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Only Humans – a review of The Messenger by Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak has written my favourite book of all time, The Book Thief. I have read one of his other works prior, Bridge of Clay, and wasn’t amazed admittedly. This made me wonder if the Book Thief was the sole place where Zusak peaked.

After reading The Messenger, I decided he is just that good of an author.

Ed Kennedy wants to be more than an underage taxi driver, but he has never found the chance to do so. However, after he stops a bank robbery – albeit a pathetic one – everything changes. His week of fame ends with a single envelope address to him appearing in his letterbox; the ace of clubs with three addresses written on it. With nothing better to do, Ed decides to visit these addresses. And so he spirals into an obsession with these cards and unhealthy selflessness.

Zusak always masters narrative voice in his works, and Ed is no exception. What is most noticeable in The Messenger, however, is the evolution of the voice with the character. As the story went on, so did the depth of Ed’s thoughts and the sheer poetry of what was going on around him. It is very natural for narrative voice to evolve as a story goes on, as an author’s style is very literally improving with each paragraph. But Zusak goes a step further with distinguishable ways that Ed changes in the novel. It makes the words really feel like his thoughts. Zusak flourishes his perfection of writing in first person.

His mastery of characters expands even further to the wide cast in this book. It is very literally showing the characters changing and opening up as Ed takes each of them on different character arcs. It is quite a mission to connect so many short stories so expertly as Ed changes the lives of twelve different people and their families. They were all raw. They were all real. They were all relatable. I felt like I collected their hearts and tenderly loved them all.

But what I especially loved was how it was all laced together. The card game. Well, as it is on the surface. Contemporary stories can be unusual for me, because they focus on very regular things in life and either oversell or undersell what goes on. This was a story about people making do in a small Australian town and not reaching their goals or dreams. And all it took was one person to connect them to their needs. It is a story that truly showed the human condition and how that small thing connects us and is how we evolve. Just by needing that small push, that agent to guide you on the right path. To make yourself.

If you don’t read it, you won’t understand what I’m on about. Pick up a copy right now. You’ll regret it if you don’t. This book was a lucky find in a second hand shop that is worth gold.

The Messenger gets a score of 5/5. Markus Zusak again makes a favourite of mine.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Easy A made me do it- a review of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

My first inclination that this novel existed was back in Year 10 of high school in which our class watched the acclaimed teen comedy Easy A. It was an enjoyable movie, and when I found this piece of classic literature again on my Nintendo DS game I suddenly became interested in the material this film was inspired off of.

In the Puritan New England, Hester Prynne has been marked with the letter “A” for adultery after giving birth to a daughter of unknown parentage, facing public humiliation in her town for what she has done. She can only be freed from this humiliation is she reveals the child’s father, but her husband refuses to let her speak of it for he will also be punished. What follows is a life of ostracization for Hester and her daughter Pearl, as they both embrace and resent the reputation the Scarlet Letter brings to them. However, they may not be the only ones facing such burden…

I liked this novel for how it told of the roles played by man, women and child – just to name a handful – in such a society. Each was subject to alienation – by self, by society and by birth respectively. Just to see how each of these characters reacted to such things was intriguing. Father Dimmesdale going mad, Hester taking her’s in stride, and young Pearl oblivious to it.

The narrative was viewed through one valuable and terrifying lens – manipulation. Blackmail. Something so universally terrifying from even so long ago. The balance between righteousness and security. Though I experience it from a very modern perspective, I related to this theme a fair amount. I feel guilty for doing things that offer me security but ultimately feel wrong. And the symbolism of the novel really showcased this, powerful imagery that left me spooked.

However, there were times where I was unsure what was happening. This may have largely been to the writing style and how Hawthorne would add detail to certain routines, occasional backstory and heavy internal monologue. This can be a big turn off for me at times, often what makes me finish a book or rate it under average. Luckily I was able to work out the plot of the novel towards its end and connect the various dots. The fact that I could still understand the story as a result proved to be a very valuable part of finishing this novel in the end, especially during a year where there were novels that didn’t make sense at any time. I very much merit the Scarlet Letter for that.

I look forward to connecting the dots and seeing the greater value of the story when I reread it. Maybe then I may rate the novel higher, but we shall see.

The Scarlet Letter gets a score of 3/5. I’m willing to give this book a second try in a couple of years time, but for now I am satisfied.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Some Obvious Bias – a review of Dark Destiny by MJ Putney

I dug myself into a hole when I decided to read the third book in the Dark Mirror series. Since my review of the previous book and it being average as all nine hells, I opened this final installment wincing.

A book that should’ve taken me five days to read took me eight instead, PLUS an additional four days to get the guts to read these.

Back in the early 1940s Tori, Cynthia and her fellow mages have saved members of the Rainford family from death and has saved Dr Weiss and his family from Nazi imprisonment. But now these mages have to return to 1804 as the threat of Napoleon invading looms and they must now protect their own land and time. Meanwhile, Rebecca Weiss remains in the 1940s as a French Jew going to a British school, discovering her own magical potential. Such magic may be crucial in defeating Napoleon…

For this being the big battle and the way to conclude the series, it wound up fairly tame. The leads claimed to have found the situation stressful, with the only struggle faced being a broken ankle and them having many feasts and hospitable situations keep their head in the game. It didn’t feel right – more so how the magic system is soft to the point of it being malleable to solve any problem the mages may have. It barely felt like a struggle. Book one featured a greater struggle than in book three – that goes against all narrative logic! Too much was handed to them on a silver platter instead of in a rubbish bag.

As a sucker for World War II fiction, I enjoyed the perspectives from Rebecca and her being welcomed as a Jew in a British community. This part felt the most real and insightful out of anything. I would read the hell out of a novel that was just of Rebecca trying to find a new normal life with the British and the people around her recognising and celebrating her Jewish culture. If there is a story like this, can someone please tell me!

On the flip side, the 1804 society was in comparison completely glossed over. Most of the insights here were fictional due to the inclusion of magic in this world and how pivotal it was in nobility. To me that just screams a bias – at least while researching – towards World War Two. The writing itself showed that especially in this novel, with the world being far more developed in those scenes.

Furthermore, the main character Tori felt nearly useless in this novel. Her power was framed as something so huge, but she was next to never responsible for the story progressing. She was just there for every important moment to boost powers that knowing how bad this magic system is could have been achieved without her help. This is further emphasised by the one thing I hate the most in novels – when the main character doesn’t solve their own problems or achieve their goals. Other people do it for Tori. And that makes me furious at how happy an ending she got.

So in conclusion, I’m glad to finally finish the series, but not that it wasted my time.

Dark Passage gets a score of 2/5. The only parts I loved to death were short lived, like sunshowers in between thunderstorms.

I don’t think I need to do this whole series reviewing thing because you already know my thoughts, but I’ll go through it anyway as per tradition.

Dark Mirror3.5/5, the plot twist blew the whole story out of proportion, but it wound up being a very fun read nonetheless.

Dark Passage2.5/5, never mind, it’s not fun anymore. It’s a drag. So much talking and planning when there needs to be more actin and exploration.

Dark Destiny – 2/5, I just want a book about Rebecca Weiss now. I want that to be the only thing I remember from this series.

The one way to describe this series is never delivering on its promises. I thought this was going to be a series about a secret mage society protecting England to prove their magic to not make them worthless, and instead I got time travel with a warped magic system. This series had such a promising start in spite of the shock over it not being the story written on the blurb. I should’ve seen this as a sign that it was only going to go downhill. This is to the point where I would guess that somebody else may like it more than me – I’m not going to shit on the series any more than I already have. Undoubtedly, this is the most average book series in existence. It is definitely not for me. I hope I haven’t discouraged any potential readers too much.

The Dark Mirror Trilogy gets a score of 2.5/5 It’s going off the bookshelf.

Yours in writing

Amy

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This is it, the Apocalypse – a review of Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

I’m scared of the future of humanity after reading this book. That’s how you know I’m hooked.

I don’t think I ever read a dystopian that felt so real before. Quite often dystopia is based around a futuristic society with a rule or law that we consider baffling, that is until we learn how the society got to be in such a state. And my god, does the future in the Arc of a Scythe series feel so real! The hype was definitely met from when I finished the first book in the trilogy. Spoilers for that book are ahead.

Corruption is evident within the Scythedom, the body of trained killers who are the only people possible of being able to kill humans in the near future of earth. Two people are seeking to rid it out – Citra, more commonly known as Scythe Anastasia, and Rowan, her ally who fell short of receiving the title of a Scythe. While Rowan seeks to kill the most corrupt in the Scythedom with the skills learnt in his apprenticeship, Citra is using her popularity and political sway to convince people to remain moral in their gleanings.

In the first book, Scythe, we learnt of the trials of those going into the Scythedom and what it means to hold such a responsibility. From there, the world was expanded greatly in Thunderhead. We learn about the politics and activities amongst Scythes, and much more outside of that society and how the world is connected through various relationships with the A.I. entity, the Thunderhead. What I appreciated about this world building was how is was shown through how it was orchestrated just as much as what consequences this society made. I went very deep into so many individual aspects of this society and I relished in how easy it was to digest. It was a perfect expansion from learning of the Scythedom to the rest of society.

The plot was incredibly strong here. Everything connected very well and left me on the edge of my seat constantly. I can say that this plot was definitely unpredictable – a rare occurrence if I am to be honest. I’m certain after every five or so chapters my reaction was “Wait, what?” in a good sense. That’s how you know you got a good book, when the “Wait, what?”s are positive and leave you excited. I never felt confused following this story along. It had a perfect balance of flow, predictability and shock – a balance that is hard to leverage to the degree that Shusterman did.

Again, we have strong characters leading us through the story – with extra characters to follow along with. You could understand the mindset for each of them so quickly, even those we looked into the minds of for just one chapter. However, this also becomes a weakness. There were characters that I wanted to learn more about – namely Citra and Rowan – but not enough chapters highlighted or developed them enough. In hindsight I can see why we read those particular perspectives, but the sheer number of them while reading it was at times off putting. With this being a series about Citra and Rowan, there wasn’t enough chapters or scenes from their perspective to satisfy me completely.

I’m not entirely mad though, not with how emphasised the conclusion of the novel was pivotal to them. Soon, I shall be finishing what is undoubtedly a fantastic series. I know Shusterman isn’t going to let me down.

Thunderhead gets a score of 4.5/5.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Simply Epic – a review of The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

I recognise that I often read books that were released aeons ago due to most of my novels being thrifted. Now I’ve read a novel that was release in 2021 and I was looking forward to reading as soon as I saw a person of colour on the front cover and found out it was written by a black author. And just writing this blog post I found out she’s an Indie author too, like me!

She has undoubtedly deserved her Indie Bestseller status with this debut.

When Deka bleeds gold blood of demons, her village treats her as one. It is by luck that the Emperor is seeking girls like Deka, impure half-demons who are deemed impure. She is taken away to use her newfound demonic abilities as a new breed of warrior trained to fight the onslaught of Deathshrieks taking away young girls – a force of monsters who keep on growing. However, even amongst her fellow part demons Deka discovers that she is even more absurd than she thought.

I should first mention that this book is definitely not for everyone. It touches heavily on themes of abuse towards females. This may hit too close to home for some people.

Firstly, whenever a patriarchal plot is part of a story I typically feel a bit iffy towards it. Sometimes it hits too much on the nose as an exact reenactment of history, like it was plucked from our world and placed into theirs. The world of the Gilded Ones never felt like that. While some themes coincide with ones from history, it felt like its own history altogether and for that I was far more invested. It made the feminism story and themes feel a lot more genuine and made me root for Deka and her fellow warriors that much more.

Moving on to talk about them, these characters were incredibly real with all their various backgrounds. I really appreciated how diverse, ethnically and personality-wise, everyone was. This can often be the case when there is a large ensemble style cast, but not with this cast. Few characters felt generic, and when they did it wasn’t in a way that made me roll my eyes or gloss over a character totally. It was hard to pick a favourite because of how developed so many of these characters are.

I think I loved the world the most though. While it still had some high fantasy elements present, it heralded its own culture that brought upon an incomparable world. I am here for this! It’s not just how well the feminist aspects of this novel contribute to the world. The monsters, the cities, the people and their religion combined to make a world that I can guarantee is absolutely unique. I think it’s one of my favourite worlds in a book I’ve read so far.

My only complaint would be the second half of the novel felt rushed. Granted this was because a lot of time went by, but it only left me wanting more or wishing a certain aspect was explored further. Furthermore, with the way the novel concluded it didn’t feel like a conclusion suitable for the end of book one. This felt like at least a book two or three ending – it felt too epic for a first book.

Although that might mean that the following novels will end even more epically. For that, I can’t wait until the second book in the series comes out next year.

The Gilded Ones gets a score of 4.5/5. Epic fantasy to make a girl feel epic.

Yours in writing

Amy

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…What? – a review of Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

In recent years of reviewing and reading historical fiction books I’ve found that a writing style can make or break a book. It can make me fall in love with it like the Book Thief or I will end up hating how confusing it made the story like with Catch 22.

Warlight’s writing style just made me confused.

14-year-old Nathaniel’s parents have left him and his older sister in the care of a man they named the Moth in the wake of World War II. During this time where Nathaniel comes of age and begins to define himself, he learns that his upbringing and what he envisioned of his family was built upon lies.

The truth is… I don’t know. You can already guess that the writing style contributed to it, but let’s cover a little bit more first.

This novel was framed to be a solid narrative and to have a conclusion, and while I was given the pieces to put the puzzle together I was unable to solve it. And with this being a semi-mystery, you’d at least expect that answer to be spat in your face. I more so know what happened in Nathaniel’s mother’s past, but I still don’t know who she is or the conclusions made after those events in her past were revealed. I didn’t even sound like Nathaniel himself, who was studying his mother’s history, was happy with the outcome or got the full picture. I got a better outcome from this with Catch-22, one of my most hated books of all time, because of how unreadable it was and how often I didn’t know what was going on. And yet, it was easier to follow than Warlight.

And yet this book I don’t hate as much as Catch-22. The writing style and prose was very beautiful and often individual chapters felt very mesmerising to read. Single scenes or chapters were mesmerizing and the inner thoughts and observations of Nathaniel were great to explore in the moment. The moments he spent in his affair were among my favourites and the moments where the story felt the most relatable. This is the one redeeming quality of this novel.

I simply cannot express my confusion more! It was more than the plot that made me think this. Were any of the characters visually described in any way? No. Did the plot match the blurb and what I expected from the novel? No. Was the direction the story was going in clear at any point? No. I am convinced the author was literally piecing together random bits of poetic prose and moments into some form of an underdeveloped narrative barely worthy of the title. I for the life of me do not know what was going on in this whole novel. The writing style mase it a great hassle to read behind flowery prose.

And again, its nonlinear nature wasn’t the problem! Why the hell don’t nonlinear narratives state more clearly the order that everything is going in, clear definitions of whether the chapter is taking place in the past or the future? In or out of the narrative? So far half the books I have read with a non-linear narrative are near impossible to read.

And now I ask is that too much to ask for?

Warlight gets a score of 2/5. Did this book make it onto Sparknotes for me to get a grasp of? I’m not gonna read them anyway. Just curious.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Legacy – a review of Blood and Tempest by Jon Skovron

I didn’t realise how strong of an attachment I had to the Empire of Storms series until I grew excited seeing this book come closer and closer to being next on my TBR list. Maybe it was the high that came from the end of the second book, Bane and Shadow, that made me want to read the final book in the series.

And yes, that means I’m rating the entire trilogy as a whole.

The biomancers and Vinchen are out to seek their so-called traitors threatening to bring them down; Bleak Hope, a secretly trained Vinchen and biomancer slayer seeking repent for her bloodlust, and Brigga Lin, a biomancer who broke the code and seeks vengeance on her mentors for shunning her actions. This comes as the biomancers seek to take further control over the empire, and Red has been recruited by the crown as a spy to help stop them. He must now seek to recruit Brigga Lin and his lost love Hope on his side, whom are deemed powerful allies in this fight.

The fight scenes and tensions were very well done. This was especially shown with how well Skovron writes each character’s perspectives and emphasises through each of them what is at stake. The plot also showed this perfectly as each character orchestrated their plans. Normally I find a large cast of characters weakens the plot, but this was not at all the case with Blood and Tempest. Every character’s purpose felt clear and their involvement was each significant in their own way, as unique as their personalities. As always I am a fan of Red – I may have a crush on him now – but I also love Merivale and Hope.

For this being the book in which Hope and Red finally united, there were very few scenes where they interacted together. Just the two of them, like they did in the first book. There were only two chapters where they significantly interacted, one of those being the final one. I was begging for scenes like this when they reunited, and I got none. It really bummed me out. Granted, most of the final third of the book happened within the same day, but it would have been nice to have more of that. This is personally peeving me and I’m trying not to make this bias rate the book lower because it was still good.

Furthermore, while the resolution was mostly done well – the two pivotal characters of the series were the two characters who didn’t earn their victory. They both literally just used their persuasive bargaining skills and their unique perspectives to fix the world in spite of both of them having fighting prowess. For everyone else, their work was very much merited and they struggled and used their cunning for it. Hope and Red, not so much. This is what takes down the quality of the novel the most for me. The ending always makes it a hit or miss for my opinion on the series.

And as always, fantastic worldbuilding. It was highlighted as so much about the entire world came together in its four demographics – peasant, nobility, biomancers and Vinchen. The political aspects of this novel showed those factions coming together not only for epic fights but to display the relationships and tensions between all the groups put to the test. And I think there was even a POV from a character from each faction. Having studied intercultural based papers, this was incredibly fascinating to see, especially as Hope and Red pulled these representatives together.

I think that’s what this book highlighted and why Hope and Red didn’t have an epic part, because they were the forces that brought everyone together. It was no longer about them, but the people in their lives. I really like that perspective and how it was shown in this novel. After pondering this and realising this in retrospective, I like this story a little bit more. I still wish that Hope and Red could’ve been a bit more romantic with each other though.

Blood and Tempest gets a score of 4/5. It’s no longer the story of Hope and Red, but more so their legacy.

Now it’s time for a series review!

Hope and Red – 3.5/5, though a slow start and with fight scenes glossed over, a very entertaining read.

Bane and Shadow 4/5, an entertaining array of characters and a tonne of tension.

Blood and Tempest – 4/5, an insightful way to end the book that truly shows the impact of the pivotal characters.

This series has it all – engaging characters, tension-filled plots, impeccable worldbuilding… and that’s not even touching the tropes! Dark and twisted magic meets pirates and urban environments in this series. Skovron writes a series with so much character that I look past the occasional flaws this series has, showing a core around themes of redemption, belonging and community. Much like Red I am swooned by the charm of this series, and have been given the same insights that Hope has. I think this series will stick with me for a while.

The Empire of Storms series gets a score of 4/5. This one is a keeper.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Hello Darkness – a review of The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis

Two things. First, I have officially finished this year’s reading goals. Way too early, it’s September as I’m writing this.

Second, that was the darkest book I have ever read in my life. Bit timely, considering my last blog post about me not liking horror movies. This was kind of a horror book. Maybe I have a thing for horror literature?

Regardless, it’s appropriate for me to publish this so close to Halloween.

It’s the middle of the Cold War. The Soviet Union has taken technology previously in Nazi hold and their experiments, including siblings Gretel and Klaus. Gretel’s clairvoyance abilities lend her and her brother an escape from their facilities and into England, where the Warlocks that had previously helped in the Nazi’s defeat are now being assassinated. It will take the last remaining Warlock, Gretel and Klaus, and a retired member of the Milkweed Birtish Intelligence force to push their differences aside from the conflicts risen in World War II and dismantle the Soviet facility holding these superhuman experiments.

This was the sequel to Bitter Seeds, the first book in the Milkweed series. Both felt very much the same and yet very different at the same time. I was able to understand it more, for one thing, as after playing D&D I finally knew what warlocks actually were. It was two years since I read the first book in the series, so I was glad all the important points were summarised and I could get back into it remembering enough of what had happened. I don’t know if it was my age at the time, but I read through this novel far easier than its predecessor.

I think it was because it was less war and action focussed. The scenes that did have it were so good because I understood what was at stake better. But the political and strategic moments were at times boring, because what was being said or mentioned sometimes felt hardly at stake. That made me sometimes get less immersed in the story, but luckily the interpersonal conflict drew me back in again quickly. That part of it was absolutely the strongest.

What I loved the most out of this book was how deep into the perspective characters’ minds we got – Marsh, Klaus and Will. I looked over my review of Bitter Seeds that said I would’ve liked to have gone deeper into the perspective of the characters, and in Coldest War that is exactly what I got. I felt for and understood every one of the main characters perfectly and felt for them so much. Fear, the past and the future were very much at the forefront of each of these characters mind and I loved feeling these emotions in each of them. Will was a favourite of mine just for his varying stances on morality alone.

Gretel once again shone, however, as my favourite character. She was framed as the literal manifestation of the plot, and she literally is. In this book we see what sliver of humanity she shows the rest of the world and understand her motives without going into her head. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to, and it was wise for Tregillis to write her like that because it makes her so enjoyable. Her personality it just too intriguing from the outside.

Also, this novel was dark as the pits of hell. At some times this put me off because I had to sit back and process what was happening. This novel is absolutely not for the faint-hearted. I had a love hate relationship with how dark it got. Every chapter I read I felt disturbed in some form, but I really wanted there to be more breaks in it. There would have been so many more heartfelt moments to be achieved between characters – family relationships were a key part of this story which was not explored enough. I think I probably only felt calm for a third of a chapter. Must lend itself more to the horror genre then.

The Coldest War gets a score of 4/5. This book isn’t for the faint of heart, but those brave enough for it should absolutely read it.

Yours in writing

Amy

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The Most Average Book Ever – a review of Dark Passage by MJ Putney

Guys, we did it. We found a perfectly average book!

I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but here we are. This book is perfectly balanced with its highs and its lows. This leaves me genuinely not knowing what to think of this book, but here we go I guess.

Victoria Mansfield returns from 1940 with her fellow magically inclined friends, whom helped out at Dunkirk to evacuate soldiers, and they return to Lackland academy to pretend to suppress their magical abilities and secretly meet at night to train their prowess. Soon it is the Christmas holidays, and the students must face the repercussions of embracing their magical talent. However, upon their return, their magical help is needed yet again in 1940 to evacuate a scientist imprisoned by Nazis in France, who holds the greatest medical discovery of his time in his hands.

One complaint I had with its predecessor was that the time travel aspects were barely foreshadowed, but in this second book it did a far better job. The plot was intertwined much greater with the connections between 1803 and 1940, historically and geographically, and it made for a very cohesive and satisfying plot. This was absolutely the strongest part of the novel, especially in the second half of the novel. This made the worlds too feel far more built out and cohesive.

Except for the subplots. Some subplots were inserted that had little to no connections to the events of the rest of the novel, and one of these subplots was practically useless. It was a couple splitting up and then getting back together after they realised how much they truly loved each other. The main plot points did nothing to enhance this, because they did it way too naturally. This is the worst kind of subplot – where you can pick it up and place it in any story and it works. No events contributed to this development once, at least not frequently enough.

Furthermore, the magic system felt very clunky in here. There were some moments where I thought they did make sense – such as their powers strengthening and they ways they could channel each others’ powers, but then there were moments where characters suddenly realised they had new powers or they just popped up out of the blue in the lead up to the climax as a solution for all that was going on. That’s a narrative sin we like to call the deus ex machina. There was no development whatsoever for Cynthia to casually say she has the powers of persuasion!

What’s just as weird is how reliant on dialogue this novel was, especially later into the book. The word count could be reduced significantly if they just made dialogue exchanges far more concise! I’m pretty sure the characters spent an entire chapter sitting outside of their mirror passage planning what to do and then doing it. Situations happened like this multiple times. Just do a timeskip and have the thoughts of the main character lay over the plan that was laid down and the shock if the plan goes to shit! It isn’t rocket science!

A final, very average point of discussion is the character arcs. Many of these felt short lived or not deep enough to make a significant change to the main characters of Tory and Cynthia. I can identify two somewhat minor ways that Cynthia changed and no significant ways that Tory changed over the course of the novel. The lessons they learn for the feats that they undertake are very small. I can only just accept them as character arcs.

Just as much as I can minimally say that this book was good. I didn’t hate it, not did I like it. It is about at split-down-the-middle average as average could get.

Dark Passage gets a score of 2.5/5. Perfectly balance, not as all books should be.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Pleasant, but not Immersive – A review of The Berlin Girl by Mandy Robotham

World War II historical fiction. A favourite of mine. Usually if you gift me a book from that time period, I will read it and love it. Though there have been some anomalies on this blog here…

There is just so much to talk about and discover from studying World War II history altogether, and seeing the varying perspectives on such a huge historical event is always rewarding. In The Berlin Girl, we take a look at journalism.

Georgie Young scored herself a spot in reporting on the events happening in Germany in 1938, one of the few female journalists outside of lifestyle reporting to do so. This reporter for The Chronicle aims to make a name for herself through journaling one of the most important historical years in Germany to date, alongside Times journalist Max Spender and other acclaimed journalists from Europe and the US. However, things turn increasingly difficult as journalists mustn’t perceive themselves as enemies of the Nazi party, Georgie encounters many a cases of Jewish abuse and she finds herself falling for an oddly charming Gestapo member. And when her boss goes missing, she has more risks to take than just the words she writes to the masses.

From a historical perspective this was very entertaining to read. I studied similar events for my history class in my final year of high school – the events leading up to and after Kristallnacht – and to read about it from a far more intimate perspective was very enlightening. I was glad that the journalists weren’t able to predict everything despite being very investigative, which made the events feel very real upon occurrence. From the main perspective or Georgie ti felt very thorough.

However, the way it was told was very telley. As in the show vs tell rule. It mostly told of the events that unfolded and events went by quite quickly. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – showing too much can give readers headaches sometimes. But I do think with how often things went from show to tell, it didn’t get me as deep into the story as I would’ve hoped.

That doesn’t discredit the writing style though. It really reflected the internal thoughts of Georgie and described scenes very well.This especially highlights through the stakes as they built up. With historical liberties taken, it was great seeing how the conflicts were handled and the outcomes of the novel being handled still on such a personal matter as well as the grander scale. They were woven together really well.

Another thing that I will credit is how feminism was handled in this novel. Sins in any piece of feminist media are moments that signpost how progressive the creators are for including a scene of such audacity. What we got in the Berlin Girl, however, was a showing of the feminist environment in journalism unfolding in a natural way – allies like Max at first making assumptions and then learning more and admiring Georgie and other female journalists as they showcased their skills and proof that they could walk among the other great journalists within their circles.

But altogether, there wasn’t anything that made it particularly stand out to me. It was nice, pleasant, but I think that telley writing style made me not get as immersed in the story as I would have hoped. So I’m not attached, but I’m glad I read it.

The Berlin Girl gets a score of 3/5. A pleasant story that I wish I was able to get deeper into.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Knock-off fantasy Star Wars – a review of City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

I love me a good urban fantasy. It’s these kind of books that made me fall in love with storytelling, from the light and fluffy Rainbow Magic middle grade series to Percy Jackson and Brigid Kemmerer’s Elementals series. Those last two novels even got me into my love writing and motivated me to become an author!

So I decided to take on the next big young adult urban fantasy series of our time. And honestly, I am very confused after reading that first book.

City of Bones takes place in New York, in which young Clarissa “Clary” Fray has recently starting seeing things going on. Fae, lycanthropes, demons. And the Shadowhunters, a group meant to keep the nastiest of them from wreaking havoc on the mortal realm. After her mum gets abducted from such demons, Clary discovers her hidden lineage and connection the Shadowhunters and must unlock her inner potential to save her.

Except, she doesn’t. Everyone in the book says she goes out and does stuff, crediting her for four times as much as what she actually does. For the protagonist of this series, I’d assume, Clary doesn’t do shit! She spends more time looking at her crush Jace defend her than she actually does trying to help out. She claims she is so desperate to help her mother out, but not desperate enough to stop spectating and actually do something. Furthermore, she would be considered a Mary Sue if it weren’t for her sharp tongue, grudges and hypocritical help-outs. Otherwise, she is barely considered a personality. I couldn’t tell you anything about her except her barely touched on hobbies of reading and drawing.

I don’t think the plot helped her out either. It seemed to rely on other people doing things for her – information from this warlock here, having these celestials help her out there, making sure Jace is always protecting her… Some of the things this plot did felt very bizzare in terms of narrative, and boy I have a big one. They literally pulled a Star Wars. What part of it? Well, that’s spoiler territory, but if you read it then you know what I mean. When this happened in the book, when the “Star Wars” was revealed, I literally laughed out loud. This was supposed to be one of the most dramatic parts in the book, apparently, and I burst into giggles behind my mask on the bus. It literally felt like a joke and Clare took it so seriously!

But one thing it sort of had going, maybe the novel’s only redeeming quality, was the worldbuilding. You could tell this was where the most attention was put into, the careful thoughts about which areas and cultures of New York would feature which kind of magical creatures living in plain site. Even the creatures themselves had potential. I really enjoyed seeing how each parts connected, the mundane with the magical. And they featured very interesting takes for sure.

Too bad it was hidden behind a mediocre writing style. It was laced with filler words, pop culture references that will date it, and poor attempts at picking apart Clary’s mind deep enough. The style just doesn’t feel like it’s making an effort enough. It is such a shame because I know this works! I’ve seen concepts of this nature done really well, and City of Bones is in its shadow because its writing style among other more terrible things let it down. Dimension 20’s D&D campaign, The Unsleeping City, shares similar vibes with City of Bones and yet outdoes it in all aspects. If you want fairies and demons in New York, just go watch that. It is very easy to watch even for people new to D&D.

Apparently the rest of the books in the Shadowhunters series are far better, but book one has left me completely unmotivated. I am left genuinely wondering how this series got so loved from such a poor start.

City of Bones gets a score of 2/5. I’ve never read a more average book than this to date. And then Star Wars happened.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Colorfully Moral Grey – A review of Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Dystopia, science fiction in general, has never been a great point of interest for me. The Hunger Games never appealed to me, I found the first book in the Divergent series solid but not captivating and I grew up with a dad who had an unhealthy Star Wars obsession. If I would pick up a science fiction book, it would more likely be a dystopian.

Why? I find it the most insightful within the science fiction sub genre. In books such as those we learn far better about the human condition than a space opera, for example, and I find great value in that.

Therefore, Scythe is worth its mass in gold.

Humanity has achieved a state of immortality and perfection, aside from one aspect. Population growth. Nobody dies of old age or disease or accidents anymore. Only the Scythes have control over who dies, a group of specially trained humans who statistically cull the population to meet the demands of resources and match the statistics of the A.I. the Thunderhead. Two teens are taken under the apprenticeship of a Scythe, and Citra and Rowan soon learn of the responsibility and the moral grounds held by these people. But these beliefs are not shared, as the two soon find corruption within the Scythedom that threatens a seemingly perfect balance. And soon, they are put under a fate no Scythe’s apprentice has ever gone through before. One apprentice may become a Scythe, but the other shall live no longer.

From the very first page this was filled with insights deeper than oceans. I was so here for it! Shusterman perfectly captured concepts and insights surrounding suffering, mortality and privilege in this world to the point where this future version of Earth was so alien and yet so familiar. These comparisons being made really emphasised it, sometimes a bit too on the nose but in a young adult novel that is just fine. It was especially fascinating to see such varying perceptions of death and how it compares to a very linear perspective today – they use statistics, religion and sympathy in the Scythedom variously to determine how one in “gleaned”. In a world like that in Scythe, it really puts into perspective how much weight we put on death today in all that we do. Fascinating stuff.

Let’s talk about our main characters, Rowan and Citra. They were clearly written as Everyman characters – ones with personalities easy enough to relate to everyone while still able to be described. Like Luke Skywalker. I was fascinated at how my perceptions on them shifted over time, how I favoured Rowan over Citra initially but by the end of it I favoured Citra more. I think it was because I liked Rowan’s character more but Citra’s arc and journey better. I was glad to experience both of my favourite character experiences in one book – liking a character the moment they’re introduced and falling in love with a character by how they grow. This is what I love to read!

I also enjoyed how far this novel strays from the typical sci-fi and dystopia that brought along its popularity in the early 2010s. This isn’t about teens overthrowing an unfair system, but teens working and learning to make the system fair from the inside. At least that’s what the conclusion lead me to believe. I’m not saying I will be mad if this turns into another government overthrow narrative, because I know that Shusterman will make it work. His main focus and theme in this novel surrounds morality, but the spectrum of it instead of a right and wrong. I think that’s what makes this novel appeal to me so much. I may be cutting this review short, but I think I can summarise all the is complex and valuable in this book in such a short few paragraphs without spoilers.

And as soon as I finished reading this book, I bought the rest of the series. I am looking forward to 2022 solely from the fact that I will be reading the other two books Thunderhead and The Toll. The hype is real!

Scythe gets a score of 5/5. Nothing better explores the human condition than death.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Harmonious End – A review of Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer

I’ve never finished a novel within a week. That’s either indicative of a short page count or a really good read, especially when my average for a really good book is two weeks.

So how did finishing Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer within a week fair up?

In the final installment of the Elementals series we focus on the oldest brother of the Merrick family, Michael. With the Guides seeking to exterminate his family and his allies and their presence looming ever closer, his concern of keeping everyone safe has him losing sleep. But as his entire street is set on fire by the Guides, his girlfriend Hannah is put at risk and Michael himself is suspected of arson. He must choose whether him and his loved ones should run and hide or stand up against the Guides before the entire county gets subject to a warped perspective of the greater good.

This would be the first book in the series to go outside of a high school and the formal classed “young adult” perspective, instead being classed more as an adult perspective as the audience grew up. But it was an interesting adult perspective, as the two main characters, Mike and Hannah, became adults and acting parents arguably too soon. This really highlighted and heightened the stakes when each of them had so much at risk. From the get go I was thoroughly engaged with what was present because I knew the stakes from the first word. This made for very action packed and harrowing moments. It really felt like the final book of the series as a result.

Kemmerer continues to succeed with her characters and their relationships, even without the typical narrative of finding love but instead having a preexisting relationship be explored. There is something really relatable and incredible about a story of losing everything you’ve built up, as a reality or as a threat. The inner thoughts of each characters’ POV were very insightful and engaging, especially seeing their respective struggles.

In terms of the plot, this plot was probably the best of the whole series. As mentioned before, the stakes felt so real here. I also liked how various plot points from the rest of the series were tied in to this – the arsonry from Book 2, Hunter’s family involvement from Book 3, Adam and Tyler from Book 4, and of course the grounds based in Book 1. I would have hoped that the partners of the main brothers were a bit more involved with the plot rather than some of them being supportive and this book being the big finale – especially Becca, being a Fifth herself. But I was still very pleased with how it ended and won’t complain about that.

In fact, I don’t think I have any complaints. This is rare. Other 5 star books on my site would have very minor complaints, but my only complaints as seen previously is minor squared. It is rarely that a final installment in a series would go so right. But this one did.

Sacrifice gets a score of 5/5. I couldn’t think of a better end to this series which I literally grew up through high school and university with.

Now we gotta rate the whole series! You’ll also catch my reviews of the first 2 books which I read before my blogging journey, albeit short.

Storm – 5/5, loved the characters, loved the plot. A breath of fresh fantasy air for 17 year old me.

Spark – 4/5, characters started to lack a little bit, but this plotline was something else.

Spirit – 4/5, absolutely incredible until the climax was rushed.

Secret – 3.5/5, an amazing blossoming romance that sadly wasn’t tied with the overarching plotline.

Sacrifice – 5/5, brand new and mature takes on pre existing elements to conclude the series.

If you want romance with high stakes set in a contemporary fantasy environment, this is the series for you. Kemmerer expertly portrays romances with deep connections in high risk settings across all books in this series. She understands her characters well, even greater when they have connections to their powers and how they are personified. While the plots get mixed up in places, the stakes are always very real. Even for it being a fantasy, it feel so damn real. This will definitely be one of my favourite series of all time. I cannot recommend it enough.

The Elementals series gets a score of 4/5. This one’s a keeper.

Yours in writing

Amy

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The 5 Worst Things I’ve Seen in Books

So I’ve read a lot. Maybe not as much as other people, but at least this year so far I’ve read one book every three weeks on average. I’m expecting to read three more books this year than I’ve set for my reading goals!

That being said, there is good, bad and ugly in books. Today we’re covering the ugly. The worst things I’ve read in books ever. Ones that turned 4 star reads to 1 or 2 star reads. And I’ve got five of them.

The Pointless Journey

We all know about the Macguffin quest. The quest to obtain a certain object that will grant the wielder a valuable power in completing their goals. Most of the plot of the book revolves around finding this item, and by the time they get it we have the climax.

But what if there was no object?

I read a book in which the plotline was about winding up in a magical realm while in their home realm a war occurred which the main characters had to return to to stop. It would’ve been fine if it developed into a Macguffin quest, in which their hardships earned them an item in the magical world key to stopping the war, but they got nothing out of it. Basically my time was thoroughly wasted.

More so, the novel got 4 stars on Goodreads when I only gave it one star. How the hell did people still like such a pointless journey?

The One-Chapter climax

A novel is typically made or broken during its climax. This is where everything comes together in a long, heartfelt quest or battle to right the wrongs and conquer all there is to conquer. It’s edge-of-your-seat territory.

I read a book where the climax was over in one chapter about ten pages long. Hardly a twentieth of the novel.

I was really disappointed by this because I loved the book so much! It didn’t quite make the victory feel earned as barely any struggle could be made in such a short amount of time and page numbers! A climax should make you question things and doubt things.

All I asked was “surely there’s more to this…”

Hero Monologue

If you don’t know what is wrong with the villain monologue trope, allow me to explain.

You meet the Big Bad Evil Guy, right? His threatening presence is only shown by how much he talks. It’s so frightening and powerful that when it comes to actually fighting him, it becomes an easy defeat.

Now let’s subvert that trope and have the heroes do it to the all powerful, genuinely threatening villain.

Spoiler alert: it’s a bad case of subversion. It almost felt comedic when the literal heroes of this one book defeated the villain by talking to him. I think some under nine-year-old targeted kids movie called saying they want their defining trope back.

Communication is hardly a struggle in a fantasy setting and fight. At least save a monologue for after the villain has been defeated and they are truly at their lowest point, for the love of all things holy!

The Backstory Chapter

Chapter two of a book that I was reading literally had this happen in it; a woman sends off her animal companions to track someone. No, I’m serious. That was it.

Because the rest of the chapter was devoted to explaining how these companions meant so much to her, the meaning of her piercings and tattoos on her body and the way her house looked. It was a chapter 95% full of irrelevant backstory and 5% plot progression.

The number one rule of writing a novel is that a significant progression in the story must be made every chapter. And chapters like these made up half of the actual chapters I read before I erased the title and author of that book from my memory.

And somehow that isn’t the biggest book sin I’ve seen.

Hobbies=Personality

I’ve seen this happen in to books I’ve read. Not one, but two! One I DNF’ed, the other I gave a two star rating to.

If all I can say about your main character to describe them is their looks and hobbies they undertake, ya done goofed. I know more people without hobbies yet with a vibrant personality than I do people with hobbies and no personality. Hint: I know zero people like the latter.

What peeves me even more is that this is always done to female main characters. I’ve seen both male and female authors do this to their characters too. Why is the only gender bias towards the gender being written?

And look, I know the Everyman trope exists – a person with a personality that is easy to relate to – but even they can be described by adjectives instead of hobbies.

So please don’t make these mistakes too guys.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Free Snippet of Aster’s Coda: Exposure!

It’s release month! Woohoo!

Because you guys are eager, and if not, then this will get you, I have now got a free snippet available for you to check out here! In these chapters, we get introduced to Abby Tacker, Beauclark high and a few more key characters twisting around the fingers of her fate.

Once you’re done, you can go here to preorder a copy – now in paperback too! It comes out July 22nd!

Want to join the hype on release day? At noon NZT – that’s 8pm EST or 5pm PST – I’m doing a release day livestream! We got an hour of chatting, games and more in honour of my book baby!

Hope to see you there

Yours in writing

Amy