Saturday, July 27, 2019

Review: I AM THE MESSENGER by Markus Zusak

Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Protect the diamonds
Survive the clubs
Dig deep through the spades
Feel the hearts
This description of I Am the Messenger sounds interesting enough, when you know that it’s about Ed receiving playing cards in the mail with special instructions written on them from an anonymous source, but I was honestly just bored with most of the story, even while listening to the audiobook. This book reminded me of Zusak’s Underdogs trilogy, probably because of the personality of the main character. I didn’t really like those books, and I didn’t really care for this story either. There was nothing inherently wrong with it—it’s a really neat, well-written story—but it just wasn’t for me.

Ed was a fine character, but I didn’t particularly connect with him or like him. I didn’t dislike him either though. I did think the book’s plot was smart. The ending was pretty great too, and although I should have guessed it, I didn’t. But then the actual ending after the reveal was disappointing and left me with the obvious questions of who? I don’t like not getting answers in my books.

I like the message of this book: everyone is struggling with something and everyone needs help, and anyone can benefit and feel better after serving another. I think that’s a great takeaway.

Although this book grew on me the more I read it, I was still just feeling very meh about the whole thing by the end.

If I Am the Messenger wasn’t written by Markus Zusak, I doubt I would have read it. This is my fifth book by him, and the only good one was The Book Thief, unfortunately. I wish I liked them all, but I don’t. I still have Bridge of Clay left but once I read that I’ll have read all Zusak’s books. That one’s a similar situation: I don’t think I would read it if it wasn’t by Zusak, but because it is, I do want to read it. But I also don’t think I’m going to like it though, just based on what I’ve heard about the story and what I know about my own reading tastes. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that The Book Thief was a one-hit-wonder by Zusak, and that makes me really sad. It was an incredible book, and I wish I could say the same about his others.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Review: WILDER GIRLS by Rory Power

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Wilder Girls has such a cool premise: girls stranded on an island, a toxin taking over their bodies, a story reminisce of Lord of the Flies but with girls. Plus that cover is absolutely stunning. But the inside just didn’t live up to the incredible story it could have been.

This book started out strong and had amazing potential, but so much is missing. At the end, I felt like I had read the middle 70% of a manuscript but didn’t get the 20% of backstory at the beginning or the 10% of resolution at the end, so all I’m left with is the middle and whole ton of questions.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the writing style. It seemed very choppy to me, sentence fragments everywhere but not done well. I know sometimes that’s a stylistic choice but it shouldn’t have been here because it was jarring, honestly, every time I saw a sentence dangling like that without a subject. This is Rory Power’s first book, and you can tell in the writing. I did get used to it as I kept reading, but I still don’t think it was very well written. The story, however, was compelling even though I didn’t love the writing style.

The characters were so flat and forgettable and not developed well at all. They each had their symptoms of the Tox, yet those “defining features” didn’t stick in my mind, other than that of Hetty’s lone eye. There could have been more emphasis on how they each were afflicted with the Tox, as well as more distinct attributes listed because most of the characters felt very one-dimensional and unimportant, and I had trouble picturing them. And then when characters after characters died, I felt nothing, had no attachment to them, because they weren’t developed at all; each was nothing more than a name. And honestly, even the three main protagonists are rather forgettable. What color hair do they have? I have no idea. I hardly know who they are or how they feel even after finishing the book. Also, I found it to be curious that after living in an enclosed space with the same sixty girls for two years, Hetty didn’t even know some of their names. This just adds to the fact of the weak characterization in this book.

On top of the under-developed characters, I couldn’t believe how minimal and forced the romance was, especially after all the times I’ve seen this book described as “sapphic” and “so queer.” It is not. Hetty never expressed her feelings for Reese during the first third of the book and then when she starts talking about them she says how she’s felt that way for years and I wasn’t buying it. It came out of nowhere without any foreshadowing that they could have actually liked each other as mere friends, nonetheless had romantic feelings for one another. Then the relationship was never brought up again during the rest of the book. Hetty and Reese spent a lot of time together for the back half of the story, yet they never held hands, cuddled, kissed, or did anything to indicate that they had confessed their feelings to each other only days before. Honestly, there was no romance at all in this book, and I can’t believe how excited people are getting over that sad excuse for a sapphic romance. The author should have eliminated the “romance” completely and focused only on the friendship to make for a stronger story since the entire plot is focused on friendship anyway.

I had trouble picturing the setting of this book. The island was way bigger than I ever imagined it to be for all the events taking place to work out properly and for all those animals to be hiding in the forests for years without them all being shot. I wish we got some dimensions about how long the island was and other defining factors that would help create the image, especially at the end when they reach a new end of the island they haven’t seen before, like where did that come from?

There seemed to be lots of little holes in this story that distanced me from the excitement of the plot, details that were missing that pulled me back to reality that I had to just brush aside and ignore, and that really bothered me. I didn’t feel like I could be fully immersed in the story like I wanted to when I was focusing so much on the small but necessary pieces of information. It’s the little things that make a story feel cohesive and realistic, and unfortunately what this book was missing was the little things. That and the entire backstory.

One thing I did enjoy was that the author was pretty explicit in the awful, creepy things happening at the school and didn’t try to be nice to the girls for the readers’ sakes; there is a lot of brutality in here and it’s stated outright, which I appreciated. I cannot stand when something terrifying is about to happen and then an author is like “just kidding, I don’t want to hurt my readers,” like absolutely not, I want to feel pain and emotions while I’m reading, don’t pull the punches. I’m happy to say this book delivered on that front.

But even the creepiness couldn’t save the book after that ending. There was no resolution at the end. The story just ended when it shouldn’t have and it needed another fifty pages or so to properly explain everything; there were a lot of questions left unanswered. The idea behind the story captivated me but the execution of the story was a letdown. I expected more than was delivered, and that makes me really sad. Unanswered questions (and unused potential) is one of my biggest pet peeves while reading. It feels like the author didn’t have a good reason for why everything was the way it was and how it got that way, specifically regarding the Tox and how it started or what it even was, so she just didn’t include any necessary details at all and left out all that necessary development. That is not a good writing technique and it only served to frustrate me and make the book feel incomplete and unrealistic.

I’m so bothered and upset by the egregious lack of information in this story. I need a logical explanation of events in books, especially dystopian ones, and Wilder Girls did not explain anything. I couldn’t get behind the story or feel like it was realistic or anything because so much was missing. This book could have been amazing, but it wasn’t. I waited the whole story for all the details and reveals to come together at the end, but they didn’t. I still cannot believe it ended how it did, with nothing revealed to us. It completely sets up for a sequel, but I was under the impression this is a standalone story, as it should be. There just needs to be way more substance in this volume than what we got.

Wilder Girls needed a better substantive editor to help with the major overarching problems of the story. A good editor could have helped Rory craft a beautiful story that delivered on its promise and answered all the questions and had a satisfying ending, but instead it felt like this book skipped that editing stage and went straight to copyediting. This is a book that desperately needed a lot of editing help that it sadly didn’t receive.

I was debating whether to give Wilder Girls three or four stars the entire time I was reading it, but after that ending and not getting any answers, I was then debating between two and three because of how disappointed I was. I enjoyed the story quite a bit and found it to have an engaging plot throughout, but so many elements were lacking for me that ultimately I settled on two stars. The characters needed more depth and development, the romance was forced and unnecessary, the writing was amateur, the main questions surrounding the plot of the story were not answered or even touched upon, the ending was weak with no resolution, and so many crucial details of the story were missing that it resulted in gaping holes in the narrative and a lack of logical explanations. The edge-of-your-seat plot was the strong point of this book, but I had to overlook so many missteps to have it all make sense in my mind, even when I knew it wasn’t plausible. The most compelling plotline and what I was most excited to read about wasn’t even explained in the book, and that is very sad.

I obviously still have some questions about events in Wilder Girls, questions that, if answered in the story, would have enhanced my reading experience and the overall quality of the book. SPOILERS AHEAD.
[—How did the Tox start in the first place; like what caused it, and when? We never find that out because we never see a cure for it. I hate when there’s a disease in a dystopian story and we never learn the origin of it.
—Similarly, how did it get to Raxter without affecting the mainland? How did it spread? Why did it infect girls their age? Was the worm actually the Tox? Because Byatt did not get better after it was removed, like I still don’t know if she even lived or not at the end. And how did the worms get inside them? Give me literally any information about the Tox, please, because we got nothing.
—Why did Reese and Hetty leave all the girls back at the school to be eaten by the bear and blown up by the jet? I absolutely could not believe that, after everything they’d done to save everyone—Hetty put herself in danger to save some random girl from the freaking bear and they dragged the bodies out of the music room after they were gassed—they leave all the girls to die. They seriously leave everyone behind. I thought they’d go back, but nope. What was all that about?
—How did the CDC/Navy/Headmistress know that the quarantine had been broken? That was never explained either, only that they knew one of the girls had been out. Do they have hidden cameras, sensors that can tell when someone leaves the building, or some other means of knowing?
—What exactly were they doing to Byatt? What was she being tested for and what did the people ultimately hope to find? We never learned this information either and I was bothered not knowing that. They kept testing her, injecting her, drugging her, and likely doing the same to many girls before her, but all for what purpose? They said they were experimenting on the food and wanted to experiment on the girls, but what were they trying to figure out?
—We need to know more about what’s happening on the mainland. Do people know the island is infected? Do people know the Tox even exists? What are the goals and motivations of the people in charge?
—Hetty and Reese know that the jets are coming to blow up the island, yet the set out in a boat toward the mainland. You would think that if a plane was flying over ocean, it would see a boat moving away from the island and know that the girls are escaping, yet this idea was never brought up. How were they not seen though? And why didn’t the jets blow up the medical building on the island when it flew over it when the girls were inside? I don’t understand, seriously, there are so many plot holes I’m going crazy.]

I read an ARC of this book, and I sincerely hope the finished copy is different and actually contains the much-needed answers that were lacking. If you have read the finished copy and disagreed with anything I noted in this review, please let me know, because I will reread this whole book in its finished form if it is actually different. 


Rating: 4.5/5 stars

In my effort to read all of Sanderson’s stories, I picked up this novella about a woman named Silence who’s a bounty hunter on a dangerous planet.

I liked this story a lot. It was neat how it started and ended with a chapter from Daggon’s perspective to frame the rest of the story from Silence’s point of view.

The characters were all great, and the world, almost entirely covered in forests, was really cool too. I would have liked to know more about the shades in the story, though. Brandon Sanderson always has such unique worlds and concepts and this is no different.

This is a self-contained story, but I would still like to see more of this planet that we only got a small glimpse of. I’m curious to see what other stories will take place in this world in the future. How is it important to the cosmere overall?

I don’t have much more to say about this novella other than that I really liked it and would recommend it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019


Rating: 4/5 stars

I don’t know if I was ever really planning to read Little Fires Everywhere, but it’s been so popular and I want to watch the tv show, so I decided to give the book a chance, and I’m so happy I did because I enjoyed it quite a bit.

I didn’t know what the story was about before I started reading it, but it’s a multi-family drama that’s at its core about what it means to be a family. The children latch on to their friends’ parents instead of their own, and the mothers have to make some hard decisions. I think this book was a great commentary about family.

I didn’t expect to be when I first started the audiobook but I was hooked throughout the entire story. I would have finished it in one day had I not needed to go to work because I wanted nothing more than to know what would happen next. The plot is truly engaging.

Interestingly, the story is written in a third-person omniscient perspective, which is unusual to see. I found this point of view to be necessary, however, to see into the minds of all the characters and see how all their emotions and thoughts interconnected and to help the reader understand information that we would know no other way. I thought this was a smart writing technique here; it wouldn’t have worked in all books but it definitely worked in this one.

I wonder how much of what is said about Shaker Heights is true. It is such a strict, rich suburban town, and I can see it all being true, but also it does seem a bit over-exaggerated. I was surprised to learn Shaker Heights is actually a real town, and I kind of want to go visit it now.

One criticism I do have is that I kept getting Izzy and Lexie mixed up. I don’t know if their names were too similar-sounding or what but I had to think really hard about who was being referenced whenever one of their names came up in the audiobook, and a couple of times I thought one of them was doing something when it was actually the other one. The confusion didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the story too much, but I do think the names could have been more distinct from each other.

I liked Little Fires Everywhere a lot. I was interested in all the people and their stories and how they intertwined with each other. Pearl was my favorite. I can’t pinpoint exactly why I gave this book four stars instead of five; there was nothing that I didn’t like, but for some reason it just wasn’t a five-star read for me. I still really enjoyed the story though and was swept up in everyone’s lives, and I was very pleased with the ending. I’m even more excited for the show now, and I would definitely recommend checking out the book before the show’s release.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Review: SIXTH OF THE DUSK by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: 4/5 stars

This was an interesting little story. I liked the carnivorous tropical island setting with magical birds called Aviar that have different talents, such as the ability to show you your death or the ability to read the minds of their prey. I thought it was a cool story.

I struggled the whole time, however, to see the purpose of the story or to understand how it relates to the cosmere. It could be set in a different universe and I would be none the wiser. There were references to the “Ones Above” that Brandon said was the link to the cosmere but I still didn’t know how that connected.

This was a totally different setting than Sanderson usually writes and it could have been expanded so much, even into a full-length novel, but instead all we get is this short story. And while I liked the setting, I did think there was little character development or emotional connections made (as is the nature with novellas). I also didn’t really know what was happening for the first third of the story. This was probably just me being distracted because I did reread this part after I finished the whole thing, and it did make more sense the second time around, but there was still clearly no indication of what was to come; the beginning is 100% world building with no plot.

I also think it was too short (again, as is the nature) and ended too abruptly. I wanted to know more about the nature of the island, the birds, the briefly mentioned mainland, the cultures of the people, the politics, etc. The society is on the brink of a technological change but I felt like I knew nothing about it. And what exactly is the big machine they keep referencing?

I was also dissatisfied with the ending. I started really enjoying the story from about the 40% mark to the 90% mark, but then the ending made no sense to me and I don’t understand the implications. What does it mean? What’s going to happen next? It felt like the end of a first book with a big opening of more to come. Sanderson said that there were no plans for future stories in this world, but that we’d likely see more from the people of this world. I don’t know what that entails but I’m looking forward to it regardless.

Although I enjoyed the setting of this little story, it still felt like much of the plot was missing, mostly because of how it ended. Unfortunately, even Sanderson can’t make me a fan of short stories and novellas, but I will still continue to read everything he writes. I do think this is one of the better short stories of his that I’ve read, though, but I still have quite a few more to get to so we’ll see.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Review: THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE by Samantha Shannon

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

A world divided for over a thousand years: the west fears dragons, the east reveres dragons, yet their common enemy is about to rise again.

In the west, it is believed that the great evil wyrm called the Nameless One will remain at bay as long as an heir of Berethnet rules Inys, as has been the case for the past millennium since he was vanquished, but the current Queen Sabran has rejected all her suitors and the people are worried she won’t marry, which will thus release the Nameless One to wreak havoc once again.

In the east, they believe differently, and they have dragons of their own that are not at all like the fire-breathers of the west. I love the juxtaposition between the dragons from the east, dragons of water, and dragons from the west, dragons of fire. I saw a similar connection to the dragons in our world, the traditional Chinese dragon and the European dragon.

This story follows four perspectives. In the west we have Ead, who is a lady-in-waiting in the court of Inys, sent there to protect Queen Sabran; and Loth, best friend of Sabran and who has been sent away on a mission to a foreign land. In the east we have Tané, a girl who has spent her whole life training to be a dragon rider but who harbors a secret that could cost her everything; and Niclays Roos, an alchemist who was banished from Queen Sabran’s court seven years ago and is now living in exile.

It is easy to keep straight the four main perspectives, and it’s easy to keep track of the secondary characters, but there are a lot of tertiary characters that I kept getting mixed up, especially the people of the court and who held which positions. Ultimately it didn’t matter too much and it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the story, but just know that there are a lot of characters in this book, especially when you take into account all the historical and mythological figures that play an important role in the religion and politics of the world.

That is one thing I loved about The Priory of the Orange Tree though, is that it is a highly detailed world with a very rich history. The history of this world plays a huge part in the founding of all of the religions, and you can see where they each divided over time. There are also distinct cultures and landscapes described in the different nations of the world, and each nation has its own language that is consistently referenced. I cannot communicate how in-depth this story is, like there had to have been so much research and time put into constructing the world because of how utterly expansive it is, and I love that. The world-building here is some of the best I’ve ever seen.

I also love how everything connects. Some characters are related to certain historical figures, of which some of these were the cause for the creation of the religion in Inys, and the present-day religious beliefs in Inys completely drive their politics, which in turn affects the political climate of the surrounding nations, and the list goes on and on. So many threads weave together to form a beautiful story. I love all the political intrigue discussed as well.

Despite the size of this tome, Priory is actually very readable, and it’s easy to get right into the story. I was intimidated to start it, but after a few chapters, I knew I was in for a good ride. I will say that the beginning is much more drawn out than the end, but I think that’s because we are being introduced to the vast world and cast of characters, plus I was constantly referencing the maps, the timeline, the glossary, and the comprehensive character list while I was getting used to the story. I like knowing everything when I start a book so I will spend time getting to know the world and the characters at the beginning, even if it takes extra time. It’s not a slow-moving or boring story, but it does require time and patience to read, so just know that before starting it.

Speaking of the maps, I am so grateful they were included. I really don’t think I would have made it through this book otherwise. They were beautifully drawn across three full pages and were very helpful in pinpointing all the locations mentioned throughout the story. I do wish, however, that we had an even broader map. There were vague references to locations beyond the borders of the map and I wished I could see them and see even more of this world. I think a fold-out map would be perfect for this book.

I also wish we would have learned more about Hróth and the Empire of the Twelve Lakes. We see so much of the other nations but we know next to nothing about those two. The Empire of the Twelve Lakes is the biggest nation on the map and it has a very detailed landscape, yet we learn very little about it during most of the book, and Hróth literally has only one city on the map because most of the nation is beyond the page. I would love to see this world expanded in every direction because I just can’t get enough of it and there’s so much more to explore.

We spend a great deal of our time in Inys, seeing as it’s the influence for the primary religion of the west and three of our four main characters have lived in Inys at some point. I love the idea of the queendom in Inys, where the queen is expected to produce a female heir. That’s a complete flip on the traditional patriarchy where the king is expected to produce a male heir, and it was great. This book has a lot of feminist undertones, and I thought it was wonderful. Also, there is very little romance in this book, but what little is there is beautiful.

This was one of the first books where I didn’t mind reading about pirates. Normally—and I don’t know why—I don’t like stories set on boats or involving pirates, but I actually enjoyed the small part of this book that included pirates.

The last 150-ish pages went a lot quicker than the rest of the book. Not that the beginning and middle were slow, but the ending seemed a lot faster in comparison. And the climax of the book felt a bit rushed, to the point that I was slightly disappointed because I expected the final battle to take longer and be more difficult. We have nearly 800 pages of buildup and 1,000 years of preparation for this final moment, and then . . . it’s over like that. Maybe that’s just me, and this isn’t a huge complaint because the rest of the book was so extraordinary, but I would have liked to see a bit more at the end.

Also, I think the finding of Ascalon was too easy. It’s been lost for centuries and all of the sudden a character is like, oh I think it’s in this place, and it is, and I wish there had been more mystery behind that. There are some great twists and unexpected reveals in this story, but sometimes the path to get there was so convoluted that the outcomes felt a bit too easy for all the trouble the characters had to go through.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Priory of the Orange Tree, and I would recommend it to high fantasy fans who love dragons. It’s long and takes patience to read, but the world is so beautiful and the characters are so wonderful that every second spent in this book is worth it. And although this is marketed as a standalone fantasy, I want more, I really do. I can see so many openings for a sequel, like which directions it could take, because each character’s future is left open, and I need more details. I hope one day we get to see more in this world, even if it’s set another thousand years in the future and involves different characters.

Here are some SPOILERY questions about the ending:
What can we learn from the ending? Who was Ead’s real father? What was the blood on Tané’s side?
I expected Niclays and Nayimuthun to be dead and was surprised when they came back, especially the dragon.
The Nameless One tells Sabran, Beware the sweet water. What does that mean? Do not say things unless they are important to the future of the story.
The emperor of the Empire of the Twelve Lakes told us about his lover who he spurned and she said that she was coming for him. Will we see what this really means?
What will become of the celestial jewels?
Will Tané and Ead become friends?
What will Sabran do in the next decade, and who will she elect to rule Inys once she abdicates the throne and moves to Lasia to be with Ead?
Also, Fýredel is still out there and therefore could be the villain of the next installment.

Even though the story wraps up nicely, there are still so many questions left unanswered. I need more.