The Continent

Here we go.

This book is surrounded by controversy but that did not stop me from reading it. While I understand people wanting to prevent others from buying harmful books, its ridiculous to me that things have gone this far. That being said, my friend Allison from abookishalli was kind enough to loan me her ARC of the Continent so I could read it for myself. Things did not proceed as expected from there.

From the beginning, I found Vaela to be extremely unlikable. She was clueless about the world around her, more spoiled than she realizes, and overall an annoying voice. The relationship she has with her parents feel like a farce, almost like a cheesy infomercial family. The one friendship we see in the Spire feels the same. During the first part of the tour of the Continent, I felt incredibly bored. Again, the entire thing felt like a farce. Everyone was dramatically upset by the violence they saw, to almost the extreme.

After a few days of not much happening, the plane begins to have problems. Let’s be honest here; when they showed the single escape pod on the plane, we knew it was going to go down. It was just a matter of time. Also, its in the synopsis for the book to begin with. However, when this tragic event did occur, things got weird. Suddenly Aaeden became a different person and everyone got even more dramatic than they had been previously. Once Vaela does end up on the Continent, she acts just like the spoiled Spire girl I expected. She waits for a long time for a rescue party, does not do anything to protect herself, and complains the entire time about how horrible everything was.

Then everything changes, for Vaela and for my opinion of the story. It takes a few days for her situation to improve but she eventually finds herself with a warrior named Noro who is one of the sweetest characters in the book. He sees an outsider who looks like a member of the Topi, their sworn enemy; but he realizes that she is not one of them. Instead of leaving her to be harmed by the Topi who originally find her; he takes care of her and takes her back to his village where she can get treatment and live out her life. While Vaela is bratty about the majority of this decision, she is under the delusion that she will be able to return to the Spire because she does not want to stay with these people she believes are living in a technology-backwards society.

However, something beautiful comes from this. As Vaela begins to make friends – especially with Noro’s younger brother, Keiji – she realizes that everything she thought she knew about the inhabitants of the Continent is wrong. Getting to know the Aven’ei people, she finds a home. Everyone that is able to, works; and everyone helps take care of each other. After an adjustment period, Vaela begins to feel like a useful member of society. This is when her relationship with Noro begins to bloom, this is honestly my favorite part of the book. Noro has such a kind heart, it is because of him that Vaela was able to see the Aven’ei people for who they really are, not the bloodthirsty monsters the Spire has always presented them to be.

When the situation grows more dire, Vaela decides it is time for her to return to the Spire. Not because she does not want to stay on the Continent with Noro and the rest of the Aven’ei but because she wants to get help. When the alliance of the Spire was first formed, the Aven’ei were supposed to join but they were unable to lay down their weapons as the Spire required because of the persistent attacks by the Topi. Now Vaela thinks she can change their minds about that decision and get the help the Aven’ei need to end this war forever so that the Aven’ei can also live in peace. When it become apparent that no help will come, Vaela returns to the Continent because it is her real home. There she has formed real relationships that don’t feel like a farce, she has become a real person.

Many have called this a white savior story but it does not read like that to me. My opinion does not matter in the grand scheme of things because I am white but I honestly find Vaela to be one of the most unlikable characters in the entire story, aside from Aaeden. I found Noro and Keiji to be my favorites because they were the real saviors. Be honest, the only reason Vaela was even alive long enough to return to the Spire for help was because of them, they were the only reason she was strong enough to come back to the Continent as well. She became a different person because they helped her grow out of the persona of a spoiled brat that she was at the beginning.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story that was told in this book, looking back the boring and fake feeling at the beginning was almost necessary to fully understand how different the people in the Spire are. They have made themselves into shadows of real people. It saddens me that I have no idea when I will get to find out the rest of Vaela and Noro’s story, what becomes of the Aven’ei people. Currently, the Continent has no release date which means it may never make it through that extra round of edits that will completely change the course of the story. That being said, if/when it does come out, I fully intend to buy it. I want to see what was changed and if it takes away from the overall story that was told.

Though this review may end in many people hating me or calling me horrible things, I am not going to let it bother me at this point. I am entitled to have my own opinion on each book, it is not fair to take that away from anyone.

 

New Year, New Me

 

A fresh start. A clean slate. No definitions, just moving forward in life one day at a time.

This will be the year for books. No more relying on hype or popular series. No more forcing myself through books I’m not enjoying. I will ignore – what I think is – unwarranted hype and DNF books that don’t capture my attention. My reading challenge is half the number it was last year. I started to read to add to my number, not for pleasure; I don’t want to do that again. Reading is fun and I want it to stay that way. I will buy less, read what I already own first.

I will purge relentless. Books, clothes, anything unnecessary. I need to stop collecting possessions. Now is the time to minimize my life, stop hoarding thing I don’t actually need. Stop buying things just because they are on sale. Get rid of clothes that no longer fit and won’t even if I lose 5-10 pounds. Buy only what I actually want. That means clothes that make me feel good about myself now, not 5 pounds less. That means books I want to go home and read this very second, the ones I can barely wait the drive home to crack open. These will be rare occurrences, there’s no need to constantly shop to make myself feel better.

Fill my life with more meaningful hobbies. Write letters to friends. Spend time playing video games with Michael. Play with the dogs. Learn a new skill. Get back to painting or drawing. Just do something other than go on social media or watch youtube videos all day. Do something active. Get moving, don’t sit around.

Just write a book, a poem, anything creative. Stop being afraid of what people will think of all of my work, no one has to see it if I don’t want them to. Who cares if they don’t like it? Write it for you, not for anyone else.

In general, stop being afraid of what other people will think. Be you, be happy with who you are. If you aren’t, change who you are and don’t let anyone change your mind. Be who you want to be or work to be who you want to be.

This started with me talking about my goals and ended up as a pep talk to change. I probably should go back and edit those parts out but they seem oddly fitting. This wasn’t written really for anyone but myself but if you take something from it, some motivation – even better. While I hope people read and enjoy my reviews, this is supposed to be a place mostly to voice my thoughts. I’m going to take my own advice and stop thinking about how people will react if I was utterly honest, no more sugar-coated thoughts; especially about review books. Let 2017 be the year where we all stop pretending, be honest.

You have 362 blank pages left in this year, make them good. Fill them with something beautiful – you are definitely something beautiful, the world will always need more of you. –Ashley

Slipping

After coming off the high of reading the Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, I jumped at the opportunity to read her upcoming short fiction – and a little nonfiction – collection. While I knew her work was dark, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. To be honest, this collection fell extremely short of my expectations. Though I think that may be partially my fault to begin with.

To start, I was unaware of how dark her work generally was. There was a dark theme to the Shining Girls, a time-traveling serial killer; but I thought that had more to do with the plot than the author’s style. I was wrong. I probably should have read another of her books before attempting to pick up this collection. Then I would have known Beukes just has a very dark style in all of her work. Definitely not something I could read all of the time.

All that being sad, I did enjoy quite a few of the pieces in the collection.

Slipping: We are dropped into a world that is not explained in the slightest. There seems to be some sort of race/exhibition going on that is showcasing different medical marvels or advances. I honestly could have read a full-length novel on this subject. Personally, I would have loved to see more world-building to explain why things were going on or even what was going on in the first place. I can understand why there wasn’t any though, you are very limited when it comes to short-length fiction. This being at the beginning of the collection gave me hope for what was to come.

Confirm/Ignore: This felt like Catfish to me, and I loved that. People only show a portion of themselves online, you are left to decide what is real and what is fake. The reason shows like Catfish are addicting is because people are fascinated by others who decide to have a fake persona online. Showing this from the perspective of the person making the fake accounts and weaving themselves in a group of friends, from multiple sides, was just addicting. I wanted so much more. This was one of the shorter pieces of fiction in the collection which made me very sad. I wanted to know what happened next, were they caught in their second fake profile or did they continue undetected?

Ghost Girl: While not as unique as Slipping, this was one of the more original takes on a ghost story. A little girl, killed in a mundane manner, who haunts a boy who can’t complete his big project for class. The fact that the girl died in such a normal way brought the story to a more realistic level, though it feels silly to say that when concerning ghosts. I liked that she didn’t die in some tragic manner that the boy had to help her get over, that made the story less about her and more about her helping him get past his road blocks. Another piece that I could have read more of, the dynamic between the two characters was entertaining.

After reading the Shining Girls, I had numerous expectations for this collection and just found myself underwhelmed. It was not what I expected at all. There were some gems within the collection that I re-read, just to remind myself why I enjoyed reading the author’s works. But overall, not something I would recommend to others. I just found it be dark for the sake of being dark and graphic for the sake of shock. To me, those tactics need to have meaning. Doing them just for a reaction is a cheap ploy that doesn’t sit well with me. All that being said, I do plan to read the Broken Monsters at some point. I think I will enjoy her novel-length work more.

Note: Do your research before you read something, especially if you are new to an established author. You will end up upsetting yourself. Definite warning for Lauren Beukes’ writing, its extremely graphic and dark. If you can’t handle that, like me, then I would not suggest this for you.

 

Royal Scandal

A prince in hiding, exiled from his home. A matriarchal society. A life-long friendship turned into a fake marriage. All to return home after ten years away. Plus that cover, I’m always a sucker for a good cover. Don’t look at me with that tone of voice. I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I’m going to do it anyways.

Royal Scandal hooked me with that premise. I normally wouldn’t go for a contemporary romance. I tend to stick with historical romance whenever I’m in the mood for some love. But I thought I would give this one a shot when I saw it up on Netgalley. Sadly for me, it was another disappointing read in a row. No wonder I’m feeling so slumpy near the end of the year, I haven’t read anything spectacular to end off 2016.

The book opens with Colin and Della meeting for the first time, shorting after he and his family have arrived in the United States after being exiled from their kingdom. He seems like the traditional British prat who doesn’t really pay attention to anyone but himself. In the process, he pisses Della off and has to make amends. This beings their life-long friendship, which we never really see. After that one interaction, we fast-forward ten years. To their “fully-formed” friendship and obvious sexual tension between them. I found all of their interactions with each other to feel incredibly forced, nothing about it felt real. Then their friendship suddenly becomes a fake relationship which turns into them having sex anytime they are able. Literally nothing else changes about the way that they interact with each other, now they just have sex.

A matriarchal kingdom sounded amazing. Except that it doesn’t really explain why it is that way. Then they immediately try to make Colin the king, completely jilting his sister because the government in charge doesn’t like the idea of women continuing to rule them. So there went that ideal quickly. The kingdom they are from, whose name escapes me, is just a rip-off of Britain. I think Della points it out when they first visit. Everyone behaves and speaks just like the British, so much that Colin just pretends he was British the entire time he was in the United States. Their government is run in a similar manner. But they made a point to say that they were nothing like Britain multiple times without actually trying to distinguish themselves at all. This was a really good opportunity for the book that was completely squandered by poor world-building.

The politics of their exile are ridiculous. As soon as things get questioned, the whole story-line just falls apart. Also, there is never a real emotional response to why he was exiled in the first place or what happened to his parents. This just added to the experience of fakeness throughout it all.

We almost never see his siblings, except for the youngest ones which he pretends are his kids. Colin’s siblings only show up to advance the plot or cause conflict between each other. No one speaks to each other like siblings would. Especially not those that lost their parents in a traumatic way and then had their whole lives ripped away from them. A situation like exile to a foreign country should have brought them closer together instead of making them feel like acquaintances. To be honest, it didn’t feel like any of the characters really knew each other in this book. The way they interacted and talked about each other felt incredibly forced or fake the entire time.

I’m not going to even talk about that cop-out of a plot twist. I saw it coming from a mile away.

All that being said, don’t think I completely hated this. I know it may seem like it. But it was just disappointing that everything intriguing about the premise came out fake. It all felt like a sham. However, I’m curious about the next book in the series. I’m hopeful that her story will be better now that the author will have more time to build the relationships between the established characters and they are no longer in hiding from the world. I think if I had read this with normal expectations instead of the high ones I went in with, I would have enjoyed it more. I just expected a lot out of my first contemporary romance in a long time. Overall, I gave Royal Scandal 2/5 stars but I look forward to the next installment of the series.

In Calabria

Hello lovelies! I’ve risen from the ashes. New name. New mindset. And its not even the new year.

I’ve been away from blogging for a while and deleted more posts than I’ve kept this year. Things have just been difficult as I try to find my blogging stride and tried to understand what I even wanted this blog to be about. Not saying I’ve got it all figured out but I’m on the way.

I’m trying to catch-up on all the wonderful eARCs I’ve received from Netgalley and I decided this one had to come first, In Calabria.

When I saw this book, my heart skipped a beat. It had nothing to do with the author, the title, or even the description. It was all about that cover. The Hunt of the Unicorn, which is a set of seven tapestries from the Middle Ages, is one of my favorite pieces of art. The cover of In Calabria features one of those tapestries, one of my favorites (of course). Then I saw it was by the same author who wrote the Last Unicorn. I never read the book but I’ve heard rave reviews and always meant to. Given the author’s reputation and the cover, I was desperate to read this one. It wasn’t even available to request so I added it to my wishlist. When I got the e-mail that I had been randomly granted this book off my wishlist, I squealed.

In Calabria Unicorn in Captivity

Unfortunately, the joy died down after that. I started reading it and basically had to force myself through the most of the book. It was a well-structured story about a cranky, self-isolated man who finds a unicorn has chosen his farm to inhabit. They form a relationship, which he writes extensive poetry about. However, my interest of the rest of the story ends after that. He falls in love with a women half his age who conveniently loves him back. The press finds out about his unicorn problem and refuses to leave him alone. I thought I was getting a story about the magical relationship between a man and a unicorn who makes him see life in a new way. Which is what happens. However, its surrounded by a lot of other nonsense which didn’t need to be there in my opinion.

In Calabria would have been stronger if the unnecessary romantic relationship and the persistent press had been removed from the story. What would have been left is a magical relationship about a unicorn choosing a cranky man who needed to be reminded how beautiful life could be. After years of shutting himself away and refusing to form relationships, this unicorn makes him feel like a person worthy of love and trust again. The rest going on around this central story made it feel less important and magical. At one point, it honestly felt like the unicorn didn’t even matter anymore, the love interest had taken the central focus.

While I can see what a wonderful book this is in another light, it was not what I had been looking for. Therefore, I find myself disappointed in the outcome. I do want to read some of his other books and come back to this one in the future. I think I could enjoy this under different circumstances and with altered expectations.

Overall, the story itself gets a 2/5 stars but that cover made me bump it up to a 3/5 stars. Also the fact that I knew I was being more critical because I had unrealistic expectations about the book because it was using a piece of The Hunt of the Unicorn. This book is scheduled to come out February 14, 2017.

Until next time lovelies!