book reviews

5 Tips to Help You Write Reviews For Your Book Blog

review books graphic

ūüĆł

If this post was any help to you, please consider sharing and/or buying me a coffee at Kofi.com. ūüíĖ

As book bloggers, book reviews form the bulk of our content, but reviews can also be some of the hardest posts we have to write, and we’d like this hardwork to pay off! As most book bloggers now know, reviews have some of the least engagement. There are a number of reasons for this – and all these reasons are a topic for another day, but one of them is¬†how¬†you review books.

I am, by no means, an expert and I’m not claiming to be anything of the sort. I’ve been blogging for almost four years now, and only recently have I settled on a reviewing format that works for¬†me.¬†Ever since, I’ve been looking forward to writing my reviews, and I’ve also steadily been getting increased engagement and feedback on both my reviews, and my style of reviewing. Today, I thought I would share five tips with you that I adhere to while I’m reviewing books. These may work for you, they may not, but I thought it’d be a fun little post either way.

1. Make notes while you’re reading.

I use the term “notes” very broadly. Some people like to jot down their thoughts somewhere while they’re reading a book. This is incredibly helpful because you can keep track of your in-depth thoughts while you were reading the book, and it inhibits you from simply saying whether you liked the book or not, and rather allows you to inform your audience specifics about what you liked, and what you didn’t. This method works for some people, while for others, it takes away the fun of reading and disrupts their flow. I’m one of the latter – I’ve tried for years to write notes while I’m reading, but it never works for me. Which is why I’ve started following a tabbing and/or highlighting system.

If I’m reading a physical book, I keep four colors of page flags next to me, for which I’ve come up with a key. For example: pink flags mean I liked a scene or a quote, a purple flag means a scene stuck out to me and I would like to revisit it (good or bad), a red flag means I found something problematic, and a green flag means anything else that doesn’t fit these categories (more often than not, the first three categories cover it all, but I sometimes use this for trigger warnings and such). Similarly, I have a color-coded system for when I’m reading ebooks – but instead of tabs, I utilize highlights.

binderstumblr_inline_nmytkf8rof1qhhciy_500

This may sound like a lot of work at first, but once you get the hang of it, the colors come naturally to you. This way, you’re not taking away any time from reading or disrupting your flow significantly by writing something down on a piece of paper; when you finish the book, you can flip back at everything you took notice of, and come up with some solid and thorough material for your review.

I also utilize Twitter threads to increase engagement and keep it fun for myself. Goodreads is wonderful for keeping track of your books, but I often find that the engagement level on the site is impersonal. I’m an avid Twitter user, so I often start ‘threads’ for what I’m currently reading. Once I’ve finished a chapter, or am done with reading for that sitting, I scroll to my thread and add a tweet or two of what I thought, or something interesting I found. Sometimes, I refer back to these threads if I’m struggling to find material for my review – other times, it’s just fun to look back and see the real-time feedback of what I was thinking while I was reading something.

Note-taking, in whichever form you find best, is incredibly helpful. Reviews that are thorough and target specifics are reviews that I’m a big fan of; for books I haven’t read, I know what to look out for so I’m not totally caught off-guard, and for books that I have already read, reading the specifics of what someone liked and disliked, or a certain scene that stuck out allows me to engage more fully with the reviewer.

2. Finding yourself a format that works for you can make or break your reviews.

Do you ever read a review, and you’re totally astounded by how good it is, so you decide that you’re going to model your future reviews after that one? Experimenting is the blogger’s holy grail. What worked for you before may not work for you now, so trying new things, switching your content and formatting up will keep¬†you¬†and¬†your audience interested. And looking around at other people’s content and taking inspiration is a¬†great¬†thing, but keep in mind that even though you like their content, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for you.

I love reviews embroidered with GIFs. They’re so fun to read, and if the blogger has a good sense of humor, chances are that they’ll influence my decision to read or not read a book. But I can¬†never¬†add more than a couple of GIFs to my reviews. I can’t do it, because that’s just not how I write (more on this later). Sometimes I want to rant more than I want to review, and that’s when the expletives and the GIFs and the rambles ensue, but those days are far and few in between.

Find a format that works for you, and that’s the most important thing while writing a review. It doesn’t matter what this format is – as long as you personally enjoy writing it, you’ll find an audience. Some examples of formatting:

ūüĆł¬†Breaking reviews down by section: one for plot, one for characters, one for writing style, etcetera. This allows your reader to target the section they’re most interested in – I’m a character-driven reader. More often than not, I skip to the characters section and read that.

ūüĆł¬†Breaking reviews down by spoiler-y and non-spoilery-y sections. This is a great reviewing method if you want people who have read the book to engage with you as well, but keep in mind that this takes a lot of time and commitment, and can often impact the quality of your non-spoilery section.

ūüĆł¬†Aforementioned: GIFs, and lots of freaking out and humor embedded in your review.

ūüĆł¬†Writing your reviews almost like you would write an essay, with cause-and-effect driving the flow of your review. This is what I use, because that’s just how I like to write.

ūüĆł¬†Lists! People love lists (look at what I’m doing right now! Lists within lists!) You can make lists for what you loved, and what you didn’t love. Lists don’t always allow you to be as thorough as other review styles, but numerous studies have shown that people on the Internet have decreasing attention spans – so lists are quick to read, and might boost engagement.

There are so many other things to consider: do you want to include a synopsis? If so, are you copying-and-pasting the Goodreads synopsis, or are you writing your own? This might be news to some of you, but if a significant chunk of your review is copied from another website, chances are that the exact same words will appear on other reviewers’ blogs too. This harms your search-engine index. Google doesn’t like duplicates appearing on its index. Writing your own synopsis can be hard and time-consuming, but I’d rather write my own than save five minutes and damage my traffic.

Are you going to include any buy-links? Are you going to summarize your entire review at the end so that those people with shorter attention spans still get the broad message you’re trying to give off? There are a myriad of things you can consider while formatting – but the one thing you never want to lose sight of is picking what works for you, and not being afraid to experiment.

3. Decide on a rating system.

As a reviewer, your first duty is to yourself. You started blogging because you wanted to, but don’t lose sight of the fact that you have an audience as well. And if this audience is important to you, you should keep things a little bit consistent. I’m a harsh critic; I don’t often hand out five-stars unless I’m certain that it’s a book that will stay with me for years. Many of my blogger-friends know this, so they’re immediately more inclined to pick up a book that I gave five-stars to because they¬†know¬†how rare those are.

giphy

Decide on a rating system, and think hard about what each rating means to you. Do you want to include half-stars? What are your deal-breakers? The way I like to do it is looking at what a three-star rating means for me. Is three-stars below average for you, average, or above average? Three stars is the middle rating for me, and my rating system is modeled after this three-star rating. Three stars means it was an average book. Three and a half means that I liked more parts of the book than I didn’t. Two and a half means I disliked more than I liked. Do you see how it works for me? Here’s my rating scale if you’re interested.

Keep your rating scale somewhere clear on your blog. Sometimes when I don’t want to read a review but am trying to get a sense of how people feel about a certain book, I look at the ratings alone. But ratings mean different things to different people. For me, three-stars is a good enough rating. For others, three-stars is a negative rating. Do you see what I mean? Ratings aren’t universal, so looking at the rating alone (unless you’re familiar with the reviewer’s consistency) doesn’t mean much. So having a page for your rating scale (or having it in your sidebar, or linking it in your review) can be really helpful.

4. Being consistent in your writing style is incredibly important, so again, figure out what works for you.

I mentioned in Point 2 that I write my reviews like I would write an essay; I let cause-and-effect be the thing that drives the flow in my reviews. I pinpoint an idea in the book, something I liked or disliked, and move towards how I felt about this in the context of the book. I like applying the themes of a piece to the real-world, and I like to discuss characters more than I like to discuss plot. I don’t like to limit myself with what I¬†have¬†to discuss in each review; I mostly let my writing guide me.

I’ve tried so many approaches when it comes to writing style in reviews. Casual, conversational, academic – and I’ve come to settle on a mix between conversational and academic, because that’s how I write my essays in school. That might sound weird to you – Aimal, why do you want to write your blog how you would write a school essay, that’s so weird?! Well, yeah, I admit it’s weird, but I’ve been writing academically my entire life, and I enjoy it. I love¬†formal writing, and it’s something I feel I’m good at. Because I take reviewing so seriously, because I’m often discussing important themes in the books I review, I automatically default to a more formal style of writing. I’ve settled on this because this is how I write, and trying to¬†change¬†how I write just because it’s a bit weird to write academically on my blog didn’t work for me. It’s not going to work for you either.

nope

So think about it – how do you write? What are you most comfortable with writing? Settle on that. It pays off, I promise you. I guarantee you; the Internet is vast and wide and full of people. There is an audience here for everything. If you’re worried that your writing style or your particular formatting is too weird, and you’re not going to get engagement, you’re wrong. You’ll find a niche for yourself, and this niche will drive your engagement. You don’t need to lure in everyone¬†with your content. You just need to lure in the people who will like what you say, and how you say it. That’s when blogging becomes fun.

Here are a couple of my reviews that follow the guideline I’ve comfortably settled on now: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Want by Cindy Pon, Release by Patrick Ness, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

5. Make your reviews stand out.

The book community is full of reviewers – that’s what we do as book bloggers. Everything else is a bonus, but what 99% of us do is review and highlight the things we’ve been reading. Perhaps one of the reason that reviews get such little engagement is because there are so many of them everywhere. Which means that for your hard work to pay off, your reviews need to stand out. Add some flair to your reviews.

giphy

But that’s easier said than done. I’ve started adding aesthetics to my reviews. They take time to come up with – it’s hard to find the pictures that match the book you’re reviewing, then compiling them in a visually appealing Photoshop graphic is both time-consuming and difficult to do. But it’s worth it, because it’s something that not many people do. If someone wants a visually appealing impact of a certain book, they can click on my review, and find something that gives off a vibe. They can decide then if they’re interested enough to read my essay of a review. ūüėČ

Aentee @ Read at Midnight does an incredible job of making her reviews stand out. She makes beautiful graphics to go along with her reviews, and even if I’m not personally interested in the book, I often just click on her reviews to see the pretty graphic, ha. Here’s a quick example of one of her reviews.

So find something that’s interesting and different, something that gives you an edge. Do you do handlettering? Insert pictures of quotes you’ve hand-lettered. How about photography? Bookish playlists? Book trailers? The possibilities are endless, so come up with something and give your reviews an extra edge that’ll make them stand out.

ūüĆł

Again, by no means am I an expert at reviewing. There are¬†so many¬†people out there who get more engagement on their reviews than I do, but I decided to make this because after four years of blogging, I’m finally comfortable with where I am now with reviewing. So I thought I’d share the tips I’ve accumulated over the years for new bloggers, or anyone else who might be looking for some help with their reviews.

Again, if you enjoyed this post, and if you found it helpful, I’d love it if you considered buying me a coffee at KoFi.com. ūüíĖ

Question: In the comments, let me know what review-format you tend to follow, and how you decided upon it? Did it take you many trial runs to pick one and settle on it?

Flamecaster: a solid series starter, but far from Chima's best

flamecaster review


flamecasterCinda Williams Chima’s¬†Flamecaster¬†is a sequel of sorts to her entire¬†Seven Realms¬†series, although it is not essential that you read the first series before starting this one. It takes place twenty or so years after the events of¬†the Crimson Crown,¬†and while it does not follow the same characters or take away anything from the enjoyment of the first series, it does occur in¬†a chronological, sequential order. Flamecaster¬†follows the story of¬†Han Allister’s (who was the protagonist in¬†the Seven Realms series) son Adrian, who because of certain tragic and unfortunate circumstances, flees from his home and¬†pursues his passion of healing and revenge at Oden’s Ford. He is the son of the Fellsmarch queen Raisa, who is engaged in a war with the king of Arden- a person who is intent on eradicating the line of the Gray Wolf Throne. Adrian s’ul Han must keep his identity secret as¬†he pursues his studies, while also ensuring that the Arden monarch doesn’t hurt any more members of his family.

Forgive me for comparing Chima’s two series, but since they are in chronological order, it makes sense that I make comparisons.¬†The Seven Realms¬†series was a triumph: it put Chima near the top of my auto-buy authors list just because it was so magnificent. In content and technique alone, it is arguably one of the greatest young-adult fantasy series at the moment. And perhaps one of the reasons why¬†The Seven Realms¬†just soared above and beyond its peers¬†was due to the tremendous characterization Chima¬†employed. Unfortunately,¬†Flamecaster¬†lacks the level of depth that I’ve come to expect of Chima’s characters.

I have always insisted that Han Allister is one of the greatest heroes I have ever read: a former thief lord and murderer, who grew up on the streets in a poverty-stricken area, who is dangerous and lethal but ultimately decent at heart. To make him the hero of the series was a ballsy move, and I admired Chima for it. She does the same in this one: she takes a character who is unlikely to be a hero and makes him the protagonist. Adrian is a healer; he knows very little of fighting or politics or the nitty-gritty of this world torn by strife and war. In the first few pages, I was excited to see who Adrian would navigate through this cut-throat world as a healer, but I found myself sorely missing Han’s level of intellect and danger. Because while Adrian being the protagonist is unexpected, I didn’t feel that he deserved that title. Han was a bad-ass, in every sense of the word. You knew he could do something fantastic with something very little, and it was always believable because of¬†who he was.¬†Yet, Adrian didn’t draw me in.

In fact, none of the characters drew me in the way they did in Chima’s previous series. I found myself wishing that the secondary characters were the protagonists instead because they were more interesting. Destin Karn, especially, was a multi-layered character who has something¬†more¬†to him that I’m sure Chima will reveal in the next book. I looked forward to¬†his¬†chapters more than the protagonists’, and that doesn’t sound too promising. Moreover, the romance between the protagonists felt so rushed: they meet, and within a few pages, they’re in love. I don’t think romance is Chima’s strongest feat- it didn’t do much for me in her previous series either, but coupled with the fact that I didn’t care for the protagonists, I found myself skimming much of the ‘romantic’ scenes.

DSC_1300

But despite all this,¬†Flamecaster¬†is a solid start to the series from a storytelling viewpoint. The world is richer than ever with vivid descriptions and the portrayal of the intricacies of war and politics. We encounter a new area that we hadn’t previously explored in¬†the Seven Realms,¬†and new magic has come into play. The stakes seem to be higher in this series as well, which tells me that there’s going to be a lot more action in this series. But I won’t lie when I say wow, I miss Han Allister too freaking much to be fully invested.


flamecaster rating

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

A Gathering of Shadows: a glorious sequel in a glorious series

agos


Warning: may contain spoilers from A Darker Shade of Magic

A Gathering of Shadows FinalA Gathering of Shadows picks up a few months after the events of its predecessor, and Schwab wastes no time in launching her audience right into the action. Delilah Bard, our feisty and morally ambiguous female protagonist, is living and loving her life as a cross-dressing semi-pirate. Kell and Rhy are together, and closer than ever, in more ways than one. Their lives are very literally tied to each other, resulting in a tension in their relationship and a closer connection simultaneously. Kell also finds his relationship with his royal family slowly deteriorating; the king and queen seem to not trust him as much as they used to. He finds himself surrounded by guards who constantly monitor and report his every move. Kell feels suffocated, but what can he do? When the Element Games roll into town, bringing old friends and foes huddling back to Red London, Kell and Rhy see an opportunity to restore some of who they once used to be.

‚ÄúI know where you sleep, Bard.”

She smirked. “Then you know I sleep with knives.‚ÄĚ

The sequel to V. E. Schwab’s¬†A Darker Shade of Magic¬†was bound to impress, but I’m surprised by just how much. While the book is not advancing the ongoing plot of the series, it does wonders for characterization. All our characters have been altered drastically since the wonders and horrors of the events of¬†ADSoM,¬†yet Schwab is careful with their development. We see new flaws arise, new strengths bloom. We see their personalities shift, but they never feel like different people. I cannot pinpoint their characterizations from Point X to Point Y- it occurs on a spectrum that blends and shifts with each occurring event, resulting in a strong cast of people who feel three-dimensional, relatable and entirely realistic. Schwab’s ability to intertwine the stories of these characters, and develop meaningful yet complex relationships with each other is something I can only hope to do in my own writing. Her platonic relationships hold just as much weight as her romantic ones, if not even more. Kell’s relationship with Rhy is almost tangible- I felt like I could reach out and touch the very thread that bound them. More than that perhaps, Kell’s inner turmoils when it came to family actually¬†made me cry,¬†as if I was the one suffering. That’s one hell of an accomplishment, Victoria!

¬†‚ÄúWhat brings you to my room?‚ÄĚ he asked, relief bleeding into annoyance.

‚ÄúAdventure. Intrigue. Brotherly concern. Or,‚ÄĚ continued the prince lazily, ‚Äúperhaps I‚Äôm just giving your mirror something to look at besides your constant pout.‚ÄĚ

Kell frowned, and Rhy smiled. ‚ÄúAh, there it is! That famous scowl.‚ÄĚ

On a similar note, I’ll refrain from saying too much about this as to avoid spoilers, but Schwab integrates diversity so perfectly into this novel. We have an LGBTQ+ character, but it’s never made a big deal of. This aspect of the character is¬†just there, because it’s completely normal; no show of ‘coming out.’ No, it exists. It’s human, and that’s that.

‚ÄúPolitics is a dance until the moment it becomes a war. And we control the music.‚ÄĚ

Moreover, The Element Games were a fascinating way of incorporating world-building, politics and the magic system without simply shoving it in our faces. Schwab made these parts work together in a seamless manner while keeping the reader entertained. The Element Games do very little when it comes to plot advancement, but work well in the way that they add a little more cohesiveness to the world this series operates in.

¬†‚ÄúFix your crown, my prince,” he called back as he reached the door. “It’s crooked.‚ÄĚ

All in all, I had little to no complaints about this novel. Perhaps the only thing that stopped me from giving it a full, perfect five-star rating was how little series-plot there was in it, but the book was so fucking glorious without it that I couldn’t help but give it a near-perfect rating. If you didn’t much care for¬†A Darker Shade of Magic,¬†I urge you to continue on with the series. Because I feel a boom coming in the finale, and I’m not ready to stop reading about these wonderful characters just yet.


agos rating

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

 

With Malice: a gripping read that will keep you up late into the night

with malice


I was approved for an e-ARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. A huge thank you to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Publishing for allowing me the opportunity to read this book in advance.

with maliceTwo girls, a summer in Italy, and a car accident that left Jill Charron’s best friend Simone dead. The problem is that Jill can’t remember anything about this accident, or even the few weeks leading up to the tragedy. Jill wakes up in a hospital, injured and with no memory of the past six weeks. Her mother won’t let her text her friends or watch the television, and when a lawyer hired by her affluent father comes into the picture, Jill realizes that the world may believe that the accident wasn’t just an accident. What if something more sinister was at play? Jill must trudge through the muddiness in her own head and try to figure out what happened between the two friends; she must try to remember the truth, all while she is bombarded with doubts about herself, her life and what happened this summer.

With Malice¬†is an extraordinarily captivating read. From the first few pages, Cook draws her reader in with easy-to-follow writing, a good pace, and a character that is both likable and¬†unreliable at the same time. She alternates between narration and snippets of articles, blog post comments, and police files to paint a picture of a crime scene that even our protagonist doesn’t know fully. She leaves the audience feeling a sense of importance, and our human inclination to piece together the several parts of a puzzle kicks in, and we try to figure out what happened, all while receiving¬†new details, new information. Eileen Cook gives us the right amount of information in the right order in the right time- the reader is never left feeling disoriented or overburdened by the clues. It’s¬†just¬†right.

With Malice¬†utilizes the amnesia-trope perfectly. Jill, our protagonist, is absolutely certain of the relationship she had with her best friend, but the information we receive seems to be contradicting everything she says they had together. And since Jill can’t remember, what is the truth? This leaves the reader trying to solve two mysteries with regards to both the accident, and Jill and Simone’s relationship. The result is an amalgamation of genres: there is obviously mystery, but also drama, thrill and completely realistic contemporary.

In this day and age, where almost every YA novel is driven by romance and ships, I was surprised that there was¬†no romance¬†in this one, but it was still completely gripping. In hardcover, it is a decent 320 pages, yet I found myself at the end of the book just five¬†hours after¬†having¬†started reading it. If that is not a testament to its thrill, I don’t know what is.

But despite all this, With Malice is not a perfect read, and the flaw lay in the characters. While Jill and Simone, and all the secondary characters, were reasonable in regards to dimension, I still felt like they lacked something. I was not fully invested in them. I did not want to watch their story unfold from an objective viewpoint; I wanted to engage, I wanted to be involved in the crime and the drama. And while I was hooked, I did not feel that Cook gave me the opportunity to form my own idea about what happened, about why it happened, about who the characters were. I like a sense of ambiguity about my mysteries- the shades of grey are what makes a thrill all the more thrilling.

But nonetheless,¬†With Malice¬†was a fantastic, fantastic read. It’s the perfect book for people (like me) who enjoy reading thrillers, mysteries and suspenseful reads in the summer. It is perfect for people who enjoyed¬†Gone Girl, The Walls Around Us¬†and¬†We Were Liars.¬†And it’s a book I would recommend to anyone who wants something different from the YA genre.

With Malice is released on June 7th, 2016

with malice rating

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

 

The Curse of the Bruel Coven: full of potential, but left me disoriented

bruel coven review


I was provided an e-copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Netgalley and Exit 80 Publishing for making this title available to me.

bruel covenThe Curse of the Bruel Coven by Sabrina Ramoth follows the story of a young high school girl who, after the passing of her mother, learns that she is adopted. With the help of her best friend Savannah, Vivienne is determined to find who her birth mother is and why this adoption was kept secret from her, only to learn that her birth mother is part of a coven. Meaning Vivienne is a witch, and a bloody powerful one at that. With this knowledge and a surprise kidnapping, Vivienne must come to terms with who she is all while learning to use her powers so she can save someone from the clutches of evil.

If this book were a person, I would grab her by the shoulders and yell, “Slow down! What’s the rush?” in her face. This book is incredibly fast-paced- too fast-paced, I might add. Within the first ten pages, we know Vivienne is adopted and she is also well on her way to meet her birth mother. Note that we do not know anything about Vivienne, or her relationship with her adoptive family, so the revelation that she is adopted does very little with regards to drawing¬†empathy from the reader. From there, things take off at an alarming pace. Every second or third page gave me a new scene, a new dilemma to work with. The effect was disarming; I was left disoriented, and much of the book’s events passed by in a blur without me finding time to settle down and take it in.

Because despite the storyline having an immense amount of potential, Ramoth needed desperately to give her novel some padding. As of right now, I felt that I was reading a bare-bones skeleton of a much larger piece. It read a lot like, “and this happened, then this happened, now this is happening.” Ramoth needed to slow down and give me the little details that were more than just plot. This book, while entertaining when it comes to plot, was missing the depiction of the other elements: characterization was virtually non-existent, themes of family, loss and love were obviously there but not explored at all. I still do not know who my protagonist was: I knew the facts, but who was she? No clue.

This book is perfect for people who enjoy very fast-paced, plot-driven stories. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. Characterization is the first and foremost thing I look for in a story; if the characters are underdeveloped, chances are I will be skimming most of the book.


bruel coven rating


Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

Book Review | The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

the rest of us just live hereTitle: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Author: Patrick Ness

Genre: Young Adult | Fiction > Fantasy

Goodreads Synopsis: What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

Final Rating:
3 navy

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

aimal's review navyIn the young adult scene, Patrick Ness is a god. His creativity is legend. His ability to get into an adolescent’s mind and understand them fully with empathy and compassion is something I strive for, not only as a writer, but as a human being. His stories make me laugh, make me cry and everything in between. And here’s the thing: The Rest of Us Just Live Here¬†is – by no means – a bad book, even though it got a relatively low rating. It’s just that Ness has set such high standards for himself that anything short of perfect is disappointing.

Wildly imaginative, profoundly empathetic and laugh-out-loud funny. But you know what? Ness can do so, so much better.

plot navyThe premise of this book is ridiculous, but also genius. In a world full of books¬†of Chosen Ones, prophecies and extraordinariness comes this novel about the seemingly much less interesting people in the background of the heroes. Their lives don’t involve tracking down paranormal creatures and stopping them, but their lives revolve around the normalcy of graduation and friendship feuds and college and their parents’ careers. They don’t face death and destruction nearly as often as the ‘indie kids,’ but they face other horrors: mental illness, alcoholism and feelings of inadequacy. This book is essentially a rewrite of every single Chosen-One novel out there where the kids in the background are brought to the forefront.

I mean, what could go wrong? And the thing is, in its concept, nothing does go wrong. This novel is important, because it tells us several things at once: you don’t need to save the world to be extraordinary. You don’t need to have three boys chasing you, or a prophecy written after you or anything out of this world to live a worthy life because your family, and your friends and you yourself are what makes life worthy. In a world where adolescents are taught that they need to do something for their lives to matter, this novel is so important. Conceptually, this novel is perfect.

Where it gets a little worn is the world-building and the pacing. It’s very difficult¬†to put this in a genre: it has many elements of contemporary, but also fantasy and I didn’t feel that the blurred distinctions helped. Because I did care about the fantastical happenings and I would have liked to see them integrated a little more seamlessly into the main storyline. Also, for the most part, this book seemed like a snapshot of our main character, Mikey’s life. Not a lot happens, plot-wise unless you consider the fantasy-stuff, which wasn’t explained as well as I would have liked.

CHARACTERS navyNess is wonderful when it comes to characterization, and while I definitely enjoyed most of the characters in this book, some of them bored me. But I must commend Ness with the diversity he introduced to his ensemble of characters, who deal with very real things like OCD, eating disorders and LGBTQ+ issues.

I thought Mikey was a great protagonist: a slightly awkward kid with OCD, who’s trying to get by without feeling like a total waste of space. Someone who needs to rely on other people but is too afraid to burden them. I thought putting such a vulnerable protagonist in a satire for the Chosen-One trope was effective in its irony. Mikey was extremely lovable, and there were several times when I just wanted to hug him. I also enjoyed his relationship with his sisters. Often, familial ties are glossed over in YA books, which makes very little sense since family¬†is an integral part of adolescent life, in a good or bad way. I would’ve liked to see more interaction with Mikey’s dad, but I’m not too bugged about that.

Jared is Mikey’s best friend, who is sort of a demi-god… of cats: “3/4 Jewish, 1/4 god.” He also happens to be gay, and nobody knows this except Mikey. I loved Jared’s character; he was such a brilliant addition to the story. He was funny, extremely compassionate and a lovely friend to Mikey.

But for some strange reason, I couldn’t bring myself to like or care about Henna. I thought she was insensitive and kind of weird, which is strange because I usually really like Ness’s female characters, who always feel very real and human. And because I didn’t like her, the romance fell flat which was a significant part of the book.

writing style navy

I love how Ness writes. His writing is technically next to perfect, in my eyes. The emotional depth is there but without seeming angsty or over-dramatic. It’s addictive in its simplicity, but it also doesn’t seem overly-simplistic. His dialogue feels realistic. It’s also very humorous, which is a plus especially when you’re dealing with such deep topics. Like I said, in the YA genre, Ness is a god. And despite not loving this book, that hasn’t changed in my mind.

“Michael, do you think cancer is a moral failing?”
“What kind of cancer?”
“Don’t play. You know what I mean. Do you think a woman who gets ovarian cancer is morally responsible for it?”
“No.”
“Do you think a child born with spina bifida or cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy is at fault for their condition?”
“No, but -“
“Then, why in heaven’s name are you responsible for your anxiety?”

Book Review | Obsidian (Lux #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

12578077Title: Obsidian (Lux #1)

Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout

Genre: Young Adult | Sci-Fi

Synopsis: Starting over sucks. When we moved to West Virginia right before my senior year, I’d pretty much resigned myself to thick accents, dodgy internet access, and a whole lot of boring… until I spotted my hot neighbor, with his looming height and eerie green eyes. Things were looking up. And then he opened his mouth.

Daemon is infuriating. Arrogant. Stab-worthy. We do not get along. At all. But when a stranger attacks me and Daemon literally freezes time with a wave of his hand, well, something… unexpected happens. The hot alien living next door marks me. You heard me. Alien. Turns out Daemon and his sister have a galaxy of enemies wanting to steal their abilities, and Daemon’s touch has me lit up like the Vegas Strip. The only way I’m getting out of this alive is by sticking close to Daemon until my alien mojo fades. If I don’t kill him first, that is.

Final Rating: 3green

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

aimal's review army greenThe gist of this review will go kind of like this: one star for quality, five stars for pure, mindless enjoyment. I had a lot of problems with this book- including that it was basically a Twilight rip-off – but boredom was not one of them. I flew through this in a day or so while being busy with college, which is an incredible thing for me to do. My point here is this: if you want to read something fun, I’d suggest ¬†you read this. If you’re looking for a good quality book, walk away now.

plot armyThe plot of this book is basically a Twilight rehash with aliens instead of vampires. An insipid, dull main character? Check. Who moves from a hot place because of a parent? Check. Falls for a guy for no reason but his good looks? Check. A town with terrible weather? Ha. This book is… I mean, to be honest, I don’t know how it was published because it is legitimately Twilight fan fiction. Prom dress fittings, annoying jocks, strangely close siblings, attacks where our main hero saves the girl and she’s like *le gasp* “how you so fast¬†yo?” Yeah, you get the point.

But despite all this, I’ll admit that the book went by incredibly fast. It’s full of kind-of-humorous banter between our characters. Full of action, angst and hormones. It is the perfect past-time when you have classes and you don’t want to think at all. Because there is also virtually no world-building. Whenever Armentrout should explain something, her characters just say, “d’oh science-y stuff, I don’t know why it happens but science” and move on to more hormonal things.

As I’m writing this review, I’m wondering if this book even deserves the three stars I gave it. BUT IT WAS JUST SO FREAKING ENTERTAINING, I CANNOT EVEN.

characters armyI mentioned above that the protagonist is insipid. She is, but I didn’t mind her nearly as much as I mind Bella Swan. She’s a book blogger who does other things besides¬†books¬†(re: Bookishly Ever After). I liked how she actually pays attention to her mother and her female friends, but that’s about where it ends. Because other than that, she was so… boring. She has no backbone whatsoever, when it comes to Daemon. She also has very little emotional depth.

Daemon Black: our resident, cocky bad-boy who isn’t nearly as creepy as his father, Edward Cullen. But even then, I don’t really like him. And I don’t understand why Katy is falling in love with him (apart from the looks, of course) because he’s just so… self-absorbed and arrogant and rude. And controlling.

The romance was… flat, but also kind of hot. And entertaining. This review is full of contradictions. Leave me alone.

writing style army

Armentrout is another Cassandra Clare. Their writing is nothing special, whatsoever, but you get sucked into its welcome simplicity. It’s addictive and reads like a movie. I’m sure I’ll fly through the next book just as fast as I flew through this (yes, I WILL be giving the next book a read!) But other than the addictiveness, there was nothing of substance to her writing. Also, it’s depressing that someone can just plagiarize another series and still get published.

Book Review | Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

23395680Title: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)

Author: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre: Young Adult | Sci-Fi

Goodreads Synopsis: One moment, Kady Grant and Ezra Mason have nothing bigger to worry about than each other. Specifically, avoiding each other in the wake of their messy break-up. In the next second, their entire world falls apart.

The year is 2375 and one of the mega-corporations that control much of deep space has just fired the opening salvo in an intergalactic war, destroying Kady and Ezra’s planet. Forced to flee on a small fleet of crippled rescue ships alongside thousands of other refugees, the fear of enemy warships chasing them down is at first all-consuming but soon becomes the least of their worries. A deadly plague is ravaging the refugees on the ships; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be an enemy; and High Command is refusing to acknowledge that there may be a serious problem. As Kady plunges into a tangled web of data in search of the truth, she realises that Ezra is possibly the only person who can help her save the refugees before it’s too late.

Final Rating:

3.5 orange

Check out this book’s Goodreads page!

aimal's review orangeIf you haven’t already heard of this book, you’ve probably been living under a rock. This book is everywhere – almost every blogger I follow had this in their ‘Top Books of 2015’ lists. I have heard nothing but brilliant things, and when I found the beautiful hardcover for $9 at the Strand Bookstore, I couldn’t pass it up. I’m glad I picked this up though, because gosh, was this an experience I won’t ever forget. Told in case files, interviews, strange text shapes, video surveillances and chats, this book was definitely entertaining, fun and exciting. But while I flew through this 600-page tome, there were some vital things that were compromised due to the unique format.

plot orangeThis book is about so many things at the same time, and because that’s the nature of it, it is never slow. It is never boring or dull. There are no lulls in this novel – it is constantly fast-paced, action-packed and absolutely crazy. I didn’t get the time to breathe during the action, and while most people will think that this is a very positive point, I see it as both positive and negative. I enjoy well-balanced books, where the action is balanced off with the right amount of character development. Here, the action was balanced with chats that work to develop the romance between our two protagonists, and even those were plot-centered. There was a ton of planning, strategizing, futuristic jargon that got a little bit much for me. But despite this, I found the book extremely enjoyable.

Another negative that immediately struck out for me was the back-story behind Phobos, the illness that is plaguing our characters’ crew members and such. There was virtually no back story. I don’t have a strong grasp of the sickness, which I feel is going to be the Big Bad throughout the next books (next book?) I would have liked for it to be a bit more developed.

However, I was a big fan of our main antagonist in this book: AIDAN, our self-righteous, insane artificial intelligence unit. Personally, I thought putting AIDAN as the antagonist was a bold, yet interesting move. Almost like a commentary on the perils of putting our lives in the hands of technology that functions on formulae and algorithms. We also get several sections from the viewpoint of AIDAN, which were lyrically written and very well done, albeit a bit overdramatic.

Also, kudos to the authors for taking tough decisions and killing off people. God knows I’m sick of novels that take place during war where everybody leaves happy as a unicorn.

CHARACTERS orangeAs I expected, the characterization was compromised for the format of the book. The characters had very strong voices, since we saw very little action from them; we mainly just saw dialogue. Ezra’s voice was especially well-established- his colloquial terms, how he phrases his sentences, everything was planned and thought-out. This obviously lent itself to his characterization, but I still don’t feel like I know him. Or Kady for that matter. Her voice was significantly less distinct than Ezra’s, and apart from knowing that she’s smart and feisty, she’s nothing. I want to know more about these characters. I want development and back story and personality.

I liked how other characters played a significant role in the advancement of the plot. It was realistic, but again, I don’t have a feel for any of these characters. Perhaps the only character I think I have a grasp on is AIDAN, which is funny because he’s not… you know… a person…

writing style orange

This section is a little bit tricky to write in, because we have two authors and I don’t know who¬†wrote what section. I think each author took control of one of our protagonists, which is why they both had such different voices, but apart from that, I don’t know. I will say that they both worked wonderfully together. The whole novel felt cohesive. Despite having (obviously) different writing styles, the book never felt disjointed. I can’t say much about anything else though- just that I had a great time reading this. And I can’t wait for the next installment.¬†

Book Review | The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski

a book review

Title: The Shadow Society10356760

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Goodreads Synopsis:¬†Darcy Jones doesn’t remember anything before the day she was abandoned as a child outside a Chicago firehouse. She has never really belonged anywhere‚ÄĒbut she couldn’t have guessed that she comes from an alternate world where the Great Chicago Fire didn’t happen and deadly creatures called Shades terrorize the human population.¬†Memories begin to haunt Darcy when a new boy arrives at her high school, and he makes her feel both desire and desired in a way she hadn’t thought possible. But Conn’s interest in her is confusing. It doesn’t line up with the way he first looked at her.

As if she were his enemy.¬†When Conn betrays Darcy, she realizes that she can’t rely on anything‚ÄĒnot herself, not the laws of nature, and certainly not him. Darcy decides to infiltrate the Shadow Society and uncover the Shades’ latest terrorist plot. What she finds out will change her world forever . . .

Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy > Paranormal

Final Rating: 

2 blue

Check out this book’s Goodreads page!

aimal's review sky blueTrust me when I say that it hurts me to give this book such a low rating. Marie Rutkoski has become one of my favorite authors, and there are very few stories and characters I love as much as I love those in her¬†Winner’s¬†trilogy. I went into this with high expectations because I love Rutkoski’s work so much, but I left feeling considerably disappointed. Of course, my experience with this particular novel doesn’t hurt Rutkoski’s image in my mind, in any way, because this did come out before the books I love so much. Authors are bound to improve and grow, so I still admire¬†her as much as I did before going into this, if not even more. Because if she could jump from this to the¬†Winner’s¬†trilogy, I’m sure she’ll do even better after the trilogy is over.

plot sky blue

The plot was reasonable. We follow a young girl who doesn’t know much about her background, except that her parents left her when she was a child. Queue mystery, parallel worlds, a brooding love interest and lots of action. What I love about this book is that it’s a stand-alone in a world full of unnecessarily elongated storylines. Rutkoski manages to do well in¬†telling the entire story in the allotted space. It was fast-paced, somewhat unpredictable, and the pacing was done extremely well. I liked Rutkoski’s dual focus on the present and Darcy trying to find out more about her family- it felt natural, but not overbearing.

But what this book lacked was a solid setting. Parallel worlds are complicated- you can’t expect the reader to know how these worlds work together. And while Rutkoski does offer the basic explanations about the world, much of it is left to the reader’s understanding. It left me confused.

I didn’t love the romance. It had great potential, yes, but in the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t too invested in it. I think that had a lot more to do with characterization than anything else. But I will say one thing: Rutkoski sure knows how to complicate things for her characters. Nothing is just handed to them, which makes reading her stories such a twisty-turny experience.

characters sky blue

I was surprised when I realized how much I didn’t care for the characters, because I love the¬†Winner’s trilogy¬†for its great characterization. I didn’t dislike Darcy or anything, but I wasn’t rooting for her. I liked that she cared about multiple things, rather than just boys and angst (as is usual in YA paranormal novels), but she felt dull. She didn’t have any personality. As for Conn, he was also so boring. I’m a sucker for the dark, brooding, mysterious boy in novels, and even though Conn checked off all those traits, there was nothing more to him. He was so… boring, for lack of a better word. Put two dull characters together, and their romance has no flair, despite being complicated as hell.¬†

The secondary characters were totally flat. First off, they were virtually non-existent, and when they were there on the page, they were nothing more than plot points. I wasn’t attached to them. I didn’t feel like they were real people. They were just there… background noise to dull characters. Recipe for disaster, no?

writing style sky blue

Rutkoski writes well, and that is no secret. She writes naturally, her words flow into each other like lyrics. She doesn’t burden you with exquisitely flowery language- it’s simple, it’s easy but it’s meaningful. While I definitely see the improvement and growth that took place between this book and her later works, this was still a solid attempt at the writing feat. But all in all, this book didn’t do much for me, and trust me when I say that I am more disappointed in the outcome than anyone else is.

Book Review | The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

18044277Title: The Walls Around Us

Author: Nova Ren Suma

Synopsis as found on Goodreads:¬†On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.¬†On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.¬†Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries‚Ķ

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve‚ÄĒin this life or in another one?

Final Rating: 

3.5 red

Check out this book’s Goodreads page!

aimal's review red

You go into this book¬†expecting a deep dark contemporary, and while reading the first chapter, you realize that yes, it’s deep. And it’s dark. And you think it’s a contemporary, but you’re certain there’s something more to it. I went into this without reading the synopsis. I’m guilty for picking this up mainly because the cover is stunning, so imagine my surprise when I find that it’s a book set mostly in a juvenile correctional facility. And that was a good surprise, because it ended up being a mix of¬†We Were Liars, Black Swan¬†and¬†Orange is the New Black,¬†and I love all¬†those things dearly.

plot red

Suma has achieved the unthinkable: a psychological mystery that is slow-burning but fast-paced at the same time. How did she manage to do that?! When you set a novel in a relatively unique setting, it’s bound to have similarities with other famous things set in similar settings, but I appreciate that Suma took this risk. While there were obviously many similarities with¬†Orange is the New Black,¬†Suma made the story her own.

Now here’s the thing: this is not an easy book to read. I’m not saying that in an “it’s emotionally scarring” way, but instead in a “whoa, I need to slow the fuck down because what is going on?” way. Sometimes, confusing books don’t work, but again, Suma makes it work. The confusion is delightful. You try to put together pieces of an incredibly obscure puzzle. You spend so much time trying to dissect the dialogue and the story that you can’t help but be fully invested. Not only does this have multiple perspectives, it also jumps back and forth in time a lot, and it almost never specifies that it’s doing that. Suma trusts her readers’ intelligence, and when the reader finally gets it, it’s a wonderful experience.

This novel¬†is creepy. It’s about young girls who have committed some horrible crimes, and others who might not have but are suffering anyways. It’s a novel about the potential brutality of a teenage girl. About jealousy, cruelty, betrayal and revenge. It’s a loaded piece, and Suma makes it all work.

The only negative I have to say about the plot has to do with the ending. I thought the ending was too rushed- something major happens, and it wasn’t fleshed out properly for it to be believable. Had it been a different ending, this book would’ve received a higher rating.

CHARACTERS red

While reading this, I didn’t have too many problems with characterization. But now that it’s been a couple of weeks since I turned the last page, I realize that the characters haven’t stuck with me. I don’t feel like I know them as well as I should. I was invested in their storylines while I was living in them, but I don’t care much about them to want to read more. The only character that was interesting to me was Amber, because I never knew exactly what to think of her. But even though she was interesting, she still didn’t feel like a person. She felt more like a cardboard plot point.

writing style red

I was struck speechless while reading Suma’s writing. I usually cannot stand flowery, purple prose, but Suma makes it work, yet again. Her writing is lyrical and poetic, but it’s not overbearing. She doesn’t slap you with unnecessarily complicated metaphors, or the quirks in her words- she writes that way because it comes naturally to her, and that’s so obvious while reading her work. Often, writers with such flowery language seem to be trying too hard, but not Suma. I’d love to see what else she has in store!

Latest from Instagram

Copyright © 2017 · Theme by 17th Avenue