Book Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

a thousand nights

Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E. K. Johnston
Pub Date: 22 October 2015
Publisher: PanMacmillan
Obtained: Review Copy
Rating: 4/5*
Goodreads | BookDepository

Summary: LO-MELKHIIN KILLED THREE HUNDRED GIRLS before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next. And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air. Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

A Thousand Nights is a rare book – and a fantastic one at that. The premise alone hooked me in – a retelling of Arabian Nights, a story about stories, a dangerous love story – but I wasn’t expecting this novel to be so powerful and beautiful. Upon reading the first couple of pages, I was struck by the lyrical prose and intricate details of the setting. E. K. Johnston’s turn of phrase in A Thousand Nights is simply stunning, and the writing alone captures your attention. What struck me was that the characters, apart from Lo-Melkhiin, our anti-hero, are nameless. We get detailed descriptions of their personalities, their appearance, their history – but not one character, even our protagonist, has a name apart from the villain. At first, this frustrated me. How was I supposed to write a review about a book where I didn’t even know the main character’s name? Nor the name of her sister, her father, her mother – not one character, except Lo-Melkhiin. Looking back, this was a risky move from the author – but it paid off. This novel, after all, is about the oral tradition of story-telling, which was so prevalent in Arabian Nights – a story made up of lots of other pieces of stories. The characters needed to be nameless to serve this purpose – and even though I feel like I know these characters – our strong and fearless main character, her loyal sister, her clever father – I don’t really know them at all.

This novel is told in a first person narrative from our main character, the desert girl who is Lo-Melkhiin’s latest wife, and her voice was a pure delight to read. She was intelligent, pious and devoted to loving her sister. Interspersed between our main character’s chapters were brief interludes from another first person narrator – the demon that lives within Lo-Melkhiin. Now this voice was uncomfortable to read. Sadistic, calculating and chilling, the demon’s voice provided an unsettling undertone to the novel, giving it an edge that I believe was what helped the novel develop. Not a lot of background detail goes into the nature of this demon, or where it comes from, but it’s powerful nonetheless and I loved this addition to the plot.

Aside from this brilliant plot device, the world building in this novel was fantastic. Our main character’s descriptions of her desert home and her move into the city upon marrying Lo-Melkhiin were absorbing, and you really feel like you can sense the sand underneath our main characters feet, that you can feel the heat of the dry sun on your skin. Another powerful description was the magic. Our main character develops these curious powers, this strange magical ability, which is due to her sister’s pious devotion towards making her a ‘smallgod’ – a local, smaller god with a connection to a family. I completely fell in love with the relationship between magic, power and religion in A Thousand Nights and how this resonates in the sacrifice that our main character made to save her sister.

That brings me on to another thing I loved – the love between these two sisters and the lengths they are willing to go to to save each other. I think that was what made our main character so interesting and readable; she was steadfast in her love for her sister and would do anything to secure her happiness. This love replaced romantic love in the novel – which struck me a bit at first. I presumed that this novel would be a powerful love story between Lo-Melkhiin and our main character, but it really wasn’t. There’s hints of a romantic conclusion towards the end of the novel, but we don’t get to see how this plays out.

The conclusion of this book was unfortunately a bit too brief for me, I think. There was such an incredible build-up, with our main character saving the day and saving the world – but I would have loved to have gotten a glimpse into what happened next. I feel like our main character, her family and Lo-Melkhiin deserved a few pages of a triumphant happy ending after all the hardships they go through in this book!

On the whole, however, this book was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Lyrical, powerful, entrancing and poetic, I adored the storytelling and vivid descriptions of this novel. It was exotic, mysterious and an engrossing read. One novel that you need to read this year!

*Thanks to PanMacmillan for providing me with an early review copy!*

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?

Book Review: My True Love Gave To Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins

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My True Love Gave To Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins
Published by Pan Macmillan
Goodreads Link
Rating 4.5*
Buy: The Book Depository | Hive

Rainbow Rowell – ‘Midnights’ – 4/5
This was a perfectly rounded, beautifully sweet story with that perfect amount of Rainbow Rowell charm. The story is set over a series of New Years Eves and two best friends, Noel and Mags, who have a series of near-misses each year. This was a story of friendship, taking chances and had an amazing happy ending that truly made me warm and fuzzy inside. But what I loved about this story in particular was Rainbow’s writing and how she managed to cram in so much characterisation within such a short story. Brilliant.

Kelly Link – ‘The Lady and the Fox’ – 2.5/5
This story truly set off great. Miranda, our main character, visits family friends every Christmas as her mother is in jail in a Thai prison (though it was never explicitly said what for – which was very irritating!). Daniel, the son of her mother’s friend, who she stays with a Christmas every year, is obviously in love with her and this story could easily have taken a safe route to go down with Daniel, but Kelly Link took a risk – one that I’m not sure paid off. Miranda visits the Honeywell household every Christmas and each year, she seems to encounter a ghost called Fenny. And so ensues a rather enigmatic, confusing, love/ghost story. There were lots of questions, but no answers, and unfortunately it wasn’t Christmassy enough to make up for that fact! The beginning of the story did hook me initially, so for this one i’ll be giving it 2.5 stars.

Matt de la Pena – ‘Angels in the Snow’ – 4/5 stars
Oh, I loved this one! It was funny, endearing and beautiful. It is centred on a boy called Shy, who is catsitting in New York over Christmas break. He can’t go home to Mexico, where his family are enjoying Christmas, and he’s low on food and money. A huge snowstorm is keeping him inside the apartment, when a neighbour from upstairs, Haley, comes knocking, asking to use the shower. And so continues a gradual love story about honesty, truth and being yourself. I loved Shy’s character and Matt de la Pena’s writing style, and this one really put me in the Christmas spirit.

Jenny Han – ‘Polaris Is Where You’ll Find Me’ – 3/5
MAN! I wanted more. Who knew elves could be such a good basis for a story? Seriously though, that ended too abruptly and the end wasn’t at all satisfying 😦 More of Natalie and Flynn please, Jenny Han!

Stephanie Perkins – ‘It’s A Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown’ – 5/5
ALL THE FEEEELS. Stephanie Perkins, what is it that is so entrancing and moving about anything that you write? You made me fall in love with Marigold and North in the space of a few pages. PAGES. This was the most perfect of all the stories so far in this collection. It was sweet, uplifting, funny and adorable. And the most important question – where can I get a North of my own!?!

David Levithan – ‘Your Temporary Santa’ – 3.5/5
This was such a sweet story! Connor asks his boyfriend to dress up as Santa and come into his house on Christmas Eve night so that his eight year old brother will see what he thinks is Santa delivering presents. It was really sweet, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough depth for me to give it anything but a 3.5 star rating. I feel like this would need to be a full length book. I adored the characters though!

Holly Black – ‘Krampuslauf’ – 4/5 stars
A refreshing fantasy/paranormal love story to mix things up a bit was exactly what I was needing – and Holly Black provided! Krampuslauf was pretty darn amazing. I LOVED the setting, the story, the characters. It was all so very clever and unique, and despite the many negative reviews about this story in particular, the story shone out as one of the best in the anthology for me. I think Holly’s writing is incredible; so addictive and readable. I loved the personalities of all of the characters and when the story ended, I wanted more! Luckily, I have an ARC of THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST, Holly Black’s new fairy YA novel, out next year. Otherwise, I would have gone a bit crazy over not having any of Holly Black’s fairy world to read! Perfect story, and one that would make a great novel in my opinion.

Gayle Forman – ‘What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?’ – 5/5 stars
THIS STORY. Damn. I’m a mess of feels. This was SO SO ADORABLE. I was completely sucked into this beautiful short story, and completely fell in love with Sophie and Russell’s love story. Sophie is in her first year of a college in the middle of nowhere – it’s a small town, with students who are local. As a Jewish girl from New York, Sophie sticks out – but so does Russell, one of the few black students at the university. Initially, that’s how they connect – they’re both ‘outsiders’, both strangers – but it begins to go beyond that. Their humour is incredible, and this story wouldn’t be the same without the hilarious one-liners and Russell’s quick wit. I want a Russell of my own! Five stars for this sweet, perfect love story.

Myra McEntire – ‘Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus’ – 3/5
This story was perhaps one of the weakest of the collection – don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but the plot didn’t really excite me or draw me in. The characters however? I loved them! Vaughn was so loveable and I loved how he was an unconventional protagonist – he hadn’t that much going for him, and he was a troublemaker. To summarise, there’s a nativity play gone wrong, a bad boy falling for the pastor’s daughter, a Civil War re-enactment doublebooked and the worst snowstorm in history – it was a fun read, but not one of the best. It did however fill me with that Christmas spirit, so for that, I’ve given it three stars.

Kiersten White – ‘Welcome to Christmas, CA’ – 4/5
This story is set in a dot-on-the-map town called Christmas; so small that it doesn’t even appear in a Google search. Maria wants to get out of Christmas as quickly as possible – she works in the Christmas Cafe that her mother manages, and the only wage she gets is her tips. She dislikes her stepdad, and how her mother is slowly drifting away from her. However, upon the arrival of the new, young, hot chef called Ben, all of this changes. Maria learns that appearances are not always what they seem – her stepfather has been rooting for her this whole time, and altogether her perspective of the town of Christmas changes, thanks to Ben. I really loved this story. It was as sweet as the delicious food that our love interest, Ben, cooked up. The descriptions of the food were incredible! I loved the humour, sweetness and festivity of this story, and the fact that it can only take a change of perspective to appreciate what you really have.

Ally Carter – Star of Bethlehem – 2/5
Arghhh. This story set off so great but then unfortunately went downhill! Lydia, our main character, is on her way to New York for Christmas, but at the airport, she sees a girl from Iceland, desperate to change her ticket and go to New York. On a whim, our main character decides to swap tickets with her – and then ends up impersonating Hulda in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma, staying with Hulda’s ex-boyfriend and his family. This story began to play into one of my favourite YA tropes – the fake!relationship trope, but from then on, it just got a bit muddled. Lydia attempts to play into her role as Hulda, the Icelandic girl at the airport, and ends up falling in love with Ethan, who’s family ends up welcoming her in with open arms. We learn that Lydia is not what she appears to be – she’s escaping from another life in New York, the life of fame and fortune. The big reveal of this was over-the-top dramatic, and unfortunately it really put me off the story. I didn’t like the twist at all, and felt that the story brought in too much in such a short space of time. I did love how funny this story was – especially Lydia having to explain to Ethan’s family all of the Icelandic Christmas traditions! Overall, a sweet story, but one that lacked shine for me.

Laini Taylor – The Girl That Woke The Dreamer – 5/5
AHHHHH. THIS STORY. YES LAINI TAYLOR! I’m a fantasy lover at heart, and when I found out that the final story in this anthology was a fantasy one, AND written by Laini Taylor, I think I may have squealed. How do I even explain the plot of this story? I can’t. I won’t be able to do it justice. There’s our main character, Neve, a girl alone in the world, the world that is freshly inhabited by humans – the Isle of Feathers. There’s a mythical god – or creature – who once inhabited the Isle, but the human invaders killed him and colonised the island – or so they thought. Every Christmas, for the twenty four days up until Christmas Eve, men court women by leaving them gifts on their porches. When Neve receives an old bible, she knows that it’s Spear – the harsh Reverand who had a trail of dead wives before him. And Neve is to be the next. Upon seeing the bible upon her porch, she prays to Wisha – the Dreamer – to save her. And from then on, she receives the most special gifts from an unknown suitor. What Neve begins to realise is that she has woken the Dreamer – and he will fulfil his promise, and save her from her doomed fate. What unfolds is a beautiful, completely unconventional love story that will blow you away. Laini Taylor’s writing is stunning. Whilst reading this, I wanted to wrap the words around me, they were that beautiful. The ending is triumphant and magical, and though Laini Taylor took a huge risk with this story, it paid off tenfold. She could have easily written a conventional Christmas romance, but no. She wrote a Christmas romance that none of us can relate to, but that we can all fall in love with. It was the perfect end to a fantastic anthology!

FAVOURITES OF THE COLLECTION:
1) The Girl Who Woke The Dreamer – Laini Taylor. Obviously!
2) It’s A Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown – Stephanie Perkins. Written by the queen of YA romance, of course this would come up top!
3) What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? – Gayle Forman. Another queen of YA romance, this was a gorgeous story which filled me with Christmas cheer.

Collection Rating overall – 4.5 stars.

Book Review: Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

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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.