Review: The Chosen (Contender #1)

Review: The Chosen (Contender #1)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Throughout history, people have vanished with little to no explanation. And now Cade and his schoolmates are one of them. Six months into his new school, contemplating his new, drastic path, he is suddenly transported to another realm. A realm where prehistoric animals and ancient societies have seemingly made a home in this strange world. Cade and his friends have no time to relax when a mysterious being announces them as contenders in a game without rules but to survive. 

I’ll admit there was some confusion on my end because the cover and the original synopsis I had read lead me to believe this series was an extension of Matharu’s Summoner series which I mildly enjoyed. Once the talks of modern school and dinosaurs started popping up, I had a feeling we were not in the Hominum Empire anymore. I laugh at my mistake and then started the book over again. My first thoughts when I finished this book was mild confusion. Even with my initial mistake, I felt like I had been reading a different book than what I set out with initially. I wasn’t particularly blown away, it was good fun to read, but nothing was that special for me, personally. 

What made The Chosen unique was its take on using mystery disappearances. Cade soon learns that many people and creatures he sees before have been reported to have disappeared, never to be seen again. A lot of them have ended up here in this strange world. I was having some fun with this book initially. I initially felt some Lord of the Flies vibes. Matharu does an excellent job of setting the scene, bring together a group of boys as they try to figure out what’s happening to them. They discover buildings and materials from people before them and begin their journey to survival. It is from this moment onwards is where I think the story just loses itself. 

Cade is separated from his peers, and this is where the bulk of the story will continue. He meets more people, discovers bolder enemies and figures how most of his plan on his own. The writing is good, consistent and straight to the point. But I just felt like the story just didn’t know where it was going. Or maybe because it’s a trilogy, it felt stretched out far too much to make any real sense. The boys discover they are running on a countdown very early on in the book, and despite the reminder of the clock, it felt really underwhelming. Cade fights new enemies, creatures and humans alike, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Any semblances of an explanation are revealed only in the final chapter, and at the point, I was more confused than thoroughly informed. 

Overall, The Chosen had the potential to be a lot more eventful and exciting if the journey towards the ending wasn’t so underwhelming. Apart from Cade and another character introduced later on, the rest of the cast blur into each other. We are given signifiers and a somewhat decent backstory for them, but when they’re placed within this world, it becomes the Cade Show, where everyone loses relevance. The mystery does unfold quite interestingly, and I just some faith the sequel can do the series justice, but the introduction is not as exhilarating as it should have been.


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Review: These Violent Delights

Review: These Violent Delights

Rating: 3 out of 5.

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Set in the year 1926, Shanghai is being hunted by a monster in the shadows. And in the heart of the city, it is being embroiled in a blood feud between the Scarlet Gang and White Flowers. Juliette has returned to the city, ready to be by her father’s side as the heir to the Scarlets. But the gangsters find themselves in trouble when a sickness forces the infected to claw out their throats. Before it destroys her people, Juliette must partner with the Flower’s heir, setting aside their personal grudges to save the city before the madness burns it all down.

The Violent Delights is one of my most anticipated reads of this year. The second I laid my eyes on that cover; I immediately ran to GoodReads to make sure I don’t forget this book exists. I won’t lie, but this book was both brilliant but still somewhat disappointing at the same time. The story follows the Juliette, recently returned from New York, and during a business meeting she is interrupted by rival heir Roma Montagov. Roma informs her of an incident where the casualties have appeared to die by their own hands. Both changed by an accident of their past, Juliette and Roma have to put aside their differences and feelings to discover the truth.

I liked the story for most parts, but the start of the novel is rather disappointing. It kicks off relatively strong, the death of gang members with no real cause, Roma making the brave move to enter the Scarlet territory to find Juliette and the both of them trying to figure out what’s happening. There are so many components to this story that appear so exciting and unique, but I found its execution rather clumsy, to say the least. The story hooks you in really well within this 1920s Shanghai as it faces trouble from its citizens and foreigners alike. The impact of colonialism takes centre stage in the setting, and Gong builds up a formidable background. The stakes are high as Juliette as to figure out what the monster is and how it’s linked to the death of her people. With foreigners like the British, French and Russians moving in the background, Juliette almost feels like a stranger in her own city, and you feel it too as a reader.

As you settle into the story, it quickly beings to falter and drag on its own feet. Juliette can’t seem to get her parent’s approval, while Roma’s father ignores most of his findings, which leads to them working together and then the story doesn’t know what to do. There’s a lot of starting and stopping, and it breaks the momentum and pacing a lot. There’s a specific moment when you realised the story gains its drive again, but before that happens, it feels like it’s just kicking rocks, waiting for that push to continue. Juliette and Roma had met years prior, but an accident separates them, leaving Roma in Shanghai and Juliette returning to New York. I just didn’t feel any chemistry whatsoever. All of their feelings are buried in the past, and for plot’s sake, it was all withheld so in the last second, it makes for a theatrical scene. It just didn’t work out as well because the everything before that scene was so lacklustre.

The characters that aren’t Juliette and Roma are the saving grace of this entire book for me, personally, and why I’ll patiently be counting down the days for its sequel. Roma’s side includes Benedikt, his cousin, and Marshall, who form his closest circle. He also has his sister, Alyssa. Juliette’s team includes her twin cousins, Kathleen and Rosalind, and another cousin, Tyler. The characterisation of these secondary characters was so much better than anything that happened between Juliette and Roma, and I feel bad for saying that I was more interested in their lives than what was happening between the leads. The moments when they appear, the story becomes alive and engaging, and when we return to the main story, it feels like a giant step back. Towards the end of the story, as I mentioned, it gains its momentum well. And while it took me days to get to the 50% mark, I found myself speed reading to reach the end, and it was so much more entertaining.

Overall, These Violent Delights wasn’t precisely what I had anticipated, but I’m very excited to see what happens in the sequel. Despite my dispositions, Gong does a great job here in her debut. I did love how she had taken the story of Romeo & Juliet and adapted it to her cultural background and history. While the story wasn’t for me at the start, the ending redeems itself 100% over. It’s a story of identity and family and with the fantastic imagery and political backdrop, I’m still very interested in seeing what happens next for the Scarlet Gang and White Flowers.


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Double Review: Wicked As You Wish & Wilder Girls

Double Review: Wicked As You Wish & Wilder Girls

Wicked As You Wish

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Prince Alexei has spent every waking moment since he was five years old on the run. When the Kingdom of Avalon was left frozen after the Snow Queen waged war on the magical country. The people who did survive are now stuck in places where magic is nothing and feared. Tala lives in a small Arizona town where magic doesn’t even work, and her home is now the prince’s newest hiding spot. But not for long. The legendary firebird appears for the first time in years, and Alex and Tala must find their way back to Avalon to reclaim Alex’s throne.

Like the series name, magic has hundred of names, the meaning changed depending on the culture it is rooted in. Many memorable tales live on in different ways. From King Arthur to Robin Hood, magic is affected by fairytales. Tala is a descendant of Maria Makiling, a figure in Philippine mythology, a being associated with guardianship of Mount Makiling. Tala’s power negates magic which makes her presence the most important when it comes to protecting Alex, as the Snow Queen catches up to their team, sending hoards of her most lethal companions. I really loved the references to different fairy tales

The world-building is where the story lost me. I couldn’t keep up as the story developed because there wasn’t a strong foundational start, to begin with. As the group make their way to Avalon, we’re introduced to so much more, and it got very overwhelming. I read this book over a couple of months, restarting a few times, and I still couldn’t pay attention. There was also some banter between the group of character that just didn’t work out of me. The jokes weren’t funny, and they fell mostly flat in their execution. And they also didn’t blend together as a group very well. Alex is down right rude to a lot of them, and when we discover why, it just didn’t seem like a reasonable excuse for him to be so openly mean. Especially, since he doesn’t do anything remotely important during their entire journey and the rest of them do most of the heavy lifting.

Wicked As You Wish is good, but it was not the book for me. If some things were done differently, maybe I could overlook some of the difficulties I had with this book, but it wasn’t. And I don’t know if I’ll continue this series.

Wilder Girls

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Eighteen months since Raxter School was put under quarantine. An unknown illness has spread across the island, named by the girls as The Tox. The Tox has slowly been infecting the students, one by one, in unique ways. One girl can lose an arm while another gains one. Now, cut off from the world, the girls don’t attempt to leave their school grounds, as the tox has also infected the wildlife, making even the smallest of animals a deadlier prey. When Hetty discovers her best friend, Byatt, has gone missing, her actions to find her, including breaking quarantine, reveals an even sinister secret lurking beneath.

I won’t lie reading this while under an actual quarantine made this a lot spookier than I had originally expected it to be. Wilder Girls is beyond creepy and immensely gritty. Alternating between POV, we see the world through the eyes of Hetty and Byatt as they both realise what is happening to them. This story is very atmospheric, and I felt uncomfortable as we slowly discover how the tox infected the girls. And that discomfort is very great at compelling you to read on.

The premise is this book is so good, but I just lost interest very early on. Despite the entire story being contained within the halls of Raxter, the setting felt so empty. This book is more character-driven, but they don’t hold up very well, and with an empty world, it all falls flat in the end. The situation they were all in does not feel as gripping as it should’ve been because the characters fail to react and the narration becomes so fragmented, it just caused a lot of confusion. The ending didn’t help to offset any confusion either as the author opts to leave it open, when there’s a whole world of questions that remain unanswered. . Opening endings aren’t bad, but for a plot like this, some closure would’ve made it a lot of impactful and enjoyable for me. I have to add, calling this book a horror feels like too much of a stretch for me. What the tox does to the girls is extremely horrifying and very vivid, but the rest of the story pales in comparison.


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Review: The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea

Review: The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea

Rating: 3 out of 5.

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

When aboard the ship and amongst the crew that saved her life, Flora becomes Florian, a former street urchin turned crew hand who is desperately trying to make a life for herself and her brother. But her voyage takes a turn when the captain decides to sell their unsuspecting passengers into slavery and assigns Flora as the guard to young Evelyn. Unaware of the captain’s plan, Evelyn believes she is en route to an arranged marriage and doesn’t anticipate the impact of meeting Florian. Together, they must work to fight for their own freedom without losing themselves to the depths of the sea.

The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea was rather interesting. It was quite a punchy, fast-paced read of two young adults desperate to do the right thing. I did come into reading this with very high expectations, and while a lot of them were met, I wasn’t exactly all too blown away with this book. But I still enjoyed this story. I consider it a solid and entertaining debut.

What I loved most about this book was the world. I believe it’s the book’s strongest point. At the time of writing this review, the author has stated it is currently a stand-alone, but I would be interested in seeing what else the author has to offer from this world. Even if we don’t continue Flora and Evelyn’s story, the brickwork that the author has laid down here has SO much potential. I love how dark this book was, and I wasn’t expecting it, so it came as an exciting surprise. I truly loved how the author uses the Sea as this dark mother nature figure who is wholly vengeful and protective over its inhabitants. This comes in the form of a mermaid who Florian and Evelyn work to save as the crew members terrorise the mermaid for its mind-altering blood. Florian then encounters witches and finds themselves delving deep into witchcraft in order to protect themselves. There is an excellent commentary on the impact of colonialism and imperialism. Flora strives to be free from imperialist forces and wishes to live without fear of capture alongside her brother. We are also introduced to side-characters who bring much-needed depth to where I think Flora and Evelyn fail to give due to their limiting world-view, this includes a fellow crewmate, which I would love to read more about, what we’re given about him is so intriguing, even a short story to delve into his past would be enough.

The story is fun, and the characters were engaging to read about. And while I did speed through this book, the pacing in this book is a little off, as it is split into three sections. Some moments are rushed through while other areas are given time, which I don’t think it really needed. What didn’t work for me in this story was the relationship between Florian and Evelyn, more specifically, their romance. This book is dependent on them falling in love, but it falls rather flat, which is why I had decided to rate this book much lower than I wanted. The duo meet quite late in the book, and coupled with the weird pacing, the impact of their relationship didn’t feel right or even believable because it’s all based on a handful of short conversations between the two and the rest of the development occurred off-page and told to readers in between chapters. I really liked Flora, they were such an interesting character, and I was genuinely rooting for them and their dream for a better life. Their relationship with their brother was so good, and it’s such a shame, we don’t get to delve deeper into it. Because of the length of this book, it meant so much is introduced and then discarded so the story can continue, and I left sorely disappointed that the narrative just doesn’t return to something that is set up to be necessary. The lack of tension is what led the stakes and story feeling sorely under-developed and lacklustre.

Overall, The Mermaid, The Witch and The Sea was an interesting read. I feel like this story has a lot of potential in its world and characters. I still enjoyed it for what its worth but I really wished we had more time which would’ve made the story feel more fluid and move more realistically. As I mentioned before, the world-building is a shining point, which is why I would recommend and I would definitely pick up any future novels set in this universe because I don’t think it was fully utilised in this book.


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Review: All-American Muslim Girl

Review: All-American Muslim Girl

Rating: 3 out of 5.

After diffusing what could have been an unfortunate situation on the plane with her father, Allie Abraham begins to question her own position as a Muslim girl. With her Circassian features and non-practising parents, Allie has grown up keeping her Islamic heritage to herself. But she’s done hiding and wants to embrace her faith, but with the growing Islamophobia in her small town, and hiding her interest in Islam away from her father, Allie is caught between two worlds and must figure her place within it.

I came across this book quite a while ago, and I’ve been sitting on this review for quite sometime. And that was due to the fact that I was analysing this book as part of my third-year dissertation in university. Now that dissertation is done and completed, I finally feel confident to write this review. This book has popped up quite a lot within the online communities I am in and the reaction is quite polarising. Some absolutely love this book, while the other despise it and to weigh in my own perspective, I found myself quite in the middle in terms of reaction. I did have high expectations since a lot of reviewers whose content I enjoy spoke very positively about this book, but the book didn’t exactly exceed or fail to meet them.

To start off positive, I really enjoyed the perspective we got from Allie, which is rooted in the author’s own experience. Her “reddish-blond hair, pale skin, hazel eyes” makes Allie feel like a “traitor dripping in white privilege.” No one thinks she’s Muslim because she doesn’t fit the popular stereotype. And she’s very much aware of the privilege while the rest of her family faces overt Islamophobia. But then again, to Allie, she’s “barely Muslim”. Upon arrival of her new school, her new friendship group has her questioning and speaking up a lot. She decides she wants to learn more about her faith and culture that has often left her disconnected from her family. Allie expresses her disappointment that she is unable to speak Arabic to her grandmother because her father refuses to teach her. So she reaches out to the other Muslims in her school community and finds herself joining a Qur’an class with other Muslim girls. Here is where I enjoy the novel the most, I really appreciated the way Allie and the other Muslim girls communicated with each other. It wasn’t always nice but it was refreshing to see different perspectives and to see an active discussion between these girls and their interpretation of faith. “Everyone’s on their own journey, at their own pace.” The final moments of the book were so heart-warming and truly my favourite part of the novel. I just felt a little underwhelmed by most of what came before it all.

One thing I found rather odd was that the story uses the discovery of Jack’s father as a sort of plot twist but within all the summaries online, it is told told outright to the readers who his father is which sort of defeat the purpose of setting it up as a shocking point in the story. No hate to the story, just an odd choice for whoever wrote the book’s blurb. Jack Henderson is our love interest. I didn’t find him particularly interesting as first, but I felt really bad for him because Allie talks about his father, an alt-right leader, a lot and makes him feel bad for having a pretty shitty dad. He’s very much aware of it, and it causes him quite a lot of distress, to the point where he has a full on panic attack after they have dinner. He does eventually stand up to his father, but the way Allie is so harsh on him felt a little unfair. Allie is right to argue that not speaking up is equal to upholding terrible values, and in most situations, she had a legitimate point, but she came across as being way too unfair to Wells. Especially since she discusses a lot about nobody realising she’s a Muslim and how she benefits from white privilege which makes her “safe for bigots”. Maybe it was my fault for assuming she would extend the same branch to Wells too. Considering their relationship is a major aspect in the novel, I didn’t feel for them, nor rooted for them to stay together. There was just a lack of communication that had me wanting to ask Allie why would she even continue dating Wells after learning his father’s identity. Also, this book also brings up many complex issues in terms of religion and I don’t think it really offered great advice. While I loved the introduction of Allie and her Qur’an circle, I feel like this book begins a discussion that it doesn’t want to continue. Like mentioning different things without pondering on it for a moment more.

Overall, All-American Muslim was okay, but I felt like it could’ve been more. I’m not writing off this story completely because it is based off the author’s own experiences and I am in no way invalidating that. I felt quite emotional involved and it’s a great perspective to share. There were parts that really resonated with me but so much of the book was very unfavourable that I couldn’t find myself fully invested in this story. 


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Resources on the Black Lives Matter movement, and what you can do to support basic human rights:
https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co

Resources for UK citizens:
https://blm.crd.co/ (Specifically aimed towards UK & Ireland citizens)
– Black Lives Matter UK (https://blacklivesmatter.com/)
– Show Racism The Red Card (https://www.theredcard.org/)
– Runnymede (https://www.runnymedetrust.org/)
– Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust (https://www.stephenlawrence.org.uk/ab…)

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Review: Defy Me

Review: Defy Me

This review is not spoiler-free

Juliette thought she had everything under control until she didn’t. And now she’s alone with no one but herself as she’s forced to rediscover the world around. A lifetime of lies unravels before her and Juliette has no choice but to remember the past she had long forgotten. Narrated by Juliette and other familiar faces, the fifth instalment brings to light information that continues to shake the very foundation of the world they thought they knew.

A lot of people love this, and a lot of people hate this. As a reader who despised the original trilogy, my expectations for these new books were extremely low, but I was fairly impressed by Restore Me and I could say the same things for Defy Me: entertaining yet at the same time, so, so disappointed.

In term of story, there’s not much to unpack. Juliette discovers the truth behind her family, her parents and sister, and it is heartbreaking. Hearing about her sister and the truth behind her past was a standout moment, especially in a powerful scene between the sisters at the end. On the other end, we follow Warner and Kenji as they scramble to pick the movement back up after Juliette’s sudden disappearance. Memories of certain characters are restored and suddenly, they all don’t know what’s happening. I really enjoyed Restore Me, but Defy Me felt like it’s filler counterpart.

In my (poorly written) series review, I named Kenji the series saver. But I don’t know if he truly gave this story the pick up it sorely needed. I really enjoyed his chapters despite my overall feelings. He was always so hilarious and relatable, and often the only person who made any sense in the series. That Juliette and Kenji reunion was enough to save the book for me. I found it weird that Mafi decided to pair him up with Nazeera. In Restore Me, it was so cringey and embarrassing, especially when Mafi basically pulls an almost insta love on the readers with them. But I really did enjoy their overall dynamic in Defy Me. Do I love it or do I hate it? I don’t even know. I’ll withhold final judgements until Imagine Me.

I feel really bad that I could not, for the life of me, remember anything significant about the Omega Point group. Tahereh Mafi withholding Brendan and Winston from getting together made no sense. I legit forgot about Castle for most of this book. I am glad he got his family back. I feel like Adam was a completely new character. It’s like Tahereh really didn’t need him in this book, and kept him being an ass in the background.

I have to say Tahereh writes this series in such an addicting way, that’s only in this series alone. In all her other works I’ve read was good, but none really had that pacing that the Shatter Me series has that whether you love it or hate it, you find yourself speeding through. I feel like this whole series is just one big adrenaline rush. But note, this book is like 80% rambly flashbacks and a lot was missing. Especially when Juliette was locked away, there was a huge potential to develop those scenes further, but we lose a lot of valuable information. The dialogue was so melodramatic. And I wasn’t a huge fan of that. To be honest, this book could’ve been shortened, and split back into Restore Me and added onto Imagine Me. Everything was stretching a little thin for me in this book.

I have to say this: I didn’t get the engagement scene. I knew it was coming up and it just didn’t feel right. And don’t get me started at that sex scene. I’m all for making more sex-positive YA books but I’m pulling out that iconic Pokemon line, “There’s a time and place for everything, but not now.” Was this an attempt at fanservice because I was lost for words at how lost I was when I was reading it.

Overall, I don’t know even know what to expect for this series and how it will actually end. I felt bad for Tahereh at first because adding three new books to a beloved YA series that had ended ages ago was a bold move on her part. But I feel like, in that time, the actual fans of this series have consolidated their own thoughts and ideas of what happens next and the past two books so far have thrown a lot of them off. I personally enjoyed the general direction this series has taken after Restore Me but I feel like Tahereh’s decision to write three more Shatter Me books has polarised her own reader community a lot. I would say if you loved the series, then go ahead continue the series, but if you were never a fan of the originals, then stay away, this won’t do any good for you.


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