Mini reviews: Unpopular opinions

So far this year I’ve read 70 books – and written reviews for only a fraction of these. The chances are that I’m never going to get around to writing full reviews for every book I’ve ever read, so I thought I’d group together a few recent reads from the YA fantasy genre and do a post of mini-reviews!

The reason why these ones haven’t yet made it into full reviews is that I didn’t enjoy them enough to recommend them, and I generally don’t like writing full length negative reviews unless I feel really strongly about them.

Judging from reviews of these books I’ve seen on the blogosphere, I get the feeling that my opinions on most of these are going to be unpopular. I know others loved them, but for the most part, these ones just weren’t for me.

I know that some people might ask why I’m writing reviews that are mainly negative. Well, the reviews and the opinions of other bloggers have a big impact on the books I pick up, and there are plenty of books in this genre that I’ve really enjoyed recently because of blogger recommendations.

But I think it’s really helpful to read a range of reviews with different opinions. I mainly saw positive reviews of these books on the blogosphere, but I think if I’d read reviews that were more varied I could have been a bit pickier and chosen books that I personally would have enjoyed more.

Let me know what you think! Did you enjoy/not enjoy any of the books below?
Do you write reviews for every books you read even if you weren’t a fan?How do you feel about writing negative reviews? 

  • Frostblood, Elly Blake

FrostbloodRuby is one of the only Firebloods left in a world of Frostbloods. She’s all alone and bitter and hating because the Frostbloods have ruined her life. She’s also prophesised to be the only one that can save the world from the cruel and wicked king (obviously). The only one who can teach her to use her powers is a Frostblood and her sworn enemy, but despite all the hate and oh so snarky comments they fall in love (obviously). There is of course an arena battle. The love interest also has a secret that is glaringly obvious to anyone who has ever read a YA fantasy book. All in all quite predictable, and I felt like I’d read this book before in different forms – several times. It’s not a bad read, but I didn’t feel it was anything special either.

  • The Hundredth Queen, Emily R. King

The Hundredth QueenAn orphan girl with secret hidden powers is plucked from a crowd and chosen to become the Rajah’s final wife. When she reaches the palace, she has to literally fight in an arena for her right to stay there. She falls in love with a handsome guard but can’t be with him because it’s against the rules, and if you can think of another cliché that I haven’t already listed, it’s probably in there. This book did nothing new in my opinion. It took every YA trope there has ever been and threw them all together in one big boiling pot. It would have been OK if these had been done well, but I didn’t think they were. It just felt like a mash up of other, better stories. I got this one as a free download on Amazon and I can’t help feeling glad I didn’t spend any of my own money on it!

  • The Shadow Queen, C. J. Redwine

The Shadow QueenThe Shadow Queen is a retelling of Snow White, with our heroine Lorelai on a mission to defeat the wicked queen who killed her father and stole her kingdom. To manage this, she needs to learn magic and beat the queen at her own game. I have very little to say about this book. It was OK. It was a good way to kill an afternoon, but I also thought it was a bit predictable. None of the supporting characters or the love interest had anything particularly interesting or different about them, and I can’t actually remember any of their names. I’ve read other retellings that I’ve enjoyed more. It did have a fantastic map at the beginning though that was great for bookstagram. For me, that was probably the highlight.

  • The Star Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi

Star Touched QueenMaya is cursed with a terrible horoscope and as a result is treated terribly by everyone in her father’s court. At 17 she’s married off for political convenience and becomes queen of a very different court, full of hidden secrets and locked doors. Soon she uncovers a secret ancient mystery in which she has a central role to play. While I liked the setting, the style of this book was a bit too whimsical and all over the place for me. It got too caught up in long descriptive passages and I didn’t think the world building was up to scratch. I also found it hard to follow exactly what was going on. The main characters were forgettable and they constantly made stupid decisions that inevitably led to predictable consequences. While the writing was pretty, I thought it was a bit style over substance.

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Discussion post: Reading outside your comfort zone

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When it comes to reading, I’d say I have quite eclectic tastes. I’m just as happy reading literary fiction as I am epic fantasy. I’ve always got time for a good thriller or crime novel and if I hear about a great new dystopian or post-apocalyptic book, I’ll buy it straight away.

That said, there are a number of genres that in general, I don’t tend to read. This includes poetry, non-fiction, autobiographies and books that are too focused around war or long-drawn out battles. I’m also not a huge fan of young adult contemporaries.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule. I recently read and really enjoyed When Breath Becomes Air, a memoir by neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi. I do enjoy character driven novels set in the time period of WWI or WWII, just not those that are overly focused on the technicalities of battles. I really enjoyed Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which looks at a real life crime and its repercussions. I’m also hoping to explore poetry more in the future and have heard that Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey is a good collection to start off with.

Sometimes when browsing through other book blogs, I see reviews of books or lists of new releases that sound great or that have amazing beautiful covers – even though they aren’t in a genre I usually read. I also hear a lot of hype about particular books in the blogosphere, particularly YA contemporaries, that makes me wish that I’d read something and could join in the conversation. This can sometimes tempt me in, but a part of me is still always wary of investing in something if I know there’s a high chance it won’t be for me.

In the long run, I do think it’s best to understand your own likes and dislikes, and to accept that they might well be different from other peoples. There’s nothing wrong with trying to read outside of your genre every once in a while, especially if it’s something that’s been recommended to you, but I personally think I’d rather focus my time on genres that I know I’m more likely to enjoy based on past experiences.

What are your views on this? Are you an adventurous reader? Do you feel sometimes feel pressured to read books that aren’t generally your go-to genre or do you know what you like and stick to it?

Flame in the Mist – Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the MistThe story: Mariko is on her way to be married to a member of the royal family when her carriage is attacked and her companions murdered. Disguised as a boy, she sets out to find and infiltrate the notorious Black Clan, defend her family’s honour and discover who wants her dead and why. At the same time, her twin brother will stop at nothing to find her again, while others are scheming away in the background to manipulate events to suit their own agendas.

My thoughts: Mariko is a strong main character, and over the course of the novel she undergoes a real transformation. Disguised in a male dominated environment, the characteristics she was always taught to value above all others are useless and she has to learn from scratch the practical skills that others take for granted. As the novel progresses, she also has to come to terms with various home truths about herself and the world she was brought up in, casting off her privileges to become her own person for the first time in her life.

As a female in feudal Japan, she feels that her life has been mapped out for her based on duty and honour. She feels that her gender has her boxed into a corner with no other options available. However, her experiences and the characters that she meets help her to redefine herself, her relationships with the people around her and her place in the world. Continue reading

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

Red RisingThe story:
Set in the distant future, where the human race is divided by a rigid class system of colours, colonies of Red miners toil under the surface of Mars, harvesting natural elements that will terraform its surface and make it an inhabitable environment in the future. Sixteen year old Darrow is one of these Reds, born underground and raised to risk his life on a daily basis. Food is scarce and life expectancy is short. The rules are enforced by a strict hierarchical class system that’s preceded over by the Gold’s – supposedly superior to all other colours both physically and mentally. When Darrow discovers that his life is built on a lie, he’s given a dangerous mission to integrate himself into the very heart of Gold society.

My thoughts:
Darrow is sent to the Institute, where young Gold’s play deadly games to win power. It’s a trial by fire that is designed to push them to the limits and teach them how to wage war and become the leaders of tomorrow. Weakness isn’t tolerated and not everyone will make it through. Parallels could be drawn to the Hunger Games, but it’s a very different type of competition. The aim here is for power and ultimate victory – achieved through intellect and strategy and the ability to command their peers.

Darrow is a great character. He’s definitely not perfect – he’s reckless, angry and overly bold. He’s smart but he also shows that he can be ruthless and brutal. This means that he’s not always a particularly likeable character, but you still end up rooting for him all the same. Throughout the book he goes through some intense challenges, questioning his own identity, who to trust and what actions can be justified for the greater good. Continue reading

Reviewing ‘Angelfall’ by Susan Ee

In Susan Ee’s ‘Angelfall’, the world has come to an end. Violent armies of angels have taken over the earth, destroying anyone who stands in their way. On the ground, street gangs run the cities. Food and other supplies are scare and people are resorting to the most extreme measures to stay alive. Angel parts are valuable currency and secret resistances are building.

As well as wreaking havoc on earth, the angels are also stealing young children away from their families. No-one knows where they go, but they are never seen again. Following a chance encounter with a group of angels, Penryn’s younger sister is taken. Determined to find her, no matter what the cost, all that Penryn has to go on is a fallen angel left behind after the conflict, Raffe.

It was quite refreshing to have a lead character in this dystopian/YA genre that is just a normal person. Penryn isn’t ‘special’, she’s not ‘the Chosen One’ and she doesn’t develop special powers. She’s just a girl that has to adapt to extreme circumstances. There is, of course, a romantic element to the story, but for a lot of the book she relies on her own strengths and wits to stay alive and to get out of trouble. She’s not overly mollycoddled and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.

Although the enemy here are angels, there isn’t a strong religious element. God isn’t present, he ‘talks’ through one representative. However, many of the angels seem to be agnostic and doubt whether God exists at all. They are very much a warrior tribe, and they should be seen as one.

I did have a few minor issues with this book. I understand that world that Penryn and her family are living in is supposed to be a war zone. Still, I find it hard to believe that in just a few short weeks people would have resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. Penryn makes her way into the woods, which are still full of animals, relatively quickly from where she is. She also finds a stash of food in an office building at one point, suggesting that there is food to be found still. So the repeated mentions of cannibals felt like they were added in more for dramatic effect than anything else.

Some of the language and descriptions were a bit overdone for my liking. At some points the dialogue didn’t seem to flow as it should, and it felt like the author was trying a little bit too hard to be witty. Plus, as with pretty much all YA books, there is the typical instant and overwhelming physical attraction to the romantic lead. That said though, it’s a pretty good effort, and I’ll probably be reading the rest of the series.

‘Fallen’ by Lauren Kate

FallenAfter a horrific accident that destroyed Luce’s life, she lands at a reform school, which is predictably full of oddballs, misery and strict rules.

But the second Luce sees fellow student Daniel, she can’t shake the feeling that she’s met him before. She’s haunted by a sense of déjà vu, and she can’t seem to stay away from him. He, on the other hand, seems to want nothing to do with her.

Soon though, circumstances conspire to throw them together, and it becomes clear that the two of them have a past that goes back far longer than Luce can remember. As Luce searches for answers, the stakes continue to get higher and more dangerous at every turn.

While the idea was good, there were a few inconsistencies in ‘Fallen’ that I couldn’t really get my head around. Daniel and Luce have known each other before, time and time again, that’s clear from the opening pages. But while Luce is ignorant of their past each time they meet, Daniel has the full knowledge of what’s come before. It’s no surprise then when they meet again at reform school. But Daniel is there first. And if he’s lived so many amazing lives in the past, I couldn’t help but wonder what he was doing in somewhere so miserable.

The same goes for all of the other supernatural beings – and there are many! Why immortal creatures would choose to spend their time going to one of the dreariest sounding schools around, when they clearly have other, more interesting options, is beyond me.

The setting itself is very atmospheric – with a school with an onsite graveyard, a gym in a converted church, a huge gothic library, permanent mist and lingering smell – but it felt a little clichéd. Continue reading

‘Smiler’s Fair’ by Rebecca Levene

Smiler’s Fair is the first book in a new fantasy series by Rebecca Levene.

Many years after a war between the moon god and the sun goddess tore the world apart, people are still living with the after effects. Prophecies are rife, gods are many and the people are restless. Darkness and shadows bring the worm men, servants of the moon, who will destroy everyone in their path. To avoid them, great floating cities grace the countries lakes. Those that live on land have wheels beneath their homes, constantly moving onwards.

Smiler’s Fair is a huge mobile community, setting up shop and selling any number of vices to the people that flock through its gates, before moving along before the worm men can come. It’s rarely in the same place twice, but it attracts a boiling pot of cultures, races and desires. For the characters in this book, it’s a hiding place, a fighting ground, a way of life or a form of employment. Prophecies, fear and anger drive them together, acting as a catalyst for a war of gods and men that have the potential to change the shape of the world forever.

The author has created a huge new fantasy world here, which should have any number of possibilities. There are numerous different clans and kingdoms all brought together in one vast landscape, taking us on a journey from the snow and mountains to deserts and open plains. We’re introduced to a whole range of characters and narrators with constantly changing fortunes. There’s also an overarching supernatural element that gives events a wider context, helping to drive the story forward. All the ingredients are there. But unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to expectations.

My main issue with this book is that there seem to be lots of random unconnected stories that seem to have any relevance to the overall story. The different strands felt disjointed and never really came together. There were too many narrators and it felt more like several different books. Having fewer viewpoints would have helped. As it stands, it got confusing and hard to keep track of who everyone was. There wasn’t enough of a central story to bring everything together.

I liked Dae Hyo. I bought into his back story and felt like he really fitted the world that he was in. I liked the son of Nethmi’s husband. He showed some real character and turned out to be much more than he seemed at first. I also liked Krish, he seemed to have real potential to evolve as a character and I would have liked to read more about him.

But I thought the sections with Nethmi and Marvan were almost superfluous, and they could easily have been incorporated as minor character in other people’s stories. The ending would have worked equally well without them in it and it felt like all the time I spent reading about them was a bit of a waste of my time.

I didn’t particularly like many of the characters. There was a lot of time spent talking about their vices or how physically attractive they were, but very little on their redeeming qualities. Some, like Eric, may get more interesting later in the series, but it felt like many stories had only just been begun when the book ended.

To me, this felt like half a book. I didn’t race to the end, more like I turned the last page and thought – ‘Oh. Is that it?’. I was constantly waiting for it to really get started. Maybe this is a tactic to get readers to buy the next book in the series when it comes out, but if it is, it hasn’t worked on me.