Book Review: Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson

red rose white rose

Title: Red Rose, White Rose
Author: Joanna Hickson
Pub Date: 4th December 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins
Obtained: Review Copy via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5*

Red Rose, White Rose is a historical fiction story based on Cecily Neville, the wife of Richard Plantagenet of York and mother of Edward IV and Richard III. Plantagenet history is a topic that I’m hugely passionate about, and any books, movies or TV shows about this period I’m sure to love.

Some of my favourite books about the Plantagenets are written by Philippa Gregory – namely The Cousins War series. Where Gregory excels is in bringing the Plantagenet era to life – her writing is stunning, her characters believable and the history weaved into the fiction so naturally.

My problem with Red Rose, White Rose was in the fiction element. First, let me say that the historical details were brilliant – I felt like I learnt a lot from reading this, which is always a good feeling!

The narrative is split between two first person perspectives – Cecily and her half-brother, Cuthbert. I was, unfortunately, in two minds over whether this worked or not. A lot of the action (and historical events) happened in Cecily’s chapters and there were times where I felt like Cuthbert’s chapters weren’t really necessary.

However, his chapters introduced us to some of the lesser-known figures during that time. I knew about Cecily Neville and Richard Neville (The Earl of Warwick, who features in Gregory’s The Cousins War series a lot) but the rest of the Neville family were unknown to me. The copious amounts of detail surrounding the Neville family and the family split were often quite hard to process at times, and I often had to do a quick Google search into the Neville family tree – but once I ‘got it’, I felt like I enjoyed the novel a lot more.

What I couldn’t quite get to grips with, unfortunately, was the characterisation and the writing. There were times where I often felt as if I wasn’t immersed in the plot and this effected my motivation to finish it. However, I did love the fact that it introduced me to events and historical figures that I wasn’t already aware of. An enjoyable historical read, but perhaps not one for those who aren’t familiar already with the Plantagenet’s history.

Thanks to HarperCollins for providing me with this copy for the purpose of review.

Book Review: Talon by Julie Kagawa

talon

Title: Talon
Author: Julie Kagawa
Pub Date: 25th January 2015
Publisher: MIRA Ink
Obtained: Review Copy
Rating: 3.5/4*

‘There are a dozen soldiers hiding in that maze All hunting you. All looking to kill you.’
To the outside world Ember Hill is an ordinary girl, but Ember has a deadly secret. A dragon hiding in human form, she is destined to fight the shadowy Order of St.George, a powerful society of dragonslayers. St. George soldier Garret is determined to kill Ember and her kind. Until her bravery makes him question all he’s been taught about dragons. 

Now a war is coming and Garret and Ember must choose their sides – fight to save their bond or fulfil their fate and destroy one another.

Talon is unlike any other dragon book I’ve read. In Kagawa’s world, dragons are able to take on human forms, and are trained to assimilate into human society in order to protect their species. We meet Ember and her twin brother Dante, both of whom are soon to complete their training from Talon – the dragon establishment – and the final stage of this is to mix with humans and not raise suspicion. This story is told in multi-narrative – we hear Ember’s first person point of view. a rogue dragon called Riley’s point of view as well as from the perspective of a human dragonslayer, Garret.

Ember was a brilliant character – funny, adorable and with that extra bit of sass, I couldn’t help but root for her in this novel. Character wise, I feel that Kagawa has written another solid character, one that I can relate to (minus the being a dragon part…) and one that I feel really jumps off the page. The other characters in this book were brilliant also – Riley was one of my favourites and of course, so was Garret!

Talon‘s pacing was also one of the highlights. I flew through this book! Bearing in mind that there are more than 400 pages in this book, I felt that it was the perfect length, and the story progressed to an exciting and engrossing conclusion.

Now, I feel that I can’t properly review this book without mentioning Julie Kagawa’s unusual take on dragons. I’ve read books before, namely Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, where dragons have the ability to change into human forms. However, these books have always been traditionally fantasy in genre; meaning, they have a historical fantasy setting, in an alternate world/time period. In Talon, Kagawa surprised me completely – by setting this in modern day America, in a beach front town called Crescent Beach. I feel like this was a huge risk – and it paid off as a whole.

Talon was a thrill ride from start to finish. With the alternate point of views, from Ember, the dragon, to Garret, the soldier of St George, an elite group of dragon slayers, a reader’s sympathies were pulled in many different directions – but one theme remained the same throughout: the discovery that Talon was in fact not what it appeared to be. Talon was an extremely interesting facet to the story. Ember and her twin, Dante, were trained by Talon individually during their time at Crescent Beach and Ember starts to suspect that Dante is being taught something quite different than what she is. I may be mistaken, I don’t think we ever discovered what was happening during Dante’s training sessions, which adds to the mystery further. And with that Epilogue, the next book (called Rogue, out April this year!) is sure to delve deeper into Dante and the deceit of Talon.

And what is a YA Fantasy novel without a romantic refrain? The love story between Garret and Ember was AH-MAZING. I was completely rooting for them the whole time. My one complaint with these two was that their love story was predictable – though I enjoyed every moment reading about it!

There is a sort-of love triangle in Talon – between Ember, Riley and Garret – and this was one of my main (minor) reservations with this book. I loved Garret. I loved Riley. And importantly, I loved Ember – but I hated that throughout the book, she seemed to like one of the love interests immensely and then as soon as she was with the other, seemed to forget about the other. The ending did settle my annoyance, only slightly, but I still dread to think about what lengths the love triangle will go to in the sequel.

One of the biggest problems I had with this book, despite loving the plot so much and the characters, was with the dragon concept. I think what puzzled and confused me, and prevented me from giving this book five stars, was Ember’s point of view. Ember was our main dragon protagonist. She was a dragon – but her voice sounded too human. It wasn’t until she shifts into her true self that I realised how much her narrative voice did not suit what she actually was. The message, of course, is that dragons are no different from the humans – or the St George dragon slayers – in the book. However, I felt that perhaps her point of view should have sounded focused on the less human side of her. This really held me back from enjoying the dragon moments of the story, when Ember shifted into her true self. It was perhaps a bit too out of my comfort zone, and I felt that I couldn’t delve into Ember’s head space and immerse myself in the story in this way.

Aside from that, Julie Kagawa has done an incredible job – not that I expected any different! She really does know how to construct characters and settings, and I could read her books all day.

3.5-4 stars for this exciting fantasy read. Looking forward to Rogue, the sequel!

*Thanks to MIRA Ink for providing me with this copy to review!

Book Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

2015/01/img_0101.jpg

Title: Heir of Fire
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Pub Date: 11th September 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Obtained: Review Copy
Rating: 5*

This was one of the best books I read in 2014. In fact, it was so good, it took me three long months to read it. If I enjoyed it, why did it take so long to read, you could ask. The answer? This book was so far above my expectations that I struggled to fit it inside a box. In Heir of Fire, Sarah J Maas goes beyond the fantasy YA world she creates in Throne of Glass, and catapults her readers into a multiple POV, high fantasy realm. Maas no longer plays with fantasy in this book – she owns the genre and cements herself no longer as a YA/Fantasy crossover author, but as a talented writer of brilliantly crafted, epic fantasy.

For this reason, I found it hard to adjust and had to take several breaks from reading the book. With four main story arcs, Heir of Fire‘s plot required concentration and patience – things that I didn’t seem to need for the first two books! We find our main character, Celaena, in Wendlyn, on a mission to assassinate the royal family – but from there she ends up abandoning her role as the King’s Champion, and ends up encircled in an entirely new world, one that she would later fight to protect. Celaena truly grows as a character, in so many ways. In the last two books, she faces sorrow and love – both of which have left her broken and lost. Celaena’s journey in Heir of Fire is a painful one – as readers, we accompany her on her path of self-discovery and torment.

What I adored about this novel is the extreme broadening of the plot, the characters and the entire world building. We find the world of the Throne of Glass series is larger than one country wide. Whilst Celaena is in Wendlyn, Chaol is back with Dorian in Adarlan, both of whom have extremely fascinating story arcs in this book. They are no longer secondary characters in Celaena’s world – rather they command their own plots and are just as important to the story as Celaena is.

Aside from the characters we know and love, Maas introduces us to a host of new characters, who become central players in the story – Manon, a witch, has a main storyline, as well as Rowan and Aedion; three characters who we’ll definitely see in the fourth book. These characters were so well written, it was as if they had been with us from the start. Upon first reading, I was hesitant of Maas’s introduction of new characters – surely there couldn’t be more plot lines to be introduced – but I was wrong! Rowan is now one of my favourite characters and Manon, the Blackbeak witch was a fascinating character who leapt from the page, the image of her iron nails and teeth gluing itself to my mind.

Maas, in writing this novel, has completely reassured me of her skill and talents as a storyteller. I’m that impressed by the progression and beauty of this series that I’m sure that I would even read the phone book if Sarah wrote it!

This is a series that you need to read – one that transcends the boundaries of often one-dimensional YA Fantasy. The easiest five stars I’ve ever had to give!

2015 | Reading Resolutions

My 2015 Reading Resolutions:
1) To finish writing my novel
2) To upload videos more frequently
3) To upload a blog post once a week
4) To read 50 books in 2015
5) To read one classic each month
6) To finish all of the book series that I started last year

What are your bookish resolutions?

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

ImageFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Pan Macmillan
5/5*

Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . . But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Well – this sure was unexpected! As a YA Contemporary read, I was initially sceptical over picking Fangirl up; contemporary isn’t usually my preferred genre as I’m far too much of an escapist to fall in love with it. However! I’m getting over this aversion pretty quickly, and boy, aren’t I pleased about it. It’s also quite important to note that Fangirl is my first Rainbow Rowell read. Rainbow’s other YA book, Eleanor & Park, is high up on my TBR pile after hearing so, so many glowing reviews and after receiving countless recommendations to read it. I’m surprised I’ve been able to resist reading any of Rainbow’s beautifully written books so far!

Yet, I was drawn to the gorgeous cover of Fangirl and the lighthearted, cute premise. Rainbow Rowell truly comes up with a unique and shockingly relatable plot in this book; the world of fanfiction, especially for many book lovers such as myself, is a world that we’ve all stumbled into and are very aware of. Rowell injects excellently crafted pop culture references and laugh-out-loud humour into what could have been an average college love story.

Our protagonist, Cath, is not immediately a likable character – she’s withdrawn, insular and enclosed – and pretty unrelatable initially. Yet, this soon changed! Rowell’s effortless character development for Cath was one of the highlights of the book for me – to quote the book, I was definitely “rooting” for Cath to come out of her shell and to explore life beyond the realms of fiction. Cath’s humour was a delight to read but as was her strength; Cath is not only our main character, but she is the support system for the rest of the characters in the book. Her constant support of her father and her sister, Wren, truly touched me and I really loved this part of her personality.

However, beneath the humour and the brilliant fanfiction snippets, Fangirl addressed some really interesting topics – divorce, teen drinking and coming of age. Cath and Wren come from a broken family background, raised by a single father after their mother leaves them all. This familial trauma resonates in Wren’s drinking but also rather subtly in Cath’s inability to write her own characters. Cath struggles to step beyond something that she feels comfortable with – the world of Simon Snow – into a world foreign and unknown – her own fiction. What was truly great about this novel was that it was multi-dimensional, a perfect balance between heart-warming romance, refreshingly awesome pop culture and emotional drama.

But, I would be lying if I didn’t mention that it was also Levi that made this book awesome. I love his endearing struggle with reading, his amazing support and love for Cath and most importantly the fact that Rainbow Rowell has constructed his character in such a human manner. He was an unconventional romantic hero in the sense that he was, without the negative connotations the word brings, ordinary – and that’s why I loved him. He was a relatable character with flaws and imperfections, but he was beyond adorable regardless of these.

So, to wrap up this rather gushing review, I’d like to leave you all with one thing. If you’ve heard bad reviews about this book (god knows from where, however!), please ignore them and experience it for yourself. Pick this book up. Seriously.

Book Review: Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

Image

Just how beautiful is this cover?!

Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3) by Tahereh Mafi
Published February 4th 2014
HarperCollins
5/5 STARS

*REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS – READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!*

Juliette now knows she may be the only one who can stop the Reestablishment. But to take them down, she’ll need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew – about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam – was wrong.

Well. Tahereh Mafi, you’ve done it again. Am I really surprised that I’m so blown away? Not at all. It was immediately after reading Shatter Me, the first book in the series, that I felt that familiar feeling – a certain rush that you get when you know that you’re falling in love with a book series. After reading Unravel Me, the sequel, it had become obvious that this beautiful series had a top place in my favourites. I posted a rather gushing review of Unravel Me on my YouTube channel; so many exciting and incredible things happened in that book that, honestly, I was terrified to begin reading the third and final book, Ignite Me.

When a book series comes to an end, it can either go two ways – either the author will deliver an ending so brilliant, unique or satisfying that you can’t help but feel a happy, yet bittersweet, resolution, or it can go the other way. Though I’ve only experienced it a couple of times (the Delirium series springs freshly to mind!), an author can deliver an ending so brutal or so anti-climactic that the love you once held for the series begins to fade. This was my main concern for Ignite Me, and I’m so thankful to say that my concerns were squashed by Mafi’s brilliant craftsmanship.

The story begins straight after the shocking events in Unravel Me. Juliette has been shot, Warner saves her and Juliette wakes to find herself in Warner’s room, back at the base of the Reestablishment. The action really does begin from the first page; not even a chapter has gone by when we learn, in a truly shocking revelation from Warner, that Omega Point has been destroyed and everyone is thought to be dead. Now, thinking back, this was a very clever trick that Tahereh Mafi plays; she destroys all hope from the offset, breaking Juliette (and us readers!) down before building the blocks back up again. The rebellion may have lost the battle – but the war is still ongoing.

What we get from this is brilliant, excellently crafted character development. Juliette – who in the past two books had been a weak, scared, insecure and passive character – transforms completely. This, out of any other part of Ignite Me, was the main pleasure to read, for me. Watching Juliette become this fearless, ass-kicking heroine was by far the greatest part of this entire series.

Juliette means business in this book, and what is great is that her journey from vulnerability to capability mirrors the downfall of the Reestablishment. The moment that Juliette – single-handedly – shoots Anderson and announces herself leader is the moment where Juliette completes her transformation.

I loved Juliette in this book, which is surprising considering how she was one of the only things I didn’t like about Unravel Me! However, the highlight of this book series, for me, is Warner. Aaron Warner, you beautiful, annoyingly fictional character. Mafi manages to turn this screwed-up, flawed semi-psychopath into one of my favourite book characters. Warner is opened up in Ignite Me – with Juliette, he transforms also, helping her with every step in order to bring down his father. We learn the despairingly sad truth about his mother and we see Warner finally learn that Adam and James are his brothers. His dedication and love for Juliette is honestly a joy to read; I love their relationship! His love for Juliette is transformative and so is her love for him – they strengthen each other, bringing about their true selves. I’ll stop crying over these two now, they’ve already turned me into an emotional wreck.

On to the other characters, mainly Adam and Kenji. Adam went pretty crazy in this book and didn’t really have a role at all. I do feel bad for readers who loved Adam and Juliette together, as Mafi makes it 100% clear that he is not what Juliette wants at all. However, thinking back, beyond the break up with Juliette and the subsequent outbursts that he had during the book, Adam pretty much retreated into the background – he is not one of the central figures determined to bring down the Reestablishment. As a Warner fan, I didn’t complain whilst reading, but now I realise that this was maybe a flaw; Adam was such an important and central character in the previous two books that it was surprising that he had no position in this book at all. Kenji, as always, was a true highlight for me. As Juliette’s best friend, he made me smile ridiculous amounts and I’m honestly SO PLEASED that he didn’t die – that was a close one, though, Tahereh Mafi!

Now, it only feels right to talk about the ending – the part I was most dreading. I was however, shocked – it was honestly too good to be true. It was a happy ending. Yes – I know, a completely happy ending in a YA dystopian? But, it was! Anderson’s death, we can assume, ends the horrific repression of the Reestablishment and – again, we assume – Juliette’s ascension into leadership will slowly repair the damaged world around them. However, though my poor attached heart was relieved that no one died – at all – and that Warner and Juliette were together, changing society for the better, I was slightly disappointed. The ending was extremely brief – the entire book concluded in about fifty pages. I had a moment towards the end when I panicked as I realised that this book was barely concluding itself despite having so little pages left. I would have honestly appreciated an Epilogue, something that would have maybe jumped forward in time to fill us in on what happens after Anderson’s death. I realise that the government and broken society was not the focus of the series at all, which is perhaps why Mafi decided not to focus on it. It was, in fact, Juliette’s journey that was the main focus of the story, and in those terms, the story ended beautifully.

I loved this book – as you can probably tell. My Warner/Juliette loving heart was extremely happy; this was truly a brilliant conclusion to one of my favourite series. Thank you, Tahereh Mafi, for your brilliant words and for bringing this excellent story to life.