Book Review: Catfishing on Catnet by Naomi Kritzer

Catfishing on Catnet

Catfishing on Catnet

Title: Catfishing on Catnet
Author: Naomi Kritzer
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Date of Publication: November 19, 2019
Publisher: Tor Teen


Synopsis

This book is marketed as a dark thriller. I mean, look at that cover (Which, by the way, is not the cover it had when I requested it through NetGalley. That cover had cute cyber-kitties on it). Doesn’t this cover make the book look dark and spooky? Even the description and the initial reviews made it sound like a dark thriller about an AI that goes off its rocker.

On the contrary, this is a light book about a girl who’s always been on the run with her mother. They always have to move to different towns, so Stephanie doesn’t have any friends–in the real world. She has friends in CatNet, a chat room where pictures of cats and other adorable animals are like currency.  It’s quickly revealed that one of these friends is an artificial intelligence, and this AI wants to come out of the closet.  Meanwhile, Stephanie will do whatever it takes to keep from having to move to another town, because there’s a girl in her class who she isn’t ready to leave.

Plot

This book has a lot of great ideas, but I was disappointed in the execution. I’ll start with one of my favourite parts. In school, the students are expected to learn sex education from a robot, because adults find that topic uncomfortable. This part had me laughing (and a little angry, because it’s so darn accurate), and every time students would ask an unsanctioned question (about LGBTQ+ issues, for instance) the robot would tell them to ask their parents.  This was a hilarious and interesting projection of the current political climate, and I do wish this book had had more of these types of funny (yet upsetting) insights.

I absolutely loved the metaphor of the AI coming out as an artificial intelligence. However, for a book that is very Social Justice Warrior-y, the characters were often insensitive, and a lot of the metaphors really didn’t work. Stephanie should not have been running around telling everyone that [spoiler] was an AI, because that ruins the metaphor.  It was the AI’s choice to tell people, not Stephanie’s.  *Sigh*

I enjoyed the main story arc of the novel, but again, it wasn’t particularly suspenseful or dark. I would have liked for there to have been a few twists or turns in the storyline, to keep me asking questions.  Maybe I’ve been reading too many psychological thrillers, but I usually expect a twist or two in my books. At least one. (And that twist can’t be the one in the first chapter that reveals that one of the main characters is an AI).

Characters

I didn’t particularly like Stephanie, the main character. I felt for her plight, particularly the fact that her mother had lied to her her entire life, and her inability to make real-life friends–because she knew that these relationships could only be temporary. However, there were a few times when I really couldn’t stand Stephanie. In particular–when her mother is in the hospital, and Stephanie doesn’t know what’s wrong with her or if she’s even dying–and she doesn’t check on her for a very long time. Her mother has been essentially her only real-life friend her entire life, yet she doesn’t come across as particularly worried. She’s more concerned about her budding romance–which may be authentic for a teenage character, but this doesn’t make for a sympathetic character.

The saving grace for this book Stephanie’s relationship with Rachel. It was gradual, not insta-love, and they had cute interactions. However, I don’t understand why characters in non-fantasy YA books need to be so quirky these days. Why can’t the main character’s love interest be a normal girl who doesn’t draw on people and who has a normal number of birds waiting for her when she gets home (And for those asking, I’d say a normal number of birds would be 1-4).  

Catfishing on Catnet

I recommend this book to those who are looking for a YA quasi-thriller about artificial intelligence and contemporary social justice warrior issues. Just don’t think about the metaphors too much, and you might enjoy this book.

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*Thank you to Tor Teen and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy for review*

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Book Review: Her Crown of Fire by Renee April

Her Crown of Fire

Her Crown of Fire

Title: Her Crown of Fire 
Author: Renee April
Series: Molten Fire # 1

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Date of Publication: November 1, 2019
Publisher: Write Plan


Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Rose Evermore is just a normal teenager who has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up. That is, until she suddenly discovers her magical affinity for fire and develops dreams that predict the future.  Before she knows it, she winds up in a fantasy realm called Lotheria—with her best friend, Tyson, who has no magic. She is taken to the mysterious Academy to learn to use her magic, while Tyson must hide from the authorities—at the risk of death.  Rose needs to find a way to get them back home, before Tyson becomes the next target of the headmasters’ frightening wrath.

My Thoughts

This book is a real page-turner! I had a hard time putting this book down at bedtime.  From the first page I could tell that this was going to be different from other books like this. I kept expecting it to fall into common tropes.  While it’s still a book about a girl who discovers her magical powers and is torn away from her life and forced to live in a magical world where she must attend a school for magic, the individual plot points are quite unique from other similar books.

The atmosphere of this story is quite dark, darker than expected, and the Headmasters of the school are far from warm and cuddly. Punishments are severe, and they come with even the teeniest, tiniest of infractions.

At the risk of spoilers, I want to be super vague when I talk about the romance in this story. Rose does not fall for who I was expecting her to fall for, which was a pleasant surprise.  I was fully expecting April to write the more obvious of the romances (there are quite a few potential love interests), and she went with someone else entirely.  That said, the romance felt rushed towards the end of the book, and I would have preferred if Rose had interacted with her love interest a little more earlier on, had some longing glances and whatnot to build up to their passionate love affair.

I did find a few parts of the book confusing, especially earlier on. When Rose first shows up in this unique world and is taken to the Academy to study magic, she experiences a strange magical… something. Was it a test? A hazing ritual?  I’m still not entirely sure what I had read, and it happened early enough in the book that it left me worried that I would experience that level of confusion again. Fortunately, it’s the only part of the book that really left me scratching my head, as everything else was quite easy to follow.  If you experience the same while reading this book, I encourage you to push through it, because this read is quite rewarding!

One part of the book that I absolutely adored is the use of Runes. April has created a unique type of magic that leaves me aching for more. You know that a writer has created an interesting type of magic when I long to read a textbook on the subject. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but I want to read a textbook on Runes written by Renee April. (I am a librarian and researcher, after all! It shouldn’t be so hard to believe). Other aspects of the magic in this world are just as interesting, especially the unique take on soulmates, and I’m eager to explore this world more in the next instalment in this series.

Her Crown of Fire

I recommend this book to anyone looking to get lost in a dark, magical world.

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*Thank you to Write Plan for the advanced reader copy for review*

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Book Review: Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Sky in the Deep

Sky in the Deep

Title: Sky in the Deep
Author: Adrienne Young
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Date of Publication: April 24, 2018
Publisher: Wednesday Books


Synopsis

Young Eelyn was raised to be a warrior in her Viking clan, the Aska, where she fought side by side with her brother until he died in battle. Years later, seventeen-year-old Eelyn  is fighting in a particularly brutal battle when she sees her brother alive and well and fighting for the other side.  Compelled to follow him, she is distracted and finds herself captured by her enemy, the Riki.  It is then that she discovers that not only is her brother fighting with the enemy, but he has become the enemy.  Betrayed and furious, she is now a servant to her brother’s new family, and she must figure out a way to escape, or she must learn to trust her brother again.

Plot

Finally, a young adult book about Vikings!  Sky in the Deep is fast-paced from start to finish. I was immediately enraptured by Adrienne Young’s language, and the not-so-subtle violence that occurred in the beginning of the book.  While I’m not familiar with Viking history at all, the setting and way that the characters act felt genuine to that time period, at least, as much as a young adult book can be.

Continue reading “Book Review: Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young”

Book Review: The Devil’s Apprentice by Kenneth B. Andersen

Picture of book

Book cover

Title: The Devil’s Apprentice
Author: Kenneth B. Andersen
Series: The Great Devil War I

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Date of Publication: October 8, 2018
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services LLC


Synopsis

Philip is a thirteen year old boy who has always been well behaved. He’s a boy scout, he does his chores on time, and he’s always eager to help anyone who might need his assistance.  But when he dies unexpectedly, a mix up causes him to find himself in hell.  Not only is he expected to stay there, but he is required to enter training to become the successor of the Devil himself.  Philip must learn to survive, but who can he trust? And, most importantly, will he still be the same person when–if–he gets out of this?

Continue reading “Book Review: The Devil’s Apprentice by Kenneth B. Andersen”

Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows Book Cover

Six of Crows Book Cover

Title: Six of Crows
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: Six of Crows #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy 
Date of Publication: September 29, 2015
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company


Synopsis

Six teenage criminal outcasts in the bustling city of Ketterdam come together to pull off an impossible heist. The result could change the world they live in forever. But do they all want the same thing?

World-Building

I never read the Grisha series, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this new book set in that same world. It was easy to jump into this elaborately created world.  Bardugo provides just enough information about the world for readers to understand how it works, but not so much that it feels like an info-dump. She interweaves this information into the plot, revealing what we need to know as we need to know it.  Perfectly done!

Plot and Characters

There are a lot of critical characters in this book, and many of them get their own point of view chapters. For any other book, this would bog down the pace, making the story unnecessarily complicated and hard to follow.  Yet somehow Bardugo manages to propel the plot line forward while delving deep into every single character. She even integrates flashbacks to provide such depth to these characters. There isn’t a single two-dimensional, uninteresting character in the bunch. Even Wylan, who, at the beginning, I thought might be the one dud, has an interesting character-development, and I absolutely loved his interactions with Jesper.  

Having this many three-dimensional characters should result in a less-interesting plot. That’s not the case. The heist they plan and pull off is intense and compelling at every corner.  

I did find that the characters weren’t quite like teenagers. This is one thing I enjoy about books like these. The characters are mature beyond their years because of the situations they’ve had to survive, yet they still have some small resemblances to the teenagers that they actually are. There might be a hint of naivety or a touch of teenage narcissism. But this gives each character some growing to do, even though it already seems like they’re grown up.

Language

This is touched on in the plot and characters section.  How can you develop such intriguing characters and a compelling plot without being an expert at the English language? Bardugo selects every word carefully. There’s no extraneous paragraphs that should have been cut at the chopping block. Everything she writes has its purpose and is elegantly written. I suspect this is another reason why this book is so dang popular.  

Six of Crows Book Cover

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good high fantasy novel, even if they’re not necessarily interested in young adult fiction.  This is a perfect gateway book into the young adult and fantasy genres, as it’s strong in all four major appeal elements of reading – setting, language, fictions, characters, and plot.  There are some surprisingly gory scenes, which is why I wouldn’t recommend this book to younger readers.

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Book Review: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Wicked Saints book display

Wicked saints book cover

Title: Wicked Saints
Author: Emily A. Duncan
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series:
Something Dark and Holy #1
Date of Publication: April 2, 2019
Publisher: Wednesday Books


Synopsis

The countries of Tranavia and Kalyazi have been at war for over a century.  Kalyazi is the land of the divine, and Tranavia is the land of heretics.  Nadya is a cleric, one who has been hidden away in a monastery for her entire life because of her ability to commune with and channel the power of the gods.  But when Tranavians invade the monastery, killing everyone with their heretical blood magic, Nadya learns that her safe haven is no more. She must run if she’s to survive.  But she encounters some strangers in her travels, and they show her that she can’t run forever. She will have to fight if she wants to end the war and save her land from ruin.

~My Thoughts~

Wicked Saints is a non-stop thrill ride right from the very first pages. We are barely introduced to the main character, Nadya, before a battle erupts at the monastery she’s called home for her entire life.  

The novel also follows Serefin, the High Prince of Tranavia, who is a blood mage and a warrior.  While Nadya believes him to be a ruthless killer, he is revealed to be much more complicated than that.  

This novel has incessant action, which makes the worldbuilding even more impressive. Duncan weaves the intricate details of how the different types of magic work into the story just as the reader needs to know it. It never feels like an information dump. The plot plunges onwards far too quickly for me to feel like I was being bombarded with too much information.

Both types of magic–the power of the gods and the blood mages–are unique and fascinatingly executed.  Blood mages carry a book of spells, ripping out pages and activating them with their own blood. As a cleric, Nadya calls upon the favour of the gods, hoping that they will assist her when she needs their help the most.  

There is a fascinating recurring theme of faith throughout the novel, as Nadya grapples with her beliefs and what she’s coming to learn of the world she lives in.  

Nadya is a relatable, loveable main character. She wants to help those she cares about, she wants to protect her country, and she wants revenge against the mad king of Tranavia for all that she has lost.  Upon escaping the monastery, she meets several strangers, including a Tranavian. She wants to hate him just for what he is, but there’s something undeniably alluring about him. I won’t reveal more in fear of spoiling any twists, but their burgeoning relationship is a highlight of this book.  It isn’t overdone, by far it isn’t the focus of the story, but it is a compelling romance that kept me turning the pages.

 

Wicked Saints book display

Just like the advertisements say: This book is recommended to anyone looking for a blood-drenched young adult, high fantasy fairy tale. It’s not for the faint of heart, or for those who think that they can just put this book down and pick it up again a few days later. Nope, this is a consume-in-one-bite type of novel.

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*Thank you to Wednesday Books and OLA Super Conference for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: Killing November by Adriana Mather

Killing November

Killing November book cover

Title: Killing November
Author: Adriana Mather
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery
Date of Publication: March 26, 2019
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers


~Synopsis~

When November Addley’s father sends her away to boarding school because it’s too dangerous back home, she doesn’t know what to expect. But she definitely doesn’t expect to be sent to a school that’s completely off the grid–with no access to the internet or even electricity. Classes range from poison to dagger-throwing, and November starts to question who her father really is. But she doesn’t have much time to worry about that.  Someone’s killing the students in the school, and November might be next…

~Plot~

This book is fast-paced and intriguing.  There’s a lot of mind-games being played by the teachers and the students, and it’s all explained in detail and incredibly interesting.  It’s definitely a major appeal that sets this book apart from the rest.  The book has quite a few twists along the road, and Mather effectively instills a sense of distrust in every one of the characters, despite the fact that the main character is an optimist.

There are a few tropes present in this story, none of which that I can go into depth over without spoiling major plot points.  However, despite these tropes, the plot is well executed (pun intended 😉 ) and not at all derivative of recurring themes you tend to see in young adult novels these days.  

Like any young adult book, this one has a little romance thrown into the mix, but it isn’t the main focus of the story (no the main focus is training in the art of deception and murder and whatnot).  The romance is cute and moves the story forward, rather than detracting from it.

~Characters~

It’s nice to read a young adult book where the main character is an extrovert. A lot of bookworms can relate to the introverted bookish protagonist, but it can get old pretty quickly.  Killing November is a refreshing take on the student-training-to-be-an-assassin trope. (She’s a friendly extrovert who loves people!? Not exactly what you’d expect from an expert knife thrower.)

Because November is at a school where everyone is hiding their true selves, Mather employs an interesting writing technique to help us get a better sense of who November is.  She frequently refers to her best friend Emily in her inner dialogue. The way that she talks about Emily and the things that Emily would say to her is very informative about November’s personality and past.
Killing November

I recommend this book to those looking for a quick read about people training in the arts of poison and deception. There’s a lot of politics and deceit, and it’s nothing like your typical high school drama.  I’m definitely looking forward to the next instalment in this series!

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*Thank you to Knopf Books for Young Readers and OLA Super Conference for the ARC for review*

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Book Review: Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

Crown of Feathers book photo

Crown of Feathers book cover

Title: Crown of Feathers
Author: Nicki Pau Preto
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: Crown of Feathers book 1

Date of Publication: February 12, 2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse


Synopsis

Veronyka is a war orphan who was raised by her deceased grandmother and her older sister, Val. Veronyka and her sister are “animages”, and have the ability to communicate with animals.  This is not uncommon in the world they live in, but ever since the war their kind have been persecuted.  Val and Veronyka want nothing more than to become Phoenix Riders, like the heroes who fought during the war.

After a terrible betrayal, Veronyka flees from her sister and finds a sanctuary for her kind, a place where apprentices are being trained as Phoenix Riders. The only catch? If she wants to become a Phoenix Rider–to follow in her parents’ footsteps and become the hero she’s always dreamt of being—she’s going to have to pretend to be a boy.

Characters and Plot

It’s difficult to separate out characters and plot for this book, since there are several point of view characters, and each of their plotlines are heavily influenced by who they are.

We primarily follow three characters in this book. All three of them have fascinating story arcs.  All three of them overcome their fears over the span of the first novel in this trilogy and begin the journey of accepting who they truly are.

First off, there’s Veronyka, the protagonist, who escapes from her (let’s face it—abusive) sister to join the Phoenix Riders while masquerading as a boy.  Her storyline is perhaps the most engaging, as it is the main focus of the story.  I absolutely love her unadulterated adulation of phoenixes and her sheer will to do whatever it takes to become a Phoenix Rider.

Continue reading “Book Review: Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto”

Book Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

There's Someone Inside Your House Book Cover

theres someone inside your house book cover

Title: There’s Someone Inside Your House
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Date of Publication: September 26, 2017
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers


In There’s Someone Inside Your House, teenage Makani leaves her dark past behind in Hawaii and moves to a small town in Nebraska to live with her grandmother. It looks like her life is finally turning around.  She makes new friends and even has a budding romance with a mysterious loner named Ollie. But this Halloween brings a lot more than just dressing up and carving jack-o’-lanterns.  A serial killer is targeting students from Osbourne High.  Makani must find the murderer before he targets her or someone she cares about.

Book cover

I was disappointed in this book. Marketed as being like the next Scream, which is one of my favourite movies of all time, I was expecting something scary, funny, and self-aware. Unfortunately, There’s Someone Inside Your House was none of these things.

This book isn’t particularly frightening.  The murders are gory and creative, but that isn’t the reason why I read a horror book. I read for the characters. I want to get lost in the story and genuinely fear for the lives of the people I care about. After reading this book, I realized that Perkins could have killed off every single character and I wouldn’t have cared. In fact, that would have possibly made it more enjoyable, if only in the sense that it would have been unexpected and deliciously disturbing surprise.

I’m a huge fan of Perkins’ other works – particularly Anna and the French Kiss.  I would have forgiven this book for not having a great plot and not being scary had I been invested in the romantic plotline.  Perkins spends so much time developing it, yet it fell flat to me. I did not care one way or the other if Makani and Ollie ended up together. It seemed like Perkins was trying too hard to make Ollie a lovable outcast, and he just ended up being a stereotype.

I wanted more about Makani’s friendships. I wanted to see more of her relationship with family. I wanted to see her go to school, interact with her friends and teachers, before the murders started.  I think Perkins needed to spend more time building who Makani is on a personal level, and less time building what her romantic relationship with Ollie was.

One thing about slasher books and movies is that the main character is supposed to be relatable. She’s supposed to be the voice of reason.  However, there’s a serial killer on the loose and Makani barely notices. All she cares about (at first) is her romance. This is all well and fine, yet she’s the main character. This is acceptable behaviour in a zany best friend, but not in a main character.

Spoilers between the glasses!
Spoilers between the Glasses!

 

The killer ended up being someone that I only remembered being briefly introduced earlier. We found out who the killer was fairly early on, so I assumed there would be a twist or two before the end of the book. But there wasn’t one. I’d thought, since the book was compared to Scream, that maybe he had a partner, and that the partner was someone that the reader knew more intimately.  Nope.

Also, the reason why the killer was killing everybody was a little murky.  They had a few explanations as the story progressed as Makani and her friends tried to figure out why he was murdering people, but the explanations got more and more ridiculous. The final rationale was just as silly. Essentially, he didn’t want people moving on with their lives and leaving town after they graduated.  This explanation is unsatisfactory for me, and Perkins didn’t spend much time supporting this in the text.

 

Spoilers between the Glasses!

The main strength of this book is the language. Perkins has a unique and engaging writing style, which unfortunately wasn’t quite strong enough to make up for the unlikable characters and uninteresting plot.

I honestly don’t think I can recommend this book.  The romance is unimpressive, and the mystery itself is not very engaging. This book is quite short and is a very quick read, so I will let you decide for yourself.

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Book Review: Ashes of Retribution by L. J. Andrews

Ashes of Retribution book cover

Title: Ashes of Retribution
Author: L. J. Andrews
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Date of Publication: June 28, 2018
Publisher: 4 Arrows


Adira lives in a dystopian world where people have been divided in two groups: the “Pure” and the “Impure”. The pure have no deformities, no marks on their bodies, no scars. The “Impure” could be anyone–from someone who has eyes that are two different colours to someone with a little scar on their left hand.  When Adira was a child, her maid was an “Impure”, and Adira ridiculed her for it. But when her maid was killed while protecting her, Adira realized that the impure are not that different after all. Now that she knows this, what is she willing to do about it?

It took me a bit of time to get into this book. I didn’t fall in love with Adira immediately, and I wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going. About fifty pages in, things got interesting, and I started to understand why Adira was the way she was.  Then, once she’s kidnapped by the Shadow Assassins, the book becomes unputdownable.

Continue reading “Book Review: Ashes of Retribution by L. J. Andrews”