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Teen SRC 2021 – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner eBook by Khaled Hosseini - 9781408803721 | Rakuten Kobo  United Kingdom

“For you, a thousand times over.”

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a historical fiction novel set in Afghanistan, and the United States. It follows the life and journey of Amir, the son of a a rich Afghan businessman, whom he calls Baba. Amir is rather sensitive and intelligent, and has a talent for storytelling. He and Hassan are best friends, having grown up together, but he is jealous of how Baba seems to favour Hassan over him.

This envy, combined with Amir’s ever-growing desire to prove his worth to Baba, leads to the unthinkable. He turns a blind eye when Hassan is sexually assaulted, and pretends he has not seen. Because of this, Amir is weighted with guilt, and for many years, he looks for a way to redeem himself.

The Kite Runner is one of those books that is felt deeply. It reaches into you and plays with your heartstrings. It evokes all kinds of emotions from you, from joy to heartbreak. For this reason, I loved it. It was a gorgeous, albeit devastating read, and it truly affected me. Hosseini writes with a distinct style that changes with the characters’ ages, and it genuinely feels as if I watched Amir grow up, making it all the more engaging. The characters are so well developed, and I especially appreciate the realism with which Hosseini depicted them. He makes you realize that the world really is all different shades of gray. That people are flawed; we’re not bad, we’re not good, we’re only human.

This book is also extremely relevant given recent events, and I am so glad I had the chance to learn more about Afghanistan and its people. The ending was very open, and I actually really liked that. It leaves a tinge of hope, because what happens next is up to us to decide.

Overall, I would rate this book a 9/10. I have yet to dislike a historical fiction, and The Kite Runner was no exception. I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t opposed to a heavy, emotional read that tackles many, many important topics.

Teen SRC 2021 – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

“Ah, if only he could die temporarily!” …that’s the kind of humour you get from reading Twain’s books. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is about a young boy named Tom who, despite his mischievous nature, is able to prove his core values of friendship, imagination, and loyalty. Tom and his friend Huckleberry Finn find treasure in an old, abandoned haunted house while exploring one night, and what’s more, a criminal on-the-loose is after it! In this book, we get dragged into the world of Tom and his friends, and follow them as they witness are forced to trust their instincts to get themselves out of danger. Twain’s way of writing is very realistic, and he’s known for his works in children’s literature. 

This novel follows the life of young Tom, who lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid, along the Mississippi River. Tom struggles with and pulls through his boredom of going to school, attending church, and white-washing fences. He lives a regular life, and spends his days playing make believe and hoping for an adventure. But everything changes one night, when Tom and Huckleberry Finn arrive at a graveyard, where they hear footsteps and soft whispers. A shimmer of the moonlight reflecting off the knife, and a splash of blood later, the boys realize that Dr. Robinson was murdered, right in front of their eyes. After that, Twain hurls us into the second half of the book, where serious action takes place, dark secrets are uncovered, and promises are broken.

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Teen SRC 2021 – The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

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The Runaway King is the sequel to The False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielsen. As a quick recap, Sage has been found out to be prince Jaron, and he is now ruling the kingdom. His entire family was poisoned by Conner and he is the only person left to be the king. As king, he is now facing war against Avenia, and opposing country, and the pirates inside.

Their country’s army isn’t large enough, so Jaron went to the pirates in hopes of recruiting them. This story unfolds spectacularly, revealing twists and turns that I didn’t think possible. Jaron is an exiting character to write about because his is incredibly reckless with crazy plans that somehow work out in his favor in a twist of fate.

I enjoyed this story a lot due to the beautiful “romance” and adventures that the characters have in there. I would recommend this book to anyone who has read and enjoyed “The False Prince” because it’s the sequel.

Teen SRC 2021 – The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The False Prince (The Ascendance Series, Book 1): Nielsen, Jennifer A.:  9780545284141: Books - Amazon.ca

The False Prince, a book by Jennifer A. Nielsen, is about a boy called Sage who lives in the kingdom of Carthya. He is caught stealing and bought by a nobleman by the name of Bevin Conner along with three other orphan boys called Roden, Tobias, and Latamer. They soon realize that they are going to be forced to pretend to be the prince since all other royal family members have gone missing. They will pretend to be the prince Jaron, who had gone missing at a young age and was presumed to be dead, although no body was found.

Although I read the second book first, this book still held many surprises. It explained why so many of the characters acted they way they did. I thoroughly enjoyed it, since it had many action scenes as well as interesting twists and turns. I highly recommend this book to avid readers of fantasy.

Teen SRC 2021 – These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is a 1920s retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in Shanghai, China. If that sentence doesn’t already say enough, this book also has a strange (possibly human created) plague, an enemies-to-lovers plot, many heart-breaking betrayals, AND a rich historical setting. The thing that clinched the deal for me, however, was the multiple POV way of writing. We don’t just see Juliette’s story or Roma’s (the star-crossed lovers) but also the story of side characters like Kathleen (Juliette’s cousin) or Benedikt and Marshall Seo (Roma’s cousin and friend respectively).

You can read the description of the book here but I’ll jump straight into my review. At first I was afraid this book was going for too much; gang rivalry, Romeo/Juliet, a mysterious plague that needs to be solved, and the backdrop of 1920s Shanghai with all its political history… not to mention the side characters who also have their own thing going on… But I was wrong. All of this is what made the plot complex and full of twists. The characters are also lovable with each their own rich inner thoughts and lives. As you can maybe tell from this being my third time of bringing it up, the most unique thing about this book, I found, was the setting. For starters, not many YA books being published in English are set in China or include any words in a foreign language. Chloe Gong not only managed to weave in many threads of Chinese culture to her story, but also political plots relating to the time period. As a history student, I found they added a lot to the story and as a reader, I was simply fascinated. On top of that, of course, the gang rivalry atmosphere added a lot of cloak-and-dagger feel to the story, which is something I love.

As usual, I have some criticisms and as usual, they are related to romance and are nit-picky. This may sound like my very own betrayal to this beautifully written book, but I found myself indifferent to Juliette and Roma’s romance side-plot. The backstory and enemies-to-lovers betrayal was written astoundingly well but I didn’t find much banter or friendship between them, which is what I usually look for. (Not to spoil anything, but I did find the type of romance I was looking for within one of the side plots so…it’s not all bad!) 🙂 Aside from that, I found the ending of These Violent Delights horrific (I say this lovingly) and will not rest easy until I have the second book in my hands. All in all, this book has a gorgeous setting, an amazing plot, and lovable characters. The only downside is a less than satisfactory ending. 9/10

Teen SRC 2021 – The Kingdom Of Back by Marie Lu

The Kingdom of Back is a historical and fantasy novel that portrays Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart’s life through 18th-century Europe as the older sister of the legendary musician, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Nannerl was also a talented musician and composer, but young women were forbidden to compose music; therefore, she had no chance to be remembered or honoured as a respectable musician. However, her beloved brother Wolfgang was easily shining brighter every day and stealing all the fame she should have received as well. Nannerl was extremely afraid to be overshadowed by her equally gifted brother since he began his successful music career at 5 years old. Furthermore, the gender inequality in their society oppressed her as a female and her future lies in a marriage, not music. She felt utterly despaired until a mysterious princeling boy from a magical land came to offer her a divine bargain to make her dream come true. 

I enjoyed this book because I was fascinated by how Marie Lu incorporated magic, music, and fantasy into a historical novel. She also revealed Nannerl’s intricate and complex personality through numerous aspects. Most importantly, I was very surprised to find out that the famous pianist Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had an older sister who he admired and loved so much. I appreciate that Marie Lu brought her existence to life and understand her struggles as a girl during 18th century Europe.

Teen Book Review-Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco

Hunting Prince Dracula

*Minor spoilers for Stalking Jack the Ripper (Book #1) present in this review*

10/10. It has been a LONG while since I enjoyed a book so much, and it has nothing to do with the mystery and everything to do with Thomas Cresswell. Okay, and the mystery was good too.

Now before you think I’ve gone crazy, I’ll list some things Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco could have done better. (See? Critique-y Inshal still exists) For example, it was hard to keep track of the many Romanian folktales told throughout the book, especially since Audrey Rose already had background knowledge that I didn’t about Vlad the Impaler. Also, it was annoying how much Audrey Rose got bullied for being a woman…even by the headmaster who literally accepted her application? I understand the historical point the author was trying to achieve, and I am completely behind Audrey Rose’s determination to study medicine despite the bigotry of her classmates BUT almost every other scene was about the same thing, so it got annoying. The last criticism I found in this book is somewhat related to the first… the details of the mystery were too difficult to understand because of info-dumping. I just stopped trying to unravel what was going on.

Okay! So, why did I give it a 10/10? Well, there are many reasons. 1. Audrey Rose’s trauma. There are TOO MANY books where characters go through a life-changing event and live happily ever after when it’s over. But the Ripper case (from book #1) still haunts Audrey Rose, and she is still grieving heavily because of it. We see her try to overcome those emotions that come from working with cadavers again, the same emotions that make her want to push people away. It’s not easy! She gets flashbacks, triggers…Basically, we see her growth from book 1 to book 2 and I was overall very pleased with how that was portrayed.

2. Thomas Cresswell. I know I was very unimpressed with him in my first review, but he has ALSO gone through a lot of character development. And he is so FUNNY, oh my God, but it’s not only him as a character that makes this book so great. His relationship with Audrey Rose (if you can call it that…) also develops a lot in this book. We see how their personalities clash, and how their past traumas/insecurities cause problems for their budding romance. Even better than all of that, we see Thomas and Audrey Rose talk to about what they need from each other(communication, people!), we see them fight, apologize, and try to work things out. Basically, their relationships is one of the best (and healthiest) ones I have ever read.

3. Girl Friendships! I feel like this review is becoming all about characters, but seriously, the characters in this book are A+. This time, we get further insight into Audrey Rose through her friendships with other female characters and it is amazing!!

4. Details of the setting. Now, I know this isn’t plot, or mystery, which are very important elements in this sort of book, but I’ve already talked about that in my critique paragraph. The last thing I feel this book delivered flawlessly was the setting. The way the characters talk, the description of their surroundings, and even the things they eat… I was literally transported to an ancient castle in Romania.

Okay, I’ve gone on long enough. Basically, yes, go read this book!!

Teen Book Review- Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Stalking Jack the Ripper - Maniscalco, Kerri

Dark historical fiction and mystery books are definitely my favourite genre to read, and I was so excited when I found Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco series. Don’t let the horrendous covers fool you! (I was wary at first, too.) But now that I’m two books in—with two more books to go—I’m completely in love with this series! By the way, I won’t be doing a synopsis thing, but you can look for that in the link above.

Now, onto what this book has to offer: When the first scene of a book is that of a Victorian lady cutting up a body in her Uncle’s lab, you know it’s bound to be interesting. I will say, however, that the gruesome details (such as how a liver feels like in one’s hand) can get unappealing… I actually enjoyed them, but included a disclaimer because this kind of thing depends on the reader. The scientific gore (for lack of a better term) isn’t overdone though, and the fact that the main character, Audrey Rose, can do things like autopsies and talk about them reveals stuff about her personality we might not have gotten otherwise. Basically, yes there is blood-related stuff in this book but not too much (for me, at least).

To expand more on my former point, Audrey Rose is a wonderfully written main character. She has her flaws, but is still very lovable and easy to relate to. I adore how scientific minded she is—most books that boast about an intelligent female character don’t actually show that. Another testament to how rounded of a character Audrey Rose is: she is allowed to have emotions. I find too much of the “strong and smart female mc” trope means the character isn’t allowed to feel much and… like what is up with that? A character should be able to feel heavy emotions and sympathy without that detracting from their ability to be professional.

The book was off to a great start…and then we meet Thomas Cresswell. His job as a love interest in the plot is too obvious from the start, and of course he acts mysterious and arrogant, too. I did warm up to him, however, by the end of the book. His dialogue is too funny and witty! (I cannot anymore with charming book characters.)

If it’s not obvious already, I loved this book a lot. I don’t usually do series because they tend to drag on and get complicated, but STJTR immediately made me want to pick up the next book. Spoiler: It was just as, if not more, amazing. (Review on that coming up next!)

There are some minor setbacks, of course, but I wouldn’t discount the whole book based on them. The writing, for example, gets a bit tiresome at points. Audrey Rose describes every step it takes for her to get from one place to another, which is especially annoying when it’s an action-packed scene and I want to get to the next important bit. Also, there were some scenes that repeated incessantly throughout the book, which dragged the plot. For example, if I have to listen to Nathaniel tell Audrey Rose not to worry their father one more time…

Still, the overall setting and plot of this book was great. The mystery aspect was good (although I guessed a little too early for me to be completely impressed). Plus, I fell in love with the characters and how they were written. A solid 9/10 from me.

Teen Book Review- Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea - Sepetys, Ruta

Ruta Sepetys is a tried and true author for me whenever I’m in the mood for some historical fiction, so I was really excited to pick up Salt to the Sea. The story follows four characters: Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred as they race to freedom on the doomed (but they don’t know it) Wilhelm Gustloff. Joana is a nurse with a past that haunts her. Florian is a spy with too many secrets. Emilia is a young girl hollowed by the brutality of war, and Alfred is a cowardly German soldier. Will they survive?

It isn’t much of a secret that the Wilhelm Gustloff is going to sink, so when I first started the book, I expected it to be rather fast-paced. It was not. The characters don’t board the ship until well past the halfway point, which was more frustrating than suspenseful. The other fundamental thing this book didn’t quite accomplish were the characters. I wasn’t expecting this from Sepetys either, because her characters are usually very well-developed (see: Fountains of Silence). But in this one, the four main characters were almost stock character material. For example, we have the dark and handsome brooding spy, the innocent ‘child’ with dreams, and the misguided immoral soldier. The worst character in my opinion, was Joana because she had NO flaws. (And no, being too kind is not a flaw!) I know it seems like I’m contradicting myself, but I did like the characters. They just weren’t well-written and had almost no complexity, but they were very lovable in general. Which sort of redeems them.

Moving on to the pros: Something that the book did irrefutably well was story-telling. The emotions Salt to the Sea brought me were intense, which is exactly as they should be in a good historical fiction. Some scenes are so disturbing I had to put the book down–don’t let the middle grade styling put you off, this book is definitely up there in age suitability.

On a brighter note, though, I appreciated how this book executed the multiple POV style writing. The romantic side plot was also well done (I guess I just like slow-burns). But maybe that is because romance comes easily enough when the characters themselves aren’t complicated. The plot of the book was adequate, but I found the backstories of some (no spoilers but I’m not talking about Emilia, hint hint) characters very shallow and disappointing. The ending absolutely ruined me, but in a good way. I would recommend Salt to the Sea to anyone searching for a simple but emotionally difficult historical fiction with a handsome side of romance. 9/10

P.S. Can I just say I hated all of Alfred’s chapters? Because yeah, I did.

Teen Book Review- Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen

Dangerous Alliance

TL;DR: 8.5/10. Romance and other relationships lacking, and some irritating tropes. Overall, fantastic historical detail, and good approach to abuse in the Regency period. Recommended for Jane Austen lovers!

Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen is a historical fiction with a dash of mystery which, if you know my favourite genres, is right up my aisle! Of course, the book is a romance too, which is less my thing… but! Jane Austen fans–this one is for you.

Lady Victoria Aston is living the idyllic English country life she always wanted. With her sister married in town, her parents give her mostly free reign of the estate. Best of all, here in the country, she doesn’t need to fit in with society’s rules of how a lady should behave. But one very eventful day later, Vicky’s life has completely changed. Aside from the fact that there might be someone out to harm her, Vicky finds out that sister was living in an abusive relationship. Long story short, Vicky has to marry soon… or she might lose her beloved Oakridge estate to that cad of a brother-in-law. Vicky knows her duty is to enter London’s society season and procure herself a husband, but her heart aches for a romance like found in her beloved Jane Austen stories. Will she find it, and with who? Also, who is behind all the strange incidents popping up around her?

Moving on to my thoughts! The plot is very Austen-like, which I can appreciate is no easy thing to do. The mystery and adventure aspects were my favourite, as well as the historical details. It is SUPER refreshing to see authors get historical things accurate! *swoon* The characters were wonderfully complex, and the different POVs–I’m a sucker for different POVs.

There were a few less wonderful parts, unfortunately. The romance, for one, but that might be my personal bias. I felt the couple well-written on their own, as characters. Together, though, I could barely see the chemistry. The love triangle was irritating, too, and although I rooted for who the author clearly wanted me to root for, I had no particular investment in it. In fact, all the relationships in this book were lacking. The ones I was most disappointed with (aside from the romances) were the sibling relationships. Vicky and Althea did have conversations, but they all lacked substance in my opinion. I also didn’t find the conclusions to either sibling conflicts very satisfying or sufficiently detailed.

The last thing I’m going to criticize is very nit-picky, but if it bothered me this much, it might bother someone else too. This book played the “strong female MC” trope well, but also felt quite sexist in some other aspects. (Bear with me.) Vicky compares herself to other girls, and says that–unlike them–she doesn’t like idle chatter about fashion or whatever. She mentions that many women would be eager to marry a (unnamed for spoiler reasons) man, in a critical way… almost as if she were better than those women because she wouldn’t. In the scenes where we are in Tom’s POV, he mentions SEVERAL times that debutantes are waving their fans and giggling at him, which I found extremely arrogant. We don’t get a broad diversity of main female characters, either. Susie is a ‘Mary Sue’ (stock character with no flaws), and Althea is uncomfortably demure.

Now that I’ve wasted two whole paragraphs on criticisms, let me give you the rating: 8.5/10.

That high, you ask? Well, I have a soft spot for well-written character arcs. The backstories were good, too, and original (for once). The rich historical details, as I mentioned before, gave me life, as did the old English dialogue. Something that I haven’t mentioned, but that I especially loved: how this book touched on marital violence, and abuse. It highlighted the fact that the Regency period wasn’t all balls and gowns, and demonstrated that certain characters’ views and personality were the way they were because of the trauma they faced. I liked how Althea, for example, wasn’t all healed after escaping her abusive household. The fact that she still fears for her safety on the daily, hesitates to talk about it, and fears the divorce won’t go through is realistic.

I recommend Dangerous Alliance for anyone who wants some 19th century drama!