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!*

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?

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

22914373

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.

Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty
Rosamund Hodge
Published January 28th 2014

Balzar + Bray/HarperTeen
3.5 stars

So this book started off super and then trailed off towards the end. Cruel Beauty is set in a Greek-mythology inspired world; I loved all the references to the Gods and all of the mythology that the author included and dropped in. As someone who loves mythology, I particularly loved the rich detail and classical allusions.

I initially loved our main character, Nyx – she was bitter, cruel and filled with hate for her family, who had sacrificed her to fulfill a bargain made with the Gentle Lord, a demon who our main character was betrothed to.

This book was almost a retelling of the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, but not quite; the beast was not such a beast at all, and once Nyx began to discover more about Ignifex’s background and story, I began to fall in love with this gorgeously detailed character.

The mythology was perfect, the characters so alive, but I feel like Rosamund Hodge may have tackled too much in terms of the plot. This book is confusing and at many times, I felt like skipping pages as I was so lost with where this book was heading. In terms of the ending, a typical trait in YA fiction was used that I really hate – the ‘memory’ plot. For those who have read this book, you’ll know what I mean! I realise that Nyx, our main character, had to sacrifice certain things in order to save the world – literally – but I still found myself being annoyed at her decisions and choices.

The ending was not satisfying enough – we got our happy ending but it sadly did not deliver in a way that shocked me and made me feel something. However, despite this, I couldn’t help loving the relationship between Nyx and Ignifex, the amazing mythological allusions which really sucked me in and the way that this book was written as a whole.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t ‘wowed’ by this book, which is disappointing, as it held so much potential up until half way. An enjoyable YA read, however, and one which those who enjoy fairy tale retellings, romance and mythology will definitely enjoy!

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.