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Book Review: Date Me, Bryson Keller – Kevin van Whye

This one is for fans of Simon Vs. The Homosapien Agenda. If you’re looking for something to fill that gap, this is it.

This book was fun, adorable, fast-paced, and at times touching and poignant. Many people will make the obvious comparison to Simon Vs. the Homosapien Agenda, and they are right to, but this one had the fun addition of… well, Bryson Keller. What a breath of fresh air in a teenage heartthrob. Super genuine and sincere, open about what he wanted, not a selfish bone in his body… he really turned the asshole jock stereotype on its head. Kai was honest and vulnerable in all the best ways as well. This is a YA must read for fans of Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera and the like.

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Book Review: A Conjuring of Light (SPOILERS)

This book, perfect for a series finale, was pure excitement from start to finish. Not a single bit of it dragged, or was dull. Somehow, V.E. Schwab built her characters up and gave you the perfect, poignant moments buried deep within smart, efficient action, time and time again. She sprinkled in humour perfectly fitted to each character. Child-like awe when moments called for it. The feeling of calling back to a deep history of the Steel Prince when you hadn’t even heard of him before. What brilliant, fun, emotional story telling. I loved every second of it.

I am going to make quite a bold statement. Followed very closely by an Alucard Emery/Rhy Maresh tie, my very favourite character in this book series is Holland. I found him so interesting, right from the start. Everybody loves a story full of angst and suffering. Holland’s backstory was quite heartbreaking, with the brother he trusted and who protected him trying to kill him, and then Tal doing the same thing when he opened his heart to her. I know, I know, the morally ambiguous “bad guy” with a tragic backstory… but I LOVE THIS SONG. I’d read it again and again.

I don’t read horror, pretty much ever, because I’m a wimp, but I need to note that the part early on when Lila is at the Sanctuary getting supplies and Lenos is at the door but she doesn’t know it is him was actually chilling. And then when he’s inside, and someone else is at the door, and she’s like, we’re you alone? And he’s like, yes… ugh! Heebie jeebies! Love the way that Schwab writes the fallen, in general. Shadow zombies. Whatever they are. SCARY.

Will I ever be free of Ned Tuttle? I laughed every time he popped up, after entire books, just tending his little pub and waiting pathetically for Kell, for magic. Well, I’ve gotta admit, he grew on me by the end. He was brave enough to face the shadowy whispers, strong enough to wait patiently. And I, like Kell, think he’ll probably be a safe enough guardian of the inheritor. I like to imagine that Kell is kinda of begrudgingly fond of Ned Tuttle, and so I must be, too.

I am obsessed with the markets in this series. The Night Market. Sasenroche, where Lila had looked into the mirror. And most of all, the fantastic, floating market, the Ferase Stras. What an amazing concept. It conjured a type of Waterworld-esques allure. And Maris, what an amazing character. YOU PAY FOR THINGS IN YEARS OF YOUR LIFE to give to her. Genius, fascinating, chilling, wonderful. Like so many things in this series.

I love Kell and Rhy’s bond. They’re brothers until the end, and it’s a very overwhelming kind of love. It’s a love I can relate to.

I didn’t expect to so emotional about Rhy, restrained and trying to join his father going to his inevitable death out the palace doors. Not very many books make me actually shed a tear or two, but this scene did. It made me really want to know about Maxim Maresh, so I suppose I’m going to have to get the Steel a Prince graphic novel sooner rather than later.

Another part that made me tear up was when Alucard Emery was alone on the deck of the Ghost, ready to sacrifice himself and contemplating his death. “But he never imagined his death would look like this. Never imagined that he would face it alone. Without a crew. Without a friend. Without a family. Without even an enemy.” Of course, had I know the comical relief of the ships just gearing up and sailing away, I might not have been so emotional. It’s just, the thought of him standing there, so bravely… let me just gather Alucard and Holland up in my arms and protect them from harm FOREVER OKAY?!

Speaking of my love of Holland and his heartbreak, Kell leaving a Red London lin when he leaves him. “A reminder, an invitation, a parting gift, for a man Kell would never see again.” The reason this broke my heart was because of the bond we saw between Kell and Holland, again and again. The best and most delicious part clearly being when Kell jumps over the balcony at the execution into the sea to save Holland from drowning. Kell undoing his manacles on the ship. Kell just understood Holland, more than anyone. That line about how it could just as easily have been Kell in his place. I love that Kell loves Holland. I love that nobody else understands exactly why. This was just another example of a great relationship between two characters in this series.

Everything about Alucard in the great hall at the end with KING RHY (LIKE. HE’S THE KING. WHAAAAAT THE HECK) was perfect and wonderful and I cried of happiness when Rhy declared that Kell was going to travel and so he’d need a companion. Face hurt from grinning.

And as Lila sails off into the unknown to fulfill her dreams as a pirate adventurer with Kell at her side, the series ends. With a lovely, bittersweet end that leaves just enough questions (Kell’s family!!!!! being the most notable example, along with Ned Tuttle in general, and what will happen to White London), the series is over. I am distraught that it’s finished.

And with that, I guess, predictably and at the risk of being the hugest dork, all that’s left to say is… Anoshe.

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Book Review: A Gathering of Shadows- V.E. Schwab

(There are some spoilers ahead! Read with caution.)

Where my post about the first book in this series was a general “read this!” review, this one will be more my thoughts on how the second one unfolded. You probably won’t care about this unless you’ve read it yourself. If you have, I’d absolutely love to hear your thoughts, either on anything I’ve mentioned here, or ANYTHING else. Let’s discuss!

After the first book, A Darker Shade of Magic, wrapped up so nicely, I had no inkling of where this second book in V.E. Schwab’s series would take me. I had a few guesses. I thought that Holland would still be alive: I was absolutely certain she wouldn’t throw away character like him. The second Antari, stripped of his freedom and made to be a slave for Argos and Astrid… the suffering made him the perfect nemesis for Kell. Someone Kell could feel sympathy for. Someone Kell could even understand. His story definitely didn’t feel finished to me. Like the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when a still evil Spike has to team up with Buffy to stop Angel and Drusilla in that one episode where Buffy tells her mom they’re in a band together, I’m still waiting for the part where Kell and Holland team up. This didn’t happen in this second book, but more on that later. I just knew he wasn’t dead. Another thing I suspected was that Lila was an Antari. We also don’t know that yet, and maybe that’s too obvious, with the missing eye and the travelling between Londons, but that was another thing I was expecting. And that’s it. Other than those two things, I had no idea where this story was going to take me.

Where the first book was a story in itself; character introduction, build up, the other shoe drops, climactic battle scene, triumph, ending, this second one didn’t follow that pattern. Because of the first one, I expected it to. But if it had done that, I feel like it would have been too rushed.

When the Element Games was introduced as a concept, I didn’t expect it would be the main plot of the book. Once I cottoned on that it was going to be the book’s main event, I expected something to go horribly wrong in the middle of it, from which point the dire stakes plot would take off. Maybe Holland would appear mid-battle and destroy everything and that would be that. I’m not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t for the games to proceed as planned. This isn’t a criticism at all. I like to be surprised.

Alucard Emery, the rake of my dreams. Secret royal. Pirate… erm, sorry, privateer. A good, fair, powerful man, who is witty and funny and seduces people for information. He’s the perfect bad boy trope. He is very much like Nikolai Lantsov from Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, and I mean that in the very best way. His character is one you find in a lot of books, film, TV, for a reason. The people love a character like this. I love a character like this. Give me one thousand stories about a character like this, and I’m there.

NOT TO MENTION, that when Rhy sees Emery’s name on the roster for the tournament and is like, OH SNAP. And then Kell sees Emery’s name and is like, I’m gonna KILL him if he shows his face here… I was like, wow, Rhy and Emery were in LOVE. Which, if you know me, is my thing. How many people have heard me say, with some degree of mirth, they’re in LOVE. Tongue in cheek. Wishful thinking. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Rhy and Alucard Emery… are indeed IN LOVE. A book written after my own hard. ANGST. INTRIGUE. MAYHEM. We didn’t get much of these two interacting in this book, but what we did get, wooooo boy, sign me up, when is the wedding, these two are meant to be.

Speaking of Rhy, his bond with Kell is a fascinating part of the book. Not just the fact that their lives are bound, but the fact that they can feel each other’s pain and pleasure, hangovers, grumpy moods, and even communicate that way… that was a really neat thing to read about. I don’t like the idea of Rhy, and hopefully I’m not putting my foot in my mouth here with this cliffhanger but I guess time will tell.

I’ve gotta say, I didn’t see it coming when Osaron (the demon shadow magic guy) didn’t really want Kell and was angling for Holland’s body as a vessel all along. I definitely should have, what with the deal and everything, but I guess I was just dismissing it as his backup plan. Or maybe I was focussing on the deliciousness of a Holland who would inhibit Kell’s magic and damn him to a life of magical slavery when Holland himself knew exactly what that felt like and how much it killed him. Did he do that because he was evil and apathetic, or did he do that because he was so terrified of it happening to him again? I want to think it was for the second reason. And at the climax of the book, when Kell says no, and Holland loses his freedom again, we get a sympathic Kell yelling for Holland to fight it. I can’t hate Holland because I feel too sorry for him, and that is truly what makes a complicated bad guy. Your Draco Malfoys.

The coolest part of the tournament was seeing Lila come into her magic. I found it interesting to see her using her magic in ways that fighters who had trained with it didn’t think of. When she asked it to protect her, for example. But will we see the consequences of this lack of balance later? Perhaps. I love that she didn’t win the tournament, and that it wasn’t because something weird happened. She just lost it, fair and square. Way more realistic.

Lila Bard is a great character. She can slit throats without remorse. She does what she has to do. She is the Sarows. And despite all that, there are the cracks in her armour, like when she slowly starts to see the crew of the Night Spire as her family and when she thinks of Barron. One thing I absolutely love is that she doesn’t just drop her armour for Kell. She loves him, but she isn’t going to let him tell her what to do and she’s not going to hold back telling him exactly what she thinks of him. One of my favourite parts is when they reunite at the ball and he’s like, “you’re lovely”, or whatever, and she’s like, “you look terrible, what’s wrong with you?”

I have so many more thoughts about this book, but I’ll save them for twitter. (Where we can all tell about who we ship. Or maybe who we don’t ship, that might take a shorter amount of time.)


May The Fourth Be With You

I’m celebrating Star Wars day in quarantine today by watching the Phantom Menace. Since it’s one of my least favourite Star Wars movies (probably only Attack of the Clones is worse), it’s been the longest since I’ve seen it. It has it’s moments.

I’m sitting here, mourning all the excellent Star Wars themed lessons I would be doing if I were at school. Thinking of all my students that would roll their eyes at me when I made the principal play the Imperial March over the loudspeaker during announcements.

So many “credits will do fine” jokes missed out on. So much candy I would have given to kids who wore Star Wars themed clothes today that I’ll have to eat myself. (Though I have gotten some photos from students donning their Star Wars gear this morning, and to those kids, I salute you!)

I’ll end this by saying that even if these weren’t the droids I was looking for, there have still been some bright spots in my May the fourth. And to all my students, well, we’ll just have to celebrate extra hard next year.

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Two Iconic Role Models

Harry Styles // Miss Tingley
Book: Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield

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Book Review: Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows was a fun romp that was so enjoyable to read that I couldn’t put it down and finished it in just a few hours. It was one of those nights where I know I need to go to bed but instead I’m just going to stay up and finish this because I literally can’t stop and darn it, now it’s 3am.

Who doesn’t love a ragtag crew against impossible odds! The story was fast-paced and there wasn’t a dull moment.

There were moments in this book that seemed intense, possibly too intense for a YA read. I found this very respectful of the smart minds of young readers. They can handle it, they want it, it makes the book that much better. This book doesn’t pretend that a typical YA reader can’t handle using a beloved relative’s corpse as a floatation device, people cutting their own fingers off, or people’s eyes exploding in their sockets. Respect.

The heart of this book is definitely the characters. I’m not usually one for a book that switches perspectives, and this book does that often and between the six different characters, but here it just works so well that I loved it.

Each of Kaz’s crew has their own backstory, and they are all backstories that you fall in love with. Nina and Matthias and their lovehate adventures through a frozen, barren wasteland with life literally on the line. Inej the wraith, longing for her home and wishing she could be more carefree and young again, wishing she weren’t the morally compromised assassin she’s become. Jesper, the winking comic relief, forever paying for his mistakes. And Kaz himself, a character who we’ve seen in other books, similar to the Byronic hero, but a little bit darker, someone whose story were drawn to. And all of them, children! These characters will stick with me.

I have so much respect for an author who can write a heist book like this one and have it as lively, fun, and interesting as a film.

And the world building!!!! Don’t even get me started on how cool the bustling den of sin that is Ketterdam is.

So very cool, and I can’t wait to read Crooked Kingdom. I’ll do that just as soon as I’ve finished carving the name “Kaz Brekker” onto my list of favourite characters.

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Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic, VE Schwab

My first encounter with VE Schwab (known also sometimes as Victoria Schwab, for her middle level books!), was when I picked up her book Vicious and it’s sequel, Venegeful last year. I immediately loved them. I fell in love with Schwab’s writing and went straight out and bought A Darker Shade of Magic. It’s the first book in a trilogy, which I had heard was more popular and well-liked than the Vicious duology. You could even see it being read by a character in the TV show Orange is the New Black on Netflix, so I figured it had to be good, with all that hype. I had to have it! Immediately.

And then it sat on my bookshelf. For an entire year. I don’t know why I didn’t pick it up. Distracted by other things, maybe. Whatever the reason, I’m sorry I left it sitting for so long. I grabbed it yesterday and finished it up this morning.

It’s safe to say I’m hooked! (Read: obsessed.) This book is the answer to the hole that opens up in my chest whenever there’s no new Leigh Bardugo to read. It fills it and then some. The world building is amazing; sharp and easy to wrap your mind around. Where Bardugo or someone like Tolkien built worlds using beautiful, rich description, Schwab uses simple and precise language that somehow manages to conjure a feeling of how a place should be and how a place should work.

Her characters are wonderful. While all the character tropes you’d expect in a fantasy novel are present… the girl, the guards, the aloof and dashing prince, the self-sacrificing hero, the bad guy you long to reform… Schwab fills them with fun, witty dialogue and makes you root for them. When I read a fantasy novel, I WANT the tropes. The tropes are comforting and fun. Comfort and fun happen to be two things I really could use right now.

I’m not saying that if you’re not a fan of fantasy, either YA or adult, that you should read this. It’s very accessible, like Hunger Games, if you are looking for something different to read. But if you’re someone who enjoys the likes of Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows, Shadow and Bone), Hunger Games, and most of all, Harry Potter, I highly recommend getting sucked in to this one!

I can’t wait until book two makes it to me. (It’s gonna be delivered on Wednesday!)