Hello book friends! I hope ye are fairing well.
I feel like I’ve been devouring books at a fast rate lately, gobbling up stories like they’re my last meal for the next month, desperate for more characters and more amazing worlds.
Yep, I am a book glutton.
Anyway, as much as I would love to write reviews for every book I read, alas, this thing called time is against me, and I am a pawn to its whims.
Still, I’ve read so many good books lately that I couldn’t let all of them go without giving the nod to AT LEAST SOME OF THEM, and others, I really just wanted to share with you!
So read on for my latest adventures!
Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman
IN A SENTENCE: Teens run around panicked when drinking water runs out, but fighting for survival means making hard decisions.
REASONS TO READ: Engaging Characters | Disaster/Panic Psychology| Fast Paced
TRIGGER WARNINGS: Mass panic, death, murder.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t have particularly high expectations for this novel when I started it. Although I actually love disaster movies and this novel had an interesting concept, it sounded like one that could easily grow stagnant and dry up… to pardon the pun (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)! However, it turned out to be immensely gripping! Thank you to Walker Books for the free finished copy, and thank you to Tony Rambles for buddy reading it with me! You can read his review here.
WHAT I LOVED:
- Neal Schusterman co-wrote this book with his son, Jarrod, and I just think that is the most kick-ass thing?! To share a passion that you love and collaborate on a project with your own child must be such a wonderful feeling. I was a bit concerned that having two writers might make the flow jarring, but it was all seamless and I had quite a lot of fun trying to work out who wrote which bits!
- Dry utterly gripped me from the first chapter, and while there was a small lull about a third of the way through, the novel then kicked off again at double speed and didn’t let up until the end. I couldn’t put it down!
- This YA novel tackles a lot of serious issues in a small amount of time; climate change, gun control, army and disaster politics, but it does it without being in your face or getting in the way of the agency of the characters. It also asks the big questions: What would you do in order to survive? Do you help someone else to your detriment or leave them to die? And should you be judged for those choices? When push comes to shove, what kind of person are you?
- Dry also had an excellent cast of characters. There’s Jacqui, a somewhat deranged and sarcastic teen out for her own gain, Garrett, young, innocent and somewhat clueless but with a heart of gold, Henry an opportunist and potential sociopath, but my favourite had to be Kelton, a lonely nerd with doomsday prepper parents, that finally gets that chance to come into his own. Suddenly, he’s in a position of power. The tables have turned, and everyone relies on him to survive!
WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE:
- Unfortunately, one of the main characters, Alyssa, was actually my least favourite of the bunch! She wasn’t exactly bad… but there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about her apart from the lessons she learned about survival along the way. The others had much more vibrant and intriguing backgrounds!
- I did spot a few questionable plot points/holes, but they were very minor!
Writing Style: 4/5 | Originality: 4/5 | Entertainment: 4/5 | Characters: 4/5
The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan
IN A SENTENCE: An American-Bangladeshi Muslim teen is pushed towards an arranged marriage after her parents discover she has a girlfriend.
REASONS TO READ: Diverse rep | Bangladeshi culture| Lots and lots of drama!
TRIGGER WARNINGS: Mentions of historical domestic/sexual abuse, hate crime.
This novel was one of my most anticipated 2019 contemporary YA releases because I was really excited to see a Muslim character at the forefront of a book! I’m glad to say it mostly lived up to my expectations, and I hope we see more stories like this in the future!
WHAT I LOVED:
- Love and Lies manages to somehow straddle the line between lightweight contemporary while also tackling some VERY serious topics.
- Rukhsana was a brilliant and conflicted character, constantly warring with what was in her heart and her desperate need to be herself, while also wanting to respect her parent’s views and wishes which were often at odds with her own.
- I liked that this novel showed so many different aspects of prejudice. It looked at how a lot of Rukhsana’s family were homophobic due to beliefs passed down through generations. Equally, it looks at how Rukhsana’s friends just didn’t understand or trivialised aspects of Muslim culture due to ignorance. But while we see a lot of prejudiced views in this novel, we also see those that subvert the norm of their cultures completely, so you get both sides of the same coin!
- I loved that Rukhsana’s relationship with her parents, cousins, and grandparent was such a core part of this novel, we don’t get enough family dynamics in YA!
- A lot of this novel takes place in Bangladesh, and I loved learning so many new things about the culture! The famous dishes and their cooking processes, the beautiful clothing, family traditions and the meaning behind them. I soaked it all up and felt so immersed!
- The romance in this was really cute, and I definitely shipped it!
- Love and Lies also has a brilliant cast of side characters with distinct personalities, and I really cared about every one of them! There’s Rukhsana’s steadfast loyal cousin, Irfan who is cheeky and intelligent but with hidden depths, and Rukhsana’s grandmother who is wise and full of heart to name a few!
WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE:
- This novel was a bit melodramatic for me in places, there was a lot of exclaiming, sobbing and yelling which did grate at times. Because of this, it read like young YA in some sections, but then other sections were so serious and hard-hitting that it read like older YA, which was a bit jarring! It felt like the two tones of the story were sometimes at odds!
- The protagonist did make some really annoying decisions… but thinking back to when I was 17, I probably would have made some equally short-sighted ones!
- The final resolution of the story seemed much too convenient and quick. I felt more pages were needed to flesh this out (unfortunately, I can’t be more specific without going into spoilers)!
Writing Style: 3/5 | Originality: 4/5 | Entertainment: 4/5 | Characters: 4/5
The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
IN A SENTENCE: An orphan trains at an elite military school and all is fun and games until the real war starts.
REASONS TO READ: Gods and Shamans | Training montages (you’ll want to hum Rocky)| Morally grey characters
TRIGGER WARNINGS: Sexual assault, self-harm, mutilation, genocide, drug abuse – you name it, it’s in here!
I had heard nothing but good things about The Poppy War, so I decided to purchase it with a voucher I got from my birthday. The Poppy War is a high fantasy novel, which parallels Chinese history (the internet tells me specifically the Sino-Japanese War and Nanjing Massacre) while incorporating mystical elements and wrathful gods. I really love when fantasy parallels aspects of real life and is done on an epic scale, so this book sounded like a win-win for me!
Now that I’ve finished it, I have a lot of confused and conflicting thoughts swirling in my head, and I definitely feel like this novel tested me as a reader. Thank you also to Sophie at Me and Ink for buddy reading this with me!
WHAT I LOVED:
- The worldbuilding in this novel was top notch. I felt completely immersed in this Chinese inspired fantasy world including its politics, ancient mythology, dramatic landscapes, and its Empire’s sordid past.
- The world of the Nikara Empire is brutal and unforgiving. At the start of the novel we see a child fall in front of a cart, and instead of the driver helping he goes back to finish the child off so he won’t have to pay for its care. This gives you just a snippet of the world we’re in, and trust me, it gets worse. There are some very graphic scenes here, so if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, I’d recommend staying away. However, these scenes didn’t at any point feel gratuitous and served to show the brutal truths of war.
- The first half of the novel is spent at a military training academy, which is a trope I’m pretty much always here for! I loved watching the trainees learn about the art of war, strategy and attack, and their training techniques range from the brutal to the bizarre (at one point, Rin our lead carries a pig up a mountain once a day for endurance training).
- After the military academy sets the stage, our characters are pulled into a real war that is horrible beyond belief. The story goes on to explore the depts and horror of trauma, grooming and PTSD in a way that is far more complex than any other fantasy books I’ve read!
- Rin our lead protagonist is a war orphan, taken in by opium smuggles. Through pure grit, Rin gets herself into the most prestigious military school. She finds herself among the countries elite and drags herself up through the ranks despite so much prejudice. While there, she learns of the mythical art of Shamanism, including how to communicate with the Gods.
- Rin was an incredibly complex character. She’s smart and determined, yet also arrogant and has the desire to be powerful and make her mark on the world. For much of the novel she struggles with her desperate yearning for power despite the chaos is will reap. She’s an immensely morally grey character, who makes a lot of bad decisions.
- There is a brilliant cast of side characters in The Poppy War too, and all of them are also morally grey. Some of my favourites were Nezhan, Rin’s rival and bully, Altan, the sole survivor of a genocide attack and the best fighter Sinegard has seen, Kitay, Rin’s friend with a photographic memory and Jiang, Rin’s opium smoking kooky mentor.
WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE:
- The mystical elements of this novel felt really quite confusing and hard to follow at points. There appeared to be few set rules, apart from that drugs were required in order to reach the Pantheon and access the Gods powers.
- The first half of this book and the second half almost read like two completely different novels.
- The writing in this fell towards the factual rather than sensory side, which made me feel more removed from the story. It was also quite dense and detailed.
- Some of the characters were SO morally grey and dislikable that at points I struggled to keep interested in their plights!
Writing Style: 3/5 | Originality: 4/5 | Entertainment: 3/5 | Characters: 4/5