Review: One of us is Lying by Karen McManus

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Picture credit: http://www.netgalley.com

I’d heard about this book on social media and thought that it sounded like a pretty cool premise. Not only was the initial set up reminiscent of The Breakfast Club (a nerd, a princess, a jock and a rebel all find themselves in detention together) but it was promised to be a big hit. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as some others, but then I left school nearly 20 years ago (before the internet was really A Thing – can you imagine?) so I’m not really the target demographic. I thought some bits were good, other so-so.

Let me explain… 

Bronwyn, Nate, Addy, Cooper and Simon all go to the same school. Bronwyn is a stereotypical high achiever, Nate a part time drug dealer barely attending school, Addy the beautiful blonde whose boyfriend is the most important thing in the world and Cooper, whose life revolves around baseball. Seemingly with nothing in common, they all find themselves in detention together for having a mobile phone with them in class. The problem is, none of them know where the phones came from – they appear to have been planted on them to purposefully get them into trouble. But why?

Then there’s the fifth member of the group, Simon. Universally loathed and revered in equal measure, Simon is the owner of the About That app, where school rumours end up…except somehow Simon always manages to make sure that they’re true before publishing them. An incident during detention leaves all of the characters under suspicion and as the story unfolds it seems that they all have something to hide – just not what you were expecting.

See, it sounds like a good premise, right? I was definitely intrigued. However, the way that the book was written kind of spoilt the story for me. For a start, the chapters are short and broken up by character, where each in turn is the narrator. I found this quite confusing, especially when the two girls are quite similar in character – Addy is fairly bland for the most part of the book so it was easy to forget where her storyline was going when you had immersed yourself in the world of Nate. I found it quite jarring sometimes when I had to swap between them all.

The other problem was that it was quite easy to work out what had happened. For me, it was very obvious that certain people had nothing to do with the incident, so by process of elimination I had worked out the culprit before half way through. There was also Cooper’s big secret that I worked out way before it came out. Because of this, I found that the book dragged a bit. It seemed quite long for a YA novel, especially when not much goes on for chunks of pages (I didn’t really care about Addy’s hair or what films Bronwyn and Nate were watching). If the main characters were a little more secretive or had more to loose then it would have given them better motives and cast more doubt about them, which would have added to the intrigue.

In saying that, there was some fast paced bits and it had enough going on to keep me interested. I did enjoy reading One of us is Lying but the story could have been so much better if it were just a little less bland. As I previously mentioned though, I’m not the target demographic for this book and so if you’re into YA fiction then you might get more out of it.

Overall rating: 7/10   

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Review: Resistance – Divided Elements (Book One) by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Resistance is the story of Ani, a young female working in the post apocalyptic city of Otpor. The population is split by their personality type into the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water), which also denotes the type of job each citizen does, their interests and behaviour, where they live etc. Ani is a high ranking Fire element, doing the job of “Peacekeeper” – basically policing the population in order to maintain the status quo. In her eyes, Ani is helping to uphold the law for the benefit of society although the methods used are brutal and often far outweigh the crime. When it becomes apparent that a group of individuals are trying to orchestrate a revolution, Ani is chosen for a secret undercover mission. Through this, she begins to see the world from a different point of view – but whose side will she choose?

I have to say that I enjoyed reading this YA/post apocalyptic fantasy book. It was an interesting premise as its quite rare that you get to read about a dystopian future from the point of view of the “bad guys” and even rarer to find stories where the lines between good and bad are so blurred.

I thought that the book provided a fascinating glimpse into the psychology of the main character, Ani. It raised lots of questions about how we see the world when we surround ourselves with only likeminded individuals as she seemed to be able to rationalise her actions (and those of other Fire elements) simply because she had never encountered anyone who directly challenged their behaviour. When she was forced to view the situation from a different perspective, we were shown how her feelings were deeply conflicted, despite the fact that when Ani was asked if she felt changed by her experiences she replied no, she was still the same person. As a reader, this gave me an awful lot to think about.

In terms of the story, I really enjoyed reading about Ani and her internal struggle, as well as all the action that was taking place. I wanted to know more about the “love interest” character Seth (this is YA, after all) as I thought the book was a little heavily focused on the main character and it would have been good to get a bit of variety.

Weirdly, it felt like this novel was a sequel as the story takes place nine years after the first instance of resistance takes place. Will there be a prequel? I would be excited to see what happens next/previously.

Overall, I did enjoy this book although I found that some parts were a little overwritten and as a result the book was correspondingly overly long. However, I did think that the author has set up an exciting premise for the subsequent novels.

Overall rating: 7/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #39 Read the first book in a series that you haven’t read before.

Review: The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

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I’m very, very excited to review this book because I have actually met the author a couple of times and would know her to say hello to if I saw her at a party. She’s a friend of a friend and I had no idea that she’d written a book (let alone a series of books) so it was with great curiosity that I downloaded her debut novel, The Sin Eater’s Daughter. I’m amazed that someone I know has written something that’s been picked up by a proper publishing house (no offense to Mel – she’s obviously very talented) and she’s apparently sold the rights for a TV adaptation so I’m really pleased that she’s doing so well. I’ve tried to remain completely impartial in my review so that you get my honest response.

The book is the story of Twylla, the daughter of a “sin eater” (you’ll be amazed to know). Sin Eaters are employed as part of a funeral ritual to eat food which represents the sins of the deceased in order for their soul to be free. Twylla is a sin-eater-in-training and as such comes into contact with the royal family when the King passes away. The royal family believe in keeping a pure bloodline (basically, incest) but the Queen is concerned for her only son as he is the last of the line. (This is where it gets complicated). So, because the Queen can’t have more children, she effectively reintroduces the role of “Daunen Embodied”. This role is given to a child who is chosen by the gods, who is their literal embodiment and can kill with a touch. The Queen claims that Twylla is Daunen Embodied and makes her undergo various rituals to prove this to the general populace. As a child of the gods Twylla is betrothed to the young Prince and the novel is the story of her discovery of the lies and deceit which fuel the power of the monarchy. (That’s my best attempt at a simplified summary – as I said, it’s complicated. Sorry.)

Before I begin my review of the text can I just take a moment to talk about how ridiculously pretty this book is. I don’t normally comment on cover art but I have to say that the design for the dust jacket is absolutely beautiful. I would have bought it based on the cover alone.

The book is clearly aimed at a YA audience so despite obvious comparisons to Game of Thrones etc. there is much less complexity in terms of number of characters and their relationships to/with each other. However, the complicated premise (have you read my summary?) and fast paced action kept me interested to the end.

I really liked Twylla as a character because she stood up for herself and made her own decisions. Unlike a lot of YA fiction there wasn’t a two dimensional love interest and her plans were often scuppered as she uncovered various character flaws regarding the suitors vying for her attention. It was also nice to read a book where the plot twists were so abrupt that everything was regularly thrown up in the air, keeping me on my toes.

There were a couple of clumsily written passages and a few parts of the plot where I thought “that wouldn’t happen” or “why doesn’t she just do this” which ruined the action slightly. For example, in the last chapter we find Twylla reading a book, despite the fact that only a few months previous she was completely illiterate. I hope this will be explained in book two but I think that any attempt to show why she can suddenly read will feel like a bit of a cover up for a mistake.

I also found the title of the book a bit of an odd choice – there is very little of Twylla before she becomes Daunen Embodied and her relationship with her mother is only mentioned a few times. Maybe this will become more apparent as the saga continues. Or perhaps it was chosen just because it grabs your attention.

Minor criticisms aside, I did enjoy this book and will continue to read the series (and talk about it on here). I have high hopes for books two and three!

Overall rating: 7/10

I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #2 Read a Debut Novel.

Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

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The One Memory of Flora Banks is the fantastically engaging story of a girl with anteretrograde amnesia i.e. no short term memory. The book begins with Flora attending a party, where she kisses a boy and creates a memory so powerful that it stays with her. Her attempts to find the boy lead her on a wild voyage of discovery about her illness, her family and ultimately, herself.

I thought that this novel was extremely cleverly written. It could  very easily have wandered into the realms of being tedious, frustrating or repetitive as you know the back story of Flora (obviously, you can remember what has just happened to her whilst she can’t) but despite her constant efforts to piece the past together the whole book was so well written that it worked really well. The novel could have also been quite boring as it is written entirely from Flora’s point of view with only a few other characters mentioned (most quite briefly) but again the excellent writing made the story really engaging.

I also really liked how the book kept you guessing about what was actually going on, due to the unreliable nature of Flora’s narrative. It was very hard to work out exactly what had happened until the ending – I certainly didn’t guess correctly.

If I had one criticism of this book I would say that the possible lack of realism within the story is where it falls down a little. For example, someone with that type of amnesia must constantly be terrified that they’ve suddenly found themselves in a version of the world which is much moved on (technically they must constantly find themselves in the future) surrounded by parents/friends/family who have all aged – and that they are suddenly not a child anymore. How would Flora function in entirely new surroundings? How would she know how to work a mobile phone, laptop or website? How would she attend school when so much emphasis is based on retaining and regurgitating facts and figures? And surely her GP would have kept an eye on her progress/recovery, especially as we know that Flora had a support worker (presumably paid for by the local council) which would definitely have necessitated up to date medical reports.

However, if you can ignore the plot holes and just go with the story then I think you’ll be rewarded. I personally found this book very enjoyable – it would be great to read a sequel to find out what happens to Flora next.

Overall rating: 8/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #29 Read a Novel With an Unreliable Narrator.

Review: The Dream Protocol

Professional Reader

I received a free e-copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

This book gave me a weird sense of deja vu, probably because I had recently read Silo 49 (which was based on the Wool chronicles) (which I still haven’t read) and bizarrely, it appeared to be set in pretty much the same location. Yes, there were some differences and the thrust of the story took it in a different direction but essentially this novel was set in an underground concrete city compromised of many different levels where the people are enslaved to their jobs, big brother is always watching and the inhabitants are ruled by a military style police force who are used to oppress the masses. Sound familiar?

In fairness, despite the obvious similarities I did enjoy this book. I would say that the story is a little thin content wise but I can see that it’s set up a great story arc for books two and three.

I really liked that there are two main characters and that you get to see two different storylines progress separately. As it’s a YA book I can only assume there will be some romance between them. Both characters are quite well written so I think this will add to the story. However, I think it’s fairly easy to predict where it’s all going (my guess is, book two; they discover where people disappear to and what is really going on, and book three; they find a way out and save everyone. And fall in love. If I’m wrong please ignore the bit where I’ve said this series is predictable – clearly it’s not.)

I thought that the last quarter of the book was really fast paced and exciting but before that it could be a little sluggish. There seemed to be quite a lot of filler where different characters were invented only to have them play a very minor part later on whereas other characters were fairly anonymous despite playing a larger part.

I also found the book a little bit unbelievable, even for a fantasy universe. The main character has an ageing disorder which he has kept hidden for 15 years despite the fact he goes to school – he just hides his face under a hood. As any genetic defect is essentially punishable by death, how has no-one noticed? What happened when he was a child? Security is also remarkably lax – the main character gets to a senior ranking officials desk (and hacks his computer) simply by distracting the guards at the door – there’s no scanner or security pass needed to enter. The official doesn’t even have his own office, just a computer terminal set up next to some others in what appears to be an open plan work area. Was this just to get round the problem of access? If so, it seems quite lazy writing. Also, surely the security cameras would have picked up the footage of the two main characters talking to each other in the area, referring to each other by name and then hot footing it out of there?

Overall, I found this book a little formulaic and with a few plot holes which really spoilt it for me. It’s one redeeming feature was some really excellent writing – but some bits are much better than others. From the way that book two has been set up I imagine it will be a lot better and will distance itself from obvious comparisons to very similar books.

Overall rating: 5/10

Review: Wrecked by Maria Padian

Professional Reader

I received a free e-copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Wrecked is the extremely thought provoking story of a sexual assault told from the point of view of the friends of the victim and the perpetrator. The story flips back and forth between each side so that you get a balanced portrayal of the situation. At first, you’re not exactly sure what has happened but as the book goes on, the “real” story (told through flashbacks from the victim) slowly unfolds. This kept me guessing about what actually happened right up until the end.

I wouldn’t say that the content made for an enjoyable read but this is definitely an important book for young people – particularly as it isn’t too graphic so could be more suitable for a younger audience than similar books. Don’t get me wrong, there rape is detailed but in an objective manner and we are spared from some of the more distressing details.

The novel would be a great educational aid as it clearly illustrates the issue of consent and the way that two people can have entirely different recollections of the same experience. It also shows how many different people can have a measure of blame in a sexual assault case – not just the perpetrator but the friends who left the victim on her own, the people who encouraged her to drink an unknown substance, her fellow students who victim shamed her online, the mind set of guys who think any girl at a notorious frat party is there for one reason only…all the elements are explored throughout the course of the story.

I thought that the book could have run the risk of being a bit preachy but it didn’t. There was a nice section where a sexual consent adviser did a talk which reinforced the educational value of the story without detracting from the flow of the narrative.

I personally haven’t experienced anything like the situation in question (thank God) but I imagine that the way the situation was handled once it had been reported to the college would be very similar. The book gives a real insight into how hard it is to prove rape when it’s one person’s word against the other and how limited and unprepared a lot of educational institutions are for investigating this type of complaint.

In the book, the female victim is portrayed as mousey and intellectual. I do wonder if the author was a little too obvious in their choice of victim and aggressor- if the girl who was assaulted had been a notorious party girl would this have added an extra dimension to the victim shaming aspect?

The only thing that I didn’t like about this book is the love story between the friends of the perpetrator and victim. I felt that it didn’t really go anywhere and was a bit of a let down. I’m not quite sure why it was included? For light relief from the complex main story? To appeal to a YA readership? I didn’t think that it added anything and in places got quite boring. 

I don’t want to give too much away but the ending is disappointing – although probably true to life. This made me really angry. I would have preferred some kind of confrontation so that the victim could have showed the perpetrator exactly what effect he had on her life. 

In summary, I thought that Wrecked was a really thought provoking and enlightening book, filled with the complexities of a sexual assault case which kept you guessing the details right to the end. I would definitely recommend it to a YA audience as a starting point for a discussion about consent and the wider issues around sexual assaults.

Overall rating 7/10.