ARC Book Review: Proof of Concept

Proof of Concept

Author: Gwyneth Jones

Publisher: Tor

Published: April 11, 2017

Rating: 3 / 5

For Those Who Enjoyed: Never Let Me Go, Arrival, Signs, Star Wars, H.P. Lovecraft, H.G. Wells, Apollo 13


I read the first two chapters of this novel and was immediately into it, despite the fact I had no clue what was going on. I was under the impression that everything going on would become clearer as the plot unfolded. That’s… not exactly what happened. In fact, I’m even more confused than when I started out.

Proof of Concept follows Kir, a girl saved from post-apocalyptic Earth by a super-genius scientist who puts an Artificial Intelligence computer in her brain. For some reason, because this happened when she was still very young, this stunted her growth and I suppose, her ability to conceptualise everyday situations. Either that, or the character development and explanations within the narrative are so flat, Jones misses the point entirely… Anyway, Kir sets off on this experiment expedition to subspace, where they’re looking for somewhere new for humanity to settle. That’s barely what I was able to decipher from this plot and even that I’m unsure of.

This novel feels like what would happen if a scientist, with no previous background in writing fiction, wrote a book. There are people, doing sciency things, and the readers are just expected to understand what the author means with very little to go on. Because Kir’s so emotionally stunted and insular, we don’t get the full scope of exactly what’s going on in terms of anything happening around her. Which is maybe the point. But this suffers from the same issues as Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, as well as any novel involving characters completely lacking in social cues. There are too many instances where Jones drops an interesting little nugget of information and I want to delve into it further, but then it’s gone again, and I’m left with nothing to go on. I have no clue what this experiment they’re doing is. I don’t understand the population control situation. I don’t have any grasp on the simulated intimacy that apparently goes on between coworkers… I just don’t understand.

I think the biggest reason this narrative struggles so hard with it’s plot is because it’s way too short. The plot and world building is stretched way too thin across a 175 page novella. There is not enough room there to fully develop characters and the experiment they’re doing, as well as a full breakdown of the futuristic setting. This is something I find most science fiction novels suffer from. Either there’s not enough background information for casual readers to latch onto or there’s far too much to fully appreciate the plot. With Proof of Concept, it feels like Jones took the iceberg principle, wherein an author should develop characters and world building as much as possible, but only show what the readers absolutely must know to understand the plot, and cut out far too much of all her development. She may know exactly what all her characters’ motivations are and how they relate to each other, and what kind of dystopian world we’re in, and how the science works, but she doesn’t share that with the reader. She simply assumes that we already know.

We can’t read your mind, Gwyneth Jones. You have to spell it out for us.

Another really weird tonal thing going on is the fact that this is a murder mystery? I don’t read many murder mysteries (haven’t read a single Agatha Christie novel in my life…) but if I did, I’d want to be at least emotionally attached to these people before they die. There’s no buildup and no real character development for anyone who died, so I didn’t particularly care if they lived or not. It wasn’t shocking, it was just there.

I went into this expecting there to be some Lovecraftian spookiness to it. And I think Jones was really reaching for it, but didn’t quite reach the mark. I was expecting some The Descent level scare-fests. They’re going deep, deep down into these caves, where maybe there are some pre-civilisation humanoids living down there. I wanted people to be picked off one by one that way. I wanted the AI in Kir’s head to take over and really mess things up in a disturbing way without her realising he’s controlling her mind. Give me some “I’m sorry, I can’t let you do that” realness! That’s what I wanted out of this novel!

I wanted a straight up space science horror novel and that’s not what this was at all.

Books, Reviews

Book Review: Empress of a Thousand Skies

Empress of a Thousand Skies

Author: Rhoda Belleza

Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin Random House Canada)

Published: February 7, 2017

Rating: 2.75 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed: Star Wars, The Diabolic, Jupiter Ascending, The Martian, Firefly, Serenity, Starflight

This is a spoiler-free review!


I’ve been conflicted about this one for months now, flip-flopping back and forth between 2 and 3 stars. It’s not that it’s poorly written, it’s just boring. Which is madness, because it should be impossible for space capers to be boring! Since this novel is so one-note, I could not tell you what happened in the plot any time I picked it up to read. The Cantina Band from Star Wars could’ve been playing in my head on a loop every single time I turned on my ereader for all I know. It would’ve by far been more exciting than what happened in this book.

The problem with Empress is that it’s essentially Star Wars, from every angle. A princess (sorry- empress) loses her entire family in a political maneuver and suddenly everyone’s out to capture her. Meanwhile, a pair of ragamuffin pilots who are clearly Han and Lando get embroiled in the mess alongside their sarcastic droid. I’m pretty sure a planet or two blew up. The Death Star was there. Gosh, I don’t know.

There’s the Cantina Band again…

The only remotely interesting thing going on in this plot is that Han and Lando– ah, Aly and Vin are dreamy to-die-for reality tv stars. Unfortunately, this nuance does nothing to further the plot. In fact, Alyosha is completely isolated and his stardom is kind of a non-entity to his character in general. I find everyone’s motives and actions in this novel baffling. The plot twists are one part “yeah, I know…” and two parts “wait, did I skip a chapter?” for how predictable and lacking in the real meat of the story it is. This is an instance where the dual narrative doesn’t do the plot justice whatsoever. Belleza has a nasty habit of ending chapters right on the climax of a scene, moving on to the second narrative, and returning to it later, completely resolved.

Did I zone out with my internal Cantina Band for half the book? Am I missing something? Wait, when did that important character die? How’d they go from being on a space bus to being on a completely different planet halfway across the galaxy? When’d they get off the bus??? I can’t answer any of these questions, because none of it actually happened on the page!

For the most part, I’m disappointed. I love a good space opera, but if I wanted Star Wars without any of the actual action, I’d squirm my way through the prequels instead…

Books, Reviews

Book Review: Firstlife


Author: Gena Showalter

Publisher: HarlequinTEEN

Published: February 23, 2016

Rating: 4 / 5

For those who enjoyed: Divergent, Hunger Games, Snow Piercer, Lord of the Flies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Orange is the New Black, Beauty Queens

This is a spoiler-free review!


This novel is bonkers in the best way. It’s like an extremely camp version of Hunger Games and I loved it more than I should have. It’s everything I wanted Divergent to be… There is so much going on, I don’t even know where to start.

The heroine, Tenley Lockwood, who has possibly the best character name I’ve stumbled across since Wuthering Heights, lives in a dystopian society divided into two factions: Troika and Myriad. As you can imagine, one’s peaceful, one’s violent. And Ten has to choose between the two for her second life after she dies. For one reason or another, both sides want her more than anyone else and it seriously irks them that she refuses to choose in an attempt to find her own, independent way. Even though it’s totally unclear why she’s being pursued and why she refuses to sign with one or the other, that’s why I’m completely taken by her. She’s stubborn and obstinate, and unwilling to bend to anyone’s will.

Best of all, she can kick some serious ass.

It’s Ten’s fierce independence that saves her from being a stereotypical YA heroine. There are so many aspects of Showalter’s writing that teeters on the edge of cringe-worthy, but she’s exceptionally good at pulling it back to the right place. For instance, there’s two boys chasing after her? Don’t worry – she sees one of them as her brother. There’s a superficial mean girl bullying her in prison? Oh, look… she’s got complex, grey morals and now they’re best friends. Oh, the heroine keeps finding herself in dire situations she can’t get out of? Doesn’t matter, she’s already beat up her attackers, saved half a dozen people, and is on to the next thing. Amazing. I’m here for all of this.

None of the developments in this plot should work, and yet it does.

Her love interest, Killian, is your conventional bad boy with a secret heart of gold. And maybe I’ve been seduced by his name alone (what? You mean Killian Jones, right? Eyeliner wearing, leather clad bad boy pirate, Killian Jones from Once Upon a Time? Where do I sign up???), but I fell hook line and sinker for him in ways I’m never tempted by YA love interests. He comes from the violent Myriad faction and the entire way through, even though the sensible thing to do would be to join the peaceful Troika faction, the odds are stacked in favour of Myriad. I mean, you get the hot guy and you get to beat people up. It just so happens to make for the more interesting story. The chaotic neutral in me has mad love for Killian and Myriad. You know what? Yeah… go wreak havoc with your hot boyfriend. I’d far rather read that than watch her sing Kumbaya with her new guardian angel bestie for an entire novel…

The whole way through, Tenley knows better than anyone that there are flaws in both Myriad and Troika. Neither is perfect and both have their own ulterior motives she’s constantly aware of. Ten’s incredibly calculating, a characteristic we don’t see too much of in female characters. She’s earned her nickname, Ten, for her love of numbers, and the fact that she’d undoubtedly be a mathematician if the factions let her simply be what she wanted to be, does so much to set her apart from the conventional dystopian heroine. Unlike a lot of dystopian heroines who are thrown into the maylay without any skills for war or rebellion (I take it back, Katniss. You are great with a bow), I can definitely see Ten strategizing and leading rebellions in future books. The factions supposedly want her because of a prophecy stating she’ll be the leader of them all and I can see her doing just that.

The point I’m trying to make her though, is that I want more logically inclined girls in YA. I want girls to be able to read stories about girls like them who are good with numbers, or science, or leadership, so they can feel validated in what they love to do. This is what YA heroines should be doing in the grand scheme of their stories. They should be helping real life girls pursue their passions, no matter how many people tell them they can’t because it’s not a girl’s job. And I think, against all odds, Tenley Lockwood is leading the charge.

Books, Reviews

Book Review: Nexis


Author: A.L. Davroe

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Published: December 2015

Rating: 1 / 5 Stars

For Those Who Enjoyed  Read These Instead: The Hunger Games, The Diabolic, Firstlife, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984

This is not a spoiler-free review! You can find a spoiler-free version on goodreads!


This is as good a time to write this review as any, given how much furor Harlequin Teen has received over The Black Witch lately… I read Nexis with full intentions of reading the sequel, Redux in time for its release, but I can’t in good conscience read Redux, let alone finish Nexis. Which I feel really terrible about because I received Redux not just in exchange for an honest review from the publisher, but I got it as a granted Wish on NetGalley… If anything, I hope this post raises awareness as to the types of things publishers should be aware of when considering sensitivity reads.

This series has an interesting enough premise. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world (called Evanescence, by the way. I hope that sets the tone…) where humans have let the Earth fall to ruin. The poor are left to rot in the toxic air of the outside world while the elite literally live in their own bubble of ignorance. It’s essentially a cheap imitation of The Diabolic. The elite pat themselves on the back for doing a favour to the poor by creating virtual reality video games that allows people to essentially live a second life. (So basically, virtual reality Sims.) Fine. Cool. The author says to just roll with it and let it happen.

So I do.

In amongst this dystopian world is Ellani, who happens to go by 500 different pet names, half of them cringe-worthy. She’s a stuck up, bratty teen obsessed with boys and disrespectful to her father, who tries so hard to teach her how the Earth once was and all the terrible things human beings have done to it in their selfishness. I can see where Davroe is going with this. It’s heavy-handed, and you expect Ellani to get it at some point and realise she has to do something about it. But nope.

In one ear and out the other.

While her father’s busy trying to teach her empathy for the world that once was, she’s too preoccupied with begging for plastic surgery for her birthday because she’s the only one who hasn’t been altered in some way. She also happens to solely accept validation in the form of how many boys notice and fall in love with her. So vapid is she, she’s apparently “in love with” the prince, who never gives her the time of day, never said a word to her, and doesn’t even know who she is. Not only that, he owns what Davroe is calling Dolls, who are basically slaves he uses to experiment cosmetic surgery upon… If this were, say, The Hunger Games, this would be making all sorts of really intense social commentary on just how corrupt and beauty-obsessed society has become. But no, this, just like everything else, is treated as the norm.

Not only is cosmetic surgery completely normalised in this world, so is assimilation of culture. It’s explained early on that black people were completely weeded out of the gene pool. They’re literally extinct. At this point, I have to put down my ereader and whisper eugenics to myself, which is never a word I want to associate with books I’m reading unless it’s something making important statements against it. This book is not, and in fact, is so blasé, I almost miss when they use the actual word eugenics to explain the way people look so homogenous. And it’s not in a “eugenics happened and now the world is fucked up” way. But in a “and also, eugenics happened… anyway…” way. Casual as you please. As if the reader’s just supposed to accept it and move on. Because that’s exactly what the characters do…

So, Ellani enters the game, which takes all its world-building from how the world used to be before mankind destroyed it. And for 4.5 seconds, she’s taken with how beautiful it is and what a shame that the sky and wildlife and trees and rain are gone. And I think, thank god, maybe she’ll be motivated to do something about it in the real world.

But then a boy comes along. And it’s instalove, so everything else she was inspired by has instantly been wiped clean from her brain (not literally, but wouldn’t that be interesting?) because clearly boys are more important than stopping planetary extinction…

Just when you think I’m done describing the offensive things being so casually name-dropped in this novel, I have one more horrifying tidbit. The big, instigating plot device that gets Ellani into the game in the first place is this big crash which (spoiler alert), kills her father. Fine, you could see it coming from miles away. Alright. But then she loses her legs. And given how poorly Davroe has handled literally everything else in this novel so far, you can maybe see where this is going. Two or so chapters later, she enters the game and discovers she can have her legs back. Well, I was looking forward to seeing a disabled character kick ass in a dystopian world (again, please see The Hunger Games!), but sure, this isn’t a horrifying, ableist alternative at all

I can now glean a couple messages Davroe is leaving with this:

  1. Attention from cute boys is all the validation girls need.
  2. Being beautiful is all girls should aspire to be.
  3. God forbid, if you wind up disabled, you’re better off dead.
  4. You know what was a good idea? The Holocaust.

Cool. With that, I have absolutely no interest, or intention of reading the rest of this series. I sincerely hope Entangled Publishing reads this review and strives to do better next time.


Book Review: The Diabolic

The Diabolic

Author: S.J. Kincaid

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Published: November 2016

For People Who Liked: The Hunger Games, The Lunar Chronicles, Throne of Glass, Bone Season, Divergent, Star Wars, Stardust, Jupiter Ascending, Vampire Academy

Rating: 4 / 5 Stars

This is a spoiler-free review!


As I’m sure many of us are, I’ve been reluctant in the past few years to read dystopians, considering how much closer to home they’re getting every day. I can’t go anywhere without hearing someone reference 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale. But one thing dystopians clearly do very well when done right, is demonstrate just how corrupt modern society really is. And I think, whether intentional or not, that’s what this novel is doing.

By all accounts, The Diabolic is your pretty typical YA dystopian novel. It’s as brutal and damning toward superficial capitalism as The Hunger Games and as faction-divided as Divergent. Yet it’s doing so many other things. This particular dystopian is set in space, where genetically altered human beings are created to protect their upper class charges. Nemesis is one such diabolic who is charged to protect the senator’s daughter, Sidonia. When the family is disgraced, she’s sent in Sidonia’s place to live within the Emperor’s faction. All forms of human knowledge and exploration has fallen away to appease vapid upper class amusements and keep the lower classes in their place. All forms of science, technological advancement, and literature have been banned. I think had I read this prior to Trump’s America, I would’ve thought this is a cool spin on the dystopian genre.  Having read it right as Trump denounced environmentalism and climate change, this suddenly feels very real. I don’t know what Kincaid plans for future additions to the series, but I feel she could really use her world as a mouthpiece for this generation’s worldly struggles. I truly think she could do some amazing, on point things with it. And I’m interested to see more!

In terms of the character developments, I had a ton of fun seeing Nemesis grow into herself and figure out who she is without her charge. But before she gets there, there is so much Throne of Glass style murder sprees, which were fabulous. This novel is everything I wanted Celaena Sardothian to be. She’s gritty and unabashed in her job as an assassin. It’s what she was raised to do, so she goes and does it, because that’s all she knows. There’s no whining and being lulled into security against all her training… She’s just wary and take no prisoners and I loved it. She’s got a foil/love interest in Tyrus, the Emperor’s nephew, who is written as this crazed madman and he reads very vividly like Finn Wittrock in American Horror Story: Freak Show. The whole way through the story, you don’t know if he’s good or bad; you’re just along for the ride and that’s a lot of fun too. He’s in the midst of this complicated political intrigue and his family is full of cut throat, genocidal megalomaniacs. It’s a nice, solid balance of Star Wars, Stardust, Lunar Chronicles, and Jupiter Ascending. Everyone’s corrupt and fighting for power… in space!

I will say the one thing I find disappointing about The Diabolic is how Nemesis’ relationship with Sidonia was played out. If there’s one trope I’m sick of, it’s the eternally devoted female protector to the weak, fragile best friend. They can be lesbians. That’s totally okay. It’s 2017. If there’s anything teen readers can handle, it’s lesbian romances in their sci-fi fantasy. Just go there. It’s time.

So I would say, if you’re still into dystopias in this day and age, and you can stomach some blood and guts, absolutely give this a go. It’s a fast paced space romp with political intrigue and genetically engineered assassins!

character appreciation

Fight Like a Girl


 Amazing Female Characters Who Aren’t Afraid to Stand Up to The Man

In honour of the women’s rights marches happening in Washington and all over the world today, here’s a celebration of some of my personal favourite kick ass girls in fiction.

The Ladies of Star Wars

It just wouldn’t be a rebellion without mentioning the women of Star Wars. I grew up with Princess Leia as my first hint at how strong and amazing female characters could be and now there are even more Star Wars ladies the latest generations of girls can look up to. Rey and Jyn Erso are both aspirational women who fight for what’s right. And now more than ever, girls need Leia, Rey, and Jyn. They speak up, they fight, they lead against white supremacists, members of an oppressive power group rising to prominence at a scary rate even today. Ladies, we are the rebellion. Pin up your hair, raise your fists, and fight.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer


Another fighter, Buffy Summers didn’t choose to become a slayer, but she takes the responsibility of protecting Sunnydale from the vampire and demonic population nonetheless. Joss Whedon first wrote her as a response to the dumb blond cheerleader stereotype. Buffy was one of the first mainstream examples of kick ass heroines. Buffy Summers is effectively a superhero. And that’s amazing. She’s allowed to be girly, she’s allowed to enjoy dating, she’s allowed to go out and dance. She’s allowed to be a girl. And when she’s ready to pass on the torch, she doesn’t just empower the next slayer, she empowers an entire generation of girls ready to fight for their world, both in the show and in reality.

The Ladies of Firefly

When asked why he keeps writing strong female characters, Joss Whedon famously said, “because you keep asking that question.” So many writers have stepped up and risen to the occasion since Whedon’s heyday, but at the height of his popularity, Joss Whedon gave us an amazing range of multi-faceted female characters. Kaylee, Zoe, Inara, and River of the Serenity crew are four such characters. Kaylee’s an engineer who loves frilly dresses, Zoe’s a fierce soldier, Inara’s an escort who knows her worth (thank you very much), and River’s a supergenius and a dangerous weapon. They all bring so much to the table and take no nonsense from anyone.

Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation


Perhaps the most politically relevant female character to date, Leslie fights tirelessly against political corruption in America while lifting up the women in her life. Her position in the department of parks and recreation puts her in direct opposition to some pretty ignorant, self-interested, idiotic politicians who stand in the way of important progress. It’s not even a subtle stab at the realities of American politics today. But the fact is, with her teeming pile of binders and ceaseless hours spent writing speeches to speak her mind, Leslie gets stuff done. In a stark world where Trump won against Hillary, thank god Leslie Knope eventually becomes president of the united states one day. I look forward to that reality…

The Ladies of Brooklyn Nine-Nine


The amazing thing about about Brooklyn Nine-Nine is its diverse cast of characters. Not only are Terry and Captain Holt two black characters in positions of authority in the police force, but Amy Santiago and Rosa Diaz are both Latina women. Similar to Leslie Knope, Amy’s a nerdy binder wielding do-gooder, while Rosa is a no-nonsense badass. Both are pretty damn good police officers. Together, they fight crime. And let’s not forget Gina Linetti, who, you know, is better than you.

Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games


Say what you will about Jennifer Lawrence and the film adaptation of the Hunger Games series, but I stand by the fact that Suzanne Collins knew exactly what she was doing when writing this series. She wrote The Hunger Games as a response to real life instances of war such as Iraq and Vietnam and the result was the first instance I’ve ever seen of YA literature addressing PTSD and the horrors of war head on. There is so much going on in this series which gets closer and closer to the real world each year. The censorship and media sensationalism as well as capitalist corruption sets a mirror up to the face of modern society which refuses to get it. Katniss Everdeen is a reluctant face of rebellion, but she fights because she has no choice, because she is at the bottom of the totem pole while the upper classes take advantage of her and the lower classes for their entertainment and comfort. Take a look at Suzanne Collins’ work and take notes. Because this’ll be our reality soon enough. Let’s teach our girls to fight for their rights like Katniss did. Soon enough, they may not have a choice.

Mina Harker, Dracula


In a male dominated 19th century narrative, Mina’s stuck in a hard place. But she’s an example of where the fight for women’s rights come from. Mina’s what was referred to as a bluestocking, that is, a middle class woman who chose to take on secretarial work instead of taking up her position in the home. It was the first stirrings of women’s choice to support themselves and the precursor to the suffragette movement. There’s a lot of outdated rhetoric going on in Dracula from gay panic to emasculation and xenophobia, but at the heart of the novel stands a woman who gets stuff done when the men are rendered completely useless under Dracula’s thrall. When the men are all falling apart, Mina’s there, typing up notes for everything surrounding their fight against the big bad that will eventually lead to Dracula’s defeat. Mina’s subtle strength in the novel begs the question, where would men be without us pulling the strings in the background?

The Ladies of Six of Crows

A very recent addition to my list, Leigh Bardugo brings us Inej and Nina, who could not be more different from each other. Both are members of a dangerous band of outcasts. They call Inej the Wraith, for her climbing stealth and Nina, the Heart Renderer, for her ability to manipulate heart-rates. These girls could kill anyone in a moment’s notice and still have time to dream wistfully about sharing brunches full of waffles and chocolate strawberries. Bardugo’s bringing something else important to the table in making sure her readers know Nina’s a big girl. Fat’s no longer a bad word and Bardugo makes certain the girls reading this series know that.

Mako Mori, Pacific Rim


There are a lot of fun things going on in Pacific Rim, but Mako clinches it for me. She’s another lady placed in a male-dominated environment. In a reality where giant Godzilla-like monsters are  wreaking havoc on the world, there are shockingly few women stepping forward to power the giant robots built to fight them. And just when people think she’s not strong enough to step up to the occasion, she proves everyone wrong. Not only that, but the men in her corner encourage her to do so. Raleigh and Mako’s tag-team relationship works so well because they’re compatible without romance getting in the way. They’re drift compatible because they are equals and Raleigh delights in this knowledge. And hey, they save the world together. So who says men and women can’t work together for a bigger cause? Let’s lean into this gender equality a little more. Women’s strength is an asset.

Who are some of your favourite female characters? Which fictional ladies inspire you?

Books, Uncategorized

2016 Year in Review

This year was a fantastic year for YA, thanks to months of dissertation research and the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) in London, which I attended in July. I read a lot of really fun and beautifully written fantasy and a lot of really painfully written fantasy. You might say I spent the entirety of 2016 returning to my roots and reading nothing but fantasy novels. You can find my roundup for the best and the worst reads of the year below!

The Good


The Raven King – Maggie Stiefvater

I spent the past year obsessing over this series. Maggie Stiefvater is the first author since J.K. Rowling who has inspired and irrevocably changed my writing style for the better. Needless to say, she’s kind of a big deal. After spending the better part of a year taunting her readers on social media about the highly likely death of her protagonist, I was looking forward to finally seeing Stiefvater make good on that promise and do what few writers dare. While this book was a thrilling, emotional ride, having had months to evaluate it, as a series finale, it falls short in several places. A lot of key players that make or break the final sequence that holds the entire plot together show up way too late in the series for me to truly connect with their presence in the latter half of the book. I will say, plenty of my wildest theories came true and then some, which was pretty satisfying and almost makes up for the aforementioned issues. I look forward to reading more of her books in the future, as I know all too well she’s gonna continue writing stuff that speaks to my own work.

A Darker Shade of Magic – V.E. Schawb


A Darker Shade of Magic was the first of many books I read in prep for YALC and it was a perfect place to start. Schawb imagines a world where there are multiple alternate reality versions of London and there’s only one person left who can travel between them. Her concepts are extremely original and she’s not afraid to get dark. She was also the first author I met at YALC and we had a nerdy little bonding session over writing lady pirates, which the world undoubtedly needs more of. She’s another author who’s pretty present on social media and she’s very keen on sharing her writing struggles in a big way, which I appreciate.

Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo


Leigh Bardugo rounds out the trifecta of stellar YA fantasy writers that could not be beat no matter what else I read. Bardugo, Schawb, and Stiefvater set the bar for me and they set it high. Their world building is so rich and different. Similar to The Raven Cycle, Six of Crows follows a ragtag group of six criminals who plan a giant heist which inevitably goes awry. Her world is colourful and full of extremely well-developed languages and races with winks to European cultures. All the female characters have agency, they do what they want and they’re not afraid to go out and get it. She strikes a solid balance between gritty tomboy, Inej and girly Nina, (a description which doesn’t do either of the girls justice; they are truly fantastic). The characters are great, they have intense, sometimes horrifying backstories, and it’s a lot of fun seeing them bounce off each other.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter – Melinda Salisbury


I feel like if I read this at any other time in my life, I might’ve hated it, but I was along for the ride. The cover is beautiful, in fact, quite possibly the most beautiful cover design I’ve ever seen. And I think that set the precedent for what I wanted the novel to be. It also helps that the author is an unabashed sweetheart. I just can’t fault her for any missteps in the novel when she’s just writing what she loves and having a geeky time about it. (She’s also a delight on social media.) The story’s got a really cool premise: a girl who kills with a single touch is brought up to be the queen’s executioner. The entire novel revolves around her finding her identity outside of that. And I can’t be mad at the love triangle when she’s got agency for the first time in her life, and she’s making her own choices. It’s what I wish Shatter Me would’ve been. It’s not about the romance, it’s about her finding her way in a fantastical medieval world ruled by hints of Scandinavian mythology. And I love that.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik


Another Scandinavian-based fantasy world. I think had I read Uprooted before Six of Crows, I would’ve given it at least 4 stars. This seems to be a theme in high fantasy novels lately, yet somehow, I’m thoroughly into it every time. Maybe that’s because I’ve got a Ukrainian-Polish background and I like being represented even with subtle nods in fiction. There’s not enough appreciation in the world of the vast differences in European cultures and I like that fantasy writers are at least the ones going there. There are hints of a potential girl on girl romance, which I wish she would’ve developed, though the romance we get between the female and male leads is still more intense than the majority of YA romances out there. But I think something needs to be said for developing soul mate bonds between platonic friends. (A notion also prominently explored in The Raven Cycle.) I think what bogged the story down for me was the repetitiveness of the spells she uses and the never ending battle scenes. It certainly doesn’t stop Uprooted from being a gorgeously written story…

The Bad

Half Bad – Sally Green

Yikes. There is one narrative choice I hate in books more than others, and it’s when stories are narrated by emotionally and psychologically damaged kids. You see it in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and to a certain extent, Room (I know, I’m sorry- I said it.) It makes me incredibly uncomfortable when the writing style is choppy and naïve to reflect that mindset. Half Bad in particular reads like a story narrated by a six year old, instead of a teenager. Being that this novel is a debut, it’s very hard to tell whether this particular style is intentional or if Sally Green’s a legitimately terrible writer. Either way, there’s no emotional depth as a result. Green also happened to speak at YALC and the fact that she had to preface everything she said about her writing process with an apology and “I must be doing it wrong” says an awful lot. Do not read this book. It’s a tutorial on how not to write.

 Heir of Fire and A Court of Thorns and Roses – Sarah J Maas

Teen readers seem to love Sarah J. Maas, which I find baffling. The Throne of Glass series is like a more action-packed, yet equally poorly written answer to the Twilight series. Throne of Glass follows girly girl, Celaena who is apparently the most fearsome assassin in the kingdom, but it seems she’d rather spend her time wearing pretty dresses, flirting with boys, and eating cake than anything else. Which could be really cool, if we got to see her kicking ass a lot more and reveling in it. A Court of Thorns and Roses follows a similar issue, in that huntress, Feyre loses all agency not even a third of the way into the book. All Maas’ character names are ridiculous and bogged down by unnecessary vowels, which I hate. Throne of Glass lacks a rich world full of different races beyond straight, white people (unless they wanna die horribly…), while A Court of Thorns of Roses suffers from an extremely rapey plot and male characters who seemingly do what they want in terms of sexualizing the protagonist and she doesn’t seem to care? I will admit, Maas is my trashy airplane go-to, which is the only way you can get me to read her novels…

The Bone Season – Samantha Shannon

I should probably give Samantha Shannon some credit because this was another debut novel and unlike Sally Green (who is a full-fledged 30-something adult who should know better by now), she was something like nineteen when she wrote it. This book has a lot of promise which gets watered down by the unnecessary romance. It honestly would’ve been a hundred percent better without the romance. Another reimagining of London, this one’s set in the future, where protagonist, Paige gets captured and put into a magical slave trade and sold off to her love interest. The rest of the novel is her building up a slave uprising, which again, would’ve been great without the problematic romance. The action scenes are so fantastic, they were mentioned multiple times during the panel Shannon was in at YALC. I’m gonna give her the benefit of the doubt and try the sequel before casting any official stones. She’s my age with at least three novels under her belt, so to a certain extent, I both empathise, and am bitterly jealous. I hope the second book is better…

 Voyager – Diana Gabaldon

I always read the Outlander series with a grain of salt. Above all else, this series is silly, but it reads like Gabaldon wants you to take her seriously. Which is hard to do when the height of her action always culminates to a rape scene. Always. I think this is the first novel in the series where I properly could not handle the ridiculousness. I thought Outlander was fun and Dragonfly in Amber was the same fun, only this time, in France. This one is twenty years later and Jamie’s still a stubborn asshole (whom I hate with a fiery passion), whom Claire just swoons over anyway no matter how much he abuses, or emotionally manipulates her. That’s pretty much the usual, only this time, Gabaldon outdoes herself with extremely racist stereotyping of Chinese and African slaves. Wow. This is another raving fandom I don’t understand, except the middle-aged housewife edition. If you’re considering getting into the series, stop after book two, because this is an uncomfortable, cringy mess. (But hey, at least there are pirates?)

Rivers of London– Ben Aaronovitch

Another reimagining of London, this time, a magical police procedural. (Aaronovitch, Shannon, and Schwab were on a panel discussing different magical interpretations of London, thus the running theme.) This one also has a ton of glowing reviews, including from friends of mine. I’m very wary of reading male authors and Aaronovitch is a perfect example of why. All his female characters are developed according to how physically attractive they are to the protagonist. Ew. Throughout the entire novel, I got a graphic explanation of what every single one of the female characters’ breasts looked like. I didn’t need that and I nearly put the book down halfway through for this very reason. No, I’m not interested in reading stories through the point of view of a sexist dudebro. And the fact that this particular police procedural happens to have magic in it isn’t enough to separate it from every other male-helmed police procedural. I don’t need another one of these in my life, thanks.

Honorary Mentions

Pantomime – Laura Lam


This is a book I most likely would’ve panned alongside Sarah J. Maas had I read this in 2014. Instead, I think this is the book that really changed my opinion on what makes a “good” story. 2014 Sophie strongly believed a bad book is a bad book if it’s poorly written, no matter what the subject matter. However, despite the cringy, unrealistic dialogue, Lam is undoubtedly well-intentioned. I was really shocked to find that Pan Macmillan pushed to have Pantomime displayed prominently on the main tables in Waterstones instead of simply on the shelves, given its unorthodox protagonist. Micah Grey is a bisexual intersex, gender fluid character, which is several levels beyond the conventional straight white girl protagonist of traditional YA novels. Although there are some problems with depicting intersex people as magical creatures, I’m willing to overlook it, because as far as I know, this is the first high-profile YA novel of its kind. And I respect that and I want more of it.


The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Reveled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime – Judith Flanders


This might seem like a completely random inclusion on my list, but it’s actually my usual jam. My next writing project is a Victorian crime novel, so I’ve been gearing up my novel research accordingly. I don’t usually read non-fiction, but this was a really fun look at so many different high-profile murder cases and the over the top way the Victorian public reacted to them. The Victorians liked a good scandal and it definitely showed. There’s a nice wide, wide breadth of examples throughout the 19th century, which I really appreciated.

The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge


Again, had I read this before Six of Crows, I would’ve appreciated it more. Frances Hardinge was also at YALC and was fabulous in every sense of the word. She wore this wild, wild west outfit with boots and a bolo tie and hat and waxed poetic about dark Victorian era plots. I loved her to the point where I was too intimidated to compliment her while we were both in line for the bathroom. (Probably for the best…) Given just how much I love (and I mean, love) everything Victorian, I knew immediately after seeing her speak, I had to read one of her novels. The Lie Tree is about a young 19th century girl who wants to be a scientist. Her father’s involved in some hinky dealings involving a rare breed of plant and she gets swept up in the adventure and scandal. It’s pretty great, and the beautiful writing is evidence enough why she won the Costa Book of the Year award. But something about the slow pacing kept me from properly engaging with it in the same way Uprooted did. I wanted a little bit more from her, but she is undoubtedly amazing regardless.

Rebel of the Sands – Alwyn Hamilton


I find it hard to believe this novel was written by a 20-something white girl. I’m very impressed with the subject matter in this one. It’s set in a fantastical Arabian city, filled with characters of colour. It’s got a very Scheherazade feel to it, except with a lot more female characters kicking ass. It’s got a lead couple you can root for (because in my opinion, a couple who kicks ass together, stays together) and their kind of snarky back and forth really works. It’s a fun gun-slinging Arabian knights romp! Alwyn Hamilton really knows what she’s doing. Kudos to her…


Heir to the Empire – Timothy Zahn


I’m adding this in because it’s a prelude to my January 2017 reads. Heir to the Empire is the first book of one of the many series within the Star Wars, Legends world. I read this one almost immediately after seeing The Force Awakens for the first time. Needless to say, I was brought up as a huge Star Wars fan and felt it was my duty as a fan to get into the novel universe. I was wary going in, but I shouldn’t have been, because this is clean, cheesy fun. It’s a lot of melodrama, it’s a lot of the old gang doing what they do best, which is getting into crazy escapades and getting captured and fighting against the Empire. Leia gets a lightsaber (yay!), Luke gets a bad ass bounty hunter rogue Jedi lady friend (also yay!)… It’s all in all a great time. Look out for more Star Wars reviews this month! (I’ll have many.)