Love is Blind

Love is Blind by William Boyd

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Couldn’t do it. DNF.
Yes, yes, the author certainly knows how to use his language, that is a fact. But the content…
It’s boring. It’s unpleasant. It’s full of cliches so thick I was gagging.
I almost quit right after the Part I (which I’d rather call ‘waste of pages irrelevant to the story’, personally), which consisted of an ‘introduction’ featuring a cliche prostitute interlude, a selection of no less cliche ‘random unsavoury side characters’ (completely irrelevant to the story), and the most cliche abusive father figure. Practically every element of this part one was nasty and distasteful, and left a heavy feeling that it existed only to stretch word count while pouring out author’s loathing towards humanity.

It’s a skilfully written account of a life of a man⁠—an average man⁠—who isn’t especially clever, talented, or interesting, who had some things happen to him in professional life, and had a lot of bad luck in his personal life (starting with his birth), and I believe that’s all it is.
If the main character is present there will be a mention of a cigarette on every page. Maybe five cigarettes. And 3 more cliches.
He, of course, also has brilliant ideas and great ambitions, while others exist only to make his life difficult.

I should stop justifying the fact that I couldn’t finish this book.
The real reason is only one—it was unpleasant to read.

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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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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
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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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.

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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A year ago, I looked at my 10-15 book TBR pile and thought it was a lot.

(a year ago my head was in a place where I couldn’t really read anything but fluffy fanfiction on 2-3 specific fandoms by thousands)

As of this moment my TBR pile has reached at least 84 (I run out of space on the top of my shelf where I was storing them 20 books ago) … with more expected in the mail.

I need to cancel my book boxes…because as of now, the book selections they send end up all the way on the bottom of the list of things I want to read at the moment, and there’s really no sense in ordering them if this is the case.

Shadow of The Fox (Shadow of the Fox, #1)

Shadow of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first impression is very simple—reading this is like watching anime in text. Not just because it’s Japanese. It’s the whole imagery, concepts, attitudes, flow of the narrative. I suppose it’s probably a very different book for you when you don’t actually live in Japan and feel like every image from this book you’ve already seen somewhere before. But I’m at least glad that this at least was written by someone who knew what they were writing about.
I also suppose that his ‘anime’ nature fits very well with the YA trend of mixing childish with gruesome deaths and cringy concepts (of people not having free will and being tortured in general). And this is really all the description I can come up with: it’s like anime, childish and bloody at the same time, full of yokai monsters and talk of samurai honor; cringy enough to keep me from really liking what is going on.
Minus points for the cliff-hanger ending, as predictable as that turn was, but plus point for the Epilogue—that bit was very satisfying.
On one hand, I might be curious about what will happen to the characters from now on, on the other I don’t know if I’m actually willing to read two more books to find out…

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Amber & Dusk

Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Unlikable heroine, cocktail of predictable YA tropes, and ‘broken glass’ dialogues.

Originally, I thought I would rate this book somewhat higher, because I had this idea that allowances should be made for the fact that this is a debut novel, and because I should be kinder… But then I experienced this profound sense of relief when I finally finished this book and was released from the feeling of nausea that had accompanied me all the time I was reading it, and realized that no… Sorry, but no.

Considering the fact that this book was actually picked for at least two book subscription boxes in December… it was an utter disappointment. The only positive thing I can say about this book is that the writing wasn’t bad.
But the subject…
Just before (previous month) I was watching people rage about the “bury your gays” trope in another recent YA novel, because everyone is so sick of it, … aaaand here we go again. And this is not even the biggest or worst ‘YA cookie-cutter’ trope of this book.
– A pretty heroine with some sort of gift, who is also ignorant about all and everything? Check.
– Lost princess who grew up hidden by others? Check.
– Court intrigues and beautiful nobles who torture the said heroine? Check.
– A cruel beautiful boy with tortured soul, who is mean to the heroine but they’ll kiss anyway? Check.
– A ‘kind of’ love triangle? Check.
– An ‘extra cruel’ monarch who gets off on torture and murder? Check.
We can go on and on.
I don’t know if we were supposed to dislike the heroine by design, but I got sick of her ‘I deserve better! I’m entitled to it! I’m worthy!’ whining after first few chapters. And she never shuts up about it. The first 70% of this book is her screaming at various people about how she ‘deserves’ all the things she imagined to exist in the court, literally everyone telling her that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, that the reality is not like the world of her imagination, and her screaming back that they’re just trying to keep her from things that are hers by some kind of right. She was probably supposed to be fearless ans witty, but she appears to be no more that an arrogant brat who tries to mouth back to everyone in a nasty-ish way and beam with pride about it.
Speaking of which, most of dialogs felt unnatural and incomplete. I can’t even put my finger on it, but the dialogues just didn’t work, the lines didn’t fit seamlessly and didn’t convey enough.

Books like this make me seriously consider if I should just unsubscribe from all my book boxes and free myself from having to engage with this ‘YA fashion’ of same books about palace intrigues, cruel princes, and tortured heroines. At least I can perhaps hope that we’ll leave this fashion in 2018 and never come back to it again.

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I lived my life entirely unaware of YA and its trends, but after this year of subscribing to boxes there’s now a whole list of YA book series I vehemently don’t want to have anything to do with, even without reading them myself, even though they appear on my instagram feed every single day. It is because they seem so popular that I had to open goodreads pages to see if I would want to read them too, and after reading reviews and seeing what they were about… all I got was ‘I don’t understand humans and I’m not sure I want to’ whiplash, which sent me looking for boxes that would focus on something else.

Unfortunately, they were not easy to find. Most of those that do exist don’t ship outside US. Or don’t even include bookish items, which does take out half the fun. The Bookish Box seemed like a great choice at first, because they have an adult option, but soon enough I found out that not only the adult books are unrelated to monthly themes of their boxes, they are more often than not contemporary fiction paperbacks (and all those I received were by female authors, and at least one of the books I received was actually YA disguised as an adult novel). I just couldn’t see the reason to create an adult option if the book included would be completely unrelated, and all of the items and t-shirts would still be focused on YA fandoms.

I’d also like to confess that I find it difficult to keep my negative opinions on the fandoms to myself. Almost every subscription box is having a ‘special box’ for the sequel of The Cruel Prince that is coming out, and they keep showing up in my feed talking about how much they loved it, and I feel like I need to clench my teeth to not write them ‘But I kind of thought it was disgusting and I don’t understand why are you acting like everyone should be hyped about it.’ (And this one was actually one of those I did read, because it was in a box last year.) On one hand, I know in my head that commenting on someone’s post to say ‘But I hate this thing you like’ is a stupid thing to do, but on the other… I kind of wish people who provide a ‘service’ like these boxes would consider opposing opinions as well. As in, as a subscriber, I would like to be able to kindly ask for them to stop only including items related to a small selection of fandoms (ACOTAR, Raven Cycle, Six of Crows, Shatter Me, etc.) and focus on something else. But as usual, I have to come to terms with the fact that my opinion will be a minority no one would care about. The clear answer would be to look for different people and services, but the selection is just not there… If you want to get pretty special editions of newly released books with goods – you’ll have to deal with people hyping out about and pushing to you a lot of fandoms you dislike. You want to have more freedom of genre selection – resign to choosing book-only subscriptions and likely older paperbacks.

Another subscription box just announced an adult fantasy option, and I for sure will try it out, but the first box is yet to arrive, so I can’t really say anything.

Also, sadly enough, 2 out of 4 of the boxes I subscribe to right now have announced their November themes and after reading the descriptions of the books to be included I was torn between skipping a month for both or giving it a shot even though both of them sounded like something I’d clearly hate to spend my time on…

In the end, I made a choice to save some money and skip… (Just to forget about my reasoning and order 2 new boxes to try out instead the next week.)

Honestly, it feels like a waste of money in more ways than one, because I clearly can’t read this fast to actually read all the books I receive and not add them to a quickly growing TBR pile, and also because I don’t even feel healthy enough to read anything but fluffy fanfiction most of the days anyway… Not to mention that YA subscription boxes more often than not focus on fandoms I have no real use for. I put away the books I don’t feel like reading, but also can’t get rid of them before I even try, and they just pile and pile… And then there’s also the fact that shipping costs as much as box itself.

But this state of my mind is also the exact reason I keep ordering them because it’s kind of like receiving a small present every time and it feels like I need that feeling to keep myself afloat every month. And the more I receive something I can’t really feel any positive emotions about, the more it makes me to look for more of boxes to order… (I know it sounds pathetic and not exactly effective, but beggars with chronic depression can’t exactly be chooser of what we use to keep ourself from the very rock bottom.)

So next month (or more like the beginning of December, considering the shipping time) I will receive 3 new boxes and will have to choose which ones I want to keep, and whether or not I want to cancel those I put on hold this month… And how to stop myself from wasting money on things I don’t need just because I’m getting brainwashed by pretty instagram pictures.



I’m subscribed to about 4 different monthly bookish boxes (and always in the process of looking for more/exchanging for new ones).

I treat them sort of like a ‘blind date with a book’ system, and a way to get to know new releases while living in a non-English speaking country. Because usually, to buy a new English book, I would have to decide that I really want it, make an informed decision carefully, read all about it on goodreads or elsewhere, and be sure it’s worth spending that money, because ordering on Amazon from Japan is not always cheap and not always quick (they have a lot of books in stock to be delivered next day, but half of the time they ship them from UK.)

Unfortunately, even though there’s a ton of subscription book boxes out there, and there are many lists that talk about them to help you choose, I very soon found out that no matter how many there are, none of them (at least as far as I could see, having  searched online a few times) really match what I’d really want from a subscription book box.

My wishes are pretty simple:

  • Worldwide shipping.
  • Bookish goods.
  • Fantasy, sci-fi (maybe historical fiction, detectives, mysteries).
  • Preferably new releases, but not critical.
  • Not YA.

I don’t really remember how did I first found out about book subscription boxes, but then very soon they flooded my instagram and I couldn’t help but want to subscribe to more and more.

The thing is, most of subscription boxes, and certainly the most ‘loud’ ones, are all about YA. And to be honest, I don’t think I would read a single YA book if not for them.

Not that I was too biased, since I never really knew about them to form an opinion other than ‘it means they are for kids’. And I hardly ever read books for kids when I was one. Save for Harry Potter, but I don’t think that really counts. That is also why I didn’t really feel too cautious about YA when I ordered my first subscription box, because I simply decided that (after seeing on instagram that a lot of seemingly adult people were enjoying them) maybe I misunderstood the categorization, and people just called all new fantasy and sci-fi books YA (sort of like people in Japan call literary fiction ‘literature’ and most of genre fiction ‘light novels’).

It wasn’t before I received my first few boxes that I felt like I seriously needed to look into something that wasn’t so focused on YA. I can’t even say what exactly it is about YA… Well, to be honest I still kind of unclear on what makes YA so YA, but the books, even where I could like the story itself, seemed… too shallow, too thinly connected… more like an overly simplified summary of a book that could happen, but didn’t because someone either rushed it out or was told to make it more simple… And at first I thought that it was just those books and those authors, but after this year it seems to be the only thing that I can attribute to YA as a unifying factor. Along with tiny chapters and the feeling that it was made to resemble a movie more than a book, and to be read in few hours–take only slightly more time than it would take to watch a movie.

I can’t say that I regret subscribing to YA boxes entirely… With my current mental and emotional state, light reads that I can be done with in few hours are sometimes actually exactly what I need. And some of the books I received were exactly that. But sometimes… There is also this another thing that bothers me about YA – it’s the ‘trendy themes’ that too many of the books I receive seem to be focused on. I have mentioned some of them in reviews I’ve written: girls kept in captivity (or under someone else’s authority in other way) and humiliated by sadistic/narcissistic people; people falling in love with their former captors or with equally narcissistic jerks; palace intrigues and spies… The overall normalization, or more likely romanticization, of humiliation and lying that are featured in 90% of YA books I received (or researched after receiving a bookish item based on).

I honestly hate it and don’t even want to think about the underlying psychology of their popularity.