They Both Die at the End, Adam Silvera

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When Mateo receives the dreaded call from Death-Cast, informing him that today will be his last, he doesn’t know where to begin. Quiet and shy, Mateo is devastated at the thought of leaving behind his hospitalised father, and his best friend and her baby girl. But he knows that he has to make the most of this day, it’s his last chance to get out there and make an impression.
Rufus is busy beating up his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend when he gets the call. Having lost his entire family, Rufus is no stranger to Death-Cast. Not that it makes it any easier. With bridges to mend, the police searching for him and the angry new boyfriend on his tail, it’s time to run.
Isolated and scared, the boys reach out to each other, and what follows is a day of living life to the full. Though neither of them had expected that this would involve falling in love…

Some books are great. Some books are heartbreaking. Some books have you crying at work, and some books have you thinking about them all the way walking home and into the evening.

This book fits into all four categories.

We all played the game when we were younger, in the years between thinking we were immortal and realising we were not. The what would you do if you had a day left to live game, where you pretended the world was at your fingertips and the impossible became possible for twentyfour long hours. Some would say they would travel far and wide, others, that they would say goodbye, give memories back to the people they loved.

In this book, that game is reality. You get a call around midnight telling you that at some point in the next 24 hours, you’re going to die. You don’t know how, or when, but it gives you time to sort everything out, say goodbye and get ready.

Because of this knowing, things have cropped up to give you a good last day; experience centers, apps, discounts….  The app Last Friend is how the two mains meet, and is the whole reason for their day of adventures.

But the app, their friendship and day – all that actually made me think more about fate. I love how, in this book, all these side characters stories get brought together, how the random person on the street is someone important to what you are doing, how the person you might have met is the one you cross the road with later in the afternoon, and how, really, all the small decisions you make are the ones that bring you to why you die.

If Mateo hadn’t have reached out on Last Friend, he would have done various things, but then Rufus wouldn’t have met him and the day might have ended differently – but we will never know, because all those factors did bring around their deaths. Would they have died anyway – if Mateo had never left his house, would he have died sooner, or in a different way?

See, told you this book made me think. I finished it two days ago and I’m still thinking about it. (At least the tears didn’t last as long)

It’s a clever, simple idea that is pulled off effectively – you watch (read), over the whole day, as the two main characters grow and change, even when they know there is nothing to do with that change. You follow them through grieving and trying to work out how to help their friends and help each other, and even though you know how its going to end (spoiler alert, they die) you still mourn for them when it does happen.

I shouldn’t be surprised at the mourning – I’ve read one other book by Silvera and that one got me as well, so I knew already that he was a good storyteller and puller-of-the-heartstrings, but he’s improved with this book, I think. He just knows how to tell a story, and how to make the characters emotions feel just as real as your own, he pulls you up and drags you along with the characters, and with this… I know I say it a lot with character deaths, but I wish they hadn’t died, because I wanted to know what the two main characters could have become – would Mateo have gone back to hiding at home and being careful, or would he have learnt to live?

We will never know.

four stars

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Under Rose-Tainted Skies, Louise Gornall

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At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house delineate her life. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed.

But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees.

Their friendship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can walk beneath the open sky. One who is unafraid of kissing. One who isn’t so screwed up. Can she let him go for his own good—or can Norah learn to see herself through Luke’s eyes?

After the awfulness of some other YA contemporary books I’ve read recently, I didn’t hold up much for this one. I’d seen a lot online about it, though, and the fact that it was realistic in the mental illnesses it portrayed and thought I would actually give it a chance.

I was so so wary going into this. I had a proof copy, so I don’t know what it says on the back of finished ones, but the blurb on mine made it sound like the whole girl meets boy girl falls in love *poof* mental illness cured! Which… yeah, I’m definitely not the only one that hates the whole idea of that thing. It really really isn’t like that at all. But I had the book and I knew enough about it to be interested, so I started it.

It was slow. There is no denying that, and for someone like me, who likes fast paced fantasy and on-the-edge-of-your-seat plots, it was hard to get into (pretty much why this is a 4 star and not a 5 star.) but how can it be anything but slow, when the main characters whole world is the four walls of her house?

But that slowness didn’t stop the story, or make it boring. With something like agoraphobia, it would have been easy to slump down the monotonous route-with how Main Character’s, Norah, life was, it would have been more than easy. But Gornall is a clever writer that it never seems that way. She has just proven that you dont need massive world building and endless sets to create a beautiful story.

Because it was beautiful. In its writing but also in the truth of the mental illnesses it tackled. It was unflinching in everything, from the anxiety to the panic attacks to the self harm- and also the treatment of them all. And you know what else was beautiful? The fact that Norah has a caring support system from her mother. In so many YA novels, the parents are the bad guys. The ones that don’t understand, or don’t care, or teach their kids as less. Or even, aren’t in the story at all. But Norah’s mum worries and cares- but when Luke appears on the scene, she doesn’t smother. She just tries to help, and its lovely to see.

And lets talk about Luke. He’s apparently your average teen- good looking, and wanted by the High School Queen (this is a running theme in YA books. Was it just me that never seemed to have one of Those Types while in school?). He’s caring and funny and desperately wants to know Norah. I loved the interaction between these two. Because it wasn’t all love will cure everything. It was awkward- not just when Luke didn’t know anything about her, but even after she explained it, and they were trying to ‘date’. Luke made mistakes- as everyone does, and it’s heartbreaking to see from both sides.

Luke wasn’t the ‘cure’. Norah was not ‘cured’ at the end of the book- she still struggled leaving the house- even when her life was at risk- she still struggled with her OCD and anxiety. But Luke was almost… motivation (not the right word but I can’t think of it at the moment) to get better. To try the treatments suggested to her.

Though some of the book was funny, a lot of it was gritty and hard to read. Because she does struggle with a lot, and the book is written in her POV, you see a lot of what goes on in her head, and sometimes some of the things she went through reminded me of things I’ve struggled with in the past. But not all books are meant to be light- and books that rotate around characters with mental illnesses shouldn’t be easy, because mental illness isn’t easy.

It was an honest view into Norah’s life, and I really enjoyed it and I recommend it to everyone, no matter your normal reading tastes.

four stars

Illuminae, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

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This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
BRIEFING NOTE: Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

I don’t think I can talk about this book. I’m kinda just sat in a daze because I never expected it to be this good.

Take everything you think a book is our of your brain and throw it all away. This is not a book in terms of, it has no chapters. It has no massive descriptions you need to plunder through, waiting for the story to start. Nothing that you expect from anything you would normally read.

And it was wonderful, amazing, and refreshing.

I’m attempting to write this review about half an hour after I stopped reading the book, and I don’t think its the best idea, because all my mind can really think is AHHHHHHH and the temptation to go and throw it at people in the street are to read it.

The story is plotted out in a series of emails, interviews, classified document and various other things. You have to keep note of dates- because it sometimes skips weeks, or even goes back in time. And you have to watch for who is talking to who- because a lot of it is in ‘messenger’ style, there are nicknames for a lot of them.

I loved that every page was differently styled; documents had tea stains on them, some had ‘blood’ splatters on them, there are logos of different for what ships are talking,  and also different designs for some of the characters.

I loved loved the characters, especially AIDAN (the AI of one of the ships). Their pages are all black, their style of speaking really poetic and rather amusing at time, and it was great to see this…thing learning to ‘be’. The fact that I, at times, felt bad for an AI shows just how good the style of writing is, and the genius of both the authors.

It was also full of odd little bits that made me smile- like another favourite author’s name turning up at one point in the middle of it.

The design of the book and the writing, along with the plot, characters and almost thillerish mystery of it all just makes it a fantastic, different book

five stars

The Call, Peadar O’Guilin

 

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Imagine a world where you might disappear any minute, only to find yourself alone in a grey sickly land, with more horrors in it than you would ever wish to know about. And then you hear a horn and you know that whoever lives in this hell has got your scent and the hunt has already begun.

Could you survive the Call?

This book is gruesome. And it is brilliant.

I didn’t know what to expect diving into this. The proof copy has been sat on my shelf for months, but when it arrived in the shop and I saw what it was about, I decided to finally pick it up. All I knew was that it was set in Ireland, there were evil fairies, and a death count almost as high as Game of Thrones.

Now, I am a sucker for anything fairy related. I have a weakness for fairytales, where happy endings are always there and magic is used for good, but I have an even bigger weakness- as in, I would kill for more books like it- for books where the fey want to lure you to your deaths and when hunting humans are their form of fun.

And in this book…. wow, the Sídhe take that that evil to another level, I swear.

So, many many years ago, Ireland managed to banish the Sídhe to the Grey Land, a place that sounds just as welcoming as its name. Then, 25 years before the book began, the Sídhe managed to curse all of Ireland in revenge, vowing to kill off Ireland’s humans. Any teenager between the age of 10 and 17 will get Called- they disappear from Ireland, leaving only their clothes, and appear in the Grey Land.

In the real world, they are gone for three minutes. But time is different, and in those three minutes, they are hunted for a whole day in the Grey Land. Only one in 10 teenagers last those three minutes and come back alive. And even then, most that come back are different.

Though this book has one main character- Nessa (Who I will talk about in a moment)- all the other characters have their own starring parts. None of them are pushed to the sidelines, even though you realise by about chapter three that 90% of these characters are probably not going to be around for the whole book. When each character is Called, you see them in the Grey Land. Each journey is different, each character seeing a different cruel side of the land they banished the Sídhe to.

It was cleverly done- you wanted each of them to survive. Each of them has had such a cruel time since they went to their survival schools, where they spend most of their time. Every day is terrifying, a wait to see who would end up dead- but life is harsh as well, trying to toughen them up. So when their time came, and you turned the page to see their names at the top, you are sat on the edge of your seat hoping they will survive the next few pages.

And then… Nessa. 

Put your hands up if you’ve ever gotten annoyed at the lack of diversity in YA books. Mainly, this kind of action fantasy. Mainly, diversity in seeing disabled characters. And having a main character that is disabled.

So Nessa had polio as a child and as a result, her legs are twisted and weak. No one expected her to survive, but she was determined. She wanted to prove them all wrong. So at school, when they ran, she crafted herself crutches out of tree branches. She learns to fight. She watches all these people she grew up with disappear then appear again, hideous and mangled and more often dead than alive. And those same people give her pity. They do not punish her because of that pity, and she hates it.

More than anything, I loved that. I have a disability, and at school, it forced me to be behind many of my classmates. I used to be a big football player- until my doctor decided that football, along with many other sports- was too dangerous. There were many other things I couldn’t do, and if there was one thing I hated more than anything else, it was pity. 

So to see a main character I could identify with, who I understood, who no one expected to get anywhere but then did, it made my day completely.

The only issue I had with this book is that you have to wait a long long time to see Nessa in the Grey Land, and the blurb of the book makes it sound like she is there a lot longer and a lot sooner than she is. However, the fact that you see all the others go into it makes up for it.

I just… This isn’t a book for the faint hearted. It is cruel and harsh and almost horrorish with some of the things that happen. But then, that is what they fey are meant to be, especially the ones in Ireland. But it is a fantastic read with some brilliant characters and imagination.

four stars

Heartless, Marissa Meyer

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Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Don’t you just hate it when books come out in other countries four months before they are published in your own? Heartless isn’t actually published in the UK for a month or two, and I was going to leave reading it until nearer that date- but then I kept seeing pictures online of the US editions and gave into the temptation. (Thank Publishers for early copies) (and for early copies that have better covers than the UK cover)
Meyer’s other series- The Lunar Chronicles- is one of my favourite series for many reasons. Fairytale retelling with wonderful female characters, friendships, and not a single love triangle in sight. So of course, I was looking forward to this one as well.
And I was not disappointed.
The start was rather slow- the whole first chapter, I read worried that it was going to be like this the whole way through, but it sped up quickly, introducing all the characters in a wonderful way that really makes you wish Wonderland actually existed. All the players we know well were there- just slightly different, as it was not only Meyers version of them, but a prequel of how they became who there were when Alice’s Wonderland.
But once the story started, it was wonderful. The first time we get introduced to Jest is one of my favourite scenes (okay most of my favourite parts included Jest) but it wasn’t even the romance I liked- Unfortunately, in this book, there was a slight love triangle which irritated me at some points, but didn’t ruin the book for me. What I liked was that Jest was fun, and like his name, full of mischief. And Raven, his constant companion, who mainly spoke in rhyme (and quotes from the poem of the same name).
I think my only issue (aside from triangles) with this was actually the main character, Cath. There were times when I could have quite happily shaken her with how stupid she was being, and how much she didn’t think about the people around her. Her development was great- it’s rare to have a book where the main character gets worse, not nicer, but sometimes, it felt off. Like I didn’t believe she would have done some things, or would have done something differently.
But the book, overall, was fun to read, and once again showing why Meyer is the queen of fairytale retellings.
four stars

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo

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Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

I’m writing this in the aftermath of reading Crooked Kingdom, having devoured both books in only a few days. And while this review is only on SoC, I would just like to say that the sequel is just as good… maybe better (I haven’t made up my mind, I’m still in shock and in the wants to hug the book and protect the characters stage)

There are so many things I love about Six of Crows.

It’s fantasy, which is always a huge plus, its huge which is an even better plus, and though there are small (tiny) romances throughout, the romance is only a bare fraction of what the book is about- which is the best plus (don’t get me wrong, I love romance- but there are some fantasy books that don’t need it- or don’t need it at the forefront.

Leigh is an incredible writer. She weaves her stories around so well that the reader is always one step behind- we think we know what will happen, and the the opposite does. Enemies are written as friends and betrayals are written as saves, and she teaches you to expect nothing less that the impossible and the unexpected.

And the characters- Oh my god each and every one of the  main six characters are flawed and funny and broken and brilliant. I think that is what makes you care about them so much- even Kaz, who is fairly ruthless and most of the time, seemingly heartless. Each of the six has their back story explored (some of them moreso in Crooked Kingdom) which, while not justifying actions, makes you understand them.

Their friendships and relationships are amazing as well. The girls do not fight each other over anything (no, not even boys), and actually help and support each other (The fact this seems to be such a rare thing in fiction makes me sad). And the romantic relationships are built on a foundation of the friendships and trust that is already there- and each romance is something that builds over both books, and each romance is not even about the kissing and making out- its about who the characters are to each other. Their actions and words and minds.

And then the storyline- this group of six teens who set out to break into a prison that is famous for not having escapees. Things go wrong, some of them get injured, some of them (surprisingly) manage not to kill the others. It’s funny and adventurous, insane and brilliant,

It’s funny and adventurous, insane and brilliant, and having now finished both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, I can say it is one of the best series I have ever read.

five stars

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

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Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Anyone who knows me knows I love a good retelling. And that I love anything to do with myths and legends. So of course, in that respect, I love this book already.

The thing about retellings is…you already know the story. Yet each retelling is different. And what I love about this book is that, despite the fact I knew what was happening, and what was going to happen, it still managed to surprise me, still managed to have me up in the early hours in the morning wondering what had happened to my life to make me cry over the story and wondering if I would ever get over it (the answer is no. I first read it over a year ago when I was given it for my birthday. Since then I have wanted to reread it on countless occasions, but didn’t, and also since then, I have found myself thinking about the characters a lot. I finally reread it this week, so I’m sure the same will be happening in the future year)

I love every aspect of this book.

Patroclus’ narration is wonderful- it’s simple but powerful, and he is a character we can relate to. He is, in essence, the ‘least interesting’ character in the story- he is not favoured by gods, he is not half-god, like Achilles, is is not a good fighter, in fact, he’s pretty much useless on the battlefield. He’s an outcast, exiled and seemingly unwanted by everyone apart from Achilles. In a cast of kings and princes, Patroclus stands out, because he is so human and by being human, he brings out the ordinary in everyone else. I don’t think the story would have worked from any other PoV, or from third person, because… this is not a story about war and Troy. It’s a love story,  a boy and a half-god in love while they try to survive war and gods and the anger both brings.

But it’s not just Patroclus- all the characters are wonderful. And through Patroclus, you cannot help but fall a bit for Achilles. From the musical prince to the warrior, he changes so much, but you still cant help but love him. He is different to how we have read and seen him before- through Patroclus he is not full of wrath. Through Patroclus we see Achilles care for more than his fame and glory- most of the time. Of course, Achilles is still arrogant, still prideful (and oh god, dont you want to shake him when he is) but Patroclus makes him seem….more mortal.

And then…there is the end. I adore the last 50 pages, despite how much they destroy me. Its so beautifully written, every emotion so strong, as if you are not reading off a page but stood next to them all, watching and seeing it all play out.

Miller is an extraordinary writer, the words so lyrical and beautiful they draw you in completely.

five stars