The Midnight Star by Marie Lu

Through my endless stream of tears shall I attempt to write a decent review. I have only recently heard of the Young Elites series and it was only last week that I bought the trilogy. I read them within three days – I have been obsessed. Although I was only in this world for a short amount of time, I will sincerely miss the characters, especially Adelina. I instantly fell in love with this world, the characters and the plots of all three books. It is unlike any YA series I’ve read before as it’s narrated primarily by the antihero. It’s marketed as a dark fantasy and it is exactly that and Adelina as a main character completely blew me away. I went into the first novel thinking she was just another YA character who finds out she’s special and joins this group of people and they all become best friends and save the world. Nope. I was far from right. 

The Midnight Star takes place around a year after the previous book and Adelina has been a ruthless and cruel Queen, believing she must rule with fear and pain. Both Magiano and Sergio are by her side but her sister, Violetta has fled to join the daggers and beg them to help Adelina. Adelina and her Inquisitors have conquered countless cities, executed countless traitors and banned the term malfettos but countless attempts are made at Adelina’s life. In this part of the book, you feel as though you should hate Adelina but despite everything, she still manages to inspire empathy in the reader. Her power is rapidly making her lose control of her thoughts and illusions and she is constantly tormented by voices in her head. However, her goal remains the same, to conquer and put fear in her enemies’ hearts, including the Daggers – that is until Rafaelle contacts her. It seems the old friends must put aside their differences and help close the portal between their world and the Underworld before it destroys everything and the only way to do that is to sacrifice their powers.
My favourite thing in novels is when a bunch of the characters have to come together against a threat (Six of Crows etc.) I’ve always loved this over solo missions with the main character. Adelina joining with the Daggers, alongside her crew and Queen Maeve and even Teren. I was so here for it. Teren went from a character I despised to a character who had a whole new side – just a boy who was forced to think of himself as an abomination driven mad by the idea he had to destroy others like himself. I’m not excusing his previous acts but this book gives him a whole new side, a step towards a redemption arc. We saw more into the budding relationships between Adelina and Magiano, Sergio and Violetta and Maeve and Lucent. If I wasn’t so scared of what was going to happen in this book, the lovey-dovey stuff would have melted me. 
In the space of this novel, Adelina goes through so much character development, she just tore my heart into pieces. If we take away the murderous tendencies, I see a lot of myself in Adelina. Half of the time you want to slap her and the other half you want to wrap her in blankets and reassure her. She spends the whole novel having intrusive thoughts, thinking everyone is against her and wants her dead and because of this, she tries keeping everyone at arm’s length. However, the White Wolf’s heart is ultimately good and just shrouded in darkness – she wants to be loved and accepted. She even becomes jealous when Queen Maeve’s men salute her and won’t leave without her. I feel proud of Adelina at the end of this series and happy that I got to meet her. 
That brings me to the ending – I didn’t like it. I must admit, at first I was okay with it and then a day passed and I became angry. Angry that one of my favourite fictional characters ended up the way they did, that everything they went through came to nothing. Not just this character in particular, but I wanted to hear more about the other characters more than just how their appearances changed. I know that death in literature is the same as death in life – it’s unfair, it doesn’t have to have a meaning but I felt as though this was just rushed and it could have ended better if the book had been longer. It’s rare that a YA series finishes the way I want it to and this is no exception but I still respect the author’s decision and this was still a truly amazing trilogy that blows so many YA work out of the water. It is dark, gripping and exciting and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Love,

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

 

I think I can sum up these two books by saying they just make me happy. I can also easily say that these books won’t be for everyone – there’s not a lot of action or plot, it is about the characters, their relationships and their struggles. The events of this book take place soon after the ending of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and although there are a few references to the previous book, I think this could be read as a standalone. We now follow the stories of Sidra, an AI previously known as Lovelace as she comes to terms living in a synthetic body, with no memories of her previous life. Our second character is Pepper as she tells the story of how she was made and titled Jayne 23, one of many little girls created purely to work in factories across the galaxy. Overall, Becky Chambers delves into the world of AIs and sentient vs non-sentient beings – Sidra/Lovelace being created as an AI and Pepper being raised by them. 

It is a book of character development – Pepper being brought up by ‘Mother’ AIs and then Owl, an AI that saves her life and essentially becomes the most important person in her life – the mother she never had. We follow Pepper from the age of 10 as she escapes her compound prison and out into a world she has never seen before. Not even knowing what a sun or sky is, unable to read and used to only liquid meals, a voice appears from nowhere and becomes her saviour. Owl, an AI, programmed into a near crashed ship takes Jayne 23 under her wing (har har) and the two form a bond that lasts over nine years until they finally leave the desolate planet. This relationship killed me, destroyed me. Owl is the only person Jayne has despite only being a face on a screen. She teaches her everything, looks after her and even temporarily installs herself into a virtual gaming body so she could sit by Jayne. So many of their moments made me want to cry – they essentially save each other.

We also follow the relationship of Pepper and Blue and find out its origin but a new relationship formed between Sidra and Tak, an Aeluon tattoo-artist who essentially helps her come to terms with her new, synthetic body that she feels she doesn’t belong in. Becky Chambers writes these friendships that are so pure and full of understanding that you can’t help but feel happy. It was one of the strongest points in the first book and it has continued in the sequel. We also fall back into this galaxy of many different species, cultures and laws but the one thing remains, this is a book that focuses on the importance of consent, gender pronouns and sexuality. Throughout the story, Tak, being an Aeluon, regularly switches between genders and it is just a normal thing. These primarily sci-fi novels are more informative on important issues than most contemporary books. 

Overall, although I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the first one, it is still definitely a 5-star read for me. Everything Becky Chambers writes just blows my mind. She writes sci-fi without info-dumping, without epic space battles and yet still manages to construct these worlds and characters with so much depth that you can’t help but become emotionally-attached to them. Pepper, Blue, Sidra, Owl and Tak – people so different and yet bound together by trust and love. I’m not sure what the author has planned next but whatever it is, I’ll be first in line on release day. I want to thank her for allowing me to come back home amongst the pages of her story. 
This book will be released on October 20th
Love,

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

“But boys will be boys, our favourite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eye roll.” 



The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis is a young-adult contemporary bordering on the mystery/thriller genre. It is told in three perspectives – Alex Craft, a girl remembered solely for the murder of her sister, Jack Fisher, star athlete, valedictorian and the person every guy wants to be and every girls wants to be with and finally Peekay, nicknamed for being the Preacher’s Kid who is struggling to come to terms with heartbreak over her ex. Together, they tell the story of their senior year and how their lives come together and how it ultimately affects everyone.

I loved everything about this story. I read it in one day and I haven’t been hooked to a book that much in a long time. The plot, the writing, the characters – everything was just addictive. It does not fall into your typical YA coming-of-age story. Yes, it tells the story of three characters in their final year of high school and yes, there is drinking and sex and relationships and rivalry but the one thing Mindy McGinnis does is include horror. There are mentions of animal abuse, sexual assault and murder. It also deals with rape culture, slut-shaming and gender discrimination. Despite it being about teenagers, the author does not shy away from the violence and acts of justice humans are capable of.
Alex Craft is our morally grey character who isn’t afraid to punch somebody in the balls for touching her without permission, who attacks a man for drugging her friend and even kills her sister’s murderer. Since a child she has embraced her violent nature and yet she meets Peekay volunteering at an animal shelter and ultimately, is just a girl that cares too much. She can’t stand to live in a world where violent acts against women go unpunished. Jack is your typical valedictorian/star-athlete/popular guy who embodies boys will be boys and yet falls deeply and madly in love with Alex who will destroy anyone associated with that stereotype. This allows him to see typical male behaviour through new eyes. Peekay is the rebellious Preacher’s Kid who isn’t afraid to put the other girls down and feels like she needs to help people in the world. She misses her ex, has very supportive parents and is drawn to Alex and the way she sees the world. I love how complex she was and how much her character developed within the course of the story – she starts off hating Branley, the girl her ex left her for, even going as far as slut-shaming her and yet at the end, she is the one who helps and supports Branley when she needs support. Speaking of, Branley was such a refreshing character. She’s your typical Queen Bee, beautiful, heavily made-up popular girl who gets all the guys, including Jack but she is so multi-layered. She is just a young girl that wants to be loved and accepted, not just for how she looks. During as assembly about rape culture, some guys even shout that it is her who is most likely to be raped. There were times I wanted to scream at her for her actions but if anything, she’s the one character I was the most attached to emotionally.
Ultimately, this is a book about rape culture. When the justice system fails, can we step in? Can we take revenge into our own hands like Alex? One of the first conversations in this book explores the animal kingdom and how the female of the species are deadlier. Therefore, the story delves into animal vs human nature. How far can we go to protect those we love? Alex, who is capable of extreme violence in order to protect against Peekay who fantasises about violence and yet finds it doesn’t come naturally to her. The girls volunteer at an animal shelter and yet Jack works with his father in a slaughterhouse. This book is filled with parallels between the characters, acts of kindness vs acts of good.

The ending blew my bloody socks off and obviously I won’t go into details but let’s just say that I did not expect it. I started off really disliking and questioning what the author chose to do and if it had been any other book, it would have probably ruined it for me but for this book and the message it’s telling, it fits. Overall, I truly enjoyed this book and actually, I knew I would as soon as I read the synopsis. It is just my kind of story and it’s already much-loved in the Goodreads community. The author was very brave to write this novel and her hard work paid off. The writing flowed perfectly and although it was split between three perspectives, each character had their own unique voice. This was definitely one of my favourite reads in 2016 and I’m looking forward to see what else Mindy McGinnis releases in the future.

Love,

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

      “How many times have you told me you’re a monster? 
     So be a monster. Be the thing they all fear when they close their eyes at night.” 

*Becky’s thoughts*
The ending of Six of Crows guaranteed that Crooked Kingdom would be about one simple but necessary thing: revenge. And hey, the revenge in this book was sweet

Crooked Kingdom plays out in quite a different way from Six of Crows – where the first book shows the gang’s planning and journey to pull of one main heist in the Ice Court, Crooked Kingdom is made up of many smaller heists, tricks, sabotages, escapes and bargains around Ketterdam, leading up to the final play in a long game. It is written in an even more complex style than the first book, with more point of view characters, more of Kaz’s hidden tricks and plans, and in some ways, even higher stakes than in Six of Crows. In the first book, the dangers of Fjerda and the Ice Court added pressure to the gangs mission; in Crooked Kingdom, they are fighting for their lives in their own home, many of them fighting for a way out of the country without getting a bullet through their head due to the numerous wanted posters scattered around Ketterdam that feature their names and faces. 
Although a good chunk of Six of Crows was set in Ketterdam, and there was an incredible amount of world building of the city in that book, Leigh manages to expand it even more in Crooked Kingdom. I feel as though I know that city so well that I’ve visited it a few times, am planning my next trip, and considering buying a holiday home in West Stave. 
Now, onto the main focus of Crooked Kingdom: the characters. I absolutely adored all six members of the gang in Six of Crows, and after Crooked Kingdom, I just love them all even more. The character development in this book was out of this world, as well as the building of the friendships and relationships between them all. Characters that already had multi-layered stories are given even more complex pasts, and with those pasts come their weaknesses. On the topic of character development, I am so happy that Wylan had his own POV chapters in this book. I loved being able to finally see into his little innocent brain. 
All three ships that were established in Six of Crows, in my opinion, played out perfectly (for the most part). Nothing is rushed between any of the couples and it is just so realistic, something that you don’t often see in relationships in young adult books.
By the end of Crooked Kingdom, I definitely wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Wylan, Nina and Matthias. However, if I had to say goodbye to them, the ending of this book was definitely the best way to do so. I won’t go into detail, but the second to last chapter left me with happy-tears pouring down my face in the middle of a packed train (a girl opposite me later asked if I was enjoying the book I was reading, and I think I sort of hiccuped in her direction. Hopefully that’ll be a good enough recommendation and she’ll be stuck into this series right now). I’m still kind of hoping that some sort of spin-off will be announced (Ms. Bardugo, I hope you’re listening), but for now, I’m just going to go and cry in a corner again and fondly remember my favourite gang of misfits. 

*Angharad’s thoughts*
Unfortunately for me, Crooked Kingdom was released during my biggest reading slump this year which meant it took me about twenty years to complete. I’m going to start off by saying I did not enjoy the plot itself as much as Six of Crows, however, the character development in this sequel was off the charts – both the characters as individuals and their friendships/romances. I thoroughly enjoyed the heist in Six of Crows as the whole book worked up to that one heist, whereas in Crooked Kingdom, it was about the gang dismantling various players in Ketterdam. There were a lot of twists and turns and a lot of things going on which is difficult to do as readers, such as myself, can enjoy some aspects more than others.

The characters of this duology are probably some of my all time favourite fictional characters. Kaz, my super intelligent, beautiful, damaged crow boy who secretly cares so much about his Dregs but can’t show it. Inej, my darling Wraith with her beautiful Suli proverbs and incredible skill-set who is the kindest person ever. Nina, my curvy bisexual princess who is literally me when somebody takes away her chocolate biscuits. Jesper who will flirt with anyone with a pulse but is too in love with Wylan. Matthias, my blond wolf boy who spends majority of his time drooling over Nina (same) and finally Wylan, who is a golden retriever puppy in human form. Even Kuwei who the gang take under their wings. They make me so happy, they are all so damaged and broken and have had such hard lives but they come together and they understand each other, they work together to achieve the impossible and most importantly, they love each other. My little misfit children will always have a special place in my heart. I mean, Kaz is a morally-grey, disabled character, both Inej and Jesper are confirmed POC and Jesper and Nina are bisexual. The diversity in just two books is fantastic.
There are three main ships in this duology and although they were set up in Six of Crows, they developed beautifully in the sequel. None of them were rushed and no couple were the same. The relationships are built on trust and are slow-burning. Nina and Matthias have a beautiful domesticity amongst the gang, completely comfortable in their love for each other. Wylan and Jesper just constantly flirt and Wylan constantly blushes but it’s the most innocent and lovely thing ever. Kaz and Inej are perfect for each other – two sides of the same coin and their slow-burning relationship (which made me happy cry in the end) has made them one of my all time favourite YA couples. I have to also mention the friendships in this group – Inej and Jesper having this beautiful understanding, Nina and Inej comforting each other like sisters and Matthias finding his home amongst people who he was taught to hate. Amongst the fast-paced plot was the Dregs and their trust in one another and to me, that was the heart of the duology.


Show Spoiler

Overall, I did enjoy this book but if I had to choose, I preferred the events of Six of Crows. However, Leigh Bardugo has once again put herself at the top of YA fiction – her writing is flawless and her characters are diverse. I have fallen in love with the universe she has created and just pray that she is planning on more novels set in the Grishaverse. For now, I’m going to go ahead and reread the Grisha trilogy whilst missing my Dregs terribly.

Have you read this duology? If so, what are your thoughts?
Love,

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

“We believe the one who has the power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”

 

Homegoing is the debut novel of African author Yaa Gyasi. A historical-fiction novel that follows the story of a family though generations starting with half-sisters, Esi and Effia, two women with very different destinies – Effia marries an English slave trader and Esi herself is sold into slavery. They never meet and yet the generations that came after them tell their stories. The book gives us a look at the colonialism and slavery that took place across Africa and America over the course of 250 years. It is raw and honest and it’s clear that this is a very important topic to the author and her family. It isn’t an easy read, it is heartbreaking and infuriating but it is a necessary read, especially in terms of diversity.
Yaa Gyasi managed to achieve in just over 300 pages what many authors have struggled with – writing chapters from numerous perspectives (each chapter has a different narrator, following the family tree as it descends) and yet allowing us to connect with them and their story on an emotional level. No character was uninteresting, no chapter gave us an info-dump about its narrator. The author allows each character to tell their individual stories, show us their culture and their struggles and how their family’s history has affected them. On paper, it sounds like a disaster but in terms of multiple perspectives, this book would be in my top five with how well executed it was. I loved every character and their voice but I was also excited for the next character and seeing how each member of this family tree connected to the other.
For a debut novel, this book was incredible. Yes, it is full of violence, brutality and horror. It shows, unflinchingly, how slaves were treated so in theory, this isn’t a happy story. However, the end had me smiling with tears in my eyes. One of those endings that is bittersweet and almost as though the whole story had formed a complete circle from Effia and Esi to Majorie and Marcus. There are some moments of pure joy in this novel, there was a silver lining in the love these characters had for each other, their children, their grandchildren. I learned about Ghana, the old cultures and tribes which is something that isn’t common in everyday fiction. No character was suppressed, each had their own struggle but each had a voice and it was almost as though every member of this bloodline came together.

Overall, this book was eye-opening, informative and heart-wrenching. Although we only spent a short amount of time with each person, Yaa Gyasi managed to make them real and interesting which some authors fail to do with just one character. Her writing was beautiful and flowed effortlessly, she didn’t shy away from the horrors these characters suffered and yet the one thing that connected them all was the love that flowed through the bloodline. It is clear that Gyasi put her heart and soul into this book and it is clear from the very first chapter to the last. If she wants to publish her shopping list next, I’d happily read it. Pick this book up, support it and its author and just get ready for a hard but rewarding journey through generations.

Love,

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

“No sapient could sustain happiness all of the time, just as no one could live permanently within anger, or boredom, or grief.”  
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is an adult science-fiction novel that follows the story of a crew aboard the Wayfarer, a ship whose job it is to tunnel through space. This isn’t your average sci-fi novel – it doesn’t consist of twists and turns and epic space battles but focuses more on the crew and their characterisation. This may put some people off but this book was everything and more, in my opinion and has definitely become an all-time favourite of mine.
This book is definitely not plot-driven. It centres more on the characters separately and also as a whole. It is the story of their journey and our journey as we are welcomed into their world. We see their world as Rosemary does, with fresh eyes. We learn with her and eventually, we even feel accepted into the family alongside her.
One of my favourite dynamics in any book is family dynamics and this book had it. You have this crew of very different people, not just their species but their backgrounds, their beliefs, their genders, their sexualities and yet they form this beautiful space family. Rosemary, a Martian woman trying to escape her past. Sissix, an Aandrisk pilot and the only one of her kind on the ship. Ashby, the Captain of the Wayfarer and also a pacifist dealing with his distant love. Ohan, a Sianat pair who can navigate the stars. Dr Chef, a Grum who basically feeds and looks after the crew. Kizzy and Jenks, the ship’s version of mechanics and even Lovey, a sentient AI who runs the ship and dreams of having a human body. Together, they are the space version of misfits but their relationships transcend the planets they travel through.
Gender pronouns are not only important in this world but they are also normalised. A person/species isn’t labelled a gender until they confirm it and some species even identify as both a male and a female during their lifespan. Ohan is referred to as ‘they’ due to being a Sianat pair without question. I was beaming like an idiot! This is a sci-fi book that not only deals with the intergalactic but also with modern-day subjects without preaching. Even racial slurs are touched upon as this world has their own version of them. In one of the very first chapters, a crew member is shut down by the Captain after using a slur.
We find out about the history of every species in this world without info-dumping!! We find out everything from their diets, religions, how they raise children, how family dynamics work even their individual languages. I’ve never known a book to include so much information without it being in big, boring chunks. I was so invested in each species and their differences. Something else I loved is that humans are probably the least common species in this book and they are the ones who are often questioned. This was such an interesting touch to any other book ever, for once humans aren’t at the centre. Overall, in no way do I wish this book could have had more of a plot and that surprises me. Discovering the Wayfarer in this book was kind of like discovering Hogwarts, you just wish it was real and the people were real because it feels like home. I was emotionally connected to the family that lived within its walls and am so desperately excited for the sequel.
Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?
Let us know in the comments!
Love,

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

 

+ Angharad’s thoughts +
This book is a collection of poetry split into four parts: hurting, loving, breaking and healing. It is combined with beautiful illustrations that I just want tattooed all over my body. I must admit I’m not usually a huge fan of poetry. For me to like it, I need to connect with it and I connected to this book from its first poem. It hurt my heart in ways I didn’t know a heart could hurt. I experienced everything with the author, every emotion, every revelation, every hurt. I hurt, I loved, I broke and I healed alongside her. Things got close to home but in a beautiful way. Rupi Kaur reminds us to love ourselves and love one another, to accept our femininity, to be okay with our broken parts. She encourages women to love one another but most importantly, for us to love ourselves. As she says ‘you are your own soulmate.’ A line so simple and yet something that we so often forget to remember.

This book is important to me, I want to clutch it to my heart and thank it. It is honest and raw. It is eye-opening and it is addictive. I think every person, especially every woman should read this book. Rupi Kaur doesn’t shy away from all the parts that make a woman. The miracles our bodies can perform, the pain that we can withstand. All the horribly beautiful things that make us. I’m happy a book of poetry like this exists, written by a woman who has known pain but has also known healing.

we are all born so beautiful
the greatest tragedy is being convinced we are not.

 

 


+ Becky’s thoughts +

 

I’ve been a fan of Rupi Kaur’s work for a while now, after seeing many of her poems on Instagram and always being to relate to them in some way. I’m so glad that I finally decided to pick up Milk and Honey so I could read more of her work – although I can appreciate some poetry every now and then, I’m not the biggest fan of it and I’ve never read a poetry book until now. Despite that, I’m confident that this was the best possible book of poetry I could have read. I jumped straight into this book and read it in one sitting, and then went back and read the entire thing again. These poems made me feel so many things, and many of them felt like they’d been plucked right from my own thoughts.
Milk and Honey’s overall theme is one of relationships; from how they begin to how they end, and all of the hurt and healing that happens in between and during those two defining moments. It focuses on mental health, feminism, and emotional and physical pain. It looks at relationships within families as well as with spouses, and how the ruination of one could affect the other throughout someone’s life. 
 
“If you were born with the weakness to fall you were born with the strength to rise.” 
 
 
Have you read this book? If so, what were your thoughts?

Love,