Review: Everless by Sara Holland

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Photo credit:www.netgalley.com

Welcome to Everless, the most generically generic YA novel ever written!

Starring…

Generic protagonist girl! From a village! Super poor since the death of her mother! Thinks people won’t recognise her if she covers her hair!

Generic love interest boy! Playmate from childhood grown up all sexy! Lives in a generic castle!

Generic evil Queen! Straight out of Disney! Pale and cold! Rumoured to eat the generic hearts of other generic characters!

Generic insta-love! Between two generic characters not attracted to each other for 95% of the book!

Also featuring…

Generic peasants! Generic horse riding! Generic kitchen staff! Generic taverns! Generic guards!

With a special appearance by everyone’s favourite… generic honey pastries!

Critics have given it 3 stars, calling it “middle of the road” and “mildly enjoyable”.

Available now!

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A few months ago, I read this hilarious post by the lovely Orangutan Librarian entitled “Worst Fantasy Novel Plan Ever”! And we laughed, because satire, and then we commented with more satire, and laughed some more because surely no-one would include ALL of the generic fantasy tropes in one novel?

Cut to a couple of months later, when I started reading Everless and lo and behold – all of the tropes. In. One. Novel.

Wow.

Everless is the story of Jules (ok, so maybe the stupid fantasy name trope was avoided – although her surname is Ember, so I’m not sure – it depends if she goes on to set the world alight in books two and three) who lives with her father in a small village. Struggling to make ends meet, she volunteers to work at Everless, the castle and estate owned by the local nobility (the family are hiring extra staff for the wedding of their son to the adopted daughter of the Queen). Jules is already familiar with the castle, having lived there as a child, and quickly works her way up into a senior servants position. Her access to the royals gives her an insight into what really goes on, and as she starts to uncover some of their closely guarded secrets she begins to make sense of her own puzzling background.

Yes, the “my life has been a lie!” trope.

Despite the incredibly obvious plotline, the saving grace of this novel was the idea that time could be “bled” out of people (literally – by making them bleed) then bound into metal coins. These coins could then be used as currency or eaten to give the owner additional time. This meant that rich people could live for centuries, whereas poor people had to sell their own time to stay alive. Now, there are many, many flaws in this idea (how does someone’s youthful essence get bound into their blood? What happens if you just cut your finger? Do people who die of anything other than old age have their bodies bled? The very idea of cutting your life short to stay alive is counter productive? etc…) but if you don’t think about it too hard then the concept is interesting, and adds a new dimension to the story. (I’d like to add in here that I’ve not seen the movie “In Time” but I believe it’s broadly the same idea. So perhaps the concept is not as interesting/unique as I’d originally thought.)

Unfortunately, there were quite a few parts of the book that didn’t really make sense. Some are big gaping plot holes, like why Jules flagrantly disregards everything her father warns her about or why, considering she was banished from the castle as a child, everyone is fine with her return. On the other hand, there’s also quite a few small inconsistencies throughout the text that really, REALLY got on my nerves. For example, here is a direct quote from the text;

“We’re both startled by the deep, clear peel of a bell…As a child, I’d heard many of Everless’s bells – there are bells for weddings and deaths, New Year’s and royal proclamations. I’ve never before heard the bell of the Crown, reserved solely for the Queen.

Of all the bells I remember from my childhood at Everless, this song is the deepest and most beautiful. It means that we are to assemble for Her Majesty’s arrival.”

So, um, you’ve never heard this bell before but you instantly know what it means? Despite there being literally loads of other bells that must be hardly ever used, like royal proclamations? And you know that it means you should assemble somewhere? And you also know where that assembly point is?

Unless this bell sound is actually a public service announcement, you cannot possibly have obtained that information. Aargh!

Also – bells do not sing songs, they chime or toll.

There’s a similar inconsistency later on when Jules is asked to pick the incredibly rare, so-prized-we-built-an-entire-garden-around-it ice holly, which takes pride of place, um, growing underneath all the other flowers that have been planted on top of it. I hope there is some significance to the ice holly (as it was never mentioned again) otherwise I’ll have spent an entire chapter reading “ice lolly” and having to go back and correct myself.

I also had a problem with idea that the security protection on the family vault door consisted of a dye to stain your hands. If the dye was rare and permanent then fine – but it washed off after a couple of days and was commonly used in the castle for other purposes (so presumably lots of people had stained hands). And yeah, ok, the door could bleed time from you, but if you’re breaking into a vault stuffed with magical time money then you could just eat it all back again, no?

Apart from that, I got very, VERY annoyed at the ending. There’s a real opportunity for Jules to take charge of her own destiny and actually get a little bit of agency (something she completely lacks) but no – she just “develops” a total insta-
love crush over the space of two pages. I CALL BULLSHIT!

However….

The very, very weird thing about Everless is that despite it’s myriad flaws, generic storyline and annoying characters it isn’t actually a bad story. Yes, I kept getting annoyed, and yes, parts haven’t been fully thought through, but if you don’t analyse the storyline too hard then the novel is fast paced, there’s lots of action and Jules keeps discovering things which suggest a far better premise for books two and three. I think younger readers, or those who absolutely love YA will lap this book up (indeed, there’s a hell of a lot of hype surrounding it). It was just too much like a manufactured pop song for me – ticked all the boxes associated with the genre, squarely aimed at teenagers, easy and catchy – but ultimately lacking in depth and meaning. I’m afraid it’s been done before – and far better than this.

Overall rating: 3/5
Generic but fast paced literary fluff. An exciting novel as long as you don’t think too hard about it. Middle of the road rating with an extra half a point for not using stupid fantasy names. If the main character had been called Jyules it would have been a DNF.

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 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #16 Read the first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series.

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Review: The Burning Girl by Claire Messud

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I could review this book in one word: disappointing. I was really hopeful that it would be great, based on the blurb – but it just meandered about and tailed off at the end. Let me explain…

The story starts off quite promisingly. Juju and Cassie have been BFF’s all through their childhood, but as they get older they start to drift apart. They have one final summer together where they discover a creepy old derelict mansion in the woods and spend their days playing in it before they go back to school and start to make different friends. So far so good. Usually I would expect something to happen at this point – they take their new friends back to the mansion, something is discovered etc. etc. However, nope – just quite a lot about how the girls are drifting apart. The introduction of the weird doctor Anders Shute made me think that something was going to happen – was he abusing Cassie and/or her Mum? But again, no, nothing is revealed. Eventually, Cassie runs off and finally… no, nothing really happens with that either. The end.

Sigh.

I think my disappointment stems from the fact that I thought I’d really relate to the characters in the book. I’ve had friendships fall by the wayside almost too many times to count and its not often that you see this represented well as a central theme in a novel. You often get the “we used to be best friends and now she’s bullying me” trope, or perhaps the “I’ve been totally ditched for the cool new girl” scenario but the gentle decline of two people growing up in different directions seems to be pretty rare. Or at least, I haven’t often come across it (but then I don’t read a lot of YA). Therefore, I was really looking forwards to seeing how the novel would treat the girls’ friendship. However, apart from a couple of awkward situations where the parents thought the girls were much better friends than they actually were, and the ending where Juju worked something out about Cassie before anyone else, the majority of the book was just… nothingy. I didn’t really relate to Cassie (who I didn’t much like) or Juju (who was kind of boring) and having two teenagers who interacted with each other less and less didn’t really make for a good story.

I did enjoy the introduction of Anders Shute and the sense of foreboding that came with him. I loved how well observed his behaviour was, as he never actually does anything too weird – but you still know there’s something really off about him. I would have liked it if more had been written about his relationship with Cassie, or if there was some huge revelation about him – but no.   

Sigh.

By 3/4 of the way through the book I was starting to get properly bored, but hurrah – there’s a bit of action when Cassie makes a discovery and runs off. I thought it was really weird to have the main thrust of the story happen right at the end but I did enjoy this part of the novel, although I thought it was fairly obvious where she had gone.

By the end, I wasn’t really bothered what happened to Cassie, so everything fell a bit flat.

Meh.

Overall, this isn’t a terrible book – some parts are really well written, some characters are well observed and there’s nothing really annoying about it. However, for me there wasn’t enough action and I hated how there were lots of little storylines that went nowhere. The whole thing was pretty forgettable, really.

Overall rating: 2/5
Disappointing.

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 #1 Read a book recommended by a librarian.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Loveitt by Chelsea Sedoti

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

Wow, so, like, this is like a totally annoying way to write, right? So, like, you probably wouldn’t have the main character of a book, like, totally talk like this, right? Well, not if you’re Chelsea Sedoti.

In fairness, this weird Valley Girl vernacular drops off pretty quickly, but after reading the first few pages of The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Loveitt I really wasn’t sure if I could keep going. I did, and it did get better, but unfortunately there was plenty of other things to get annoyed about.

The book itself is about a girl called Hawthorne, who gets completely hung up on the disappearance of Lizzie Loveitt, a girl she vaguely knows from school. I didn’t understand exactly why Hawthorne got so involved in the case (we’re told she has an active imagination – more on that later – and Lizzie does sound like a very engaging individual) but I don’t get why she got so wrapped up in events. Was it a girl crush? Was it just the excitement of the disappearance? I’m still not sure.

Through Hawthorne’s own investigations, she meets Lizzie’s boyfriend and begins a kind of relationship with him. That might sound all sweet and adorkable but frankly, it was just a bit odd. Normally I’m firmly in the corner of the weirdo’s but as a character, Hawthorne was just too random, even for me. She had the most bizzare ideas about what had happened to Lizzie and seemed to want to convince herself and everyone around her that she had figured things out, even when her solutions were ridiculous and she knew that everyone would laugh at her. I found Hawthorne to be so lacking in rationality that it was impossible to follow her train of thought, which got on my nerves.

Lots of the other characters in the book weren’t really fleshed out properly so it was hard for me to engage with them. Lizzie’s boyfriend, Enzo, was a stereotypical tortured artist type, Hawthorne’s best friend was a stereotypical nerd, her mum was a stereotypical hippie. They all had side stories that didn’t really go anywhere and their relationships with Hawthorne seemed quite flimsy. A chunk of the story was dedicated to some gypsies turning up and camping on Hawthorne’s lawn, but nothing really happened except a couple of conversations where Lizzie was given advice.

Yawn.

As the title of the book suggests, I thought that Hawthorne and Enzo would uncover some exciting/horrifying/salacious information about Lizzie that would add intrigue to the storyline – but – SPOILER ALERT – instead they just discovered that Lizzie had changed a lot since high school and lived a very minimal life. Quite a lot was made of this (Lizzie was empty inside, always changing herself to fit in with others etc.) but really, who hasn’t changed from their high school self? And so what if she had a minimal apartment? I felt a bit cheated by this.

The ending of the book was pretty anti-climatic and after that I thought that the story dragged. Luckily, it ended pretty soon after.

All in all, I didn’t totally hate the book but I couldn’t really engage with the characters or the storyline. The only thing that kept me reading was the certainty that at some point, something would happen…but it kind of didn’t. Perhaps if you’re more of a fan of YA you might get more from the storyline or relate to the characters better, but it just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2/5

Bland, unremarkable fiction, vaguely annoying characters, no real storyline. Not truly terrible, but not a book I enjoyed or would recommend. 

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 #17 Read a book that’s published in 2017.

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.