Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Zélie lives in a world stripped of magic, suffering from persecution for the magic her family used to posses. Suddenly she has a chance to bring back magic, but it will take all her courage, wits, and power to escape the ruthless king. A breathtaking adventure with heartfelt and empathetic characters, Children of Blood and Bone is a must read YA adventure.

34728667

 

 

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Pages: 544

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

RATING: ★★★★★

 

Goodreads
Book Depository
Barnes and Noble

 

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Amazing world-building. Adeyemi explores a vast world filled with relics of old magic. Since it was Zélie’s first time travelling, I felt like I was discovering places along with her, sharing her wonder and amazement. Yet Adeyemi’s world reflects problems that plague our world today, such as xenophobia and racism. As Zélie traverses Orïsha on her quest to reclaim magic, you see the injustices her people have to face as they are abused and persecuted.

A thrilling, action-packed adventure. There is never a dull moment in this book. Zélie is constantly pursued by the king, creating a heart-pounding sense of urgency. I was constantly compelled to start the next chapter, as I couldn’t leave myself hanging knowing there was always danger around the corner.

Beautifully written characters. Each character came from a different background, each with different perspective on Orïsha social climate. Zélie has spent years in persecution, fuelling her hatred for the monarchy and her oppressors. Amari was a princess who shied away from her father’s beliefs, in contrast to her brother Inan who follows in his footsteps. Despite being on different sides of the war, I found myself empathizing with all the characters – even Inan, who was supposed to be on the side of the villains. None of the characters, including Zélie and Amari, were perfect, making it even harder to pick a side in this war.

Exceptional character growth. Even better was the way the character’s interactions with each other forced them to expand their worldview and consider other perspectives, which I felt really helped them mature as individuals. Reading them grapple with their conflicting emotions also made me reflect on my own perspective – yes there are heroes and villains, but is it all as clear cut as it seems? Each character’s personal journey also allows them to overcome their faults, and by the end of the book I felt that Zélie, Amari, and Inan were all different people for the better.

Children of Blood and Bone is one of the best YA novels I’ve read in a long time, and . I can’t wait to read Children of Virtue and Vengeance!

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Dragon is a wizard that has always protected the valley from the evil of the Wood, but takes one young girl to serve him in a lonely tower for ten years in return. When Agnieskza is chosen, she is filled with anger and desperation. Yet there, she discovers things about herself that she had never known before, just as the Wood creeps ever closer…With its elegant writing and twists on some elements of the fantasy genre, Uprooted is a unique fairy tale worth reading.

22544764._SX318_

 

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Pages: 435

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

RATING: ★★★★☆

Goodreads
Book Depository
Barnes and Noble

 

 

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Beautiful imagery. Novik uses fanciful writing suited for Uprooted‘s medieval setting. She describes Agnieskza’s magic using vivid images that brought the words to life. Even more impressive is Novik’s descriptions of the Wood’s corrupted minions, which were so gruesome they made me shiver.

A far reaching and truly terrifying villain. The Wood was a unique and monstrous villain made all the more horrifying by the fact you could not put a face to it. The idea of a mysterious darkness lurking around the corner was very frightening.

A vaguely defined magic, which was both good and bad. Novik doesn’t explain the magic system aside from some vague teachings from the Dragon that Agnieskza subsequently ignores. On one hand, this gave Novik the freedom to describe magic as creatively as she wishes, making use of vivid imagery so we could imagine its beauty for ourselves. However I disliked being unable to understand what the wizards and the Wood could and couldn’t do. Agnieskza could seemingly do anything she wanted, from materializing weapons to controlling the elements. ‘Plot twists’ with the Wood felt hollow – how was I to be surprised when I had no idea what its capabilities were to begin with?

The best sidekick anyone could ask for. My favorite character by far was Kasia, Agnieskza’s best friend. Despite not having magic, she was strong and brave, refusing to back down in the face of danger. Her own insecurities and fears never stopped her from reaching out to Agnieskza and supporting her in every way she could.

An unwanted romantic subplot. Of course Agnieskza and the Dragon are tossed into a relationship that I should’ve seen coming. Throughout the book I imagined the Dragon as an older mentor figure. I was hoping that as Agnieskza started to develop her magic and grow in power, the Dragon would grudgingly accept her improvement and recognize her as his equal. Instead, both of them have a romantic encounter that came completely out of the blue, not to mention they had zero chemistry as a couple.

Uprooted is a book that sets itself apart by putting a twist on the typical fantasy villain and magic expectations of its readers. Novik’s writing lends itself beautifully to this style, and her imagination runs wild as she describes both the witch’s and villain’s magic alike. All in all, Uprooted is a captivating read that fantasy readers are sure to enjoy.

Audiobook Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

With the book playing on the title of the famed The Turn of the Screw, I expected so much more. Unfortunately Ware’s thriller focuses too much on the buildup and rushes the conclusion. Despite some good characterisation by the author and the narrator, I found the book to be a disappointing story as a whole.

42080142

 

 

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
Narrated by Imogen Church

Pages: 337

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

RATING: ★★☆☆☆

 

Goodreads
Book Depository
Barnes and Noble

 

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

 

GREAT audiobook narrator. With past audiobooks I played the book at 1.5x speed because I found the narrators too slow and monotone. However I was pleasantly surprised with the narration, as Imogen Church read at the perfect pace. She also convincingly narrated all the voices – from the gruff voice of Jack Grant to whiny voices of the children – and I especially enjoyed hearing her voice the sarcastic, witty teenage daughter. With Church’s easygoing voice, I never had to struggle to pay attention to the story.

Ware built up a lot of suspense. After Rowan accepts a supposedly simple nannying job, things predictably start going wrong. Items disappearing, children muttering mysterious things, eerie noises in the night…the suspense ramped up with every chapter and left me anxiously anticipating what could come next.

Rowan’s fear and anxiety were genuine. Ware does a good job of describing the disturbing nature of the ‘smart house’ Rowan lives in. From the omniscience of the surveillance cameras to the mother’s booming voice emanating from speakers around the house without warning, the house feels very foreign to Rowan and her frustration with it shows through Ware’s writing. The idea that someone could always be watching kept Rowan hyperaware and constantly looking over her shoulder, keeping me on my toes as well.

The ‘haunted’ house was far from convincingly frightening. A large part of Rowan’s anxiety is the creepy and disturbing backstory of the supposedly haunted house she resided in. Though Church portrays Rowan’s fear authentically, I found myself rolling my eyes at the cliche horror themes that Ware used – the mysterious deaths and unfinished letters were much too predictable.

The ending’s “plot twist” was a huge letdown. The whole premise of the book was that Rowan was accused for a murder she didn’t commit, and I kept waiting for the death to be revealed. As with most mystery thrillers, I was expecting the murder to be revealed midway through the book, but it never came. After building up suspense for 90% of the book, I was skeptical that Ware would bring about a satisfying conclusion, and I was right. Right after the murder, Ware revealed the killer immediately then ended the book. It felt like I had been led on for 10 hours and was left hanging.

I wish the author had extended the book so there would be more closure after an abrupt ending. Alas, The Turn of the Key is a book that succeeds in building up suspense but fails to deliver a satisfying conclusion, and even the interesting ‘reveals’ that happened throughout the book couldn’t make up for it.

Book Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

What would happen if women were given powers that could strike fear into the hearts of men? With this interesting premise, Alderman explores how the world’s current power structure is upended. The Power sets forth to deliver a compelling feminist message, but its lackluster characters and storylines made it hard for me to truly appreciate the book’s overarching plot.

TRIGGER WARNING: Rape

29751398._SY475_

 

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Pages: 341

Genres: Dystopia

RATING: ★★☆☆☆

 

 

Goodreads
Book Depository
Barnes and Noble

 

 

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.

The feeling of freedom. With such immense power at their fingertips women are suddenly given the opportunity to take from men, and they take advantage almost immediately. A gradual realization of ‘this is finally my chance’. There was a scene where women flood the streets and rejoiced and I could feel their elation of being free. I enjoyed reading women rebelling against their oppressors and young girls exploring their abilities. I felt jealous as the characters revelled in the power coursing through their veins, and almost wished it for myself.

The characters were not very compelling and some storylines fell flat. The book follows four characters, each with a different perspective on how this power has taken hold of the nation, and I only really liked two – Tunde, the male Nigerian journalist who follows the feminist movement, and Roxy, the young but powerful female head of a prominent London crime family. Tunde allowed me to see the most authentic responses from men and women alike and Roxy’s badass attitude and what happens to her throughout the book really made me empathize with her. On the other hand, Allie had a religious storyline that had me confused and Margot’s political power trip bored me.

A stream of consciousness writing style that I didn’t care for. Alderman writes in third person, but delves deep into the minds of her characters and takes on the world from their perspective such that you might as well have been reading each chapter in first person. Yet somehow the writing seems very removed and detached from these characters and made it hard to feel interested in their storylines. Perspectives seemed to blur together with the exception of a few personality quirks that set them apart.

An unsatisfying ending. I do have reservations on how Alderman ended the book – what started as a subtle evolution of the world’s mindset and its impact on the status quo suddenly turned into a blatant role reversal with women subjecting men to what they had undergone for many years. It felt rushed and disappointingly uncreative, as if Alderman couldn’t think up a satisfying ending so she turned to the most obvious solution. Is this what would have happened if women had powers? Maybe. Probably. I don’t know. But I didn’t feel convinced that it would have happened as quickly or as cruelly as Alderman portrayed it, and I would like to think that women would try to learn from the mistakes of men rather than immediately following in their footsteps.

The Power starts with an interesting premise and a fascinating view of how women from different backgrounds could rise up in society if given a chance. However it devolves into vicious savagery that left me hollow and seemed like an extremely pessimistic view of women. My lack of attachment to the characters also made it difficult for me to really invest myself in the story. Though a thought-provoking book with lots of potential, The Power just didn’t deliver as well as I’d hoped.

Buddy Read Recap: The Farm by Joanne Ramos

This week I did a buddy read with Sophie @ reading women writers worldwide and we read The Farm by Joanne Ramos, the story of Jane, a Filipino immigrant who agrees to work for the Farm and become a surrogate for some of the wealthiest people on the planet for an absurdly large sum. What she does not realize is that she belongs to the Farm, and and this job may have been more than she had bargained for.

Sophie is from the UK and I was born and raised in the Philippines, so we each had different cultural insights on the book. Here are some of the things we talked about:

  • The book has a dystopian premise that seems callous and exploitative, but Ramos writes it in a way to make it sound entirely plausible in the near future. Sophie brought up this article that speaks of Cambodian women given suspended jail terms for acting as surrogates for Chinese clients in a scenario eerily similar to the books.
  • My family has employed maids in the past, and I found it Ramos’s portrayal of maids and their employers harshly stereotypical. Sophie brought up the fact that perhaps the cultural divide between American employers and their Filipino maids was the cause of the discrepancy between my experiences and Ramos’s writings.
  • We both agreed that the ending was too convenient and unsatisfying – the main villain of the story, Mae Yu, was hastily redeemed by the end of the book. The Farm also got away scot free with its exploitation of immigrant women, which made for a disheartening conclusion.

As my first buddy read, I had a lot of fun doing this! I think being able to discuss the book with another person really made me understand it more, especially with a controversial book such as this one with many racial and cultural themes that can be interpreted in so many different ways. I hope to do more of these in the future!

You can find my review of the book here. Also check out Sophie’s review here!

Book Review: The Farm by Joanne Ramos

Welcome to The Farm, where you can get pampered at an extravagant retreat under one condition – you need to carry the child of a billionaire client. The Farm revolves around a Filipina immigrant who agrees to be a ‘Host’ for the farm and her struggle as she yearns for her daughter in the outside world. As a Filipina myself I was pulled in by the premise and the debut of a Filipina author. Overall the book was enjoyable – though the plot was mediocre, I grew to like the characters as they developed through the book.

41398025

 

 

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

Pages: 327

Genre: Dystopia

RATING: ★★★☆☆

 

Goodreads
Book Depository
Barnes and Noble

 

Nestled in the Hudson Valley is a sumptuous retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, private fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you get paid big money—more than you’ve ever dreamed of—to spend a few seasons in this luxurious locale. The catch? For nine months, you belong to the Farm. You cannot leave the grounds; your every move is monitored. Your former life will seem a world away as you dedicate yourself to the all-consuming task of producing the perfect baby for your überwealthy clients.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines and a struggling single mother, is thrilled to make it through the highly competitive Host selection process at the Farm. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her own young daughter’s well-being, Jane grows desperate to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on delivery—or worse.

I disliked the character stereotypes, but enjoyed reading them grow out of it. In the beginning I was highly disappointed with the book’s racial stereotypes. Jane was a Filipino immigrant with a slew of bad decisions, including dropping out of highschool for a boyfriend and being an irresponsible nanny. Reagan was a young white college graduate blissfully unaware of her privilege with a desire to do good, even offering herself as a Host as a charitable move (as if billionaires needed charity). Even Mae Yu, the Chinese-American executive who runs the Farm, is portrayed as cold-hearted and willing to do anything for money. However as the book went on, I enjoyed the character development. Reagan comes to understand Jane’s plight and that of immigrants beyond the surface level, and Jane gains the courage to make a stand instead of meekly bowing to her superiors. Reagan and Jane grow a genuine bond and their friendship was truly heartwarming.

Character motivations were well explored. Every character had different ambitions and goals, and Ramos did well to delve deep into them when writing in their perspective. My favorite character to read was Evelyn (known in the book as ‘Ate’, Tagalog for older sister), whose time as an immigrant struggling in America has given her a practical attitude. Though family is what drives her, she is not averse to snatching opportunities in ways that may seem compassionless to some but unavoidable to her. I liked how each character’s diverse experiences factored into their actions.

The ‘Farm’ was nothing sinister. I was expecting a plot twist to reveal the Farm’s true nature, but it never happened. The Farm is what it proclaims itself to be, a place where surrogates are micromanaged to produce the best babies. Though this was somewhat disappointing, I did enjoy how Ramos made this in itself feel sinister and disturbing, as the Hosts are painfully aware of the control these people have on their lives yet they have no choice but to smile.

The ending gave everyone a free pass. Sadly the book ends with the villains prevailing and continuing to exploit desperate immigrants as the Farm continues to operate and even expand. Mae Yu, who had unsympathetically manipulated many of these women, had a dramatic change of heart and was redeemed in the book’s epilogue.

Ultimately I enjoyed The Farm for its characters, who started out unremarkable but who I grew an emotional attachment to by the end of the book. Though imperfect, it is a novel that speaks of issues that could plague our not-so-distant future and is worth reading to gain perspective on the struggles of an immigrant’s life in America.

This was a buddy read done with Sophie @ reading women writers worldwide. Go check out her blog! You can read her review of the book here and a recap of our buddy read discussion here.

Book Review: Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

I wanted to commit to something more “bite-sized”, and decided to read a famed anthology. All in all, Exhalation had some interesting theories on the nature of the universe, although the novel may have been better written as a series of speculative essays rather than attempting to disguise them as fiction stories using flimsy characters and plot.

41160292._SX318_-1.jpg

 

 

Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang

Pages: 352

Genres: Science Fiction, Short Stories

RATING: ★★★☆☆

 

Goodreads
Book Depository
Barnes and Noble

 

 

This much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature Ted Chiang, full of revelatory ideas and deeply sympathetic characters. In “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and the temptation of second chances. In the epistolary “Exhalation,” an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications not just for his own people, but for all of reality. And in “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a woman cares for an artificial intelligence over twenty years, elevating a faddish digital pet into what might be a true living being. Also included are two brand-new stories: “Omphalos” and “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom.”

In this fantastical and elegant collection, Ted Chiang wrestles with the oldest questions on earth—What is the nature of the universe? What does it mean to be human?—and ones that no one else has even imagined. And, each in its own way, the stories prove that complex and thoughtful science fiction can rise to new heights of beauty, meaning, and compassion.

An exploration of technology reminiscent of Black Mirror. With each story is a completely new world, brought about by a series of “what ifs” proposed by Chiang and reimagined as the future of mankind. Chiang’s imagination runs wild with each story, dreaming up a magical gate that transports you through time as well as a world where humans have progressed to the point that they are now built by machinery and run by air. I was always left in awe of the innovation and creativity apparent in every dystopian story Chiang penned.

A plethora of innovative ideas but little else. My biggest gripe with Chiang’s writing was the lack of depth present in the characters and plot of most of his stories. He is entranced with world-building and places a lot of focus on describing the intricacies of the imaginative technologies or transformed world order he’s proposed – the nature of its conception, the science behind how it works, its limitations, etcetera. Oftentimes Chiang would pause the story altogether to go on a long exposition that felt abrupt and out of place in an effort to tell you more about the world he so lovingly created. His shorter, narrative pieces felt like excuses for a character to go on a monologue describing a lengthy thought experiment. Without interesting characters or plots to hold on to, these stories felt meaningless and empty.

Several standouts worth mentioning. I found that I generally appreciated Chiang’s longer novellas as opposed to his short ones. “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” is a moving story of a woman who grows attached to an AI pet and her heartfelt efforts to ensure his survival in a rapidly evolving digital world. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” echoes the episode “Shut Up and Dance” from Black Mirror, and explores the impact of using a recording device to preserve all one’s memories on the relationship between a father and his daughter. “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom” delves into the negative emotions of anger, jealousy, and sadness that could arise with the ability to observe other parallel timelines, and questions what looking at these timelines could reveal about one’s moral character. With these stories I got to know the characters and grow attached to them, and there was real character development stemming from their interaction with the novel technologies Chiang spins up in these stories. When Chiang focuses on the people in his stories and allows the technology to stay in the background, they become a lot more emotionally appealing and compelling to read.

If you’re a fan of science fiction and dystopia, Chiang delivers an plethora of stories that is sure to sate your appetite!