Our Dark Duet By Victoria Schwab

Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: 13th June 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Kate Harker is a girl who isn’t afraid of the dark. She’s a girl who hunts monsters. And she’s good at it. August Flynn is a monster who can never be human, no matter how much he once yearned for it. He’s a monster with a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.

Nearly six months after Kate and August were first thrown together, the war between the monsters and the humans is terrifying reality. In Verity, August has become the leader he never wished to be, and in Prosperity, Kate has become the ruthless hunter she knew she could be. When a new monster emerges from the shadows—one who feeds on chaos and brings out its victim’s inner demons—it lures Kate home, where she finds more than she bargained for. She’ll face a monster she thought she killed, a boy she thought she knew, and a demon all her own. 

So now I’m sad that another V.E. Schwab series is over.

In the space of 3 months, two endings to two very popular series were released, and while I devoured them both in a matter of hours, I had forgotten that once I’d finished them, THAT WAS IT.

Our Dark Duet is the sequel to This Savage Song, about a monster boy who dreams of being human, and a human girl with the fate of becoming monstrous. While the feel of the setting and themes may seem familiar to very genre-specific stories, this series is dripping with that Schwab passion that makes it so much more special than just an apocalyptic monster-book.

I love Schwab’s female characters, and Kate Harker is no exception. I read somewhere that Schwab likes to make her female characters Slytherin’s and my gosh, as a Slytherin, does that make my heart sing. Kate is fearless but also afraid, 100% done but also 100% willing to fight for what is right (or at least her version of right), an icy character with soft gooey centre…somewhere in there.

I love August too. Schwab has a knack for writing what I like to call ‘Hufflepuff Boys’; they’re loving, will do anything for their family, and they ARE the soft gooey centre! While the warring parts of the cities have closed in however, August has changed; he’s closed off, with-holding, and jumps at the chance to fight. I liked his character development – war changes a person, but obviously I love him for who he is which is a soft monster with a knack for playing the violin.

A thrilling end to another V.E. Schwab starred series!

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The Good Immigrant Edited By Nikesh Shukla

Publisher: Unbound
Release Date: 22nd September 2016
Rating:  ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport?

Or be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you? How does it feel to hear a child of colour say in a classroom that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London? What is it like to feel you always have to be an ambassador for your race? How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?

Bringing together 21 exciting black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain today, The Good Immigrant explores why immigrants come to the UK, why they stay and what it means to be ‘other’ in a country that doesn’t seem to want you, doesn’t truly accept you – however many generations you’ve been here – but still needs you for its diversity monitoring forms.

Inspired by discussion around why society appears to deem people of colour as bad immigrants – job stealers, benefit scroungers, undeserving refugees – until, by winning Olympic races or baking good cakes, or being conscientious doctors, they cross over and become good immigrants, editor Nikesh Shukla has compiled a collection of essays that are poignant, challenging, angry, humorous, heartbreaking, polemic, weary and – most importantly – real.

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I have not read a non-fiction in such a long time. I have many, pretty daft excuses, ranging from I don’t like the subject matter to I’m just too damn excited about the fiction that’s coming out and I just don’t have time. But I didn’t want these excuses to make me stop picking up The Good Immigrant.

Crowdfunded and supported into being published, The Good Immigrant is a collection of essays written by people of BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) background and talks about life in the UK while being BAME. The only reason I had heard about it was because some of the contributors I actually follow on Twitter who were promoting the heck out of it (of course!) and I got my hands on it as soon as I could.

While social media has definitely done the most part in making me more aware of institutionalized racism, diversity in entertainment, casual racism and so much more, The Good Immigrant made these topics much more personal, especially when every single essay is taken from memories of experiencing oppression from straight up racial bullying at school to micro-aggressions at the airport.

A lot of the reviews I’ve read are ‘this book was too sad’ and I feel that if that’s all you got from this book, then you kinda missed the point of it. Yes, of course there are many sad parts; these experiences weren’t written about to make you feel… I don’t know, entertained? I mean sure, there were some especially funny essays and jokes, but to me, it was about listening and understanding voices that barely get a chance to speak even in today’s ‘tolerant’ society. Yes, it certainly may be better in some aspects, but in others? In the parts that aren’t so explicit? That you can easily not see or notice or ignore because you’re a white person? That’s what’s in the book. And while you can easily say ‘everyone should read this book’, I think realistically it’s better to say ‘if you want to consider yourself a white ally or someone who doesn’t want to contribute to what you think isn’t racist and damaging, then read this book’.

But also, just read it for the voices. Read it for the understanding. Read it because it is GOOD AND GREAT.

 

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: 1st June 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Meet Dimple.

Her main aim in life is to escape her traditional parents, get to university and begin her plan for tech world domination.

Meet Rishi.

He’s rich, good-looking and a hopeless romantic. His parents think Dimple is the perfect match for him, but she’s got other plans…

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Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

This book is damn cute.

When Dimple Met Rishi is, in many ways, a pretty standard contemporary YA novel, with hilarious hijinks, serious issues and scenarios, and sometimes dramatic but realistic portrayal of a heterosexual teen relationship. But it’s also so much more than that.

It’s not conventional, it’s not the standard, it’s actually telling a story that is not often told; the lives of two Indian-American teenagers, fighting for their place in a society which is fighting against them, whether it be the colour of their skin, their class, or their gender.

Dimple is a talented coder, whose dream is to win a competition that would have her present an app idea to a top revolutionary in the techie world, and we see her struggle in a world of rich white kids who get ahead of her for reasons that shouldn’t matter when it comes to succeeding in the industry.
Rishi comes from tradition, a religious family who only wants what’s best for him, and that’s an arranged marriage with a girl he barely knows. We see the difference in generations, especially on a topic that’s considered really controversial in the Western world and are offered a different perspective which I really enjoyed.

I loved Dimple and Rishi’s back and forth and the way they worked together despite their initial meeting and how caring and respectful they were of each other. And it was actually nice to see a contemporary love interest that wasn’t a dick disguised as an unobtainable mystery (nice one Rishi!).

This book comes out pretty soon, so if you’re looking out for a summery contemporary that’s not a complete U turn from the formula you already love, but still a turn into a new, diverse direction, then When Dimple Met Rishi should be on you TBR!

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Now I Rise (The Conqueror’s Saga #2) By Kiersten White

Publisher: Corgi Children’s (Penguin Random House)
Release Date: 6th July 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Lada Dracul has no allies and no throne. After failing to seize the crown she believes is hers, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting her what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed, the sultan she might have been in love with, brings little comfort to her thorny heart. She left him before he could leave her.

Lada needs her brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople as his reluctant spy. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself, but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

I received an eARC of Now I Rise from Penguin Random House via Netgalley in an exchange for an honest review.

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So when I first read And I Darken, I wasn’t really sure how to rate it. I could not put it down, I ate up every word, I loved all the characters. But at the same time, the story had infuriated me. This can be in any case where you find a character that makes bad decisions. I didn’t like where things were going, and even though I had fallen in love with everything else, I still gave it four stars out of bitterness.

But this time? This time I could not do it.

Who am I kidding? Giving this series four stars when it takes all of my attention and forces me to keep the book open? No, I don’t know why I was holding myself back just because the decisions of one character were pissing me off. To make the one star drop even more unnecessary, the character with the bad decisions is my favourite character, so he can make as many bad decisions as he wants; I’m still gonna love him. Even if I am suuuuper disappointed in his actions.

Now I Rise continues from And I Darken, the story of Lada and Radu Dracul, the children of a weak king whose land is taken from him as they are taken to be raised by Sultan Murad in the Ottoman Empire. In the second installation, they have parted ways as Radu become the right hand man of newly appointed Sultan Mehmed II and Lada gathers together an army to take back the kingdom that is rightfully hers.

coverI am in no way a history buff. I barely listened in history class and gave it up at fourteen as quickly as I could, but I’m definitely starting to find a new found love of historical fiction, especially ones that actually take from historical events rather that just have a court with women in pretty dresses and romance drama. While this story is not wholly accurate and still called fiction, it’s still really hard to not google ‘Constantinople’ and spoil myself. I had an idea of what would happen, but it’s nice to know that my lack of history knowledge is finally paying off.

I love Radu and Lada in so many different ways. First there’s Lada, a headstrong, rage-fueled solider who is mot definitely going to become a tyrant. She’s blood thirsty and cruel but also incredible. I would not cross her, and I want her to succeed so badly. Then there’s Radu, my sweet summer child, the softest man in the Ottoman Empire who just wants love and appreciation and honestly? Now I Rise we finally get to see him as a protector of people who love him just as much as he loves them. I’ve never been infatuated with someone before, and it’s clear that the events from the first novel are still deeply ingrained in Radu… hence earlier when I talked about a fave character making bad decisions. I love him, but sometimes I just wanna bang his head against the wall. YOU HAVE LOVE, RIGHT THERE READY FOR YOU. But what I do know that un-loving someone is hard, and I really hope book three turns out the way I want it to, without looking at Wikipedia impatiently.

I could never decide whose story I liked best because I loved them in different ways. I loved Lada’s story; her soldiers who are loyal but also have the best banter, her cruelness and determination, the way she does not understand other women and yet they are of utmost importance to her, her realization that allies may not be allies at all.

I loved Radu’s story; his loyalty slowly breaking away from Mehmed, his realization that good and evil are not black and white, his innocence shattering. NAZIRA AND CYRIAN TOO. What powerhouses.

If you’ve been umming and ahhhing about And I Darken, please give it a go. And if you’re still on the fence afterwards, then know that this will be the book that will get you utterly obsessed with this trilogy.

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Always & Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: 4th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
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Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.

But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.

When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

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Unfortunately, I do not think Always and Forever, Lara Jean lives up to it’s predecessors.

While all three books in the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy definitely exude this feeling of living on a pink, fluffy cloud that smells like bubblegum and cake mixture, this last book feels a little different to the others…it doesn’t really have a plot.

Unlike the first two books where there’s the whole fake boyfriend scenario in book one, and then relationship drama and a love triangle in book two, book three just sort of happens. I love Lara Jean and enjoy getting this insight into her life but AAFLJ just came across as diary entries that she was forced to write for a Creative Writing class that she’s not really into.

There’s no conflict, and if there is even a little, it’s no big deal and it’s easily resolved. The word I would call this book is: mild. It’s a chicken korma. I like chicken korma, but it’s not exactly my most adventurous choice of a dish.

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The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Publisher: Feiwal & Friends
Release Date: 16th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆
Goodreads

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Apparently this year’s running theme is ‘being disappointed by my anticipated reads’. Because boy, am I getting disappointed by my anticipated reads.

I came across The Love Interest and begged every single gatekeeper to give me an early copy. Not only was it LGBT, it also seemed to be a funny self-deprecation at the genre and how many YA novels have the same romance tropes which are tired and clichéd.

When I was ignored, I waited for the Kindle edition and impatiently downloaded it on the release day (for £6.50, for God’s sake). I prepared myself for a full day of reading the whole thing; just me and this book, which I already knew I loved.

Oh. My. God.

This book is bad, which I hate to say about a book that I had such good expectations for. It does not read like a polished, traditionally published novel by a top publisher where editors have fine tooth combed it to perfection. This is a book that was clearly not looked at enough. Not read out loud to understand truly how badly structured and paced this whole thing is.

We’ll start with the writing, which I can only describe as written as bad stage directions. Every single thing is described, things that do not matter to the plot whatsoever. It’s not even purple prose, it’s just listing everything a person does or what a place looks like to the point where we are forced to shut down our imagination because everything is covered. But there’s no creativity; it’s just straight up describing and explaining. Here’s one mind numbing paragraph:

“”If it’s not too much trouble, can you chop up this celery for me?” A gigantic piece of celery is sitting on a wooden chopping board. I walk toward it and pick up the silver knife. I cut off the head, the slice the body into thin slivers.”

Apparently a reader cannot possibly know what chopping celery is, and so is taken through every step the main character goes through in order to fully understand this scene. Now, imagine this throughout the entire book. I felt like I was being talked to like an idiot. The protagonist walks into a room, the character smiles and breathes in and then breathes out. He then walks 30cm to the North West of the room and reaches for a pen, he picks up the pen……and it goes on. There is even a scene where two characters are out for a meal and nothing happens. We just get told that they lift up their forks and put food in their mouth and chew. AM I GOING CRAZY? I KNOW WHAT EATING FOOD IS.

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The dialogue is also just…not dialogue. It doesn’t sound authentic or real. I’m not expecting a book to write speech so accurately that it becomes a transcript, but to have characters talk as if they’re reading from a teleprompter is so bizarre. They don’t pause for breath, they just keep saying ‘oh also,’ and ‘anyway enough about that’ and just keep going. They have answers without thinking about things, like they’ve rehearsed what they’re going to say. And even though the love interests in the novel do sometimes have rehearsed lines, not everyone does! They all sound like robots! The only way I can explain it is if you and a mate got the book and acted a scene out. Hear the dialogue out in the open, and then you’d realise it sounds like a bad amateur play.

The characters? I don’t know. Caden, from the beginning, we are told does not feel like he is a Nice because he doesn’t fit the mould. He says he’s selfish and is out for himself, and I understand it’s supposed to be a commentary on unrealistic characterization and that real people aren’t ‘nice’ or ‘bad’ but more of a mixture of the two with some leaning more one way than the other. I got that. But Caden isn’t much of anything? He says that he thinks a certain way but we don’t actually see it? He’s just a bit of a wet mop. They all are; even Dylan, the ‘bad’ who at first came across as a manic pixie dream boy, but then becomes like that character Summer from 500 Days of Summer. He’s wishy-washy and both of them just stand around and say stock sentences.

The premise, the plot that there’s this place where they create perfect people to be spies and make target’s fall in love with them is…I get it. It’s a sci-fi aspect to the common tropes in YA. You’re supposed to suspend your disbelief, but I physically couldn’t. There’s not enough exposition for this concept to land properly. We’re not given enough. After reading this, and someone asked me to explain exactly what the Love Interest Compound (LIC) is, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. Is it a prison? Is it a nice place? Is it awful? How do they find love interests? How do they raise them? Why do they kill them? Where has all this money come from to spend on giant robots and cool holograms that people can conjure up with a flick of a finger? If they deal in secrets and information from their targets, how has that information not caused world war three? Or the collapse of society? I DON’T KNOW. I felt like it could have been something a lot smoother and polished and clever, but instead there just wasn’t enough. You were in there, and then suddenly you were made to forget about it and plopped into a YA contemporary, where the threat of death is still there but no one is that bothered. It doesn’t feel like a big deal.

I’m so disappointed. If this was a gripping story with humour mixed in with a thoughtful message, it would have been so much easier to look past some of the hammy stuff. But a badly written book is a badly written book, and I hope that the author continues to write and gets better editors.

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Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: May 2013
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
Goodreads

Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with a boy who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

In all honesty, this book was not what I expected.

41rr-qkuy2blWhile it was funny and romantic, I did not expect a genuinely thought out message which you don’t normally find in an LGBT story; the actual label of being ‘gay’ and how people perceive you as a person, even if it’s a positive perception. While the message does get tossed back and forth and Rafe’s opinion and thoughts about what he’s set out to do change throughout the book (ergo, a plot), I did find myself struggling with a lot of things that he was made to accept just because she should be ‘grateful’ that he as cool and welcoming parents.

A lot of the things that Rafe asks of his parents do not slide with them and, though that may be the case, they still should be accommodating even when they do not think that is the right thing for him. They express their concern, but still go out of their way to make Rafe uncomfortable. He’s a teenager; not only are things super uncomfortable and embarrassing for him anyway, going against someone’s wishes regarding their sexuality or identity opens a whole other can of problematic worms. But, because ‘other people have it worse’, he’s made to embrace it which, if I were him, would not slide. This is about Rafe, and his parents often made it about them.

However, I loved the dissecting of male friendships and relationships while Rafe is at the all-boys boarding school. I have read stories with male protagonists with male friends, but I hadn’t really read something that felt so organic and true (despite not being male with male friends). It can be a toxic environment, and Rafe definitely sees that dark side to being surrounded by just guys, but also sees the joy and openness of it, especially when it comes to Ben and how they both do away with toxic masculinity to just be themselves without the weight of the world on their shoulders.

I’ve heard some not great stuff about Openly Straight’s sequel, Honestly, Ben. But if you’ve read it please tell me what you think!

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