A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

a thousand nights

Pinched the image off E. K. Johnston’s website

I was provided an arc by Disney Hyperion through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston is a retelling of 1001 Arabian Nights – a tale which I personally have never read. Thus I didn’t know what to expect of the novel, other than from the blurb above.

Even if I had known more about the plot, the story would still have surprised me, if only for the way it is told. Only occasionally, does Johnston use names (there are three named characters that I can think of, but they’re really more nicknames) – a surprising feature which I hadn’t initially noticed (and it did have me think about the purpose of names for a while), but it is never an issue: it is evident who each character is.

There’s a dual-narrative, but rather than the usual 50/50 split, it seemed to be more 20/80. There’s a reason for this split though: our main character is one of them, and narrates most chapters, but who the other narrator is remains a mystery for the majority of the novel (and this narrator has fewer chapters). Though you get given a vague idea, even at the end of the novel, you still don’t really know who this narrator is.

These techniques aside, Johnston writes amazing prose in A Thousand Nights. I feel like each word has been measured and carefully chosen before it was put into the book, which is a feeling I don’t get very often. Other than that, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this story is told in a very unique manner.

One thing Johnston certainly succeeds in is maintaining an air of mystery: some things are carefully revealed or explained in a very subtle manner, whilst others remain mysterious (like one of the narrators). Another thing I liked about A Thousand Nights is how, despite having only briefly glimpsed our main character’s family life before she is taken by Lo-Melkhiin, you get a very strong feeling of her familial relationships and what sort of communities she’s lived in. What goes hand in hand with this, I think, is the different terms used, like ‘wadi’ and ‘dishdashah’, which are never really explained and may be foreign, yet it is clear what each of those things is through the manner in which they are integrated into the story and text. There’s no over-explaining (like there might have been in that sentence of mine…).

Overall, I really enjoyed this story – it was rather a surprising novel to me. The only reason I’m not giving it 5/5 stars on Goodreads is because I’m simply not head over heels in love with it: I wouldn’t want to shout about this book from the rooftops. However, I would recommend if someone were to ask. So go ahead and give it a try for yourself!

A Thousand Nights was released in the USA by Disney Hyperion on October 3rd and will be published by Pan Macmillan in the UK on October 22nd.

Let me know what you thought of this book in the comments!

Love,

Christa

PS. You’ll notice that in ‘tags’ I’ve tagged this novel as ‘diverse fiction’. I’ve chosen to do this because, from what I understand, each character is a POC and the entire story plays out in a non-western setting.

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The Next Together by Lauren James

the next together gif

Pinched the image off Lauren‘s website!

How many times can you lose the person you love?

Katherine and Matthew are destined to be born again and again, century after century. Each time, their presence changes history for the better, and each time, they fall hopelessly in love, only to be tragically separated.

Spanning the Crimean War, the Siege of Carlisle and the near-future of 2019 and 2039 they find themselves sacrificing their lives to save the world. But why do they keep coming back? What else must they achieve before they can be left to live and love in peace?

Maybe the next together will be different…

The Next Together, written by YA debut author Lauren James, was published by Walker Books last week Thursday, on the 3rd of September. As I mentioned in my Anticipated Releases post, I was excited about getting my hands on this book and made sure to have it pre-ordered. Part of my excitement is due to Lauren’s age – I can’t help but find it incredibly inspiring that people around my age have published books – but also due to the premise of the book and the love it’s been receiving from many other YA authors and book reviewers.

As for my thoughts on the book: I really enjoyed it. I didn’t adore it, but I did really like it. As is mentioned in the summary, the novel spans four different timelines – one of which, namely 2019, is solely told through snippets of communication between Katherine and Matthew (imagine fridge notes, emails, texts, etc.). Each chapter contains a part of each timeline, which, for me, made it a bit difficult to get attached to the story at the beginning. However, once I’d gotten used to it, the transitions were smooth enough and I began looking forward to reading my favourite timelines (which I think were 1854 and 2039 – the latter being my favourite because it contained the most suspense).

Throughout the novel an unknown being tracks Kate and Matt’s ‘progress’ in their relationship. I thought this was a really interesting touch. It also added another layer of suspense and invited the reader to ask more questions: what is this thing and why is it tracking, and sometimes influencing, the lives of these characters? At the end, a bit more information is given, but it remains vague, so hopefully it’ll be explained more in-depth in the sequel The Last Beginning!

Something to appraise this book for, is the amount of work that’s gone into the usage of different fonts, visualising of newspaper clippings, websites, and messages between characters. This added a great dimension to the novel and, in all honesty, is a lot more fun that just putting the text in italics. These snippets were not only fun, but also included a lot of detail surrounding the text.

There are two points that made me give this a 4/5 stars on Goodreads, the first one being is that I really would’ve appreciated the precise dates to be included at the start of each new section. Right now, the start of each section mentions where the characters are and in what year, but I would have liked to know the exact dates as well (don’t ask me why – I just feel that way!) The second point is that all four storylines, at their centre, revolve around Kate and Matt. There are not many side characters who have a lot of effect in what’s happening. I understand that the whole premise of the novel is that for some unknown reason Kate and Matt are destined to be reborn and fall in love with each other, but at times it got a bit much for me.

Over all though, Kate and Matt were two fun characters to read about and it was interesting to see how Lauren has woven the different timelines together. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who loves stories involving romance, time-warpy elements and pieces of both historical and futuristic fiction – because this book has it all!

The Next Together is the first in a duology, the second of which is called The Last Beginning and will be published in Autumn 2016.

Love,

Christa

Ps. You might have noticed in the tags that I tagged this post/book as science fiction – that is because that seemed to be the most appropriate genre in my eyes at this moment. If I find something more suitable, I’ll change it!

Pps. If you enjoyed the book, I really recommend checking out Lauren’s website, as in the run-up to the release she’s posted lots of extras about the characters and the novel!

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Pinched the image off Louise's website!

Pinched the image off Louise‘s website!

freida and isabel have been best friends their whole lives. Now, aged sixteen and in their final year at the School, they expect to be selected as companions – wives to wealthy and powerful men. The alternative – life as a concubine – is too horrible to contemplate. But as the intensity of the final year takes hold, the pressure to be perfect mounts. isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty – her only asset – in peril. And then into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride. freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known…

I can’t exactly remember when I first heard of Only Ever Yours, which was the debut novel of Irish author Louise O’Neill, but I know I wanted to read it ever since I’ve known about its existence. I even mentioned it in my Bookish Wish List a few weeks ago.

Having since obtained it, I read it during this year’s Booktube-A-Thon. And I loved it. Throughout the novel, I feel like not a whole lot of information is given about the, somewhat dystopian, world it’s set in – there is especially not a lot of information about what goes on beyond the walls of the School. We, as readers, know as much about her world as freida does, which is intriguing. Rather than lots of things being explained by freida, they just are. We don’t know why they’re the way they are, or how the world has developed to be like it is in the novel, because freida doesn’t know. All she knows, and we know, is that she needs to perfect – she needs to constantly improve herself so she can fulfil her life’s goal to become a companion and bear sons.

The lengths these girls go to in order to improve themselves and upkeep these impossible standards are frightening. What’s perhaps even scarier is the fact that at times freida would be talking herself or others down, in a way that reminded me of ways I’ve thought about myself and/or others, as well as how I’ve heard others speak of themselves and each other. It’s appalling that we feel the need to think and speak so badly of ourselves and others – we’re only human and flaws are a part of our existence.

As for the novel itself – it was great. It fascinated me to read from freida’s perspective as she struggles to maintain the desired standards. Furthermore, I also feel Louise O’Neill portrayed a very plausible cast of characters, and I would be eager to learn more about each individual. For example, I would have loved to know more about the outside world – for example what the girls’ lives would be like after becoming companions, concubines and chastities. Or even how the boys felt in their roles as Inheritants.

The manner in which this story was told, as well as the themes that are prevalent throughout it, reminded me of both Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  Which, let’s be honest, are far from terrible stories to be reminded of when reading something.

So if you like those two novels, or generally enjoy calm and somewhat eerie dystopian reads, I would highly recommend Only Ever Yours. I will definitely be picking up her upcoming novel Asking For It when it’s released (though I might wait until the paperback comes out), and I can’t wait to see what else Louise O’Neill will write in the future!

Love,

Christa

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything

Pinched the image off Nicola‘s website!

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon will be published by Penguin Random House Children’s on the 27th of August, 2015 (and on the 3rd of September in the UK). I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, so here goes!

Everything, Everything tells the story of Madeline Whittier: an eighteen-year old girl, who was raised by her single mother, and is allergic. To everything. Madeline is comfortable living in her squeaky-clean, decontaminated, sterile bubble, being tended to by her nurse, Carla, and her mother. Then, she hears new neighbours moving in, and discovers amongst them is a boy her age. Noticing her, he gives her his email address and soon the two are getting to know each other online – and in doing so, they’re threatening to break Madeline’s bubble of health.

From what I’ve seen on booktube, Everything, Everything has received a lot of buzz and love already, which is mainly what made me curious about it too (because I will never be able to help myself and always want to read the books that people are loving so much) – thanks to Netgalley I had the opportunity to read it.

Yoon’s debut novel is a YA Contemporary, and reads very much like one: it’s a quick read, but at the same time enticing, sweet, and… nice. I enjoyed reading it, and I would recommend it if you’re on the look-out for a contemporary YA novel with a sweet romance and a plot that doesn’t merely revolve around that romance, but I’m, unfortunately, not as head-over-heels in love with this book as so many people seem to be.

There are a few things that I didn’t like that much about it. First of which, is that I guess the plot twist soon after I’d started reading it. It was a good twist nonetheless, and I think surprising for plenty of people, but I feel what came after was a bit too sped up (which is my second ‘dislike’ if you will). After the twist was revealed, the ending to the novel came very soon and I feel there were characters that could have been explored so much more in the aftermath of that twist – characters whose experiences I wanted to be shed more light on.

What I did like about the novel were Madeline and Olly: I enjoyed reading their communications (especially the IM parts), how they got to know each other and the tensions between them. Another thing I liked very much about the novel were the many doodles and illustrations that were scattered across the pages. Some were merely decorative, whereas others were a part of Madeline’s story and depicted something that was described or told you about what she planned to do. In a way, this was a very nice way of taking the ‘showing-not-telling’ (that all writers are drilled about) to the next level. What makes them even sweeter is that they were drawn by Nicola’s husband, David Yoon.

In the end, I gave the novel a 3.5/5 on Goodreads.

Let me know if you plan on reading Everything, Everything!

Love,

Christa

Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger

Pinched the image off Kody‘s website!

Lying Out Loud* is Kody Keplinger’s newest novel and a companion to her, now turned into a feature film, novel The Duff.

Like The Duff, the novel is set in the small town of Hamilton and the high school there, Hamilton High. Lying Out Loud follows Sonny (or Sonya), who is best friends with Wesley’s sister Amy (Wesley from The Duff) and a perpetual liar. Due to problems at home that she doesn’t like to talk about, Sonny secretly lives with Amy.

A new boy, Ryder, has transferred to their school. He is obnoxious, arrogant, and considers everything in Hamilton inferior compared to his previous school and life in Washington. One night, though, Sonny accidentally messages Ryder and the two get talking online. Soon enough, Sonny’s lies get her caught in a web of her own weaving and it becomes difficult to find a way out without hurting herself – or those she cares about. 

I think, once again, Keplinger has written a very solid YA novel. It is an incredibly fast read (I want to say I finished it in about 3.5 hours), and at no time gets boring. One thing I liked about The Duff when I read it, was how although a conflict with a boy was one of the big issues the main character dealt with, there were also so many more elements that were focussed on. In Lying Out Loud, Keplinger has managed to do the same once more: friendships, familial relationships, and how wrong first impressions can be are all important themes in the novel and handled very well.

Keplinger has a knack for writing YA that feels very genuine: in The Duff she didn’t gloss over the sex the main characters had (in fact, there was quite a bit of it) and in Lying Out Loud she makes excellent use of swear words; they’re not used very frequently, but when they are used, it feels very appropriate. Furthermore, the overall diction used by the teens felt very apt and real.

Although most of the characters sometimes acted (somewhat) irrationally, and I personally would not have done as they did,  I definitely understood why the characters acted as they did: all their actions were driven by something deeper.

My only “negative” comments would be that Sonny changed her mind about Ryder rather quickly – but then again, I can imagine one would – and that I would have liked to know more about Sonny’s dad. Lastly, the ending was a little too abrupt for my liking and stopped just a little too soon (but really, that’s just a compliment for Keplinger!).

Overall, I really enjoyed Lying Out Loud: it left me curious about what might happen after the book ended and, although I sometimes wanted to shake Sonny to stop being so silly, I really rooted for her and I wanted all to turn out well. I would recommend this book to anyone who’s in for a quick, fun read that deals with romance, but also so much more. I gave it a 4/5 on Goodreads.

Love,

Christa

ps. is calling your friends’ parents “Mrs […]” and “Mr […]” and American thing?

*I received a copy of the novel through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Top 5: Favourite Childhood Reads

Even when I was younger, I was an avid reader. I would read well into the night by the light on  my nightstand – much to the annoyance of my parents, but really they’re partly to blame! After all, they had a habit of reading me and my sisters stories before bed, and thus installed in me a love of good stories.

However, I wasn’t just an avid reader. I was a big fan of re-reading (so much so, that one point my dad decided to just buy me a new book and push it under my nose until I’d read “something new”).

1. Stravaganza series by Mary Hoffman

Lucien is sick. Very sick. He has a form of cancer and is bed-bound most of the time. As sometimes he finds it hard to speak, his father brings him a notebook he randomly found to write in. That day, he also tells Lucien about Venice. Going to sleep that night, with the notebook still in his hand and thinking of Venice, Lucien wakes up to find himself in a place that looks an awful lot like the City of Masks.

In total, there are six books in this series. I must admit, the first three are my favourites (I think it set out to be a trilogy, but more books got added). However, I do get to see my favourite characters in the later books, so I don’t mind them. Though I think this series might take some getting used to, it is completely worth the effort! Masks, intrigue, magic and betrayal: these books are truly magical. It was due to the City of Masks that I wanted to visit Venice myself (and did so in 2012 – it was beautiful!) and for a long while I longed for a talisman of my own so I could be transported to Bellezza.

2. The Doomspell Trilogy by Cliff McNishdoomspell

Siblings Rachel and Eric unexpectedly find themselves transported to another world by the Witch. As they try to escape her claws, they experience many adventures and learn they possess gifts they never even imagined possible. 

I must admit, out of the bunch these books are the ones I re-read the longest time ago. Though I might not remember many of the details, I do remember loving this trilogy. It gave me a new twist on magic, a setting that pulled me in, two great protagonists and a wicked villain. Funnily enough, I think this trilogy was the book my dad insisted I should read as “something new”. I would love to re-read these sometime soon!

Unfortunately, I think these books might now be out of print (however, if you click the link in the title, you might be able to get your hands on a new one. If not, try Amazon’s second-hand buys or Abebooks).

the letter for the king3. The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt

This is a wonderful story about Tiuri, a 16-year old squire in the kingdom of King Dagonaut. It is the night before his knighting and, as is tradition, he and his fellow to-be-knighted friends are holding a vigil in the chapel. They are not allowed to speak to anyone. They are not allowed to sleep. And they are not allowed to leave or even open the door.

But then, Tiuri is startled by an urgent knocking and decides to see who it is. Following this, he is sent on a quest of which the outcome could determine the fate of an entire kingdom.

I absolutely adored this book when I was younger! It has knights, fights, long journeys, treachery and friendship. It is a wonderfully crafted story, told in seven parts (each comprise up to nine chapters), and despite its size is a great read for middle graders, I’d say. For those younger, it’s a great bedtime story.

It was originally written in Dutch (and first published in 1962!), which is the language I have read it multiple times it, but as of last year it is also available in English! YES! I actually read it in English recently, and I can confirm it’s just as great a story: translator Laura Watkinson did a great job. Even more exciting, its sequel, The Secrets of the Wild Wood, is set for publication by Pushkin Press this September! You can preorder it here.

Sidenote: the illustrations, including the map, in this book were actually drawn by the author herself. How cool is that?

4. The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan

The saga starts with Cirque du Freak: Darren Shan (named after the author?) and his friend Steve stumble upon the opportunity to buy tickets for a freak show. Being the young boys they are, they can’t resist this chance. The freak show is really quite freaky, but amazing. Afterwards, Darren accidentally overhears his friend asking something strange of one of the acts. Later, Darren does something strange of his own, setting of a series of irreversible events.

Comprising of 12 books in total, this is quite a commitment to make. However, the books are quite short and easy reads, yet completely enthralling, so I’m sure if you put your mind to it, each installment will leave you wanting for more. I think my favourites of the bunch might be Vampire MountainTrials of Death and The Vampire Prince (books 4-6), but they’re all amazing. Also, the ending to this series is so incredibly emotional and perfect. Sigh. These books are really due a re-read.

HP one 15. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

Raised by his unloving aunt and uncle after his parents died in a car crash when he was just one, Harry is surprised when around his 11th birthday he receives a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With the help of giant Rubeus Hagrid, Harry is whisked away on the Hogwarts Express to spend his school year learning magic. Little does he know, danger is lurking around the corner and waiting for him.

It is completely impossible to not include this series in any sort of “all-time favourites” post. I grew up with these books – my dad read them to me and my older sister first, but as I grew older I read them myself (too impatient to wait for bedtime!) and loved them even more. I’m not sure it was at all necessary to include a description of the plot, but I figured I might as well. These books are incredibly near and dear to my heart and, if for some absurd reason, you still haven’t read them – get on it! You won’t regret it. Promise.

That’s all for today – thank you for reading!

Love,

Christa

Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer

I actually obtained my copy of Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha van Leer, when I went to an event that was organised by Newcastle’s Seven Stories at Tyneside Cinema. Someone invited me to come and, despite not having read a Picoult book before, I said yes – because I like books and I like the people who write them. Included in the ticket price was a hardback copy of Off the Page, sequel to Between the Lines (or companion novel – I am yet to read it, but I’ve heard people say you can read them on their own). Given that I now owned Off the Page, I decided to get myself Between the Lines as well, and get them both signed. And today I will be reviewing the latter!

Between the Lines starts off with Delilah: fifteen years old, somewhat of an outsider at school and thoroughly addicted to re-reading a fairy tale after which the novel is named (which may or may not be partially due to the handsome prince it features). Then one day, the prince talks to her. And he wants out. Together, though separated by ink-filled pages, they try to come up with ways to transport him into Delilah’s world and away from his repetitive life within the fairy tale. But it isn’t as easy as they might have hoped…

In a way, the novel is told from three different perspectives (one isn’t really a perspective, but I don’t know what else to call it), namely Oliver’s, Delilah’s and the fairy tale as it is written in Delilah’s book. To emphasise these three different view points, the font was changed accordingly to the chapter and character narrating it, which I thought was quite a nice touch. Furthermore, each fairy tale chapter is accompanied by a a very nice illustration of a scene in the tale (and in the Off the Page hardback these illustrations are in full colour!).

Overall though, I personally wasn’t that interested in the fairy tale itself as I felt it interrupted the main story. Although it was nice to read Oliver’s story as the fairy tale author intended, I felt that perhaps it would’ve been better if the fairy tale had been pasted, as a whole, at the start of the novel, or at the end as a sort of appendix. Speaking of the fairy tale, I’m not entirely sure why it is called ‘Between the Lines’.

Although Oliver and Delilah talk a lot, they do seem to fall in love rather quickly – must note: it’s not completely insta-love though. As they talked and Delilah told Oliver about her ‘world’, I noticed there seemed to be an inconsistency with what modern-day things Oliver knew and didn’t know about.

As a whole, I thought the novel was enjoyable enough, but not much more than that. Although it is said to be Young Adult, I would say it is probably more suitable for the lower age range in that spectrum – maybe 13 – 15 year olds – because as a 20 year old, I think the story definitely felt ‘too young’ for me. That said, had I been younger, I feel I probably would have enjoyed this novel a lot. But now, to me it feels like a less intricate and compelling version of Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.

I gave it 3/5 stars on Goodreads.

Thanks for stopping by – I’ll be back same time next week!

Love,

Christa