Portrait of a Thief, a review

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li is a contemporary novel which follows five Chinese Americans who are hired by a Chinese corporation to steal back valuable artefacts that were stolen hundreds of years before and that are being kept in various Western museums.

This was the Illumicrate book for April, but I’ve not used a picture of their cover here… because it was almost the damn same. I was so disappointed with that cover. Anyways…

The concept of this book is absolutely fantastic, the amount of art that is in Western museums that doesn’t belong there is ridiculous. So in terms of all the discussions on this? Loved it. But unfortunately everything else was a little lackluster.

Before I get into my personal views on the book, I’d like to link you to own voices reviews, like this one from BookishBrews, The Lily Cafe and some from Goodreads, including Read with Cindy, Cin the Writer, Justin Chen, and Tammie. These are a mix of reviews, from 1 to 5 stars, so you can get a variety of own voices opinions.

Now for my opinions? The characters could’ve been fleshed out so much better. Instead all of them were really two dimensional. In fact, the character who is based off of the author’s sister (and who everyone seems to hate – me included until the very end) is the best example of this. Li clearly knew a lot about this character, but she didn’t add that information into the book. She assumed that the readers would know as much about her sister as she does and unfortunately that lead to a much disliked character.

Plot-wise there are also issues here, primarily that there are so many holes. Not only are their plans for stealing the items flawed, but we aren’t shown truly how they escape the countries as a whole and they could be caught incredibly easily with the footprints that they left behind themselves. There also just isn’t enough information given about them setting up the heist, which leaves the reader to guess how they did it and is quite… boring. When a twist was brought in around half-way through the book, the set up for it was incredibly obvious. I knew exactly what was happening and that really dampened the impact it could’ve had. There was one good twist, very close to the end, but I thought the execution of this was flawed and disappointing.

On CAWPILE I rated this: Characters: 5, Atmosphere: 6, Writing: 6, Plot: 6, Intrigue: 7, Logic: 6, Enjoyment: 7, which gives an overall score of 6.14 and a 3.5* rating. Which I think I’ll put as 3 on Goodreads.

Highlight here for trigger warnings: death (mentioned), grief, violence.

Overall, this book truly felt like a debut novel and I think another round of deep edits could have really done a lot of work towards making this a great read. Li definitely has a lot of potential, it’s just not shown fully here. Additionally, this book did have great discussions on diaspora, art, culture, and more, and I think that those were really handled beautifully by Li. It just wasn’t enough to save the book overall.

Have you read this? What did you think of it? I would love to hear more opinions!

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land – a review

After seeing this around the bookternet and with its golden cover, I couldn’t not pick up Good Me Bad Me when I spotted it in a charity shop. But what did I actually think of the book?

This book follows Milly, a young girl who has been put into foster care after turning her mother into the police for serial murder. She’s given a fresh start with a new name and a rich foster family, but can she leave her past behind her?

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The premise of this book had so much promise, and I sped through it really quickly, reading the entire book in one sitting. Sadly though, in the end I only gave it 3 stars. Not a bad book, but it definitely didn’t live up to its potential for me.

This book is marketed in a certain way, it’s made to seem very dark and like there is a deep twist to the story. And whilst that’s true, this doesn’t appear at all in the book until the very end, leaving me feeling a little betrayed for the rest of the book whilst a completely different vibe of story is told. I do wish that Land had picked one direction to go in with this book rather than splitting in two.

I did like the glimpses into the past that we got, and the therapy sessions. I happily would’ve read a book made up of those alone. It was definitely closer to what I look for in a thriller and a little closer to what the synopsis hints at. Most of the book, however, is focused on Milly settling into her new school, making friends, and not getting along with her foster sister. Whilst this is interesting, it really wasn’t what I anticipated going into this book and so it was frustrating to have to read though.

My main gripe for this book is difficult to explain without spoiling the book, but I’ll give it my best shot. Essentially, the ending was stupid. Having the ending the way it was with how the rest of the book had ran through the plot just pissed me off that the whole story hadn’t been different or that the ending hadn’t matched better.

This book definitely had a lot of promise, and quite a few people have enjoyed it so it may be worth giving a shot. But for me? Not worth it.

I always love Shusterman…

A book about water running dry, and you’re giving it to an often dehydrated chronic migraine sufferer with a degree in Geography? Yes please!

God this book was realistic. Creepily so. This is so close to what could actually happen if the taps ran dry, and California is an incredibly likely place for this to happen with its weather and the population density being so high.

This is a ya book, and our protagonists reflect that. We have a variety of view points, from around 13 to somewhere in the late teens (as a Brit I don’t know the US grade system so I can only approximate their ages without doing more research than I can be bothered to!) and this allows Neal and Jarrod to bounce around to different people’s priorities and how various personalities would react in this scenario.

Usually with Neal Shusterman’s writing I just fall into it and everything he writes gets 5* from me. I don’t know if it’s because he was writing with his son or if it’s just this book, but this “only” got a 4* from me. I found the middle to be a bit of a slog, and too much time was spent faffing around with “solutions” which we either already knew they were aiming for or knew they wouldn’t do. However, I still did enjoy the character development within these pages and also loved the beginning and the end of the story.

I’ve heard, on the grapevine, that this has been snapped up to be made as a movie, and I think it could do really well in this format. The slower stuff almost always has to be cut for a filmed adaptation so this should hopefully remove those parts that I was struggling through and focus on the drama and the action. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out on this one!

All in all this was actually a bit of a disappointment. Yes a 4* read was a disappointment. Because I know Neal Shusterman can make me fall in love with a world much more than he did here, and I went in expecting a 5* book and came out with an enjoyable story. But not with a new favourite.

I don’t know. I’ve not had this happen to me before so it’s a rather odd feeling. Have you ever had this experience? Let me know.