Undeniable Good and the Evil it Falls Prey To: The Project by Courtney Summers

So, let’s not add ‘join a cult’ to our bucket list. But then again, I guess no one really plans to join a cult, do they?

Who, What, Where?

Following the death of her parents in a car wreck, thirteen-year-old Lo Denham was left in the care of her great aunt when her sister, Bea, mysteriously joined The Unity Project, a religious charity organisation working across Upstate New York. Now nineteen and alone, Lo hasn’t heard from her sister in years and spends her days working as an assistant to the head of SVO magazine. One day a stranger recognises her by name shortly before throwing himself in front of a moving train. The man’s father blames The Unity Project for his son’s death. Lo has always believed there’s more to the organisation and its charismatic leader, Lev Warren, than meets the eye and sees this as the perfect opportunity to not only expose the group and find her sister but to make her name as a journalist. To her surprise, Lo is granted permission to write her story and full access to both The Unity Project and Lev himself, the organisation hoping to prove once and for all that they have nothing to hide. Yet, the more Lo begins to investigate, the more she starts to question who to trust and what the truth is. But is the truth really what she’s looking for?

Lo

One of the things Courtney Summers is known for is her unlikeable but complex leading ladies, and Gloria ‘Lo’ Denham definitely fits the mould. I started out somewhat unsure about Lo. She’s acerbic, ambitious, stubborn, and because of the loss, rejection and trauma in her past, it often feels as though she walks around with a giant rain cloud hovering over her head. My connection with Lo is complicated in that while I never grew to “like” her as a person, with time I did come to care about what happened to her and to appreciate her emotional depth. Seeing other characters take advantage of her loneliness, fears and insecurities was difficult to witness and I hoped that she would find some level of peace by the end.

Having A Sister is a Promise

Like Sadie, at its heart The Project is a novel about the bond between sisters. The story is told effectively in dual timelines between Bea in 2012 and Lo five years later. Early on, I found it difficult to invest in Bea and Lo’s relationship as their scenes together are limited and mostly take place either when Lo is a baby or not fully conscious after the car accident. Yet, Summers managed to successfully build the connection over time through the intensity of the girls’ thoughts and actions to create a messy, raw and painful depiction of unconditional love.

There’s a beautiful contrast between the progression of Lo and Bea’s stories that I really enjoyed. Both girls start out with vastly different attitudes towards religion, The Unity Project, and themselves, and it’s interesting to see Bea’s eyes slowly open to the issues around her whilst Lo simultaneously seems to close hers for want of family, safety and belonging.  

Hidden Monsters

The Project is not a twists galore, drama-filled book. It’s a very slow build that takes time to get into, and as I was reading there were several points at which I wondered where it was all going. I later came to understand that this pacing is crucial to the story it’s trying to tell. As an Average Joe, it’s difficult to grasp the psychology behind people who willingly join and remain parts of religious cults. More so, how cult leaders can hold such power and sway over their members. The Project takes the time to illustrate this in a believable way. Through both Bea and Lo’s stories we’re able to see just how much influence a person can wield over those who are isolated, lost and broken by making them feel seen and valued, and giving them hope and purpose. The manipulation, control and gaslighting within The Unity Project is subtle and insidious. By the time the darkness underneath starts to reveal itself, the reader (like Lo) has been led into such a false illusion of peace and comfort that it’s difficult to recognise or process the acts of abuse so casually mentioned.

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Something I’ve come to realise about Summers’s books is that while they’re classified as YA and the writing feels like YA, her stories, characters and themes are much more mature and adult in essence. After Sadie, I expected The Project would be dark, especially considering the premise. And dark it was. This is a book which isn’t afraid to delve into the bleaker sides of humanity and religion. It deals with child abuse, suicide, grief, murder, torture, manipulation, PTSD, and intimate partner violence, just to name a few topics. Some of these elements take a while to creep up and rear their ugly heads, but eventually they do. While I enjoy these types of grittier narratives for their gravity and realism, I know a lot of other readers prefer to steer clear. However, I should note that despite its tough subject matters The Project manages to retain a strong underlying sense of hope and goodness in the world that will somehow shine through no matter how dark circumstances may seem.

Mixed Bag Ending

I have mixed thoughts on the ending for this one. There are parts that I liked, but there’s certainly one major component I wasn’t fond of at all, largely because there’s no explanation for it. Over the course of the novel there are several instances of events which characters interpret as being miracles but each of these have alternative real-world explanations. The sequence of events at the end of the book, on the other hand, does not appear to have any sort of non-miracle reasoning. My issue with this is that not only does it make the ending feel too neat but it has caused me to rethink the book’s overall scepticism towards religion as truth, leaving me confused as to how to interpret some of its overarching ideas.


While The Project may not have been as completely immersive and devastating an experience as Sadie, I enjoyed this book and feel as though it mostly succeeded in what Summers was trying to achieve. If you’re looking for a well written, strong and emotionally grounded story, and are willing to be patient for a pay-off, you’ll likely enjoy The Project.

3.5 Stars

How to Survive a Magic School Full of Monsters 101: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Magic, monsters, and dark academia. Did I need further reasons to read this book? NOPE.

Who, What, Where?

In A Deadly Education, our lead is Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins, a teenage witch with a talent for destructive magic. El is currently in her penultimate year at Scholomance, an international school for young mages with a frightening survival rate. Dropping out isn’t an option so students have little choice but to push through their coursework whilst trying to avoid getting eaten by one of the many monsters lurking throughout the school’s corridors and crevices. And even then, they still have to make it through graduation.

A Prickly Heroine & Bland Hero

El is far from your traditionally likeable heroine. She’s snarky, rude, foul tempered, frequently annoying and has a doom-filled prophecy about her to boot. This, among other things, made the early parts of the book a struggle for me to get through, particularly as it’s told in first person. However, as the book went on, I got to learn more about El’s history and came to understand why she’s so bitter and angry at the world and acts the way she does. After a while, I found that she’d grown on me, like a stubborn mould, and I was genuinely happy to see her build up some genuine connections by the end of the novel with people who saw past her prickly exterior.

Aside from El, the other major character is Orion Blake, golden boy and protector of students everywhere. While I didn’t dislike Orion, I did find him somewhat bland and it massively frustrated me that there was no explanation for his apparent “specialness”. This aside, I did really like his and El’s bizarre friendship. It’s mainly El telling Orion what an idiot he’s being and him simultaneously being frustrated by it and liking it because nobody else treats him like a normal human being. I can get behind that.

The Supporting Cast

There are quite a few side characters in this book. Although they’re ethnically and linguistically diverse, for the first half I found them to be vague and flat. Much like with El though, a few of the more prominent ones did improve as the story progressed, namely Liu, Chloe and Aadhya, who each developed their own traits and minor side plots. By the end I had a much greater appreciation for these three and really enjoyed seeing their relationships with El evolve.   

Tell, Not Show

Good news: the world is good. Bad News: We get told about it in ridiculous amounts of info dumping. And we’re not talking easy to follow stuff, we’re talking complicated world building necessary for understanding much of the events and dynamics between characters – magic sources, specialisations, languages and their relationship to magic, the structure of magical society, etc. It’s especially prominent in the first couple of chapters. After the opening hook I kept waiting around for an actual scene or conversation to take place for a good while.

Info dumping aside, I just don’t think I’m much of a fan of Novik’s writing style. This is something I noticed while reading Uprooted a few years back. It’s dense and wordy (unnecessarily so), there’s a large amount of inner monologuing, and a tendency to spend time on things that aren’t important to the story or the reader’s enjoyment, e.g. the history of a spell El uses at a high intensity moment. While I was interested in the general gist of the book, I found myself bored and skimming chunks of it from time to time.

Wanted: More Plot

Another thing I see people having problems with is the plot. Or the lack of one until about 70% of the way through. Most of A Deadly Education feels like a collection of small subplots happening as El goes through her day-to-day school life. These include El figuring out what to do after graduation, her relationship with Orion, the resulting antagonism with the New York kids, Liu’s struggles with malia (dark magic), etc. For the most part though, it’s just El and the other students trying to avoid being killed by a variety of determined and crafty creatures which Orion regularly saves them from. Once a larger plot become apparent it did provide some context to a few of the earlier events and I quite enjoyed where the story ended up climax and ending wise.

Racial Controversy

Over the last few months there’s been discussion online about certain elements of this book being racially offensive (e.g. a problematic passage about locs). As a white, Australian reviewer, I don’t feel I’m the right person to comment on these, especially as others who are better qualified than myself have already done so at length. You can find three different posts here, here and here. I should also mention that Naomi Novik has apologised for some of these inclusions and vowed to do better in future.


A Deadly Education gets some things right and others, not so much. If you’re already a dedicated Novik fan, you’ll probably enjoy this latest offering. Despite the book not living up to its full potential in my eyes, with how things ended I’ll probably give the sequel a go when it releases in 2021.

3 stars

Alternate History, Shapeshifting and an Epic Motorcycle Race: ‘Wolf by Wolf’ by Ryan Graudin

Something I have difficulty coming up with recommendations for is underrated or hidden gem type books. Because, let’s be real, when it comes to my reading choices, I have a strong tendency to stick to novels and authors which are popular, talked about or considered “good”. This is extremely silly because I’m likely to miss out on some amazing books. Books like Wolf by Wolf for instance, which is now officially my “hidden gem” pick.

What If…?

Wolf by Wolf is an alternate history story set in 1956 in a world in which the Nazis and Japanese won WWII. Between the two powers, they now control most of the world. To honour their victory, each year the legendary Axis tour is held – an epic, cutthroat, and gruelling motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo. Eighteen-year-old Yael is a survivor of the camp at Auschwitz where she was experimented on, leaving her with the ability to shapeshift. Now part of the resistance, Yael is set the almost impossible task of assassinating Adolf Hitler. However, in order to get close enough, she must first disguise herself as former tour winner, Adele Wolf, and win the race. It won’t be easy though, especially with Adele’s brother, Felix, and Luka, who has history with Adele, among the competitors.

On the Road

I’m not usually drawn to travelling/journey type plots, but Wolf by Wolf is a wonderful exception. This is a book with both a fantastic premise and great execution. The bulk of the novel follows Yael through the different legs of the Axis Tour as she deals with the elements, potentially life-threatening sabotage attempts by other racers, and maintaining her cover as Adele. I loved the competitive aspect. It was exciting, fast paced and a lot of fun. Plus, the couple of unexpected moments thrown into the mix made it even more enjoyable. Even better, the book managed to sustain this degree of momentum right til its last moments.

Slowing things Down

Graudin balances out the action-packed sections with plenty of slower, character-oriented moments. The book flicks back and forth between the present and flashbacks to Yael’s past. These start with her arrival at Auschwitz at five years old and lead up to her resistance training before the race. Yael’s memories are heartbreakingly centred around the people she’s lost and reveal the evolution of her character in an emotional way. I’ve found that books which utilise this method of storytelling sometimes end up feeling a bit choppy but the transitions here were well done.

In the present, the book also works at developing Yael’s relationships with both Luka and Felix during pit stops and rest breaks. Both these characters were very likeable in different ways. I couldn’t help smiling at Luka’s cocky, flirty, bad boy persona and sympathising with Felix who is desperate to avoid losing another sibling. Each brings out something different in Yael and often forces her to rethink notions about Germans and herself.

A Touch of Romance

Yes, there’s a romantic subplot in this book but to my immense relief, it (a) isn’t cheesy and (b) doesn’t take over the main story. It’s there, but just enough to add to the story and aid in Yael’s character development/journey.

Lone Wolf

As far as leads go, I really liked Yael. She walks the line between strong and vulnerable very well – physically and mentally very capable, but at the same time with deep emotional baggage. Also, major point in her favour, she’s not stupid. As a character, Yael has a complicated relationship with identity in that she no longer remembers what she actually looks like, often has to act out other personas (as she does with Adele), and has been separated from her family, culture and heritage. The events of the novel really force her to think about who she is and how her past & abilities define her.

A Few Extra Points:

  • The book takes a couple of chapters to kick into gear but once it finds its stride, it really gets going
  • Some of the side characters are somewhat like window dressing – they pop up when needed and fade into the background the rest of the time
  • The writing style gets a little bit “artsy” at points but as someone who’s not usually a fan of this, I found it alright for the most part

Wolf by Wolf was a huge surprise for me – the really good kind, and I’m so glad I stumbled across it. If you like historical fiction, competition-based plots and well written heroines, I can’t recommend this book enough.

4.5 stars

Top 10 Tuesday: Fantasy/Sci Fi Sequels I Enjoyed More Than the Original *Gasp*

This week’s TTT topic is a genre based freebie so I’m looking at books which managed the impossible – they impressed me more than the original book in their series. Shocking! I know. Here are 10 sequels that made the cut.

Morning Star (Red Rising Saga 3#) – Pierce Brown

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I could have comfortably listed either Golden Son or Morning Star on this list but I’ve decided to go with entry 3 because it’s my favourite book of the original trilogy (before Pierce expanded the series). I’ve mentioned my love of these books quite a few times on this blog, recently even. So, why not mention it again for the zillionth time? I really like Red Rising, it’s fantastic, but it’s always those pages at the beginning which let it down. A 4.5 instead of the full 5 stars. Morning Star is just amazing from start to finish. Action, humour, friendship, THE EMOTION… There isn’t a dodgy sequel in sight with this book. Basically, if the series had ended here, I would have had no complaints.


A Court of Mist and Fury (ACOTAR 2#) – Sarah J. Maas

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This entry will be a shock to absolutely no one. As I’ve said before, when I first read A Court of Thorns and Roses, I liked it, it was fine, but it wasn’t exactly my new obsession. I only continued with the series a good while later (after a re-read of book 1) because of how popular the sequel was. I ended up being so glad I did because I really loved it. The characters are so loveable and the dynamics between them are great. Also, the expansion of the world beyond the Spring Court was a lot of fun. And need I mention the romance? It’s awesome. Fictional ship gold right there. Mutual respect, passion, banter – I’m in love.


Siege & Storm (The Grisha Series 2#) – Leigh Bardugo

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Like ACOTAR, this is another series where I didn’t mind book one but I wasn’t blown away. In the end I decided to keep going with the series because (a) I liked the villain, (b) I loved the Six of Crows duology and, (c) I was determined to meet the famous Nikolai Lantsov. I ended up having a great time with Siege & Storm. There was a good amount of action and the book kicked into gear quickly. I appreciated certain characters a lot more and Nikolai was, well, everything people said he was. This book is easily my favourite of the three.


Legendary (Caraval 2#) – Stephanie Garber

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If you’ve read my re-read review of Caraval, you’ll know that despite liking the setting & atmosphere, and progressing through the book quickly, I had a few issues with the story, characters and world building. I never saw myself continuing the series but after seeing book 3 pop up everywhere on release and hearing that people with the same Caraval problems as me had enjoyed Legendary, I decided, stuff it, I’ll try it out. As it turned out, people were right. I liked Tella as a protagonist much more than Scarlet and the world building in this book was miles ahead of Caraval. Plus the introduction of Jacks was a lovely surprise. I’m almost tempted to read Finale. Almost.


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter 4#) – J. K. Rowling

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Everyone who follows my blog will know by now that I’m a major Harry Potter fan. But in a series of seven books there’s, of course, going to be some you like better than others. While I love The Philosopher’s Stone, it’s the book that made me fall in love with the characters and world after all, Goblet of Fire has always been my favourite of the series in all it’s beautiful, chunky glory. A magical competition, dragons & merpeople, more wizard schools, and a Big Bang ending that completely changes the direction and mood of the series going forward. I’ve read it a hundred times and could probably stand to read it a hundred more.


The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air 2#) – Holly Black

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I really enjoyed The Cruel Prince when I first read it and I was certainly one of those people who eagerly awaited the release of The Wicked King before quickly going out and buying it on release day. Book two is definitely my favourite book in this series. I love the sense of momentum, plot twists, romance, and more morally grey characters doing questionable things. This book made me appreciate Jude as a protagonist a lot more which then translated over to my re-read of book one later on. Also, as a writer, if you’re looking for a way to end your novel that basically guarantees your audience will be desperate for the next one – this book is a prime teaching material.


The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle 2#) – Maggie Stiefvater

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After reading three books in The Raven Cycle, my response to this series is still somewhat apathetic but I’ll willingly admit that The Dream Thieves was the entry I enjoyed the most. I feel like I got to know the characters much better in this one which was nice. My favourite element of the novel, however, was Maggie’s inclusion and development of Ronan’s dream based abilities which made for some interesting plotlines and an exciting climax in seeing those powers tested against that of someone else’s. Overall, I liked the book enough to want to continue to book three and was a little sad I didn’t have the same level of engagement going forward.


A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes 2#) – Sabaa Tahir

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In all fairness, this is only the tiniest bit higher than book one but we’ll take it because I love it when a sequel does well. Book two is fairly different to book one. It really feels like a proper adventure and I enjoyed the cat and mouse dynamic between Elias and Helene. As Helene is probably my favourite character, I loved getting to see her given more presence & independence with her own challenges and plotlines. There’s a great level of political drama with the new emperor in charge and the Commandant pushing for power. Also in its favour is an exciting prison break sequence and a few major things happen with big consequences in book 3.


City of Glass (The Mortal Instruments 3#) – Cassandra Clare

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I was obsessed with this series in high school. I wanted all of my friends to read them and almost jumped out of my skin when I finally got to hold City of Glass on release. Back in the day, this book was my favourite of the bunch mostly because of the high stakes of it all and the fact that some of the other characters got more of a chance to shine. After re-reading the first four books in recent years, while books 1 & 2 have slightly diminished with time (we don’t talk about City of Fallen Angels…), City of Glass hasn’t and it’s still my favourite of the series (later additions included, even though I still haven’t read book 6. But let’s face it, there’s no way it’d be better than City of Glass).


The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson & The Olympians 5#) – Rick Riordan

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Percy Jackson is another one of those super popular series. It’s also happens to have quite a few books, ergo there’s always a favourite among the bunch. As a whole, I liked PJ&O – they were fun, creative novels full of adventure, mythology and likeable characters. Yet, being intended for a middle grade audience, they did feel on the young side for me in my mid-twenties. However, I really, really liked The Last Olympian. In fact, many of my reasons for this are similar to City of Glass – action packed & dramatic battles, real stakes, and more characters in the spotlight. With the characters around 16 at this point, the book also read much older, which I appreciated. Major points to an author who can grow with their audience.

If You Liked This, Try These: One of Us is Lying, American Panda, and Six of Crows

Ever read a book you enjoyed so much that upon finishing it all you wanted was to find something just like it? Yep. Me, too. Well, here I am to save the day and give you a few book recommendations based on things you might have already read and liked. Maybe they have similar characters, settings or plots? Or perhaps they have some common themes? Regardless, hopefully one of these books will help fill the void.

Now, I should state up front, I haven’t read every book in this post and that’s where reviews, tags, blurbs, genres and other factors come into play. Still, I’m pretty confident that even the books I haven’t read will be suitable recommendations for the books below. If not, give me a heads up. Although, in my defense, just because the books may be similar that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll love every book in the group. Everyone’s got their own personal preferences after all!

One of Us is Lying – Karen M. McManus

  • The Cheerleaders – Kara Thomas: Like OoUiL, The Cheerleaders has a small town murder mystery type plot in which teens take on the investigating role because of a personal involvement in the deaths (in this case, the mysterious deaths of 5 cheerleaders within a short time period). Both books tackle some heavier topics and share a solid friendship element.
  • A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson: Again, more small town murder vibes. If you were a fan of Bronwyn and her sister Maeve in OoUiL, you’ll probably like MC, Pip. There’s also a romantic subplot if enjoyed that about OoUiL. I haven’t actually read this one yet but I’ve heard amazing things.
  • All Your Twisted Secrets – Diana Urban: This book also features a group of characters fitting high school stereotypes, The Breakfast Club style, being thrown into the deep end (here, a potentially deadly dinner party). AYTS is more thriller-y than OoUiL and less drawn out timeline wise, but they definitely share similarities.
  • Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson: If you’re looking for something in the YA mystery genre that isn’t exactly similar to OoUiL but still has quirky high school characters and a fun, out-there scenario, Truly Devious is a good pick. It also involves the death of a high school student, only this time it’s at a prestigious high school in the mountains and our investigator is a girl named Stevie who has a fascination with crime.

American Panda – Gloria Chao

  • Loveboat, Taipei – Abigail Hing Wen: If you really liked Mei in American Panda, you’ll probably also enjoy Ever. Both girls dream of dancing but their parents expect that they’ll become doctors instead. These books share similar themes of self-discovery, family, love and straddling two cultures. Loveboat is more drama filled, has a larger cast of characters and is set in Taiwan, but both are fun reads.
  • Frankly in Love – David Yoon: American Panda and Frankly in Love look at family dynamics and the difficulty in reconciling traditional cultural values with modern American ones. This is especially so where it comes to dating. Like Mei, Frank falls for someone he knows his family wouldn’t approve of and has a similar history of having a sibling cut off for their choice of partner. The characters handle things differently but the challenges they face are alike.
  • I Love You So Mochi – Sarah Kuhn: Like Loveboat and American Panda, this is another book featuring a heroine trying to weigh up her own creative dreams (fashion) against parental expectations. Again, we have a sweet story of journeying to self-awareness, romance and complicated family relationships. However, unlike AP this book is set in Japan.
  • Always Never Yours – Emily Wibberly & Austin Siegemund-Broka: Those who enjoyed the coming of age, identity and romance elements of American Panda, will find plenty to love in Always Never Yours. It involves a group of students putting on a production of Romeo & Juliet and an MC whose exes always seem to find ‘the one’ right after she breaks up with them.

Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo

  • The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch: While TLoLL is an adult fantasy, like Six of Crows it features a gritty city setting, band of likeable thieves pulling off a heist, and an intelligent, plotting, money-loving leader with a decent heart. There’s also the found family trope that SoC fans love so much.
  • The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson: The Final Empire is, again, an adult fantasy. Similarly to SoC, it has good world building, great action, a group of not so reputable characters carrying out a plan, and a witty, criminal mastermind. If you like the magical grisha elements of SoC you’ll probably also love the magic system here which is wonderfully unique and based around metals. And for the romance shippers, yes, there is a romantic subplot.
  • Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett: In Foundryside, you have another adult fantasy featuring some great world building, thieves with appropriate levels of snark stealing important artifacts, exciting magic, and fun action. Much like the women of SoC, this book also includes a strong, independent female lead with unique abilities.
  • The Diviners – Libba Bray: At first glance, these two books seem to be completely different. However, the strength of both lies in their cast of well crafted and loveable characters. SoC & The Diviners also share darker story elements, romantic subplots, strong friendships, magic, and rich world building. The plot & setting may be different but the vibes are similar.

What books would you recommend for lovers of these picks?

A Hero Doesn’t Choose Her Trials: Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward was my favourite read of 2019, so to say that I had high expectations for Starsight is verging on understatement. In the end, was it as good as the original? No, but I can safely say it was a very enjoyable ride all the same.

Who, What, Where?

Yeah, I can’t do this section for this particular review because the spoilers would be out of this world. Ha. Get it? Out of this…okay, moving on.

A Different Type of Adventure

Story wise, Starsight was a very different experience to Skyward. I’ll admit, I panicked when I first realised the direction the narrative was taking, but in the end I really needn’t have worried. Where book one was focused on a straightforward path of training and survival with clear heroes, enemies and goals, Starsight is more about subtlety, politics, and subterfuge. Because of this, the pacing is a lot slower at points. Still, despite the lack of ‘I-must-keep-reading’ momentum, I was never bored.  And if you’re someone who really enjoyed the battles in book one, don’t worry. Spensa spends plenty of time in the cockpit.

A Whole New World…or Universe

Over the years, something I’ve found that frequently ruins a good concept is an author attempting to take their stage from small to big. When I saw this was about to happen here, a large part of me wanted to scream: ABORT MISSION. As it turned out, I should have trusted a phenomenal world builder like Sanderson not to let me down. Starsight is the big bang of world building. It introduces new races, technology, planets, histories, culture, politics, everything you could possibly think of, and it does so fantastically. These inclusions are not only interesting but exponentially raise the stakes for the characters and expand the story in an exciting (and MAJOR) way. Even better, they make logical sense. Now that the door has been opened, I’m really looking forward to seeing what else is out there.

New Faces & Missing Familiar Ones

Starsight introduces us to a bunch of new characters. I can’t say much because of spoilers, but these new faces are very different to those we found in Skyward. They’re also completely distinct from one another in personality, physical appearance, and backstories. You can tell that Sanderson had a lot of fun crafting these characters and throughout the story they provided some great moments of humour, sadness and excitement. I really enjoyed them, both the “good” and the villainous.

Yet, while I liked the new characters, I have to say that I missed Cobb and the Skyward Flight gang in this book. For plot reasons, they don’t get much page time other than a few scenes here and there. Jorgen makes some bread (really) and gets the beginnings of a character arc, which will be expanded later, but for the others, it’s almost a blink and you’ll miss it situation. Although, I am happy to report that our faves, M-Bot and Doomslug, were very much along for the ride (complete with an existential crisis on M-Bot’s part) and gave me the usual snort laughs. And bonus, they even got some development of their own!

Spensa the Spy

Something I really loved about this book was just how much growth Spensa underwent. I loved Spensa and her crazy dramatics in Skyward, but in Starsight she becomes far more self-aware, realises the value of discipline and pre-planning, and re-evaluates her perspectives on war and what it means to be a hero. It was also great to see her tackle challenges in new, subtler ways and have to utilise skills not previously part of her strengths. By pushing Spensa out of her comfort zone, Sanderson has created an even better lead that I can’t wait to see develop further.

Sanderson, You Suck

That ending. I knew it was coming, but I’m still mad. How could you do this to me? And with at least a year to wait for the next book? Like, really? REALLY?


Although distinctly different from its predecessor in terms of scale, plot and pacing, Starsight is another fantastic read which massively expands the series’ overarching story and universe. While I may have enjoyed Skyward better, Starsight was still a great mix of action, humour, and heart that I’m sure I’ll re-read in years to come.

Now, someone wake me up when book three is out…

4.5 Stars

Let’s Talk: Things I Wish Were Found in YA Lit More

As much as I enjoy young adult books, there will always be things that aren’t featured, included or found as often as I would like them to be. But as they say, you’ll never get what you want unless you ask for it. So here are 8 things I’d love to see more of in YA in the future:

Characters & Families from Different Cultural Backgrounds

I’m definitely not alone on this one. As a white, Australian woman from a middle class family (we’re extremely boring), I absolutely love reading YA books featuring families and characters with different cultures, customs, and ideas. It’s such a personal way of learning about how other people experience the world as well as the things that bring them joy and the difficulties they experience. This is massively important from a representation standpoint but in terms of narrative, boy does reading about the same types of characters get extremely repetitive and tedious.

Sex

This is a slightly controversial one. In fact, I wrote an entire discussion post about it. Despite what some people claim, sex is an important part of the lives of a lot of young people. It can be difficult in some settings for them to get information about it or to find realistic depictions of the circumstances surrounding it – consent, protection, health, communication, preparation, etc. Especially since many of the books that do deal with it commonly find themselves banned. I’m not looking for super explicit sex scenes, those don’t belong in YA in my opinion, but I would love to see characters talking about it in a healthy and realistic way, and, even better, without shaming one another for it.

Friends Growing Apart

I’m used to finding two types of friendships in YA: 1) the ride or die friends that give us major friendship envy, and 2) the characters who were childhood friends before one became a massive jerk. As anyone who’s ever, well, lived knows, sometimes friends just simply grow apart. It’s not because someone did something wrong but simply because at one point your paths diverged. Maybe it’s a new school, a change in interests, or an increasingly busy schedule? One minute you’re speaking to each other every day and the next you can’t remember the last time you saw them. It can be a hard thing to accept, especially during teen and early university years, and I really wish it was something featured more in YA as a part of growing up.

(Speaking of Friends) More Great Friendships

YA stories have a tendency to focus a lot on romantic relationships and while I love a good romance, I have a special place in my heart for fabulous friendships. New ones, old ones, all ones. Give me some more platonic, and well developed, relationships in my YA.

Academic Pressure & Other Future Pathways

The pressure of academic success is familiar to a lot of YA readers. With the expectations of family, teachers, and academic institutions on top of you, it’s very easy to feel suffocated and burnt out. Over an extended period, it can have a profound impact on mental & physical health, and socialisation. This pressure is also connected with people’s hopes for the future, specifically university. Many students see university as their only choice and some are so focused on getting into a specific course or school simply because it’s what’s expected of them or they feel they should do, they don’t stop and think about what they want. The minute something disrupts the plan, they feel their life is over. I would love to see more characters dealing with these obstacles and books showcasing other pathways as options.

Smart AND Strong Heroines

I adore books which feature kick-ass female characters (provided they also have a personality). There’s something warm and fuzzy about seeing a heroine defeat someone with their epic magic or superior sword fighting skills. Yet, what I wish I saw more of is women with the ability to take people down with their mind. I want to see ambitious women, women able to outsmart those around them, women who understand people, and more importantly, women who know how to get things done when a physical assault just won’t do.

Non US & English Settings

Let’s be honest, the majority of big name YA books, if they’re not in fantasy/dystopian worlds, are set in either the United States or England. There’s nothing wrong with these locations but they’re just two of many, many countries in the world. It would be great to read some stories set in other places. Think of the untapped potential! If you can’t physically travel, at least you should be able to do it through books, right?

More Bisexual & Asexual Characters

The fact that gay and lesbian characters are starting to become more and more common in books is something that makes me immensely happy. However, I often feel as though bisexual and asexual characters have been left behind somewhat. These two sexual orientations often face a lot of misunderstanding and judgment, and I’d love for them to get their time in the spotlight.


And that concludes my YA lit wish list! What things do you wish were more commonly found in YA books or, if you’re not a big YA reader, just books in general? Characters, themes, plotlines, it’s all fair game!

Overcoming Adversity and Falling in Love: ‘100 Days of Sunlight’ by Abbie Emmons

It’s summer – the season for fluffy and adorable YA contemporaries, and if any cover has ever screamed summer, it’s 100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons.

Who, What, Where?

After a car accident, 16-year-old poetry blogger Tessa Dickenson is left temporarily without her eyesight. Worried that her condition may be permanent, Tessa isolates herself in a state of despair. Attempting to help her, Tessa’s grandparents place an ad in search of a typist to allow her to continue her writing. What they don’t expect is Weston Ludovic to show up at their door – adrenaline-loving, optimistic, and missing both his legs. His only condition: don’t tell Tessa about his disability. Despite her attempts to get rid of him, Weston is determined to help Tessa and even relishes their interactions, grateful to be treated like a normal person. Slowly Weston begins to show Tessa that there’s more than one way to experience the world and while she may have a disability, it doesn’t have to prevent her from living life to the fullest.

Tessa & Weston

100 days of Sunlight is told in split POVs between Tessa and Weston. For a large portion of the book, I wasn’t a huge fan of Tessa. While I understood that she was having a rough time, I couldn’t get on board with her using her condition as an excuse to treat people terribly and wallow in her own misery, especially as she’d been told by multiple doctors it would only be temporary. She does improve with time, but I feel as though this change wasn’t as gradual as it should have been. Something I would also have appreciated, and could see the potential for, was some more depth to Tessa’s character. With all the detail devoted to Weston, I couldn’t help but find Tessa’s characterisation weaker in comparison.

I really liked Weston. He’s a wonderfully warm, positive and lovely character with an admirable sense of strength and determination. Flashback chapters can sometimes go very wrong in books, but I enjoyed the ones here in that they provided great insight into how Weston lost his legs and chose to handle it in the months following. These segments really added to my understanding and appreciation of who he was as a character, and getting to spend time with Weston’s brothers and best friend, Rudy, was nice as well.

5 Senses

Once I got past the idea of Weston randomly turning up at Tessa’ house and continuing to do so despite protest, I thought the general gist of the story was really sweet, even with the slow pacing during large sections. Weston spends a lot of time trying to get Tessa to realise how senses other than vision can be used to gain impressions of the world around you. They ride rollercoasters, smell flowers, play music, and eat waffles – all of which is super adorable. Later in the book we get a very small snapshot of how these experiences have changed Tessa’s perceptions. However, I really wish Abbie had gone that extra bit further and given us a greater sense of how they also impacted her poetry (which was very visual based prior to her accident) as it was so important to the story.

In terms of structure, the book is broken up into different sections named after each of the five senses. I question the necessity of this as several of the activities Weston and Tessa did, such as watching The Sound of Music, took place outside the section for the sense they would have been associated with.

Climax/Ending

I’ll admit, I found the climax/ending of this book slightly frustrating. The fact that Tessa & Weston had feelings for each other was very clear but at the same time, after less than three months together, I felt like them being in love and to such a ‘what is life without you’ degree was too much for the timeframe. I also found Weston’s actions to be a little out of character with what we’d previously seen of him and the fact that it was drawn out in the way that it was grated on me. Still, there’s no denying how cute and aww worthy the final scene is.


100 days of Sunlight is an easy, sweet and quick read. If you’re after something comforting and cute to fill a lazy afternoon, this is a solid choice.

3 Stars

Loose Ends, Faerie Cannibalism & a Giant Freakin’ Snake: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

I don’t know how it’s possible to be disappointed and happy at the same time, but that’s how I feel about The Queen of Nothing. Perhaps it’s because even a not so great The Folk of the Air book is still a The Folk of the Air book. As I’m going to spend a lot of time ranting and whinging, I better outline some positives first. Let’s get cracking and BEWARE, SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Things I Liked

Time Flies

One of the things I worried about going into QoN was pacing. I was especially concerned it would spend ages stuffing around at the beginning before reaching any action. As it turned out, because the novel was so short, there wasn’t time for that. The book has a reasonable introductory section in the mortal world before quickly throwing Jude back into Faerie and lots of drama. After this the plot moves very quickly (perhaps a little too quickly in the second half), easily transitioning from each stage or ‘act’ with little downtime for the characters. Without even intending to speed through the book, by the time I checked my place I was shocked to find I was already two-thirds of the way in! In other words, it’s extremely readable and you definitely won’t be bored.

Queen Jude

On my first read of TCP, Jude was a character I wasn’t sure I liked much but after the second read, the love affair set sail. Unlike the previous books, QoN was more of an emotional journey for Jude. She was heavily pressed to weigh her feelings and personal connections with others against the practical concerns of the kingdom and her own ambitions. Her experiences in this book also allow her to realise that even though she may have been taught to avoid weakness, it’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes. While I do miss a little bit of the bloodthirsty, plotting Jude from the other books, I appreciate the character development in comparing her decisions at the end of TCP to the climax of QoN.  

Grima Mog

A badass general who eats other faeries. Need I say more? Where have you been all my life?

Things I Didn’t Like

Where’s the Death & Stabbing?

After two books of scheming, backstabbing, alliances and political machinations, I think it’s fair to assume we were expecting this series to end with a battle. High stakes, death, and a final conflict between Jude & Madoc. It just made narrative sense. But did we get that? Not really. Madoc has consistently been built up to be a mentally and physically challenging adversary for Jude and Cardan, one who would eventually need to be permanently defeated. As it turned out, he was as much of a threat as a fluffy kitten. All we’re given is a teensy bit of background fighting and before you can blink, it’s over. No real stabby-stabby, no dramatic death scenes, nothing. Hello, disappointment.

Covering Conflicts with Band-Aids

Heading into QoN there were a lot of plot threads still in need of development and resolution. When I saw the size of this book, I wondered how Holly would be able to deal with them all, and satisfyingly at that. In the end, she didn’t. So many of the plot points from previous books were either left hanging entirely (e.g. Lady Asha, Jude’s mortality, secrets about Jude’s mother) or resolved in a quick fix, brush it off sort of way, lacking the weight and complexity they deserved. For example:

  • Taryn’s betrayals – Taryn has repeatedly screwed Jude over for selfish reasons. By the end of TWK she’d basically aligned herself with Madoc and even impersonated Jude to further his ends. In QoN she turns up pregnant, apologises, asks for help, decorates a couple of rooms and suddenly all is well. I’m sorry but, what? Where’s the ambition, the intent? What a waste of a character’s potential.
  • Locke – For the last two books Locke has been a low key, in the shadows sort of villain. After his attempt on Jude’s life in TWK, there was always a sense of to-be-continued with their conflict. So, the fact that he dies before this book even begins is, again, a bit of a ‘what?’ moment. Considering the additional malice added to his character in QoN, colour me very unimpressed.
  • Cardan’s banishment of Jude – For me, the explanation for this was underwhelming & illogical. At the end of TWK Jude’s been through a hard period of captivity and Cardan has not only just averted a war but found out she murdered his brother. And yet, we’re supposed to believe that his first thought was, let’s play a game with Jude. Cardan can be a little immature but no. Just no.

Reported Missing: Plot Twists

There are a lot of reasons why I love this series but one of the biggest is the plot twists. In the past, Holly has not only been able to pull one over on me once, but MULTIPLE TIMES. As a reader, I live for those dramatic, ‘oh my god, what the hell just happened’ moments. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get much of that at all in QoN. Worse, the one major twist-ish moment of the book, Cardan’s transformation into a giant snake, ended up feeling not only silly but distracting from the direction of the main narrative.

Endgame Jurdan

I am unashamedly a Cardan & Jude shipper. Despite its toxicity, I adore their hate-love relationship with all its conflict and sexual tension, and I’ve loved seeing it slowly evolve over the series. In QoN, however, they weirdly transitioned into this overly lovey-dovey, can’t live without you couple which I find odd when I think about their interactions up to this point. I knew that they loved each other but somehow I never expected it to look like this. It’s almost like we missed a stage somewhere (including Cardan’s missing letters to Jude would have helped). Still, part of me is like *throws hands up* because I love Jurdan so damn much and get excited any time their names even show up on the same page as one another. I got a love scene, confessions of love, and endgame. What else could I ask for? Okay, maybe a little more page time for Cardan – the boy got shafted here.


Despite having a lot of problems with this book and it being my least favourite of the series, The Queen of Nothing is far from a bad novel and I can still say I enjoyed myself. I’ll continue to love this series and the characters, and I’m sure I’ll return to them at some point in the future.

3.5 Stars

Let the Games Begin: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Ah, Caraval. *sigh* How badly I want to like you and yet, how much you disappoint me.

I first read Caraval back in Feb 2017. The hype was real and I raced through that puppy lickety-split. But by the time I reached the end of it, I found myself in such a puddle of confusion that I quickly hit the three-star button and moved on without any intention to continue the series. Flash forward to 2019 – Finale is released, and it’s everywhere. EVERYWHERE. The damn thing won’t leave me alone. So, what do I do? I go out to the bookstore and buy Legendary. Peer pressure is not my friend. All I need to hear is, Wait! The sequel is a million times better, and suddenly I’m having ACOMAF flashbacks. However, with my memory being what it is, in order to read Legendary, I, of course, had to re-read Caraval. Now having gone through Stephanie Garber’s debut twice, I’m finally ready to sit my butt down and review it.

Scarlett Boring Dragna

One of the biggest problems I have with this book is that as far as protagonists go, Scarlett is about as interesting as watching paint dry. You could stick just about any other YA character in her role and the book would be more exciting for it. I feel as though I’ve seen her character so many times before– annoyingly naïve, easily embarrassed, swoons for pretty boys, makes stupid decisions and, once all is said and done, extremely forgettable. Honestly, Scarlett, you’ve been wanting to see Caraval for years, finally get a chance to play, and spend the whole time trying to shorten the experience and repeatedly worrying about the same silly things despite everyone telling you it’s unnecessary. Better yet, you’re warned repeatedly not to believe everything you damn well see and hear, and what do you do? BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU SEE AND HEAR. *throws up hands*

It’s All a Game

I love the idea of Caraval. I do, I really, really do. A scavenger hunt-ish competition set in a magical world of make-believe with actors, costumes and a crafted story – it’s like a murder mystery dinner on steroids. If the game had happened the way you’re made to think it will at the beginning, boy, would I have been entertained. The problem is, this is not so much a competition (because come on, as if any of those other people ever had a chance) and more a case of, let’s see how many times we can get Scarlett to wander round the island looking for Tella and test their sisterly love. Need to find a clue in Tella’s room? It’ll just happen to be the only item still there after the place has been picked clean by other competitors. Need to find the next clue at a specific location? We’ll just hope you somehow wander into this exact tent and stumble upon the info you need. I’m sorry, but it all feels somewhat underwhelming and contrived.

It’s Magic, I Tell Ya!

You all know how much I love magic. I’m an addict. HOWEVER, in order to enjoy all that magic-y goodness, there needs to be some kind of structure and explanation for it. This is a story that rests entirely on magic and what do we know about the magic in this world? Absolutely nothing. There’s portals, dresses that change shape and colour, people who come back from the dead and others who never age, locations that create certain emotional responses, dreamscapes, transference of lifeforce…and we get no explanation, rhyme or reason for any of it except that Caraval is magical because Legend made a bargain many years ago. Sorry, but what?

Me this entire book: How did that just happen?

The Book: It’s Magic!

Me: Yes, but how?

The Book: ….Magic?

Spot on Atmosphere

I’ve been ranting a lot so here’s a burst of positivity: I really like the atmosphere and vibes of Caraval. If it were possible to visit somewhere like this in everyday life, I would be yelling ‘Sign me up!’ without any hesitation. Crazy shops, extravagant costumes, mystical objects, gondolas, castles, underground tunnels – it sounds like the best theme park ever and Garber details it well. I also love the idea that the participants are only allowed to be out at night. It really gives the story that mysterious and dangerous edge it needs.

Pretty Boys

I can’t help but like Julian. It’s probably because he shares a lot of the qualities of many of my favourite male characters – charm, roguishness, good looks and an air of mystery. All that’s missing is the self-deprecating sense of humour and pseudo arrogance (although I’m sure I’ll get the second one out of Dante in book two). I also find it extremely amusing that Julian was not supposed to be part of Scarlett’s Caraval adventure beyond her arrival and he not only stuck around but straight up lied to her every day just cause. That girl who died? My dead sister. Me and Dante? Working together. That dude? Oh yeah, for sure your fiancé. I low key love how insane it is.

Also, I have to mention, I find it hilarious that Dante was all sunshine and daisies until he realised that Scarlett liked Julian better and then, because he’s clearly the prettier boy, he decided to sulk for the rest of the competition.

Hold the Melodrama

Something that bugged me even on my first read through was the extremely melodramatic and rushed nature of the ending. While I understand what’s trying to be achieved here, it’s all just too much, even verging on ridiculous. I mean, what’s with the Legend actor trying to get Scarlett to jump off the balcony? WHY? The twist I appreciate but the way in which we reached it could have been done more believably.


All in all, a disappointing read, but despite the negatives, I still find it weirdly speed-readable? For some inexplicable reason there’s just something about it that pushes me to read all the way through to the end so I’m settling on 2 stars.

Okay, Legendary, let’s do this.