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?  Continue reading


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.

‘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

Chatting to Joelle Charbonneau!

I’m so excited to announce the very first author interview on The Stacked Shelf. The amazing and lovely Joelle Charbonneau, author of the fantastic THE TESTING series (links to my reviews of the first two books here and here), has kindly agreed to chat about writing, her inspirations and some exciting future projects! Read on to find out more…

I hope you all enjoy reading this and gaining an insight into the workings of a writer as much as I did, and thanks again to Joelle for agreeing to take part!

The TestingTell us a bit about your background – how did you come to be a writer?

I went to college and to graduate school for music and theater and for the next several years performed in operas, musicals, children’s theater and lots of other crazy acting and singing kinds of things. It wasn’t until about 8 years after college that I started writing. I was the only person in my dressing room for the show I was doing that didn’t make the next show and I suddenly had an opening idea for a book in my head. And for some crazy reason I decided to write that book. It was a bad book, but I decided that I loved the challenge of telling a story and kept going.

What inspires you?

EVERYTHING! Honestly, I am inspired by great stories, by music, by my voice students, by my son’s laughter and by the kindness of the people I have met throughout my life. The world is filled with inspiring things and I find something new to be amazed by each and every day.

Your ‘The Testing’ trilogy is set in a dystopian future, where do your ideas come from?

The idea for THE TESTING series came out of my work with my voice students. I work one on one with teenagers on their singing. Many of those teens decide they want to go to college for singing or acting and then I work with them on their college auditions. The process is stressful and the stress can often overwhelm them. One year, I found myself wondering how the process could become more stressful. I wanted to know under what circumstances the world would turn the process of getting into college into something that could mean life or death. And the Testing was born!

Cia is a great character – she’s strong, smart and balanced. How did she develop throughout the trilogy? Is she based on anyone you know?

One of my students at the time I came up with the idea for The Testing is 5’2″ and has dark hair. So, I guess Cia’s outward appearance is probably based on her. But Cia’s starting point for her journey is really based on all of my students. They are all optimistic about the world and their future. Most of them come from good families. I wanted Cia to represent them. I also wanted her personal character growth to reflect what I see in my students as they go off to college and learn that the world is more complex and harder than they originally thought. They become more balanced and more confident. They also experience a lot of painful growing moments and come out the other side a little less happy, but a whole lot wiser.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

The middle! The middle of every book is really tough. The beginning of books are always interesting and engaging and the idea is fresh and new. The end of books are exciting because you’ve scaled the mountain. There is no better feeling than THE END. But the middle is where your doubts and unhappiness creep in. The middle (no matter how fast a writer writes) is always long and scary and filled with uncertainty.

What book/s are you reading at present?

I am reading Jason Reynold’s WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST. It’s awesome.

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It is still quite possibly my favorite book and the one that taught me to believe that anything is possible!

As a writer, what’s the one thing you can’t live without?

Diet Pepsi…honest! I need my Diet Pepsi.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on proofing my next book which is a young adult thriller called NEED, which involves an elite social networking site that allows anonymous users to say what they need and offered them a chance to get it. I’m also writing a brand new stand alone YA thriller that has the working title of MASKED. I’m closing in on the middle section. Wish me luck!

‘The 5th Wave’ by Rick Yancy

Rick Yancy’s ‘The 5th Wave’ is part of a new trend of Y/A books that feature alien invasions and their impact on the human race. But there are no little green men in the book – there’s just a faceless enemy who is cleverer and more ruthless than any that we’ve imagined before.

Invasion books are usually characterised by groups of people banding together to make war on the enemy. But here – the enemy is not there to fight. They’ve been making their move from far away, effectively clearing the earth ahead of making it their home. Humans are, as the main character points out, nothing more than cockroaches to them – an infestation to be snuffed out as effectively and efficiently as possible. This happens over five ‘waves’ – featuring everything from infectious diseases to forced natural disasters to our own human paranoia – which paint a terrifying picture of how human life could be completely decimated.

Cassie is one of the few that have survived. She’s on her own, hiding out in the woods in a desperate bid for survival. Her only plan is to find her little brother and make sure he’s safe. After she’s shot in the leg, she’s taken in by fellow survivor, Evan. But even as she starts to develop feelings for him, she starts to suspect that he is more than what he seems. Continue reading