Intense, Raw & Emotional: The Quiet You Carry by Nikki Barthelmess (ARC)

The Quiet you Carry is a little different from the YA books I normally read which generally tend to fall into one of two categories – fantasy or cute, romantic contemporary. But sometimes it’s good to branch out. I didn’t entirely know what to expect from this one other than the fact it would deal with some heavy subject matters and because of that, I went into it without making any assumptions. In the end, some things worked and other things didn’t.

Who, What, Where?

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Nikki Barthelmess’ debut novel centres around seventeen-year-old Victoria. One night. Victoria’s father mysteriously throws her out of the house and as a result, she winds up in foster care. The events of that evening are a blur for Victoria. She believes that there must have been some kind of misunderstanding because if there’s one thing she’s sure of, it’s that her father’s account can’t possibly be true. To her frustration, she’s quickly denied all contact with her family, including her stepsister, Sarah, and moved to an entirely new town and school. With less than a year until graduation, Victoria is forced to adjust to her circumstances and rework her plans for the future. At the same time, she also has to come to terms with the events that led her there if she wants to protect Sarah.

Topics & Triggers

As I mentioned above, the plot of TQyC deals with quite a few difficult topics. Basically, break out those trigger warnings – sexual assault, paedophilia, suicide, eating disorders, children in foster care, and domestic violence. It was interesting to read about a character stuck in a foster care situation written by an author who, herself, grew up in the foster system. Because of this, Victoria’s experiences in the system and those of the kids living with her felt genuine and realistic but also gave me a lot of sympathy for children placed in similar or far worse situations.

Plot

Deciding where I stand on the plot is a little tricky. The book starts out fairly well, if a little confusingly, and does manage to hook you out of interest in finding out what happened the night Victoria was thrown out. After this, as it’s a character-focused story, the plot does meander a lot without much of an obvious point other than to simply showcase Victoria’s experiences and growth. There were certain sections of the book where I was really engaged, especially during some of the big emotional or dramatic moments which were well written and ended up hitting me harder than expected. Then again, there were also long sections, often involving Victoria’s internal monologue, during which I found myself getting bored and checking out, particularly around the middle.

Melodrama & Cheesiness

Something that frustrated me a lot as we got closer to the end, especially during the climax and ending itself, is that the writing quickly veered into being extremely melodramatic and even corny. The dialogue seemed sappy and the tone felt so over the top and manufactured that I even found myself rolling my eyes. I mean, there’s literally a moment of, “At least we have each other” and even an unnecessary and forced flashback section. As a reader, it’s hard to get starry-eyed when everything that’s happened is over a period of only about 3 months.

Characters

As a protagonist, most of the time Victoria is fairly likeable and sympathetic. She makes the best of a crappy situation and doesn’t give up. However, at times she can be snappy and her attempts to isolate herself against interactions at her new school for so long do become annoying. Still, considering what she’s been through, it’s understandable.

In terms of side characters, Victoria’s new friend Christina is enjoyably spunky, while her love interest Kale is adorably charming. I also appreciated the fact that Barthelmess developed Victoria’s foster mother, Connie, into a deeper and more complex character, even if it was a bit sudden. One character I really wasn’t on board with was Victoria’s father. Not because he’s awful (he is) but because he just never felt real to me – he’s just a really bizarre character – and this had a big impact on how I saw Victoria’s family history and experienced the overall story arc.


The Quiet you Carry is an honest and raw read. Even with its weaknesses, I consider this a solid debut with a lot of room for Barthelmess to grow. If you enjoy emotionally complex YA stories which deal with harsh, real-world issues, this may be a good pick for you.

3 Stars

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In a Well-Ordered Universe: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

If there were a perfect way for me to explain the way I feel about Since You’ve Been Gone, it would be to say that it’s the same as listening to Taylor Swift’s song, Fearless. It’s sweet, innocent, reminds you of hot summer days, and makes you feel young and free. This book is summer in literary form and, in the best possible way, it’ll remind you of your best friends – the crazy things you’ve done together, the adventures you’ve had, and the intimate moments you’ve shared.

Who, What, Where?

Since You’ve Been Gone centres around the friendship between reserved Emily and wild child Sloan. Emily and Sloan do everything together and they’ve got plans for a fantastic summer. That is, until Sloan just up and disappears. The only clue Emily has is a list – thirteen tasks that Sloan has left for her which Em would never even think of doing alone. Some are easy – ride a horse, break something. Others, such as steal something and kiss a stranger, not so much. With the help of a few new friends, Emily sets out to complete the list in the hopes that somehow it’ll bring her best friend home to her.

Why You Should Read This Book

Emily’s Character Arc

I love character growth. It’s honestly my favourite thing in the world. Ignore the fact that I’ve probably said this about fifty-million other things already this year. Emily’s character arc is honestly one of the most wonderful parts of this book. She starts off the novel a bit of a wallflower, really awkward (as in, cannot hold a conversation past ‘Hello’) and lacking in self-confidence. Emily’s used to relying on Sloane to take the lead in interactions and encourage her to try new things, almost to the point of it being annoying when the book first starts. However, as she makes her way through Sloane’s list and the associated events, she slowly grows in confidence and gains a far better understanding of who she is. She starts to speak up for herself, take risks, and ends up forming several new and unexpected friendships. Watching young women come into their own is pretty much the best thing ever so you can see why I loved this one.

Friendship & Romance

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, there is not enough of a focus on amazing and well-developed friendships in YA. Romance is great, but fab friendships make my little book-loving heart sing. Sloane and Emily’s relationship is at the centre of the story and their friendship is developed quite well through the use of flashbacks. While I wish there would have been maybe one or two more, the novel still manages to show how close the girls are, the value each places on their bond with the other, and establishes Sloane’spersonality, too. The relationship isn’t perfect but the fact that it’s able to adjust to Emily’s changing sense of self is the true measure of its worth.

As Emily completes the list, she also makes several other friends – Dawn, Collins & Frank. Each character is decently fleshed out, very likeable, and feel distinct from the others. What’s also lovely is watching the four come together as a group, not only to help Emily in her quest to complete the list, but to just generally spend quality time together as well.

Before you ask, yes, there’s a romance plotline, too. And yes, I really liked it. Emily and Frank just mesh. They have this wonderfully subtle dynamic that’s slowly built up over the course of the book from acquaintances to friends to maybe something more. Frank is a love interest you can easily get behind – he’s kind, honest, supportive, and in the face of a moment where he could have acted like a complete dick, he aces the obstacle with flying colours. You go, Frank.

Completing the list

The concept for this book is cute – it’s pure YA contemporary adorableness and I unashamedly loved it. It’s fairly simple, complete the list of challenges, but Matson executes it very well. It’s just so much fun seeing what will come up next on Sloane’s list and how Emily will manage to tick it off, even though it’s something ridiculously out of her comfort zone. Some of the things on the list are a bit ambiguous and need Emily to interpret them so there’s also a degree of mystery. The reason it all works so well is that a lot of the challenges end up leading Emily to something unexpected and more significant than she originally expects – new friends, a summer job, quality time with her brother, party crashing, a run-in with an ex, and a whole host of other things. Yet, the real appeal is that completing the list is just so full of fun, weird, and crazy experiences that they can’t help but make you feel young and adventurous just reading about them.

Why You Might Want to Skip It

Fluffy, Summer Fun

If you go into this book looking for something super deep and heavy, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s just simply not this novel’s vibe. Does it deal with real emotions, of course, but this is a story about finding yourself and not letting fear stop you from living life to the fullest. If you’re looking for big life questions, move right along.

Cheating

A few people have commented on this so, heads up, there is a cheating incident at the end of the book. Some people are going to have a problem with it. Sure, the actual event of is sucky but I think the aftermath is handled very well by the character doing said cheating. No stuffing around and the situation is resolved quickly &maturely. Yet, at the same time, the book doesn’t skirt around it being cheating as shown by one character very clearly calling the other out for their actions so there’s that.

The Romantic Drama Complication/Ending

You’ll see the way the romantic storyline unfolds in this book from a valley, mountain and ocean away. Predictability is fine, but I do have to admit to slight feelings of frustration when I reached this part of the book. Why? Because it annoys me when conflict is created in books simply because characters won’t talk to each other or one won’t let another explain something when this would SO easily fix said conflict! That’s the case here, and I think it’s largely because resolving it would deprive us of a cute ‘skip into the sunset’moment right at the end. Those scenes are great, but I feel ending this earlier would have been a better choice. My reason for this is that it would have left the resolution to Sloane and Emily’s story as the last moments of the book, which fits the overall theme of the novel so much better. After all, this friendship is the driving force for the entire story.

Since You’ve Been Gone is easily one of my new favourite YA contemporary books and I can see myself going back to re-read this on holiday, lazing around during Summer, or even when just in the need for something light, fun and comforting. I’ll definitely be recommending this one to friends!

4.5 Stars

Top 10 Tuesday: Favourite Friendships in Books

This week’s TTT topic, thanks to host Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl, is platonic relationships in books. I’ve decided to go all basic and just do friendships because there are few things I love more than balanced, well developed and amazing friendships in the books I read. So here are ten of my favourites, of which there are TOO many (and yes, expect to see a lot of frequented choices, sorry not sorry).

Will Herondale & Jem Carstairs (The Infernal Devices Series – Cassandra Clare)

  • They’re so close, they’re basically brothers
  • Jem tells Will when he’s being ridiculous, risky and over the top (demon pox). Will encourages Jem to get out and have hope for the future even though he’s technically dying
  • Even though they’re in love with the same girl, they’re both willing to accept Tessa’s choice and just be happy for their friend because they honestly believe he deserves it *heart tingles*
  • Badass parabatai warriors

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Rose Hathaway & Lissa Dragomir (Vampire Academy series – Richelle Mead)

  • Rose dedicates her whole life to protecting Lissa and is willing to beat up anyone who hurts her (even emotionally)
  • Lissa brought both Rose’s boyfriend, Dimitri, AND Rose back from the dead at risk to her own sanity
  • Their skills and temperaments make up for what the other half lacks and when they work together, they kick ass
  • They have a magical bond that allows Rose to know what Lissa is thinking and feeling, meaning she always knows when her friend needs support

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The Inner Circle (A Court of Thorns and Roses Series – Sarah J Maas)

  • They’ve managed to be friends for god knows how many years and still aren’t sick of each other (well, mostly)
  • Snow ball fights and jokes about wingspans
  • They perfectly span the spectrum of very serious to massive shit stirrer which makes for fabulous dinner parties
  • Would die for each other
  • Basically family and in some instances, probs a better family than actual family

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Harry Potter, Ron Weasley & Hermione Granger (Harry Potter Series – J. K. Rowling)

  • All bring something different to the table – humour, intelligence and…err, sass and chosen one-ish-ness in order to save the day, repeatedly
  • Do not give two stuff about school rules
  • Stick by each other even when things look awful
  • Took down big evil wizard and saved the wizarding world together
  • Bicker in a way I find very amusing
  • Just generally give me life, okay

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Sevro Au Bacca & Darrow (Red Rising Series – Pierce Brown)

  • Sevro stops Darrow from getting a big head when things are going too well and Darrow stops Sevro from going on massive murder sprees except where it serves his agenda= goals
  • Fought side by side during epic space battles and have saved each other repeatedly
  • Trust each other so much they’re willing to follow the other person’s plans even when they’re absolutely insane and more likely to get them killed than succeed
  • That banter

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Nikolai Lantsov & Alina Starkov (The Grisha Trilogy – Leigh Bardugo)

Choosing to ignore the whole potential romantic interest thing and focus on awesome friendship instead because it was honestly one of my fave parts of this series.

  • Can have serious heart to hearts but also two second later switch to Nikolai being a cocky bastard and Alina saying she doesn’t like him at all (LIES)
  • Just generally get each other
  • Alina not being freaked out by Nikolai even when he’s a flying, fangy, people eating darkness creature
  • Nikolai following Alina around while being said people eating creature and still recognising her

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The Losers club (IT – Stephen King)

  • Teaming up to throw rocks at asshole bullies
  • Brave enough to go into scary, dark, icky sewers looking for a child eating clown and to vow to come back and kill it if it ever returns
  • Put up with Richie being a little pain in the ass with terrible impressions (who’s still loveable somehow)
  • Help Bev clean her bloody bathroom after Pennywise badly redecorates

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Anne Shirley & Diana Barry (Anne of Green Gables – L. M. Montgomery)

  • Because they’re kindred spirits and bosom friends
  • Anne saves Diana’s little sister’s life when she gets super sick one night
  • Diana doesn’t get mad at Anne for accidentally getting her drunk off mulled wine when she thought it was raspberry cordial
  • Diana indulges Anne’s insane dramatics and fantasies
  • Anne encourages Diana to live a little and have fun, even though it may be bending the rules

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Eragon & Saphira (Inheritance Cycle – Christopher Paolini)

  • Can read each other’s thoughts – so basically know all the good and bad parts of each other
  • Work in sync to be the dream team in big epic battles
  • Tell each other when they’re being stupid – mostly Saphira telling off Eragon because he does a lot of stupid things and gives her plenty of opportunities for snarky commentary
  • Just generally have a great dynamic

Divider 3

Kell & Rhy Maresh (A Darker Shade of Magic Series – V. E. Schwab)

Pretty much brothers but great friends too.

  • Kell brought Rhy back from the dead by binding Rhy’s ife to his own. Now that’s friendship.
  • Rhy tricks Kell into going out to bars, drinking and socialising = basically the kind of friends my introverted, couch potato self needs
  • Kell is willing to threaten Rhy’s romantic interests with immense violence to make sure they don’t break his brother’s fragile little heart
  • Rhy encourages Kell to enter a magic competition to blow off some steam even though it is clearly a very bad idea

SPECIAL MENTIONS: Frodo Baggins & Samwise Gamgee (LotR), Mia Corvere & Mr Kindly (Nevernight – Jay Kristoff), Madeline, Celeste & Jane (Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty)


What are some of your favourite bookish friendships or other platonic relationships?

A Lost “Princess”, a Kraken, Exploding Robot Dogs, and Some Big Moral Questions: Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

4 starsLifel1k3

If any of you have spent time looking through my blog, you’d know that I love Jay Kristoff books. As in, would give up red velvet cake (one of the best things in the world) forever to get my hands on the third Nevernight book.

Alright, alright, maybe for like a month. Forever seems a little bit harsh.

Anyway, for this reason I was practically jumping out of my seat in excitement when I saw Jay was starting a new YA series. Robots! Awesome female characters! Romance! Crazy adventures across a radiation filled wasteland! I was like, GIMMIE.

[Insert witty blurb summary here]

Joking.

Lifel1k3 centres around Eve, a scavenger/bot fighter with a killer faux hawk. When she and her friend Lemon Fresh (I kid you not, the girl was named after a washing detergent) discover the remains of a human looking AI, a Lifelike named Ezekiel, their lives suddenly get massively complicated. Next thing they know, Eve’s grandpa has been kidnapped, everyone from street gangs to a gun toting preacher is trying to kill them, they’re trapped in a kraken’s stomach, and what are these strange visions Eve keeps seeing?

Why You Should Read This Book

Jay Does Characters Right

One of Jay’s strengths has always been his characters. They’re diverse, deep, and always successfully walk the line between strong and vulnerable. These characters are no exception. Here, our central four are Eve, our MC, Lemon, her smart mouthed best friend, Cricket, Eve’s small robotic companion and voice of logic, and Ezekiel, the lifelike with the perfect dimples. I quite liked these characters. They’re well written and very different from each other, and because of that the dynamic between them is a lot of fun. Their interactions during the book’s times of crisis can essentially be summarised as:

*Obstacle arises*
Eve: I have to save my grandpa, so here is my highly dangerous plan! But you guys should go home, I don’t want you to get hurt.
Lemon: I am a babelicious badass. You need me and I refuse to deprive you of my witty commentary.
Cricket: This is a very, very bad idea. Do not do this highly dangerous plan.

*outvoted*

Cricket: I hate democracy.
Ezekiel: I will throw myself into said extremely dangerous situation for you Eve because I’m basically indestructible and feeling guilty over some mysterious secret.
Kaiser (Eve’s robot dog, built fitted with explosives): Woof!

I have to say though that part of me was slightly more interested in the side or “bad” characters. We don’t get a heap of development on them but based on the end of this book I’m expecting a lot more in the next one. Give me robot emotional drama!!!!

Pop Culture Puzzle Pieces

*Minor spoiler* Alright, I admit, it took me a shamefully long time to recognise the fact that this was, in part, an Anastasia retelling. I majored in history at university and adore the animated film, and yet, I was about three quarters of the way through before my slow brain finally went, wow, this family all has names super similar to the Romanovs, and they were murdered TOO, and the daughter…oh.

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I really loved this aspect of the story. I mean, dystopian Anastasia with robots? You can’t beat that. These tie ins also added elements of mystery and tragedy to the story but don’t worry, they don’t also make it over the top predictable.

Lost “princesses” aside, Lifel1k3 delivers on the whole bunch of pop culture references found on its cover and it does so without feeling cliché or mishmashed. There’s a dramatic car chase that screams Mad Max, there’s a teensy bit of X-men awesomeness to one character, and if you enjoyed Blade Runner you’ll definitely find a lot to like here.

  • Destroyed world? Check.
  • Humans with God complexes? Er, check.
  • Major moral questions about the rights of artificial intelligence and what is human? Dooouubbble check. Actually, make that triple check.

In other words, the plot has action, emotion, and depth along with Jay’s usual, quirky kind of humour scattered throughout.

Twisty

Kristoff always gets you right at the end. Jackass.

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Just kidding. I love you and your awful (aka. great) plot twists (aka. gut punches).

Ending and Sequel potential

Jay leaves this book in an interesting place going forward. The fallout of the twist pushes the characters in an unexpected direction and I’m not exactly sure where it’ll end up. Additionally, there are a lot of big players (major tech companies and other Lifelikes) mentioned during the book that are missing from the climax of Lifel1k3 which I’m really excited to see show up further down the track.

Why it Might Not Be For You

Are you Speaking English?

Along with all the other world building, Jay’s also created his own assortment of new slang and jargon. While it’s certainly realistic (new terms get invented so quickly these days that I have trouble keeping up. On fleek? Bae? Who comes up with this shit?) it does tend to create a bit of fish out of water syndrome. At the start of this book, I had no clue what anyone was bloody talking about.

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Eventually it clicks but by then it’s become just plain frustrating. I mean, why the hell does Lemon have to refer to Eve as her “bestest” CONSTANTLY???
To help you out, the two main terms to know are:
Fizzy – good, awesome
True Cert – surely, for sure, honestly

Romance…Eh

So yeah, there’s some romance. There are moments where it’s sweet and all, but it’s also a bit wishy-washy and fast which is a bit disapponting considering how important it is to part of the plot.

Big World, Little Reader

The world in Lifel1k3 has a lot to it. Gangs, crazy geographical features like glass storm wastelands, robot krakens running around the ocean floor, warring and wealthy tech companies, robots… it’s complicated. We often complain about authors info-dumping to the point where our brains explode. My problem at the beginning of this book is that there wasn’t enough info. I was thrust into a world with language, culture, technology, and environments that I was entirely clueless about and Kristoff kind of carries on with the story as if he just assumes you too have seen his super-secret world building word document. It certainly improves with time but there’s still a lot I don’t know. I’m sure book two will help me out.DividerWhile it’s certainly no Nevernight, I can safely say that Lifel1k3 was an largely enjoyable sci-fi, dystopian, action packed ride with a lot of heart, and I’ll highly likely be picking up the sequel when it comes out.

4 StarsLove Ashley

Music, Monsters, and Friendship: This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

4 stars

TSS

What if the worst deeds of humanity somehow created something living, breathing and equally monstrous?

It’s a simple concept, but it’s one that Victoria Schwab takes and, unsurprisingly, manages to turn into an engaging story full of shocking twists and interesting characters. Schwab herself describes TSS as: Sin City + Romeo & Juliet – Romance + Monsters, and to be honest, this is a pretty much perfect explanation of the book. The story is set in the troubled city of Verity, plagued by the existence of terrifying monsters which are formed by violent acts. The province is split down the middle between two very different controlling powers (or houses, if you want to use the R+J analogy). In the north, there’s Callum Harker, the powerful crime lord who has devised a way to control the monsters whilst demanding payment from citizens for continued “protection”. In the south lies the Flynn family, set on simply exterminating the monsters and who possess a zero tolerance for the individuals who create them. For some time there’s been a truce between the two families which has continued to grow increasingly rocky over the years, with a break down expected to be imminent. And so, when Harker’s teenage daughter Kate returns to the city, the Flynns send their youngest family member, August, to school with her to gather intel. As you can expect, this all gets very messy when an attempt is made on Kate’s life and blamed on the Flynns. But who’s behind it and is it as simple as it seems? If you guessed no, you’d be right.

Plot

I’m not sure what I expected going into TSS but it wasn’t what I got. I have a feeling I didn’t read the blurb properly, (probably too busy jumping for joy at the idea of having another Schwab series to read). The first part of the novel sets up our two main characters and establishes the flip sides of the pretty dystopian world they live in. From here, to my surprise, it moves into an almost typical high school setting involving classroom learning, social politics, and friendly banter over lunch. It’s a little odd to get used to at first amongst all the broader fear of getting brutally murdered. Yet, this section of the book provides essential scenes for the development of August and Kate’s relationship as well as their individual characters. We also never forget about the broader implications of what is happening inside the high-school ‘bubble’ as these scenes are balanced out by each character’s experiences outside of school hours. The last third of the book is a The Fugitive like section in which we see our two-some on the run. It’s during this part that we get some great action-packed scenes, emotional conversations between Kate and August, and entertaining twists which kept me entertained as well as drove me to pick up book two pretty quickly.

Characters

One of the best parts of the book is the sense of duality between August and Kate. Schwab has said that her inspiration for this story came from a line she wrote in Vicious:

“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.” 

It’s very easy to see how this was utilised to create her two main characters here. As the daughter of quite a monstrous person, Kate goes through a large part of TSS determined to live up to the reputation of her father. To not only survive, but rule, a place like Verity, Kate believes that she needs to be cruel, cold, and dangerous. In other words,  that she, too, needs to be a monster. Her father is the only family she has left and for reasons even she doesn’t fully understand, she desperately craves his approval and acceptance. The only problem is that Kate is a far better person than her father and he’s not in any way someone she should aspire to be. It’s something she comes to realise eventually but it takes time. The slowness of this development may come across annoying and unlikeable for some people, but looking at the underlying reasoning for her actions, I quite liked Kate and found her to be a good, strong character in the moments that mattered.

August, on the other hand, is a monster. A Sunai, August is driven to reap the souls of the impure which he achieves through the enchanting melodies of his violin. This is something he takes very little pleasure in, unlike that of his older ‘brother’, Leo, but it’s a process necessary to his existence. It’s a well-used trope, the monster who wishes he was anything but, and yet August never felt cliché to me. Instead of spending all his time moping about the nature of his existence, August simply tries to live his life as if he were the person he wants to be. It’s a serious case of denial, yes, which gets him into trouble later on, but it’s both sweet and endearing.

The friendship between Kate and August works so well because of their differences. They bring out the best in one another whilst also forcing each other to deal with the parts of themselves that they’d rather not. I read so many YA novels with underdeveloped romances which seem like they’re there just for the sake of ticking off a box. It was a wonderful change to read something that focused on building a solid and balanced, platonic relationship without any romantic elements. Yep, that’s right. You heard me. NO ROMANCE. None. Nada. Zip. And it’s a choice that works perfectly for this particular story.

Monsters

There are three forms of monsters in Verity – Corsai, Malchai and Sunai. Corsai, animalistic in nature, are born from non-lethal forms of violence and live off human flesh. Malchai, closely resembling vampires, are the result of murder and bare some of the warped characteristics of their creators. Last are the Sunai. Much more human-like in nature, Sunai are products of crimes involving the large-scale murder of innocents – massacres, bombings, and so on. They are akin to avenging angels who use music to reap the souls of those who have committed violent acts.

Despite the general similarities of each type of ‘monster’, there’s a great degree of variation within the classes which provides for some interesting character contrasts. This is particularly so for August and his adoptive Sunai siblings, Leo and Ilsa, who each have their own vastly different personalities and attitudes towards their role in the greater scheme of things. The differences among the Malchai don’t become prominent until book two, however, Callum Harker’s right-hand man (or monster, rather), Sloan, is still an interesting and frightening figure in this story.

To put it simply, the monster elements of the story are definitely some of the most interesting, and I absorbed every little detail like a dry sponge.

Writing

If you’ve read Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic series, you’ll be satisfied with her still excellent writing here. However, do keep in mind that unlike ADSoM, this series fits solidly within the YA classification and as a result the descriptions are briefer, language is more to the point, and the plot speeds along far quicker.  It’s not a bad thing, nor is it unfulfilling, just different. Her worlds are still well constructed, characters distinct, and concepts sound. If you’ve loved her other work, you’ll at the very least like this.

This Savage Song was an enjoyable read with an engaging concept and interesting characters. Did I adore it as much as the ADSoM books? No. Did I speed through it, set on reading the sequel to find out what happened next?  Very much so. I have no hesitation recommending it to anyone looking for an entertaining YA fantasy read.

4 Stars

Have you read This Savage Song? What did you think?

Let’s Talk: The Five-Star Novel Checklist

Recently I’ve been feeling the strong urge to try and resurrect my efforts to write a novel. I’ve had the same idea for years and years now, always remaining in the planning stage, but I constantly lose motivation after coming up against wall after wall after wall of PLOT HOLES. Regardless, I’ve been thinking hard about what it is that my favourite reads seem to include or do right and these are just a couple of things I’ve noticed:

Image result for check boxLayered & Complex Characters

This applies to both heroes and villains alike. I don’t want to read about completely pure of heart main characters from which the sun shines out of every orifice, without weaknesses, demons or quirks. It’s flipping BORING. I want to see people push through vulnerabilities, fail on occasion, and sometimes make the wrong choices. They’re a work in progress, constantly being shaped by the events of the story and the characters around them. This is why anti-heroes are so popular these days. Everyone enjoys a little unpredictability in their protagonists and there’s nothing better than watching someone grow as a person during the course of a novel.

The same goes for the antagonist of the story. Even though I don’t necessarily agree with what that group or individual is doing, I want to be able to understand it – to sympathise. Depth is important. If they’re an awful person, how did they come to be that way? What are the stakes for them? I mean, it’s not like they popped out the womb that way. Crazy men who just want to watch the world burn only work in certain circumstances. Okay, just one – this guy:

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That’s about it.  Everyone else better have some realistic motivations.  There is absolutely no logic to having a villain who wants to end the world just cause.

Image result for check boxHumour

I tend to read a lot of fantasy novels in which the characters are forced to come up against some pretty dramatic and trying circumstances. So, things can get pretty dour without the occasional burst of humour. I’m a massive fan of the occasional witty throw-away line of dialogue, burning comebacks and sarcastic retorts, or recurring inside jokes. What would Cassandra Clare’s shadow hunter stories be without their amusing exchanges between the characters. For example:

“Do you remember back at the hotel when you promised that if we lived, you’d get dressed up in a nurse’s outfit and give me a sponge bath?” asked Jace.

“It was Simon who promised you the sponge bath.”

“As soon as I’m back on my feet, handsome,” said Simon.

“I knew we should have left you a rat.”

_______________

“We came to see Jace. Is he alright?”
“I don’t know,” Magnus said. “Does he normally just lie on the floor like that without moving?”

Image result for check boxPlot Twists & Unpredictable Events

Without sounding like an arrogant ass, I’m someone who is usually quite good at predicting how stories will turn out. Usually this is because there are certain lines that most authors refuse to cross e.g. they won’t kill off main characters, they want their key characters to be at the centre of their plot twists, so on and so forth. There’s nothing I love more than reaching a moment in a book that I did not see coming and which sends my mind reeling.

Game of Thrones, in its early books, is a great example in that George RR Martin was willing to brutally murder off many of the characters his readers thought were here for the long haul (we know much better now, of course).

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The first instalment in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series is another book that managed to get me, while the twist three-quarters in Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae also hit me real hard *shakes fist at sky*.

I will say though that even if I’m able to predict a plot twist, I’m perfectly okay with it as long as it makes sense and it’s entertaining. The last thing I want is to accidently roll my eyes out of my head at the complete cliché-ness of it all.

Image result for check boxA Gradually Developed Romantic Relationship

As much as I’d love to be able to say: who needs romance, I can’t because the majority (not ALL, but the majority) of my favourite books involve a romantic relationship in some form or another. I really enjoy having some variation in the dynamics between characters. I want something to root for, to ship! However, when I say romance, I do not mean insta-love. One of the things that annoys me the most about romantic relationships in books is how often authors fail to properly develop it before the characters are dropping the ‘L’ bomb and diving headfirst into danger to save the other person. Insta-lust, totally cool. Love, nope, nope, I’m out.

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I’m looking for a gradual build up and an understanding of one another. More importantly, I don’t want the relationship to serve to damage or limit the involved characters. If it’s a story intending to show off a toxic relationship, that’s fine as it’s another kind of plot all together. But if this is something you’ve been dangling in front of my face for an extended period like the carrot before a donkey and it involves two characters I already love, the last thing I want is to see them reduced to shadows of their former selves. In other words, no “I forbid you to do that” or stupid, petty actions that are ridiculously out of character. A perfect example of this is Sarah J Maas’s relationship between Feyre and Rhysand in A Court of Mist and Fury (however, not all authors have the luxury of spending the majority of a 600 page book developing their romances). Also important is that the relationship serves to add to the entertainment of the story, not make me want to bash my head against a wall in frustration.

Image result for check boxFantastic Friendships

I mentioned romantic relationships earlier but friendships or close bonds between characters are another must for me in books. I love, love, love watching small groups of people with strong ties come together to support one another or fight against a greater threat. As you read, you can’t help but feel a part of the social circle yourself – whether it be a group of mothers as they support each other through domestic violence, false accusations of school bullying and general feelings of inadequacy in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, or a gang of thieves as they attempt to rake in money for their own selfish exploits as in Six of Crows or The Lies of Locke Lamora.

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Where would Eragon have been without the wise-cracking dwarf, Orik, or Gansey without Blue and the rest of the Raven Boys? Exciting plots may be one of the biggest parts of a great novel, but the best bits are the smaller movements between characters.

Image result for check boxExciting World Building

There is nothing I love better than falling into an original and amazing new world – one full of possibility, secrets, histories, maybe even magic. You know a world is great when you’re lapping up any chance to see more of it. Part of the wonder of the A Darker Shade of Magic books, for me, was the excitement of having so many different versions of the same city scattered through different dimensions. And then on top of that were the parts of Kell’s world alone which we never got to see. Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse was so wonderful that people were willing to read a whole different set of books just to see more of it. Meanwhile, Tolkien basically began the modern fantasy genre with the creation of Middle Earth. Never underestimate the power of an expertly crafted world. Just don’t rub my face in every little unnecessary detail of it (I’m looking at you, Tolkien).


I could sit here and talk for ages about more common threads like magic and training sequences but we’d be here forever. So I’ll leave it for now.

What characteristics do your favourite novels tend to have? It could be anything, small or big! General or specific! action sequences, poignant writing, wars, multiple character perspectives, a romantic relationship between best friends – what’s something that makes you fall in love with a story? I ask totally not to help me in my writing pursuits *cough*…

Love ash 2

 

Bad Boys, Fast Cars, and a Little Bit of Magic: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

4 stars

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“No one but Ronan knew the terrors that lived in his mind.
Plagues and devils, conquerors and beasts.”

Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

Usually, when I finish a book I know almost immediately exactly how I felt about it – what worked, what didn’t, whether I loved it, hated it, or whether it was just plain forgettable. The Dream Thieves was not one of those books. The Raven Cycle is a series that people seem to absolutely love. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t see at least one photo or post that relates to it and it’s the first series in a bookstore that I’ve ever seen with three different staff recommendation cards hanging off the shelf. And yet, here I am, halfway through and I have to confess that while I’ve very much enjoyed the first two books, I’m not head over heels in love. Yet.

It’s interesting – because when I think about how I’d summarise the plot of this book if someone asked me to do so, I actually think I’d have very little substantive to say. There’s some discussion about a missing magical forest, some weird and confusing dreams, an ambiguous bad boy character with a thing for white Mitsubishis, and a cocktail party which ends in the usual disagreement between two of our raven boys.

It’s taken me a while to grasp this but unlike most of the books out there, and the ones I usually read, The Raven Cycle is not about the destination. This is a story very much about the journey and the characters on it. By the end of book one, the characters were almost nowhere near actually achieving their overarching goal. While I knew there were three more books to follow and thus a whole lot more plot to go, part of me couldn’t help but feel a little dissatisfied. Even the progress towards the goal itself was extremely minimal except for one major event at the very end of the book. You’d think that this would then pave the way to quicker and greater progress in book two but…nope. Not so much. Once again, I was left to read as the characters meandered around, making very little headway on their quest before BAM – something beneficial right at the end. It’s taken me some time to adjust, but I think I’m finally starting to get the way these stories work. And in order for them to work well, you need to love the characters. Cause if you don’t, let me tell you now, you are going to get bored quickly.

I have a great appreciation for each of the five central characters of The Raven Cycle. But just as people claimed I would, having now read book two, I have an even greater appreciation for Ronan Lynch. In book one, Ronan was probably the least developed character of the bunch. There was a degree of mystery about him but overall I couldn’t help but think of him as the stereotypical rich kid who’s decided to rebel a little in the late teenage years after being spoiled for so long. Let me say that Maggie definitely surprised me with where she took his character in The Dream Thieves. I had no idea what to expect as to the meaning of the title but it had definitely never crossed my mind that it could be so literal. And what a wonderfully done concept it was. Ronan became a much more complex and interesting character this time around, and we began to see some of the smaller and subtler details in his relationships with the rest of the boys, particularly Adam. Adam, himself, started to verge on annoying for me a couple of times during this book – it’s almost like we’re on a never-ending train of stubbornness and determination to prove oneself when it comes to Adam and it’s getting a little old. Comparatively, Gansey and Blue fell a little more into the background but I enjoyed reading about the smaller moments they shared with one another, something I know will continue in book three. Meanwhile, Noah is just, well, Noah.

I honestly have no idea where this series is going but I’m interested to find out. Every time I have a general idea of the rules and boundaries of what’s possible or likely to show up in Stiefvater’s Henrietta, West Virginia, something changes – disappearing magical forests, dream magic, even a giant mythical monster wrestling match. While book two still hasn’t hit the highs I expected for such a beloved series, I can surely say that this was an improvement on book one. For some reason I feel like giving it anything lower than four stars would be both wrong and unfair so four stars it is and here’s hoping book three finally gives me that magical falling in love moment.

4 stars