Mini Reviews #13 | Blogmas Day 1

Mini Reviews #13
Blogmas Day 1

Hello readers, and welcome to Blogmas! It’s time for another round of Mini Reviews, where I talk about some of the books I don’t write full length reviews for. It’s been a while since I did one of these posts! With the hectic posting schedule I’ve had these past months, I haven’t really had the chance to share my thoughts on some of the other books I’ve been reading, so I figured it would be a great post to kick off Blogmas! This installment, let’s chat about: Hench, Rebel Spy, Heartstopper: Volume Two and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

Hench | Natalie Zina Walschots

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Anna does boring things for terrible people because even criminals need office help and she needs a job. Working for a monster lurking beneath the surface of the world isn’t glamorous. But is it really worse than working for an oil conglomerate or an insurance company? In this economy? As a temp, she’s just a cog in the machine. But when she finally gets a promising assignment, everything goes very wrong, and an encounter with the so-called “hero” leaves her badly injured.  And, to her horror, compared to the other bodies strewn about, she’s the lucky one. So, of course, then she gets laid off.

With no money and no mobility, with only her anger and internet research acumen, she discovers her suffering at the hands of a hero is far from unique. When people start listening to the story that her data tells, she realizes she might not be as powerless as she thinks.

Because the key to everything is data: knowing how to collate it, how to manipulate it, and how to weaponize it. By tallying up the human cost these caped forces of nature wreak upon the world, she discovers that the line between good and evil is mostly marketing.  And with social media and viral videos, she can control that appearance.

It’s not too long before she’s employed once more, this time by one of the worst villains on earth. As she becomes an increasingly valuable lieutenant, she might just save the world…

I heard about this book at the very last minute and I’m so glad I did! In a world of superheroes and supervillains, Hench takes us into what life is for those behind the villains, the hench people who keep their organizations running. This book is fast-paced and thoroughly entertaining, but it’s also one that will make you think. This provides a marvellous look at the line between good and evil and how that line is often blurred. There’s a lot to consider here about the what being a hero or a villain truly means and what decides who is who.

I’m only just starting to enjoy stories in the superhero genre, and a villain origin story is one I can rarely resist. Saving the day is fun and all, but Hench gets into the harsh realities of heroics, the material damage caused, and more importantly, how it affects the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire for no reason. This was particularly interesting for me because it’s a question I’ve asked myself ever since I started watching Marvel movies. Anna is an amazing anti-heroine, and an incredibly strong character and it was wonderful to follow this story through her eyes. I felt this book ended a little abruptly and I would have absolutely read another 500 pages of this story. Nevertheless, it works as a standalone, but there’s certainly room for a sequel which I would absolutely read. With its dark humour and highly engaging narration, this is a fantastic book and I can’t recommend it enough!

Publishing Date: September 22nd, 2020 (William Morrow)

Rebel Spy – Veronica Rossi

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Rebellious Frannie Tasker knows little about the war between England and its thirteen colonies in 1776, until a shipwreck off her home in Grand Bahama Island presents an unthinkable opportunity. The body of a young woman floating in the sea gives Frannie the chance to escape her brutal stepfather–and she takes it.

Assuming the identity of the drowned Emmeline Coates, Frannie is rescued by a British merchant ship and sails with the crew to New York. For the next three years, Frannie lives a lie as Miss Coates, swept up in a courtship by a dashing British lieutenant. But after witnessing the darker side of the war, she realizes that her position gives her power. Soon she finds herself eavesdropping on British officers, risking everything to pass information on to George Washington’s Culper spy ring as agent 355. Frannie believes in the fight for American liberty–but what will it cost her? Inspired by the true “355” and rich in historical detail and intrigue, this is the story of an unlikely New York society girl turned an even unlikelier spy
... Goodreads

The American Revolution is an era I have yet to delve into with regards to historical fiction, and Rebel Spy was the first novel I’ve ever read set in this time period. All I knew was what I remember from history class and my own research – I knew that Washington had a spy ring but I love how this delved into it so much more. I liked how Frannie’s story was told – from taking on a dead girl’s identity to escape her awful stepfather, and stepping into the shoes and life of a lady in America to eventually becoming a spy.

However, this book was less spy centered than I would have liked. It was almost like a side plot with too much focus on the romance which was not what I expected of a book about Agent 355, no matter how well thought out Frannie’s backstory is. For a spy story, this was actually quite tame, all things considered, and the stakes, while high, weren’t properly portrayed as such in the mood of the story.

I tend to read across the spectrum of age groups in this genre, and in the case of this book, something just felt lacking. This is recognizably YA as it doesn’t take the time to go into much depth about most things in my opinion. 350 pages was not enough to tell this story and too many things felt glossed over. But my real complaint is that the ending was way too rushed and leaves too many questions. How did the others react to Frannie being revealed as a rebel? Also, how on earth did Frannie’s stepfather find her? And most of all, what happens after that ending?

This was an addictive read, and the engaging narration makes it impossible to put down. Rebel Spy would be a great choice for anyone starting out with either the genre or the time period as I feel it makes for a great introduction.

Publishing Date: June 23rd, 2020 (Delacorte Press)

Heartstopper: Volume Two – Alice Oseman

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.

Heartstopper is about friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie’s lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us.

This is the second volume of Heartstopper, with more to come. Volume two collects all of chapter three from the ongoing web series…

I can’t believe it took me this long to discover this absolutely adorable comic! I keep binge reading chapter after chapter and this one was no less amazing than the first! The simple artwork and clear dialogue makes it so easy to read and it was lovely to watch Charlie and Nick’s relationship unfold in this second installment. I really don’t have anything to criticize here, and this was just so cute and I need volume 3 right now! This would be perfect for getting out of a reading slump because it’s bound to put anyone in a good mood.

Publishing Date: July 11th, 2019 (Hodder Children’s Books)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games #0) | Suzanne Collins

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute… and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes...Goodreads

I’m honestly kind of conflicted about this book. This prequel shows us the tenth Hunger Games through the eyes of a young Coriolanus Snow as he is selected to be the mentor of Lucy Grey Baird from District 12. Coryo, who has high ambitions, sees this as a humiliation as he desperately needs his tribute to win in order to better the fortunes of his family who are desperately trying to conceal the truth of their poor finances.

This version of the Games was very…different – they are completely unrecognizable from the spectacle we were introduced to in the main trilogy, and even many of the citizens of the Capitol, for whom the horrors of war are still too near, take any real pleasure in it.

Now I’ve always been very fond of villain origin stories, but here’s the issue: it’s very hard to sympathize with a villain when you’ve seen how thoroughly villainous he ends up in the future – and how irredeemable he has been painted as in the main trilogy. It doesn’t help that the hardships Coryo goes through in this book and the years leading up to it are extremely detached – as a reader, I couldn’t feel any of it. So no sympathy, but I guess it was good to get the backstory as to why he ended up so evil. It was definitely interesting to see that he didn’t start out that way and in fact even had a healthy dose of humanity. I found it a curious twist that Snow could have been an earlier Katniss had he made the right choices, but he ended up going down another path – the easier path of complicity.

This detached narration also extends to the rest of the story. Even this more barbaric version of the Games seen through Coryo’s eyes doesn’t hit as hard as it should, simply because every action scene was presented without any emotion. It doesn’t help that overall, the pacing was not the best and the book felt much longer than it should have been with a plot that takes its own time getting to the point. But it’s really the last third of the book that’s responsible for my bumped down rating. Up to that point, I was actually enjoying Snow’s character arc as it was very gradual, but in that last third, everything was so rushed to show how he went downhill that much of it didn’t feel natural, not to mention that several things about the ending didn’t make much sense to me either.

Overall, not an entirely terrible read, but not one to go into with high expectations. It expands what we know about Panem immediately following the Dark Days and provides some interesting insights into life in the Capitol, but this prequel didn’t really hit home for me.

Publishing Date: May 19th, 2020 (Scholastic Books)

Have you read any of these books or do you plan to? I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!

13 thoughts on “Mini Reviews #13 | Blogmas Day 1

  1. thathappyreader December 1, 2020 / 10:10 am

    Thanks for sharing these mini-reviews! I love the cover of Heartstopper – it’s so cute! Happy December!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. booksforall93 December 2, 2020 / 2:53 am

    Heartstopper sounds so cute! I think I’ll have to pick them up! It’s such a shame about The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I’m currently reading the original trilogy and really enjoying them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Raji (@journeyintofantasy) December 4, 2020 / 1:06 am

      Thanks for reading! Heartstopper is one of the cutest stories I’ve ever read, I’d definitely recommend them. I think the impact of A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was lost because it came so long after the original trilogy – might be a completely different experience if it is read along with the full story.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Kelly Diane December 2, 2020 / 7:35 am

    Great reviews! I havent read any of these myself but I love the sound of Rebel Spy.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amisha Acharya December 2, 2020 / 3:52 pm

    I too read Heartstopper recently and I can’t stop gushing over how cute Nick and Charlie are !!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Stephanie December 2, 2020 / 7:23 pm

    I *immediately* added Hench to my TBR. I’m a massive fan of any superhero/villain story so reading your mini review was perfect. I’m totally intrigued. I also seriously appreciated your thoroughness with what you thought about Ballads. I heard mixed reviews about that one, but just reading your thoughts made me not want to really dive into it. I love the original trilogy so much that this prequel seemed to fall flat!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Raji (@journeyintofantasy) December 4, 2020 / 1:15 am

      I hope you enjoy Hench as much as I did! Ballad was a bit of a let down – I thought there was a lot of wasted potential there and it certainly did not live up to the standard of the original trilogy


    • Raji (@journeyintofantasy) December 6, 2020 / 4:28 pm

      Hope you enjoy it! I don’t usually read many graphic novels, but this just sounded too cute to not give it a try.


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