Might've binged a bit, because these were short. These are MG/YA novellas written for both younger & ESL readers, so I'm not quite judging them against like International Publishing standards. Instead, I'm leaning towards a viewpoint of IF I WERE A TEEN, WOULD I LIKE IT? in the star ratings, with my overall notes in the review.
Our Tethered Skates by Naadhira Zahari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Let's go with 3.5, rounded up.
It's a fascinating novella - much more could be developed if it were a longer story, but this worked fine as a short piece.
I had several weather & clothes-related questions that probably can be handwaved away with "magic" (Verglas a magical portal world, after all), but I'd really like to know the age gap between Maya and Layla because that seemed to be the fuzziest point given the 10-year gap between Maya's disappearance and Layla looking for her.
Not quite sure that the present tense quite worked for this story; it was a little clunky in places maybe because it kept wavering between simple and progressive for unclear reasons.
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School of Thieves by Sabrina Ismail
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Hmmm. A little conflicted on this one. It was an interesting enough read, so I figure it's a little under 3 stars. Like, the plot moves you along enough that you get kind of invested in the story but when you reach the end and think about it, you're like... really? Really?! *side-eyes author*
I like the heist aspect, and the side quest of getting back at Amra's deadbeat father. The characters are likeable and relatable. But ultimately the whole point of WHY the School of Thieves exists and what they're trying to achieve doesn't really make sense.
Like MAYBE if the whole School of Thieves thing was just left vague (i.e. the school exists, don't question it), it would have worked better. I think it was the epilogue that threw me off. (It felt a little like the author was trying to be clever but didn't quite pull it off.)
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A final musing:
It's fascinating that these Very Malaysian Writers writing for a Very Malaysian Crowd would choose to set their magical worlds in Not Very Malaysian settings.
I mean, Our Tethered Skates was set in some undefined country with four seasons, the Layla's family name was Montgomery or something like that. Verglas, being a magical world can get away with having ice all the time. But why would the main family have to be White? (Not that they were described physically, but I mean the names, the setting.) I would have liked it better if say they were Malaysian transplants in some foreign country, or they live in KL and visit the local ice-skating ring (Sunway Pyramid?? lol) because they want to be figure skaters (we do have those!).
School of Thieves never quite says where they are and the school itself is set in some mystical island, but Amra's family name is De Silva, which fair, we have De Silvas in Penang (an old line of Eurasians), BUT! then it says her dad is from Mexico, which... WHY. This one at least seems to have a mix of races (there's Khai, Lee, Ratna and a bunch of ambiguous English names.)
I have a bunch more to read, so we'll see.