A Closed & Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Publisher: Hodder
Release Date: June 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

I am in love with this series.

IMG_20170803_190032_576It breaks boundaries. It tells the stories of humans through fictional species and humans occupying the same space (haha) as said fictional species. It breaks down the fundamentals of being human from the perspective of aliens, said fundamentals that people still don’t comprehend as being part of culture and our surroundings rather than ‘biology’ or ‘the right way’. One of the things it does in particular and so perfectly is the understanding of human gender and it’s sociological construction. There are hundreds, if not thousands of alien species in this fictional universe, and many that have genders and all are so different and varied from each other that it helps to understand how human gender and biological sex works, and how many of the aspects of them are just made up.

There’s a species that are all born female, until they become male in their old age. There’s a species with three sexes; male, female, and shon, whereby they routinely change their biological sex depending on the time of year.

And across these species, each also have their own societal constructs that may or may not determine a gender, if they even have them. For example, a shon’s only change is their body parts, but their likes, dislikes, and their appearance remain the same. And it begs a lot of questions about how we may treat fellow species when and if we see them in our life time. Would we greet them with kindness? With hostility? I’m always the pessimist, and I believe that because we can barely settle our differences here on Earth, I highly doubt we’d begin to understand the different concepts and societies of another alien race. We’re still such a primitive race that we cannot understand a different way of life on the other side of the Earth to us. Imagine a whole other race that could comprehend not only race, gender, sexuality, speech, emotion, reproduction, religion etc differently, but time, space, dimensions, light, sound etc differently?? We just have tiny human minds, is what I’m saying.

I would definitely read this series if you’re looking for a story that shows the possibility of humanity living peacefully with fellow species, with creative and imaginative off-Earth communities filled with every colour and creed of the universe as we know it.

 

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The Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes

Publisher: Dial/Penguin
Release Date: 22nd August 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, her father is a convicted murderer, and his execution date is fast approaching. For another, Molly refuses to believe that her mother is dead, and she waits for the day when they’ll be reunited . . . despite all evidence that this will never happen.

Pepper Al-Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy, serious girl problems, and the most useless seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer . . . or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly gets a package leading her to Pepper, they’re tasked with solving a decades-old mystery: find out who killed Ava, back in 1989. Using Ava’s diary for clues, Molly and Pepper realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

WELL WASN’T THIS MOTHER-FLIPPIN’ AMAZING

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This book. Oh my gosh. After I finished the final page, I closed the book slowly and just sat there staring out of my window. I cannot believe that there are books that I’ve been waiting for for months, sat on my TBR pile physically and on Goodreads, and The Arsonist hasn’t been on any of them. Not even that, but I didn’t know it existed until I saw it on a table at the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) and all I had to do was sign up to a newsletter and I would receive it for free.

I had the choice of any one of the books on the table, and yes, I may have chosen The Arsonist because of that pretty cover and because my friends’ also picked it up. But what was inside? WHY HADN’T I KNOWN ABOUT IT BEFORE?

The Arsonist is a story told through three perspectives that flow so well together, Molly, the girl with no friends, with a broken family with a father on death row and a burning idea that a mother didn’t kill herself and is actually in hiding, Pepper, a boy failing school and figuring out whether he cares or not (plus he’s got a hilarious seizure pug called Bertrand), and Ava, a young girl living in East Berlin in the 1980s, imprisoned behind the wall and away from the rest of the world.

I loved every single perspective in a different way, and it would be cruel to pick favourites. I loved Molly for her inquisitive mind, her determination, Pepper for his comedy gems, his willingness to go along for the adventure, and of course Ava for her harrowing life in East Berlin and the journey she took in search for freedom, right up until her death (this isn’t a spoiler it says it on the blurb, kids). Everything was gripping, everything, I hated putting this book down because I felt like I was wasting time doing other things.

I actually, for a short period of time, thought Ava Dreyman was a real person in history and a quick Google search found me back at The Arsonist’s Goodreads page, whoops.

This book comes out 22nd August. Please, if you’re looking for a new release that has intrigue, drama, adventure, incredible friendships, history, and a useless but lovable doggo, then read The Arsonist. What a treat.

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The Four Star Crisis

I did not realise that the star rating system was something I used so much in my life.

I use it for books, films, restaurants, hotels, years (2016 got 0 stars obviously), nightclubs, makeup, I could go on. But recently I’ve been having trouble try to explain myself as to why I’ve given a book a certain number of stars.

Goodreads doesn’t exactly force you to use their star rating system, but enough people still complain about it, one of the biggest complaints being that there aren’t half star ratings. I get it; you’ve signed up to a website where you want better explain yourself as to why you loved/hated a book. You want to be a little more precise, and sometimes a star rating system doesn’t really do it justice.

And while I haven’t really had a problem using it before, I’ve noticed a trend in the books I’ve been rating.

I bloody love to use four stars.

A lot of people on their blogs have a set of guidelines as to what they mean when they give a book a certain amount of stars, but I’ve never done that. I didn’t want to be so rigid in my rating, but it now comes across as slightly confusing, especially to myself. The only star ratings that seem to explain enough are one star (fucking awful) and five stars (fucking incredible), and while I rarely use two stars because I might as well just knock it down to one and only use three if the book was average, I use four stars to the point where the books rated do not have the same opinion from me anymore.

Four stars, for me, has been the ‘could have been five stars, but wasn’t just quite there’, which is a good enough explanation. But recently, the lines have blurred. The books aren’t mediocre, but they’re probably not something I’d read again. Some are strong four stars and some are weak four stars, but does that mean I’m using four stars too liberally? Is a four star a watered down five star or a heavily concentrated three star?

Why must you torture me this way, four stars??

Am I being too nice? Too cruel? Looking at my Goodreads, there’s far too many four star books; some I read the sequels eagerly, and some I have given away almost instantly. I turned my back on those books.

Maybe it’s time for something different. Maybe the star rating system is not good enough to explain how I feel about a book. Not all the books I read can be four stars. Otherwise, what’s the point in rating them if they all have the same rating?

How do you go about rating books, if at all? What do you think about when deciding how many stars to give a book? What makes a book receive a half star, or even lose one? What’s your opinion on the dreaded four star dilemma?

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: July 1993
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
Goodreads

Plot: Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.

So I read a lot of YA. And when I say a lot, I mean almost exclusively.

It’s not really a thing that’s done on accident either; I get a lot out of YA. I find the stories and the characters are a lot more diverse. I genuinely think that YA is paving the way to progression in novels. You don’t believe how many general fiction books sound so similar to each other and yet get published. My time working in a bookshop meant casually reading the blurbs in the gen fiction section and rolling my eyes at the honestly tiresome tropes and stock characters.

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And so when I picked up The Secret History I did expect certain things. First off, I wasn’t a fan of the characters. I know these characters aren’t supposed to be likeable, but there’s a line that crosses over into “I’m ready for them to die or at least stop talking.” – this was Richard all over. At points he’s either just a walking camera so that we can peer into the lives of other, more interesting characters, or he’s got an inner dialogue that makes me want to strangle him. I feel, without him, I would have given The Secret History 5 stars because I loved all of the other characters…even Bunny (I know).

I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the style of writing too. I mean, I read the first page and thought “Well shit, this is A Level English Lit all over again,” but I was actually able to follow along and it really added to the ‘posh’ feeling you get from the characters who, let’s face it, are quite elitist. This is the stuff they would be reading and how they would be reading it. And it was gripping too, despite the lengthy prose and the insufferable protagonist, I was eager to make it to the end, to see what became of these characters who had found themselves in such an awful situation when it was often so easy for them to get out of stuff usually.

I don’t think I’m interested in reading Tartt’s other novels, but I’ll definitely be finding more literary style general fictions that have more interesting plots like The Secret History!

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As I Descended by Robin Talley

Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: September 2016
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Plot: Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.

Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.

Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.

But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.

Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.

But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

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I’m not a massive fan of retellings.

True, I haven’t read many, but I guess that’s part of the criteria for ‘not liking it’. Retellings are often retellings of stories that I don’t really know about in the first place. Unless, it’s a retelling of a book that I do know, then I may get excited, but I purely picked up As I Descended because while it may be a retelling of Macbeth (a play I haven’t read), it was specifically an LGBT retelling.

Que fireworks and cheering!

So this story is very weird; it’s knee deep in magical realism and things happening for no logical reason. There were times I was screaming at the characters to act with more common sense, and I assumed when they didn’t it was because the characters from Macbeth didn’t. I don’t know. I haven’t read Macbeth, have I? And while I was surprised at everything they did because it was crazy and so unexpected, I did find it quite frustrating, but I assume Macbeth must be quite frustrating too.

I didn’t particularly like any of the characters apart from Mateo, who seemed to be the only one who was self-aware and not acting strange, unlike the others who did silly things for silly reasons. But hey, so is the nature of a retelling – a modern day story with a similar plot to an older, maybe more dramatic story is always going to come across a little odd, but I still enjoyed the eeriness and the spookiness of the setting.

Will I read another Robin Talley book? Most definitely. Will I put retellings on the back burner? Most definitely.

And I Darken by Kiersten White

Publisher: Corgi
Release Date: July 2016
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Plot: No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.

After talking to myself (and anyone else who would listen), I’ve figured out what I liked and what I disliked about this book.

Firstly, about 90% of the book I thoroughly enjoyed. It was slow moving, but it just meant that the story was rich in setting, tension, political intrigue and showed how slow the process of rule and politics can be. I loved the characters, how complicated they were and how evil they could become.

But, unfortunately, a lot of that has been relegated to the bench because of how disappointing the romance was. The fact that there was romance alone made it so unfortunate and unnecessary. Is that how back stories to evil characters are? Do they always have a romance that was a bit sad and rubbish and that’s what makes them awful? I liked that Lada was clearly evil and nasty to begin with, but for a potential villain to ‘not know her emotions’ when it came to a boy was honestly just so boring.

And the fact that Radu, sweet and lovely Radu, is friendzoned (I hate this phrase, but I was annoyed for him in this sense) throughout the book and it’s just accepted. It’s a common theme that unrequited love is just a thing that has to happen for some, for who, however, I won’t spoil. Maybe I am just a salty person when it comes to a character not getting the love they deserve? There were so many instances where Radu could have been happy, and he always just chose the wrong way, and it infuriated me how obsessed and blindly in love he was.

It may seem that I HATED 90% of the book, but I still stand by what I said at the beginning.

This book was well written and drawn out superbly, and I am intrigued to see what happens in the next, but it was also really annoying.

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The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Publisher: Corgi (Penguin)
Release Date: 1st November 2016
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Plot: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

 

I received this book as an ARC from Penguin in exchange for an honest review.

There’s something about straight, summer romances that has people coming back for more. While I’m not one to judge if you love reading them over and over again (everyone has a genre/theme/plot device they can’t get enough of), I still like to question why, after the market being saturated with them, these plots are still popular.

I’m talking about the two white, middle class heterosexuals falling in love, and then maybe one gets cancer but then it’s alright in the end nobody dies everything is fine everyone gets to go to prom. There’s a black best friend, bonus points if there’s a camp gay guy in the background somewhere and the male love interest is a bit of a dick.

I’ve read a lot of contemporary romance this year and it’s YA that seems to be the one to actually break out of these stereotypes and introduce something new and different and, dare I say it, diverse. The Sun Is Also A Star is a new example of why YA is important, and should be read not just by young adults but old adults too. There’s a real stigma when it comes to a certain type of contemporary, and it’s because of the stories I just described, where having a black person as your main character is considered a ‘curveball idea’.

While I’m not about praising authors for doing something so basic (yet important) as being diverse with their characters, I will absolutely praise Nicola Yoon for highlighting the rampant casual racism and struggles that POC youth have to deal with just because they’re not white e.g. the fact that black women have this idea reinforced constantly that their hair is not “good hair”. This is stuff you probably wouldn’t consider if you’re in your own little bubble like many of us are. It’s not just that, it’s also that characters such as Natasha and Daniel are relatable to so many who don’t see themselves in not one character in YA because so many books are about the people who don’t consider representation because they open up a book or turn on the TV and see themselves every single day.

I will say this; don’t read this book because the main characters are black and Asian and you want to feel like you did something good by picking it up. Read this book because it’s insightful, because it treats each character (even the ones you only meet briefly) to a rich backstory with traits that may deem them unlikable, and yet you can’t help bit find them interesting. Read this book because you are sick and tired of the same old dumb story, and you like the idea of reading about people you maybe can’t relate to, or you’re tired BECAUSE no characters in YA are relatable to you, and these definitely will be.

Oh, and not everyone goes to prom. But the people at prom are not necessarily the interesting ones, are they?

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