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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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

Caraval – Stephanie Garber

CaravalThe story: Scarlett and her sister, Tella, live with their abusive father on a tiny island, and Scarlett’s father has arranged an imminent marriage for her. The girls receive invitations in the post to Caraval, a far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show. With the help of a mysterious sailor, the sisters end up at Caraval, where Tella is immediately kidnapped as part of the game. Scarlett must find her sister before the show ends, and although she’s been warned in advance that nothing that happens in Caraval is real, the lines between reality and the game soon blur.

My thoughts: It’s been a while since I read a book with so much hype surrounding it – literally everywhere on the internet there are glowing reviews. Because everyone else seemed to love this book, I was expecting great things – which made it even more disappointing that I really disliked this book! I know lots of people will disagree with me, so I’ve tried to break down my reasoning below. There are some spoilers (sorry) and unpopular opinions below – so please don’t read ahead if you don’t want to know things that happen!

  1. The main character: Scarlett seems to have the personality of a goldfish. She keeps repeating that she needs to find her sister so that she can get back home and marry a man that she’s never met. She fails to work out the clues left for her and just seems to stumble across the right answers by accident. She spends a lot of time saying how much she doesn’t like Julian, but then swoons over him every chance she gets and falls in love with him within a week.

    The bond between the two sisters is talked about a lot, but we see very little evidence that they really care for each other. Tella comes across as impulsive and selfish, and Scarlett only seems to want to find her so she can drag her back home to her abusive father – even though Tella has repeatedly said how much she wants to escape.

  2. The plot: There are lots of things that just didn’t make sense and weren’t explained, even after the big reveal. I’ll pick just one as an example. There are supposed to be many people playing the same game with the same set of clues. These clues are not that hard to follow – but Scarlett, who wastes loads of time bumbling around doing stupid things, is still the only one to work them out. I felt there was too much focus on Scarlett and her story and not enough on world building.
  3. The supporting characters: All of the characters in this book are flat and one-dimensional and their motives are never explained. The count for example has zero character development, closely followed by the girls’ father. Also almost everyone we meet is described in terms of how physically attractive they are, which I really wasn’t keen on.
  4. The language: I understand that Caraval is supposed to be magical and mysterious, but the flowery language used throughout the book got really repetitive, and sometimes felt like random pretty words had just been picked out of thin air and strung together. For example – “He tasted like midnight and wind, and shades of rich brown and light blue.” What does midnight taste like? What do shades of light blue taste like? I have no idea.

I think I’m maybe just far too old for this book. I also feel quite strongly that it shouldn’t be billed as being similar to other books like The Night Circus, which I really enjoyed. Unfortunately the thing I liked most about this book has to be the cover – which really is beautiful.

I appreciate that others will have different opinions on this and I’m glad that so many people enjoyed it – these are just my personal feelings!

ACOTAR/ACOMAF re-read (and giveaway)

With the release of A Court of Wings and Ruin just a couple of weeks away, here’s a brief recap of the first two books in the series – as I haven’t reviewed these books on here before. I’m also currently running a giveaway for a pre-order of the next book from the Book Depository. It’s open until midnight BST on Thursday 21 April, so if you’d like to enter you still have time. You can view the original post and how to enter here.

As I’m reviewing the two books in one post here – there will definitely be spoilers – so please don’t read ahead if you don’t want to know what happens! Continue reading

David Hofmeyr’s ‘Stone Rider’

Stone RiderLife on Earth is tough and fraught with violence. Pollution has destroyed the quality of the air people breathe and there’s an ever-present threat of radiation. For those on the ground, the only options are to live their life working in the mines or to become a rider, risking their lives as they take to their bykes and compete, racing to win a one way ticket to the mysterious Sky Base.

When fifteen year old Adam enters the Blackwater Trail, he knows that the majority of the riders won’t return. The landscape is unforgiving, the obstacle courses are booby-trapped and people will do absolutely anything to win, including taking out their fellow competitors. Soon enough, he’s teamed up with the dark, enigmatic outsider Kane and Sadie Blood, daughter of one of the most powerful families in town. Together, the three of them take on the course and battle every impediment hurled in their way, hoping to escape their lives for something better. Continue reading

Giving a classic new life

Keeping teenagers reading books for fun has long been a challenge for parents and the publishing industry alike – although the young adult market has exploded over recent years with authors like Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins hitting the big time when they successfully made the crossover from the shelves to the big screen. But while the YA market is booming for paranormal, dystopian and coming of age novels, encouraging a new generation of readers to embrace classic novels is an entirely different challenge.

Wuthering HeightsI recently went to an exhibition at the British Library that looked at the history of the gothic theme in literature, and one thing I found really interesting was an example of a 2009 reprint of Wuthering Heights. The cover had been completely redesigned in the style of the hugely popular Twilight books to try and win over the notoriously difficult teenage market by enticing avid Stephanie Meyer fans would relate to the colour and style of the new cover.

It might sound strange, but the two books both have gothic themes in common and there are apparently repeated references to Wuthering Heights throughout the Twilight series. The new cover actually proved remarkably effective. In fact, it was so successful that sales of Wuthering Heights, originally published in 1847, increased fourfold between 2005, when the first Twilight book was published, and 2010. 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.