Review: Defy Me

Review: Defy Me

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

This review is not spoiler-free

Juliette thought she had everything under control until she didn’t. And now she’s alone with no one but herself as she’s forced to rediscover the world around. A lifetime of lies unravels before her and Juliette has no choice but to remember the past she had long forgotten. Narrated by Juliette and other familiar faces, the fifth instalment brings to light information that continues to shake the very foundation of the world they thought they knew.

A lot of people love this, and a lot of people hate this. As a reader who despised the original trilogy, my expectations for these new books were extremely low, but I was fairly impressed by Restore Me and I could say the same things for Defy Me: entertaining yet at the same time, so, so disappointed.

In term of story, there’s not much to unpack. Juliette discovers the truth behind her family, her parents and sister, and it is heartbreaking. Hearing about her sister and the truth behind her past was a standout moment, especially in a powerful scene between the sisters at the end. On the other end, we follow Warner and Kenji as they scramble to pick the movement back up after Juliette’s sudden disappearance. Memories of certain characters are restored and suddenly, they all don’t know what’s happening. I really enjoyed Restore Me, but Defy Me felt like it’s filler counterpart.

In my (poorly written) series review, I named Kenji the series saver. But I don’t know if he truly gave this story the pick up it sorely needed. I really enjoyed his chapters despite my overall feelings. He was always so hilarious and relatable, and often the only person who made any sense in the series. That Juliette and Kenji reunion was enough to save the book for me. I found it weird that Mafi decided to pair him up with Nazeera. In Restore Me, it was so cringey and embarrassing, especially when Mafi basically pulls an almost insta love on the readers with them. But I really did enjoy their overall dynamic in Defy Me. Do I love it or do I hate it? I don’t even know. I’ll withhold final judgements until Imagine Me.

I feel really bad that I could not, for the life of me, remember anything significant about the Omega Point group. Tahereh Mafi withholding Brendan and Winston from getting together made no sense. I legit forgot about Castle for most of this book. I am glad he got his family back. I feel like Adam was a completely new character. It’s like Tahereh really didn’t need him in this book, and kept him being an ass in the background.

I have to say Tahereh writes this series in such an addicting way, that’s only in this series alone. In all her other works I’ve read was good, but none really had that pacing that the Shatter Me series has that whether you love it or hate it, you find yourself speeding through. I feel like this whole series is just one big adrenaline rush. But note, this book is like 80% rambly flashbacks and a lot was missing. Especially when Juliette was locked away, there was a huge potential to develop those scenes further, but we lose a lot of valuable information. The dialogue was so melodramatic. And I wasn’t a huge fan of that. To be honest, this book could’ve been shortened, and split back into Restore Me and added onto Imagine Me. Everything was stretching a little thin for me in this book.

I have to say this: I didn’t get the engagement scene. I knew it was coming up and it just didn’t feel right. And don’t get me started at that sex scene. I’m all for making more sex-positive YA books but I’m pulling out that iconic Pokemon line, “There’s a time and place for everything, but not now.” Was this an attempt at fanservice because I was lost for words at how lost I was when I was reading it.

Overall, I don’t know even know what to expect for this series and how it will actually end. I felt bad for Tahereh at first because adding three new books to a beloved YA series that had ended ages ago was a bold move on her part. But I feel like, in that time, the actual fans of this series have consolidated their own thoughts and ideas of what happens next and the past two books so far have thrown a lot of them off. I personally enjoyed the general direction this series has taken after Restore Me but I feel like Tahereh’s decision to write three more Shatter Me books has polarised her own reader community a lot. I would say if you loved the series, then go ahead continue the series, but if you were never a fan of the originals, then stay away, this won’t do any good for you.


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Review: Piecing Me Together

Review: Piecing Me Together

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)


“I don’t know what’s worse. Being mistreated because of the colour of your skin, your size, or having to prove that it really happened.”

High school junior Jade attends an elite school on scholarship in a predominately white area where she is the only person from her “bad” neighbourhood in Portland, OR. With her mother struggling to make ends meet, she reminds Jade that every opportunity must never be wasted if she wants to book it out her neighbourhood someday. However, Jade can’t help but feel like some of these opportunities make her feel like a charity case. More than anything, she wants to join her school’s study abroad week to improve her Spanish skills. But instead, she is invited to a mentorship program for people from her background and is partnered up with Maxine, a school alumnus who has made a name for herself and wants to give back to her community. She has nothing in common with Maxine and her privileged background, but this is an opportunity that Jade can’t turn down. 

Piecing Me Together is a standout novel about a teen’s journey of awareness and self-empowerment through art. Readers will find Jade’s story thoughtful as she navigates the world as a Black girl. The microaggressions she faces in her everyday life is powerfully nuanced and incredibly realistic. Race, privilege and identity are key themes that string through the entire novel. I feel like this book will get some slack for being “quiet” but, honestly, this technique works best in this circumstance. It lacks in an explosive conflict, opting for a story that focuses on the minute reproduction of Jade’s reality. Watson touches upon a lot in so little space which makes the story so layered and put together. Because of this, I wasn’t a massive fan of how quickly the conflict Jade had with one of her white peers had resolved.  This is just a heads up to readers who prefer a more fast-paced read. 

The way Watson create Jade’s voice was indeed on point and brought to life the way Jade’s experiences differs to say Sam, her new friend, who is white and comes from the same impoverished background as her. Jade can see how, despite their similar experiences, they are given different opportunities. Sam benefits a lot from white privilege but fails to see to truly understands its impact until Jade points it out. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself frustrated with Sam but opens your understanding of how she thinks what she does.  Jade grows up a lot in this, and I appreciated her development. She starts by not wanting to rock the boat but slowly realises that she is allowed to speak out when in discomfort and she shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about it. Maxine is a little tricky. It took some time to appreciate her, mainly because she doesn’t begin taking the mentorship seriously, which impacts how Jade feels about her. (and me!) Slowly, over time, they realise they can relate to each other. Jade’s home community is quite precious. I love her uncle and her mum. They’re often on edge with each other, but do care genuinely and want the best for the other. 

Overall, I found Piecing Me Together quite touching and realistic. Jade’s story is colourful as her art and well put together. The characters come alive and become people that we might already know in our lives. Watson has created a story that gives a voice to often silenced Black voices and creates an exciting story that can be completed in one sitting. 


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Review: This Time Will Be Different

Review: This Time Will Be Different

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

When her mother decides to sell their family flower shop, a rift forms in the Katsuyama household. CJ’s mother wants to forgive and forget, but her free-spirited aunt is adamant that the store will pull through, and selling it to the family who swindled their grandparents during the Japanese internment is unthinkable. Unable to live up to her mother’s high expectations, CJ has always gone with the flow, found peace in arranging flowers, but now she has something she wants to fight for. 

This Time Will Be Different‘s primary focus is whether should history just stay in the past. CJ and her friends certainly don’t think so and try their hardest to get people to be held accountable. The current McAllister may not have been the ones to have personally stolen, but they reap the benefit of their generational wealth to this present day, while those who lose out are faded to a distant memory. It’s why her aunt refuses to let the McAllister buy their store who would just use the space for their benefit, again. 
CJ’s family unit is quite complicated. She’s stuck between her mother’s fierce ambition and her aunt’s chill behaviour, which places her in a middle ground where she must choose whether to focus on the future or trust with her heart. I really appreciated the ways Sugiura brought the Katsuyama household to life. CJ feels like she can never catch her to what her mother expects, and that’s such a universal feel, and I really enjoyed how Sugiura portrayed those moments of vulnerability within CJ. 

CJ is unique, to say the least. She lacks confidence through much of the novel and grows into her self-realisation as she begins to address her own trauma and prejudices. She’s not great at communicating, which leads to her bottling everything up until they come out too extreme. She isn’t driven the way her mother would prefer and uses her feeling of failure to protect herself, which I found quite relatable. However, I have to say; I didn’t really like her attitude for much of the novel. Her pettiness ruins many things for herself and others around her. 

I think the most disappointing aspect of this book was how it was all over the place, and the focus isn’t really there. One moment, it’s about the flower shop, the next, it’s about them discovering the land their highschool resides on is also a property that was defrauded the same way CJ’s grandparents were. Moreover, then that takes over the entire novel as the students’ rally to change the name of their school, the flower shop is placed on the back burner until it’s needed again. That being said, there’s a lot of discussion within this novel, which I appreciated: racism, sexism, model minority myth, and white saviour complex. And with an open ending and little closure, I was hoping everything to be reined in more and have a stronger focus. 

Overall, This Time Will Be Different is a compelling read, shining a light on a history that shouldn’t be forgotten. Despite my own thoughts, this book is well deserved and succeeds in multiple ways. A novel of memories and history and whether we can genuinely learn from our mistakes, or are we doomed to repeat them all with little reflection. I would recommend this to most contemporary lovers that enjoy stories about social justice and how to make a difference on a small scale. 


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Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Casiopea Tun dreams of a life beyond her small Mexico town until she accidentally releases a God of Death and her time is soon limited, as she is now bound to the Mayan God, Hun-Kamé, and must help him regain his missing body parts in order to reclaim his throne in Xibalba (Mayan Underground) from his thieving brother. Failure means Casiopea will lose herself and with the clock slowly ticking, together, they embark on a life-changing journey that has Casiopea leaving the clutches of her strict grandfather and experience an adventure of a lifestyle.

The central tale focuses on Casiopea and her journey from sheltered girl to a confident person who rediscovers the world beyond her small village. Her determination to go beyond what is expected of her is entertaining and thrilling. A tale of a young woman and a God with their fates tied so close together, the world they discover takes centre stage. Casiopea and Vacub-Kamé hurry though Mexico in the 1920s, beginning in Yucatán and onwards into northern Mexico. The bright lights of a changing world is a brilliant contrast with the darkness of Xibalba, crafty magic and the mischievous demons that reside beside the civilians. I really enjoyed the level of detail as you can really imagine the world unfold in front you as Casiopea experiences it all for the first time.

I really loved the inclusion of Casiopea’s cousin. Like Casiopea, he is forced to embark on a journey to bring his cousin back home. I love that it gave deeper depth to how he has come to hate his cousin and where is narcissistic tendencies comes from, and how easily things could’ve been different between them if it wasn’t for their upbringing. I wasn’t a massive fan of Vacub-Kamé, Hun-Kamé’s brother, and his chapters, but appreciate how it showed a difference in leadership between the brothers and added a lot to the major theme of family that runs through this novel.

In terms of pacing, it was quite even between the journeys to each body parts, but I do have to admit, each obstacle does give up rather easily which was quite jarring considering the stakes and risks presented to us. However, I did really enjoy each side character that we meet. Most we don’t ever meet again but were definitely memorable enough to enjoy. I especially really adored the lull moments between each trip where Casiopea and Hun-Kamé get to know each other. I’ve never been a big fan of romances where one person is like a thousand years older than the one, but each to their own, I guess.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think any other reader will enjoy how Moreno-Garcia’s blend of mythology and history. Gods of Jade and Shadow was an enchanting story of self-discovery with an ending that is satisfying but could hint at a potential sequel. If so, I would gladly read whatever comes next.


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Review: Slay

Review: Slay

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

A teen game developer finds herself facing an online troll after her Black Panther-inspired game reaches mainstream media and is labelled as exclusionary when a young Black boy is murdered over an online dispute. No one knows that Kiera Johnson, an honours student, runs the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. So when her game’s existence is thrown out into the open, she must save her game while also protecting the safe community she has created for Black gamers. 

SLAY comes to life when Kiera Johnson’s experiences of being a Black gamer means she is ostracised and faces continuously racist abuse. SLAY becomes her refuge where she can put aside her fears about college and whether her future with her boyfriend is the one and, simply put, slays in her self-made game environment. I loved the gameplay detail a lot. For some, it can feel overwhelming, but I loved the detail Morris put into bringing SLAY to life! The gaming culture is one of the book’s strongest point. 

When word of SLAY leaks to the media, Kiera is devastated to see what was a safe space for so many people suddenly branded and portrayed in a negative light, this book is a discussion of the importance of space spaces, and they have the right to exist without being labelled racist. 

In my opinion, the book struggles to make me feel like Kiera developed this game. I thought we’d get a better explanation to how she manages to run SLAY, a VR MMORPG, but we get so little that it made the reading experience disappointing. SLAY is Kiera’s baby, but to maintain a game like SLAY for years with no one in your family realising and only having two people moderating a game with 500k users doesn’t make sense. I would’ve loved to have seen Kiera actively working on SLAY rather than pushing it to the side and with little to show of her skill in game development. Also, the ending was rather disappointing as well, and a lot is glossed over, and not developed. So it’s a shame the side characters weren’t as impressive as they had the potential to be better. Kiera deserves better friends after everything she’s been through. 

Overall, despite my own shortcomings with SLAY, Morris’s debut is a sweet love letter to Black gamer girls. SLAY is born out of Kiera’s wish to promote Black culture from across the diverse diaspora. Collectable battle cards are grounded in Black culture, each with a deep meaning and can kick ass on the digital playing field. SLAY was a good read, and I’ll happily check out anything else Morris will release in the future.  

Here are some #OwnVoices reviews from Black book bloggers: Leila and Liselle Sambury


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Review: The Resurrectionist of Caligo

Review: The Resurrectionist of Caligo

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Roger Weathersby barely scrapes by making a living out of stealing corpses for medical schools, dreaming that one day, he’ll be a reputable doctor that saves lives. But when he’s framed for a murder of one of his steals, he is forced to reunite with an old friend to save the city and, hopefully, clear his name. The old friend in question is none of than Princess Sibylla, who returns to her childhood city on request of her Queen grandmother, who is keen to see she is married off to her cousin to further their magical bloodline. But when her own suspicions tie in with Roger’s situation, it’s up to them to save the country before it’s torn apart.

I’m not going to lie, this was quite a surprising read. The Resurrectionist of Caligo is quite intriguing. The royal family of Myrcnia rule by divine right due to their magical skills that comes from their bloodline. Everyone has a different ability, and due to it only being manifested in a person’s biology, the reigning Queen is quite hellbent on making sure it stays in the family. And that means killing off any illegitimate children and only allowing marriages within the family. And this has Sibylla on edge because her half-brother is hidden within the city and she is sure Queen is close to discovering his identity. Roger is in a strange position where in the town, the people are restless, and science is growing and questioning the supremacy of the magical users. A Resurrectionist is simply a cooler term for grave snatcher in the name of science. And Roger begins to notice a pattern in the corpses he has been collecting and the victims of a well-known strangler who has been terrorising the women of Caligo.

I loved the magical features and the development of the political intrigue of this universe. But, the world-building is a hit or miss situations where within Myrcnia, and its capital Caligo, it is quite packed with a lot of detail. I was quite impressed with the quasi-Victorian design that is set up. Trimboli and Zaloga draw on the challenges of the Victorian-era lifestyle, echoing a steampunk design, which creates the Myrcnia’s landscape. A pivot part of Sibylla’s arc is her interaction with the neighbouring country, but I was disappointed how bland they were in comparison. You get a lot of rich detail within the city, but they’ve resorted to merely being the outsiders, and it just didn’t sit well with me.  

I personally loved Sibylla and Roger as characters in their own right, but the story really hinges on their childhood connection and, personally, I never really caught on to what drew them together. And a lot of their communication is passed between Roger’s half-brother, who is also Sibylla’s warden.  They appear to despise each other, and there’s little given to understand their connection, aside from their forced situation.

Overall, I found The Resurrectionist of Caligo quite entertaining. It was quick, easy to read. The characters are great, I enjoyed the mix of comedy and mystery, and it was quite heart-warming in most scenes. The magic system is by far the most exciting aspect of this novel, but not as utilised as you would expect. But I would definitely be interested in checking out in any future sequels.


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