The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

18044277The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Length: 336 pages
Genera: Paranormal
Subjects: magical realism, juvenile detention centers, thriller
How I obtained the book: NetGalley eARC

Rating: 

“Ori’s dead because of what happened out behind the theater, in the tunnel made out of trees. She’s dead because she got sent to that place upstate, locked up with those monsters. And she got sent there because of me.”

The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.

We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.

Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and innocence, and what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

We were still alive, and we couldn’t make heads or tails of the darkness, so we couldn’t see how close we were to the end.

Haunting and eloquent, The Walls Around Us is a chilling story of two girls, whose lives are forever tied together in both life and death. Simultaneously feverish and ethereal, Amber and Violet’s paths towards the truth are both compelling and soul-crushing. The Walls Around Us is a unique ghost story, as it is ultimately about the death of dreams and ghostly lingering of hope.

The Walls Around Us is a desperately, achingly sad book. Nova Ren Suma wove ounces of melancholy into each and every chapter, making your heart ache for all the girls within its pages, and their wasted potential. From Violet to D’amour, each character brought something new to the novel, and without even side characters, the atmosphere wouldn’t be the same.

Despite their actions, both of the main characters were relatable and immensely well written. Throughout everything, Violet has squirreled her way into my heart with her conniving and morally grey ways. Amber, while not personally my favorite in the book, was an extraordinary character whose actions garnered my respect and love. Orianna’s personality was the most likable of all of them, and I felt incredibly sad for her and everything she went through.

The writing is light and airy on one page, and dark and desolate on the next. With poignant detail, the world of The Walls Around Us is hyper-realistic and I could practically feel the cold, harsh walls of the Aurora Hills Secure Juvenile Detention Center and watch Ori’s solo piece from the dance of the Firebird.

Suma’s novels have never been the fastest or the easiest to read. Despite their gift with writing, their books can often be difficult to get through, and fully understand the book. While Suma’s issue isn’t completely resolved and at times I found my attention slipping, I found The Walls Around Us much easier to read than their other books, like 17 & Gone. The plot is much easier to understand here, though some chapters took me a couple extra readings to fully comprehend.

Like most Nova Ren Suma books, the plot feels very faraway, tying everything together but never the focus of the book. While The Walls Around Us is certainly not lacking in plot, it is sometimes hard to find it through the thick prose, and it’s easy for important strands of the story to slip through your fingers.

Told in half truths, the reader is forced to sift through the chapters in order to find the truth. Heavily character driven, Suma focuses on character development in order to tell the story. As we learn about the two girls and their stories, it becomes increasingly obvious what truly happened. The Walls Around Us is most definitely not a quick read, as it requires more comprehension and focus than most books.

Beautifully crafted, Nova Ren Suma continues to delight their readers with stories of guilt, innocence, and the price of the truth. It’s dark and somber, yet strangely beautiful and peaceful. The Walls Around Us is an all-around must read.

Second Star by Alyssa B. Scheinmel

18465577Second Star by Alyssa B. Scheinmel
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Length: 248 pages
Genera: Contemporary
Subjects: Romance, Retelling, Surfing, Peter Pan
How I obtained the book: 
Netgalley, eARC

A twisty story about love, loss, and lies, this contemporary oceanside adventure is tinged with a touch of dark magic as it follows seventeen-year-old Wendy Darling on a search for her missing surfer brothers. Wendy’s journey leads her to a mysterious hidden cove inhabited by a tribe of young renegade surfers, most of them runaways like her brothers.

Wendy is instantly drawn to the cove’s charismatic leader, Pete, but her search also points her toward Pete’s nemesis, the drug-dealing Jas. Enigmatic, dangerous, and handsome, Jas pulls Wendy in even as she’s falling hard for Pete. A radical reinvention of a classic, Second Star is an irresistible summer romance about two young men who have yet to grow up–and the troubled beauty trapped between them.

I’m not entirely sure where I stand with this book. I somewhat enjoyed reading it, yet it was incredibly problematic. I know that it kind of sounds silly for me to say this about a Peter Pan retelling of all things but I couldn’t believe any of the event at all. It was so unrealistic, and not even in an intentional way. It was just a poorly constructed story.

Second Star runs on cliches and tropes. Wendy is the straight laced, straight A, good girl who probably hasn’t even thought about doing anything bad in her life. Peter is, well, a less likable version of the fairy tale Peter. He’s a maniac pixie dream boy. Jax is the quintessential bad boy who deals drugs to kids and is an all around awful person.

There’s a love triangle and a case of missing adult syndrome. Not to mention, an even worse case of missing police syndrome. There’s a bunch of kids who go and rob mansions all the time – where are the police? Are they being paid off?

The love triangle was incredibly abusive. Pete is a trainwreck and definitely not a healthy partner. He was impulsive and manipulative. Jax was something entirely else. He runs the rival ‘gang’ of kids – all of them drug addicts. He supplies kids ranging from middle school to past high school with terrible drugs. There’s a difference between ‘bad boy chic’ and a drug dealer.

The plot is unremarkable for the most part. It’s cliched and unoriginal. Subconsciously, I feel like while reading, I’d been comparing Second Star to Tiger Lily, one of my all time favourites and another Peter Pan retelling. When you compare those two books, Second Star doesn’t even come close to Tiger Lily in terms of the depth of the characters and story.

Yet, with all these flaws, there was just something about the book that was irresistible. The atmosphere was ethereal, mostly due to Sheinmel’s gorgeous writing. It’s really the only thing carrying the book. I think I’d suffer through another bad book for their writing.

Second Star is nothing remarkable. It’s heavily flawed and there isn’t really anything worth reading. I’d skip this one and try Tiger Lily instead (even if it has little to do with Wendy herself).

Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly

18601430Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly
Publisher: Disney Press
Length: 320 pages
Genera: Fantasy
Subjects: Middle Grade, Mermaid, Adventure, 
How I obtained the book: 
Netgalley, eARC

Rating: 

The first in a series of four epic tales set in the depths of the ocean, where six mermaids seek to protect and save their hidden world.

Deep in the ocean, in a world not so different from our own, live the merpeople. Their communities are spread throughout the oceans, seas, and freshwaters all over the globe.

When Serafina, a mermaid of the Mediterranean Sea, awakens on the morning of her betrothal, her biggest worry should be winning the love of handsome Prince Mahdi. And yet Sera finds herself haunted by strange dreams that foretell the return of an ancient evil. Her dark premonitions are confirmed when an assassin’s arrow poisons Sera’s mother. Now, Serafina must embark on a quest to find the assassin’s master and prevent a war between the Mer nations. Led only by her shadowy dreams, Sera searches for five other mermaid heroines who are scattered across the six seas. Together, they will form an unbreakable bond of sisterhood and uncover a conspiracy that threatens their world’s very existence.

Deep Blue will probably work really well for its intended audience. It’s funny and whimsical, with a refreshing ‘girl power’ spin to it. The story is interesting and the world is obviously well built. Its intended audience is not me though, and I had a hard time enjoying the book.

I like merpeople but I have a lot of trouble reading books that are actually set under the sea. Chances are it’s going to read like The Little Mermaid instead of an original story, which is where my main problem with Deep Blue lies.

I had a very mixed experience with most of this book. On one hand, I loved the hilarious mer puns but on the same time, I had a lot of trouble taking the book and the story seriously because of it. Currensea is a great pun but I had trouble not paying attention to the puns and instead the story. They’re so glaring, at least to me, that they completely make me lose my place in the story.

I think my main problem with the novel was expecting something a tad more serious out of a silly fantasy story. It’s good for that but it’s no epic story with a complex plot.

The writing is pretty poor. Donnelly is good at puns but the rest of her writing isn’t really top notch. The info dumping in the beginning is atrocious and the character building could use a lot of work. The story is forgettable at best, and to be honest, I didn’t really care too much about anything that happened.

The characters are certainly diverse, but at times, the mermaid diversity is a bit… unbelievable. At one point there was a character with the legs and torso of a blue crab. It’s kinda inconceivable to read that there’s a character that’s literally just a crab with a human head. Or maybe my imagination is just not as good as it once was.

Overall, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Deep Blue. It’s not that it isn’t a good book but rather that I’m just not the intended audience. I’m sure people that a) come into it expecting a humorous book and b) are into this kind of mermaid book (lighthearted and fun) will enjoy it a lot.

Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells

17617916Emilie and the Sky World by Martha Wells
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Length: 336 pages
Genera: Science Fiction
Subjects: Middle Grade, Adventure, Steampunk
How I obtained the book: 
Netgalley, eARC

Rating: 

A Girl’s Own Adventure in the spirit of Jules Verne

When Emilie and Daniel arrive in Silk Harbor, Professor Abindon, an old colleague of the Marlendes, warns them that she’s observed something strange and potentially deadly in the sky, a disruption in an upper air aether current. But as the Marlendes investigate further, they realize it’s a ship from another aetheric plane. It may be just a friendly explorer, or something far more sinister, but they will have to take an airship into the dangerous air currents to find out. 

Emilie joins the expedition and finds herself deep in personal entanglements, with an angry uncle, an interfering brother, and an estranged mother to worry about as well as a lost family of explorers, the strange landscapes of the upper air, and the deadly menace that inhabits the sky world.

The Emilie series embodies all your childhood imagination and excitement about the unknown and supernatural and compiles it all into two nice and neat little books. 

It’s really amazing how well Martha Wells can just take all these emotions and somehow turn them into books and not just any book but incredibly enjoyable and good books!

Emilie and the Sky World starts off almost exactly where the last Emilie book ended. It wasn’t the best start but within the first twenty percent, the book picks up quickly when Emilie and co. go off on another exciting adventure.

Practically all the problems that I had with the last Emilie book were resolved in this book, much to my great delight. 

The character relationships, which have always been sweet, got almost even sweeter. This Emilie book seems to focus a lot more on familial relationships – daughter and father; mother and daughter; brother and sister.

The relationship between Emilie and her sibling reminded me a lot of my relationship with my own sibling. Slightly antagonistic but at the heart of it, we do love each other. I think a lot of kids will associate with Emilie and her kid brother.

The minor characters added another dimension to the book and all of them made a nice addition to the story. I don’t know what is it about her about I just adore Ms. Marlende. She’s such a strong character and a wonderful mentor for Emilie.

The world is just as beautifully constructed as in the first installment. While not as ‘out-of-this-world’ and fantastical as the Hollow World, the ‘Sky World’ is charming and wonderful in its own way. From the flora to the fauna (and everything in between), Wells proves yet again her skill in creating lovable and unique worlds.

Emilie and the Sky World is a delightful installment to the Emilie series. I enjoyed the first book a bit more but it’s obvious that Wells’ skill in writing definitely improved. The characters are more defined, the relationships more substantial, and the story is better paced. I definitely recommend both Emilie and the Sky World and Emilie and the Hollow World.

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

18404289Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Length: 416 pages
Genera: Contemporary
Subjects: Bullying, Religion, Relationships, 
How I obtained the book: 
Netgalley, eARC

Rating: 

Three freshmen must join forces to survive at a troubled, working-class Catholic high school with a student body full of bullies and zealots, and a faculty that’s even worse in Anthony Breznican’s Brutal Youth
With a plunging reputation and enrollment rate, Saint Michael’s has become a crumbling dumping ground for expelled delinquents and a haven for the stridently religious when incoming freshman Peter Davidek signs up. On his first day, tensions are clearly on the rise as a picked-upon upperclassmen finally snaps, unleashing a violent attack on both the students who tormented him for so long, and the corrupt, petty faculty that let it happen. But within this desperate place, Peter befriends fellow freshmen Noah Stein, a volatile classmate whose face bears the scars of a hard-fighting past, and the beautiful but lonely Lorelei Paskal —so eager to become popular, she makes only enemies.

To even stand a chance at surviving their freshmen year, the trio must join forces as they navigate a bullying culture dominated by administrators like the once popular Ms. Bromine, their embittered guidance counselor, and Father Mercedes, the parish priest who plans to scapegoat the students as he makes off with church finances. A coming-of-age tale reversed, Brutal Youth follows these students as they discover that instead of growing older and wiser, going bad may be the only way to survive.

Brutal Youth tells the inspiring story of three teenagers, each with their own troubles. While, technically, Brutal Youth was written as an anti-bullying book, it doesn’t feel like the average one. Most of the books I’ve read have extremely heavy messages that bog down the actual story and taint the overall experience. Often the characters are weak and flimsy as well. At the end of the day, the message fails to make a lasting impact with the reader.

However, Brutal Youth doesn’t seem to want to go with the flow and instead tells one of the most brutal and harsh stories I’ve ever read with characters abounding with personality and a story that really resonates with the reader. It’s one of those once in a blue moon reads that I’ll treasure for a long, long time.

The three main characters -Peter Davidek, Noah Stein, and Lorelei Paskal – were all incredibly realistic and well developed. I couldn’t really call any of them likable in the traditional sense, but I enjoyed seeing the story through their eyes. Their individual strengths and weaknesses added yet another layer to the book.

Lorelei was my favourite character in the book, and also one of the most complex characters I’ve ever read about. Nothing is ever simple with Lorelei. She’s selfish and self-centered and an all around awful person. But she’s also incredibly pitiful and weak. She is bullied mercilessly by her peers, yet she also does a lot of the bullying herself.

One of the shining aspects of the book was how Breznican addressed the theme of bullying. There’s nothing black and white in Brutal Youth. It’s all in shades of grey. Even the bullies are bullied.

The main characters aren’t completely innocent, like you’d expect from your average book. They’re sympathetic while still being at times awful people. It’s really amazing what having realistic, multifaceted characters can do to a story. I haven’t stopped thinking about this book since I put it down almost a month ago.

Overall, Brutal Youth is one of the best books I have ever read. It’s gorgeously written and incredibly heartfelt. I cannot wait to read any other works by this author. I loved it and I recommend Brutal Youth to anyone looking for a book that is unlike any you’ve read before.

The Break-Up Artist by Phillip Siegel

17684323The Break-Up Artist by Phillip Siegel
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Length: 336 pages
Genera: Contemporary
Subjects: Romance, Comedy, Slut Shaming
How I obtained the book: 
Netgalley, eARC

Rating: 

Some sixteen-year-olds babysit for extra cash. Some work at the Gap. Becca Williamson breaks up couples. 



After watching her sister get left at the altar, Becca knows the true damage that comes when people utter the dreaded L-word. For just $100 via paypal, she can trick and manipulate any couple into smithereens. With relationship zombies overrunning her school, and treating single girls like second class citizens, business is unfortunately booming. Even her best friend Val has resorted to outright lies to snag a boyfriend.

One night, she receives a mysterious offer to break up the homecoming king and queen, the one zombie couple to rule them all: Steve and Huxley. They are a JFK and Jackie O in training, masters of sweeping faux-mantic gestures, but if Becca can split them up, then school will be safe again for singletons. To succeed, she’ll have to plan her most elaborate scheme to date and wiggle her way back into her former BFF Huxley’s life – not to mention start a few rumors, sabotage some cell phones, break into a car, and fend off the inappropriate feelings she’s having about Val’s new boyfriend. All while avoiding a past victim out to expose her true identity.

No one said being the Break-Up Artist was easy.

There are just some books that you know are going to piss you off just by the summary. I had a nagging feeling that this would be one of those and I was right. I was most certainly right. The summary wasn’t wasn’t even my only warning flag, honestly. The moment I saw that this book was written by a guy I should have run as fast as I could – but I didn’t and now, at least, I have the chance to warn you before you read the book.

Becca Williamson destroys relationships for a living. People fire her to destroy relationships – and Becca being an extremely cynical individual does it for $100. It doesn’t even seem to matter to her that these relationships could be healthy and perfectly normal. 

I’m not a romantic person at all, but damn, no one comes near Becca when it comes to being cynical. It’s not like I don’t understand why she feels this way. I would feel similar if I was in that position but that is no excuse for how Becca treats the other girls she claims to be doing this for.

Becca not only treats every girl who even insinuates attraction to [gasp] a boy as if they had caught a plague and need to be put down. Siegel wrote every female character, aside from our perfect main character of course, as sexy “sluts” that can’t see beyond their overwhelming need for a male figure in their life.

Even Becca’s own ‘best friend’ isn’t exempt from Becca’s raging passive aggressive slut shaming and girl hating. I still can’t believe Becca’s friend didn’t get the hell out of that toxic relationship before it was too late. Becca is not a good person and definitely not someone you want to be around.

The book is centered around love (to the book’s credit, all types of love – not just romantic). Becca does not believe in romantic love, which is okay. There’s nothing wrong with that in theory. However, as one could expect, the ending does involve some romance therefore making the overall meaning of the book less about the importance of love and more like ‘your life is not complete without a guy’. 

The plot was really iffy. I wasn’t wholly comfortable with any of the events in the book. It wasn’t even a book that wasn’t obviously meant to make the reader uncomfortable. I do think that the author meant for the readers to sympathize with Becca which is completely incomprehensible to me.

Overall, The Break-Up Artist was just not for me. I couldn’t stand the outrageous slut shaming and girl hating. Becca was just way too holier-than-thou for my liking and the plot was drab at best. I do not recommend this book.

One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

18465591One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Length: 272 pages
Genera: Contemporary
Subjects: Queer Lit, Romance, Cultural Identity,
How I obtained the book: 
Netgalley, eARC

Rating: 

Funny and heartfelt, One Man Guy brings to mind the raucous family humor and gentle romance of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, as told with David Sedaris–style wit

Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.

Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again.

You know when you’ve read a book and just by looking at the cover, it sends your heart into overdrive. It can make you smile just by thinking of the amazing story within its pages. The gorgeously written themes can make you want to jump up and down and tell everyone about how amazing it is.


Yeah, that’s what this book does to me.

Usually, I’d fill this review up with a bunch of gifs that I’d have specifically chosen to illustrate my love and adoration for Michael Barakiva’s book, but after searching for a bit, I realized that this book deserves more than five gifs that took me at most ten minutes to find. 

One Man Guy is, at its core, a story of love and understanding. Family plays an important part in this book, and I really liked how the author portrayed Alek’s family. Alek Khederian’s Armenian family definitely tugged at my heartstrings. The white suburban families portrayed in most YA were starting to grate on my nerves and the Khederians were exactly what I needed.

The Khederian family was distinctly more developed than most families in YA. I definitely felt more connected to these guys, and therefore the main character. (It may also be partly due to the fact that I saw a distinct similarity with the Khederians to my own family.)

Alek himself was very relatable. I could empathize with his struggles, like trying to keep grades up and dealing with fairly traditional family members. As a queer teen myself, I could also feel a kinship with him in that sense too. 

Ethan, Alek’s boyfriend, wasn’t nearly as developed as Alek. He was almost a walking bad boy stereotype. Barakiva made it cute and quirky though so I didn’t mind it as much as I feel I should have.

On the flip side, he seemed really insensitive to Alek’s concerns and needs, which was pretty ironic, but other than that, I thought he was really adorable and his relationship with Alek was realistic and incredibly squee-worthy.

The ending could either piss people off or it may not. It was very happy-ever-after and everything was resolved quickly and almost unrealistically easily. I couldn’t stand to see Alek hurt so I was okay with it but I didn’t love it.

Overall, I really loved One Man Guy. It was a fairly quick, but satisfying and happy read. I would recommend it entirely!

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

18077836The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
PublisherDelacorte Books for Young Readers
Length400 pages
Genera: Fantasy
Subjects: Friendship, Steampunk
How I obtained the bookNetgalley; e-arc

Rating: 

Piper lives in a world where the veil into others is thin. Meteor storms rain down objects from other lands, which Piper and her neighbors gather and sell to the rich citizens of the Dragonfly territories. Scavenging these strange odds and ends is the only way to make money in the outer provinces.Piper is good at gathering debris from the storms, but it’s dangerous work. And one day, proof of just how dangerous is lying amongst the rubble of her carriage, unconscious.

The girl is beautiful and well dressed, and the dragonfly marking on her wrist confirms that she is the most valuable thing Piper’s ever stumbled upon. But people don’t leave valuables in the wastelands, so Piper decides to take her home.

It’s who comes for the mysterious girl that begins a journey that will change both of their lives forever.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only place I will truly be happy is in middle grade books. No matter how much I love young adult – and I do – it seems like I can only really enjoy middle grade books anymore. Middle grade books are aimed at a group that hasn’t yet lost their sense of adventure, unlike the often more somber young adult novels. The Mark of the Dragonfly was honestly very refreshing.

While not perfect, The Mark of the Dragonfly was engaging and interesting. The two main characters, Piper and Anna, were two very different girls, with very different strengths and weaknesses. Piper’s headstrong confidence melded nicely with Anna’s more quiet demeanor. Neither girls were very fleshed out, but they were endearing and sweet. Seeing a female friendship is always welcome, after reading a plethora of YA books that bank on female rivalry.

The plot was engaging and drew you in from the first page. The first chapter has the perfect mixture of action, world building, and allure and the rest of the book delivers very well. The plot, despite mildly predictable, was as endearing as the characters. It was chock-full of adventure and just a twinge of mystery.

On the flip side, the worldbuilding was incredibly lacking. I’m honestly not sure where this is set – whether another world or perhaps a parallel world. It could have even have been Earth, in the future. I’m not sure whether this was intentional or just lazy writing. Either way, I would have preferred to have a little more to go on while reading.

My main complaint is the unnessecary addition of a romance subplot. It wasn’t poorly done, but it irritatingly detracted from the plot. I could have, most definitely, done without it.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Mark of the Dragonfly. It was a pretty good book only a couple flaws. Honestly, the biggest flaw is that it was too short! I can’t wait to read what else Johnson has in store for us.

The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C Carleson

17910573The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C Carleson
PublisherKnopf Books for Young Readers
Length304 pages
Genera: Realistic Contemporary
Subjects: Royalty, Self Discovery, Religion
How I obtained the bookNetgalley; e-arc

Rating: 

From a former CIA officer comes the riveting account of a royal Middle Eastern family exiled to the American suburbs.
When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations? J.C. Carleson delivers a fascinating account of a girl—and a country—on the brink, and a rare glimpse at the personal side of international politics.

I was more than a bit apprehensive about The Tyrant’s Daughter at first. While the synopsis sounded great, numerous warning flags popped up in my head. Not only was the subject matter was hard to pull off, but at the end of the day, J. C. Carleson was still a white, American author – no matter how extensively they’d traveled – and the book was about Muslim nonwhite royalty. Considering my last encounter with YA books concerning Muslim teenagers, I was cautious with the book.

Thankfully, Carleson very much exceeded my expectations for the novel. Laila’s story is an extraordinary one. After her father was killed in a coup, Laila is relocated to the US along with her brother and mother. The Tyrant’s Daughter chronicles Laila’s adjustment to American high school life while having to deal with her family – including her brother’s irritatingly carefree demeanor.

J.C. Carleson’s biggest strength is in her empathetic writing. While it was clean and minimalistic, it conveyed the intensity of the events with depth. It was abounding with a sense of desperate longing for her home, her old life and uncertainty.

Laila was an incredibly realistic protagonist. Flawed, yet ultimately relatable, Laila’s plights became ours as we read. Her selfish, haughty tone mask deep insecurities, as she struggles to accept her current way of life as a reality. Beautifully crafted, Laila is easily one of my favorite protagonists in a long time.

While I enjoyed the characterizations of Laila’s people – her family and the other families from her home, I felt that the American characters were severely lacking and one dimensional. Even Laila’s American friends such as Emmy and Ian were missing the spark that the other characters had. I couldn’t like either of them because they were just too cardboard for my liking.

The story of The Tyrant’s Daughter was engaging and eye-opening. Laila’s whole life was turned upside down when she and her family are rushed out of their country. They are forced to exchange a life of decadence and opulence for a dingy little apartment and financial insecurity. Her struggles were human, and I felt deeply for her.

At the end of the day, the book was mainly about Laila trying to come to terms with who and what her father was and how her perfect family wasn’t as pretty as she wanted it to be. It’s also about Laila’s journey of self-discovery. The ‘love triangle’ (a term I use loosely) was less between two boys and more of an internal strife between two parts of herself.

Laila’s story was amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While it wasn’t perfect, it was really good and I wholeheartedly recommend it to people looking for a deep book about family, love, and finding the true ‘you’.

Skulk by Rosie Best

17155389Skulk by Rosie Best
Publisher Strange Chemistry
Length387 pages
Genera: Paranormal
Subjects: Urban Fiction, Shapeshifting, Mystery, Murder, Romance
How I obtained the bookPaperback ARC provided by publicist

Rating: 

When Meg witnesses the dying moments of a shapeshifting fox and is given a beautiful and powerful stone, her life changes forever. She is plunged into the dark world of the Skulk, a group of shapeshifting foxes. As she learns about the other groups of shapeshifters that lurk around London – the Rabble, the Horde, the Cluster and the Conspiracy – she becomes aware of a deadly threat against all the shapeshifters. They must put aside all their enmity and hostility and fight together to defeat it.

Skulk starts off very slowly and awkwardly. In fact, these pages were so off-putting to me, that I dropped it the same day I picked it up, around the 60 page mark, for a few weeks before reading it again. The writing coupled with the main character just put me off entirely.

But today I picked it up again. I also finished it on the same day because I didn’t stop reading for an hour and a half after picking it up again. After the initial hundred pages, the plot picks up at an extraordinary speed and the book really starts. I am so so happy that I did end up picking Skulk up again because I really enjoyed it. It’s not a brilliant book in terms of originality or writing or plot, but it’s very enjoyable.

The novel begins with Meg, our protagonist, escaping from her house, with a backpack filled with spray paint, with one goal – to cover the walls of her high school with her art. However, things take a turn for the worse when she finds a dying fox. A fox which changes into a man. From then on, her life is forever changed when she develops the ability to shapeshift into a fox and discovers a group of secret organizations of ravens, rats, spiders, butterflies, and foxes.

The first quarter of the book was bogged down by rich girl idiocy, you know the average ‘oh my god I’m so rich and ugh my life sucks I’m going to be rebellious because I’m bored’. But it doesn’t take Meg to get her head back into the game, thankfully.

One of the first things that will strike you while reading Skulk is how Meg’s voice really shines through. She’s not your average heroine. She doesn’t have an overwhelmingly large hero complex, nor a damsel one.

Meg did not adhere to any YA stereotype of either a damsel or an ultra Strong Silent type. She wasn’t scared to be assertive or tell people that they’re being douches, but wasn’t above makeup.

Also, guess what, we’ve got a larger main character who’s pretty fine with her weight and doesn’t end up skinny by the end!

The shapeshifting aspect was very original, as instead of confining itself to the “normal” shapeshifting types, Best branched out to include other creatures that I haven’t seen considered anywhere else such as spiders.

The plot was fast paced, enjoyable, and well put together. Along with Best’s colloquial writing, Skulk was a very easy and entertaining read. The plot was a bit predictable, but once you read a certain amount of books, what plot isn’t?

I really recommend this book to everyone. The beginning is a bit rocky but the rest of the book makes up for it. It’s got everything you’d ever want – a badass main character, shapeshifting, cute boys, cute girls, murder. Go get a copy now!