Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Review: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by FC Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by FC Yee
Publisher: Amulet Books
Released: 8th August 2017
My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo's every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.

Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.

Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined…
(from Goodreads)

I absolutely loved this book and I’m so happy there are going to be sequels because I seriously need more of these characters.

First of all, let’s start with Genie herself, because she was such an awesome heroine. As well as fighting demons and juggling forces from both Heaven and Hell, Genie was also dealing with daily high school life – trying to get into college while maintaining her place on the volleyball team. I admired her a lot for how she handled everything! Her reaction to finding out Quentin’s true identity (as well as her own!) cracked me up. It was so funny that she refused to believe it at first and her comments…I was dying, honestly. One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the Chinese mythology and folklore – it was so interesting learning about these stories and I loved how seamlessly they were woven into the narrative. The way the characters adapted to modern life and how Genie interacted with them while trying to get her head around the laws of physics going down the drain was brilliant. I loved seeing Genie come to terms with her newfound powers and the responsibilities that came with them; her voice throughout the book was so realistic and I loved the way she dealt with all the new things she was faced with. I’m so excited for the sequels, a) because of the ending, but b) because I can’t wait to learn more about the Monkey King and the folklore surrounding him.

Quentin, [mini spoiler, highlight to read]aka the Monkey King[end of spoiler], was a character I grew to love. He was very odd to begin with (and Genie would agree with me) but as we got to spend more time with him, I couldn’t help but be charmed by him. The whole Chinese Batman talk had me cracking up, as did his various out of place comments and lack of understanding as to what constituted normal conversation/behaviour. I also loved his relationship with Genie – he respected her a lot due to their past connection and it was nice to see the dynamic between them begin to change. The romance was definitely unconventional, but you know what, I’ll take it, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book.

I loved Genie’s relationship with her parents, but especially her mother. We didn’t get to see too much of her, but what we did see was lovely. I especially loved the scene where Genie’s mum was upset with her and was ranting on about her “double life” – there were just so many laugh out loud moments in this book! Genie’s best friend Yunie was another great character and I’m hoping we get to see more of her in the sequel.

Plot-wise, I really enjoyed learning about Quentin’s past and how he had previously fought all the demons who has now escaped from Hell. There were a lot of parts I didn’t see coming and the ending was somehow funny, surprising and frustrating because it now just means I’m going to have to wait ages to find out what happens next.

Overall, this was an amazing debut by FC Yee and I am on board the hype train, because it’s really that good.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist) by Renée Ahdieh
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Released: 18th May 2017
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she's quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she's ever known.
(from Goodreads)

Flame in the Mist was a strong start to a new series, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Renée Ahdieh has in store for us next.

So this book has been marketed as a retelling of Mulan, but it really isn’t. I’m sure Mulan inspired it in a lot of ways but it’s not a retelling, and once you get over that, it’s much easier to appreciate the story for what it actually is.

Mariko, our main character, was on her way to marry the son of the Emperor (a deal forged by her father) when she and her company were attacked. Her loyal maidservant, Chiyo, was killed, and Mariko barely escaped with her life. Instead of returning home however, to be cleaned up and sent back out again to a loveless marriage, Mariko decided to take matters in her own hands to try and find out who attempted to murder her, and why. Mariko was a fairly likeable character, and I think she was pretty brave to dress up a boy and join a gang of thieves potentially responsible for the attack on her. In Mariko’s world, women had very little power, and for once, she wanted to do what she wanted without worrying about the consequences it would have. However, having lived an extremely privileged life, she was painfully naïve at times, and I was honestly surprised no-one in the Black Clan suspected her much earlier on. She may have been book smart and strategic, but she knew nothing about the lives regular people led, and it showed. However, she did face every challenge she met, and she didn’t back down, despite her lack of experience.

The other two main characters in this book were Ranmaru and Okami, and I really liked them both. Also, just to say, there’s no love triangle in this book! So yay! Anyway, Ranmaru was a ronin, a son of a disgraced samurai, and he and Okami had a deep connection that went back to their childhood. They were extremely loyal to each other, and while Ranmaru was the leader of the Black Clan, he trusted Okami implicitly and always valued his opinion. I really loved the dynamic between these two and enjoyed reading about them and learning about their backstories. Ranmaru was especially intriguing because I always got the feeling he was plotting something, but I never knew what. Okami was different in the sense that he didn’t want to lead, but was happy to follow orders. He also had an interesting power which we didn’t learn much about, but which I hope will be explored in the next book. He was responsible for Mariko once she joined the Black Clan and was one of few who thought there was something strange about her. I really liked reading about his thoughts on Mariko before he found out she was a girl, and while I think his acceptance of the truth was just a bit too quick, I generally liked his relationship with Mariko, and I’m especially curious to see how things will turn out for them, after the way this book ended.

Plot-wise, there was some parts of this book that I saw coming, but I was really surprised by the ending and overall, found Flame in the Mist to be a really exciting and compelling read. I loved the way the story flowed, and how Mariko’s loyalty began to be torn after spending time with the Black Clan. I also really enjoyed the parts about the Emperor and learning more about his previous actions and the consequences they had. Mariko changed a lot in this book and I am really looking forward to what she does in book two. She used to be so close to her brother Kenshin, who spent the whole of this book trying to find her, but now…I wonder what will happen between them. And after the ending, I really just can’t wait to read book two!

To conclude, Flame in the Mist was an excellent read, and I loved the world-building and getting to know all of the characters. Recommended.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Review: Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz

Never Say Die (Alex Rider #11) by Anthony Horowitz
Publisher: Walker Books
Released: 1st June 2017
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
The world's greatest teen spy is back in action in a thrilling new mission: destroy once and for all the terrorist organization SCORPIA.

Following the events of
Scorpia Rising, Alex relocates to San Francisco as he slowly recovers from the tragic death of his best friend and caregiver, Jack Starbright, at the hands of terrorists working for SCORPIA. With Jack gone, Alex feels lost and alone, but then, out of the blue, he receives a cryptic email--just three words long, but enough to make Alex believe that Jack may be alive. Armed with this shred of hope, Alex boards a flight bound for Egypt and embarks on a dubious quest to track Jack down.

Yet SCORPIA knows Alex's weakness. And the question of whether Jack is alive soon takes a backseat to a chilling new terrorist plot-one that will determine the lives of many.

From Egypt to France to Wales, from luxury yachts to abandoned coal mines, Alex traverses a minefield of dangers and cryptic clues as he fights to discover the truth.
(from Goodreads)

As a huge fan of the Alex Rider series when I was younger, I was a both very excited and very concerned when I heard there was going to be a new book. While I did think Scorpia Rising had quite an open ending, I was also so afraid that one of my favourite childhood series would be ruined! Luckily, this was not the case and I ended up really enjoying Never Say Die.

The book started four weeks after the end of Scorpia Rising. Alex was living with the Pleasures and adjusting to life without Jack, but anyone could see he wasn’t doing well. He was withdrawn and quiet, his grades were slipping and didn’t feel like there was any place he fit in. I felt for him because it was obvious he missed Jack and was going through a really hard time without her. The Alex of the previous books was always witty and clever; despite spending so much time out of school, he was always a good student. Seeing him stop caring about his education and friends was sad as a result. Then, something happened to give Alex reason to believe Jack wasn’t dead. And just like that, he was back to his old antics trying to find her, against the advice of everyone he knew, including Mrs Jones who didn’t believe Jack was alive.

I have to admit, going into this book as an older reader, rather than the intended audience, meant having to have a little more suspension of disbelief than I used to when reading this series. I also think things with the Pleasure could have been wrapped up a bit more, but overall, I was impressed. Alex really felt like Alex; his character didn’t undergo any strange personality changes or turnarounds like can sometimes happen when authors return to series they haven’t written for a while. I have always been fascinated by the way Alex thinks and gets himself out of difficult situations, and I think that was just as present as it has ever been in this book.

In terms of the actual story, I did guess some parts but I thought it was interesting where it ended up, especially the ending (sneaky old Mrs Jones, I knew she had something she was hiding). While I missed characters like Smithers (the gadgets!) and wished Sabina had been in a bit more, I really really enjoyed this book as a whole and I’m honestly ready for the next one (there will be a next one, right?).

If you’re a fan of the series, read this book. If you’re new, well you’re going to have a lot of fun catching up.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Review: Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
Publisher: Amulet Books
Released: 2nd May 2017
My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.

In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Jordan finds herself enmeshed in a precarious juggling act: making friends, alienating friends, crushing on a guy, crushing on a girl, and navigating decades-old rivalries. With her secret growing heavier every day, Jordan pushes beyond gender norms to confront what it means to be a girl (and a guy) in a male-dominated society, and—most importantly—what it means to be herself.
(from Goodreads)

I absolutely loved this book. I was really in the mood for a great contemp and it was exactly what I wanted it to be.

Jordan was such a fantastic main character. Words can’t express how much I loved her. I literally related to her in the very first line of the book – I pretty much have an existential crisis every Monday morning. As an Alto 2, Jordan kept getting rejected from parts in musicals for not having a conventional female vocal range. She also had a lot of other things going on; her mum and dad (who suffered from chronic pain) were having money troubles that were inevitably affecting her and making her feel guilty and she was still getting over her ex-boyfriend while also trying figure out whether she was attracted to girls as well as guys. She felt friendless at her school and didn’t really have anyone to turn to. Apart from the fact that I really appreciated being able to read about a Chinese-American bisexual character, Jordan was so likeable. Her narrative was hilarious, her voice was so believable and I really liked how dedicated she was to her craft. So determined was she to do something instead of mope around, miserable that she’d failed another audition, she dressed up as a boy and joined an all-male a cappella group. After all, what did she have to lose except her dignity? There was a bit of suspension of disbelief involved there, but honestly, it was so funny because even Jordan was questioning how everyone was buying her charade and it just made me smile.

I can’t tell you how much I loved Jordan’s friendship with all the boys in the Sharpshooters. First we had Trav, the leader of the group, and most mysterious. I wish we had got to know him more, but he was the sort of quietly loyal type – prone to frustrated outbursts, but a good guy inside. Next we had Isaac who I adored. He was both adventurous and reckless and yet intensely shy and uncertain at times. I loved his relationship with Jordan the most and he was so sweet and understanding. I liked that things weren’t all cool and calm between them, there was awkwardness, but also an excitement on what could be. Thirdly, we had Nihal, who was another of my favourites. His and Jordan’s friendship was so natural and easy, and I really liked the side story about Nihal’s own relationship with a certain member of the Minuets, another a cappella group (whose character I was really hoping would develop, but alas, it did not. I would have liked more resolution on it). Then there was Jon Cox and Mama, who were both hilarious and loyal and kind of the backbone of the group, the reliable ones you know would always be there. Erik and Marcus were newbies to the team, too, freshman who had to acclimate to the group dynamic like Jordan did. Marcus’s rants about politics always made me laugh and essentially, I just really liked all these characters. I apologise because I have gone on far too long.

Plot-wise, Noteworthy is quite slow-paced, with much of the story involving the Sharpshooters’ rivalry with the Minuets, preparing for a competition in December and Jordan coping with being a girl during the day and putting on her boy persona at night during rehearsals. But there were lots of other things going on too, and in my opinion, even though this wasn’t an action-packed fast paced book with tons of twists and turns, there was never a dull moment. It explored lots of different themes really well, including sexuality and gender, and I only wish it were a bit longer, because I would have loved to have seen what happened after the ending! (But this is what happens with all good books.) I loved all the performing arts parts of the book and learning about music and theatre (even if I wasn’t quite familiar with all the technical terms). There were a few things I think could have been developed or explained a bit more (the whole situation with Connor and his father, for one), but overall, this was a fantastic book with an amazing set of complex characters, and I am so happy that I got to read it.

Overall, Noteworthy is a real stand-out contemp, and I can’t recommend it enough.