The never tilting world, by Rin Chupeco

I read this book as part of the January read-along for the Books and tea bookclub, and it was my first-ever book by Rin Chupeco, also author of the acclaimed series The bone witch – which I have added to my TBR, after hearing so much good about it on book twitter over the last few weeks, by the way.

Synopsis

Generations of twin goddesses have long ruled Aeon. But seventeen years ago, one sister’s betrayal defied an ancient prophecy and split their world in two. The planet ceased to spin, and a Great Abyss now divides two realms: one cloaked in perpetual night, the other scorched by an unrelenting sun.

While one sister rules Aranth—a frozen city surrounded by a storm-wracked sea —her twin inhabits the sand-locked Golden City. Each goddess has raised a daughter, and each keeps her own secrets about her sister’s betrayal.

But when shadowy forces begin to call their daughters, Odessa and Haidee, back to the site of the Breaking, the two young goddesses —along with a powerful healer from Aranth, and a mouthy desert scavenger —set out on separate journeys across treacherous wastelands, desperate to heal their broken world. No matter the sacrifice it demands

I’ve got some conflicting opinions about this book, so I’ll try my best to express them intelligibly – it’s past midnight when I’m writing this and I haven’t slept well in a few days, though, so I can’t promise anything. (Please do warn me in the comments if something I wrote didn’t make any sense, and I’ll try to fix it if possible!)

What I liked

First of all : the cover is ridiculously good. It makes you want to pick up this book immediately. I absolutely love it.

Secondly, I really liked the concept of this story : a world that has been broken in half and has stopped spinning on itself, damaging the climate in the process – it sounded super interesting when I read the synopsis.

This was a very character-driven story, with both goddesses traveling all the way from their respective home cities to the breach in the middle of the world, to try and repair it to the best of their abilities. It made for a lot of character development, and you can really see the changes in both girls, from the beginning of their journey to its end.

A third thing I liked was the romance – I’m not usually a fan of romance in books when I’m expecting adventure or saving-the-world shenanigans, but this one had love interests that were actually likeable, made sense, and it was overall adorable.

Finally, on the topic of LGBT representation, this novel does have a lesbian main character and an f/f ship at the center of the story. The topic of PTSD was also mentioned via Lan, Odessa’s bodyguard, and it seemed tactfully written to me (although I’m not an expert on the subject, so if there’s something I’ve missed, feel free to notify me!)

An honorable mention : the sand dolphins were the cutest things ever. Best fantasy animal of the year so far.

What I didn’t like

I think this is the first this year – I wasn’t a fan of the system of magic in this book. It just never seemed to make sense to me, and I didn’t find it as engaging as the other parts of the worldbuilding. The overall mythology and legends were interesting, but I didn’t manage to grasp the actual rules of the magic in this world, and it might have diminished my enjoyment of the ending a bit. (Also, I’d like to know what exactly makes Odessa and Haidee goddesses? I mean, they’re clearly different form other people, but what distinguishes a goddess from, say, a really strong sorceress?)

The 4 narrative points of view were also a bit too much for me, as I felt like the story kept switching to another character’s perspective right when things became interesting in the current chapter, and so on. Even with all the character development and the drama going on in their respective sides of the story, the changing POV made it difficult to get attached to the goddesses.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t put this book in my all-time favorites list, but it was a solid fantasy novel and it did leave me wanting to read more. Hopefully, since the second part of this duology is expected to come out in 2020, I’ll be happily surprised by the ending of the story!

Even if I haven’t been blown away by this book, I still intend to read the next one – maybe I’ll change my opinion once the full story is complete!

Have you read other works by Rin Chupeco? If I wasn’t a fan of The never tilting world, do you think I should read The bone witch nonetheless?

Why I love The 100, yet haven’t read the books.

I have to admit it : I not so secretly love the TV show The 100, but have never read the books it’s supposed to be inspired by. And I’m not sure I will.

Warning : this post might contain spoilers for The 100, seasons 1 to 6. It will not contain any spoilers for season 7, which is currently airing. Read at your own risk.

I discovered The 100 in my second year of university, which was in itself a weird time. I was supposed to study biology for a year, then try to get into med school somewhere in France again, as I had failed the first year of med school once. But honestly, I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life, and I had absolutely zero motivation to study and do well in biology.

I didn’t do much work at home, but one this I did have was good internet and lots of free time, so… I binge-watched The 100 right before finals.

I stopped in season 3, at the Lexa episodeyou know which one, then tried again, and stopped immediately after, when Ontari takes over, because… ew. But I couldn’t stay away from the show for very long, and I’ve been watching it dutifully ever since, episode after episode, right when they come out. It might be the show I’ve stuck with for the longest time, after Criminal Minds (which ended in 2019 and oh boy was I sad about it).

So why do I enjoy this show so much ?

It’s a post-apocalyptic scenario with spaceships

I’m a hoe for spaceships. I just love sci-fi, and anything sci-fi related with a mostly interesting premise will have me interested in no time.

Here’s the synopsis of season 1, on IMDB :

Set ninety-seven years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization, when a spaceship housing humanity’s lone survivors sends one hundred juvenile delinquents back to Earth, in hopes of possibly re-populating the planet.

Nuclear apocalypse + spaceship + last survivors of the human race ? Sign me up.

It has kick-ass women characters

Octavia is my fave, sorry not sorry – her determination, from the beginning, to survive on the ground and make her life there was admirable. Raven is amazing, and clever, and her character arc during the A.L.I.E. storyline was excellent. And, of course, my favorite bisexual disaster, Clarke. And Harper, who finally got the happy ending she deserved, along with Monty.

Promotional photo from IMDB

I’ve even come to love Emori and Echo (although I don’t say too often that I think the Bellamy / Echo ship is pretty cute, because of how… vindictive Bellarke shippers can be. But that’s a discussion for another time.), and both their tragic backstories.

On a more serious note, I love the strength and the differences between the women characters, and I appreciate the fact that they each have their own interests, desires and goals. And they don’t take shit from anybody.

It reinvents itself every season

Future storylines are mostly set up well in advance, and it makes the renewal of the show at every new season more of a “the universe is bigger than we thought!” thing than a “this is a deus ex machina plot twist” feeling.

When we first learn about the flame, the “spirits of the previous commanders that guide the current leader in their thoughts“, we don’t think much of it. But when we realize that the flame is actually a computer chip that stores people’s consciousness in a highly specialized AI, made by the person responsible for the AI that destroyed the world ? Wow. The universe really is bigger than we thought.

The show tries to reinvent itself every season, and so far, I haven’t been disappointed. Even seasons 5 and 6, taking some pretty big leaps to bring new things to the screen – with the Dark Year and the 120+ years slumber, were entertaining and in line with the rest of the show in terms of risks and consequences for the characters’ actions.

It tries to do justice to some pretty heavy themes

Sure, they might not succeed every time – looking at you, season 3 episode 7 with that dumb as hell “kill the lesbian” idea. But The 100 tries its best to bring some morals to the characters’ decisions, and gives them interesting moral dilemmas right from the start. After all, Clarke is imprisoned because her father had planned to tell the truth about the oxygen situation to the people of the ark – and how might have things gone differently if the people in charge had listened to him rather than executing him for his decision ?

Promotional poster from IMDB

The most important themes in the show are those of humanity, survival and leadership, and you can see these themes in every single episode – from Abby telling Kane in season 1 that she’s “here to make sure [they] deserve to survive”, to Clarke telling Madi that “there are no good guys” in season 5, and choosing to protect her daughter at all costs. Conflict is well set up, and when it arises, it makes sense.

Why haven’t I read the books, then ?

The thing is, the TV show isn’t an adaptation of the books – it’s inspired by them. Which means it doesn’t follow the novels’ plots.

The story itself is apparently very different, almost right from the beginning, and something that accentuates that difference is the absence, in the book, of a number of main characters from the show! Finn, Raven and Murphy, for example, simply don’t exist in the books – and since two out of these three have managed to survive up until the final season, their absence is bound to make for a very different story. It’s true the other way around too : the books introduce main characters (one of them who has her own POV) who never appear on the screen!

Simply put, when writing the TV episodes, The 100 writers don’t take the book into account at all – and I’ve been putting off reading the books because, since I appreciate the show so much, I’m afraid my expectations will prevent me from enjoying the original story as much as I should.

I might still give the books a chance, though, but I think it’ll have to wait until season 7 is over, and all loose ends have been wrapped up in the TV show. I don’t think I could make sure not to be influenced by one in my reading / watching the other, and my enjoyment of both might be diminished because of it.

Have you watched the series and / or read the books? What do you think of them? Would you watch a book that inspired a show, if the show isn’t a direct adaptation?

Why The latte factor is one of the worst personal finance books I have ever read

Warning : this post contains spoilers. But, to be honest, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone, so go ahead and read the spoilers.

If you’ve read a few personal finance books in the past year or so, or browsed through some personal finance blogs, you’re likely to have encountered a reference or two to the now international bestseller The latte factor, by David Bach.

As a personal finance aficionado, I got this eBook on loan from the library a few weeks ago, after hearing a lot about it – if everyone is talking about this, it must be interesting, right ?

Right.

Sadly, The latte factor was, by far, the most disappointing personal finance book I’ve ever read.

Synopsis

Zoey cannot see any way off her endless treadmill—until one morning, when she strikes up a conversation with Henry, the elderly barista at her favorite Brooklyn coffee shop.

Over the next few days, as Henry reveals what he calls the “Three Secrets to Financial Freedom,” Zoey discovers that there is more to his life story than meets the eye—and that by following the simple, proven path he describes, she truly can create the life she’s always wanted.

What I didn’t like

The narration

The narration of this book felt terribly condescending and patronizing, and you could see every “plot point” miles before it even came up.

On a certain level, the story reminded me of another disappointing read : The 5 am club, by Robin Sarma. Both were a masquerade of financial advice disguised as a pseudo novel featuring an elder man as a mentor-like figure. Even the protagonists were similar : the Brooklyn journalist who wastes her money on coffee, and the entrepreneur who doesn’t know how to be productive, were both a version of the reader being lectured by the author.

Both these characters are women, by the way – isn’t it interesting how the ignorant protagonist is a woman and the wise, old know-it-all-but-still-seductive one happens to be a man ? Almost as if he were the writer’s self-insert, and the main character a projection of his misogynistic vision of women.

As one reviewer said : “Thanks for mansplaining money to me“.

The advice

It’s simply boring. The “three secrets to financial freedom” that Henry, the barista-actually-owner-of-the-coffee-shop (I told you there would be spoilers!) so generously gives to our main character are actually the following three things :

  • Pay yourself first
  • Make it automatic
  • Live rich now

And that’s… not really groundbreaking advice.

Pay yourself first

The first piece of advice is the best one – keep some money out of your paycheck to put into a savings account, before calculating how much you can spend on leisure or activities this month. The author’s take on the underlying logic behind this is, however, difficult to follow, and doesn’t seem that revolutionary.

Make it automatic

This is an extension of the idea that if you have to make efforts to save money, you won’t get around to doing it – but according to Bach, if you set up automatic payments from your main account to your savings or investments, it’ll be done without your active participation, and thus will have a stronger chance of actually being done.

This felt like a very condescending depiction of his readers : the author assumes that if you’re reading his book, you lack the self-discipline and/or organization skills necessary to put a set amount of money into your savings account every month. And sure, there might be people who need to make it automatic to make it easier, or to be sure they don’t forget – but that’s not a reason to treat your reader like a child, unable to do things themselves.

Again – not particularly bad advice, but not a secret, and not new at all.

Live rich now

The idea behind this one is to figure out what’s important to you – what projects or dreams you want to achieve the most – and budget for it accordingly. And even though, in the beginning of the book, the author tells us that budgets just don’t work for individuals – hence his second piece of advice – he seems to skip over the step where, in order to see if you can save the money necessary to take that extra photography class, or go on vacation, you kind of do need to make a budget.

Sorry, David. You can’t escape it.

The math

The problem behind the math in this book is that it’s blatantly wrong. Even the most basic parts.

For example : in the beginning, the author tells you that your latte at 5$ a day will save you 1885$ a year if you stop buying it – then goes on to explain that liking a nice coffee when you’re on your way to work is what secretly keeps you from becoming truly rich. But wait – if I’m getting coffee on my way to work, even if I work 6 days a week, that only amounts to… 1560$. Aaand we’re already more than 300$ off the mark.

But even if you choose to ignore the weird math : the most important piece of advice that’s supposed to help you become a millionaire with all those 5$ bills you’re so diligently saving is an investment – specifically, one with a 10% (or more !) return rate.

You heard right – more than 10% of interest.

As expected, when the main character goes home and talks about this amazing opportunity with a friend, they immediately tell her that she’s never going to get an account that will yield these kinds of returns – not in this day and age. Yet the author only uses that to further his point even more, making the friend sound like an idiot and doubling down on the 10% interest rates road.

In real life, investing all your savings into something high-risk that promises you a 10% interest rate is the best way to lose all your hard-earned money – and if you, like most Americans, need to save for retirement or pay pack heavy student loans ? That’s not an option you should ever consider.

What I liked

I’m sorry, I’ve got nothing to show here. I wish I could. Sincerely.

Conclusion

Don’t read this. For the price of this book, you could buy yourself 5 Grande lattes at your local overpriced Starbucks, and have a morning full of joy (and caffeine) – something you definitely won’t get if you decide to spend your time reading this.

In the end, the only person that will be enriched by The latte factor is… David Bach, with his masterclasses on how to follow the Latte factor method and live your dream – at “only” 50$.

Seriously. Go read something else.

An Enchantment of Ravens, by Margaret Rogerson

I read this book a while ago as part of the March 2020 read-along of the books and tea book club, and even if it wasn’t something I might have found on my own, I had fun reading it !

An Enchantment of Ravens is YA author Margaret Rogerson‘s first novel, published in 2017 – you might also know her from her second YA fantasy novel, Sorcery of thorns, published last summer.

Synopsis

With a flick of her paintbrush, Isobel creates stunning portraits for a dangerous set of clients: the fair folk. These immortal creatures cannot bake bread or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and they trade valuable enchantments for Isobel’s paintings. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—Isobel makes a deadly mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes, a weakness that could cost him his throne, and even his life.

Furious, Rook spirits Isobel away to his kingdom to stand trial for her crime. But something is seriously amiss in his world, and they are attacked from every side. With Isobel and Rook depending upon each other for survival, their alliance blossoms into trust, perhaps even love… a forbidden emotion that would violate the fair folks’ ruthless laws, rendering both their lives forfeit.

What I liked

The magic system in this book felt very new to me, but it might be because I haven’t been reading a lot of YA fantasy lately – if you’ve read books with the same kind of magic system, please feel free to recommend it in the comments !

In Rogerson’s world, the Fair Folk are physically unable to use any sort of creative ability – what they call Craft, and what they so desperately crave from humans. The village the MC comes from specializes in providing such Craft, in exchange for enchantments given from the Fair Folk – but all magic comes at a price, and the Fair Folk’s magic is especially tricky. If you don’t make a specific, clear, and loophole-free demand, the enchantment you asked for will be turned against you, and could lead to serious harm – or even death.

I loved the sharp wit of the main character at the beginning of the book, and the way she managed to exercise her Craft and sell it to the Fair Folk without falling into any of these possibly deadly loopholes that could be used against her and her family. (And her little sisters were the cutest). We so often see characters who take up the offer of immortality as soon as it appears, without a second thought or a “hey, could I regret this in the future?” that her determination to hold on to her ideals and her stubborn refusal of immortality, even if it might mean death for her, were refreshing to see.

The portrayal of the Fae as more cruel, alien-ish beings than in most other fantasy stories where Fae are just, well… very beautiful and immortal humans, also felt original and added a lot to the overall atmosphere of the story. I liked discovering their inhuman characteristics,the way they looked lie under their glamour or the depth – or absence – of their actual emotions.

I don’t want to give out any spoilers, but I enjoyed the plot twists a lot, and the ending surprised me without being disappointing in a Game of thrones level of subverting-your-expectations (Ugh. Let’s never talk about that again.)

What I didn’t like

I wasn’t such a fan of the romance at the center of the story, to be honest – but that’s probably because I’m not easily sold on romances in action-heavy books. This one wasn’t an insta-love romance, but I still found it a little too fast for me, which made it a little difficult to believe in : as soon as the prince appears on the page, you can see where the story is headed.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the context in which this love develops – for all intents and purposes, Isobel is essentially captured by the prince to be condemned in his kingdom, and something about falling in love with your captor while running for your life and hoping he doesn’t led you to your untimely death is… a bit icky to me.

Conclusion

With a great worldbuilding and lore, and a plot that always keeps you on your toes (except for the romance part), this book is a very fun YA fantasy suited for anyone who likes Fae stories and journey-centric novels, sprinkled with a little add-on of cheesy romance on top.

Related posts : Self-isolation library eBook haul

A practical guide on personal finance : Simplify your financial life, by Dawn Starks

I’m not going to lie – I’m a big fan of personal finance books. I’ve always been interested in learning more about managing your budgets, planning for the future and organizing your financial life in the simplest way possible.

For me, this includes carefully planning my monthly budget in my bullet journal, using my credit card carefully, and checking every time I go grocery shopping so I don’t overspend – and reading financial management books.

So when I got an ARC of Simplify Your Financial Life: 104 Easy Tips for Creating the Abundant Future You Desire, by Dawn G. Starks, I didn’t hesitate one second before sitting down in my comfy armchair and reading it intensely. And I’m really happy that I did so !

Do yourself a favor and don’t bury your head in the sand. Be brave and face your financial difficulties head-on.

Simplify your financial life, Dawn G. Starks

This is a very useful book separated in clear themes and chapters, with a ton of pertinent tips for every situation you could possibly be in. It gives you the basics of financial planning, then goes into some more details on investments, retirement funds, and savings. The information is concise and to the point, and I liked the minimalist ideals to streamline your financial planning and make it as simple as possible.

I do think this is very focused on the American perspective of personal finance, as a lot of other cultures don’t have the same habits towards credit cards mortgage and student loans as the US, and the American continent as a whole.

Nevertheless, for the people it’s geared towards, this is an excellent book to have ! I would definitely recommend it to people who are struggling a bit with how best to manage their money, make their budget, or who aren’t sure how to use their credit card in the best possible way.

Starsight, by Brandon Sanderson

If you’ve seen my previous posts, you’ll know that I read Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson , which is the first book in this series, a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it. It was my first time reading a Sanderson book, and I didn’t know what to expect of the next : was the enjoyable experience of Skyward only a fluke, or was the sequel going to be as good as it promised to be ?

So, naturally, when my library hold came through for this book, I started reading it ASAP and ignored my university work for a whole day even though I really shouldn’t. And oh boy, I was not disappointed.

Fair warning : even though I try my best not to spoil the action of the book I’m reviewing, this review does contain spoilers for the first book in this series. Read at your own peril (and please don’t be like this reviewer on Goodreads who got angry at the author because the description of book 2 spoiled the ending of book 1. That’s just a big no.)

Synopsis

All her life, Spensa has dreamed of becoming a pilot. Of proving she’s a hero like her father. She made it to the sky, but the truths she learned about her father were crushing.

Spensa is sure there’s more to the story. And she’s sure that whatever happened to her father in his starship could happen to her. When she made it outside the protective shell of her planet, she heard the stars–and it was terrifying. Everything Spensa has been taught about her world is a lie.

But Spensa also discovered a few other things about herself–and she’ll travel to the end of the galaxy to save humankind if she needs to.

What I liked

When I finished this book, I updated my goodreads list and added a few words about it on my account. You can find my abridged, right-after-reading review here.

One of my main critics from book one was that I had some difficulties maintaining my suspension of disbelief when the characters were thrown in some pretty unrealistic situations. The sequel avoids that problem by relying a little more heavily on its science-fiction elements and introducing a lot of new and colorful characters and places, which felt like a breath of fresh air after the confined atmosphere of the first book.

I really appreciated the fact that the main character’s powers, if you can call them powers, weren’t described as fantasy magical abilities, and more like something resembling the X gene in X-men – a mutation granting her the ability to do things others couldn’t, that put her in danger as much as helped her and her people. I loved learning more about what she could do, and how it was linked to her people’s past and their larger role in the universe.

The different species of aliens introduced in this new installment of the skyward series were super interesting to read about, and I loved the surprising turn into politics that this book went to. The much greater world-building helps a lot with the new themes the author tried to reach, and helped raise the stakes for the dramatic ending.

What I didn’t like

That being said, one of the thinks I liked from the previous book was the fact that the ending, while being an open ending preparing the characters for book 2, still felt like the characters arcs had been satisfyingly completed and the story arcs wrapped up.

This one ends on a cliffhanger, and to be honest… I’m not a big fan of those. I know a lot of authors love using them, and it keeps the readers engaged and wanting to read more, but it just gives me such an unsatisfied feeling that I can’t help but be a little disappointed every time a book ends on one.

Conclusion

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I really enjoyed reading this, and I’d rate this book 4.5 stars – it was a fun sci-fi sequel that I’d recommend to anyone who likes YA and Science-Fiction. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for romance, though, as there is little to none of it in the whole 450 pages. Definitely a fun read !

The loneliest girl in the universe, by Lauren James

I picked this based on the sci-fi tag, and oh boy. It was scary. I’m easily frightened, and I know it, so I don’t usually read thrillers, watch horror, or anything like that – so I was legitimately scared when I read this book.

This is going to be a very short review, because I think this is a book that you need to read without having been spoiled any of the plot twists or surprises in the story, but I’ll do my best to tell you a little about it nonetheless.

Synopsis

Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J.

Their only communication with each other is via email – and due to the distance between them, their messages take months to transmit across space. And yet Romy finds herself falling in love. But what does Romy really know about J? And what do the mysterious messages which have started arriving from Earth really mean?

Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone . . . 

What I liked

The suspense ! The mystery ! Space ! Sending messages between two ships and actually respecting the time delays ! I adore science-fiction, and I’m pretty suspicious when books don’t seem to take into account the time it would take to send a message to a ship lightyears away from yours. 

With the first part of the book being mostly told through messages from Romy to J, the exposition scenes and the science are explained well, and you’re thrust into the story right from the beginning. The tone changes completely after 200 or so pages, and switches from cute space romance to scary space thriller – which I liked, but I see why some people wouldn’t, if they expected this to be a full romance book all along.

The main character was a realistic young adult, and her behavior was coherent with that of someone who had been isolated for a very long time – it made the rest of the story much more believable, and, after the 200 pages mark, added to the scary elements of the book.

What I didn’t like

The main character, to pass the time, reads and writes fanfiction of her favorite show, and sends them back down to earth to her NASA handler. As an avid fanfiction reader, the fanfiction parts of the book felt a bit strange, but I’m not exactly sure why.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a short, fun and scary novel about a girl in space to fill your quarantine time, this is the book for you. It’s well-written, and you’ll have a good time reading it.

Tess of the road, by Rachel Hartman

This book was… an experience.

I mean. Look at this cover. It’s gorgeous.

I got it on a whim, as an ebook from my local library a few weeks ago, because I liked the cover art. Without reading the synopsis on the back. In my defense, the cover has a dragon on it, and I love anything and everything with dragons.

It has since come to my attention that it isn’t, technically, the first book in a series, even though it was advertised this way on my library’s website. It is in fact a companion book set in the world of another series by the same author, the Southlands series. On Goodreads, a reader asked the author if it was necessary to read the other novels set in the same universe first, to which she answered :

It’s not strictly necessary, especially if you’re the kind of reader who likes to hit the ground running (I am, so I know we exist!). My husband recommends reading SERAPHINA first, at least, to get an idea how the world works.

Rachel Hartman

Since I am part of the group of readers who like to hit the ground running, it didn’t bother me that much to not have all the information at the beginning, but if you like to be a little more informed, I would still recommend you don’t start with this one.  

Synopsis

In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can’t make a scene at your sister’s wedding and break a relative’s nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journey across the Southlands, alone and pretending to be a boy.

Where Tess is headed is a mystery, even to her. So when she runs into an old friend, it’s a stroke of luck. This friend is a quigutl—a subspecies of dragon—who gives her both a purpose and protection on the road. But Tess is guarding a troubling secret. Her tumultuous past is a heavy burden to carry, and the memories she’s tried to forget threaten to expose her to the world in more ways than one.

What I liked

It’s not easy to write such a slow, coming-of-age, character-driven story, and Rachel Hartman does it extremely well. Tess of the road is a love letter to girls growing up – normal girls, flawed girls, loud girls – whoever you are, there is something for you in this book. Tess’s journey around the world is also a spectacular journey of self-discovery, and the complex world in which she grows feels extremely real – yes, even with the dragons. 

The road was possibility, the kind she’d thought her life would never hold again, and Tess herself was motion. Motion had no past, only future. Any direction you walked was forward, and that was as must be.

Tess of the road, Rachel Hartman

This story touches on some pretty heavy topics, like sexual assault, abuse, grooming, miscarriages, death and grief, alzheimer’s disease, and religious extremism – if you are sensible to those topics, you might want to be aware of that. But Hartman’s writing never feels voyeuristic or awkward. Instead, she talks about the struggles of her main character’s life with tact, and gives you an unlikeable, angry, bitter heroine who you nevertheless end up loving and hoping for the best possible outcome.

I also appreciated a lot the inclusion of neutral pronouns, and the in-world explanation given for it. I found it very thoughtful and interesting, and would like to see more of that in future fantasy books !

What I didn’t like

Not much. Even though the pace was extremely slow, I couldn’t put this book down once I started reading it. I don’t usually read extremely raw stories, but this one was absolutely excellent. I’m not that convinced about the Young Adult qualification, though – based on the heaviness of the story, I would have put this in the New Adult range, at least.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, but if you aren’t bothered by the themes it covers and like character-driven stories ? Go for it. It’s extremely well written, and it will make you feel like you want to put on your boots and travel the world. (Although, during this pandemic, it might be a little wiser to travel to your garden or your living room, just to be safe.)

Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson

I’m back with a book review !

It’s been a long time since I’ve actually done one of those, so I might be a little rusty, but I had fun reading this book ! This is a YA science-fiction novel by Brandon Sanderson, who apparently is a very prolific and famous American author and I won’t lie, I feel pretty dumb having no idea who he was before picking up this book.

Synopsis

Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.

What I liked 

I’m a sci-fi fan, so when I saw this book’s cover and description, I knew I had to try it. I quite enjoyed my time reading it, and got attached to the side characters really quickly – which made it even more heartbreaking every time something bad happened to one of them. But hey. That’s life.

Other good things about this book would be : it’s part of a series, but it doesn’t feel too unsatisfying and unfinished in the end. Story arcs are resolved, and wrapped up quite nicely, and you end up genuinely looking forward to the next one instead of being frustrated and left with no answers at all.

This novel also shows that you can write sci-fi without an extensive knowledge of space jargon, and without drowning your readers in spaceship parts and hyperdrive functions. The sassy AI robot and the snarky characters are a nice bonus, and I did like the added teenage angst in the flight school portions of the story.

What I didn’t like

A common critic about this book is that the main character is an asshole. And… yeah, she is. Maybe dialing that down a little bit would have helped more readers connect with her, instead of DNFing the whole novel because they couldn’t stand the MC. 

I had some suspension of disbelief problems too – at the beginning of the stories, the flight school recruits are called on to pilot ships in a fighting situation, when they haven’t had classes for more than a week. I’ll be honest, I expected it to be a kind of training exercise – they make them believe there’s an emergency, board the ships, and observe how the new recruits react under pressure – but, to my disappointment, it wasn’t an exercise. And even in a dire situation, I just couldn’t believe that instructors would risk recruits and ships without giving them the adequate training beforehand. 

Conclusion

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m rating this book 3.5 stars – not because it’s bad, but because it could have been much better than it ended up being. However, I’m still very much looking forward to reading the second installment of this series, when my library hold comes through.

Have you read this book ? Did you read other works by the same author, and if so, is there one in particular I should pick up ?

Series review : an ember in the ashes

I’ve been planning to write this review for weeks now, and I just didn’t seem to be able to find the right time -with the pandemic going on, and everything being so uncertain and changing around me, I haven’t been in the right head space to write. But I’m trying to get back to it, so here’s a short series review !

An ember in the ashes is a quartet of books written by author Sabaa Tahir, and the fourth installment of this series, A sky beyond the storm, is coming out on December 1st, 2020.

First book synopsis 

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

I’m not sure where to start. I’ve read all three of those books in the span of a few days, because my library holds finally came in and I was able to get all of them at roughly the same time, and… I wish I’d borrowed them in physical copies, because it  would definitely have made it easier to organize my thoughts on this. 

What I liked 

These novels are written with alternating POVs, and while I’m not normally the biggest fan of those, I have to admit that they’re extremely well done in this case. Each new POV adds a layer of complexity and humanity to the characters, and with a story as axed on tension and suspense as this one, it’s incredibly useful.

The world-building is excellent. Politics, intrigue, war and magic all work together to create a lot of tension and suspense. The plot itself is complex, with multiple side-stories all coming together one after another, and it makes for a very entertaining read.

What I didn’t like

I was a bit confused at times in the third book, in which the characters seemed to move a lot between places without letting me understand properly where they were, and what they were doing there.

Some parts were a bit too dark for me, but it’s mostly because I’m not used to violence or cruelty in books – I don’t read horror or thrillers because of it, so it’s not a surprise that themes of torture or slavery come off as a bit too much for my taste.

Conclusion

I’m definitely hyped for the next installment in this series. I greatly enjoyed the first 3, and the ending promises to be as entertaining as the rest of it ! For readers who’d like to get even more of Tahir’s universe, a graphic novel is coming out this summer, and it features our two heroes, Elias and Helene, as young students at the blackwood academy !