Book Review # 86: Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

Wednesday, 21 December 2016 0 comments
Please note that before you read this review that I am reviewing this publication for Penguin. I received an advanced readers copy of this title in exchange for an honest review. In no way is my opinion influenced by the fact that I received this free of charge. Now on with the review!

Title: Holding Up The Universe 
Author: Jennifer Niven
Publisher: Penguin
Format: ARC 
Publication DateOctober 6th 2016
Pages: 388
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed 'America's Fattest Teen'. But no one's taken the time to look past her weight to get to see who she really is. Since her mum's death, she's been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby's ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for EVERY POSSIBILITY LIFE HAS TO OFFER. I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin too. Yes, he's got swagger, but he's also mastered the art of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a secret: he can't recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He's the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything, but he can't understand what's going on with the inner workings of his own brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don't get too close to anyone.

Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game which lands them in group counseling, Libby and Jack are both angry, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world - theirs and yours.
In 2015, Jennifer Niven shocked the YA community with her deliverance of All The Bright Places, a novel I described upon review as compelling, compassionate and yet totally soul destroying. It was a novel that left an impact on me as a reader, so when I realised the announcement of a second novel entitled Holding Up The Universe, I was intrigued. Tackling such prominent and modern struggles such as weight, Niven delivers once again with Holding Up The Universe. It of course was of no surprise when I realised that Niven explores the complexity of human emotion and even branches out to exploring a condition that I hadn't even heard of. Prosopagnosia (or face-blindness) is the inability to recognise the faces of others, no matter how many times you see them. This outlook on life was a really interesting and inspiring way of looking at the world and understand the difficulties that came with living with the condition. 

As expected from a Niven novel, our two characters originate from two very different backgrounds and meet through consequence or as some may call it, 'fate.' From then on, we watch as spectators as their journeys develop and intertwine in with one another and a relationship begins to brew. Thankfully, unlike the horrors Niven expressed to us at the end of All The Bright Places, Holding Up The Universe ends in a much happier and more joyful manner. If you've read stereotypical romance novels before then I don't need to express to you the ending as you can most likely guess. However, like other romances, Jack and Libby go through their various trials during their relationship. But this book is a lot more than just romance. It explores the notion of coming to terms with who you are and not allowing others to define that. It also indicates the most important message is to understand that you are wanted, no matter what other say, because if you want yourself then that shatters any negativity coming at your from elsewhere.

With these characters comes two very distinctive voices, and both Libby and Jack were very resonant with their character traits. Libby's voice was confident, positive and at times had a fragility edge to it, whilst Jack's was often quite the opposite. Often hiding behind his asshole demeanour, Jack is simply trying to fit in and achieve normality in such a deranged world. At times I did feel a lot for Jack, and whilst I did feel for Libby the majority of the book, my heart did go out more strongly for Jack. With his condition; not being able to recognise the people you love, it's heartbreaking, and trying to overcome this idea of fitting in - well that's something that I believe most people can relate to at some point in their lives. We've all done it, haven't we? However, whilst this novel was adorable and very powerful for many reasons, I did have frustrations at times with some of the predictability, it was an enjoyable contemporary novel that shared a lot of powerful messages. Would I read it again? Certainly. I award 4 out of 5 stars to Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven. It resonates strongly as a YA contemporary novel and I would strongly urge others to read it. 

Book Review # 85: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Monday, 12 December 2016 0 comments
Please note that before you read this review that I am reviewing this publication for Harper Voyager UK. I received an advanced readers copy of this title in exchange for an honest review. In no way is my opinion influenced by the fact that I received this free of charge. Now on with the review!

Title: A Torch Against the Night 
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Publisher: Harper Voyager UK
Format: ARC 
Publication Date: September 8th 2016
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

Elias and Laia are running for their lives.

After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.

Laia is determined to break into Kauf - the Empire's most secure and dangerous prison - to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars' survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.

But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene - Elias's former friend and the Empire's newest Blood Shrike.

Bound to Marcus's will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own - one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape... and kill them both.
After the thrills delivered in An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir showed the world her potential in crafting an original, mythic concept within a troped, Young Adult type setting. It explored roman design and democracy in a brutal system, and alas Sabaa concocted originality in its simplest form. With A Torch Against the Night, Tahir brings a whole new level of excitement to the table with the second installation in this saga, this time merging the classic themes delivered in Ember with a fantasy lined undertone.

The book kicks off where we left our beloved characters, observing them on the run from the new Emperor, Blood Shrike, The Commandment and their band of viciously trained Masks. Their target? Escaping to the prison in Kauf to liberate Laia's brother. From then, their journey unfolds, as we as readers explore with our two heroes, the perils and excessive trials they face and the compromises they have to make along the way to survive.

Whilst Embers focused in the duel narrative perspective, Torch delivers us a third perspective from Helene who has her own perilous journey of her own - tracking down Laia and Elias and ending them. Fighting for honour and sacrifice, both very traditional traits, and tradition and loyalty is a theme that runs throughout and identifies heavily in all characters in this novel. Helene relies heavily on her determination for her wellbeing and her family, Laia has the loyalty to her brother and Elias is loyal to his own freedom.

Although, whilst character development is something that Sabaa identifies heavily with in this novel, she could also be seen as taking a sideline with it, as she spends less time exploring the deeper emotional states of her characters and focuses more on the crafting of her expansive world. As aforementioned, our main protagonists venture across this newly developed world on a quest to free Laia's brother and we get to explore not only the expanse of the world but also of the power dynamics of the world. Through Sabaa's development in writing, we also are exposed to the internal struggles and how the uncertainty of navigating politics can have an effect on characters and the world around them.

One of the other elements that has slowly been building its way up since the beginning of the series is the aspect of myth and magic. It becomes very evident in this book with Laia's character developing some unique gifts that throw a new edge into Tahir's world. With the development of the 'Nightbringer' on the imminent horizon, it is curious to wonder just how great of a threat this foretold villain is going to pose, considering how ruthless the antagonists have been thus far in Sabaa Tahir's work. It will be interesting to see how the current characters at play weave into the story of the Nightbringer and how it will develop against the whole plot. So how do I rate this instalment in Sabaa's saga? Well as confusing and mystifying as some of the more elaborate fantasy elements woven into the story had me, A Torch Against the Night is a solid sequel to Embers and I award it a 4 out of 5 stars on my classification scale.

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