Review: We Hunt the Flame

I heard a lot of hype about this YA debut fantasy; its Arab-inspired setting was a huge draw for me.  But ultimately, my feelings about We Hunt the Flame were complicated.  In short, I’d probably give it 3 / 5 stars, and I’m not planning to read any future books in the series.

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From Goodreads:

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king.

When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

The world building did end up being my favorite thing about this book.  I loved the setting of Arawiya and its countries, based on ancient Arabia.  We learn a lot about its government and culture, including food and rituals.  The author drops in Arabic words frequently, which I liked.  Some of the fantasy even ties into the cultural aspects with appearances by mythological creatures like ifrits.

The story was pretty engaging.  Although a bit slow to begin, it really picks up about a third of the way in, once Zafira and Nasir meet on their quest.  There are some nice twists at the end, several I saw coming and several I didn’t.  The characters were all pretty interesting, but I can’t say I really fell in love with any of them.

The fantasy and romance aspects were fine, nothing really special or new.  Zafira reminded me strongly of Katniss from Hunger Games because of her home life situation, her prickly personality, and her talents with a bow.  The overall tone of the book as well as some of the fantasy elements reminded me of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series.

The prose was one aspect of the novel that did stand out to me, being rather pretty and flowery, even going almost into poetical forms at times.  While it was nice, it also was not particularly easy to read.  I frequently had to stop and re-read sentences or even whole paragraphs to figure out what had actually happened.

Occasionally, the writing seemed overly detailed in a confusing way.  For example, one of the side characters I ended up liking the most was the young general Altair, but during his introduction scene I couldn’t get a read on him at all.  He is described, all within about a page, as having a “cheery voice” and a “wolfish grin,” while “anger feathered his jaw” and he spoke “hateful words,” yet “he acted as if everything were a jovial affair” and had the “eyes of a hawk.” Huh?

Overall, I enjoyed We Hunt the Flame, but I didn’t feel that it really stood out among other current YA fantasy except for its setting and world building.

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Feeding Reading — Free Books!

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Kellogg’s is running their Feeding Reading program again this summer that allows you to get free books when you purchase certain products like cereals, Cheez-Its, Eggo waffles, and Pop-Tarts.  You can get up to 10 free books, from all reading levels from picture and board books to YA titles.

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My family lives on Pop-Tarts, so I’ll definitely be able to get all ten books without even buying anything I wouldn’t already buy at the store.  I got my first set last week, two for me and two for my kid.  I am always impressed by the selection of books available, with both current and classic titles.  Steelheart and Illuminae are two (thick) YA titles that I’ve heard rave reviews about.  Llama Llama Red Pajama (also available in Spanish) is even a hardcover.

So what do you guys think of my haul?  Feeding Reading is going on until the end of September, so I hope you can check this out and get some free books yourself!

This is Why Representation is Important

Last week, Slate published an essay by an 11-year-old reader that illustrates perfectly why I believe in the need for books with diverse characters.  “This is Me” by Audrey Hall was a winner in the New York Public Library’s Summer Reading 2019 Essay Contest.  In her essay, Audrey describes how the book Blended by Sharon Draper expanded her universe.

You can read the full essay here, which is well-written and even includes quotes from the book to support her thesis.

Audrey checked Blended out of the library and it quickly became a favorite.  The book features a multiracial protagonist with divorced parents, which also describes Audrey.  She describes how she related directly to the character’s experiences in the book, moving between households and debating how to describe herself.  It was a revelation for her to know that there might be other kids who shared her own experiences. “This book made me feel like I belong,” she wrote.

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An excerpt from Audrey’s essay

I personally could not have written a better essay to describe why representation is important, especially in children’s and YA literature.  Every child should have the same feeling that Audrey had when reading.

38351370Of course, we will not relate to every character we read about, which also expands our minds.  And of course, we can relate to characters who don’t look like us at all. For example, my pen name Mei-Mei was taken from a Chinese character in a Japanese anime.  But I won’t pretend that I don’t automatically feel a sense of kinship with every redhead character that I meet. Being able to see ourselves so directly in characters is such a valuable thing that I want every child to be able to experience it as I have.

For this reason, I have been a fan of the We Need Diverse Books movement, which started as  a Twitter hashtag and has become a phenomenon. I think we have seen a huge growth of diverse books in YA fantasy (my wheelhouse) over the past ten years, and I hope this trend will continue.  I am personally making an effort to read more books featuring diverse characters and, just as importantly, by diverse authors to support the publishing industry following this trend.

Audrey’s prize for the essay was a trip to a NY Yankees game.  I hope she has a great time!  I also hope she grows up to be a writer of many more characters like herself.

Slightly Subpar Sequels

There’s nothing better than getting sucked into a series where you just want to keep reading book after book.  But for every series like Girl of Fire and Thorns, where I found the second book to be a huge improvement on the first, there is also a series where the quality dips after the first, or the story goes off in a completely different direction.  I read a couple of books recently that, while perfectly fine books, did not live up to their predecessors in my mind.

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Dragonshadow

By Elle Katharine White

I enjoyed the initial book Heartstone (billed as Pride and Prejudice with dragons) earlier this year; however this follow up went in a bit of a different direction and lost my interest.

For a series where the first entry adhered almost completely to the plot points of P&P, the second book takes a hard left and, aside from the characters of the previous book and an occasional “sir,” has no relation to Austen or the Regency whatsoever that I could tell.  The closest connection I could make is Northanger Abbey, both involving a visit to a mysterious house of secrets, but since everything that Aliza imagines at Castle Selwyn is actually true, the lesson seems to have been lost.

As much as I wasn’t crazy about the slavish adherence to P&P in the first book, without the Austen connection the sequel lost one of the things that drew me to the series and became just a decent generic fantasy. (I did like that it incorporates further mythological creatures instead.)  Another issue is that without the P&P backbone, this story is not as tightly plotted and seemed like it was stretched out to make a trilogy. It takes the entire first half of the book for Aliza and Alastair to get where they are going, which seemed like a very slow start to me.

But as a last note, it does take a serious and mature look at some difficult aspects of married life that I think is great for a YA novel to explore.
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Suitors and Sabotage

By Cindy Anstey

This YA Regency intrigue was entertaining but kind of forgettable. I discovered the first two books when I was on a Regency romance kick, and really enjoyed them, but I didn’t really feel anything special about this one. Perhaps the formula is getting old for me? (Though these 3 books are similar, they are more companion novels than a series; there is no overlap in characters and no overarching plotline.)

I think the level of tension and drama was not quite up to the level of the first two books.  For comparison, the first book Love, Lies, and Spies begins with the heroine hanging off a cliff; this one starts with a lovely picnic among some scenic ruins.  It was also less epic in scope, nothing to do with international espionage or even kidnapping, just some vaguely threatening events.

 

Overall, I’d give these two sequels 3/5 stars, while I probably would have rated their predecessors around 4 stars.  While I enjoyed reading them, I doubt I’ll continue with either series, or ever revisit them in the future. On to better books!

Book Blogger Memory Challenge

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Two bloggers I follow recently did a fun tag that I thought would be a good challenge (even though I’m not really a book blogger).  Thanks to Vicky at The Roaring Bookworm and Madame Writer for the inspiration.

The Book Blogger Memory Challenge

Rules

You must answer these questions without looking anything up on the internet and without looking at your bookshelves!

I decided to make it a step harder and only answer with books that I actually own.

Name a book written by an author called Michael

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Rogue Squadron by Michael Stackpole.  I have at least half a dozen of his books; he’s one of my favorite Star Wars authors and his Talion: Revenant is a perfectly plotted fantasyRogue Squadron was one of the first Star Wars books I read and remains of my favorites to this day.

Name a book with a dragon on the cover

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Eragon by Christopher Paolini.  I still haven’t finished the last book in this series haha.

Name a book about a character called George

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Emma by Jane Austen.  The first character I thought of was George Weasley from the Harry Potter series, but I wanted to pick a book with a George as a main character.  This was very difficult!  Because George seems like a very British name, I went through all my Brit lit books in my head until I remembered that Mr. Knightley’s first name is George.  I knew Austen had to have a George somewhere!  He may not be the main character, but as the love interest I think the book is still “about” him.

Also, this image is not the edition I have; I have a hardcover with all her collected published works.

Name a book with an author with the surname of Smith

I came up with White Teeth by Zadie Smith, which is one of the 100 books from the Great American Read last year.  But I’ve never read it, and I don’t own it.  I scanned my shelves later and didn’t find any Smiths.

Name a book set in Australia

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Playing Hearts by WR Gingell.  The main character lives in Australia, though she also spends a lot of time in Wonderland.  This is a cute novella from an indie Tasmanian author; I really recommend her full length novels as well, including Masque, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

Name a book with the name of a month in the title

I came up with Missing May by Cynthia Rylant, but I don’t think I own it, and I’m not sure I’ve even read it.  All I can tell you is that it’s an award-winning children’s book.  I also think “May” refers to the name of a person, not the month itself, but it technically fits.

Name a book with a knife on the cover

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Graceling by Kristin Cashore.  This is the start of a wonderful YA fantasy series with beautiful covers.  I also thought of The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, but ironically I own a copy that does not have a knife on the cover!

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No knife! It’s part of a set.

Name a book with the word ‘one’ in the title

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Choices of One by Timothy Zahn.  This is another of my favorite Star Wars authors, featuring my favorite EU character, Mara Jade.

Name a book with an eponymous title

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  In fact, all the books in the Lunar Chronicles series, which is a YA sci-fi take on fairy tale retellings (and it also has some Sailor Moon references).

Name a book turned into a movie

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There are so many I could pick from, but the first that came to mind was The Lord of the Rings, which actually consists of three books.  (If we’re getting really picky, it’s six books in three volumes.)  So to be specific, I’ll say The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien.

I think I did pretty well in this challenge!  I only looked up the covers once I had written down my answers.  I have a good memory and this was a fun test, though I struggled with a couple.  I’m not going to tag anyone, but feel free to do this challenge yourself!