Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Book Review: A Gathering of Shadows

4 Stars
Verdict: A great bridge to book 3.
#1 - A Darker Shade of Magic

The consequences of book one have set in. Lila has set off in the new world with a sink or swim attitude, and closes in on her dream of owning a ship. Kell struggles with Rhy’s life tethered to his, unable to live freely, fearing that they’ll share the consequences. Lila and Kell are drawn together once more, this time by the call of a tournament that pits magicians against each other in one on one battle, the Essen Tasch.

Lila is one of my favourite characters of all time. She's reckless, and smart, and a darker shade of hero, and it always surprises me how boldly she challenges the world to seize her dreams. I also liked the newest character, Alucard, the likable pirate slash privateer who gives Lila a chance in the world she doesn't belong in.

This book is easier to slip into, easier to enjoy from page one than the prequel. With less jumping around, the world building feels solid, strong I no longer felt lost between the worlds, and instead enjoyed the story from the first chapter. The prose is effortless and beautiful, conjuring up images to match the magical battles.

It's not quite as exciting as book one which is why it loses a star for me. The tournament begins two thirds of the way in, and before that, we’re really just getting there. Lila carves out a mini-adventure of her own, while Kell and Rhys plot their dangerous fun, and it's all of equal interest. The characters’ paths entwine closer and closer, teasing the reader with the promise of a momentous clash which, in the end, didn't make enough noise to feel like a proper climax. There are a few twists and turns as another evil rises in another London, but that's not for this book, just a promise for later.

Despite the brilliant writing and great characters, the story line never peaks or crashes. Instead it builds, one brick at a time, into the bridge that leads us to book three. There’s a bridge hanger too, with all the promises of a great tale beginning in the next book. It's a good sequel, but it's missing the impact of a great standalone novel.

Source: Bought it!

Friday, 17 November 2017

Book Review: The Ask and the Answer

THE ASK AND THE ANSWER by Patrick Ness (#2 Chaos Walking)
4 Stars
Verdict: Tough to get into, killer cliff hanger.
Review of book 1

This book is like climbing a very steep cliff. It starts slow, building up new characters, a new world, a new system to climb through. When you're at the top, it's amazing. And then you slip right off it, your hand gripping the edge, hanging on for that sequel.

If I'm honest, the ramble style of voice isn't my type of thing. I can appreciate the feeling of really getting inside the character's head in the moment, and the way the action scenes unravel at a frighteningly fast pace, but it's the slower in-between sections which don't work as well for me in this style.

The general pacing of the story reminded me of book one. In my opinion, it lacked momentum until something tripped me up and then I couldn't put it down, and this book took longer to stick its foot out. Perhaps after book one being about running, escaping, scraping through one disaster to the next, book two felt claustrophobic in comparison.

So it picks up with Todd and Viola trapped, their lives in the balance, and the promise of a reunion. But their reunion scene is exchanged for events that just weren't as interesting. I felt forced into a story-line I didn't want, forced to follow what the Mistresses were up to. Forced to watch Todd be forced into acts of cruelty. I guess part of it is I didn't expect most of the book to be set in one place, because the last book was such an adventure.

I struggled the most with the motives of the leaders. What does the mayor want? Then why is he doing that? I don't think this book really answered those questions, only asked them. Maybe that's the point, but if so, I still feel like it's missing something.

Towards the middle-end of the book, I started to love it again. The pace picked up, and the pieces started to slot into place. I read the last third of the book ten times faster than the rest, and that's where the four stars comes from.

Then there's that cliffhanger. I know a lot of people don't like cliffhangers, but this is book two of a trilogy, and that ending makes me want to pick up book three right away. It took me by surprised yet it's painfully obvious - this is my absolute favourite thing about reading, and Ness does it so, so well.

Source: Bought it.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Book Review: The Dazzling Heights

THE DAZZLING HEIGHTS by Katharine McGee (The Thousandth Floor #2)
5 Stars
Imaginative, readable, and scandalous.

Review of Book 1

It's impossible for me to write this review without spoilers or hints about book one, so make sure you've read that first. The pages will fly by - trust me on that one - and if you liked book one, book two is the same style with new ideas.

So it begins with another mysterious death. Mariel is angry with Eris's 'accident' and knows there's more to it than meets the eye. Watt decides to play Leda against herself in order to shake free from her blackmail, while Avery and Atlas try to make their relationship work in secret. And a new girl has arrived in the tower, a con artist who has chosen Atlas as her next mark.

I found it entertaining from page to page, just like book one. The multiple point of views allows the reader to skip to the next important scene, the next juicy moment, meaning the pace never drops. Book two is much easier to slip into and enjoy because we already know most of the characters, so it felt effortless to read from start to finish.

Like last time, I enjoyed the futuristic flavourings which shape the tower, and the ways the girls' (and Watt's) lives intermingle. The world building is fun and imaginative, giving the book that extra little something something. I read book two immediately after book one, and I'd take on book three right now if it were available!

What I enjoyed the most is getting to spend more time with Watt and understanding his character better. Leda's character also takes an unusual turn, and I found it intriguing seeing all the different sides of her.

My only criticism is that the book doesn't quite come together as inevitably like the last, and the high didn't feel quite as exciting, for reasons I won't go into. Although it couldn't follow the same pattern as the last one, not really, without being too predictable, so I understand the choice there. The way the ending was handled was slightly surprising, which is always good.

I'll definitely be reading the next one!

Source: With thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley.com.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Book Review: The Thousandth Floor

5 Stars
Verdict: A futuristic teen drama beginning and ending in murder

It’s a high school drama set in a futuristic tower that’s more like a world inside itself. Think of Pretty Little Liars or Gossip Girl, except 100 years into the future. Same problems - boyfriends, cheating, drugs, illegitimate children - with a different flavour.

Avery lives at the top of the tower, beauty and wealth gifted to her from birth. The one thing she can't have is the only thing she wants - her adopted brother, Atlas. Leda is Avery’s best friend, but things have been weird between them since she started dating Atlas - she hires Watt, a hacker who seems too good at his job, to find out more about him. A family secret sends Eris's social status down the tower, while Rylan ends up higher than expected.

Their lives become tangled, tripping over each other until one of them falls from the thousandth floor.

There five point of views: Avery, Leda, Rylan, Eris and Watt. It’s a lot, especially with the majority being girls, but it just about worked for me. I had to pause a few times to reassure myself of the narrator, but each character is crafted meticulously, and by the end of the book, I felt like I knew them all really well.

I know some readers are weirded out by the brother thing. They're not related by blood if that helps. If it doesn't, then it's probably best to avoid this book.

Most of the details are left to the reader’s imagination. This is something I usually don’t like – I want to know how the world ticks down to the smallest cog – but for this story, it worked. The setting played on my imagination, and the logistics of the story weren’t overly dependent on the world so it wouldn’t matter if I was picturing it all wrong.

The world building is what makes this book more than just another teen drama. It adds a fun, imaginative twist to every single scene, and that made it an easy book to whip through.

Source: Bought it.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Book Review: Graceling

GRACELING by Kristin Cashore
5 Stars
Verdict: Enthralling from start to finish

Katsa is born to kill, 'Graced' with special skills that make her a deadly weapon. From a young age, her uncle, King of Middlun, has trained her to carry out his dirty work by doing what she's good at - hurting others. Kasta resents her uncle, but struggles to stand up to him. Only when she meets Po, another Graced fighter, does she start to realise that she has a choice, and that her Grace can be a blessing too.

I love a good book about individuals with abilities, and a traditional fantasy realm is as good a place as any to host these characters. The writing had an old fashion feel to it, and a few well done tropes - seven kingdoms ruled by a mix of tyrannical kings, as per standard - but GRACELING still stood out to me as an original story.

Katsa's ability to survive that kept me enthralled. One challenge layered on to the next, and although the ending climaxed pretty suddenly while I was still savouring the showdown, I enjoyed this book throughout. I wanted to know if the characters would survive the next night. I wanted to know what was weird with Po that time, and most of all, I loved how Katsa, Po, and Bitterblue grew so much throughout the story. Katsa in particular switches her brain on, strives to do better,  and learns that the hard way through her mistakes.

Katsa has very strong views about who she is as a woman, and I know it's sparked a lot of debate in the past with reviewers. All I can say is that Kasta's opinions made sense to me, based on her personality and past. So, Katsa doesn't like pretty dresses, long hair, or the idea of marriage. This isn't surprising, as she's grown up almost completely around men who either fear her or want to use her. She feels most at peace when she's fighting, not when she's dressed up or courting, which again makes sense because she's good at the former and not at the latter. As she's someone who has been raised as a killer and not a loved one, someone who doesn't know what a mother could have been to them, I don't doubt that she will have issues with raising a family. I never felt that the author was imposing any views on me about feminism, but I can also see how some might take it.

I'm also glad that Po didn't try to change Katsa, and instead loved her for who she is. There's no doubt that Katsa has issues with herself, and it will take more than Po to fix that, but he helps her start to see herself for who she could be.

The world of the Gracelings captivated me. I want to know more, and was excited to learn that the sequels follow different characters. Maybe it's me, but sequels often flop, especially with an ending as rounded as that one, yet starting book 2 with a new character will hopefully keep the Graceling spirit alive.

Source: Bought it!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Book Review: Undercover Princess

4 Stars
Verdict: A light and colourful read

Lottie is a hardworking student at Rosewood boarding school, who loves tiaras, the colour pink, and fairy tales. Ellie is the rebellious princess of Maradova, who joined the school to shirk her royal duties and listen to heavy metal. When a misunderstanding has all of Rosewood believing that Lottie is the princess of Maradova, the girls use this as an opportunity to swap lives, one gaining freedom, and the other gaining her fairy tale wish.

This was just what I needed after a dry spell of reading - something light and imaginative, with vivid descriptions and a fast moving plot.

It's a happy book about friendship, princesses, and protecting others, and the many references to fairy tales woven into the plot make it a very charming book. Even when the princess begins receiving anonymous threats, the events never feel too dark and serious. Instead they feel more like a mystery to solve.

The three main characters also work very well together. Lottie and Ellie are opposites: pink and black, studious and rebellious, day and night. Jamie is Ellie's brooding protector, but its great to see the girls are also able to hold their own when things get tough.

My main criticism is that it reads more like middle grade than young adult fiction. Even through the characters are fourteen, the themes, language, and style all point to a much younger audience. The voice is simple and clear, often telling rather than showing, and the emotions are stated very clearly so there's no room for interpretation. As a young adult book, it's much too overwritten, but as a middle grade book it's perfectly fine.

So if you're looking for a light read and are comfortable with a younger voice, then this could be the read for you.

Source: With thanks to the publisher, via NetGalley.com.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Book Review: Poison Study

POISON STUDY by Maria V. Snyder
3 Stars
Verdict: An addictive first taste, didn't quite last to the end.

When the day comes for Yelana to meet the hangman's noose, she is offered a choice: face execution, or tempt death every day as the Commander's food taster.

It's a fantastic premise, with a pacy beginning. The pages hooked me fast, with Yelena dragged from her cell and offered a chance to live a dangerous life over death in chapter one. The poison lessons start immediately, and next follows whole host of characters with motives to kill Yelena. I worried about her a lot, at first. But she learned fast and adapted to the danger, which made her compelling to read about.

I liked how Yelena's past unravelled throughout the story. She's a survivor of impossible situations. In the world of Ixia, a crime is a crime, no matter the circumstances, and Yelana's story paints a moral grey over this system.

There was a good mix of characters to pick apart. Valek fascinated me. His mood's curiously shifted around, and he fought hard to protect Yelena against his better judgement. Ari and Janco brought a lot of charm to the story, too, and I can't wait to read more about them. Rand, the suspiciously friendly cook, also added another element to the story. I spent the novel trying to work out how much Yelena should trust him.

This book surprised me in many ways, and at first in a good way. Towards the end, I fell out of sync with it entirely. I hadn't expected the story to take certain turns and it left me with mixed feeling. I'm usually a huge fan of magic, but it seem to distract from the poisonous premise, adding in another layer in a busy plot. Now, I might be alone in my next thought, but the romance felt unnecessary to me. I enjoyed the story a lot more when I thought this was a book about friendship and allies.

A lot happened around the climax, and I stopped believing that Yelena's character would be able to accomplish so much so quickly. I felt sad for not liking this too much after adoring the dark start. I'd definitely give the sequel a go.

Source: Bought it.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Book Review: Fly on the Wall

FLY ON THE WALL by E. Lockhart
4 Stars
Verdict: A short tale of naked truths.

Contemporary usually isn’t my thing. I need life threatening stakes, magic, and twisted, villainous plans – but E. Lockhart’s books are a welcomed break from what I call ‘the norm’. They’re short, and packed full of emotion and meaning. FLY ON THE WALL in particular felt relatable, full of diversity, and got me thinking about life in the way a demon fight never could.

Gretchen sees herself as ordinary, which is why she loves drawing her larger-than-life comic book muses. Her drawing style isn’t appreciated by her art teacher, and she doesn’t really like the other students. In fact, she’s a bit judgemental – until she becomes a 'fly on the wall', and learns the naked truth about the people she had previously dismissed.

Just like Gretchen, the plot starts off a little ordinary, and the overall pace of the book is helped by the fact its so short. It sets the scene, twists, makes a point, and ends without room for much more. I personally wanted a quick read, so this was perfect for me at the time.

I think most people will be able to find a character they can relate to. Usually, with this many characters, the focus would be too diluted for me to connect to any of them, but I think the large cast was handled well. I thought the transformation would leave Gretchen a passive character, but somehow it worked.

The style, the plot, the characters, the length – it's all a little unconventional, but somehow Lockhart pulls off the unconventional.

Source: Bought it!

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Book Review: Skulduggery Pleasant

5 Stars
Verdict: Fun, weird, and magical - what's not to like?

In short, it’s a fun MG book. It has humour and a jovial spirit running through its pages, getting serious at times when it needs to, but never feeling like a heavy weight of despair and angst that comes with YA. A welcome change from my normal genre!

I love how there's a quirky spin on the story. A thirteen year old girl inherits her strange uncle's house, bumps into a walking talking skeleton with magical powers, and the two team up to beat the bad guys from acquiring ultimate power.

They both have a good sense of humour, which made it a fantastic read. Fun, weird, and magical sums it up the best.

At times I felt the high amounts of action would be better placed in a film than a book, and the description tended to be at a minimal, but I liked this book a lot. I like how it’s different, standing out from the large heap of books I’ve swept my eyes through lately.

It’s short too, with a good pace, so well worth a try if you're curious.

Source: Bought it.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Book Review: Gates of Thread and Stone

2 stars
Verdict: Not good.

I always feel bad for writing two star reviews. Most of the time it's just a book that could do with more work, not a bad author. But I'm going to be bluntly honest.  I felt the writing was dull, the world building was flat, and the pace was slow. I’ve read worse, but that doesn’t make this story better.

After Kia eats a sandwich, wanders around, eats another sandwich, visits the shops… eventually, her brother goes missing. He childhood crush insists on helping her, and together they leave everything behind to find him.

Kia is also able to control the threads of time, a gift she must keep hidden. I think Kia stuck to this a little too tightly though, because I completely forgot she had magic for most of the book.

The concepts puzzled me. There were too many ideas, but none of them were used to their best capacity. Is a sentinel the same as a hollow? What is a mahjo? How is that different from the Infinite? Let’s go back to the mahjo thing: is Kia a mahjo, or is Aven a mahjo? Is the ruler a mahjo? Wait a minute, is no one a mahjo?

Then what is a mahjo?

There were some gargoyles. Then the gargoyle bit was over.

Something happened with the sun at one point. I have no idea why but that also turned out to be nothing important.

I never quite understood what the famine place was, and I couldn’t help feel that that whole section could be skipped. 

Similar to the concepts, we meet a lot of characters, but we never learn what happens to them. Kia ditches them when they’re no longer of use, leaving their storylines incomplete. I think a bit of character recycling would have helped here. Other people were introduced too late so that the end of the book was top heavy on the info, whereas the adventure to get there felt irrelevant at times.

The book ends in a burst of exposition, a plethora of information thrown at the reader as if trying to smother you with it. A lengthy backstory introduces things that the story didn’t even touch on, and could be a book in itself. It seemed convoluted to me, and I can’t help but noticed Kia's journey could have been avoided if… well, no spoilers. I felt that the motives were a product of the actions rather than the other way around. When Kia asked why, I wanted one of the characters to turn around and say ‘Because otherwise it wouldn’t have been a very good story!’

So that's my opinion on this one. Strip the excess characters and plot down to size, and tone Kia’s gushing over Aven (and instead focus on the missing brother). There needs to be a few more magical moments, a lot more creative lines, and scenes which foreshadow that brain frazzling ending a bit better. There’s a five star book in this, I just don’t think it’s there yet.

Source: Kindle lending library. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

4 stars
Verdict: Very 'readable'.

It's my favourite type of narrator, the naive in a broken world. Charlie (if that is in fact his real name) watches, listens, and both understands more than others as well as fails to comprehend what is obvious to the reader. He's very different from others his age, more honest, possibly slightly autistic, and broken. Definitely broken.

The book is written as a series of letters from our narrator Charlie to an unknown receiver, and trying to work out whom could drive you insane. It's a character we don't know, a character who could be us, unless of course you did sleep with that girl just because you could. That aside, it's left purposefully vague.

There's not too much plot, just things that happen, the story bumbling along, and then a moment at the end that reveals a little more about Charlie, and then that's it.

A lot of the characters were pretty nice in this, including Charlie. Not the usual cliche bunch. I liked that. It certainly makes a change from the usual manipulative or just plain evil characters I usually read about.

I don't think I understand this book as well as I could. There's a lot to pick apart, to wonder, to discuss, but the book itself doesn't drive me to do that. Maybe the issues were too vast to focus on - homophobia, drugs, molesting, rape, racism, etc. It makes it very difficult to pin down what this story is about. That might be the point, but as I said, the book itself doesn't drive me to wonder for too long.

So it's quite good. That's about it from me on this one.

Source: Bought it!

Monday, 6 March 2017

Book Review: Ruin and Rising

RUIN AND RISING by Leigh Bardugo
2 stars
Verdict: Didn't really enjoy it.
#1 Shadow and Bone
#3 Siege and Storm

The author has all the signs of an awesome writer, but I just didn't think it was an awesome book.

There’s a fantastic twist which links all three books together, and while it was amazing it doesn’t change the fact that I only enjoyed reading bits of this series. It didn’t seem so bad at the time, but I couldn’t read more than a couple of pages before deciding I needed yet another a break.

There wasn't enough to get excited about, and even though there are some great sequences, they were too short and far between. A good book makes those mundane linking scene, like travelling, seem interesting, but the amount of travelling in this book was a tall order, and it ended up feeling as if a lot of irrelevant buffer material was plumped into the book’s sparse feathers.

I realised at some point that I didn't really like or connect with any of the characters, either. Alina talks too much inside her own head. She reiterates what’s just happened in a beautiful, almost poetic language, but says little of substance, telling us bits of the story instead of showing it to us. Mal bugged me because he seemed to love the idea of Alina but not who she was, and while Nikolai was interesting, his part in the book felt like a second thought. I didn’t really care for the new book three characters either. Too many, too late - they were what I expected to be, darkling fodder, and I'll say no more.

Part of the problem could be me. I thought the book was heading in a different direction, and for that reason I feel the ending isn’t true to the nature of the story. Or maybe book two was too far misaligned for the series. The morals did seems a bit… skewed, and the overall message is murky.

I'm up for reading SIX OF CROWS, but this isn't a series I'll revisit.

Source: Bought it!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Book review: King's Cage

KING'S CAGE by Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen #3)
4 Stars
Verdict: Good but long.
#1 - Red Queen
#2 - Glass Sword
Or at least it felt very long to me.

I almost tapped out at book two. If I'm honest, my main complaint of book 2 – that it’s overwritten – still holds true for this book, except for everything else works so much better this time around. The plot could have turned any which direction, and that made me read on eagerly.

Mare has handed herself over to the king in order to spare her friends, giving Maven a powerful tool to twist against the Scarlet Guard. She isn’t whiny this time – she's utterly trapped, and does what little she can to help her cause. She stays strong in a way that shows how far she’s come, and I found myself liking her again.

The writing is what made it feel long to me, yet at times it's worth it. It might be superfluous, but it’s still beautiful and vivid, full of emotion. Every word evoked a new emotion in me, although it did tend to hit the same nerve until it was deadened… You can see I went back and forth with this one.

I thought it was interesting to show the side of Cameron, a newblood aligned with the Scarlet Guard. While Cam didn't feel like a very important character, she provided a window for the ones I did care about. We even get to see Evangeline’s point of view, and while I couldn’t help but noticed how similar it was to Mare’s, it still helped develop Evangline from cliche to intriguing. 

On a side note, I got a bit muddled with the names at times. Mare, Maven, Cam, Cal, Elane, Elara… It’s asking for trouble. I'm wondering if anyone else noticed this, or was it just me?

Anyway, I have faith again in this series! I enjoyed this instalment, and will probably read the next too.

Source: From publishers via NetGalley.com 

Monday, 23 January 2017

Book Review: Siege and Storm

SIEGE AND STORM by Leigh Bardugo
3 Stars
Verdict: Starting to lose interest.
#1 Shadow and Bone
#2 Rise and Rising

As much as I wanted to love this series, this felt like a second book to me in every way. Battles are lost, relationships are sunk and mended, but none of the events were particularly surprising. I've read other reviews and I'm just not on the same page.

I'm at a slight loss already as I hear the main appeal of this book is the Darkling, and to me he's too vague and absent to grab my attention. Learning more about his past would have been intriguing, but in this book we mainly see how power affects Alina and Mal's relationship.

It opens fast as Alina and Mal face the Darkling once more, but after that the pace dwindles. The author has a beautiful way with words, but spends them on the wrong things. There's so much time inside Alina's head and teaching us about the world, and not enough actually happening in the now.

As the book goes on, Alina transforms into an unlikable character. She whines, makes terrible decisions, gets jealous, insecure, and power hungry. It's the classic decent of a sequel protagonist.

Mal's development isn't positive either. I got the feeling he hated himself most of the time, and by the end of the book I stopped liking him entirely.

On the other hand, Nikolai seemed like a very interesting character. He's charming, with secrets and wit, and he added more to the plot and kept me reading. I hope to see more of him in the future.

In general, I would have preferred less broken romance and more plot. I can't see book three knocking my socks off, but I'd still like to complete the series. I love the folk-tale quality to it and the concept of the amplifies, and I'd like to see how it all wraps up.

Source: Bought it myself!

Monday, 16 January 2017

Book Review: Ink and Bone

INK AND BONE by Rachel Caine
5 Stars
Verdict: For the love of books.

I found this a slow burner, but once it got going I absolutely adored it. Set in the Great Library of Alexandria, this book offers a historic fantasy feel as well as speculative fiction vibe as it asks what would have happened if the Great Library grew in power and controlled the use of books. There's even a bit of steampunk and a grande adventure - this book has a lot to offer!

I didn't initially connect with the way Caine writes, and often found the prose to linger on heavy description without building any substantial picture in my mind. Somehow, this didn't matter in the end as the plot, the magic, and the characters were so creative and intriguing that I adapted to the prose.

Every character intrigued me, each of them complicated for very different reasons. The students each have their pasts, their desires, their secrets, and strengths, as well as different cultural backgrounds. The side characters were more than just tools to move the story along - they had substance too.

I try not to throw around associations lightly, but I did find a striking resemblance to Harry Potter, if book one had been written for older teens. It's also very different, but if you love one you might love the other.

So with a mix of history and fantasy, and overall a great adventure across Europe, this was a fantastic book I'm glad I read.

Source: Bought it myself!