Friday, December 29, 2017

Review: Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

Firstly, thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for this review copy <3




Date Read: December 20 - 28 2017
Date Released: December 27th 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Contemporary
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"A contemporary novel about a girl whose high school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream leads her to new friends—and maybe even new love.

The day of the last party of the summer, Claudia overhears a conversation she wasn't supposed to. Now on the wrong side of one of the meanest girls in school, Claudia doesn't know what to expect when the two are paired up to write a paper—let alone when they're both forced to try out for the school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

But mandatory participation has its upsides—namely, an unexpected friendship, a boy band obsession, and a guy with the best dimpled smile Claudia's ever seen. As Claudia's world starts to expand, she finds that maybe there are some things worth sticking her neck out for."

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I still remember picking up Mills’ debut novel First & Then and being completely in awe of her simple yet sophisticated style and engaging characters. Foolish Heart is her third book and Mills is really showcasing her talent and ability to expand the way she writes personalities.

I found Foolish Hearts to be a bit different to her previous two books – First & Then, This Adventure Ends – in that while those two were definitely more plot focused (adjusting to a new family member and finding a painting respectively), Foolish Hearts was definitely more character focused. This is not something I regularly see in American books which are plot focused while Aussie contemporaries are more character driven, hence I found this very refreshing.

Claudia Wallace was an interesting character and at first, I didn’t think I’d like her. She was so ordinary and seemed like the wallflower type before the story really got going. As someone who’s not rich but goes to a prestigious school she kind of hides and tries to be invisible, not making an effort to make any friends despite it being her senior year. She observes and hangs back but whenever someone asked her to do something she’d do it and she came across as a bit of doormat. But then the story progresses and I realise she’s a genuinely nice person. She cares about other people and she’s also got an awesome sense of humour - +1 to anybody who speaks sarcasm. When someone really gets to know her, they know they’ve found a true friend in Claudia Wallace – she’s the person who’ll give you a lift when you’ve no one to drive you home, who will listen when you have problems, who has a wicked sense of humour when you need to hear a good joke. I also loved that she’s a nerd – SHE GAMES. She is extremely passionate about this MMORPG called Battle Quest and I was like omg you love this game like I love mapulsutoriii *hums MapleStory login theme song* (to be fair Battle Quest has way more purpose than Maple… actually on second thought what MMORPG doesn’t have more purpose than Maple?)

Anyway poor Claudia gets stuck helping out with her school’s joint production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with their brother school as extra credit for her poor co-written essay with Iris. Iris was such a well-written character. Kind of hate her because she’s a bitch who says some really scathing things and has no filter, but kind of love her too because she says it like it is and once Claudia/the reader got to know her, Iris is actually trying. She’s the kind of person who looks at a situation and doesn’t need to be told twice to get it, she’ll do the right thing. Iris also has an amazingly fascinating obsession with a boyband called TION (This Is Our Now… is that like 1D in Mill’s world?) and the singer Kenji. I could relate to this because I love my Korean boybands… not at the Iris Huang level though… but still! Her passion!

Senior year is definitely the year everything changes for Claudia though because not only does she get landed with Iris but she catches the attention of popular boy Gideon Prewitt from the brother school. And ohmygod does Mills write the most uniquely lovely boys. When we’re first introduced to the full force that is Gideon Prewitt I thought he was going to be one of those fake nice boys who plays with girls’ feelings, knows he’s hot and does drugs just because he’s a rich kid. I was so wrong. This boy is so genuinely sweet, lovely and full of excitement I fell in love with him so easily. He is extremely thoughtful, considerate of his friends and doesn’t hide his feelings to be ‘manly’. You know when guys tease each other about liking a girl in front of everyone and they get all weird about it and deny it? Gideon is the kind of guy who will earnestly say yes, he likes her. And that I find, shows a guy who feels confident in his own skin and is genuine about his feelings. This makes the romance immensely adorable and there was a lot of squealing on my part because there are so many moments that could have turned out differently HAHA. Like to the point where I’m like, is anything ever gonna happen? So cute guys, SO CUTE.

Foolish Hearts also has one of the best family dynamics I’ve ever seen. Claudia has quite a decent relationship with her parents but it’s her relationship with her siblings I enjoyed. She games with her brother Alex and their older sister Julia and her husband Mark! They go on quests and run dungeons together along with Claude’s best friend from pre-school, Zoe. It’s a different way of bonding with each other, learning how to work together in your different character classes to battle bosses. Alex is a great brother to Claudia, protecting her and while Julia may not live at home anymore, they obviously all care about one other what with the constant calls and texts like you’d have with friends. Great family dynamics like this aren’t usually explored and despite their non-constant presence, Mills managed to really give their personalities depth.

Another aspect I really appreciated was the amount of diversity Mills explored. I acknowledge that her previous books didn’t have as much of this (I recall This Adventure Ends had gender diversity) and it kind of felt like it was included amidst all the outcry of whitewashing in books. However, I think Mills did diversity right. There’s diversity of class, of race, of sexual orientation but it’s never used as an excuse for anything or as a plot device. These characters just are and don’t impede on the overall story.

All of this to set to the backdrop of the progress of turning A Midsummer’s Night Dream into a fully-fledged production. Friendships are formed in rehearsals, whilst sewing costumes and practicing lines. Romance is lowkey forming watching each other on stage and interact with others. There’s misunderstandings and drama… just like a Shakespearean comedy!

With the genius that Mills has established early on and continues to display, Foolish Hearts is like a standard high school romance but when you look closely, resembles a piece of literature the book heavily references. With a cast of stunningly unique and memorable characters, Foolish Hearts is a lovely contemporary that further cements Emma Mills as a truly talented YA writer.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Review: Unearthed (Unearthed #1) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Firstly, thanks to Allen & Unwin for this review copy <3



Date Read: September 30 - October 9 2017
Date Released: December 1st 2017
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Sci-fi
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying's advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study... as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don't loot everything first. Mia and Jules' different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race's secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race..."

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If there’s one thing Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (from here on out referred to A&M for Amie and Meg) can do well, it’s writing a high stakes space opera. Fast spaced, action-packed and romantic, Unearthed is one book that had me on the edge of my seat the whole time.

Amelia may only be 16 but she’s lived a hard life. She’s basically a scavenger and relies on this lifestyle to get by. She’s quick to act and not naïve. I liked her untrusting personality and cynical nature which gave a realistic impression of her world. Her street smarts gave her an edge on Gaia and showed that being book smart isn’t everything (although she’s a great logistician too).

Jules was a harder one for me to like. I couldn’t fathom how a guy who is so learned could be so sheltered as to not realise how badly Earth was falling apart? Like here’s a guy who plays water polo and is surprised when many of the luxuries he’s experienced are unknown to Mia. It was like something on the back of his mind while he studied at Oxford and lived his privileged life that the majority of the United States had no electricity or clean drinking water. He’s on this mission to basically save Earth yet it hasn’t kicked in for him that Earth really needed saving from what I gathered. To him, his research purposes were far more important. Thus, he definitely annoyed me when he used his ‘moral standing’ to justify the need to do things for research. I was like duuuude get off your high horse and get your nose out of the book because your book smarts, while theoretically great are going to get you killed because you can’t think fast on your feet *eye roll* Ok Jules rant over sorry. He does have his good side though. Naïve from one perspective but innocent and pure from another. He’s really sweet and kind and so loveable, kind of like a cinnamon roll.

There’s a cast of sub characters that add to the chase but in a fashion similar to Starbound, the story is really about Mia and Jules. I mean I kind of cared for a few but let’s be honest, we all know I was in it for Mia and Jules.

The plot definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. The story is a series of puzzles to solve with one overarching mystery tying it all together and I loved the way Mia and Jules came together to solve them. The puzzles get more bizarre as they kind of get more and more… familiar? That’s the most I can say without spoilers. I thought it was extremely clever how A&M came up with these puzzles and how everything comes together because plots like this are just asking for plot holes. I couldn’t spot any though! I really think they had their bases covered.

I’m not going to say the plot overall was particularly ground-breaking for me. The mystery was something I’d already figured out early on in the story – within the first 3 chapters-ish – so reading on was to see it all unravel and how everything came together by the end. It was definitely cool and most of my questions were answered although the ending – what a cliffhanger! Typical A&M let’s be honest.

I’m definitely excited for Unnamed/the next book to see how this gets wrapped up. Unearthed is a great high stakes chase novel with a mystery that kept me turning the pages throughout. There’s sass, romance, puzzles til the end and it was just so fun!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6) by Sarah J. Maas

Firstly, thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for this review copy <3


Date Read: September 19 - 29 2017
Date Released: September 5th 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since Aelin shattered the glass castle, since Chaol's men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken.

Now he and Nesryn sail for Antica – the stronghold of the southern continent's mighty empire and of the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme. It's Chaol's one shot at recovery, and with war looming back home, Dorian and Aelin's survival could depend on Chaol and Nesryn convincing Antica's rulers to ally with them.

But what they discover there will change them both – and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined."

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There were times I debated not reading Tower of Dawn because Chaol Westfall is my favourite character in the TOG series and the way he’s been treated since the end of Heir of Fire/beginning of Queen of Shadows has me really disappointed. Crown of Midnight was wonderful and the events in there definitely put a rift between Celaena and Chaol, but the complete 180 these two had in feelings for each other between one book and the next just didn’t make sense. It was drastic and it felt forced. However, I love these books for the world and the plot that has me at the edge of my seat and I was very curious about the Southern Continent. I’m so glad I decided to pick up ToD; I initially thought this was a parallel to Empire of Storms as a #5.5 but the events in ToD are actually crucial to the story and plot.

Bitter. That is one word I’d use to describe Chaol when Tower of Dawn opens. He’s full of disappointment and self-loathing after the cumulative events of the books and then this spinal injury at the end of Queen of Shadows. Arriving at the royal court of the Southern Continent, he not only hopes to walk again, but he’s tasked with trying to win over the khaganate and amass an army to help Aelin’s cause. It’s a difficult journey both physically, mentally and emotionally – he’s harbouring dark emotions from when he first left Anielle and there’s layers and layers of negativity he needs to get through. As the previous Captain of the Royal Guard, he didn’t play any political games so the khagan’s children really have him frustrated with their deceptions and mind games.

I think Yrene is the first female protagonist (well one of the main cast) SJM has introduced who is not a fighter, but a healer. Celaena, Aelin, Manon, Lysandra, Nesyrn, even Nehemia (let’s not talk about poor Sorscha), knew how to fight in some shape or form. Yrene has only ever held a knife for surgical purposes so it was quite different seeing this gentle woman who was fierce in her own way. She’s amazing at what she does and well loved by the people of Antica. As her and Chaol’s story intertwines she learns a lot about herself, about healers and her ancestry. I can’t wait to see what SJM has in store for her.

The royal family are really an interesting lot though. There’s the sly princess Hasar who is Yrene’s friend; their friendship is kind of weird because I could tell they cared about each other but Hasar clearly had the upperhand and as a royal she was conniving and would occasionally manipulate Yrene. Then there’s steadfast Kashin who has this crush on Yrene and it would be cute if he wasn’t so politically powerful. My favourite was definitely Sartaq who’s charming and quiet BUT HE RIDES A RUK. HE GETS TO RID AN ENORMOUS GOLDEN BIRD WHO IS PRECIOUS. Like I fell in love with Kadara immediately, she’s loyal, intelligent and described by Sartaq as clucky. One of my absolute favs was Hafiza, the Healer on High, this extremely wise and gentle woman who is the most powerful healer on the Southern Continent. She embodies goodness and I hope to see more of her in the future books. Then there’s Shen who’s a minor character but I find helps put Chaol’s situation into perspective. There’s definitely heaps of characters and they’re more diverse than in her previous books. I do think that they all have a purpose no matter how many characters SJM introduces.

I’ll never get off my Chaolaena ship but I could see where this romance comes from. It’s one of healing and acceptance, facing inner-truths and darkness. There’s actually two romantic storylines going on and I’m grateful. The other one is freeing and adventurous, perfect for this particular character. I was definitely shipping this second romance a lot more!

The Southern Continent is a really different place and I’m glad SJM expanded on her world to include a more diverse culture. It’s kind of like oriental and Middle Eastern? The world-building is fabulous, the khaganate having a long history of being smart enough to embrace all the cultures of these southern lands to ensure peace but also showing force when required to quell discord. We get to see the mountains and deserts surrounding Antica as well as exploring the bustling city. As usual, the writing is gorgeous and lovely, with in-depth imagery to heighten our senses. The food was what got me, my goodness do I really want to eat from one of those street vendors, or sit at a restaurant, or try some of Cook’s delicacies in the Torre Cesme. There’s mint tea, and spiced meats and honeyed pastries AND I JUST DROOOOOOOOOL.

Of course underpinning all this FUN (because who doesn’t love flying on birds, exploring new cities and EATING?) is the pressing threat of the Valg. The overarching Throne of Glass story continues which is why this book actually needs to be read after Empire of Storms and before the last ToG. There are like REVELATIONS that are so important to the story and had me shook.

Tower of Dawn is a book of healing, of facing your inner darkness and truths. Set against the glorious sunburned backdrop of the Southern Continent, in typical SJM fashion, this book had me on the edge of my seat the whole way through. I can’t wait to see how this series finishes!