Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

From Goodreads: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around - and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever. What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries - including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

My Rating: 4.5 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Having read a few books that I rated as 3-stars or lower in a row, I decided to turn to a novel that I knew wouldn’t disappoint, Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer. I was hooked right from the prologue, as a girl falls from the sky in the city of Weep and is impaled by a point on an iron gate. I love spectacularly violent deaths!

We then go back in time to be introduced to Lazlo Strange, a librarian who has dreamed of visiting the mysterious city of Weep his entire life. Penniless and unable to do so because as a foreigner he would be executed on sight, Lazlo continues to work as a librarian … until Weep’s warriors come to Zosma, seeking outsiders that can help them with a mission. There’s a shadow over Weep, and Lazlo will need to uncover the city's secrets if he wants to help its residents.

As always, Taylor’s writing is gorgeous, and the worldbuilding is fantastic. The characters were also fabulously written, with Taylor making me care about her secondary characters as much as I cared about Lazlo. Really, the only flaws of Strange the Dreamer were that the star-crossed romance was insta-love and that Taylor ended the book with such a twist that I can’t believe I’ll have to wait at least a year to read the sequel, The Muse of Nightmares.

Strange the Dreamer was released in March 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s quite plain looking and doesn’t really do the inside of the book justice.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Review: The Traitor's Kiss by Erin Beaty

From Back Cover: With a sharp tongue and an unruly temper, Sage Fowler is not what they’d call a lady - which is perfectly fine with her. Deemed unfit for marriage, Sage is apprenticed to a matchmaker and tasked with wrangling other young ladies to be married off for political alliances. She spies on the girls - and on the soldiers escorting them. As the girls' military escort senses a political uprising, Sage is recruited by a handsome soldier to infiltrate the enemy ranks. The more she discovers as a spy, the less certain she becomes about whom to trust - and Sage becomes caught in a dangerous balancing act that will determine the fate of her kingdom. 

My Rating: 3 hearts

Thoughts on the Novel: The Traitor’s Kiss by Erin Beaty was a book I was really excited to read because I love fantasy, especially if it contains political intrigue and spying. So, I was thrilled when I got my hands on an ARC of The Traitor’s Kiss.

The story’s beginning reminded me of Mulan – and perhaps that’s why it was initially pitched as a Mulan retelling but has now been changed to “Jane Austen with an espionage twist” (which is more accurate) – with Sage, an orphan living with her uncle’s family, not wanting to be married but getting dressed up, going to a matchmaker, screwing up, and then getting told that she’s unfit to be married. After that, the plot diverges, with Sage apologizing to the matchmaker so as to not affect the marriage prospects of her younger cousins and being hired on as the matchmaker’s apprentice.

Although I enjoyed The Traitor’s Kiss overall, I had two major issues with it. First, there’s a lot of girl-on-girl hate in the book. Throughout the novel, Sage makes fun of the girls that are being matched for caring about beauty, and considers herself as better than them. Meanwhile, these girls are written as clich├ęd characters – they served no purpose other than to be dumb, catty, and only interested in money and marriage. I wish Beaty could have portrayed some of these girls as having both beauty and brains rather than succumbing to the stereotype that girls that care about their looks lack intelligence.

Secondly, there was a lack of worldbuilding in The Traitor’s Kiss. All I literally remember about the world is that there are two countries at war and the Kimisar have invaded Demora because they’re experiencing a famine. There was no map; and the Kimisar are simply described as being darker and having tattoos, indicating that Beaty relied on the use of another trope – that of the dark-skinned aggressor. 

The Traitor’s Kiss will be released by Imprint tomorrow!

Comments About the Cover: All I need to see is a sword on the cover to automatically put the book on my wishlist!  

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Raincoast Books) for free. 

Monday, May 01, 2017

Review: The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

From Back Cover: It doesn't look dangerous, exactly. When twelve-year-old Farah first lays eyes on the old-fashioned board game, she thinks it looks .. elegant. It is made of wood, etched with exquisite images - a palace with domes and turrets, latticework windows that cast eerie shadows, a large spider - and at the very center of its cover, in broad letters, is written THE GAUNTLET OF BLOOD AND SAND. The Gauntlet is more than a game, though. It is the most ancient, the most dangerous kind of magic. It holds worlds inside worlds. And it takes players as prisoners.

My Rating: 3 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: With the launch of Salaam Reads – an imprint of Simon and Schuster focused on bringing Muslim voices into publishing – and an author known for being passionate about diversity, Karuna Riazi’s The Gauntlet was a novel that I know many people were excited about. After reading The Gauntlet, I find that my thoughts on it are quite scattered, and so the best way for me to write a cohesive review was to create a pros and cons list.

Pros:
  • As a South Asian, I was really looking forward to having a protagonist whose upbringing reflected mine to some degree. More importantly, as a Muslim who wears a hijab, it was amazing to finally read a novel with a hijabi protagonist.
  • I loved the premise of being sucked into fantasy city within a board game, especially one that has clearly been inspired by Middle Eastern architecture.
Cons:
  • The plot felt very rushed, with Farah and her friends having to quickly complete challenges and run all over the city of Paheli to try and find Ahmad, her little brother.
  • I had to laugh when I found out who the Architect was. I have no clue why authors make the evil mastermind controlling everything so young. How am I supposed to find this believable at all?!  
  • Farah’s friends could have been more developed. They didn’t have much personality and felt like sidekicks rather than actual friends.  
  • I didn’t like that Ahmad’s behaviour was solely attributed to ADHD. While children with ADHD may have trouble controlling their impulses and act out, the way Ahmad behaves is more due to his environment – he appears to be spoiled and used to getting his way – than because of ADHD. 
The Gauntlet was released in March 2017 by Salaam Reads. 

Comments About the Cover: I love that there’s someone wearing a hijab on the cover, but it’s hard to see this because Farah is so small in comparison to everything around her. I wish Farah was drawn just a little bit bigger. 

In exchange for an honest review, this book was received from the publisher (Simon and Schuster Canada) for free.