Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Firstly, thanks to Black & White Publishing for this review copy <3


Date Read: March 22 - 24 2018
Date Released: April 5th 2018
Publisher: Ink Road
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Contemporary
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves."

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Starfish had great biracial and mental health representation and I found it to be an important contemporary overall that tackled difficult issues.

Oh boy was Kiko a hard character to read from. She’s going through so much – but it wasn’t her social anxiety, the abuse she suffered at an early age, or the fact that her mother is a horrible human being that made Starfish so hard to read (those factors definitely contribute). It was the fact that she was going through all this and she didn’t have anybody to help her. This was BLEAK. And it was an honest portrayal of what many teens are going through. I thought Kiko’s social anxiety was very well done. I could definitely relate to a lot of the situations she was in: not being to express what she was thinking and not wanting to because of the position it would put her in. Hating the spotlight, not wanting to go out because there are PEOPLE and it’s hella awkward and you kind of know people aren’t looking at you, but your brain is saying they are so you’re hella self-conscious and just NOPE take me home. She’s such a brave character, basically taking the brunt of everything because she feels like she has to but at the same time it was ruining her inside. Her character definitely grows a lot throughout her journey, being away from her family helps A LOT. I LOVED that at the end, her social anxiety isn’t ‘fixed’ because you just can’t fix some things, but she feels better and surer about herself.

I thought Bowman’s portrayal of relationships and interactions was very accurate. It’s hard for Kiko to communicate with others and they understandably get frustrated or don’t understand why she’s ‘shy’. I liked the way her best friend Emery really tried to be understanding, was patient and stuck by Kiko. Kiko’s family though, wow what a messy home life. I really wish Kiko’s father had tried harder with Kiko and her siblings knowing their mother (we’ll get to her soon) and it broke my heart that parents, who are the ones that are meant to be always there for us, were the biggest failures here. And it also hurt to Kiko’s older brother escaping and leaving Kiko to deal with their mother and shield her younger brother. I found it cowardly and weak that he didn’t really try to see if his younger siblings were ok. At the same time, I could understand that Kiko didn’t know how to reach out, her family were quite disconnected especially as her parents had divorced when she was young so everybody kind of did their own thing.

The romance was cute af. Jamie’s a lovely human being and it really helped Kiko to have him back. He saw most of her, but he wasn’t perfect – he didn’t completely understand her anxiety. I loved that he tried, cared, was so sweet but at the end of the day, love doesn’t make everything better. He definitely had his own demons to deal with, and things would have been much better if he communicated with Kiko instead of trying to deal with everything on his own. Ah the importance of communication and being open and honest.

Where this book fell apart for me was Kiko’s mother. I know there are definitely people out there like her, but what I didn’t understand was how nobody around her made her stop and assess herself? She’s an absolutely horrible person. I mean what woman doesn’t believe her own daughter when she comes to you crying about something as serious as abuse? She clearly needed therapy/help for the way she psychologically and emotionally abused the people around her. The people around her saw it. Kiko’s father clearly knew but he left. Kiko and her siblings are left to deal with her. This part was just unbelievable. Why? Well, Kiko’s home life isn’t actually bad, her mother aside. Her mother can clearly provide for 3 children without trouble. In all her verbal abuse she doesn’t actually complain about financial hardship. She can afford for Kiko’s younger brother to go to taekwando lessons, afford to redecorate the house which can easily house 5 people. All these social constructs imply a stable and good paying job. Not to mention she cares about her appearance, wears makeup and seems to buy nice clothes. Now, with a personality like that you can only fake being ‘nice’ for so long. There’s a short mention of Kiko’s mother having an argument with someone at work but otherwise she doesn’t have trouble at work. There’s also no mention of her going between jobs. My scepticism arises with how her mother can be horrible at home, so manipulative but not display a single bit of this at work? There is only so much that can be faked long-term before the cracks begin to show. I get this is a work of fiction but it didn’t make sense to me that Kiko’s mother could have gone on so long unchecked. Stuff like this eventually bleeds into work life.

Ok rant about Kiko’s mother over we can go back to all the awesome stuff about this book. I loved how California and being away from her mother helped Kiko see the world clearly. Being immersed in art and exposure to good, wholesome people does wonders for a person’s psyche. Loved the art descriptions and the exploration of artistic places around Cali. Despite being half-Japanese, Kiko was never exposed to her Japanese side as a result of her racist mother. Her first ever visit to Chinatown and being amongst other East Asians was a real eye-opened. Manga, boba, Asian food, it felt like home for Bowman to write about these things.

Despite my issues with Kiko’s mother, I enjoyed Starfish for its accurate representation of mental health and exploration of Japanese culture, friendship and art.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Review: Only Human (Themis Files #3) by Svlvain Neuvel

Firstly, thanks to Penguin Random House for this review copy <3



Date Read: February 2 -7 2018
Date Released: May 1st 2018
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Science fiction
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"In her childhood, Rose Franklin accidentally discovered a giant metal hand buried beneath the ground outside Deadwood, South Dakota. As an adult, Dr. Rose Franklin led the team that uncovered the rest of the body parts which together form Themis: a powerful robot of mysterious alien origin. She, along with linguist Vincent, pilot Kara, and the unnamed Interviewer, protected the Earth from geopolitical conflict and alien invasion alike. Now, after nearly ten years on another world, Rose returns to find her old alliances forfeit and the planet in shambles. And she must pick up the pieces of the Earth Defense Corps as her own friends turn against each other."

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DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW IF YOU HAVE NOT READ WAKING GODS. I REPEAT DO NOT. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS FOR WAKING GODS. 

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Ok so this is going to turn into a mess of a review because I don’t even know how to talk about my feelings properly.

From a 10 year-old girl falling into a hole and discovering a giant robotic hand, to this, I can’t believe we’ve come full circle and the Themis Files are over. There’s this bittersweet feeling left in me because my gosh does this series fly and I feel like I’ve watched these characters grow old while I’m left in the past and it hurts. But it’s also immensely satisfying to see them come so far. And let me tell you Only Human was a damn perfect ending.

There’s a significant time jump again from the end of Waking Gods to when Only Human starts and I admit I kind of did a double take when I realised how old Vincent is. (And Rose and Eva too of course but my gosh Vincent.) He’s a really stand out character to me because I remember not liking his young-self much at the beginning of Sleeping Giants and he’s now my fav; Vincent has changed so much and to see that he’s also aged so much felt surreal – like he wasn’t much older than me in Sleeping Giants?! Omg. All he wants to do is protect Eva and he’s honestly doing the best he can. I have so much respect for him. Fatherhood was just shoved on him, but he took it in stride and he tries so hard – whether he succeeds is a different story (I personally think he does). Love love LOVE the way Neuvel has developed his character, there is such growth from Sleeping Giants but he’s still the same Vincent who obsesses over details (the linguist in him). His heart has expanded a tonne. You know what really hurts though? Knowing that Vincent will always be older than Kara… and one day Eva will be too. I just started crying when I realised that.

Eva’s grown up into an independent young woman with very strong opinions. She’s definitely rebellious and has completely different views to Vincent. She may not always be right (I thought she had a na├»ve and skewed perspective of the world) but nobody can blame her given her dysfunctional upbringing and what she’s had to endure. There’s the world she was born in and the world where she’s grown up and spent most of her life so it’s no surprise where her loyalties lie. For her there’s only ever one home. She really embodies the rebellious teen image haha.

While Rose faced a lot of internal conflict in Waking Gods, she’s become a constant in Only Human. She’s finally settled into her own skin and accepted who she is. Throughout Only Human I found her to be the voice of reason like she was back in Sleeping Giants. It felt grounding to finally have level-headed Rose back as I felt like she was the one who held not only the gang together, but the story itself. The way Neuvel wrote her character was seriously amazing. Rose had the perfect balance of a brilliant mind that was ethical and moral. She’s juxtaposed against some pretty intense characters – Alyssa who we’ve witnessed in the previous books as purely research driven and will do anything to get the scientific results; new character Katherine who works for Russian intelligence and seems like a regular manipulating, somewhat sadistic human being who only listens to the top. Rose shows that humans can still be humane, putting people before science, that a person can still be manipulated by superiors but end up doing the right thing.

There is no villain in Only Human, or in the series overall really, but in this last book it’s really about humanity being pitted against one another. I think that’s what makes the Themis Files so fascinating and different to me – Neuvel tackles current issues of race and extends that to our species and what does it mean if human isn’t human? What makes us human? What is humanity? There is no one answer but I think Neuvel is able to portray differences of humans versus aliens to say, collectively this is what it means to be human.

I would have loved more world-building on Esat Ekt but I can understand why Neuvel didn’t concentrate on this – this series has always been about the people and their thoughts/feelings. The glimpses we did get of Esat Ekt through the characters’ journal entries was definitely interesting, kudos to Neuvel to creating a planet similar to Earth but not the same.

I still can’t believe this trilogy is over. Does humanity come out on top? Or do we end up decimating each other using alien technology at no fault but our own? You really need to read this finale to find out.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review: Ash Princess (Ash Princess #1) by Laura Sebastian

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


Date Read: April 5 - 14 2018
Date Released: April 24th 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"Princess. Prisoner. Orphan. Rebel.

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia's land and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess - a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.

For ten years Theo has been a captive in her own palace. She's endured the relentless abuse and ridicule of the Kaiser and his court. She is powerless, surviving in her new world only by burying the girl she was deep inside.

Then, one night, the Kaiser forces her to do the unthinkable. With blood on her hands and all hope of reclaiming her throne lost, she realizes that surviving is no longer enough. But she does have a weapon: her mind is sharper than any sword.

And power isn't always won on the battlefield.

"Tense and imaginative. Ash Princess is a smart, feminist twist on a traditional tale of a fallen heroine, with plenty of court intrigue, love, and lies to sweeten the deal. Good luck putting this one down." Virginia Boecker, author of the Witch Hunter series."

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2018 is really setting the bar for debuts, I keep reading great book after great book and Ash Princess has joined my list of 2018 faves. Ash Princess was a chilling, dark take on your princess-takes-back-stolen-throne tale and I loved every moment of it.

Princess Theodosia watched her mother be murdered in front of her and she’s lived with her mother’s murderers for the last 10 years. She’s a prisoner in her home and literally had her identity physically whipped from her. Her spirit is basically broken but she still gets up each day with that tiny spark of hope left in her and faces her tormenters. Her strength lies not in her ability to fight (because she can’t) but in the way she strategises and plans. All her time in the palace watching has taught her people’s tells and she uses those to her advantage. Theo also understands the true meaning of being a ruler – her life is not her own, her life belongs to her people. And so she gets up everyday knowing her people are still out there and enslaved. I deeply admired the strength of her character, her bravery, political savvy and selflessness.

Theo’s best friend, Cress, was an interesting character to read about. The daughter of the man who murdered Theo’s mother, Cress is actually Theo’s closest friend in the palace. She’s all about looking pretty and pretending all the horrors her father and the man he serves aren’t happening. She doesn’t really have a choice and tries to combat the cruelties the Kaiser inflicts on Theo by protecting Theo from others and ensuring she gets nice things. I didn’t know what to make of her but I do think she’s smart – she knew she couldn’t win so she plays the game her way. Cress is smarter than she looks but at the end of the day she’s still kind of petty and all she wants is to be the next Kaiserin which is how she was brought up. I appreciated her attempts at kindness but at the end of the day I do think her upbringing and Kalovaxian background overshadowed the tyranny of her people.

There’s a love triangle and you can picture me wrinkling my nose because I’m not a fan of them. This one is ok and understandable but at the same time not entirely necessary. I mean I obviously have a ship WHICH I HOPE SAILS. Like ohmygoodness my ship better sail because I’ve had so many ships sink already but if it doesn’t then I just want Theo to be queen standing on her own two feet k thanks. I looove the guy I’ve got my money on because he doesn’t try to hide his feelings, he’s honest and upfront about them which gives me all kind of mushy feels ya know?

All of this plays out in the palace of Theo’s birthright, stolen from her by the tyrannical Kalovaxian Kaiser. The guy is a horrifying piece of work, ruling through fear and brutality. He’s disgusting and a very straightlaced villain which I’m hoping Sebastian expands on in the future stories – I’d like to know a bit more about how he became the way he is so his character has more dimension. The Theyn, Cress’s father and the Kaiser’s right-hand man definitely intrigued me though. He does as ordered but there are signs he doesn’t enjoy the blood like the Kaiser does. Then there’s the Kaiserin who seems to be not all here as well as the legendary Dragonsbane. All these characters play an important part in the unfolding of Theo’s plan as she manipulates people like pieces on a chess board.

I found the world Sebastian built to be quite intriguing. For now, the magic is very light touch but it definitely has potential. The fantasy world and the people seem to draw on our various cultures – the Kalovaxians are German inspired while the Astreans play homage to Grecian culture. I liked that Sebastian mixed the cultures a bit though, as the Kalovaxian titles are German-based but the culture had a lot of different Scandinavian/northern Europe touches whereas the Astreas were more Mediterranean. Major props to Sebastian for making the Astrean society a matriarchal one.

Sebastian has taken a seemingly common plot and made it her own. I loved the workings of Theo’s mind and the way everything unfolded. There’s a shipworthy romance, political strategizing, interesting characters and a world I can’t wait to see expanded upon. Theo might have been given the title Ash Princess to shame her, but with the power of her mind and belief in her people, she’s rising up and she’s going to set the world on fire.