Thursday, 14 June 2018

Book Review: The Moonlight Palace

4 Stars
Verdict: A light historical novel about a poor princess in Singapore.

Note: I listened to the audio-book version.

Agnes lives in the Kampong Glam Palace in Singapore, once grand but now in the 1920s it's falling apart. Without a male heir or enough income to support their family, Aggie worries they'll be forced to leave her childhood home.

This is a nice story. It's low key, with the plot never being frighteningly exciting, but still interesting, especially as it's based in Asia.

Agnes is a strong young woman of her time, but naive and young all the same. She meets a few suitors, experiences a few festivals, and wants a job to help her family's income situation. As I said, the story is quite low key.

The characters are also all very nice or vaguely interesting. Aggie's family is endearing, from Nei Nei Up to Nei Nei Down. My favourite character was the curiously blind jewellery store owner. It sounded like he knew how to win at life, and I wish I could have met him.

As historical fiction goes, this is helium light. I learned a little about Singapore and the 1920's, but the feeling of being 'there in that time and place' wasn't as strong as it could be. It's a good introduction to the time.

Overall, it's a quick story that lightened my mood, with family and love at the centre of the story and the history around the edges. If you're looking for something deeper and richer, perhaps it's not for you.

Source: Amazon Kindle Unlimited.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Book Review: The Death Cure

THE DEATH CURE by James Dashner
3 stars
Verdict: Well, that didn’t answer anything.
#1 - The Maze Runner
#2 - The Scorch Trials

The Trials are over, supposedly. It’s time for Thomas to get his memories back, and help Wicked with the final stage of their cure.

Oh, Maze Runner. You absolute tease.

I’ll try my best to describe the reading experience without any spoilers, so basically I’ll keep it vague and hope you know what I’m talking about.

The whole book is basically a delay in getting any real answers to the mountain of questions posed thus far. Motives are swept under the rug, specifics are ignored, and the events that could have provided answers were sidestepped around.

And then it ends on a cliché which doesn’t feel satisfying at all.

Despite all that, it’s still entertaining. It still has its good moments, and unexpected twists, making it easy to sit and read for hours at a time.

Then again, the entertaining parts are also frustrating. There’s so much action, so much fight in this book...but I started to lose interest because I rarely felt rewarded with the plot progression I craved. I didn’t want a crank to jump on the car and steal the stories attention for a moment. I didn’t want more deaths of unnamed characters. I wanted a conversation with answers or a mind-snapping event to occur so that the plot would finally make sense, but the story just didn’t seem to slot into place. Instead, it threw a new load of questions into the mix, spliced in lots of action, and in the end, the plot was left to fend for itself.

As I approached the end pages, I realised there were not enough words left to complete the story itself. This was book three of a pretty mysterious and intriguing plot, and I was so sure the wait would be worth it. There had to be a really good reason for all everything going on. But just like book one, the ending isn’t satisfying.

How does human emotions link to a cure? What was the point of the telepathy, because it didn’t seem to have a role past book 1? What was Thomas’ true feelings about you-know-who, (because killing off a character doesn’t resolve anything)? Why were the grievers made? Why not humane deaths, or even just alluding to the perception of deaths (because neuroscientists know that perception is reality, so if WICKED is interested in brain patterns, all they need to do is create illusions which would be easier, quicker, less wasteful, and more humane)? Why? Why? Why?

It’s a fast-paced book in some regards, but it wasn’t the book three this series needed.

Source: Bought it!

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Book Review: The Scorch Trials

THE SCORCH TRIALS by James Dashner
4 Stars
Verdict: Action packed, just don't overthink it!
#1 - The Maze Runner
#3 - The Death Cure

Out of the maze and into the frying pan, Thomas and his friends now have to make it across the scorched earth if they want to be cured of the Flare. To get there, they'll have to survive the Cranks who already have the flare, and some are more Gone than others...

This series is very readable, even though it doesn't give a lot of answers or make a lot of sense. The chapters are short, most ending on a slight twist or revelation, and there's plenty of action, drama, and danger. The characters also come out of their shells a bit more, and the true world starts to rears it's scorched head, constantly throwing new challenges in Thomas' way.

I had the same issues with this book as the last. Thomas's journey is very entertaining, but the answers are loose tie ins that will fall to bits if you pull at them. It just doesn't make a lot of sense if you think about it (I'm being vague here to avoid spoilers). The action, twists, and horrors come first - the explanations are not as important, or so it would seem. As long as you can get to grips with that, there's a great book to enjoy in this.

With all that has happened, I feel like I have even more questions now than I did after book one. If book three pulls through with some answers, this will be a great series. There are some great mysteries in this, as long as there are fitting answers, and I'm not entirely sure if Dashner has them. It really does depend on what all these trials really mean...

Source: Bought it!

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Book Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

MAGIC BITTER, MAGIC SWEET by Charlie M. Holmberg
3 Stars
Verdict: A strange way to bake a cake.

Note: I listened to the audio-book for this one, which was a new experience for me.

Maire is a baker who can infuse her creations with emotions, enriching the eater with love, happiness, luck, strength - anything she puts her mind to. She only has memories of the last four years, and so doesn't know how she acquired this skill, and is happy to work in a small shop, selling her cakes for little or nothing. When marauders raid her village and turn her into a slave, Maire meets Allemus, a strange man who can see the magic in her and wants to use it in bizzare and nefarious ways.

I think chapter one was my favourite. I loved the descriptions of the magical cake baking and the emotions it involved. The idea is simple yet beautiful, and created a world of ideas which I couldn't wait to explore.

Most of the rest of the book I found...odd. There were bits to enjoy here and there, like the Hansel and Gretel references, but these things weren't plot related. In fact, the plot spun in circles for a while, only picking up again at the very end where the learn who Maire truly is and what happened to her.

I struggled to get Allemus. He's a very uncomfortable character to read about, seemingly mentally disabled, but also abusive and inconsistent. Sometimes he acted like he needed Maires approval, and other times he turned vicious. He helped terrible people and did terrible things without a sense of motive, and his personality felt flaky at best. This was only somewhat answered in the end.

What slowed the pace for me was the repetition and use of the amnesia trope. Mare kept asking the same questions, thinking about the same things, saying the same lines over and over. Perhaps it's easier to read over than to listen to, but I found it a little irritating, especially as there are characters who do know what's going on, but decide not to say anything.

So who is Mare? Where did her magic come from? There wasn't a lot to go on at first, but it all came together in the end. Again, I struggled a little because I didn't think she was a very interesting character. She was too nice and simple, and as I didn't understand Allemus, I wanted to know more about him instead.

The ending felt like another weird turn to me. It felt like a different story, but I liked it. It answered the key questions, and made sense of what felt like a mess, although I'm still uncertain about Allemus. There's also a huge jump which I can't help wondering if it would have been better to speed up the first half the book and then show more of the resolution.

So it didn't pan out how I expected, but it was an okay book overall.

Source: Amazon kindle unlimited.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Book Review: Secondborn

SECONDBORN by Amy Bartol
2 Stars
Verdict: Hard to connect.

Although Rosella is royalty, she is also secondborn in a society that only has room for firstborns. At eighteen, Rosella's rights are stripped, her last name is changed to 'Sword', and she is sent to the front line to serve her country.

This one started strong and had a lot of creatives little ideas - the black and red disks for the medical bots, the fusion blades, the secondborns' surnames changed to 'Sword' - but it never really set itself apart from the dystopian mass in terms of plot, characters, and setting. At times it felt like the Capital in Hunger Games: blue lips, interviews with a girl sent off to die, special outfits designed for the occasion, face of the rebellion...Other times, it felt all over the place, and it never really came together to form a coherent story.

Things kept happening that didn't fully make sense. For example, Rosella's mother orders her to die, but once she escapes the building, life goes on as if the last scene didn't happen. It reminded me of GTA video game mechanics - stay low, and your star rating will drop, and the police will no longer care that you just ran someone over. Another nonsensical example is how all the soldiers are supposed to get a hair cut, but not Rosella, because someone decided they liked her hair. I can't even work out why that was in there - it just felt odd.

One more example. I never really understood why Agent Crow was allowed to murder and torture people. I know secondborns were supposed to have fewer rights, but I found it hard to believe he could get away with the things he did. While his steel teeth and lust for torture paint a fearful picture, I never understood his interest in Rosella, either.

Most of all, I struggled to connect with Rosella. At times, she was an emotionless robot, only doing what she's been programmed to do. I get that this is somewhat on purpose - that Rosella's secondborn upbringing has taken the fight out of her - but it would be easier to connect to the book if Rosella still had emotions in these scenes. Or the echo of these emotions. Perhaps her anger or regret was being pushed down, but it was still there, or she openly despises herself for pleasing them, or that she used to feel humiliated but now is numb. Instead, she seems happy to be a robot, and yet lashed out at other times. I couldn't work out her character. 

Other bits started to put me off towards the middle of the book. The whole 'let's make a weapon sexy' was plain cringy, and felt very low key for a plot point so far into the novel. A year then passed with nothing happening, meaning the tension leaked of the story entirely. After that, it just never peaked. I'd struggle to write a full synopsis for this books, as nothing stood out. Things happening here and there, and eventually it ended. 

I felt excited for this book at first, and a lot seemed to happen at the start, but I lost interest around halfway. It has some creative world-building concepts in it, but the story didn't stand out enough for me.

Source: Kindle lending library.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Book Review: Ready Player One

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline
4 Stars
Verdict: The most predictable book I wouldn't be able to write.

The hunt is on to find the egg, hidden inside an endless virtual world known as the OASIS, and shrouded in eighties references. Whoever finds it will inherit the creator's empire and entire fortune, which naturally means an evil corporation is playing dirty to win the contest. However, it's Wade, a poor orphan obsessed with OASIS's creator, who finds the first key. Game on!

This had a slow start, probably because of the predictable plot and generous heaps of exposition and references. At first, Wade talked a lot about OASIS without being able to explore it, but it's clear that's where the story is going. It didn't help that I correctly predicted the first 100 pages with ridiculous accuracy, or that the prologue tells us how the story will kick off, but Wade is in no hurry to get there. I knew the hoops we'd need to jump through for the rest of the main plot, so it felt slow going most of the time.

The details in this book are insane. This is a proudly nerdy book, a history lesson in early video games and 80's film and music. Sometimes the detailed descriptions were too much; a whole chapter describing the character's routine and equipment was too much information for me - I just wanted the hunt to continue.  But then again, the details are what make this book special. Unique. It only could be written by Ernest Cline.

The predictability ended on level 3, for a little while anyway. This section starts with an impossible puzzle, a risky plan, and real mix up of what was happening before.

So I enjoyed learning about the world, even if I did also feel impatient to get going somewhere. And it's still an entertaining read, even if it's very guessable.

Source: Gift!

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Book Review: To Kill A Kingdom

TO KILL A KINGDOM by Alexandra Christo
5 Stars
Verdict: A killer little mermaid retelling.

Lira is a murderous siren known as the Prince's Bane, for each year she steals the heart of a promised ruler to add to her collection. Her horrid mother, the sea queen, enjoys tormenting her, and thinks that the mercy Lira shows her victims makes her unfit to rule the sea.

Prince Elian is a siren killer. He travels the seas with a band of misfits - similar to a pirate, minus the plunder, pillaging, and general illegal behaviour - but one day must return to rule Midas. He finds his impending duties suffocating, but when he hears  whispers of a relic that could kill the sea queen herself, he barters his freedom away to find its location.

When Lira washes aboard Elian’s ship with legs instead of fins, the pair are thrown together in a quest to find the second eye of Keto, a powerful crystal strong enough to kill the sea queen.

So it’s a little mermaid with a dark twist, with the myth of Midas worked into Elian’s kingdom.

Everything about this book is simple yet strong, from the smooth yet beautiful prose, the small cast of well-fleshed characters, and the clear concept: find the eye of Keto, kill the sea queen. The overarching plot is fairly predictable as soon as the pieces are set up, but the journey is laced with surprises, and there’s plenty of action, romance, and magic to enjoy throughout.

The dual POV works well for this tale, because both characters are compelling to read about. Elian is heroic, charming, and good with a sword, a leader by example and someone who enjoys humour. Lira is a brilliant anti-hero, a murderer but not at heart. She plots the kill the prince to steal the crystal, and that keeps the tension throughout.

I did struggle to keep up with the logistics in the water action scenes. There’s more focus on the atmosphere of the action than the details, so I chose to go with the flow on this one.

Another weakness of the story is the promise of a anti-hero POV at the start which couldn’t be maintained throughout, or perhaps the timeline of the whole transition. Lira’s character arc and Elian’s ability to forgive are rushed - considering how fresh some of Lira’s kills were - but for the sake of an awesome story, the emotional journey has been accelerated. With the length and pace of the book, I think this sacrifice isn’t detrimental but it is noticeable.

On an editorial note, I would recommend adding the narrator's name to the beginning of each chapter. While the two main characters are very different, their narration style overlaps heavily. It seems like a simple addition that doesn't do any harm but could possibly do good.

Source: With thanks to the publishers via