Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy, #1)

Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


To be honest, this is a case of ‘I don’t think I’ll know if I even like this until (if) I read the sequel’.
There’s such thing as few too many twists and few too many lies.
For example, I’m not sure if I feel like all main characters changed their personalities and beliefs too abruptly for it to be believable, or if it can actually be believable in the circumstances.
(Should we really change sides so much and feel comfortable with characters who murdered and tortured under our noses?)
I feel uncomfortable to comment on any story developments, other than say that the ending is a chaos and I don’t think I enjoy where it went…unless I see it go somewhere else in a future book.
If I judge from the fact that I really don’t like ‘mind game’ books in general (as in constantly not knowing what is real and what is really going on), then I suppose I don’t like this book. But I think I need to see where it all tries to lead to just to be certain. Because right now, there are more questions than answers.
This book on its own gives too little to judge on.

There is an interesting style, and I especially enjoyed the ‘excerpts’ at the beginning of each chapter. More importantly, kudos for making it into a fantasy world ‘vaguely inspired’ by slavic cultures than actually borrowing from them more than names. I think it is an interesting and well-developed world, even if small and unhappy.
At the same time I feel there is a substantial room for improvement in terms of writing.
It’s on a simpler side, it doesn’t really grab you, it doesn’t make you feel like you can’t let yourself put the book down. And little things, like overuse of the word ‘boy’ got on my nerves sometimes.
Reading this book felt like watching its story on fast-forward. That unbalanced way of catching some random moments very clearly and just flying by the rest of events.
The action sequences were a bit hard to follow. Not really written in a way that would make it easy to see what is going on around the main character and why. Maybe this is also related to my ‘fast-forwarded’ impression.

Overall, ‘chaos’ is the most true impression of this book, and it leaves me confused. Question is, will it untangle or will it continue in the same tone and manner?



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Not His Dragon by Annie Nicholas

Not His Dragon (Not This, #1)

Not His Dragon by Annie Nicholas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I don’t think I’ve ever became sceptical of a book as fast as with this one. Simply because, in the very first tiny paragraph, of all the possible synonyms, the author chose to use the word ‘tits’ in a sentence that only talks about spilling scalding liquid over them. I mean, there’s such thing as TPO for words, and even something like ‘bazoombas’ would be better if you’re going for style or humour…as it is it’s just vulgar. (I think there was once a book I dropped even faster, it had something like 6 f-words on the very first, but didn’t as much get sceptical as closed that book and forgot what it was)
Anyhow, that first paragraph sort of represents the quality of writing, and the quality of writing sort of matches everything about this book – mleh.
It’s not bad, but it’s not good.
It’s half-baked, average, confused, full of story elements jumping out of nowhere and going nowhere, a lot of ‘wait. and?’ moments, with a heroine that cries about being strong and independent for the fist half, then turning 180 degrees for the other and being mostly a helpless coward, the resolution for the ‘mystery’ is half silly and cheesy, half not even there.
Just a short silly book that doesn’t require you to use your brain, to read and forget.



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Yet, I believe what really grinds my gears, and prevents me from leaving this topic alone and not wasting my energy on thinking about it for 2 days already, is that if the situation was the opposite, as in, if the main characters were supposed to be from somewhere from Africa (or say Asia or Middle East), but instead white British actors were hired to play their roles, there would have been 10 times more outrage.

And then thousands of people who never even read the books would also flock to protest and express their outrage once they’d sniff it out, because how dare the tv producers not respect people’s races and cultures.

And I highly doubt the author would have been able to write her ‘proud post’ about how she thinks the cast is just right, and she never even remembered that her own main character had eyes of a specific colour. and that he is ‘right for the role in every way that matters’ (except race, because race doesn’t matter). Because she would just get stoned for that.

…In everyday circumstances, I would be among the first to say that race doesn’t matter. Because, in everyday life, I don’t really care (and, to be honest, my cognitive abilities are failing enough that sometimes I can’t tell Japanese people from foreigners when I’m outside…).

But when we talk about integrity of cultures and world settings… I think every culture and setting should be equally protected and represented as it was historically, or as it was written to be.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya, #1)

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


For the most of this book, I though I would be able to at least give this book 3 stars (1 for its events, 5 for its words, divide the sum)…but somewhere closer to the final 3rd even the writing I found compelling and interesting had turned to the worse. While most of the prose in this is very well done and indicates a talent, there is really something wrong with the way relationships between people are written here. And the closer they became, the more that ‘wrongness’ stood out for me. But that’s not my biggest issue with this book.

I wonder when we will finally move out of this fashion of YA books that all begin the same: the theme of oppression, mental or physical slavery and domination, a presence of some kind of absolutely evil/disturbing/disgusting egocentric monarch getting off on abusing others, and our hero/heroes just taking it. The genders change, the worlds change, we can be on Earth, Cosmos, or some other land; we can change favourite English cuss word to ‘daama’ and ‘elves’ to ‘safir’, but it’s still all the same overused and tired formula.
These stories may be dressed in different images and names, but they all smell exactly the same. Of some weird YA fascination with abuse, humiliation, and misery that makes me vomit a little in my mouth. And of making death and torture trivial and commonplace.

Here, once again we have out shackled heroes grinding their teeth, psychopathic antagonist monarch torturing and killing for fun (or for some great purpose and fun) (who are also exactly the same in every book), reluctant forbidden attraction, hidden destiny to change the world…
You read and 50 pages in you can pretty much tell where this will go and which of the introduced characters will end up where. Then you read on hoping the book might still surprise you and prove you wrong…and in never does. If anything, it kept getting worse the closer it got the part III of the book. The childish

‘And then his grip
began
to falter.’

the awkwardly written ill-fitted developing relationship (even when you know it was going to happen from the very beginning, the way it was written in just felt…all wrong). And then the mess of an “ending” with so much wrong there too.

I don’t read YA that much, but even I find myself very tired from seeing this same set up and bone structure everywhere. I wish one day when I get a new YA book in my mail it would really be NEW.

That said, some do it better than others and it has to be said that the writing, imagination, and world building in this book are all at least admirably good. I believe the author really possesses a keen talent with words, but (only in my personal opinion) it’s a shame that it was used to join the line of identical YA misery stories.
Because no matter how attractive your characters are, and imaginative your world setting is, what matters in the end is the following:
Did this book tell me something new?
Did reading this book bring any positive or pleasant emotions? (Did it leave me with something good?)
Does it feel like I would want to revisit/re-experience/reread this book in the future?
And for me personally, answer to all these questions is the same – No .
Because why would I want to re-experience something that didn’t bring anything good or positive into my life?

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A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare

A Week to Be Wicked (Spindle Cove, #2)

A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The good: the ridiculous humor, the tone, the dialogues, the adventure, and the characters (Colin with his impostor syndrome, tendency to punish himself, and love to spin fantastic tales; Min with her determination, attentiveness to weirdest things, and freedom) .
The bad: the cover (oh, Avon, please do stop spoiling your books with tasteless covers), the slight overload of the ‘head in the sand’ behavior, where people keep doing things without letting themselves acknowledge what are they doing and why.
This book might also take a ‘lighter’ approach to its setting then some others, but I wouldn’t say that it suffers for it, only perhaps requires a less pedantic mind to really enjoy.



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The Secret of Clouds by Alyson Richman

The Secret of Clouds

The Secret of Clouds by Alyson Richman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Close to 1.5 stars, 2 only because I managed to make myself finish it (it wasn’t easy).
The publishers and other people who wrote all the comments and praise words on the cover of this book tried very hard to make me believe I was about to read something special and heartfelt. The book didn’t deliver.
The impression I got from this book, is that if I could gather it up and squeeze it in my hand, once I opened my hand only sand and dust would seep through my fingers. There was nothing inside. Perhaps it’s a mean thing to say…
But, imho, a book of contemporary literature like this, which picks and focuses on ordinary lives of a small number of people out of the millions living on this planet, has to either show something you won’t forget, or tell its story using words you won’t forget. This book fails to do either.
The writing is simply weak. The ‘fragmented’ structure of the text can be interesting when it’s used with a good reason, but here it unfortunately serves only a single purpose—to make it easier for readers to get through the text that has no powers to grip their attention otherwise. When a pause/space is inserted where neither POV not the scene have changed, the only reason it is there is to hide the fact that if you reconnect paragraphs in your mind, the flow of text would just be jaw-numbingly boring.
It’s mostly dry listing of every detail in sight.
Predictable reactions spelled out over and over.
Astonishingly stale dialogues.
Some of the sections consist of nothing but 7-10 short sentences beginning with the word ‘I”.
And even when it tries to express something ‘deep’, it somehow just doesn’t sound sincere.
Considering that this is a story of an English teacher with love for books and writing…all I can say is “…Really?”
Overall, the narrative bits mostly left me with a lot of unpleasant aftertaste.
The Ukrainian bits were slightly better on emotional level…if not for all the frustrating details—like the fact that people don’t wear shoes in houses in Ukraine, or how it’s always kielbasa everywhere, even when it’s not, or verb tense switching constantly back and forth. These parts would me marginally better is they made an effort to not be so Americanized. Figuring out kolbasa (not kielbasa), pirozhki (not pierogi), kasha, and what they actually are and their actual uses (as in, no kind of kolbasa would go into hotdogs, and that there’s no such thing as ‘just kasha’), as well as the proper shapes for paskhas, would be a good start.
The disturbing part is that I can’t really tell if the author didn’t have the knowledge, or did have it but chose to not put it in and over-Americanize it for ‘simple readers’ on purpose. Either way, I do wish authors would stop mangling other cultures because they’re either too lazy to do proper research, or, when they do, think they need to ‘localize’ and over-simplify everything for American readers.
Overall, food issues aside, the minds of people living in Ukraine in the last days of the USSR are not represented believably anywhere on these pages. These are just Americans in costumes with Polish kielbasa in hands pretending to act Ukrainian (just as they would be in any Hollywood feature, I suppose).

In terms of story, it’s just…nothing we really haven’t seen before? Picking up a sad story to tell doesn’t magically make it into a good book. Mixing in boring broken relationships makes it even worse. Everything is entirely too predictable, nothing really grips the heart strings. The main character is practically impossible to like. On top of which, most of the side characters feel very bland and empty. “Katya” especially feels like an over-simplified empty shell, where she should have been the core of emotion here.
The cliché doomed relationship of the “and why they were tougher to begin with?” variety, where from the first pages the empty character if the boyfriend is written in completely negative light (with the whole “sully my happiness with his pub breath”), while the replacement is better from every angle in comparison, perfect overall, and is praised with every word and description so much its nothing but ridiculous… Was this a necessary part of this book?

Long story short, even if this could be a good story, it is thoroughly spoiled by being told from a perspective of an mentally immature, unreliable, overly subjective, and too self-centered narrator…in bad prose.

P.S.
I also do believe it is morally wrong for a teacher to actually read the letters “to future selves” she asked her students to write. They should have been private. But then that would have defeated the main point of this book, wouldn’t it?



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Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas

Dreaming of You (The Gamblers, #2)

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I have three issues here, and the first one is mostly my own fault: when I read the description I have imagined something different, and then I felt disappointed, which lowered my impression of the whole book. …Which would be why I usually avoid reading descriptions and reviews that include summaries of the book.


The second one is that this book is like an overstylized romance on steroids. Everything feels just too exaggerated, tuned to max level of whatever they are: the overly damaged hero, who of course is the richest man in England; the overly saintly innocent heroine, who of course doesn’t want to be innocent anymore; the overly cowardly almost-fiancée with more mommy issues than brains; the overly despicable and malicious former lover/female villain; the overly helpful side characters; the overly dramatic unnecessary drama, followed by numerous overly cheesy declarations, and so on. Everything is just so THICK. Then there’s the problem of drama for the sake of drama, villainy for the sake of villainy, stubbornness of the sake of the stubbornness, and the fact that 90% of the plot simply rests on the issues of people not pulling their heads out of their asses and nothing more. It doesn’t really feel logical or organic.
And the third one is the constant head-hopping.


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