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The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig – A diverse cast of pirates, a heist, and time-travel – what’s not to love?

Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.

As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.

Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix‚Äôs mother. Even though getting it‚ÄĒand going there‚ÄĒcould erase Nix‚Äôs very existence.

For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.

She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.

Or she could disappear.

Imagine this: time-travelling pirates, love that transcends time, a heist, a subtle narrative on American imperialism, a diversity of characters, and a story set in 1884’s Oahu of the Hawaiian Islands. The Girl From Everywhere¬†may be one of the most unique stories I have read.¬†In this story, magic and fantasy meet mythology and history to create an intricate tale about a girl whose existence is¬†in the hands of the Captain of the¬†Temptation —¬†who is also her father.

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19

Frostblood by Elly Blake

frostblood

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a fireblood who must hide her powers of heat and flame from the cruel frostblood ruling class that wants to destroy all that are left of her kind. So when her mother is killed for protecting her and rebel frostbloods demand her help to kill their rampaging king, she agrees. But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable, and she’s not sure she’s willing to let the rebels and an infuriating (yet irresistible) young man called Arcus use her as their weapon.

All she wants is revenge, but before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to take part in the king’s tournaments that pit fireblood prisoners against frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her and from the icy young man she has come to love.

My sincerest thanks to Hachette New Zealand, for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Reading this book confirmed something for me: I have a big, big weakness for young-adult fantasy romances. There is something about them that I love – powerful heroines armed with magic, the sweeping and predictable (thus comforting) romances, and imaginative lands and kingdoms. My weakness is so weak that, even if the story is terribly unoriginal, more often than not I will love them.

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11

Wendy Darling: Stars by Colleen Oakes

wendy darling

Wendy Darling has a perfectly agreeable life with her parents and brothers in wealthy London, as well as a budding romance with Booth, the neighborhood bookseller‚Äôs son. But while their parents are at a ball, the charmingly beautiful Peter Pan comes to the Darling children‚Äôs nursery and‚ÄĒdazzled by this flying boy with god-like powers‚ÄĒthey follow him out of the window and straight on to morning, to Neverland, a intoxicating island of feral freedom.

As time passes in Neverland, Wendy realizes that this Lost Boy‚Äôs paradise of turquoise seas, mermaids, and pirates holds terrible secrets rooted in blood and greed. As Peter‚Äôs grasp on her heart tightens, she struggles to remember where she came from‚ÄĒand begins to suspect that this island of dreams, and the boy who desires her‚ÄĒhave the potential to transform into an everlasting nightmare.

I received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book published on October 13th 2015! (Happy Late Publication Day!)

Fairytales retellings with a twist will always have a small, special place in my heart. It is perhaps why I was immediately intrigued when I heard about Wendy Darling: Stars. Another reason: personally speaking, the idea of Neverland never appealed to me Рa place where no one aged seemed like something too good to be true, and even as a young child I perceived this as a trap of sorts. (What does that say about me?) Looking at its cover, you get an inkling that something is amiss Рa hint that things may not be what it seems Рand such suspicions will be proven true.

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Never, Never by Tarryn Fisher & Colleen Hoover

never never 1When I was in my final year of high school I went through a phase where I wrote stories¬†that asked the big what if‘s. What if an element of reality was suspended, twisted, or momentarily substituted with something fantastical? What would be the consequences? How would one weave a tale from an imagined scenario? These were questions that I loved exploring when I was younger, and for me, Never Never¬†was nostalgic of¬†that exploration.¬†In Never Never,¬†Colleen Hoover and Tarryn Fisher ask: what if you and someone you loved suddenly had no recollection of your family, your friends, your life, and of each other?

Phew, this book was a page-turner. It has such an addictive quality, and packs quite a punch despite its length. Therefore, if there’s anything I can appreciate about Never Never is it doesn’t stagger around its purpose. It is to the point, and is therefore gripping. The accumulation of mysteries throughout the novel are intriguing, dark, and kept me very curious. What has befallen the two main characters; how did it happen, why did it happen? I need to know! (I think I should read more mystery; I think I would really enjoy them.)

With regards to its characters, I think it is difficult to pass judgement for now because there’s still so much the reader does not know; there are many questions left unanswered, and the characters are further from the answers than the beginning. Regardless, the cynical and dark depiction of teenagehood was intriguing and an element of the book’s narrative that kept me hooked. Never Never unashamedly presents very flawed characters; the most interesting part is that the characters themselves – having no memories – steadily discover that they are very flawed people. The revelations that follow are an interesting exploration of the self and who or what the self is.

Never Never is a quick read, and easily digestible in one sitting (I read this across two days during my commute to and from work, and the last few chapters at home). Unfortunately this book is the first of three parts — why the three parts could not be amalgamated into one book is beyond me. Nonetheless, as it is a short book, I could argue that it’s worthwhile giving Never Never¬†a go.¬†Regardless, whatever qualms you may have about the book’s length, Never Never is enjoyable, mysterious, and thrilling.¬†Given its cliffhanger, it is very likely I will pick up Part Two!

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Information
Book Name: Never Never
Book Series: Never Never #1
Authors: Tarryn Fisher and Colleen Hoover
Publisher: Hoover Ink

12

The Young Elites by Marie Lu

young elitesThe Young Elites¬†was my first Marie Lu book, and certainly not my last. For what I assumed would be a lighthearted read, was instead an¬†engrossing¬†fantasy with an interesting narrative about goodness, justice, and accepting one’s inherent nature to top.

If there is one reason why you should read the book, it is that there is no dichotomy of good/right and evil/wrong.¬†And in a culture where we are obsessed with these tales of good versus bad, or discerning who is good or who is evil, The Young Elites is a breath of fresh air. Instead, The Young Elites¬†paints a complex picture of two groups fighting for their ideals and their goals. Lu does not coax us to side with a particular group. Instead, Lu writes about two very flawed groups¬†with¬†morally questionable methods, but have very clear visions of what they want to achieve. But even though both groups perceive murder as a means to an end, does it make both of them bad? The answer: it’s not as simple as that! And I love that Lu is conscious of this. She¬†does not spoon-feed her¬†readers with what to¬†think or support, but shows that all conflicts are complex and should never be¬†simplified.

Furthermore, something common in children and young adult novels is the idea that the Other is inherently good – that the Other is only perceived as ‘bad’ because they are misunderstood, their appearances impel misjudgment, or they do their ‘good’ in the shadow, working underneath the consciousness of the masses, despite the negative, hurtful things people might say about them. Instead, the eponymous group in¬†The Young Elites¬†are, indeed, a group of outcasts, are indeed¬†misunderstood, have magical powers, but are also vengeful murderers with their own agendas which they have with clear consciences. The line between good/right and bad/evil is very blurry in¬†The Young Elites,¬†and I think that is what makes this book so enjoyable.

However, the real heart of¬†The Young Elites and the root of its success is its main character, Adelina. She¬†isn’t a heroine aligned with lawful good, nor does she have¬†noble and just intentions. Adelina has clear flaws that are uncommon in heroines in the young adult world – she is selfish, competitive, and power hungry. Adelina is constantly haunted by her unfortunate past, but it is that past that makes her who she is; instead of cowering before her demons, she draws strength from it, and lets it fuel her to make her powerful. Perhaps Adelina isn’t a good person, but thankfully whether she is or not isn’t the point; she’s a flawed character, but she is perhaps one of the most interesting characters I have read this year.

I have three qualms and they are this:¬†the forgettable, generic side characters, the setting, and the romance. With the first, unfortunately they aren’t as memorable or interesting as those we see in¬†The Winner’s Curse, however I do hope they will be developed further in its sequel, The Rose Society (and as shown in the epilogue, it looks like there will be some significant players coming our way!), as¬†The Young Elites¬†centres predominantly on Adelina, and contains some¬†introspection and internal monologue.

Lu certainly has an imaginative setting with a tint of Italian Renaissance. Whilst Lu crafted her conception of malfetto¬†and their subsequent fear and power that entail, after reading¬†The Winner’s Curse,¬†I felt somewhat disappointed that¬†there was such a lack of depth with the nations and their culture. At the end of the book, there was no evident¬†difference between Kenettra or Beldain – to me, they could be meaningless names on the page, but the reader lacks no knowledge of each nation’s customs, culture, or traditions. My hope, therefore, is that this is improved in¬†The Rose Society.

With regards to the latter, the romance was superficial and lacked any sort of depth. Perhaps it was the point, that it was predicated on lust and want, but when her romantic interest¬†is pitched as Adelina’s¬†love, I am not so sure. (Note, the blurb for¬†The Rose Society¬†contains spoilers to¬†The Young Elites.) But of course, perhaps the romance is a means of giving Adelina depth and foundation to her character – I just wish it didn’t have to resort to that.

Nonetheless, mix the above with elements of fantasy, magical powers akin to those of the X-Men, and struggles for powers, and you have¬†The Young Elites – a¬†worthy novel, and something to be excited about! Lu is a great¬†writer who is proficient in eliciting the most beautiful and vivid imagery. All in all, it was an enjoyable read and should be approached as such; nothing to be critically analysed here: it is a fun, entertaining read with some wonderful¬†elements to meet that expectation. So yes, I look forward to reading more of Lu’s books, and will definitely be looking forward to the release of¬†The Rose Society!

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Young Elites
Book Series: The Young Elites #1
Author: Marie Lu
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

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Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

leaving timeI won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway last year, and I regret that it has taken me so long to finish it and review it. Regardless, thank you Allen and Unwin publishers for the book. Please note that my review is based on an uncorrected proof of Leaving Time.

Picoult’s books and I have a weird relationship.

My first book by Picoult was Nineteen Minutes, which I read when I was in high school. I enjoyed it immensely, and I drank in the different perspectives, the controversy, the narratives — and for an impressionable, naive high school student, I was shaken by the traumas of the characters and the effects of bullying (I had an extremely fortunate childhood). In contrast, my second Picoult book was¬†My Sister’s Keeper,¬†which I vehemently despised. I found the narratives emotionally manipulative, and the ending an out-of-field, cheap deus ex machina that left me so angry I vowed to¬†never pick up another Picoult book again.

So, it is by good fortune that I won Leaving Time in that Goodreads giveaway, because I think I am now willing to retract my assertion. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed Leaving Time. Though extremely slow to start (hence why it took me so long to finish it), once you pass the midway mark the pace picks up and the plot develops into a compelling, intriguing narrative that hooked me until the finish.

Like most Picoult books, Leaving Time has multiple perspectives in a parallel narrative (one in the present and the other in the past). I am usually apprehensive to multiple narratives, but with¬†Leaving Time¬†I found that as the story progressed, the story developed, the characters fleshed and the plot and mystery deepened. Further to my surprises, I found that I connected with the characters – though I would not qualify them as profound or utterly memorable, there was just something striking in their circumstances that I couldn’t help but connect with them, empathize with their struggles and their demons, and hope that they could find what they were looking for to move on.

On that note, I think it’s necessary for me to say that I love elephants – they’re one of my favourite animals. Leaving Time has a lot of anecdotes about elephants, given that¬†elephants are central to some of the characters’ occupations, and I enjoyed¬†reading these small stories about them. However, if you don’t care for elephants, parts of the book may read like non-fiction.¬†However, the integrating elephants into the narrative is without purpose – ultimately,¬†Leaving Time¬†is about motherhood and the bonds we – and elephants – have with our mothers. It is exploring the depth of those bonds, the inherent nature of them, and explores the impact of grief and loss should we ever lose it.

Despite my positive opinions about this book, the downside is that it was exceptionally slow to start, and it took a significant amount of effort to finish it. Suffice to say, it took me a few months to get through the first half of the book, but only took me three days to finish the second half. The second half enthralled me, but the first half bored me. Although I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the novel, even going as far to say that I liked the twist (in which I actually surprised myself), it was only the end of the book that justified my reading experience of Leaving Time. There is not much else to savour except the end, and whilst this book ties nicely in the end, it was disappointing that the book ended when it started to get interesting.

It seems that every reader has differing opinions on the elephant anecdotes and the Picoult plot twist, so if you decide to read it, proceed with caution because liking this book really boils down to personal taste. All in all, Leaving Time was a good read, and I would recommend it to fellow elephant lovers.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Information
Book Name: Leaving Time
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Allen and Unwin

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The Ruby Circle by Richelle Mead

Note: This review contains spoilers.

ruby circleI’ve been a fan of the Vampire Academy series ever since I was in high school, which was almost seven years ago. I loved the characters of this series, I loved the world that Mead had created – I loved many things about it.¬†What I loved more than¬†Vampire Academy¬†was the¬†Bloodlines¬†spin-off.¬†

The Ruby Circle¬†is the final book of the¬†Bloodlines series.¬†For the weeks leading up to this book’s release, I was sad; sad that it would end soon. I loved¬†Bloodlines, and¬†I grew to love all the characters deeply. My favourite books of this series were¬†The Indigo Spell¬†and¬†The Fiery Heart,¬†and¬†I plan to re-read these books in the near future.

I have to admit, and I admit this with regret,¬†The Ruby Circle¬†was my least favourite book of the Bloodlines series. The book had an entirely different feel to the previous books —¬†and not in an entirely positive way.

In the previous books, the characters grow and develop with each installment of the series. Watching how they grew with each challenge, tribulation, success and failure was one of the most beautiful elements of the Bloodlines¬†series.¬†Witnessing Sydney’s growth was something that moved me as a reader – from black-and-white, rule-abiding alchemist to an individual who loved someone that she wasn’t meant to love so fiercely and relentlessly and saw a perspective that was completely different to the tenets she was brought up with. And no one could possibly forget Adrian’s character arc – from who he was in the¬†Vampire Academy¬†series to someone who came to care, empathize, and love someone so steadfastly¬†that he changed, sacrificed, and grew as a person. To see both of these¬†characters¬†change and fall in love with each other¬†is probably one of the highlights of my reading¬†life.

It is Sydney and Adrian’s¬†growth as lovers¬†that held so much meaning for me. It¬†is indisputably the best part about the series. I laughed and cried (and blushed!) with them. The gradual change between them was written so beautifully to the extent that typically corny moments did not feel strained or contrived, because readers of the series understood the implications and consequences¬†for¬†them to be together and stay together. It is because we know their history that make their love¬†meaningful and emotional.

In¬†The Ruby Circle,¬†the characters evidently¬†love each other, but the depth that we saw in the previous books is lacking. The best word I have to describe it is¬†stagnant. ¬†Although¬†many things happen in¬†The Ruby Circle,¬†the development of the characters and the plot¬†felt suspended by Mead’s lack of direction in the narrative and character development. At times I felt that Mead had no idea what to do with the characters, so she reduced these¬†complex, multifaceted characters to¬†simplistic, shallow facades of who they were.

I felt that the characters lost their essence – what made them different from other characters in fiction, what made them feel alive and complex. Mead could have explored their relationship in another way,¬†but she recycled motifs from the previous books. I know the effect Mead intended;¬†‘the circle will hold’¬†was incredible and powerful in The Fiery Heart¬†(it made me whimper like a baby!).¬†However, in¬†The Ruby Circle¬†it didn’t have the same affect on me;¬†it was came off contrived and like cheap bait.

With all that said, there were some things to be appreciated¬†in The Ruby Circle.¬†Though the opinions of this subject is polarized, I really am intrigued with what happened¬†with¬†Olive (being intentionally vague here!). Mead didn’t develop this in The Ruby Circle –¬†in fact, it was frustratingly vague and inconclusive –¬†but because of the lack of depth and the room for exploration and development, I am hoping(!) that this¬†implies the¬†VA series is not over for good. Personally, I wouldn’t be against the idea. As much as I still love Sydney and Adrian, I think The Ruby Circle¬†showed that there are no more adventures for them. To return to the VA universe through¬†a new perspective¬†and narrative voice would be an idea I could be on board with.

Despite¬†my less-than-positive opinions of¬†The Ruby Circle,¬†it was still a satisfying conclusion (mostly thanks to the epilogue) to a really fantastic and fun series. Evidently I have qualms with the book, and as¬†I am emotionally invested in this series it pains me to admit them.¬†Nonetheless, I enjoyed it, and I am sad but at peace with the idea that I won’t read any more about Sydney and Adrian. Safe to say, this series will always have a place in my heart.

As a fan of the series, thank you Richelle Mead for writing such a wonderful, breathtaking series, and thank you for giving me something to look forward to for four years. It was a ride, and I am grateful to have been a part of it.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Ruby Circle
Book Series: Bloodlines #6
Author: Richelle Mead
Publisher: Penguin Books