Book Review: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Title: The Summer King

Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson

Rating: 2 stars

Review:

For the Queen to reign, the King must die…

In the city of Palmares Três, Brazil, the ritual of the Summer King has come again. One man will be chosen to wear the crown, one man who will win the hearts of all the people and choose the next Queen by spilling his own blood by her feet. It is a brutal tradition, but an ancient one that makes the city what it is.

June Costa has watch several Summer Kings before. Like the rest of the city she has cheered when they were crowned and cried at their deaths. It’s part of her culture, one she has never questioned. Until she meets Enki. Captivating and charming, he is chosen by many to be the next Summer King. Both June and her best friend Gil quickly fall for Enki – June sees in him the soul of an artist, one to match her own. Soon, June finds herself asking why the Sumer King must die as together they create a masterpiece that the whole of Palmares Três will never forget.

The Summer Prince had a lot of potential: it’s a post-apocolyptic, dystopic sci-fi novel featuring a Brazilian society run by women, focusing on the life of a struggling artist who falls for a boy who volunteered to sacrifice himself in a gruesome traditional ceremony that happens every few years to choose the city’s new Queen. Sounds impressive, right? Sadly, this book is pretty bad. Like many YA post-apocolyptic and/or dystopic novels not enough time is spent on the world building, and what there is focuses far too much on the what rather that the why. We are told exactly what happens to the Summer King – from the first death that started the tradition, to the choosing and voting which June participates in, to the final ceremony – but we are never told why a Summer King is needed. Seriously, of all the ways to choose a new monarch, why human sacrifice? And surely the acting of having a man always choose the Queen undermines the fact that the ruling council is deliberately made only of women? What’s worse is that the Summer King isn’t chosen based on their intellect or political knowhow. It’s literally a popularity contest, with talent shows and dressing up to wow the judges and gain votes from the public. It’d be like having the winner of the X-Factor choose the next Queen of England. (Though if this were real, I’d be far more inclined to vote for Jedward just to see them die at the end of it all.) I can’t comment on whether the depiction of Brazil was accurate or a exoticism, as I have sadly never been and don’t know that much about their culture.

I also greatly disliked the main character June. To put it bluntly, she’s a spoilt brat. She spends all her time partying and running around vandalising property in the name of ‘art’, but her life is so hard. Her so-wonderful, so-inspiring father who she still glorifies killed himself even though his family knew what he was planning and begged him not to and his daughter was only a teenager, then her mother had the cheek to try and find happiness again by re-marrying a woman who has done nothing but try to help June accomplish something with her life other than a hangover and a painted patch of wall where some crap graffiti used to be. (Hmm, that wasn’t as harsh in my mind. Oh well.) As for all the other characters they are pretty boring to be honest. In fact, that’s how I would summarise my whole experience with this book: boring. If you read the official blurb it mentions something about June and Enki ‘adding fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech’, but that’s not really a plot line as it’s barely featured. Seriously, worse rebellion ever.

One thing I did enjoy was Alaya Dawn Johnson’s depiction of teenagers and sex. Personally, I think this is a sex positive book. Firstly, homosexuality is seen as completely normal: there are several same sex relationships that are so natural that the narration doesn’t even point out that they are same sex. It’s just stated as facts – ‘this is my mother and her new wife, this is my best friend and his boyfriend’. Secondly, there is no slut shaming in this book, and sex is never something that a character is made to feel bad for having. Now I know that some reviewers complained that June described her virginity as a ‘problem’ she had ‘taken care of’ with her best friend, but I have no problem with this. Teenagers have sex for as many different reasons as adults, and some want to lose their virginities as fast as possible. It’s not something I’d personally encourage, but if they want to do it, and they are safe about it, then who I am (or anyone else) to judge?

Anyway, to put it simply, I was bored and unimpressed with The Summer Prince. Pity.

2 stars.

Book Review: Insomnia by J.R. Johansson

Title: Insomnia

Author: J. R. Johansson

Series: The Night Walkers

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review:

(Mild spoilers)

If you thought high school was tiring, trying being Parker Chipp. For the last four years he has not slept. Instead every time he closes his eyes at night he gets pulled into the dreams of the last person he made eye contact with. He’s seen it all:  the chilling nightmares, the boring snippets of everyday life, the random craziness that make no sense. He’s done all he can to search for an answer, but how can he ask for help without people thinking he has lost his mind? He asks his family doctor what happens to someone without sleep, and gets the answer he was expecting. If Parker can’t find a cure soon, he will die.

Then Parker meets Mia, new girl at school and foster sister of Parker’s football coach. In her dreams Parker feels a peace he can barely remember and he can finally, finally, sleep. He starts making excuses to see her, waiting for her after class, ‘accidentally’ bumping into after school, needing to make eye contact with her, knowing that she is the only one who will save his life. But Mia doesn’t understand, she thinks Parker has a crush on her and tries to let him down gently. But she doesn’t understand, Parker needs her. When someone starts sending threatening emails, Mia thinks that Parker is stalking her and begins to have nightmares about him hunting her down. How can Parker stop these threats, and prove that it isn’t him, all whilst still making eye contact with her at the end of every night? And how can he be sure that he isn’t the one making the threats?

Before I began Insomnia I read a couple of reviews comparing this book to Wake by Lisa McMann, which also has the ‘people watching the dreams of other’s’ plot line. From what I can tell, most people who read Wake first feel that the set up for Insomnia was too similar. However, I have yet to read Wake so I was able to enjoy this book without any unconscious comparisons. I was intrigued by the idea of someone being caught in the dreams of another, and felt these scenes were some of the strongest parts of the book. The nightmares of Mia being hunted and beaten by Parker and a woman who is being abused by her husband are both excellently written and pretty terrifying. J. R. Johansson knows how to write horror: the best bit of Insomnia is when Parker discovers he’s been doing things he can’t remember, beginning to feel he can’t trust himself and you realise he has actually been an unreliable narrator. From the start of the book, we are told that Parker’s condition will lead to him losing his mind then dying, and seeing those cracks in his psyche is quite creepy and very gripping.

On the other hand, it’s such a shame that a book pitched as a paranormal thriller becomes just a regular thriller. Despite Parker’s dream watching is such a huge part of the story, it doesn’t really affect the plot – you could take it out and still have the core story (Mia’s stalker and Parker being framed) almost completely unaffected. Also, the first chapter features the dream/memory of the school caretaker killing a woman. It’s a great beginning, captivating and creepy but it’s never mentioned again. Was it just a dream? Did the caretaker actually kill his wife? And if he did, why didn’t Parker try to do anything about it? In fact, the biggest problem about this book is the unanswered questions. Why can Parker watch other people’s dreams? Did his father also have this curse? Is that why he left? Is there a cure to the curse? It’s implied that all these questions will be answered in the next book, as though the main plot is finished, it ends on quite a big cliffhanger about Parker and his curse. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the next book will focus more on the paranormal elements.

3.5 stars.

Book Review: Mistwalker by Saundra Mitchell

Title: Mistwalk

Author: Saundra Mitchell

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

The family lobster boat will always hold a specially place in Willa’s heart – even if she does have to look past the dark stain where her brother was killed. For Willa, the sea is her calling, her home. But what seemed like a life of simple pleasures – marrying her high school boyfriend Seth, taking over the family business, eventually passing it on to her own children – has fallen apart since Levi’s death. The worst part is Willa knows it’s all her fault, as does everyone else even if they admitted out loud. Banned from the boat, soon to lose her best friend to college, at odds with Seth who keeps trying but in all the wrong ways, Willa doesn’t know what to do. As she stares out at the old lighthouse on Jackson Rock, she finds herself thinking of the legends that surround it. Not that she believes it’s really haunted by the Grey Man – until she catches sight  of mist shrouded figure on the rocks…

The Grey Man has been trapped for one hundred years, seduced by a beautiful woman who passed on this curse. Now he must either collect a thousand souls of those who die at sea, or convince someone to take his place. He can feel her out there – the one who is think of him. Now he finally has a chance for freedom: he must seduce Willa, must make her fall so in love with him she would be willing to die for him. And what better way to make her fall in love that to show her an escape from all her problems?

This is a very quiet novel, set in a sleep Maine fishing village where the inhabitants have handed down their livelihood for many generations. The atmosphere is one of the best parts of this book: despite being set in the present day, Mistwalker has a somewhat timeless feel that I love. The writing from Willa’s POV is simple but captivating, in a honest almost raw way, which is nicely balanced with the Grey Man’s POV which is more poetic and slightly unsettling. I enjoyed reading the Grey Man’s side, he was creepy and fixated on Willa and his freedom but whilst his obsession was understandable given his entrapment it is never shown in a positive light. This is a good example of writing that shows sympathy for his predicament but doesn’t excuse creepy behaviour. I also loved the treatment of Willa, a teenage girl who has a simple dream and fights so hard to make it happen – to take over her father’s lobster boat, to marry her boyfriend Seth, and to pass on her family traditions to her own children. It’s nice to read a book that doesn’t push a teenager into making grand plans for their lives, that shows that some (like Willa’s best friend Bailey) will go to college and make big money in a glamorous city, but that not everyone has to ‘making something’ of themselves. No-one looks down on Willa’s dream, not the narrative or the other characters. Willa’s love for the sea is a beautiful thing, and the description might just make you fall in love with the ocean too.

As I said, this is a slow book that starts off just a bit too slowly, and the action doesn’t really pick up till about half way. The novel alternates chapters from both Willa and the Grey Man, but the first half focuses on Willa’s life after her brother’s death and it takes her a while to even think of the Grey Man and his lighthouse, other than mentioning it as a local folktale. This is mixed with the Grey Man insisting that he can feel some is thinking of him, which can be confusing at first. I was ok with it as I tend to re-read the blurb of every book before I start it, but for those who don’t do this it may take some a while to work out what exactly is going on.

I too have a specially place in my heart for the sea, and this novel near perfectly captures that love.

4 stars.

Book Review: Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire

10184403Title: Chimes at Midnight

Author: Seanan McGuire

Series: October Daye #7

Rating: 5 stars

Review:

Toby knows first hand how hard life for changelings is, living under the rule of pure blooded faeries. Filled with contempt for the changelings, the rest of Faerie couldn’t care less about their welfare – not even when changelings start dying. A drug known as Goblin Fruit has flooded the streets of San Francisco, and is leaving a trail of bodies behind. Addictive from only one bite, Toby knows that if she doesn’t stop it, no-one will. So it looks like, once again, it’s all down to Toby. If it wasn’t for her friends, and boyfriend Tybalt, she’d probably go crazy.

But Toby needs the support of her friends more than ever when The Queen of the Mist suddenly banishes her from the kingdom, leaving Toby with only three days to arrange her affairs. But of course, for Toby things can always – and will always – get worse. In the middle of trying to save her skin, Toby is attacked and forced to ingest Goblin Fruit. Now she running out the clock from both the hatred of the Queen and her painful, and quite frankly, unfair addiction. And the more Toby and her friends uncover, the more it seems that the Queen is not actually legitimate after all.

The October Daye series is prime example of brilliant urban fantasy, and are some of my all time favourites. I’m a huge lover of faerie books, and truly believe that this series is has the best faeries, and some of the best characters in general. The level of research into folktales and legends is impressive and it really shows: there are many different types of fey featured in each book, each with their own unique origins, traditions, and quirks. In every book a new area of fey lore is introduced which is not only great for readers like me who already have an interest but it is written seamlessly into the narrative, avoiding info dumping or becoming boring.

The characters are one of the best part of this series, and they continue to go from strength to strength in each book. They each could stand on their own, and I would personally love to see spin off stories for all of them. My favourites are Toby, Tybalt, and the Luidaeg, but I love how all Toby’s friends band together to help her – they make an awesome team. It’s also refreshing to have a main character who’s not convince she must do it all alone, and is not afraid to ask for help. Toby’s romance with Tybalt is blossoming into something really moving. As an added bonus there is also a fair amount of humour and friendly banter, which has made me laugh several times.

Chimes at Midnight is a game changer in terms of plot, with secrets and relations reviled. I can’t imagine where the story will go next, but I can’t wait to find out.

5 stars.

Book Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Ruin and Rising

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Series: The Grisha

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Some spoilers.)

It is a dark time for Rakva: the Royal family are all either missing or dead, the Darkling rules, and the Sun Summoner has fled with the Apparat and a small group of loyalists. Hiding in an almost lost network of caverns, weakened by the darkness surrounding her, Alina knows she is nothing but a puppet being pulled by the Apparat forced into the role of a Saint. She still struggles daily with the idea of people worshipping her, but to make matters worse the Apparat refuses to let her go.

Alina knows she must escape, working with Mal and a small group of people who still see her as an actual person to rebel against the Apparat’s influence and power. Once out, Alina’s mission is clear: she must hunt down the Firebird and use its bones for the third and final amplifier, and finally destroy the Darkling. But that won’t be enough, she’ll need an army to bring down the Darkling’s forces. The only person Alina knows who could help is Nikolai – if he managed to survive the destruction of the royal palace…

It’s always emotional when you come to the end of a trilogy, especially when it’s one as good at the Grisha series. There are always high hopes and expectations, the building of anticipation as you wait for the last book to be published. The more I read, the more I wonder if our expectations are ever completely met. On some levels I think the readers will always be disappointed. Luckily, Ruin and Rising is one of the better endings I have read, and although I had some hopes for the ending that didn’t work out, I knew that they didn’t really fit with the nature of the story, so I wasn’t really let down. It’s a great book, just what you would expect from Leigh Bardugo, pack with action and romance, and a twist I didn’t see coming. I loved the evolution of Genya and the strength she found after being ‘ruined’ at the end of the last book. There is also a special place in my heart for Nikolai, whose charm and wit is still intact despite all he goes through in this book. Leigh Bardugo shows she can be so cruel to our beloved characters (though I should have known after Genya’s fate). Be warned, she will wring out your heart.

(And here’s where the spoilers start:)

My personal reservations with Ruin and Rising were centred around Mal, and his relationship with Alina. I liked Mal in the first book, despite it literally taking Alina’s disappearance to realise that he was in love with her. In the second book, however, Mal becomes far too whiney and clinging, jealous of Alina while she’s trying to fight against the Darkling. He seems to calm down in the final book, deciding to be useful instead of annoying by using his tracking skills to find the Firebird. He throws himself into becoming her weapon, even to the point of getting a huge sun tattooed on his back. I’m personally getting sick of this trope in YA novels, the ‘why do you love me, I am not worthy’ cliche, that usually means one person just ignores the other’s wishes, then ends with one person selfishly leaving for ‘their own good’. I personally feel that these characters are so self deprecating that their ‘noble’ act of leaving is actually a way of saying that they know best. And I feel that this is what Mal became in book two, the self loathing, ‘I don’t even deserve you’ love interest, and though he was fair less annoying in this book his character has been tainted to me. I will say though that the last chapter, which showed Alina and Mal together in the future, was very sweet. Also, I’m still unsure about Mal being the third amplifier. I was surprised, I didn’t see the twist coming, but even after I finished the book I was still torn about it. It was clever, but I feel it wasn’t explained properly, and ended up just sitting wrong with the rest of the plot. And lastly, I felt the Darkling was killed off fair too easily, it was not the epic show down I was hoping for.

So, all in all, a good finish to a great series, but there were just a couple of things that didn’t feel completely right to me.

4 stars.

Book Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

12813630Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Author: Holly Black

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review:

When Tana wakes up in a bathtub the morning after a high school party, she thinks the most she’ll have to worry about is facing her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, sober and dealing with one hell of a hangover. Little does she know the party had some visitors during the night – and now all of her classmates are dead. All except Aidan, who has been bitten and tied to a bed, with a chained up vampire. Tana pities the vampire, named Gavriel, and makes a rash decision, bundling him and Aidan in the back of her car before more vampires bust into the house and catch them. Tana is nearly caught, escaping with a scrape from a vampire tooth. Now she may be infected with the vampire virus, and if so must resist human blood for 88 days, or she’ll lose her humanity forever.

So begins the road trip of a vampire, a newly infected, and possibly infected human to their only refuge: a Coldtown. Famed for being a harbour for vampires, and broadcast across the world as a never ending party, with humans enthralled and offering up their blood in hopes of being turned. There, Tana may be able to find salvation for them all. That is, if the vampires hunting Gavriel don’t catch them first.

I’ve been a long time fan of Holly Black’s work, ever since I first read Tithe as a teenager and feel in love with urban fantasy books, especially those featuring faeries, and I have avidly read all her work. But I must admit, to my disappointment this has to be her weakest book. Having said that, it is still a Holly Black book, which puts it leagues above many others out there. So, the good. The concept of Coldtowns is a very original one, and the mystery and allure surrounding them draws in the readers as well of the characters. The descriptions of the Coldtown parties, and vampire bounty hunters are pretty captivating. It adds to the casual horror of the novel, which has got to be the strongest part of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. The gore and monstrous nature of the vampires is very well done, making this not a book to be read by the squeamish. I like my vampires with a lot of bite, which made this almost perfect in that respect.

However, there were a few problems in this novel that I just couldn’t ignore. Whilst the action was fast paced and fairly intense, with chapters ending on cliffhangers, this effect was ruined by the alternating chapters which would provide background information or alternate points of view (still all in third person though). Don’t get me wrong, these chapters were interesting in their own right, but they seriously disrupted the flow of the story. Also, the characters didn’t feel very fleshed out, which I believe is caused by this book being based off a short story. I have read this short story, which also has the same name, and I believe it is much stronger than this book. In both, the characters aren’t developed much, but this is forgivable in a short story which has less space for said development. The novel, on the other hand, felt like an idea that was stretched too thin, causing the characters to suffer as we never really get to know them that well. This leads to a lot of telling rather than showing when it comes to their personalities. Aidan probably suffers the most from this: Tana thinks many times about how he’s an alright guy really, and how gentle he really is, etc,etc, but all of their relationship we see are through her flashbacks, overshadowed by how she realises now that it was never going to work, and him lying and manipulating her to make sure she comes back to save him. This also meant the romance between Tana and Gavriel was pretty lacklustre, with little attraction or reason behind it, causing it to be almost boring.

I had high hopes for this one, and I can’t say, when comparing to Holly Black’s other work, that I am impressed. Yet, it is still a good vampire book, and I recommend it to anyone looking for vampires and gore. Better yet, I recommend the original short story. I just can’t help but be disappointed, as I know Holly Black is capable of better.

3.5 stars.

Book Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

12930909Title: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Author: April Genevieve Tuchoke

Series: Between #1

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Contains some minor spoilers.)

Violet White spends her days in a dreamy, tranquil haze: reading books in the sun, relaxing on the beach by her home, or exploring the old mansion that has been left to her family since her grandmother died. Sure, her parents have used the last of their family fortune to run off to Europe to pursue their art, leaving her with a brother who can’t seem to stand her and a house that’s slowly falling apart. In fact, money is so tight she’s resorted to renting out the guest house in her back garden. Which leads River West to her door, and into her life. With his charming smile, easy nature, and striking good looks Violet is powerless to resist him.

But something strange is happening in the sleepy town of Echo. Children are in the graveyard at night, hunting the Devil with stakes, Violet’s friend Sunshine sees a monster eating human flesh in a cave in the woods, and the town drunk suddenly slits his throat in the town centre. This horror couldn’t possibly be linked with River, but as mystery surrounds him and his lies build up without him caring whether Violet knows or not, she finds herself doubting him. Is he evil? Does he care? And, to make maters worse, does she care? Violet’s grandmother used to warn her about the Devil, but she never thought she might be holding his hand, sleeping next to him, or kissing him. She knows she should listen to her grandmother’s teaching but she can’t help herself – because despite everything Violet is falling for River.

It’s clear that Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is going to be a book that you will either love or hate. It has elements that will seriously frustrate some readers, like the slower pace, the what some have called ‘insta-love’ romance, or the deceitfulness and arrogance of the character River. Other readers, however, will love it. I am one of the latter. With it’s gothic atmosphere and slower pace which added to the feel of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But that’s not to say it’s without any problems.

What April Genevieve Tuchoke does best is the timeless feel to the town of Echo and Violet’s mansion. The novel uses almost lyrical descriptions and feels like it could be set in almost any decade from the 1930s onwards, with classic movies in the park and comments on art running throughout. This is also used with the character of Violet, who wears her dead grandmother’s clothes and love to read and paint. There is also a strong gothic tone, especially in the scene with the children in the graveyard armed with stakes to fight off the Devil, which was delightfully creepy. This book has also been accused of using the dreaded ‘insta-love’ trope, but I disagree –  there is no ‘insta-love’ in this book. What there is is the intense, unpredictable, and sometimes scary attraction or first love that teenagers often experience at least once. There is no declarations of love, no talk of fate, no promises of being together forever and ever. Violet falls for River, even as she knows it’s a bad idea, because people can’t help who they fall for, especially when you’re a teenager and not only are your hormones going crazy, but you have little to no experience about what love actually is. I believe everyone has fallen for someone who is bad for them at least once, and this book perfectly captures the feeling of fierce passion mixed with helplessness, fear, and slight self loathing.

I only have two reservations with Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Firstly, considering it mentions the Devil in the title, and the official blurb emphasises the idea that River may actually be the Devil, this book had very little religious overtones. The idea of the Devil was barely used at all, the only real mention is with the kids who freak out in the graveyard. I was hoping for a book that looked into the idea of religion and had an actual Christian devil, instead of an ambiguous paranormal creature who is still pretty much a mystery by the end of the book. The other problem was the portray and subtle slut shaming of Violet’s friend Sunshine. Sunshine is a character who embraces her sexuality – she loves flirting with boys, enjoys drawing attention to her body, and choices to act in a way she thinks boys will notice and enjoy. I personally have no problem with this. Women enjoy sex as much as men and should feel no shame in this, however they decide to show this sexuality, and had she been left alone, Sunshine would have been a perfectly fine character. However, compared to the virginal Violet, who’s narrative subtly condemns her attitude by comparing them both, and Sunshine association with Luke, Violet’s brother, who is sexist, messes around with several girls at once and treats Violet like crap, Sunshine is portrayed as a slut. This word is only ever uttered by the villain in this book, but his accusations are never challenged. What’s worse, after the trauma of having her parents being tricked into unknowingly nearly killing her, Sunshine changes – she stops flirting, becomes more serious and begins reading, like Violet. It’s often that people who have a near death experience decide to change their life for the better, but this is just another way of showing that Sunshine was in the wrong and needed to change. The slut shaming in this book is not obvious, and is similar to the problems that are common in real life, so it may have even been unintentional, but it is there and this is a problem.

These problems aside, I am very interested to see where the next book goes, and hope the sequel keeps the amazing writing and ambience.

4 stars.

On a slightly unrelated note, I keep thinking that the title of this book is Between the Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean, I song I really enjoy by a gothic metal band called Nightwish.

Book Review: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

13246736Title: Antigoddess

Author: Kendare Blake

Series: Goddess War #1

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

Athena thought that being a god meant she couldn’t die, but choking on the owl feathers that cut through her lungs are proving her wrong. She’s not the only one: Hermes is wasting away slowly, Hera’s flesh is turning to stone, and Poseidon has become a mindless monster, eating his own creatures. What could be killing these gods? In their hunt for answers and a way to stop their slow destruction, Athena and Hermes are pointed towards a young woman called Cassandra – the reincarnation of the prophetess Cassandra of Troy, who was cursed by her lover Apollo so no-one would believe her visions. Somehow, they believe she will save them.

Cassandra knows nothing of the gods’ affairs. To her these names are nothing more than ancient legends, most of which she doesn’t even remember. All she worries about is her relationship with Aidan and her ability to see into the future – until what used to be a way to freak out her school mates by predicting the outcome of coin tosses shows her visions of people dying horribly. Aidan realises that she is being hunt by his family, for he is in fact Apollo and his beloved has no idea. But like it or not, Cassandra will soon find out the truth, for Hera is hunting down the other gods, in an effort to kill them and prolong her own life. And to her, Cassandra is nothing more than a weapon.

Antigoddess is a very enjoyable book, but with a couple of reservations. Whilst full of interesting characters, lots of action, and links to Greek mythology that was used very well, I feel that the book suffered somewhat from its modern setting. The few scenes of Athena reminiscing about her life as a full goddess were some of the most interesting, but the rest of it felt a little detached from the original mythology the book is based on. It would have been amazing if we had seen Mount Olympus, and met Zeus and Hades, and I can only hope these ideas are used in the next book. The character of Athena, who was pretty awesome anyway, also suffered from this modernisation. She spent a little too much time thinking along the lines of ‘once I would have turned a mortal to stone for less, but times have changed’, which felt like Kendare Blake was telling rather than showing how badass Athena is supposed to be. Despite this, Athena was a very likeable and interesting character, who is strong enough in her own right to face the threat of death by both Hera and the mysterious curse that has claimed all the gods, but also struggling with the self appointed role of battle leader.

Most of the other characters were also interesting, though not quite as much as Athena. Odyssey and Hermes were enjoyable and stood on their own fairly well, but I felt Cassandra could have been expanded more, and Aidan/Apollo seemed solely concerned with his relationship. It’s interesting having the male character preoccupied with his love life more than the female, but it still isn’t particularly interesting to read about. He is meant to be the God of the Sun but just seems two-dimensional and a bit boring. Also, he is never held to account for his original cursing of Cassandra – she gets mad at him, but the action never gives them a chance to actually talk about what happened, so he’s never really punished for it.

These few problems within Antigoddess are not enough, however, to deter from the pleasure of the book itself. The action and mythology are captivating, and I am definitely coming back for book two.

4 stars.

Book Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

13449693Title: The Raven Boys

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Series: The Raven Cycle #1

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review:

On a cold winter night, Blue stands with her mother and watches as the ghosts of the soon-to-be dead cross the graveyard. Not that she expects to see anything – unlike her mother, Blue is not a clairvoyant. But this year she sees a boy, which can only mean two things: “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.” 

His name is Gansey, and he and his friends have already gained a reputation in Aglionby, their private school. Known as The Raven Boys, Blue is sure they are nothing but trouble. Obsessed with finding the burial ground of the Welsh King Glendower, Gansey is following lay lines that could lead to his fortune and convinces Blue to help. As the daughter of a family of psychics, who is Blue to think him crazy? Despite herself Blue is drawn to the Raven Boys, even though she knows it can’t end well: all her life she has been told she will cause her true love to die.

Despite the synopsis, The Raven Boys is not the story of a romance between Blue and Gansey. Though romance is featured in this book, this arc seems to be for the whole series rather than just this story. What The Raven Boys actually is is so much bigger and better: this is no typical YA paranormal romance. It’s been called a cross between Edgar Allan Poe and The Dead Poet’s Society, and is in fact a tale of magic and quests, and the bonds of friendship between a group of young men. The Raven Boys themselves and their relationship plays a major role, and each of the boys work so great together, as well as standing on their own. Though each is noteworthy in their own right – Gansey with his passion for the supernatural, Ronan who hides behind his anger, and Noah who is more than meets the eye – the best character has to be Adam. The boy from a poor family who gained a scholarship to an expensive private school, Adam struggles with both feeling that he is not good enough and resentment towards his other friends who never have to worry about money. The flashback scene where he can’t afford to buy food is just heart-wrenching. Blue is also an awesome character, the only non-seer in a family of clairvoyants, she doesn’t let this bring her down and doesn’t hold this against her family. Her relationship with her mother was encouragingly positive, and her caution and tentative friendship with the boys is a refreshing change in YA books – she is so much more interesting than the stereotypical ‘too-stupid-to-live’ heroine, and her budding romance with Adam was charming. It’s just a disappointment that this romance can’t fully develop, as the synopsis clearly states that the romance will be between Blue and Gansey.

The magic featured in this book was just brilliant. A great mix of ghosts, psychics, tarot cards, lay lines, and more (there really is a bit of everything). The Welsh folktale this is loosely based on (Doomed to Die on St. Marks Eve) and the use of King Glendower is very original, a nice change from the over abundance of Greek and European folklore used in fantasy today. As a huge fan of magic, I found the ideas used to be fascinating and endlessly entertaining, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next. The writing itself was also beautiful, especially one description of an abandoned car in the middle of a woods, and it speaks to Maggie Stiefvater’s skill that she can make something so beautiful out of a simple image.

This was a truly great book, and I cannot to read the sequel.

4.5 stars.

Book Review: Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst

17286817Title: Conjured

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

Her name is Eve now – not that she knows what it used to be. In fact, all Eve really knows is what Agent Malcolm has told her: that she’s in a witness protection program and has undergone multiple surgeries to change her appearance, to hide her from a serial killer. She must pretend to be a normal teenager, living a normal life, and hope that her memories return so she can help catch the monster who’s after her.

But it’s hard to know what ‘normal’ is when you can do magic that causes you to black out and have visions of hauntingly creepy carnivals and people with antlers or snake scales. Between the agents of WitSec who keep relentlessly pushing her to remember more, a trio of non-human teens who can also do magic, and an alluring boy who works with her at the library, who can use her magic when they kiss, who can really be believed? Eve must learn who to trust when she can’t even trust herself.

I have only read one other book by Sarah Beth Durst (the beautifully written desert fantasy Vessel), but already she is fast becoming a favourite author. The imagery she uses and the amazing ideas are what has hooked me to these books, and I’m eagerly waiting for more of her work. Though Conjured is a stand alone novel, I would love to see more of this world – or more accurately, worlds – as the brief glimpses of the worlds Eve and Zach jump through towards the end of the book were fascinating, and would have made a great setting for another book. The carnival setting itself was also beautifully done, in a creepy but captivating way, and Eve’s visions of her time with the Magician were easily the best part.

Conjured is a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Between Eve having no memories of who she is and what has happened to her, not knowing who to trust with everyone telling her to trust them and not the others, and randomly losing weeks or even months of her life, neither Eve nor the reader has any idea what exactly will happen next. The only downside of this is that some of the best scenes, when the carnival is revealed and we finally meet the Magician himself, are left until right at the end. Also, I wasn’t completely sold on the character of Zach, and thus his romance with Eve. When he’s first introduced, he talks way too much about random knowledge he has, which seems a little to much like showing off, then without warning tells Eve there’s no way they can ever “just be friends” and that he wants to kiss her. Creepy, much? Yet, when Eve meets him again, after she has lost some weeks of her memory, he’s suddenly shy. Though his character improves and becomes more likeable, Zach is just too inconsistent in the beginning and not fully fleshed out, leaving the romance a little bit forced.

Despite this minor hiccup, Conjured is an awesome book that comes highly recommended, and I can only hope for more in this world.

4 stars.