Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo

I found myself at home and sick this week. When I am sick all I crave are comfort reads. For me a comfort read is something not too challenging that I can wrap myself up in, enter a different world with a bunch of loveable characters. This week I found myself purchasing Six of Crows to satisfy my craving. Rookie error, I did not purchase Crooked Kingdom at the same time and found myself racing back to the shops the very next day. For those of you not familiar with this duology, it has been described as Game of Thrones crossed with Ocean’s Eleven. Kaz Brekker, criminal mastermind of the Dregs gang has been offered a deal that can make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. The catch: break into a court that has never been breached and retrieve a hostage several nations are fighting to acquire. These novels follow Kaz and his chosen crew across an ocean to the Ice Court and back to claim their reward.

 

In all honesty I knew I was going to love these books from the second paragraph in with the sentence “…her eyes were brown – lovely, dreamy…melted chocolate brown? Rabbit fur brown?”. These books were funny. Laugh out loud funny. The prose, particularly between the six, was witty and quick and I loved every minute of it. I was surprised at how intelligent and well-put together these novels were for YA. I don’t mean anything against YA but often the fantasy genre is rife with cliches and predictability (not always a bad thing!) and this series had none. There was one twist that I saw coming and to be honest, you expected it knowing that there was two books in this series.

 

The characters were also a strong point of these novels. They were perfectly unique and in my opinion the best squad going (sorry Harry, Ron & Hermione). I loved each and every one of these characters. They all played their role, each one of them was flawed and had so much room for development. I don’t think I could even pick a favourite (maybe Jesper, but only by a fraction). What I loved about the way the book was written was how the story was told from each of their points of view across the two books. I loved this technique as it allows the reader to see so much more in the novel without having to resort to making the lone protagonist unusually and unrealistically perceptive, which happens a lot in these types of novels. It also allows you to get to know what  makes each character tick, what makes them unique.

 

I couldn’t praise these books enough. They are fast-paced with many twists and turns you don’t see coming and laugh out loud funny which balances the tension perfectly. The characters are to die for and so diverse! We have disabilities, mental insecurities and even a same-sex relationship. Also, quite touching, was learning that one of the characters disabilities comes from the author herself. Something she wrote into the books to show that we can all be our own hero, even if we are flawed. I would highly recommend both of these novels, particularly if you enjoy a good fantasy world. I give both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom four crows, both cracking reads.

 

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The Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel

The Roanoke Girls was like a car crash, you don’t want to look at it but once you are you can’t look away. This novel is about the beautiful and mysterious Roanoke girls, living on a grand estate where they appear to have it all, looks, money and yet every girl either dies young or runs away. Lane was lucky, she grew up away from it all until her mother died and she spent one summer living there, learning the mysteries of her family before disappearing and vowing to never return. That is until her cousin goes missing and she must return to find out what happened.

 

I read this book in one sitting on a Saturday night. It was horrific and fascinating and I could not put it down. Much of the fascination with this book lies in the persuasive characters that Engel writes. If you didn’t believe the motivations, the strengths of certain characters in this novel the concept would not work. Engel takes this unfathomable situation and makes it believable. I enjoyed the format of this book. We read most of it from Lane’s perspective jumping from the past to the present, slowly revealing Roanoke’s secrets. These time points are mixed with snippets of perspective of each of the missing or dead Roanoke girls, telling each of their stories.

 

Some of the prettiest book covers house the most horrific of stories and this book is no exception. The novel is physchomogically thrilling with plenty of good twists. The pacing is excellent, keeping the reader on their toes wanting to know more, see how it all ends. There isn’t much to discuss without giving away plot points but if you do pick it up be aware there is some strong content. I do recommend this one if you are after a creepy, psychological read. I found it reprehensible, yet engrossing. A true testament to strong writing. I give the Roanoke girls four carousel horses.

 

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The Dangers of Truffle Hunting – Sunni Overend

The Dangers of Truffle Hunting was very different from my usual read, which is the beauty of my Sensei Subscription. I get to sample books that I generally would not have picked for myself, although, if anything is a cover buy, it is this. The cover is beautiful and alluring. Despite this being far from my usual genre I very much enjoyed the story. In fact I read this in one day. Kit Gossard is your typical young woman in Australia, she has her life together. Her finance, Scott, is an up and coming furniture designer, she just secured a full-time job in her chosen field of food photography and she spends extra time home on the family winery. All is well and running to plan. Until she finds herself feeling bored, constrained, not sure this path is for her. This all comes about when she meets the mysterious Raph (seriously, for the first half of this book I read his name as Ralph until a certain point where it blew my mind and I realised I had been reading it wrong the entire time). And then it all goes wrong.

 

This book is a romance/finding yourself type story with the narrator at the end of her twenties. As someone of a similar age I found this quite relatable. You think by this age you would have your life together, perfectly sorted, however, that is not necessarily the case and isn’t for most of my peers. I found this aspect quite realistic and something that many people could identify with. I also loved that it was set around a winery, this appeals to all my fantasies and in case you didn’t know, I love wine and visiting wineries. In fact, even little old Adelaide and the Barossa are scenes within the novel. Although, I knew I didn’t like Scott after his comments about my home (haha).

 

I did find myself incredibly frustrated with Kit for the whole middle portion of the novel. Of course the reader can see all her flaws and what the right path or her is (well, what the wrong path is at the very least). Of course it takes her a good part of the novel to figure that out, I guess there wouldn’t be much of a novel if she did figure it out. That didn’t stop me face-palming when she continually refuses to see what is in front of her face. What Overhand captures perfectly and what makes this better than your average romance is the way she describes the passion with food and wine. Love, like good food and wine can be messy, artful, hungry and passionate. All of that is captured within the pages and shows a true understanding of the underbelly of life. Lets all be honest, safe and clean is boring and restrictive.

 

I also appreciated that Overhand threw in some greats twists that I didn’t see coming. From early on you have a good idea of how the book will end so keeping the reader on their toes and removing much of the predictability in the core of the novel ket it interesting. This novel was insightful and intriguing and I would most definitely recommend picking it up. I give the Dangers of Truffle Hunting three glasses of wine.

 

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Hidden Bodies – Caroline Kepnes

Hidden Bodies is the second instalment of Joe Goldberg’s story. We met Joe first in You and we watch as his relationship with Beck blossoms and then breaks to disastrous consequences . In Hidden Bodies we see Joe leave New York and his cage behind to greener pastures in Los Angeles to start again, meet someone new. In LA he finds Love, everything he has been hoping for. The question is, can he keep what his heart desires most? Will the bodies of his past stay hidden?

 

Sadly for me Hidden Bodies just didn’t hold the same allure as You. In particular I found the first half of Hidden Bodies repetitive and boring. In You, Joe’s inner monologue was an absolute highlight, a view into his twisted mind. In Hidden Bodies, it just feels annoying because we have heard this all before. The second half of this novel yes pick up and become more interesting. In doing so, however, it loses it’s believability. You was particularly creepy because every though it was out there, it was still very plausible and the stalking and the way Joe gained his information was realistic. Too realistic that it may make you reconsider how you use social media. Hidden Bodies, for me, became way too far fetched, not at all believable. In doing that it lost a certain amount of it’s appeal for me.

 

In saying all of this, I still read this book in a day but overallI am not a huge fan. I prefer to think of You as a standalone, although you will see if you read Hidden Bodies that the door is left open for another and lets be honest if there is I will still read it. I cannot recommend You enough but go into this one prepared that it isn’t quite the same. It is of no fault to the author in the sense that her writing is still spot on, I think this is just a story for me that only really works once, anything after than feels a little repetitive. f you loved You and still want to try Hidden Bodies, by all means do so. I can see how others will enjoy the continuation of Joe’s story. I give Hidden Bodies two and a half Hollywood films.

 

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The Sellout – Paul Beatty

The Sellout by Paul Beatty look out 2016’s Man Booker Prize. The Sellout is a satire that starts with our protagonist in the nation’s Supreme Court for bringing back slavery. A negro in present day society who has chosen to bring back racial segregation in his home town. What follows is a biting and hilarious story of how he came to be a black man with a slave sitting in front of the nation’s highest court.

 

The Sellout was very well written and laugh out loud funny. I found myself giggling along to this novel more than once. Unfortunately for me a lot of the cultural references went over my head, perhaps due to the fact that it is set in America and I’m not quite as familiar with all of their culture (have it set in Australia and I certainly wouldn’t miss a beat). I do have to say after studying psychology at university I did appreciate all the psychological references from his childhood. I do think though I have discovered that satire may not be my genre – I tried and did better than I have in the past, however, I just don’t enjoy them like I should. Personally I also found the author’s side anecdotes, the probably hilarious jokes that others found funny, distracting from the plot and it really disrupted the flow of the book for me.

 

My favourite part of the book was the character Hominy. He was crazy, unpredictable and put a smile on my face the most by far. I definitely have not come across a character like him and will likely not again. In fact, a real highlight of The Sellout is in the character of the book. They were each very unique, rich characters that you are unlikely to forget anytime soon. This is the part I look back on with fondness and is what I will remember further down the track.

 

I can understand why The Sellout won the Man Booker Prize last year. This novel is so culturally relevant to American culture and is presented in an eloquent and hilarious manner. It makes some interesting points and is well worth a read if you have an interest in and an understanding of American culture and if you do enjoy a good satire. If you do not, I would perhaps not recommend this one. Unfortunately this book was not the right fit for me and I give The Sellout two of Hominy’s precious Little Rascals tapes.

 

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Eyrie – Tim Winton

Tim Winton is one of my favourite Australian authors and Eyrie is another of his works that I am slowly making my way through. Eyrie tells the story of Tom Keely. His life is a shambles. Divorced, broken, jobless and living off cask wine and prescription medication. His current state is not ideal and he floats through life in a hole his mother and sister try to pull him out of. Everything is turned upside down as he discovers his neighbour is a blast from his past. His past has a young grandson, Kai, and the two develop an unusual relationship that moves towards an urgent climax that affects them all.

 

A Tim Winton novel that I did not love? I was a little sad that this novel turned out that way for me. As always the prose is hauntingly accurate and his writing is masterful. Passages of this text are jolty and confusing leaving the reader almost with a headache, Winton perfectly putting the reader in the same state as the protagonist, Tom, Not many writers are capable of this but Winton does so perfectly. It certainly isn’t fun or necessarily enjoyable but the reader cannot doubt his skill. This was about the only saving grace in this novel for me.

 

My issue lies with characters. Tom and Gemma are two of the three focus characters in this novel an I just did not like them. There was not anything particularly redeeming about them. I didn’t actively dislike them as people but their actions were incredibly frustrating. Both of these characters made poor decisions and refused to help themselves, effectively creating their own problems that affected other, more helpless characters within the story. Their lack of grown up actions left me feeling quite frustrated for the duration of the novel. Unfortunately, in a story driven by the intricacies of the characters and not the plot this overtook any other thoughts about this novel. I found it difficult to immerse myself within the novel and enjoy the story.

 

Winton is still a favourite author of mine and I will continue to make my way through all his novels but this is definitely my least favourite so far. I would recommend this novel if you can look past characters and enjoy a good piece of prose. I can see how others really enjoy this novel, unfortunately for me it just is not my thing. I give Eyrie three of Kai’s birds, the masterful writing does save it somewhat for me.

 

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A Conjuring of Light – V. E. Schwab

Finally! The last instalment of my favourite fantasy series of 2016 is here. This was a highly anticipated read of mine and it certainly did not disappoint. A Conjuring of Light tells the third part of the story of Kell, Lila and the three Londons. I won’t go in to much detail describing the plot, assuming if you are bothering to read this you will have already read A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering Of Shadows. One thing I will recommend is if you have not read either of the first two books in a while you should definitely brush up on characters and events at the end of the second book before starting this one. I did not and I spend a good fifty pages trying to get my head back in this world and figure out what was going on.

 

I loved every minute of this last book. The book starts are a rather important cliff hanger and the plot doesn’t slow down from there. In fact looking at where the plot begins and seeing just how thick this book it you wonder how much can happen as it feels like you are near the end of this battle as the story begins. However, Schwab just keeps on giving and so much happens in this last instalment. The ending is quite satisfying and although these are adult novels (some very adult moments in the book that may leave you blushing if you read them in public) the ending still has a YA feel to it, essentially good does trump evil, everything you want to happen does indeed happen and while I won’t say that it is predictable, it is along the lines of what you might have expected. I certainly don’t mean this as a criticism. This is what I love about fantasy. Fantasy is my happy place and seriously, these books are my comforting, happy place.

 

What truly makes these novels my happy place are the characters. Nell, Lila, Rhy, Alucard, even Holland I find myself rooting for and loving in their own separate ways. Yes, Holland too because as much as he was always the bad guy, you always knew there was more to him, hoping he had something more to give. My favourite relationships are found in this series. You root for Kell and Lila long before they knew how they felt about it each other and the fact that it doesn’t happen right away adds to the built up tension. Another this I love about this novel is the relationship that existed between Rhy and Alucard, two males. These characters have such tension, which I loved from the beginning and even more so because it felt natural and not just something that Schwab added for diversity sake. Their romance is beautiful and fragile and makes your heart burst.

 

Basically I love everything about this books and know I will relive this series again and again in the future. Do yourself a favour and experience them yourself, particularly if you are a fan of fantasy. I give A Conjuring of Light five of Lila’s knives, ever deadly.

 

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