The Demon World by Sally Green
The Demon World is the sequel to the wonderful, adorable and adventurous The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green.
Just like in The Smoke Thieves, this book has five main POV characters: Catherine, Ambrose, Tash, Edyon and March. In the first book I thought all of the POVs were a little too much at first, but now that you know all the characters better it was no problem at all.
The writing, the characters and the plot was really good this time around as well and there was a lot of action going on. Nevertheless, it did feel like not as much happened in this book as in The Smoke Thieves and I didn’t connect as much to the romance between Princess Catherine and Ambrose this time. To be honest, I didn’t like the way Catherine treated him at times, and I also think there might be another way Catherine could go relationship-wise in the next book, if we get to see more of Prince Tzsayn there... I really missed his character in this book!
All in all, this was a good read, but it suffered a bit from the typical second book syndrome. It felt a lot like Sally Green was moving her characters into position for the grand finale in the third book. So I’m definitely eagerly awaiting it to see what happens in the end!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Sally Green
The Stranger I Knew is a wonderful novella, a psychological YA mystery with a twist you do not see coming. It reminds me a bit of Dennis Lehane’s books; it’s a story where nothing is what it seems and as a reader you start to question what is real and what is just a dream, and if you can even trust the narrator at all. It’s so clever and brilliant and will keep you hooked all the way to the end!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Bound to Writing
Normal People by Sally Rooney
“I congratulate and feel sorry for those of you that still have yet to discover Sally Rooney. It doesn’t happen very often, but it is both a great happiness and sorrow when it does – when you read a book that is so good that you, after finishing it, instinctively feel that you never want to read another book again. Partly because you feel that nothing will ever compare to it, but party also because the reading has affected you so deeply.”
I couldn’t agree more with this quote by the Swedish columnist Greta Thurfjell in her review in the magazine Dagens Nyheter. (My translation from Swedish, see the article in Dagens Nyheter for the original quote: Greta Thurfjell: Jag gratulerar och beklagar den som har Sally Rooney framför sig)
Normal People is a very emotional, intense and honest read, with a very unique voice. When I first started reading it, I wasn’t so sure about this book though. I thought it was good, but so different from other books and the ordinary narrative that I didn’t know or couldn’t see where it was going to go. But, luckily, that all changed very quickly and I was completely sucked in to the bittersweet story about Marianne and Connell.
Normal People traces the ever-shifting dynamics between Marianne and Connell, told in the form of conversations between them. Even though it revolves around their relationship from high school through university, it’s not a very romantic book. It’s more of a deep psychological study of two people struggling to maneuver through life and how the two protagonists develop as people. Marianne was the weird one in high school while Connell was the popular jock, but in university their statuses flip, which they never fully recover from. There were so many unspoken words and lost moments between the two take them on different paths that change their lives. Sally Rooney portrays such an honest, raw and real relationship, and aspects such as modern love, class and politics and the lasting effects of trauma. It’s a dark and intense book, exploring the impact of how our life experiences shape who we become in such a quiet, gut-wrenching way it made my heart ache.
I really loved it and definitely recommend it even though it broke my heart to see these characters hurting so much.
I absolutely love Ruty Sepetys’s gripping and beautiful historical books. I cried my heart out while reading Salt to the Sea, her masterpiece about hardship, humanity, loss, love and survival during WWII. The Fountains of Silence is another beautiful, romantic, sad but hopeful, honest and gripping gem by Ruta Sepetys, even if it’s not quite as heart-breaking as her previous books. (Luckily, I would say. There is just so much heart-break you can take…) Ruta Sepetys is one of my favorite authors, and this book was no exception, just as her other books it touched my heart very deeply and the characters will stay with me for a long time.
The Fountains of Silence is set in Madrid, Spain, in 1957 and takes us on a journey into the dark and secret life under the fascist dictatorship of General Franco. The story is told from several POVs, but with the eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the aspiring photographer son of a Texas oil tycoon, and Ana Torres Moreno, who works as a maid at the hotel where Daniel and his parents are staying, as the two main characters. When Franco opens the door to American business men to invest in his country, the Mathesons take the chance to do oil business and to connect with the country of Daniel’s mother. Hoping to win a prestigious photography contest, Daniel tries to discover the real Spain through the lens of his camera with Ana as his guide. Via his encounters with Ana’s family and friends and their interweaving obstacles, Daniel (and we readers) learn more of the fears and hidden horrors and brutality of Franco’s Spain, including a parallel story of stolen babies.
I loved all of the characters in this book and the multiple POVs that truly brought the story to life. Daniel was such a sweetheart. So genuinely kindhearted, eager to learn and caring. And I completely rooted for Ana, wanting to rescue her from her hard and brutal reality. But there were so many other memorable and real characters in this book, Ana’s family members who all had at least two jobs each to try and keep the family together after their parents were executed by France, the bull fighter Fuga who dared to dream big, journalist Ben who became a mentor to Daniel, American ambassador son Nick with much more depth beneath his party animal impression and many others.
What I love about Ruty Sepetys’s books is that she always mixes the darkness with light, always shows the best and worst of humanity at the same time, always gives you so many wonderful characters you immediately fall in love with and hope and romance in the midst of the horrors.
All in all, this book was heartbreaking, beautiful, tragic, inspiring, painful, eye-opening and romantic at the same time. I recommend it with all my heart!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Ruta Sepetys
The Queen of Nothing is the third and final book to The Folk of the Air trilogy and the dark tale of Jude Duarte and her sisters, and their struggle as mortal in a faerie world. Please note that his review contains spoilers, so don’t continue reading if you haven’t yet read the book or the previous books in the series!
This book has received some mixed reviews, but I honestly do not understand why. I loved this book and thought that it was a perfect finale to the trilogy. It was fast-paced (I finished it in one sitting) and it had action, twists and intrigues that kept you hooked until the very end. I actually think this was the best of all three books in the series, but that might be because I’ve had some mixed feelings about Jude and Cardan’s relationship previously.
Spoiler: The second book ended with Cardan, High King of Elfame, making Jude his Queen, only to exiling her and shoving her back into the human world. Now, even though they started off from a bad place, we eventually got to see them shedding their armor and opening up to each other, showing more affection and softer sides. In my review for the second book, I said that “I can’t see their relationship ever becoming a good one. There will always be this unhealthy undercurrent, a hint of violence and abuse, that you don’t want anyone ever get caught up in.” But I think I have to take that back now. The way the relationship evolved in this third book, with Cardan being vulnerable and admitting his true feelings changed all that.
All in all, this book wrapped up the series in a very satisfying way and made me like the characters even more than I did before. I definitely recommend it and even think that it might be my favorite book of all three in the series.
Find out more about the book and the author here: Holly Black
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
This book is a beautiful story of friendship, coming of age and finding out who you truly are. Aristotle (Ari) and Dante meet at the swimming pool one summer and become instant friends, despite seemingly having nothing in common. Ari is an angry, socially awkward, boy with a brother in prison and a father suffering from PTSD, who has more or less built a wall around himself. Dante is a sweet, kind, gentle, boy who loves art and poetry and who is not afraid to express his feelings and show his vulnerability. But as they spend the summer together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime.
At first I had some problems to connect with Ari. His anger and cynical way of looking at the world made him much harder to like than the sweet, wonderful Dante. I did love Ari’s relationship with his mother though. They had such an honest and humorous relationship, full of bantering and snarky comments. Generally, this book contains such beautiful portrait of all the parents and how they are real persons with their own sad stories, feelings and shortcomings.
This book is one of the most intelligent YA books I’ve ever read. It’s built around Ari’s and Dante’s conversations about life, the meaning of it, the problems with family and growing up, and love. It’s written in such a tender way, gently describing how Ari and Dante explores their identity and sexuality, and eventually finds their place in the world. It’s a wonderful, authentic, painful and honest LGBTQ story, reminding us all how love always should be without shame.
Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell
Wayward Son is the sequel to Carry On, which followed the Chosen One Simon Snow and his witchery friends and (to be) boyfriend, Penny and Baz, as they fought the evil Humdrum. I loved Carry On so much, I remember saying that “the only negative thing about this book is that it is a standalone, I need more of SnowBaz, I haven’t had anywhere near enough of my favorite OTP”.
Then all of a sudden there was this sequel, so so happy for the wonderful surprise! I binge-read Wayward Son in one day and loved it! But please, Rainbow Rowell, tell us that you are writing on a third book?!! Don’t leave us hanging after that ending!
The series is something of a fan fiction for Harry Potter. It is also a spin-off from Rainbow Rowells’ book Fangirl, where Simon Snow began his life as a fictional character. In the beginning of Carry On it was quite easy to pick out the similarities between it and Harry Potter – Simon/Harry, all the things about being the “chosen one”, Baz/Draco, Penelope/Hermione, Watford/Hogwarts, the Humdrum/Voldemort etc - but this story very soon takes its own completely unique direction and it’s definitely not a rip-off of any kind. In this second book, it evolves even further.
In Wayward Son, we once again meet Simon, Baz and Penny after they war was won, after Simon saved the day and everything should be happily ever after. Baz is at university, thriving, and Penny is… well, Penny. But Simon is depressed and can’t find the energy to even get off the couch. He believes that his only purpose in life was magic, to be the chosen one that everyone needed. Now that it’s over, he fears that Baz and Penny don’t love him, that they only ever did because of his power.
“This is what happens when you try to hang on after the end. When your time has come and passed. When you’ve done the things you were meant to do.”
I love Rainbow Rowell’s writing style with all the different POVs and the fast pace, the characters and their dialogues. The light banter between Penny, Simon and Baz was hilarious, I didn’t realize just how much I missed Baz’s snarky retorts. This series is not the traditional fantasy one, it’s more of a magical adventure written in a contemporary, quirky style with amazing characters and relationship. It was the characters and their feelings and the dialogues that lead the story in such an amazing and addictive way, not the fantasy plot.
It was also such an unusual take to follow ex-heros and show what happens after the epic battle has been won. Not to mention how it shows mental illness and takes a pretty serious look at depression and PTSD. While yet managing to make it a fun read! Not an easy task! I love how Rainbow Rowell adds so much depth and dimensions to the characters by displaying their shortcomings and problems. And how she managed to make Simon and Baz’s relationship just as heart-wrenching and dramatic as in Carry On, even though they were supposed to be in an easy relationship and enjoying their new quiet life together.
I also really liked the new character Shephard and I hope we get to see more of him in the third book that I hope (demand!) that Rainbow Rowell will give us after that cliffhanger! (If there would not be a continuance of Simon and Baz’s journey, it would be nothing less than pure evil.)
Find out more about the books and the author here: Rainbow Rowell
The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
The Serpent King is a beautiful, brutally honest, sad yet hopeful, story about love, friendship and the hard realities of growing up in the Bible Belt in Southern Tennessee. It’s one of my absolute favorite reads this year. Possibly ever.
The story follows the three outcasts Dill, Lydia and Travis when they handle the hardships of their High School days. Dill’s dad was a Pastor who urged him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes to show his faith but who has been sentenced to jail after a scandal leaving Dill and his mother shunned by the people in town. Travis is a shy, lovely, but odd, boy who always has his nose in a book to shield him off from his abusive father and the hardships at home. Lydia runs a successful fashion blog and has all her focus on going away to college and rise above the narrow-minded and condemning small town.
The friendship between the three of them is so strong and beautiful. I rooted so for all of the characters. Dill who thinks he’s not worthy of Lydia and who is afraid of his past and of making the same mistakes his family has for generations. Lydia who wants so much more in life and just can’t wait to become the real her and break the chains, and of course Travis. I sure can relate to how books can help you escape reality and create a safe haven for you. The story is told from all their POVs, which really added to the perspectives and showed how they were all stressed out and reacted in different way to the fact that life would inevitably change after graduation. For Dill, the idea of losing Lydia scares him more than anything and puts an extra stress on his already misery life:
“The worst days spent with her were better than the best days spent without her.”
I felt so much for them all, it’s been a long time since I felt so protective and invested in any characters. I read the book feverishly, both eager to know and dreading what might happen to them all in the end. This is a book that will stay in my heart forever, it made me root for the characters and their bravery and kindness. And it broke my heart into pieces. Oh how I cried when... certain things (don’t want to spoil anything)... happened. But even though the book has a lot of hardship, struggle, unfairness and sorrow, it is full of hope and love and about daring to stay true to yourself and who you are:
“If you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave and beautiful things.”
The Serpent King is such a beautiful, powerful and gripping book that I cannot recommend enough!
Find out more about the book and the author here: Jeff Zentner
“It’s because we aren’t normal people,” he said, and then chuckled, which had me doing the same. “It’s because our lives – just like us – are extraordinary, exceptional, and totally fucking over-the-top.”
A Twisted Cessation by Pearl Khatri is the second book in the Twisted Duet series and just as the quote above said about the characters, this book is “extraordinary, exceptional, and totally fucking over-the-top”.
Being an author myself, I know how hard it is to writing a sequel and to meet the readers expectations. But Pearl Khatri should be proud of herself, because she delivered not only a great sequel, but a sequel that even out-did the first book. If I thought the first book had it all (strong bad-ass females, Greek mythology creatures, witches, vampires, Kings and glorious Princes, transforming Empyreans, epic adventures, battles for life and death, Goddess Prophecies and destiny calling moments), this book added even more despair and pain, revenge and intrigues, even more epic battles, including fighting an army of dead souls, even more imaginative creatures, like the four-headed and eight-armed Hecatoncheires and Mother Nature herself, and more love. Even orgies… Yes, this book contains mature content, both sexual and language-wise and that it is a NA, not a YA, novel. The sex scenes were hot in the first book, but let me tell you that it’s nothing compared to the ones in this book. A big plus for all LGBT relationships, I really love all the MM characters!
The story is dynamically told from multiple POVs; by the main character Era (Lady Erabella Tarandos, the Heiress of Athelia) of course, but also by Ryan (Ryan Lawson, the Centaur of Pladeris, and the love of Era’s life), Jo (Johan Forde, Prince-Commander of Pladeris), Wance (Wance Raddor, the Whitehead Warlock), Laze (Shalaze Zorakh, the Ray Bearer) and in some occations by Val (King Vallian Forde), Aaron (Aaron McLaren, the Flame Bearer) and Orion (the Minotaur and Healer of Boronos), giving them each a way to express their feelings and giving the readers to see the story unfold through their eyes. I’m sorry for the spoiler alerts coming up, but it’s almost impossible to say something about the story otherwise:
The beginning of this book broke my heart, when Era lost her and Ryan’s baby. It was just so cruel. But it got easier when Era was reunited with her loved ones again. And then there was a complete whirlwind of actions, all the way to the very end, with the fulfilling of the prophecy and all minacious events, darkness, fears and nightmares, the journeys and fighting brutality and evilness, and the final war to save the world from the terrorizing monster (Ariesto, the evil King of Tyzer). But my poor heart got another shock there, when it seemed that Era would lose not only her baby but also her love, Ryan. Luckily though, Goddess Athelia saved the day. Besides the hardship our heroes have to face, this book also contains so much love and friendship. I really shipped the MM relationships and the strong friendship amongst the members of the squad. And the double-wedding was so sweet and perfect. As was the ending. I am so happy with that.
End of spoilers
This is a book about not bending to but creating your own destiny, overcoming hardship and become stronger from it, as well as the power of love. All in all, The Twisted Duet series is a fast paced, hard hitting, epic ride that will take you on exciting twists and turns! Both books are full of diversity, imaginative characters and a unique world building.
Find out more about the book and the author here: Pearl Khatri
Frankly in Love by David Yoon
Frankly in Love by David Yoon is a cute coming-of-age story with more depths than first anticipated. I love when there are several layers in a story that are woven together in the end and when the author does not leave you with any easy answers. Please note that his review contains spoilers, so don’t continue reading if you haven’t yet read the book!
In short, this is about Frank and how his dreams and wishes do not meet his Korean parents’ expectations. And their racism. Sometimes it was so hard to read all the things Frank’s parents said and how they shut their daughter out for falling in love with a black man, that I wanted to toss the book into the wall. But luckily Frank was so loveable and I rooted so much for him that I had to continue reading and see how he would stand up to his parents and fight for his right to love whomever he want.
When Frank falls in love with white girl Brit (a big no no), he comes up with a fake-dating scheme with a Korean girl his parents would approve for him to be with. The fake-dating scheme was really cute, but Frank’s feelings for Brit never seemed that deep. Spoiler: (Which they clearly weren’t when Frank ends up falling for Joy instead… Even though I loved Frank and his dorkiness, I liked him a little less for leaving Brit like that. It somehow made most of the story in the book seem a bit unnecessary. Like it lacked purpose. Why have us read 400 pages of Frank’s love struggle, when he just tosses it all away for Joy at the end? Already from the start, I thought that Frank and Joy were a much better match.)
But no matter that I didn’t quite agree with some of his decisions, Frank is one of my favorite main characters. I especially loved his friendship with Q and the dorky way the talked and how they always supported each other. I also loved learning more about Korean culture and the complexity with family relationships and racism within minority groups. This book was such an eye-opener to the problems that second generation Korean might have to deal with.
All in all, Frankly in Love was a cute and funny, really fast-paced book with a wonderful humor, an adorkable male protagonist and a fresh new take on life growing up as a second-generation Korean teenager in the US.
Find out more about the book and the author here: David Yoon