Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Book Review: Outrun The Moon

3 Stars
Verdict: Historically rich, plot thin.

Mercy is a fifteen-year-old girl with 'bossy cheeks' and a nose for business, and it’s her smarts and strong will that help her set up a meeting to possibly join St Clare’s School for Girls. Growing up in San Francisco Chinatown, 1906, there’s not many opportunities for a girl of her race, but Mercy hopes to wrangle a full scholarship at St Clare's and become a woman of business who can support her family.

Mercy comes across as intelligent, witty, and much older than her fifteen years, if only out of necessity. I loved how the author used the mother’s fortune telling to help build non-cliche descriptions of the characters. The odd line here and there, full of Chinese culture or unique imagery, really made me fall in love with the writing.

Sadly, I became disenchanted along the way. The story begins as a battle against adversity as a young woman strikes deals and talks her way into succeeding her goals, and I liked where it was going. Then disaster struck. The plot died. The whole host of not-so-interesting characters took centre stage, or perhaps there were too many to feel attached to?

Either way, it felt like not as much happened after the earthquake, and the plot I was invested in disappeared. I liked the historical richness and how the community came together, and Francesca’s story had some interesting turns - it just felt like a lot of pages were spent on not so much intrigue. By the end, I was reading to finish rather than for enjoyment.

I have to say, the ending didn’t meet what I had hoped either. I think it struggled to keep my attention as the plot thinned and the story changed direction. The reveal around Harry and some of the other coincidental turns made it feel too neat. But, again, it’s beautifully written and full of authenticity. I would recommend this to the right sort of person, I just don't think it was for me.

Source: Bought it myself.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Book Review: The Girl with Ghost Eyes

3 Stars
Verdict: Asian folklore, fierce battles, but something missing...

Li-lin is a widow and the daughter of a renowned Daoshi exorcist in San Francisco, Chinatown, 1898. Her gift of seeing the spirits bring shame to her father, and dooms her to a short, pained life. When her father is injured by a sorcerer, Lin-lin must stop an ancient evil from destroying Chinatown.

At first I was enthralled by the mythology-rich opening, strong female lead, and the head-first dive into conflict. I enjoyed the introduction of weird and wonderful spirits with added details of Chinese culture and mythology. Five stars were on my mind.

However, something felt missing. As the book raced onwards with fight after fight, I started to lose interest. I didn't want to, because I enjoyed the opening so much. But it seemed to focus on the wrong things. It kept introducing new concepts when I craved to learn how all the pieces we already had could fit together.

I can't quite work out what it was missing. I felt there could have been more foreshadowing, more character development and interactions, and more writing with flare rather than purpose. Towards the end of the book, the writing really let it down and the story became more about action than characters or conflict... I felt very distant from Li-Lin by the last few pages when I should have felt closer.

A good edit could probably sort this out and turn it into a fantastic book. It's not short on creativity, research, and plot, but I don't think I could read the whole series as it stands.

The book was recommended to me by a beta-reader of my own work in progress which I had been writing for over a year before finding this book. I was shocked by the similarities in the details, although thinking about it, that makes sense; we have both done our research. To me, it made it feel very authentic. That's probably my favourite thing about this book: the mythology and folklore.

Source: Bought it.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Book Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

5 Stars
Verdict: Rich, gradual, and gory.

Xiefeng is destined to be Empress of Feng Lu, but only if she lets the darkness guide her...

I’ll admit, I can only read one high fantasy story a year and it has to really stand out. In this case, the East-Asia mythology aspect of this one drew me in within an instant. The darkness of the story, the unconventional twists in the relationships, and the gorgeous writing had me slithering through this book slower to enjoy it for longer. I always know a book has me where it wants me as soon as I stop counting pages.

Xiefeng is an antihero I could get behind. She’s jealous, selfish, righteous – but her desires, suffering, and efforts and so strong, I rooted for her all the same. For a writer to make me like someone who is morally grey is a kind of magic I want to understand more.

There’s no crescendo for this book. No huge twist or gut-wrenching moment which turns the book back on itself. That’s usually what I love the most in a book, but I didn’t need it with this one. The story climbs forwards without hovering for too long in any given situation. There’s no time to feel bored or comfortable, always on the edge of the next moment to arise.

I’m not one for poetry, but this book showed me the power of line when used in the perfect context. The writer’s knack for poetry also came through in the lush lyrical writing that again, in similar books I’ve felt it’s too melodramatic or purple, but this book I connected with.

So I’ve thrown out what I usually love for this book. It made me love what I hate because it’s crafted so masterfully. I’ve bought the next book in the series and can’t wait to read more. It’s the best book I’ve read this year!

Source: Bought it myself.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Book Review: 5 Feet Apart

FIVE FEET APART by Rachael Lippincott et al.
2 Stars
Verdict: Too predictable.

Stella and Will have CF. They should always stay at least SIX feet apart. (Light spoiler which is given away in the title too: they don't.)

That's pretty much the entire book. The voices are strong and the references are modern which helps it feel slightly 'fresher' than those who have trod around the sick kids plot before, but I spent most of the book waiting for something more to happen.

This book taught me a lot about CF that I didn't learn in biology class - the loneliness, the survivors guilt, the strict medication schedule - all the things that don't make up the diagnosis but can be there too. Before this, my knowledge of CF was alleles and lung function. From reading other responses to this title, I appreciate how it raises awareness.

My brain started to wander off around the half-way mark. I couldn't help thinking there wasn't much pulling Stella and Will together, and the plot felt...thin. It didn't have much more to it than the title suggests.

Similar titles have more of a third string to their bow, for example, a lawsuit against parents, or travelling to Europe to solve a mystery, whereas this book is missing that extra layer of intrigue. I struggled to reach the end, but I really quite enjoyed it at the start.

Source: With thanks to the publishers via NetGalley.com.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Book Review: Girls of Paper and Fire

GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE #1 by Natasha Ngan 
4 Stars
Verdict: A beautiful and difficult tale.

With a book like this, I think it’s important to point out that it’s not for everyone. It explores the theme of sexual abuse in a way that’s unavoidable, unskippable. The scenes aren’t graphic, but the emotion is, or at least it felt like that to me. Please bare that in mind before reading.

Lei is part of the Paper cast, meaning she’s human from head to toe, unlike the power and magical chimera-like casts that are afforded the better status in Ikhara. She’s taken from her small village and made into one of the chosen eight concubines of the bull king. Unlike the other concubines, Lei refuses to submit to the 'honour' of being a Paper girl.

When I heard this was a fantasy novel inspired by Asian culture, I had to have it. Asian mythology has inspired my own writing, so I couldn't wait to sink into this tale, and the world building definitely delivered. The premise is dark, yes, but it's real and raw and honest. Some parts were difficult to read, but I felt the author was respectful of the many different ways abuse can affect a person.

To me, Lei was the perfect lead for this story. We all know we'd struggle in a situation like Lei's, and many would be too scared to do anything about it, and so it's cathartic to read about someone who risks it all to stand up for themselves, even though it’s not the smartest thing to do.

The best thing about this book is the imagery. The language is both beautiful and haunting. There are plenty of lines to gush over, while others cut to the core. I would definitely read another book by this author for the writing alone.

My only quibble was the pace. It set off like a firework, one of those ones that shoots up high and then nothing; it does not bang. The plot seemed to get stuck in a queue where I always knew what was going to happen a few chapters later, and that made it frustrating to read at times. However, the plot tumbles and dives, rises and twists, so although there was an element of predictability, there was enough going on to keep me going on.

Okay, another slight nugget of criticism was that I struggled to squeeze any personality from our second leading lady, Wren. I knew her story but not her, and while Lei's emotions were like suns burning in the sky, Wren was more like a spoon: useful…but not much else to say there. Part of the problem was there were a lot of characters, and I felt more intrigued by Aoki’s Stockholm-esk syndrome, Blue’s family struggles, and Madam Himura’s past as a Paper girl. I know eight is a lucky number in some Asian cultures, but it was a bit ambitious to squeeze in that many characters, and it was hard to feel attached to anyone but Lei.

So would I read book 2? Maybe. I'm more in love with the author's writing and inspirations than this particular story.

Source: With thanks to the publishers via NetGalley.com. 

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Book Review: One of us is Lying

ONE OF US IS LYING by Karen M. McManus
5 Stars
Verdict: Addictive.

Five students go into detention, and only four come out alive. The police and media are circling in on the four remaining students from that fateful detention, all of them liars in one form or another. But who is the killer?

I read this book like I eat chocolate - page after page consumed without ever wanting to stop. It's the type of story you get caught up in, binge, and then are quite happy to put it away and move on to something else - a quick, light read, but not a thinker.

It's a whodunit that kept me guessing, although I had my suspicions...

The narrative switches between the four students, each of them with very different lives and different issues. The characters start off feeling very cliche: a jock wanting a baseball scholarship, a pretty-girl being pushed around by her popular boyfriend, a smart but geeky girl, and a Nate, who felt the least cliche in that respect with his not caring attitude and difficult home life.

However, we get to know them really well, and for a four narrative book, each character slowly came to life. I cared about each of them in the end, and didn't want any of them to be the ultimate liar. I liked Addy's growth, and Cooper's journey. I loved how the story pulled Nate and Bronwyn together. Again, nothing stood out as overly unique, but it tried to put a twist on some of the old cliches.

Source: Bought it!

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Book Review: Heart of Mist

HEART OF MIST by Helen Scheuerer
5 Stars
Verdict: One of the best fantasy book I've read this year!

Bleak wants a cure for her illegal magic, if possible, but mostly, she wants wine every day. A summons from the king is a death sentence to her.

Henri is the queen of Valia, a race of strong female fighters, but she isn't the queen of the realm. A choice she makes could send her people to war with the true king.

Dash is a stable boy, but he's also best friends with the blind princess. He dreams of being a knight, or even just meeting one.

They live in a land which is threatened by a growing mist, one only those with magic can survive.

I loved this right from the start. Beautiful descriptions, dark humour, and a pace that doesn't let up. This is my ideal story.

It had a good balance of action, character, and pace, the three entwined as the plot moved ever forwards, each detailed, but not too heavy to handle. I thought there could perhaps be more world building, as the mist isn't very 'present' until towards the end, but perhaps this was a necessary sacrifice at the beginning of the book to get things going, as it picks up towards the middle. Instead it focuses on Valia, ruled by women warriors, and Adelen, a standard fantasy book fishing town.

I liked all of the main characters, and how their stories were very different but beginning to entwine.

This is very much part one of a bigger story. I found every chapter intriguing, but there are no big fireworks or gut-wrenching twists. The story is smart and building to something much bigger than book one, and if book two was around, I'd keep going.

Source: Amazon Kindle Unlimited.