#AWW2020 #LoveOzYA Book Review: “Oasis” by Katya de Becerra

Title: Oasis
Author:
Katya de Becerra
Genre: Fantasy/Sci-fi
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 18/05/20 – 22/05/20
Rating: 
★★☆

Review: 

Okay, so this was… weird. I honestly am not sure whether it’s a 2.5 or maybe a 3 star rating but this is definitely a case of not living up to the hype. I was expecting to give this 5 stars when I read it. You know those times when you think “Did I read the same book my friends did? I don’t get it.” Yeeaaaah.

The writing was engaging, I will give it that. There are some great descriptions, though I think the author did better when describing abstract things like the heat or the weird dreams Alif, the MC, has, than when describing more physical things like the sand dunes.

I never believed in the characters, which I think was my main issue. I’m supposed to believe this group have been friends for years, when all they seem to do is quibble. There are multiple times when Alif has the realisation that despite Luke having been part of their group for a long time, she “never really knew him”. Like, surely you have to be really good friends with someone to go on an overseas trip with them. And if you’re that close, and you’re not interested in archaeology, surely you can tell your friend that visiting her dad’s dig site isn’t really for you. You know, rather than getting there and being a jerk about it.

Also Luke and Tommy facing off and getting all macho at each over over Alif… ugh.

The world-building was limited and there was minimal explanation of anything… and then there was the open-ended conclusion that just left me feeling unsatisfied. I genuinely don’t actually understand what happened, and what it meant for the events of the previous 100 pages. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy an open ending, but this was just… a nothing ending.

I’m really disappointed because I’d been really looking forward to it, and I knew a few people who’d really enjoyed it. I guess it was just not to be.


This review forms part of my 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“Fate doesn’t guarantee us a happy ending … but fate gives a chance.” // Review of “A Million Worlds With You” by Claudia Gray

Title: A Million  Worlds With You (Firebird #3)
Author:
 Claudia Gray
Genre: Sci-fi/romance
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 08/03/2019 – 14/03/2019
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Please note: as this review is for a third book in a series, there may be mild spoilers for the first, A Thousand Pieces of You, and second, Ten Thousand Skies Above You.

I honestly wasn’t sure how Claudia Gray was going to tie everything up in this last book of the series. There seemed to be so much goinig on and so many variables. But she managed it and she  managed it well.

What I’ve really admired about this series is the way in which little hints dropped early on become so much more important later on. This continued in this book, right down to things that were mentioned as a possibility in the second book becoming important here. It’s clear that Gray had this whole series set out before she delved into writing it.

In this book, several of the universes where Firebird technology has developed are in communication with each other, and sometimes it got a bit confusing trying to remember who was who. Especially in one pivotal scene that I don’t want to spoil, but you’ll definitely know it when you get to it. Once again, some of the sciencey stuff did seem to be resolved a little too easily, but the woorld-building remained internally consistent so I didn’t mind too much.

As I’ve said in my previous reviews of this series, the romance is just as important, if not more important, than the science. THis one is no different. I understand that the splintering in book two is what has affected Paul, but I did just find him a bit mopey at times… and Marguerite thus had to spend a lot of time trying to convince him that their relationship was still something worth pursuing. I don’t know, this just got a bit old after a while. But there was a really lovely moment between Paul and one of the other Marguerites that made me grin stupidly. Again, you’ll know it when you get to it.

Theo was still Theo and I think overall, he actually turned out to be my favourite of the two guys. He just didn’t have as much to do in Book 1, which is why I didn’t realise earlier. 😂 I also want to note how much I loved the different versions of Henry and Sophia, Marguerite’s parents. they are delightful. It has been nice to read a YA series where the protagonist’s parents are not only both alive but actively involved in the events of the story.

I’m really glad I picked up the first book of this series on a whim. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know these characters and I’m definitely going to keep an eye on Claudia Gray’s other series.


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“Ten thousand skies, and a million worlds, and it still wouldn’t be enough for me to share with you” // Review of “Ten Thousand Skies Above You” by Claudia Gray

Title: Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)
Author:
 Claudia Gray
Audio book narrator: Tavia Gilbert
Genre: Sci-fi/romance
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 31/03/2019 – 08/03/2019
Rating: ★★★☆

Review:

Please note: as this review is for a second book in a series, there may be mild spoilers for the first, A Thousand Pieces of You.

This book was not as good as the first one in the series, and I got frustrated quite a bit! However, it did address some things that had bothered me in the first book, and some of the things that bothered me early in this book were actually addressed and questioned later on, so that was good. 

In the aftermath of the events in the first book, Paul and Marguerite are convinced that destiny brings them together in every universe, which is a bit… *gag*. But as she travels to various universes, this is actually questioned. Theo plays a much larger role in this book than Paul, who is often barely there at all. And after Paul being all Book Boyfriend Material-like in the first book, I have to say, Theo stepped up to the plate here. XD

On that subject, I want to make two notes about the love triangle in this series. The first is that this when you’re dealing with multiple universes and infinitie possibilities, it actually makes sense that a person would have more than one love interest. So I didn’t mind the love triangle aspect so much.

And second, I love the way Theo’s feelings for Marguerite don’t come between their friendship, that he respects that she didn’t choose him in their universe (even if he is jealous of his counterparts where she did), and it also doesn’t come between Theo’s friendship with Paul. Direct quote: “I love Paul just as much as you do. Anything you want to do to get your boyfriend back, I want to do to get my best friend back.” So often the love triangle comes at the expense of everything else and that didn’t happen here.

The plot did get a bit predictable at times. I called three major revelations well before they happened. But I didn’t expect the major twist towards the end, which sets things up for book three.

Once again, the pacing was sometimes strange. I’ve realised that this is a quirk of these books: start by throwing the reader into an exciting scene. Then have a series of flashbacks to explain how Marguerite reached this moment. Most of the time in each world was focused on Paul and Marguerite’s feelings, and often the science-y bit was wrapped up quite easily in a chapter before they left for the next world. The really important information all came in the final quarter.

One of my frustrations with these books is never knowing how the characters’ other-world counterparts feel about having their bodies taken over for a period. To that end, I did appreciate the return to the Russiaverse of the first book, even if most of the chapters spent there seemed a bit… useless. Again, it was mostly just a way for Marguerite to figure out her feelings, rather than there being much in the way of the plot moving forward. But revisiting a past ‘verse did mean that Marguerite had to recognise that her actions have consequences for her counterparts, and that was important.

In terms of the audio book, Tavia Gilbert is once again a really great narrator. I was a bit disappointed that there were fewer accents, though. In the first book, all the Russian characters had Russian accents. Here, they were American, as though we were hearing their conversation through a Babel Fish (google it if you don’t understand that reference). This one does say that Theo has a slightly Dutch accent in the Russiaverse, so I can understand not using the heavy French accent from the first book, but the Marguerite and Vladimir have grown up in Russia, so there’s no reason for them to have anything else.

… sorry, that last paragraph got a bit long-winded.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, and I was glad I had a copy of the third book to move straight onto. Despite these frustrations, I think it is mostly a case of middle-book-syndrome, and i absolutely want to see how everything pans out.


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“I would love you in any shape, in any world, with any past. Never doubt that.” // Review of “A Thousand Pieces of You” by Claudia Gray

Title: A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird #1)
Author:
 Claudia Gray
Audio book narrator: Tavia Gilbert
Genre: Sci-fi/romance
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 23/03/2019 – 31/03/2019
Rating: ★★★★☆

Review:

Well, this was unexpected. I have been aware of this series for years, but it was never high on my TBR. I chose it as a whim when I was looking for an audio book to start while I was cooking. I had no idea I’d end up loving it and being as invested in it as I was.

While ostensibily a science fiction story (the characters are using a device that allows the user to jump between parallel dimensions), I would say the romance plays a larger part. There were aspects of it that I found annoying, such as Marguerite declaring that she was “in love” with a character she had known for three weeks. It also gets a bit love triangle-y, though it eventually becomes clear that Marguerite favours one guy over the other.

While I like the idea of two people being drawn together in every universe, the idea of this transcendtal love did seem a little bit overblown. But at the same time, this isn’t just accepted by the characters. Marguerite wonders whether  being in love with one version of Paul means she loves every version, since the same traits carry over from dimension to dimension. The complications of this are taken into consideration so I was glad they didn’t just decide it was fate and never question it.

I mean, it probably also helped that I liked Paul. Book boyfriend material right there. Particularly the Imperial Russia version of him. But also the home-universe version of him. He’s awkward but protective but doesn’t smother Marguerite in any way.

Speaking of which, I really enjoyed the different universes. Marguerite, Paul and Theo visit a futuristic version of London, a version of Russia still ruled over by the Romanov family, and a version of the world where climate change is much more drastic and most people live in underwater stations. There’s also a world that’s nearly the same as their home universe. In some ways, that was probably the hardest one to pull off and I think Gray did a good job of conveying seemingly tiny differences that are actually huge.

The pacing is sometimes a bit weird. At least a quarter of the book is set in the Russia universe, and that is mostly comprised of a slowburn romance. There are twists in the last third and most of the action happens in the last quarter. The twists had been hinted at early on in the book and I did have at least one moment of “Ohhhhhhh!” when a seemingly innocuous comment from Paul had momentous implications for Marguerite (and the reader, who knew what it meant).

Also shout-out to Tavia Gilbert, who performed the audio book. Not only did the different characters all have different voices that suited them perfectly, she adapted those for each of the worlds Marguerite visited. I was very impressed.

I tried to talk myself into waiting a week for the second audio book to become available through my library system, but I gave in only a few hours later and used my Audible credit to get the next one. I didn’t want to wait!


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“There comes a certain point with a hope or a dream, when you either give it up or give up everything else.” // Review of “The Muse of Nightmares” by Laini Taylor

Title: Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1)
Author: Laini Taylor
Audio book narrator: Steve West
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Upper YA
Date Read: 21/02/19– 22/02/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book gave me a lot of feelings. Laini Taylor is a stunning world-builder and wordsmith, but I did find myself getting frustrated throughout portions of the book. I may have banged my hands against the steering wheel on more than one occasion when I was listening while driving.

Muse of Nightmares picks up exactly where Strange the Dreamer left off, though we are very quickly introduced to two new characters, Kora and Nova, whom we learn more about as the story goes. Their stories eventually converge with the others in a tumultuous finale.

The world that Laini Taylor created in Strange the Dreamer is exapnded upon ten-fold here. To explain how would be a spoiler, but it did do my head in just how much scope there is.

The writing is once again beautiful, and I can’t really complain about it at all, except to once again observe that is very dense in its descriptions at times. My main issue with this one was the pacing. Two centuries could be covered in a chapter, followed by a twenty minute fight scene that spanned several chapters. And the characters were all very powerless throughout those, which made it more frustrating.

But despite those frustrations, when I reached the end, I felt fully satisfied and found that I was smiling to  myself.  The book ends with “The end… or is it?”, which made me both laugh and moan. The way the story wraps up completes the main story of Lazlo and Sarai and Minya and Eril Fane and the city of Weep, but it leaves us with other stories still left to tell. And despite those niggles and frustrations I had with this book, I’m pretty sure I would read anything set in this world that Laini Taylor decided to write.


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““You are the most vexing and endearing box of contradictions I have ever seen. You fascinate me, Wendy.”” // Review of “Second Star” by J. M. Sullivan

Title: Second Star (Neverland Transmissions #1)
Author: J. M. Sullivan
Genre: Sci-fi
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 10/02/19 – 15/02/19
Rating: ★★

Review:

I was totally on board with this book for probably the first half. I had a few quibbles up until then, but I was willing to overlook them. Unfortunately, the second half got confusing and frustrated me to the point where I was just waiting for the book to be over.

This is a Peter Pan re-telling set in the far future. I really enjoyed the little references to the original story. It was fun to spot them  all.

But while the characters are jumping through hyperspace and hanging out on foreign planets, the language they used and the society established felt woefully outdated. Even the main  insult several of the characters used – “codfish” – feels like something out of Dickens rather than Doctor Who. It actually felt like it could have been turned into a good steampunk quasi-historical story, but it didn’t go that way.

The characters also make Harry Potter references and one of them listens to Bob Marley… okay, maybe we will still be reading HP in 400 years  and maybe Bob gets to stick around as a master of the classical music of this period… but it didn’t immerse me in the time period.

I also assumed that  as the book went on, we would learn exactly why Hooke was the bad guy, rather than just having to take  Peter’s word for it… and we did, technically, but it never rang true to me. This might be because some of the worldbuilding about the Second Star and the ultimate Big Bad actually left me feeling a bit flummoxed, so Hooke’s place in the overall plan didn’t feel fully fleshed out.

The line I used in the title of this post is something Peter says to Wendy, and it’s lovely and romantic… but he has literally known her an afternoon when he says it. Maybe a full day. Good ol’ instalove. Wendy is nearly ready to sacrifice other members of her crew for Peter after only knowing him a couple of days.

There are more books to come in this series but I don’t feel inclined to follow the story any further. The one instalment was enough for me.


(Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

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“Do you still think I’m a singularly un-terrible demon?” “No,” he said smiling. “I think you’re a fairytale.” // Review of “Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor

Title: Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1)
Author: Laini Taylor
Audio book narrator: Steve West
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Upper YA
Date Read: 16/12/18 – 21/01/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This is such a huge book and it took me so long to get through the audio version, all 18 hours of it! I was going to return the audio book and get the ebook instead, but then I ended up powering through the last third. I have a feeling that had I read it at my own pace, it may have even been a five star read. That is not to say that the audio book was bad, far from it, but it did stretch the story out more than perhaps it should have been (not that there would have been any way to pare it back other than abridge it and … yeahno).

This is a dense, slow-burn, character-driven fantasy, filled with beautiful language. Its about dreams in all senses: one’s hopes for the future and the visions we see when we’re asleep. Some might find the writing too flowery, but I found it fell just on the right side of that fine line. It is jam-packed with details, though, and sometimes I wondered whether it was a little too much. I think this is partially because I was reading the audio book and couldn’t make the decision to skim over a few things that  I might have were I reading the print version.

For a book with such  a large cast of characters, Taylor does a wonderful job of giving them all individual personalities. Even the mythology is delicately crafted, and I could imagine the past events described by many of the citizens of the city of Weep. And of course, as a librarian, I particularly loved that the hero in an epic fantasy was a dorky librarian whose nose was broken by a book of fairytales.

Needless to say, I was very keen to begin the second book as soon as I reached the end of the first. This was my first foray into Laini Taylor’s work but it certainly won’t be the last.


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“Time travel isn’t a wonder; it’s an abomination.” // Review of “All Our Yesterdays” by Cristin Terrill

Title: All Our Yesterdays
Author: Cristin Terrill
Audio book narrator: Jessica Almasy
Genre: Sci-fi
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 30/10/18 – 11/11/18
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Time travel books can be really tricky, but I think this book pulled it off quite well. It stuck to its own rules and never made things too complicated. But it told a good story, which is the main thing. I did predict a few things before they happened, but that doesn’t necessarily make a book bad.

It was really interesting reading a book where you saw both the past and future selves of various characters. Terrill was very  successful in showing the progression from one version to the other, particularly in light  of a “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” scenario.

The book does throw you in at the deep end a bit, and it doesn’t always explain things up-front. In particular, the identity of “documents” that the main characters are imprisoned over doesn’t get explained until right towards the end. Even the characters’ connections  to one another are obscured for a while, though I was abe to figure some of them out before they were explained.

I thought Jessica Almasay did quite a good job of subtly  differentiating between the narrations from Em’s perspective and those from Marina’s. I wonder if the two voices would feel as different if one was reading the print book.

This is another one of those books where I only  realised how attached I’d become to the characters when I found myself getting teary at the end. While I had predicted some of the broader parts of the climax and resolution, the little things got me. This is a tightly written debut novel, and I’m going to check out what the author has published since this one.


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#aww2018 #LoveOzYA “I’m improvising, but I’ve been doing that my whole life.” // Review of “Unearthed” by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Title: Unearthed (Unearthed #1)
Author: Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Genre: Sci-fi
Target Age Group: YA
Dates read: 20/06/2018 – 26/06/2018
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book was marketed as “Indiana Jones in space” and while I can see that somewhat… I feel like that ended up giving me expectations for something this book wasn’t. So while I enjoyed it for what it was, I was disappointed it wasn’t what I was expecting.

So what was I expecting? Okay, so I love doing escape rooms, right? My partner finds them a little stressful but he humours me because in return I go to karaoke with him on wekeends. I was expecting this book to be some kind of epic scale escape room in book form, lots of solving puzzles and boobie-trapped rooms and such. And there was a bit of that. But there was really only one interesting puzzle (a musical one which was quite clever). The characters are out of the temple by about halfway to two-thirds of the way through the book and it becomes something completely different.

I liked Jules and Amelia, though I don’t think first person narration works when you have two POV characters. They sound much the same. Yes, they have different personalities and quirks, but I feel like probably everyone sounds fairly similar inside their head. It is different when you can hear different voices, but on the page, there’s not much to differentiate. I couldn’t get too engaged in the romance, as the action takes place over only a few days, maybe a week. I am more of a fan of a slow-burn over “we’re high on adrenaline and running for our lives and I’m gonig to kiss you now”.

Still, the action in the last quarter ramped right up, and the cliffhanger at the end was intriguing enough that I kind want to check out the next book when it’s released just to see where they go with that.


This review is part of my 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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“I call it a dream, but it feels realer than my life.” // Review of “Magonia” by Maria Dahvana Headley

Title: Magonia
Author:  Maria Dahvana Headley
Audio book narrator: Thérèse Plummer, Michael Crouch
Genre:
  YA/sci-fi/fantasy
Dates read: 06/02/18 – 14/02/18
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This was one of those books where I got to the end and thought, “Well, that was… fine.” I don’t think I’ve read another YA book like it, but at the same time, I’m not entirely sure it struck the right balance between sci-fi and fantasy that it was trying for. On top of that, there were some aspects to the characters and plot that I just didn’t like, which meant that the originality got weighed down for me.

I found the world-building in Magonia fascinating, even though I didn’t necessarily like all of it. The idea of ships and cities in the sky? Yes, please! And half-bird people indentured to the Magonians and secretly plotting revolution? Yes, please! Especially if those people are described in such beautiful, vivid colours. Birds that live in the lung or heart of the person they’re bonded to and sing from within…? Um. Not quite sold on that part.

Honestly, I think this would make a very good movie. So much of the description is visual or auditory. Even a graphic novel would probably work if done with the rights colours and visuals.

As you can see, most of the world-building here is fantasy based. But then there was also the sci-fi aspect, particularly from the POV of Jason, Aza’s love interest. He is convinced she is not dead, and is tracking weather patterns and designing apps to track where the Magonians appear to be travelling. The climax also has more of a sci-fi bent than fantasy. It all felt like a bit of a weird clash.

Speaking of Jason, neither he nor Aza has any other friends, and the fact a co-dependent friendship developed into a romance was a bit troubling for me. I really don’t know how Jason got away with so much without getting into trouble in a number of different countries.

One thing that annoys me in books is when the main character is kept in the dark for no good reason. The side  characters are constantly dancing around main character, Aza, for no other reason that I could see than to pad out the plot a bit further. To be honest, not a lot happens; it’s interested at the start, then becomes a long training montage for a while, then the climax happens.

This book also reminded me why sometimes audio books aren’t the best way of experiencing a book. For example, Jason displays OCD tendencies, one of which is to start reciting Pi when he is anxious. And he knows Pi to a hell of a lot of decimal places. If I had been reading the print book, I could have just skimmed over the dozens and dozens of numbers. As it was, I was just listening to a string of numbers for literally a few minutes in one case. This is neither the fault of the book nor the audio version, but an observation on how the experience can be affected.

Overall, this book gets marks for originality and for adapting a mythology that has not really been explored in YA fiction before (or any fiction, I think). It’s just a shame that I didn’t quite warm to the characters and took issue with a few parts of the plot.


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