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Month: March 2018

Review: Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Review: Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Title: Legendary

Author: Stephanie Garber

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Pub date: 29th May 2018

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more – and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets . . . including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about – maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . the games have only just begun.’

Admittedly, I read Caraval long after it was released and after I had heard a lot of hype about it. However, it was a book that managed to live up to expectations and was well deserving of the praise it had received (and led to my pre-ordering more than one copy of Legendary over the past few months). To expect Legendary to be Caraval is unreasonable. What the novel does well is capture the same magic and experience of the world we were introduced to in the first book, creating a sensory journey that leaps off the page and hauls you into it whether you like it or not. Garber certainly knows her way around a simile and how to employ patterns of three to snare the reader.

I truly enjoyed Legendary, but I felt that its pacing just wasn’t quite right. I was waiting for the narrative to take off and found that I was still waiting after having read over half of the novel (I thought I was still in the opening third of the text at this point). This isn’t to say that there aren’t interesting and engaging events in that first half, but it feels as if they’re leading to something that doesn’t actually happen until much later. Much of the action is in the last third of the book, as seems to be quite standard of late, and while I absolutely did not want to put the story down at this point, I also felt like I’d done a lot of work to get there.

I’ve heard more than one reviewer remark that Tella isn’t as likeable as her sister, whereas I found it to be quite the opposite. Tella reads as more of a realist, willing to take risks when she must, not always thinking things through, and acknowledging when sacrifices must be made (even if these sacrifices aren’t her own). She’s got harsher edges than Scarlett and seems to make mistakes with her eyes wide open. It isn’t necessarily that she’s more vibrant than her sister, yet she feels somewhat more alive and real and relatable.

Legendary is a strong follow-up to Caraval and sets the stage for the third novel in the series. Much of its charm is in revisiting the world and the game – in knowing that there are no real rules and not trusting that what conclusions you’ve reached are going to turn out to be right. Despite returning to a setting we’re familiar with, Legendary reads as more of an adventure than Caraval, with higher stakes and greater risks. Thoroughly enjoyable.

I received an ARC of Legendary from NetGalley and the publisher.

Review: Brave Enough by Kati Gardner

Review: Brave Enough by Kati Gardner

Title: Brave Enough

Author: Kati Gardner

Publisher: North Star Books (Flux imprint)

Pub date: 21st August 2018

To say that I enjoyed Brave Enough is to not phrase it correctly: what I appreciated about the novel was its realistic portrayal of living with pain and potential limitations and trying to learn how to overcome them.

There’s an honesty in how Cason makes progress and drifts backward throughout the story. She doesn’t constantly feel sorry for herself, yet nor is she relentlessly and unrealistically upbeat about her situation. For a girl her age, she does her best to cope with what she has to face and tries her best to grasp at what hope she’s given when she can, and is just as ready to disregard it when she can’t handle or face it. She is human and vulnerable and has her bad days and her good ones. Her struggles ring true – trying to claim what independence she can and simultaneously resigning herself to the future she’s painting for herself in particular – and I would have gladly read more about her. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried more than once before the end of the book.

I read the whole novel, start to finish, in one sitting. Admittedly, my focus was on Cason’s story more than Davis’, but, even so, I felt no need to rush through the chapters following him, which I’m finding rarer and rarer these days with books that employ more than one narrative point of view. The romance was a little predictable, yet not overplayed and didn’t detract from the main messages of the story.

Used properly and sensitively, I feel this book could make a fantastic class reader for children in their early teens.

I received an ARC of Brave Enough from NetGalley and the publisher.

Review: Clean by Juno Dawson

Review: Clean by Juno Dawson

Title: Clean

Author: Juno Dawson

Publisher: Hatchette Children’s Group

Pub date: 5th April 2018

”I can feel it swimming through my veins like glitter … it’s liquid gold.’

When socialite Lexi Volkov almost overdoses, she thinks she’s hit rock bottom.

She’s wrong. Rock bottom is when she’s forced into an exclusive rehab facility.

From there, the only way is up for Lexi and her fellow inmates, including the mysterious Brady.

As she faces her demons, Lexi realises love is the most powerful drug of all…

It’s a dirty business getting clean…’

I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Clean and have been wanting to read it for a while. It did not disappoint. It’s actually not my usual sort of read, but I just couldn’t put it down once I’d started. Clean does not pull any punches and, despite the glamorous lifestyle of the protagonist, crafts a believable and engaging narrative that is not afraid to make you flinch.

At the book’s opening, Lexi is not a likeable character, leaving you wondering whether she’s going to demonstrate some redeeming features and make you want to root for her. She’s crass, she’s arrogant, she has the world at her fingertips, and yet there are glimpses of vulnerability and something darker – beyond addiction – driving her to be as she is, creating a compelling character whether you truly want to like her or not. The cast she meets in rehab are equally damaged and mostly subtly charming in their own ways, each present in the facility for a variety of addictions that lead to exploration of what addiction actually is and the impact it can have on a person’s life – and whether anyone really wants to be ‘free’ of it.

The use of bad language is frequent and can seem a little too much at the beginning, yet it becomes another part of Lexi’s ‘voice’ that you soon adjust to. It feels like another layer of her armour that is gradually chipped away at. Given the world that she lives in and the situation in which she finds herself, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how young she is. On the other hand, it’s her determination to seem grown-up and take what control she can of her life that often leads to her greatest mistakes and desire to lash out in a childish manner.

To have a main character that you can so strongly dislike at the beginning and not want to part with by the end is, in my opinion, the mark of vivid story and strong characterisation well worth reading, even if the subject matter might not make it easy. Highly recommended. It’s been nearly a month since I read Clean and I still feel as if I haven’t entirely left it behind. Get a copy of this one ASAP.

I received an ARC of Clean from NetGalley and the publisher.

Review: Twice Dead by Caitlin Seal

Review: Twice Dead by Caitlin Seal

Title: Twice Dead

Author: Caitlin Seal

Publisher: Charlesbridge Teen

Pub date: 18th September 2018

‘Naya, the daughter of a sea merchant captain, nervously undertakes her first solo trading mission in the necromancer-friendly country bordering her homeland of Talmir. Unfortunately, she never even makes it to the meeting. She’s struck down in the streets of Ceramor. Murdered.

But death is not the end for Naya. She awakens to realize she’s become an abomination–a wraith, a ghostly creature bound by runes to the bones of her former corpse. She’s been resurrected in order to become a spy for her country. Reluctantly, she assumes the face and persona of a servant girl named Blue. 

She never intended to become embroiled in political plots, kidnapping, and murder. Or to fall in love with the young man and former necromancer she is destined to betray.’

I’m generally not somebody drawn to books involving necromancy in their premise, but having enjoyed Reign of the Fallen, I decided to give Twice Dead a look. I have to say that I was not disappointed and truly enjoyed the story. The tale is one that gets to the core concept of the narrative – that Naya is transformed into a wraith – quickly and without a great deal of set-up, allowing for immersion in her world and understanding of what it means to have been resurrected to unfold naturally and without vast chunks of heavy exposition.

As with many protagonists in YA fiction, Naya has ‘unique’ elements that set her apart from others in her position, yet these are not overplayed and she does not become overpowered compared to the rest of the cast of characters, allowing each to have their moments and faults and failures without ever seeming too perfect to be true. Her transformation is not one that she immediately gets to grips with, nor is comfortable with, her hesitation and missteps ones that keep the reader interested and invested in her story. She’s a likeable, relatable character, never too arrogant even on occasions when she might have the right to be, and seems, well, human. However, given some of the subject matter in the novel, that we don’t see a great deal of the true emotional impact of events is also something that potentially keeps her at a distance from the reader. This said, it makes for a lighter and engaging read that’s easy to pick up again from where you’ve left off. If anything, I didn’t want to read through it too quickly because I didn’t want it to be over too fast.

The romance is a nice enough addition to the narrative, though it doesn’t (thankfully) hinge on it quite as much as the blurb would suggest. There’s also some LGBT representation that is handled sensitively and thoughtfully, which was lovely to see.

All in all, I look forward to the next in the series!

I received an ARC of Twice Dead from NetGalley and the publisher.