after The Mortal Instruments. When I finished reading it, I just sort of sat at stared at my bedroom wall for a minute because I had so many feelings about this book. The characters and their relationships are what makes this book so good. I just became so invested in the Blackthorn family. And Cassandra Clare is really good at giving you hope for characters and then tearing your heart to shreds (in the way a good book does).

Emma and Julian are the two main characters, but all of the others stole my heart too. From Cristina, to Mark, Livvy, Ty, Dru and little Tavvy. I loved seeing the family interact and how Julian has had to bring them up, they’re like his own children despite him being their older brother. It was also great seeing how Mark changed over the course of the book and I’m interested to see where his character goes in the next book.  

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Book Review: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Publishing Info: October 2015 by Oneworld Publications  

Pages: 602

Star Rating: 5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the worst thing she’d ever been through. That was before her planet was invaded. Now, with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating craft, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But the warship could be the least of their problems. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their biggest threat; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady plunges into a web of data hacking to get to the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: Ezra.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents–including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more–Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

I’m not sure how to approach this review as this book is so different from other books I’ve read. All I can say for sure is that I absolutely loved it. After I finished it, all I could think was wow. I had to wait a while before writing this review so I could process how I felt about this book.

 Illuminae is told in an epistolary style through a mix of interviews, reports, emails, diary entries and more. This makes it a unique reading experience, which does make it hard to compare to other books. It’s very visual as well. The artwork makes it really feel like you’re reading a file of documents.

I don’t know why it took me so long to pick this book up as it’s just the kind of unique thing that I would like. I think I did have reservations of whether the style would actually work and whether I would connect to the characters, which is perhaps what stopped me from picking it up in the past. But I really did not need to worry about that. Even though it’s told in this fragmented style, all the various documents flow really well so that skipping between different reports and emails and conversations didn’t feel fragmented, it felt like one long narrative. I also really connected with Kady and Ezra, and even many of the other more minor characters, even though the novel isn’t written in a traditional style. The voices of all the characters really pop off the page.

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Book Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

23664731Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Publishing Info: September 2015 by Corgi (first published 2015)

Pages: 308

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

I have very conflicted feelings about this book. On the one hand, it was really interesting to see the world from a different perspective in YA, but on the other I’m not sure about how Yoon handled the subject matter. The novel is told from the perspective of Maddy, who has SCID and has not been able to leave her house since she was a tiny baby. The house is adapted with air filters and she has a nurse stay with her all day.

In the first section of the book I really felt connected to Maddy’s character and got a real sense of her isolation from the rest of the world. Despite this isolation, she wasn’t unhappy. She gets on well with her nurse, Carla, and has a great relationship with her mother. I liked seeing her interactions with these two characters in the first half.

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Film Review: Far From the Madding Crowd

Release date: 6th March 2015

Director: Thomas Vinterburg

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple

Runtime: 119 minutes

Genre: Period Drama

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 5/5 stars

I haven’t yet read Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, so I’ll be reviewing this from the point of view of someone who hasn’t read it. However, I have read Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which is probably my favourite classic. There is something about Hardy’s work that I just love, and having seen this film it’s made me want to read more of his books, including Far From the Madding Crowd.

Anyway, back to the film. Carey Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdeen (yes, every time someone said ‘Everdeen’ in the film Katniss popped into my head), an independent woman who gains an increase in her social status after inheriting her uncle’s farm. Being very independent, she comes across an inner conflict when three men begin courting her (don’t worry, it isn’t a pathetic love triangle or anything).

I don’t really have anything to criticise about this film because I absolutely loved it! It held my attention from start to finish and there were some surprises along the way. Typically of Hardy’s stories it is very realistic and less flouncy than other period dramas like Jane Austen, so don’t go in expecting Pride and Prejudice, this is a very different style. The filming was excellent and I felt immersed in the atmosphere of the film.

In terms of the acting I thought it was excellent. All of the actors did amazing jobs and none of them were weak. Carey Mulligan did a great job in the strong female lead, presenting the character’s few vulnerable moments as well as the headstrong moments. Each of the ‘love interests’ were well acted and every one of them is fleshed out and have their own character arcs, rather than just serving as the ‘love interest’ as in many romantic films.

It goes without saying that I love the plot. There’s lots going on and unlike many period dramas which are often quite slow there always seemed to be something happening in this film.

There isn’t much else for me to say because I absolutely adored it and will definitely be buying the DVD when it comes out and reading the book too!

Book Review: The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

Genre: Adult, General Fiction, Mystery

Publishing Info: 2006 by Penguin Books (first published 1970)

Pages: 128

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Lise is thin, neither good-looking nor bad-looking. One day she walks out of her office, acquires a gaudy new outfit, adopts a girlier tone of voice, and heads to the airport to fly south. On the plane she takes a seat between two men. One is delighted with her company, the other is deeply perturbed. So begins an unnerving journey into the darker recesses of human nature.

It is important firstly to say that this isn’t a book that everyone will like. Being written in 1970 it is in many ways very different to the books we commonly find on our shelves now. It is short, more of a novella than a novel, and for fast readers you could probably get through it in one sitting (assuming of course that you found it engaging enough to do so). It tells the story of Lise, an eccentric girl who goes on holiday and whom we are told (very near the start of the book so this isn’t a spoiler) that she will be founded murdered by the end of the day. We spend the rest of the novel following her around wondering who the murderer will be.

I felt no attachment to Lise. Really and truly we know hardly anything about her. The narrative is written in a way that we are very detached, almost like reading a police report or looking in from the outside. In a day and age when we like to be ‘connected’ to the protagonist this can feel like a very odd experience.

Being so sort there is little plot, basically just a ‘who murdered her?’. In a way it is intriguing, though also baffling because much of it is confusing and seems illogical. However, the end is a good plot twist which I wasn’t expecting and which made me look at what I had read in an entirely different light to how I had done while reading up to that point.

It is certainly not a book for everyone. At the end you are left with numerous unanswered questions and frankly feeling rather confused about the whole affair. But, being so short at least if you didn’t like it, it wasn’t too much of your time wasted.