Review: Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

theassassinsapprenticeAssassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Farseer Trilogy #1

Date Published: April 1st, 1995

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Pages: 392 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.

Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals – the old art known as the Wit – gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.

So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

I went into this novel with what seemed like absurdly high expectations and it managed to not only meet but exceed all of those expectations. Having heard so many wonderful things about Robin Hobb’s novels, I was certain I would enjoy it, but I never expected to fall so in love with this absolutely beautiful piece of literature. Assassin’s Apprentice captivated me from page one. Literally. One day, I picked it up just to try out a few pages and there was no stopping me after that. I devoured every aspect of this narrative, was enchanted by the magic, enthralled by the political intrigue, and surprised by all the twists and turns. This world and its characters completely ensnared me and I never wanted to leave.

In this novel, we follow Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, and a royal bastard. As a young boy, he is abandoned and sent to live in the royal household where he is written off, shunned by most he comes across. He begins his time here living with the stable master, Burrich, and finding what little companionship he has with the animals he works and lives with. When a magical art, called the Wit, makes itself evident within him, he finds peace, and even love, with the intense link this power allows him to have with his animal friends. Despite the danger of it and the nobility’s distaste for such powers, it is his lifeline in a world that wishes he never existed.

From the day he gets dropped off at the Farseer door, we are witness to many years of Fitz’s struggle to fit in, grow up, and to simply just survive as a reluctantly tolerated member of this royal family. When he one day garners the attention of the king, he is thrust into a life of lessons that befit a child of the Farseer name—and there is something more. Under cover of night, Fitz is being trained to become a powerful, royal assassin. And with strange goings-on at court and the growing underpinnings of corruption among royals, Fitz may just have his work cut out for him.

Robin Hobb’s writing is some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read. She completely captures the high fantasy style of the ‘80s and ‘90s, which I have always thought had such a unique and particularly enchanting quality to it. This is the sort of writing that truly made me into the fantasy lover that I am today, and there was this very poignantly nostalgic feel that wrapped around me until the final page. To say she has a talent for crafting an emotionally vivid and intriguingly complex narrative is an understatement. The way she has woven each and every element seamlessly together to create a multi-layered and unforgettable tale is remarkable.

Now, when I say this novel is complex, I definitely do not mean that it is challenging to follow or understand. Personally, I was blown away by how easily I fell into the many branches of this storyline. There is so much intricate detailed poured into every moment—into every event and setting and relationship. Years go by and new knowledge, twists, and turns fill each page and never once does it become muddled or overwhelming. Hobb writes in such a way that effortlessly carries you over every single page, not allowing you to get lost along the way. So many stories and so many characters and so many twists, yet not one bit of it is left unresolved.

And as if I haven’t been gushing enough already, there is still the topic of the characters. These marvelous, three-dimensional characters that are the driving force of this novel. Fitz is an incredibly strong lead character, someone who is easy to connect and sympathize with. His story is equal parts heart-wrenching and heart-pounding, and it is impossible not to cheer for him all the way. He faces such massive obstacles and stands up to them, persevering in the most unlikely circumstances. Fitz is not one of those flawless heroes—every aspect of his life, every success and failure, is chronicled in these pages. His growth throughout the narrative as he fights to give himself a life is awe-inspiring.

Every single character Robin Hobb creates in this story is multi-dimensional and fully fleshed out. They are all made into a significant element of the overall narrative, contributing in some way, however small, to the unfolding of the plot. I thought Hobb did a brilliant job building each and every one of her characters with care and precision.

Chade and the Fool were two of my absolute favorites. From the second they enter, they are both depicted with a vivid and striking characterization that makes them unforgettable. Another favorite of mine was Verity Farseer. He is truly a gentleman—a compassionate, intelligent, and hard-working man who stands up for what he believes in and puts the welfare of his people above anything else. And, just on a side note, he may also be one of my new book boyfriends.

As I am sure you have already guessed, I adored this novel with all my heart, and it has turned me into a complete Robin Hobb addict. This was such a satisfying read and is one that will continue to stick with me throughout my entire life, both as a reader and as a writer. It is this type of work that inspires me so greatly when it comes to my own personal writing, as fantasy is my genre of choice.

It is rare to find a book that impacts me quite as much as this one did—one that rekindles that initial feeling I had as I discovered my love of reading—and which reminds me why I am so passionate about literature. The next book, Royal Assassin, is sitting in front of me as we speak, and I am so eager to throw myself back into this world. If you have not tried out Robin Hobb’s novels, I highly recommend giving this one a go.

5.0 TARDISes

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Review: In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

inanabsentdreamIn an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Wayward Children #4

Date Published: January 8th, 2019

Publisher: Tor

Pages: 208 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: This is the story of a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.

When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she’s found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well. 

For anyone . . .

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Just when I think this series cannot possibly get any better, Seanan McGuire does it again. In an Absent Dream is most definitely my favorite installment in the series thus far. Like the other novels in this series, it has taken me months to write a review for it as it is so difficult to find the rights words to do justice to this beautiful piece of literature. This is once again a modern fairytale—a fractured fairytale—that transports the reader into a vividly depicted and enrapturing world. The very exquisite yet bittersweet plot line is filled with a perfect blend of relatable reality and the peculiar, dark, and bizarre elements that make up this unique and captivating series.

This novel is quite reminiscent of the second novel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, in that it is a prequel following one of the main characters of the series through their door. We follow Katherine Lundy—later a therapist at Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children—beginning when, as a young child, she finds her door. Lundy finds difficulty fitting in and lacks friends in the real world. With books as her only company, she enjoys becoming lost in her imagination, though this comes with the disappointment of knowing any life she could have would never match up. Then, her door appears and she is swept up into the world of the Goblin Market.

The Goblin Market has only three rules: ask for nothing, names have power, and always give fair value. It is a world that revolves around fairness and respect for others. One must always provide fair value for all goods and services or face punishment until all debts are repaid. Here, Lundy discovers herself, what she wants out of life, and a place where she truly fits, something with which she struggles in the real world. However, things are not as straightforward as they seem and she is faced with making a seemingly impossible choice that approaches faster each day.

The world McGuire creates in this novel is easily one of her best. The world she constructs is so rich in detail and she builds it up around the reader. It is as if we could actually step through that door and wander through the Goblin Market. The characters were wonderful—well-constructed and multidimensional—and so easy to fall in love with. Despite the fantastical elements of the plot, McGuire always manages to build characters that are extremely easy to relate to. Lundy is portrayed so well and getting to know her over the course of the book is a unique and enjoyable experience. And Lundy’s relationships with Moon and the Archivist are so beautiful.

As always, the writing is magnificent. I feel that McGuire’s narrative voice and writing style hit the mark particularly well for the type of story she is telling here. It is warm and inviting with a poignant undercurrent of sadness, longing, and even a bit of danger and foreboding. Her words not only convey the tone of the novel, but they also weave an intricate tale that feels seasoned as if it has been passed down through generations. Every emotion is so tangible and it is incredibly easy to connect with the characters—their triumphs, their struggles, everything roots the reader in their lives.

The narrative jumps around quite a bit, with gaps in time that we do not get to see as readers and I was unsure at first how I felt about this. There are intriguing adventures that are only vaguely referenced and part of me longed to experience them. However, this style grew on me quite a lot and I learned to appreciate how this type of progression contributed to the overall message of the story. In this way, the relentless march of time becomes one of the primary themes and it is an absolutely crucial element of the plot.

Refraining from portraying certain major events in Lundy’s life at the Goblin Market further highlights the struggle she goes through and the huge choice that looms over her. She essentially leads a double life, in conflict over her loyalties to her newfound friends and her family—the comforts of home and the excitement and possibility that lies before her behind her door. Getting to see her connection to both environments and the stark contrast between them highlights her inner turmoil.

I am sure it is quite clear by now that I absolutely adored this novel. I still feel that there is so much more to say, but that I have done my best to put my thoughts into words that capture the beauty of this work. McGuire knows all the right ways to anchor her readers in her unique worlds and tell a story that inspires, enchants, and pulls at one’s heartstrings. Each one is even more impactful than the previous. Every novel McGuire writes is truly a piece of art, and this fourth installment once again proves to be an absolute masterpiece. I never want this series to end.

5.0 TARDISes

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Review: Doctor Who: Royal Blood by Una McCormack

royalbloodDoctor Who: Royal Blood by Una McCormack

My Rating: 2.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Doctor Who: The Glamour Chronicles

Date Published: September 8th, 2015

Publisher: Broadway Books

Pages: 240 pages

Source: Purchased

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: An original adventure tying in to the ninth season of Doctor Who, the spectacular hit series from BBC Television, featuring the new 12th Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi.

“The Grail is a story, a myth! It didn’t exist on your world! It can’t exist here!”

The city-state of Varuz is failing. Duke Aurelian is the last of his line, his capital is crumbling, and the armies of his enemy, Duke Conrad, are poised beyond the mountains to invade. Aurelian is preparing to gamble everything on one last battle. So when a holy man, the Doctor, comes to Varuz from beyond the mountains, Aurelian asks for his blessing in the war.

But all is not what it seems in Varuz. The city-guard have lasers for swords, and the halls are lit by electric candlelight. Aurelian’s beloved wife, Guena, and his most trusted knight, Bernhardt, seem to be plotting to overthrow their Duke, and Clara finds herself drawn into their intrigue…

Will the Doctor stop Aurelian from going to war? Will Clara’s involvement in the plot against the Duke be discovered? Why is Conrad’s ambassador so nervous? And who are the ancient and weary knights who arrive in Varuz claiming to be on a quest for the Holy Grail…?

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This is a spoiler-free review.

As I’m sure you know or can tell, I am a massive fan of Doctor Who, and I find the book series to be so fun, especially when waiting for new episodes. As soon as this particular novel was released, I was immediately intrigued by it. I love stories dealing with politics and conspiracy within a kingdom—particularly anything set in a medieval or medieval-esque time period. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling very disappointed by this novel. While it is a quick and light read, there are many, sometimes glaring, issues that are impossible to ignore.

In this novel, the Doctor and Clara find themselves in the land of Varuz where tensions are high, war is on the horizon, and secrets are profuse. Aurelian, the duke of Varuz is struggling to keep his city from falling apart completely. His enemy, Duke Conrad, is eager to capture the city for himself, and Aurelian is contemplating making Varuz’s last stand against the waiting army. After The Doctor’s path collides with Duke Aurelian’s men, he is mistaken for a holy man, and he and Clara are taken to the court of the duke. Aurelian is eager to receive The Doctor’s opinion on the decision, and the pair plan to leave as soon as he has given one. But The Doctor and Clara are soon enraptured by the fate of Varuz and the potential treason going on behind-the-scenes.

Even though I finished this novel a few months ago and have spent time thinking through it, I’m still finding the majority of the plot somewhat baffling. I’ll start off by saying that one of the biggest problems pertaining to the actual text itself is the massive amount of typos and grammatical errors. Frankly, I am stunned that they were so prevalent—you can find at least one spelling or sentence structure issue on every single page. It is as if no one bothered to proofread before publishing the book. This ended up being quite distracting, and made the lack of polish of story as a whole even more prominent.

After reading the synopsis of this book, I was very intrigued—it sounded like a story or episode of the show that I would have adored, and I wanted so badly to enjoy it. I love reading the novels about the Twelfth Doctor, especially ones containing Clara as I think she is a strong and intelligent protagonist. The interplay between the two is always enjoyable—they have so much chemistry and make a fantastic pair, balancing each other well. This is what I was hoping to find in this tale of their adventures, but I came out feeling very lukewarm about absolutely everything.

The plot just did not live up to it’s potential, and this could have been such a wonderful one in so many ways. It promised mystery and drama and suspense, but proved to be lacking all three. Too many facts are revealed too rapidly, and then it is essentially a slough to the end. Personally, I think it was a mistake to write this storyline in first-person in general, but even more so because of the character McCormack chose to be the main narrator. This choice ruins all of the enigmatic nature of the plot, the primary element on which it is heavily riding. We also spend a far too short amount of time focusing on The Doctor himself, a pitfall that the novels in this series sometimes run in to.

McCormack’s writing is sufficient, but definitely mediocre and much weaker than I was expecting. There are a number of aspects of the various settings in the novel that are depicted with a reasonable amount of detail, however, the world-building is quite wholly inconsistent. For me, there were times where I found it challenging to imagine what the city of Varuz, and the outside environment in general, looked like. This adds another challenge when trying to become immersed in the world.

I also found the character depiction in this story to be very hit or miss, particularly with the Doctor and Clara. Early on, McCormack does a decent job of replicating the personalities of the characters we already know and love. However, she soon slipped up, and they began to come across the wrong way. Their personalities are in constant instability—one moment things are matching up and then they suddenly talk or act in ways that are completely uncharacteristic of the characters from the show. The side characters in the narrative are, for the most part, very bland and one-dimensional. They are not built up well enough for the reader to feel any sort of connection to them.

While I generally judge these types of books on a bit of a different scale due to the simple and fun nature of them, this particular installment had a greater quantity of weaknesses than I typically find. With this all being said, it is still an interesting enough novel, and makes for a light, quick read. Despite its flaws, the imperfections do not make it so difficult that it is impossible to understand. And while this should not be entirely the job of the reader, one’s imagination and inner editor can easily fill in the gaps and make corrections when needed. As always though, the books from the Doctor Who literature series are always nice to have around when the show is in between seasons.

2.5 TARDISes

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Review: The Boy from Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis

theboyfromtomorrowThe Boy from Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: May 8th, 2018

Publisher: Amberjack Publishing

Pages: 268 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Josie and Alec both live at 444 Sparrow Street. They sleep in the same room, but they’ve never laid eyes on each other. They are twelve years old but a hundred years apart.

The children meet through a handpainted spirit board—Josie in 1915, Alec in 2015—and form a friendship across the century that separates them. But a chain of events leave Josie and her little sister Cass trapped in the house and afraid for their safety, and Alec must find out what’s going to happen to them. Can he help them change their future when it’s already past? 

The Boy from Tomorrow is a tribute to classic English fantasy novels like Tom’s Midnight Garden and A Traveller in Time. Through their impossible friendship, Alec and Josie learn that life can offer only what they ask of it.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Ever since I finished reading this novel, I have been searching for the right words to describe it—words that encompass every topic, every emotion, in the best way possible. Words like “charming”, “adorable”, and “sweet” are fitting to certain aspects, but somehow still feel wrong. However, darker words do not have a place here either, just as the characters do not allow darkness to remain in their lives. This is a novel of an endearing and vital friendship that defies the most impossible of circumstances. Of a life-changing connection bridging a century’s distance. To really pinpoint those words that I need, let’s dive into the story itself.

In this novel, we follow the lives of two young children—Josie and Alec—and their blossoming friendship. They both live in the same room of the same house on Sparrow Street. The twist? Josie is living in 1915, while Alec is in 2015. The pair meet across this one-hundred-year gap through the use of a hand painted spirit board belonging to Josie’s mother—who works as a psychic—and left in the house for Alec to find.

The two, along with Josie’s sister Cassie and their tutor Emily, form a deep connection, one that they rely on to cope with the difficult circumstances they are all in. However, the safety of Josie and her little sister is torn apart as events on their side quickly escalate to dangerous and life-threatening. Learning of this, Alec realizes he must do everything he possibly can to help bring them to safety and protect these people he has come to love.

I thought the main characters were very well portrayed, and were very much the driving force of the narrative. Josie, Alec, Cassie, and Emily are beautiful and utterly lovable. It is impossible not to get swept up into their lives, to feel every emotion they feel, and root for them all the way. We are given much insight into their points-of view, an intimate look at their situations, and a detailed depiction of their personalities. The three-dimensional quality of these characters magnifies the realism, connects the reader on a personal level, and sets a solid base for a powerful story.

There is a bit lacking when it comes to many of the side characters, however. Though some of them play very important roles in the plot, they still remain fairly two-dimensional. We never get to see particularly far into their stories, which I think would have expanded and deepened the plot further—it would have made the message of the novel even more poignant.

While I had a few issues with Camille DeAngelis’ writing, overall, I do believe it fits the narrative and the book’s target age range pretty well. Her writing style is easy to fall into and her words flow nicely at a reasonable pace. DeAngelis is very descriptive, in terms of both physical and emotional details. The tone and atmosphere of every scene is very vivid, pulling the reader deeper into the lives and struggles of her lovable characters. It is easy to feel the wonder of the children, the joy and excitement of their friendship, the fear and pain in the darkest moments.

She also does a great job of switching between the two sides of the story, alternating between Josie’s and Alec’s stories every chapter. Her transitions over the space of a century are seamless. DeAngelis builds both children’s worlds skillfully, including plenty of historically accurate details that bring even more dimension into the setting. On top of that, she creates her own historical elements, centering around Josie and her family. I absolutely loved that she included this—it is such an interesting addition to the plot.

I only have a few issues with aspects of this novel. The biggest one is the style of writing within the chapters themselves. It felt as though every event, every day, completely ran together due to a lack of placing breaks between these parts. The fact that the narrative jumped around so much with absolutely no warning made things feel a bit jarring and choppy. This is something that could potentially make the story difficult for readers to follow.

The only other minor complaint I have is with the backgrounds of Josie and Alec. I feel like we are given very little insight into other parts of their lives. For instance, I would have liked to see some of the side characters, such as their parents, fleshed out a bit more. There is so much that is just hinted at, particularly on Alec’s side, and it left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. It is as if these aspects are multiple loose ends that were never tied up.

So, as we come back around to the beginning of this review, I feel as though I have a bit more clarity. Heartwarming. At its roots, this is a depiction of two lost souls finding one another. Bittersweet. This is a story of a beautiful friendship, but it is not by any means purely fluff. It deals with some heavy and incredibly important topics—DeAngelis does not shy away from showing the horrific and heart-wrenching aspects of neglect and abuse. Family. Family is not made up solely of those related to you by blood. Family is made up of those who make you feel whole, who love you deeply, who protect and always support you. And above all—this novel is unreservedly powerful.

4.0 TARDISes

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Review: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

whatileavebehindWhat I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

My Rating: 3/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: May 15th, 2018

Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

Pages: 208 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: After his dad commits suicide, Will tries to overcome his own misery by secretly helping the people around him in this story made up of one hundred chapters of one hundred words each.

Sixteen-year-old Will spends most of his days the same way: Working at the Dollar Only store, trying to replicate his late father’s famous cornbread recipe, and walking the streets of Los Angeles. Will started walking after his father committed suicide, and three years later he hasn’t stopped. But there are some places Will can’t walk by: The blessings store with the chest of 100 Chinese blessings in the back, the bridge on Fourth Street where his father died, and his childhood friend Playa’s house.

When Will learns Playa was raped at a party—a party he was at, where he saw Playa, and where he believes he could have stopped the worst from happening if he hadn’t left early—it spurs Will to stop being complacent in his own sadness and do some good in the world. He begins to leave small gifts for everyone in his life, from Superman the homeless guy he passes on his way to work, to the Little Butterfly Dude he walks by on the way home, to Playa herself. And it is through those acts of kindness that Will is finally able to push past his own trauma and truly begin to live his life again. Oh, and discover the truth about that cornbread.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I desperately wanted to love this book, and thought that I would, but I ended up feeling pretty lukewarm about it overall. Don’t get me wrong, what is contained in these pages is absolutely beautiful—there are so many touching moments between the very endearing characters. Every page made me fall more and more in love with every single aspect of the narrative—but then it just stopped. I was simply left wanting so much more out of it, and an expansion of the captivating plot and characters.

In this novel, we follow a sixteen-year-old boy named Will, who is attempting to deal with and process his emotions that resulted from his father’s suicide. His days have become repetitive, going from working at the Dollar Only store, walking all over the streets of his neighborhood in Los Angeles, and desperately trying—to no avail—to replicate his father’s famous cornbread recipe.

However, there are certain ties to his father that he cannot seem to face, particularly the blessings store that contains the chest of one-hundred Chinese blessings, his old best friend Playa’s house, and the Fourth Street bridge. After learning the Playa was raped at a party he had attended but left early, he shakes himself out of the sadness that has been controlling his every move.

Wanting to spread some happiness and make a positive impact in the world, he starts to leave small presents for many of the important people in his life: The Little Butterfly Dude, a child he passes on his way home every day; Superman, the homeless man who lives on a street he travels on as he walks to work; and Playa. Through these anonymous acts of kindness and selflessness, he finds that he is able to cope with his own suffering, and continue on with his life in a way that would make his father incredibly proud.

The format that this story is written in is wonderfully unique and adds to the poignancy of the narrative itself. Told in small sections and few words—one-hundred pages, each containing one-hundred words—the style felt so meaningful. On top of this, the writing is lovely and flows incredibly well. McGhee shows a huge amount of talent for creating a well-written and vividly emotional narrative. It is clear that every part of it is meticulously crafted.

Honestly, my main complaint—really my only complaint—is that this story is far too short, and deserved so much more time. The length and format is inventive; however it is nowhere near enough to take this story to the levels it should have gone. Everything about this novel is deeply touching and just plain gorgeous. I adored every second I spent in this world and with these characters.

I not only craved more, I also unfortunately felt like there really should have been more. The brevity of the narrative adds to the depth, but it ended up being a bit too brief, finishing quite abruptly. Though I clearly enjoyed it, I was left feeling unsatisfied. I wanted so badly to spend more time with these characters—to get to know them better. I wish McGhee would have kept that short vignette format, but extended the length of the novel itself, and delved further into the relationships, intense emotions, and Will’s recovery process.

I cannot fully express how beautiful and optimistic this novel is—the world needs more of this positivity and urging to spread kindness. Though it needed more to it, it was such a sweet story, and I do highly recommend giving it a read.

3.0 TARDISes

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Review: I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

ihateeveryonebutyouI Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin

My Rating: 1/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: September 5th, 2017

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Pages: 352 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Dear Best Friend,

I can already tell that I will hate everyone but you.

Sincerely,

Ava Helmer

(that brunette who won’t leave you alone)

We’re still in the same room, you weirdo.

Stop crying.

G

So begins a series of texts and emails sent between two best friends, Ava and Gen, as they head off to their first semesters of college on opposite sides of the country. From first loves to weird roommates, heartbreak, self-discovery, coming out and mental health, the two best friends will document every moment to each other. But as each changes and grows into her new life, will their friendship be able to survive the distance?

I Hate Everyone But You, the debut novel by two emerging major talents in YA, Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn, is a story about new beginnings, love and heartbreak, and ultimately about the power of friendship.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I have put off writing my review of this novel for quite a while now for a few reasons. First of all, it has been a long time since I disliked a book as much as I disliked this one, therefore, I have a lot to say. So many aspects annoyed, frustrated, and completely enraged me due to how close to home they hit. However, I absolutely despise writing rant-filled reviews—I like to be as fair as possible—and immediately after I finished reading, I didn’t think I was capable of being calm.

Another aspect that is still causing me to be hesitant is my lack of real-life, firsthand knowledge of the situation that one of the girls was experiencing. Even though I was not able to fully connect to what she was dealing with, I still found that I had a lot of opinions on the way it was handled and presented from a bit of an “outsider’s” point-of-view. It’s about time that I gave this a try though, so I will do my best to explain my feelings as well as I can. Please remember, this is all just my personal opinion and interpretation of the novel.

In this novel, we follow two best friends—Ava and Gen—as they navigate their first year of college on opposite sides of the country. This is the first time they have had to deal with a separation this huge, and understandably, the new experiences ahead feel incredibly daunting without the other by their side. In lieu of seeing each other in person, they keep up a correspondence every day, discussing all the aspects of their new lives and trying to maintain their strong friendship.

Admittedly, this is not something that I would have normally been interested in reading. However, the format that the story is told in is originally what caught my eye, and my attention. The entire novel is told through texts and emails sent between Ava and Gen as they support each other while trying to bridge the distance between them. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved stories told through messages—I’m not sure why, but they have always been so much fun for me. Unfortunately, that was not the case this time around.

Let me begin by talking about Ava, as the themes used in her storyline are ones that I have the most personal experience with. These main themes are anxiety/social anxiety and OCD, and the obstacles mental illness can throw in your way—or at least that is what it is trying to portray. Instead, it ends up coming across as a very stereotypical and downright inaccurate caricature of serious mental illnesses, used many times for comedic purposes.

So, I may be overreacting to this as I do on occasion when it comes to the depiction of mental illness. And I completely understand that all mental illnesses manifest in unique ways for every single person dealing with them. But, as someone who has dealt with severe anxiety/social anxiety and OCD all their life, I am incredibly upset by the way it is shown here. Believe me, I am someone who truly values the medicinal effects of humor, and I do enjoy poking fun at the strangeness of my anxiety plenty of the time. However, here, every aspect is treated as a complete joke.

The absolute biggest problem I have with it is that a huge part of the time, her actions show the exact opposite of the severe social anxiety she claims to have—no, joining a sorority and throwing yourself at men is not a good example. As I said before, her anxiety only pops up when it can make a situation into a joke, and it is written in that clichéd “oh, I’m so ‘hashtag relatable’” kind of way. I apologize for the way I’m coming across here. I’m just absolutely fed up with the way people belittle the incredible amount of pain that this type of mental illness inflicts on those of us who have to deal with it on a daily basis.

Then we have our other main character, Gen. The main themes in her storyline are exploring one’s sexuality, experimenting and discovering what is right for you, and how one’s sexuality does not need to conform to a strict label. However, this is not the message that I feel her actions conveyed. It comes across more like she is very sure of herself and is just using people, manipulating their emotions, and putting herself at risk.

Granted, maybe this is my interpretation because of my own personal experiences, or lack of experience. I connect with her on what it’s like to learn about one’s sexuality and that desire to break away from society’s habit of labeling it. I am unable to connect with her actions though, as my journey, purely due to my personality, has been much less active. All in all, I am fairly irritated because I do not feel like her plotline positively or realistically portrays the queer community, particularly what it is like for those of us who find that we attracted to both genders.

Now, on to Ava and Gen’s friendship in general. Things started out well at the beginning of the novel—they are shown to have a rather sweet relationship and are incredibly close to each other. It’s very easy to relate to the sadness of having to be separated from your best friend whom you’ve always had by your side to face the challenges of life—I have been going through the exact same thing in the last few years. They are faithfully there to support each other through the changes that come with college living. However, somewhat quickly, things begin to take a turn for the worse, and by the halfway point of the novel, their friendship has proven itself to be horrendously toxic.

First of all, Ava is constantly acting relatively homophobic in many of her conversations with Gen when Gen shares things about her sexuality. And again, this is used as another tactic to create humor in the plot, which I think is atrocious. But the most major issue with their friendship is how they support and strongly encourage each other to make terrible, dangerous, and damaging decisions. It is so over-the-top, it’s extremely hard to believe that either of these girls actually cares about the other. Their relationship feels manipulative and destructive more than anything.

Suffice it to say, I think we can conclude that I Hate Everyone But You was clearly not for me. I of course applaud any authors committing themselves to helping diversify literature. Diversity is something we need so much more of, and sexuality, gender labels, and mental illness are all wonderful topics to choose. And I did love the format of the book—it made for a very fast read, and was the only really enjoyable part. The overall story itself just did not come across in the right way at all. Personally, I cannot, in good conscious, recommend giving this a read.

1.0 TARDIS

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Review: Spin the Golden Light Bulb by Jackie Yeager

spinthegoldenlightbulbSpin the Golden Light Bulb by Jackie Yeager

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Crimson Five #1

Date Published: January 9th, 2018

Publisher: Amberjack Publishing

Pages: 280 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: It’s the year 2071 and eleven year-old Kia Krumpet is determined to build her 67 inventions, but she won’t have the opportunity to unless she earns a spot at PIPS, the Piedmont Inventor’s Prep School. Kia, who has trouble making friends at school, has dreamed of winning the Piedmont Challenge and attending PIPS ever since she learned that her Grandma Kitty won the very first Piedmont Challenge. After she and four of her classmates are selected to compete for a spot at PIPS, they travel by aero-bus to Camp Piedmont to solve a task against forty-nine other state teams to earn their place at the best inventor’s school in the country.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

The first part of this review is completely spoiler-free. There are very minor and vague spoilers in the second part of this review.

Spin the Golden Light Bulb is a debut middle grade novel centering around the brilliant minds of a group of young inventors. It touches on topics such as teamwork, forgiveness, and loyalty, and how to include those values in the achievement of personal goals in the area of one’s passion. It encourages having a mind that is open to all possibilities and to the acceptance of other people. Images of strong relationships—both with friends and family—and learning to come together to achieve a goal in a fair and inclusive way emanate from every page. This is a delightfully wholesome novel for young readers that stresses some incredibly important and positive messages.

In this novel, we are transported to the year 2071, and follow an eleven-year-old girl named Kia Krumpet. Kia is desperate to earn a spot at Piedmont Inventor’s Prep School—or PIPS—so she can begin working on her sixty-seven inventions. But in order to secure her place at PIPS, she must first win a Golden Light Bulb in the Piedmont Challenge, a feat that has not yet been accomplished by any student at Crimson Elementary. If she doesn’t, she will have to choose one category of study to dedicate the next six years of her schooling to, none of which would allow her to achieve her dreams.

After Kia and four of her classmates end up winning the chance to compete for enrollment in PIPS, they travel to Camp Piedmont, where the next phase of the challenge is to begin. There, everyone competing is split into groups and are given a task that they need to solve through the creation of a unique invention. Kia’s group—The Crimson Five—must contend with teams from forty-nine other states and build something that will prove that they have the talent necessary to earn a place at the best inventor’s school in the entire country.

Forming strong, healthy relationships with others is a key part of this narrative. There are many internal obstacles that Kia and the others must overcome in order to accept each other for the way they are. In addition, we are shown the importance of being one’s self and staying true to one’s values. There were times where I felt that Kia was maybe being a bit too immature compared to how she presents herself most of the time. However, this ended up highlighting how much she changes and matures throughout the course of the narrative.

Yeager’s writing itself is very strong and easy to read. Her voice is absolutely perfect for the age of the readers this novel is meant for. She does a brilliant job of vividly creating a fun and distinctive world that stimulates the imagination. The technology is very unique and exciting to envision—almost magical. Yeager’s characters are multi-dimensional and clearly evolve through all the obstacles they must face. The way she portrays the team gradually learning to work together as well as forming trust and, ultimately, close friendships is fantastic.

One problem that I had with the plot of the novel was with the believability of the team’s first approach to creating their major invention. These kids are supposed to be some of the brightest minds in the country, capable of not only building, but imagining all types of gadgets and groundbreaking technology that will power the advancement of society.

Kia’s previous ideas for her own personal inventions are complex and innovative, and they show off her natural skill and remarkable intellect. However, what the team eventual decides on for their major invention is honestly pretty disappointing. It just felt as if they were not showing much if any of the amazing talent that they all clearly possess. It’s hard to believe that their big idea would manifest in the form that it does.

Now, please bear with me for this next part. I do realize how silly this is going to sound since this is a middle grade novel, so I apologize in advance.

I’m left feeling conflicted over my biggest issue with the plot—the ultimate invention they create for the contest. At first it feels like a really neat idea, giving us a unique way to look into the past and learn in detail about any person in history. Being able to essentially bring the past back to life and explore any individual’s role in society would be incredible. However, the invention itself quickly takes a turn for the worse, feeling quite creepy and disturbing rather than uniquely fascinating.

There is a fine line between innocently gaining knowledge and invading privacy, and this quickly descends into the latter category. It becomes particularly concerning when Kia and the rest of the team use their invention multiple times to access records of things like private phone conversations and incredibly personal information.

Everyone’s right to privacy is a very topical discussion, and this novel is an eerily realistic potential future. This story raises the question of what parts of our lives are acceptable to be made public in a database and what parts should be kept out. It delves into an extremely morally gray area under the guise of a fun and innovative creation by a group of highly intelligent young minds.

On top of all this, they don’t actually come up with any of the real mechanics of the invention—they end up taking a previous team’s creation and dressing it up a little bit. That left me feeling very disappointed, as it completely wipes out the most important messages Yeager is trying to convey through this story. The importance of thinking outside the box, being creative, and achieving a goal through teamwork cannot possibly be shown through what they end up doing. Even the initial project they come up with at least demonstrated those themes much better.

Are these things that a young reader in this book’s target age range would notice? Most likely not. These thoughts are just a mixture of my typical over-thinking and my admittedly very cynical adult view of the world. I am definitely not the right audience for this particular novel and I completely realize that.

Overall, this is a good book for children in the range of maybe eight to eleven. It promotes topics that are essential to learn from a young age, and this story is an imaginative and entertaining way to encourage people to open their minds to all possibilities and understand that they all have the ability to do great things. This is not a novel that will necessarily be enjoyable to people of any age, but I would recommend this to young readers due to the positivity of most of the messages at the center of this story.

3.5 TARDISes

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