The Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan | Book Review

Pages: 400

Genre: young adult fantasy

Publish date: 2. April 2019

Synopsis

A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself. A prince in danger must decide who to trust. A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings. Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light.

My thoughts

Four out of five stars

Rating out of five: four

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I read this book in one sitting and found it very entertaining and better than I expected. It’s more of a high fantasy than a lot of other young adult fantasy books, especially since it has a magic system tied to what’s seen as gods, something I already really like and hope to see more of.

The writing is fenomenal. It’s really what sold me this book already a few pages in. The dialogue is a bit worse at points, but for the most part it had enough humor and cleverness.

The problems I have with these books think I have a lot to do with the level the beginning was at, and the expectation it created in sense of style and progress. I really felt in the beginning that this book was well thought-through, with a vast world and great, complex characters. A minor problem, but one that irked me, was the names. Like why don’t make the names easier, when you chose to introduce so many places and characters at once, slavic-inspired or not. Like main characters are Malachiasz Czechowicz and Nadezha. Thinking more about this, I think it might also be a problem with the voice of the book chosen as very personal, because it’s young adult, and then Nadezha trying to give a bunch of information about this world as if it was knowledge she just gained. I get that it would’ve taken a lot more effort probably, but I feel that it can be done better with enough tweaking.

The big problem I had was the composition of the book and the plot in that it tried to do a lot. I usually never complain about this! But the introduction and reader’s connection with the characters, which turned out to be so interesting, was swallowed by the need to move on with the plot in the story. It succeeded in going straight into one life-and-death conflict, but then it did so again, without yet having given the slower moments in between where you get to know the characters. It was too obvious that the plot needed to progress at a fast pace, especially in how characters – especially Nadezha who is the “outsider” – suddenly puts together things they shouldn’t have been able to! It happens enough times that it became a big problem for me.

I would recommend giving it a try, because there’s things this book does really well, out-weighing what I see as the more awkward parts. Nadezha dealing with conflicts towards her gods and how the gods worked in this world was a favourite part of mine. Still, of the alternatives given to her towards the end, one seemed much less preferable than the others, and I wonder if that was like a flaw in how unbalanced the portrayals actually were or like a very personality based opinion. So if anyone has read the book – I would really like to discuss the Nadezha’s choices at the end!


In general, I liked this book and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy.

Short reviews: sci-fi & poetry

Legion #1 by Brandon Sanderson:

This short sci-fi mystery novella is about a guy who has multiple sidekicks in form of hallucinations, who give him specialization in skills like language, fighting or computers. With Sanderson’s funny dialogues, and an imaginative plot with a camera that can take pictures of the past, it comes together into one perfectly entertaining story.

5/5 stars and I’m excited to read the rest of the trilogy. I received a copy through NetGallet in exchange for an honest review.

The Year of the Femme by Cassie Donish:

I appreciated the themes of femininity and body, but the writing style was messy and disconnected in a way that worked against understanding the message. Also as Donish talks about gender she admits to using “a lot of generalizations”, which she says is not wholly untrue, but come from resentment and socialization. I feel if you want to write a book dissecting gender, do it completely and tear down why and how it hurts people. This feels more like snarky parody with a girl needing a dog because now she’s single and has no one to protect her. Maybe I didn’t get what this storytellers view of women are miserable and happy was supposed to be, but it was boring to read about and added little new. I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for a honest reivew.

Short reviews: poetry

Monument by Natasha Trethewey: a poetry collection consisting of serious stories of a mixed-race prostitute, historical struggles of people of colour, about hurricane Katrina, the poet’s own family stories of loss. Still, the writing doesn’t pull me in as a reader, there’s not a lot of emotion here. It doesn’t seem like a purposefully lack of emotion either, and it got better towards the end. She describes scenes, but doesn’t add much to most of them, the way I see it. 2/5 stars. I received this copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon: now, this one is harder to give a review of because it’s really well-written the way I see it, but it didn’t grab my interest. There were a couple poems that I really liked, but overall it didn’t work for me. Won’t give it a rating because it’s confusing. It might be worth a try, if you’re looking for poetry collections.

Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson | Review

Pages: 96

Genre: poetry, lgbt

Synopsis

In Andrea Gibson’s latest collection, they continue their artful and nuanced looks at gender, romance, loss, and family. Each emotion here is deft and delicate, resting inside of imagery heavy enough to sink the heart, while giving the body wings to soar.

My thoughts

Four out of five stars

Rating out of five: five

Be prepared to cry, I was definitely not and it took reading three poems for my eyes to start leaking, until I was a sobbing mess. This is what I want poetry to be, I was thinking over and over. I’d just put down another poetry collection that had important themes, but nothing new to convey, even through tough circumstances. Andrea Gibson is the opposite of that, they write poetry so filled with emotion that you can touch it, feel it around yourself.

It’s just such a strange mix of sweet, with stories of queer love, of incredibly traumatic events, with stories of being suicidal or loss, of hoplessness and hope as well. All the stories they had to tell got to me, especially of physical illness as it’s the one I’m most familiar with. One of personal goals this year is to find a better way to describe physical pain, which this did so incredibly well, along with emotional one. The stories are told in such a detailed and personal way, but at the same time putting words to more common emotions and situations brilliantly.

All my love to this poetry collection, I’ve definitely found a poet that will become one of my favourite. I’ll make sure to see it performed as spoken word pieces when I’m having a stable, good day because it took me thirty seconds out of five minutes to completely break down sobbing.

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Favourite quotes

“You’re in the 7th grade. You don’t even know you want a girlfriend. You still believe in the people who believe in Jesus, can’t even feel that desire through it’s hell threat.”

– YOUR LIFE by Andrea Gibson

[…] but secretly my favourite season is flu season. The season of proof that I’m tough as Christ forgiving the nails. The season everyone I love becomes a raging customer at the complaint counter of life, like their birth certificate were warranties, their bodies promised technology guaranteeing protection from all viruses. They break down, Nyquil drunk and say, I haven’t been able to exercise in three days. The last time I got the flu it took me three days to notice. I thought the pain was just the pain. […] Good god, there isn’t a healthy body in the world that is stronger than a sick person’s spirit. Thirty times last month I thought, I can’t do this another day. Thirty times last month I did it another day.”

– GENDER IS THE KEY OF LYME DISEASE by Andrea Gibson

“During the visit, my niece only broke once, and only when the guard rattled his keys and rushed her to finish hugging her mother, the nightstick of his voice cracking over their bleeding goodbye. I restrained my fist in my pocket but wanted to knock him back to his own mother’s arms, where he might grow into a man without a uniform over his chest.”

– BLACK AND WHITE ANGEL by Andrea Gibson

RESENTMENT (VERB)

1. Loading the past into a cannon and murder this year.

Also the poems IVY (with great last lines), PHOTOSHOPPING MY SISTER’S MUGSHOT, ORLANDO, HURT THE FLY, ALL THE GOOD IN YOU, GIVE HER (so damn sweet), UNTIL WE ACT, LIVING PROOF.

A Short Review & a DNF

Glass Moon by Megan Pollak

In this minimal poetry collection, there’s a lot of talk about dreamy eyes and the moon and universe, but not in a way that make real connection to nature nor symbolic ones. It doesn’t really tell me anything or convey much emotion. I think those who would like it need to be in an identical mindset of the author, whatever that is I can’t quite tell. 2/5 stars. I received this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What if it’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli

I had my hopes up for this book because I’d heard it was a fluffy gay romance that a lot of people loved. The thing I realized is that I’m not a romance reader for a reason – the fact that it’s a much needed cute non-heterosexual romance made me get probably halfway in this book, which is further than I thought. I like these fluffy queer romances in between my action, a whole book is apparently too much for me, I’ve realized. I recommend it if you’re looking for a fluffy, cute, every-day romance that describes summer New York days and small concerns like summer school, exes and a row of not-ideal first dates that doesn’t stop this romance.  no rating because it obviously was just not for me 


The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden | Review

Pages: 260

Genre: realistic fiction, middle grade

Release date: 4. september 2018

Synopsis

“Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they’ve got to do.”

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward.

My thoughts

Rafting out of five: four stars

I did not realize this was a debut novel, that’s even more impressing. This book says it’s important, and it’s right. It’s about one girl, Zoey’s, experience and daily life, the struggles she goes through as she’s taking care of her siblings, trying to survive school and making tough choices.

This book talks about how some children are forced into adulthood earlier than others with the amount of resposibilities they have. There’s a gap between kids who have a different amount of support at home, like having healthy food prepared for them, help with homework, not having to worry about family’s financial situaiton, that shapes so much what their experiences are like and what amount of stresses and stability they have in other aspects of their life, like school. This book communicates that in a very direct, but appropriate way. It has a language that works both for adults and kids. It shows Zoey experience in hopes that more stories of kids like her will be told, increasing empathy and the discussion with them.

The octopuses (thank you for not forcing me to read octopi over and over it’s not as fun) are a really fun and heartbreaking way to convey Zoey’s emotions and thoughts going through things. I appreciated all the facts, being a nerd, and the method of process it brought her. Something that confused me was reading Zoey’s thoughts and trying to match them with the reflective opinions and conclusions she draws. She noticed things that the other classmates don’t, like Silas stopping talking and why, and has suddenly can debate gun reform from both views. And that’s not major things, but I got this feeling that I never saw the process behind developments like that.

Debates at school is tough when you’re more invested in it personally and sits on more “insider” details than others who are debating for the sake of it, because that’s basically the task. I thought it was relatable the way Zoey’s hands were shaking and she had to find her courage. It was pretty obvious that the author chose the gun reform subject because of own interest, it did not quite match with the rest of the book.

What I was feeling reading this book: sad, but mostly proud, for kids like Zoey and thinking back on other now nearly adults I know raising their siblings and having those invisible struggles

Thank you to the publisher for receiving this copy through NetGalley in exhange of an honest review.

Does this book sound interesting? Btw, what’s your view on guncontrol (i am honestly really curious)?

Sadie by Courtney Summers | Review

Pages: 320

Genre: young adult

 

 

Synopsis

Sadie has run away from home, she’s on a mission to get revenge on the death of her sister Mattie. They were very close, as Sadie practically raised her. The details of their difficult childhood are slowly being told as a podcast host is trying to piece their story together. The book follows Sadie on her journey as well as the host West McCray researching, interviewing family and presenting the story in form of a podcast.  

 

My thoughts

Rating out of five:

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This book is about very important subjects. Children abuse, drug problems, teenagers running away and how they’re treated. Sadie is trying to get revenge, everyone else is trying to figure out what happened to her and her sister Mattie. Along the journey Sadie uncovers pedophiles and tries to gather as much information about her target as she is able to. The way Sadie keeps going indicates how dark the story will get. We don’t get to know how Mattie died until the end, but it was pretty easy to guess after a while. The few “plot twists” in this book is generally easy to guess, but it’s more a story of how important it is that someone is paying attention to Sadie, Mattie and girls like them.

Turns out a book partly formatted as a podcast might be a bad idea. They’ve really leaned into the idea of “Serial-like podcast” (which it was marketed as) and it’s very noticeable as I read it. I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts, there might be a reason they’re audio. It reads like a very confusing interview. I had problems finding out where the host was talking from, if she was “out in the field” following up leads, if she was interviewing someone or in the studio. It’s written sometimes. Also some weird choices are made in how the story is told, which works for a book, but isn’t usual for actual podcasts. I just got confused at times on what type of story telling they tried to achieve, because it flunctuates between an article written after all the facts are found and a news article being more continually updated. It might be a personal preferance to stick to one style.

But that the podcast isn’t real also seem to limit what kind of story can be told. In real life, awful and weird things happen. In the story, certainly awful things happen, but all the “random” people and actions was placed there to fill out the narrative and give descriptions or accounts of Sadie and her story. It’s an important story to tell, but it was very straight-forward. The story felt somewhere on the edge of having too much information of Sadie’s whereabouts to not knowing anything else than directly what was needed. There were no deeper dive on characters we met, like a “Serial-like” podcast would have, or any other details.

Back to the other half of the story, where we’re following Sadie directly. This was the most interesting parts for me. I admire her drive and the protectiveness over her sister that we get to see and hear about. It’s obviously she’s not thinking right, after the death, but we really don’t get to see just how hard she’s taking it or how she’s feeling. I missed that sometimes. She puts on faces, clearly stated, and it’s amazing to watch how she manages to con her way into information. But I didn’t really feel like I got to know her, or any of the other characters closely. She has a strong personality, but through all the different viewpoints (and trauma) it’s hard to decide what’s really her. Which might not be a wrong choice, it just made it more difficult to connect with the story.

I loved the book “All the rage” by Courtney Summers, this one just didn’t fit me.

 

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for giving this copy in exchange for a honest review.

The Future by Neil Hilborn | Review

Genre: poetry

Pages: 100

Rating out of five stars:

fire

I’ve long wanted to read Neil Hilborn’s first collection of poems “Our Numbered Days” after first watching his slam poems or spoken word pieces a few years ago. I was taken with how honest and passionate he seemed like, often talking about mental illness, being diagnosed with OCD and bipolar disorder. This second collection of poems contains much of the same subjects, as Neil draws from his everyday life.

From the first poem “How do you sleep with an IV in?” I was completely here for it. I started reading this book while I was in the hospital with a lot of pain, perhaps not on accident as I knew Neil would talk about his own struggles and I needed something to connect with. I’ve read this book again afterwards, to be sure I liked it and was surprised by how much I marked and highlighted passages. Here’s the first sentences of “How do you sleep with an IV in?”:

It’s just for dehydration, the nurse

says. She hangs up this alien bladder

full of fluid so clear that it couldn’t

possibly be from anywhere but space.

The poems are often looking forward, as the title “The Future” might give away. But it looks forward by talking about the past. It wonders what would happen if this one thing was different. It’s about people, about journeys, about love (of course), about being on the road. Overall I find myself really liking Neil’s voice, how he thinks and his phrasing and that’s overall what holds on to me more than the subject of the poems.

Now I tried to pick out a part of a poem, to give examples of how good they are. But my favourites are a couple pages long and you need to read the whole thing to fully get it, so just trust me and get the book, thanks. 

Favourite poems (for now): “How do you sleep with an IV in?”, “LAKE”, “I’m back, not for good”, “Blood in my sock”, “As much wind as possible”, “psalm 12, in which the author alienate his audience”, “The Future” – this one deserves an extra note as I was highlighting whole pages, Neil talks about his brain and suicide, about why he haven’t killed himself yet. He describes killing himself as a “glowing exit sign at a show that’s never been quite bad enough to make me want to leave”. There’s lots of reasons and ways people are suicidal, so many I don’t yet know and of course poems like this doesn’t give you that complete understanding, but they’re an important step in seeing other’s experiences. It feels good to see thoughts like these expressed so well on a page.

Did I forgot to mention I love the poem titles? For those who feel like poems are difficult or lack self-irony, Neil Hilborn’s poems are the oposite of that. I would completely recommend this collection and I wish him all the best. I’m going to read “Our Numbered Days” soon.

 

Thanks for receiving this copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Head On by John Scalzi

Genre: Sci-fi

Pages: 335

Look at this great, minimalistic cover! It’s so perfect. Well, maybe the person should’ve been a threep (robot). 

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Synopsis

Hilketa is a frenetic and violent pastime where players attack each other with swords and hammers. The main goal of the game: obtain your opponent’s head and carry it through the goalposts. With flesh and bone bodies, a sport like this would be impossible. But all the players are “threeps,” robot-like bodies controlled by people with Haden’s Syndrome, so anything goes. No one gets hurt, but the brutality is real and the crowds love it.

Until a star athlete drops dead on the playing field.

Is it an accident or murder? FBI Agents and Haden-related crime investigators, Chris Shane and Leslie Vann, are called in to uncover the truth―and in doing so travel to the darker side of the fast-growing sport of Hilketa, where fortunes are made or lost, and where players and owners do whatever it takes to win, on and off the field.

My thoughts

Rating out of five:

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I was drawn in by the interesting plot, especially as it’s techonological development to combat illness. What I got was an fbi agent Shane discovering bodies, getting into accidents, Shane and his partner Vann trying to connect it all together and find the motives. In the middle it seems very messy, and not in a good way.

Everything is happening around the two fbi agents, mostly not caused by their actions. They are two pieces in a game where I have barely been introduced to the world, let alone who or what could be behind the murders. I can’t bring myself to care when someone dies that early on, even if it’s to kickstart the need for Shane’s investigation in this story. For the Hilketa player I was almost half into the book before I felt bad for him, with some details on how much pain he must’ve been in.

I think this would work very well as a tv series, where you get to see the threeps and Hilketa game from the start. For the most part I think so because you can watch and judge the other people in the story, try to find the murderer yourself, where here you don’t really get details on characters. The book included things like how Shane’s treated differently because he’s a Haden, both at work and in private, what being an Haden means and some of how the sport Hilketa works. But it’s a lot of information that needs to go out just for the reader to understand what the fbi agents are doing. For example that statistics in Hilketa is displayed in this one public way, and changing that can be illegal because here is the information it gives on players, so it’s a lead. Trying to do that without information dumps (which I think was well done!), along with introducing characters connected to it, and that there’s more than one murder. It’s a lot and while I found it surprisingly easy to follow, it made the investigation, and such the story, slower and less focused on characters.

This is the standalone follow-up to a book called Lock In, which I haven’t read. I would’ve like to know more about how the locked in syndrome and Haden people started out, with the development of the threeps. I looked it up and it seems like the short book Unlocked contains all the backstory, so I would like to read that too. It’s free here, and while the writing or plot doesn’t give you insight in Head On, if you’re interested it seems to be a smart 60-pages read before the other books.

I would recommend this book to people who are excited about the concept, but be aware that it’s a mix of sci-fi and fbi murder investigation. The feeling this book gave me: excitement about the sci-fi aspects with the robots and medical technology, but strange annoyance at the murder investigation.

 

Thank you to Tor Books for receiving a copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Leave This Song Behind | Review

Pages: 220

Genre: poetry

 

Synopsis

“Leave this song behind” features the best poetry from many teen writers that has contributed to Teen Ink. The topics and styles varies widely, and all the poems are divided into seven sections based on techniques and theme. In this collection is all from simple, thought-provoking poems to longer ones that paint vivid images with their carefully selected words.

My thoughts

Rating out of five:

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I think there’s something a lot of “adult” poets can learn from these teenagers in that not every poem in a collection needs to be about the same thing described over and over. This collection had a lot of variation, surely because the poets behind it are so different personalities and it was nice to read through the different styles and themes. It also seemed to have made the collection especially difficult to fit together, as the subject of a poem can range from death and hospital visits to more light-hearted humor in a few pages.

It wasn’t always obvious that the writers were teenagers in the writing itself, most of them did a much better job than I could’ve and my (untrained) eyes see a lot of talent in here. But inexperience was more obvious in the subjects that were written about and, even though I’m sure I’m the same age as a lot of them, that decreased my interest some while reading.

There were some poems in here that almost made me tear up, or that communicated something to me, among a lot that didn’t. All in all, this seem like a fantastic project and I’m glad it exists to encourage young poets and creativity!

Here’s a couple example poems:

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