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King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Imprint on January 29th 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 528
Goodreads

He straightened the lapels of his velvet coat and winked.
“It’s not exciting if nothing can go wrong.”

I feel really disappointed that King of Scars – one of my most anticipated books of 2019 – was only a 3-star read for me.

I’m not sure if I’m being harsh or generous, honestly. It wasn’t a bad book. Bardugo keeps growing as a writer and she especially shines with her dialogue. I liked the characters and relationship dynamics; I loved the funny, snarky conversations; I just felt like this book was so slow in parts. 500 pages is on the heftier side for a YA book, and I felt the drag of most of them.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are great books, in my opinion. I love the heisting and shenanigans. I think they’re really tightly-plotted and I can 100% understand what I’m reading for. Here, the plot meandered. Nikolai’s efforts to rid himself of his monster seemed to get lost somewhere, and Nina’s mission to find grisha felt open-ended and directionless (it reminded me of Mare’s journey in Glass Sword, which I really disliked).

There’s a real lack of focus for a lot of this book. Romance is minimal, which is usually a good thing, but here it might have added a much-needed hook. I didn’t feel like either Nikolai’s or Nina’s stories provided a significant conflict or mystery until the very end. I was also bored by Isaak’s chapters.

I started King of Scars on such a high, convinced I would love it. 100 pages in I made a note saying “not much has happened”. 200 pages in I made another note saying “lots of Grishaverse recap and flashbacks; little plot progression”. It’s a very long time until the story really goes anywhere.

This all sounds really negative, but it was saved somewhat by how much I enjoy this world and the characters. Zoya is especially interesting. Unlike some, I quite liked the ending, and I’m intrigued by the possible romantic directions the sequels could take. If only this book didn’t feel like one very long prologue.

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The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Published by Random House Publishing Group on January 15th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 320
Goodreads

These days, science doesn’t take much interest in dreams.

I’m rating this purely based on my personal enjoyment and connection with the narrative. Some people are going to love this book.

I read Walker’s The Age of Miracles more than six years ago, didn’t love it, but wanted to give her another try. I know my tastes have changed. Maybe even the author had changed, too. As it turns out, my review of her debut is fairly similar to how I feel about The Dreamers, comma splices aside.

This book is full of dreamy hypnotic prose. I can count on one hand the amount of books where this style has worked for me. In fact, right now, I can’t actually think of one. There’s this sense that you are looking down on everything from a distance; through a haze. It is written in third person and moves through small chapters – vignettes, almost – with many different people who I never felt a connection to.

The Dreamers‘ premise is virtually identical to King’s Sleeping Beauties, except here the sleeping sickness can affect men and appears to be contagious. The major difference, I feel, is in how much we are pulled into the characters lives. Sleeping Beauties was not a fast-paced book, but I felt very drawn into the drama. With a page count almost twice as long as this book, it’s hardly surprising that there was far more character development.

In the first few chapters of The Dreamers, a girl dies under mysterious circumstances, her friends and parents mourn, and it is all narrated with such bizarre detachment. The sleeping sickness spreads from there and the author explores how it affects many different lives. Some of this is interesting; some of it feels repetitive.

It is a book for those who enjoy sleepy, beautifully-written novels. The characters won’t stay with me, personally, nor should you come into this expecting a satisfying sci-fi story in which things are explained. Much like dreams, a lot doesn’t make sense in this book. What I will probably remember the longest are the quotes that touched me. Such as this one:

This is how the sickness travels best: through all the same channels as do fondness and friendship and love.

CW: Suicide.

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An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
on January 8th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 464
Goodreads

Agbatta-Alumalu, the fathers of old say that without light, a person cannot sprout shadows. My host fell in love with this woman. She came as a strange, sudden light that caused shadows to spring from everything else.

Wow. How do I even begin to review this book? All words seem inadequate. It is exceptional. It is beautiful. And it is unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

It’s challenging, too. I don’t want to sell it to readers who won’t like it. It’s a clever and dense literary work, heavily influenced by Nigerian cosmology. It takes some time to settle into the unusual narration – the story is narrated by Chinonso’s chi (a kind of guardian spirit) – but once I did, I could not put it down.

She poked her hand into the dark and secret places of his life and touched everything in it. And in time, she became the thing his soul had been yearning after for years with tears in its eyes.

The strength of this novel, I feel, is that it is fundamentally an old and universal tale. A tale of a poor man who falls for a woman above his station and will do anything within his power to please her family and earn the right to be with her. These familiar concepts are given a distinctly Nigerian spin, making it stand out from the stories that have come before it.

As I said, it can be a tough read. The characters often switch between Nigerian Pidgin, untranslated Igbo, and the “language of the White man”, but it is impressive how easily I understood everything without knowing a word of Igbo. I guess a huge part of it is the way that the author – through the chi – constructs each scene.

But it’s tough for another reason, too. The chi’s wisdom and wit add warmth to the story, but there is no disguising the fact that this is a dark book, full of tragedy and misfortune, including one instance of on-page rape. There is one particularly tragic event – you will know the one I mean – and it is made all the more disturbing because it is so obvious. The reader sees it coming long before Nonso does, and the way Obioma leads us up to the inevitable made me deeply anxious and upset. It is painful to witness.

Guardian spirits of mankind, have we thought about the powers that passion creates in a human being?

We are told in the beginning that Nonso’s chi has come to plead for his host before the supreme Igbo god, Chukwu. We know instantly that this kind, laid-back farmer’s life is about to unravel. And yet this, somehow, makes it all the more tense when we are led on the journey to find out what happened to him.

Gorgeous descriptions, Nigerian mythology, a love story that rips your heart out, and a complex and fascinating protagonist who we want so very very much to succeed— all these things await the reader who picks up this book. If any book deserves to become a “classic”, then An Orchestra of Minorities certainly does.

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The Book Geek by Emily May - 6M ago
Slayer by Kiersten White
Published by Simon and Schuster on January 8th 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 416
Goodreads

He’s bobbing his head in time to music playing from headphones, and there’s a book in his hands. I peer at it.
Nicholas Sparks. Doug really might be evil, then.




So, huh, here’s the thing: I don’t think I actually expected this to be good.

Yeah, yeah, I posted excited Buffy gifs, and I tweeted Kiersten White like the crazed fangirl I am. But this is Buffy you’re messing with here. Buffy truly helped me survive at some of the darkest times of my life. I’ve watched it over and over and over again. I’ve met the cast members. I am someone who likes many things, but how many things can I say I’m really a fan of? Um, like, one or two.

This book was a huge deal for me, and I expected that it just couldn’t possibly ever sit comfortably up alongside my beloved Buffy. But I have to say it: Kiersten White did a really great job.

I think Slayer is definitely a book for those already pretty well-versed in the Slayer/Hellmouth mythos. It is virtually impossible to explain so many years (and seasons) of backstory without info-dumping throughout the whole book… so White mostly opts to keep it vague, but at the risk of making zero sense to newcomers to the Slayerverse.

I should also mention that this is set after certain events in the comic continuation, too. I wasn’t sure I liked this at first because I’ve always been a little reluctant to view the comics as canon (they’re fun fanfic to me, but that’s all). Still, somehow, I think it works well here.

“We know it’s a demon.”
“Right, but it’s wearing a fecking Coldplay shirt. How evil can something wearing a Coldplay shirt be?”

White is clearly a hardcore Buffy fan because she absolutely nailed the quirky humour. I snorted out loud (very attractively) multiple times while reading. The characters are adorable, and the author has taken some steps towards correcting the overall lack of diversity in Buffy. Cillian is British-Nigerian, and gay, dating smart and nerdy Rhys. The two of them bring so much warmth and laughter to this book. Artemis and Honora also have a very sexy, tension-filled relationship (I almost wish Artemis had been narrating!).

The actual narrator and newly-appointed Slayer is Artemis’s timid sister Athena, or “Nina”. Long lurking in her strong sister’s shadow, everyone is pretty shocked when Nina is the one chosen. Now hellhounds are appearing left and right, and Nina’s worried her mother might be up to something demonic. Occasionally, the narrative is broken up by a mysterious “hunter” perspective, too.

It’s not all silliness, though. As true Buffy fans know, lurking under the campy jokes are darker themes about choices and belonging. As Nina comes to realize “Being chosen is easy. Making choices will break your heart.” And speaking of hearts breaking:

“The choice was to save the world– or to save you. And I chose you.”



*sobs*

With classic BtVS elements like family drama, moral struggles, pop culture references, and demons aplenty, this is a really enjoyable story. Never has the end of the world been as fun as it is in the Slayerverse. Of course, the ending is suitably dramatic, and concludes with a spectacular reveal that has me dying for the sequel. Romance is suggested for the future, but isn’t a huge part of this book.

A really pleasant surprise. Now off to binge-watch Buffy. Again.

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Normal People by Sally Rooney
Published by Crown/Archetype on April 16th 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 272
Goodreads

No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.

This is going to be a polarizing book. I mean, I think I liked it. And I say “liked it” in the sense that it made me very miserable. It is a quiet character study, almost a YA novel but not quite, and it is a profoundly lonely and depressing love story.

I didn’t begin by liking it. Normal People follows two characters – Marianne and Connell – through adolescence and into early adulthood, and they begin by being the kind of uber-precocious teenagers who read Proust and Marx for fun. It took a while for me to settle into their story. My initial impression was that this was going to be some kind of John Green for adults, which is not something that floats my particular boat.

Without fully realizing it though, this book had crept quietly under my skin. The relationship between Marianne and Connell is angsty, sure, but it felt painfully real. They are so flawed, marred by unlikable characteristics, and yet, I could not stop caring about them.

Not for the first time Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim, but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied; but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.

The story is really just about the two of them and their relationship. In high school, Marianne is a smart and wealthy girl, but is socially ostracized and emotionally abused at home, whereas Connell is working class, but very popular. Connell’s mum works as a cleaner for Marianne’s family. They begin a secret sexual relationship that falls apart when Connell fears his friends will find out. The compelling dynamic between them drives the story– issues of class and social status cause much conflict.

In college, the two meet again. This time, Marianne is popular, and Connell is feeling increasingly depressed. The two of them lean on each other time and again as they move through a social world filled with social expectations. There’s a bit of a When Harry Met Sally vibe, except that this book is more soul-destroying.

Nothing had meant more to Rob than the approval of others; to be thought well of, to be a person of status. He would have betrayed any confidence, any kindness, for the promise of social acceptance.

There’s clear criticism of our constant need to impress and perform for others in a world that grows ever more connected. Much of the tragedy that befalls Marianne and Connell is caused by other people, peer pressure and social expectations. It is very sad to think that someone might give up who they love the most because they can’t deal with how it makes them look to others.

The pair’s inability to adequately communicate is frustrating but feels realistic. I was on the verge of tearing my hair out at all the things left unsaid in this book, but I think it was a good kind of frustration. The kind that comes from caring too much.

I feel like there are any number of reasons I could have hated Normal People, but I didn’t. I actually kinda loved it. It’s a weird, awkward, depressing novel about a connection formed between two very different people who find exactly what they need – and perhaps a lot that they don’t – in each other.

CW: sexual assault; domestic abuse; drug use; casual racism (called out); depression; anxiety; suicide & suicidal ideation.

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The Book Geek by Emily May - 11M ago
Sadie by Courtney Summers
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 4th 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Thrillers & Suspense
Pages: 304
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

And it begins, as so many stories do, with a dead girl.

Holy hell, this book hit me hard.

I’ve been reading Summers’ books for seven years now and she is both consistently good and continually getting better. I remember thinking that Some Girls Are was one of the most powerful and vicious books I’d ever read back in 2011. Then All the Rage came along and destroyed me some more.

Whether Summers is writing a contemporary high school novel, a mystery, or a zombie apocalypse, she crawls right inside the deepest, darkest parts of teen girl minds. She explores their grief, their love, their hopes, fears and passions, and she does it in such a way that her characters become unforgettable, feeling at once completely unique AND universal.

And this book? This book made me cry. I felt so deeply for Sadie as she goes in search of the man who hurt her sister. Her sister, Mattie, who was her whole world. And yeah, yeah, we’ve read the “doing it for my sister/brother” a million times in YA but here it’s so different. Sadie played the role of mother to Mattie when their own mother disappeared. Their relationship is special; complicated.

“She’s dead,” I whisper and I don’t know why this is the thing I choose to say out loud because it hurts to say it, to feel the truth of those words pass my lips, to have them be real in this world. But She’s dead is the reason I’m still alive.
She’s dead is the reason I’m going to kill a man.

Sadie goes on a journey from place to place, fighting against her severe stutter along the way, all to find one man. And West McCray’s investigation leads him along the same trail, the before and after racing each other to the end.

I think the framing of this story was PERFECT. The author splits the narrative between a radio presenter, West McCray, as he investigates Sadie’s disappearance, and the first person perspective of Sadie herself, as she hunts down her sister’s killer.

The juxtaposition of McCray’s detached radio voice with the passion and determination in Sadie’s account works really well. You can just imagine it – Sadie’s story becoming the latest True Crime special – and it honestly hurts to read. You want McCray to just move faster, work harder, care more about this poor girl from a disadvantaged background.

Please save her was running through my mind the whole time. I felt a little panicked while reading, especially as Sadie becomes ever more reckless. It’s heartbreaking to see this girl who believes she has lost everything important in her world.

It could be likened to any book with a badass female character on a mission, from The Female of the Species to True Grit, but really, it stands on its own. In the end, it feels like a book about all the ways Sadie is let down by the people who should have helped and protected her; all the ways poor young girls are let down by the people who should have helped and protected them.

And still, despite it all, this is a Courtney Summers book, so even at her lowest, weakest moments, Sadie still has claws. The sad thing is that she ever had to use them.

TW: Pedophilia; sexual abuse; drug abuse.

About the Author
COURTNEY SUMMERS lives and writes in Canada. She is the author of What Goes Around, This is Not a Test, Fall for Anything, Some Girls Are, Cracked Up to Be, Please Remain Calm, and All the Rage.

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The Book Geek by Emily May - 11M ago
Sadie by Courtney Summers
Published by Wednesday Books on September 4th 2018
Pages: 320
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

And it begins, as so many stories do, with a dead girl.

Holy hell, this book hit me hard.

I’ve been reading Summers’ books for seven years now and she is both consistently good and continually getting better. I remember thinking that Some Girls Are was one of the most powerful and vicious books I’d ever read back in 2011. Then All the Rage came along and destroyed me some more.

Whether Summers is writing a contemporary high school novel, a mystery, or a zombie apocalypse, she crawls right inside the deepest, darkest parts of teen girl minds. She explores their grief, their love, their hopes, fears and passions, and she does it in such a way that her characters become unforgettable, feeling at once completely unique AND universal.

And this book? This book made me cry. I felt so deeply for Sadie as she goes in search of the man who hurt her sister. Her sister, Mattie, who was her whole world. And yeah, yeah, we’ve read the “doing it for my sister/brother” a million times in YA but here it’s so different. Sadie played the role of mother to Mattie when their own mother disappeared. Their relationship is special; complicated.

“She’s dead,” I whisper and I don’t know why this is the thing I choose to say out loud because it hurts to say it, to feel the truth of those words pass my lips, to have them be real in this world. But She’s dead is the reason I’m still alive.
She’s dead is the reason I’m going to kill a man.

Sadie goes on a journey from place to place, fighting against her severe stutter along the way, all to find one man. And West McCray’s investigation leads him along the same trail, the before and after racing each other to the end.

I think the framing of this story was PERFECT. The author splits the narrative between a radio presenter, West McCray, as he investigates Sadie’s disappearance, and the first person perspective of Sadie herself, as she hunts down her sister’s killer.

The juxtaposition of McCray’s detached radio voice with the passion and determination in Sadie’s account works really well. You can just imagine it – Sadie’s story becoming the latest True Crime special – and it honestly hurts to read. You want McCray to just move faster, work harder, care more about this poor girl from a disadvantaged background.

Please save her was running through my mind the whole time. I felt a little panicked while reading, especially as Sadie becomes ever more reckless. It’s heartbreaking to see this girl who believes she has lost everything important in her world.

It could be likened to any book with a badass female character on a mission, from The Female of the Species to True Grit, but really, it stands on its own. In the end, it feels like a book about all the ways Sadie is let down by the people who should have helped and protected her; all the ways poor young girls are let down by the people who should have helped and protected them.

And still, despite it all, this is a Courtney Summers book, so even at her lowest, weakest moments, Sadie still has claws. The sad thing is that she ever had to use them.

TW: Pedophilia; sexual abuse; drug abuse.

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