Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Hazel Wood [The Hazel Wood #1] - Melissa Albert

Title - The Hazel Wood
Author - Melissa Albert
Blurb

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Review

ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve started writing the review for this book no less than five times, and every time I have struggled to sum up what I felt about it. The first and most important thing I would say about this book is that it is well written; it is actually quite a stark comparison to other books in the same genre in that it makes you painfully aware that a huge amount of young adult authors are better storytellers than they are authors. It is very clear that Melissa Albert is a seriously talented author: it’s lyrical and poetic, but not a way that makes you think it was solely deigned to be a pinned on Pinterest or stuck on a nice graphic on Tumblr (I’m looking at you Tahereh Mafi and your tripping rainfalls). It's beautiful language that masterfully paints the setting for you.

Essentially, this book can be divided into two major parts – the first half, set in New York, does a really good job of setting up the plot, planting the seed of weirdness and attempting to alienate you from the main character. I realise that most books often try and make you love the narrative that is being told and an extension of that is a connection with the narrator – Alice as a narrator is not the most likeable person when you meet her. It’s not like she is outright awful, but there is an obvious distance between her and the audience; she is angry and angsty and very hard to relate to. Now, I can’t tell you if this is on purpose or just a happy accident, but when you get to the second half of the book and all of this pent up rage and aggression is confronted, it creates a much more complex character than if Albert had gone with a simple happy-go-lucky character.

The second half of the book is a lot like if you took one wrong left turn and dropped headlong into Alice in Wonderland... but if it was directed by Tim Burton's darker and more twisted cousin. It is weird, nonsensical and wholly bizarre. If you are not the kind of person who enjoys odd and irreverent kinds of plots, then this book is definitely not for you, but if you enjoy getting in Willy Wonka’s weird boat and letting him steer you into madness then this is a really good book for you.

As is always the case with books of this genre in my opinion, this is by no means perfect, so I’m going to try and balance out the positives with some things I didn’t like about it. The primary motivation of this book is Alice’s search for her mother, and despite Alice’s conviction that she does love her mum and will do anything to find her, I was not entirely convinced. To be honest, I was more interested in seeing the journey and not really what happened to Ella. She could have been erased from this book and I would not have blinked. I felt like Albert was very good at setting the scene and painting a beautiful story, but it lacked the emotional complexity necessary to draw me into the characters themselves.

This was actually mirrored in pretty much all of Alice’s relationships, and nowhere is it more apparent than her relationship with Finch. He seemed like a nice character, but that’s about it. I didn’t care if their romance came to any fruition or not. As I said before, however, I don’t think this book hinges vastly on relationships, and it’s a really interesting story either way. The only real gripe I had with this book is one particular scene involving police and Finch, and it comes out of nowhere and does a half-assed attempt to talk about police brutality and it did not make me a happy bunny. It felt like it was shoehorned in as an attempt to be ‘woke’ or whatever without properly addressing the issue itself, and I can’t say I was too enamoured by that idea.

Other than that, this book is one wild ride down a dark and twisted fairy-tale landscape which is especially impressive considering how saturated that market is at the moment. I actually can’t wait to read the next one but I’m not sure how she’s going to pull this off considering that it felt like it had a pretty conclusive ending. I’m even more excited about reading the actual Tales from Hinterlands.


Product Details
Hardcover, 368 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Language: English
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Feed - Nick Clark Windo

Title - The Feed
Author - Nick Clark Windo

Blurb

Tom and Kate's daughter turns six tomorrow, and they have to tell her about sleep.

If you sleep unwatched, you could be Taken. If you are Taken, then watching won't save you.

Nothing saves you.

Your knowledge. Your memories. Your dreams.

If all you are is on the Feed, what will you become when the Feed goes down?

For Tom and Kate, in the six years since the world collapsed, every day has been a fight for survival. And when their daughter, Bea, goes missing, they will question whether they can even trust each other anymore.

The threat is closer than they realise...

Review

Spoiler alert: I hated this book and I will not be pulling punches. I’ve looked at other reviews and I don’t get it, man. I just don’t get it. I couldn’t even finish the damn thing it sucks that hard. 

As you might have guessed I’m going to be writing this very freeform, kind of like I was speaking to you in person. That is partly because this is a stream-of-consciousness rant, and partly because that’s how the whole god damn book feels. 

My main issues with The Feed are twofold. Firstly, it is so painfully obvious that Nick Clark Windo wanted to write a screenplay for a TV show, probably a BBC 6 episode miniseries (I mean the thing reads like he’d only just finished reading the 2007 remake of Survivors), and boy oh boy does it come through in his writing style. Here’s the thing about writing dialogue and action in novels – you write it like it’s a fucking novel, because that’s what it is. What you don’t do, is include passages like, and I’m paraphrasing because I don’t want to pick the thing up again, “ ‘How are we going to explain all of…’ the dumbass character I don’t remember the name of gestured vaguely to the interior and exterior of the building, indicating the new world’ ”. Now see, that works just fine in a screenplay. In a novel? It’s jarring and awkward. Some people may well disagree with me and say that it makes it more realistic, but I think it’s bad writing. 

Secondly, the setting itself. Now, I have a background in bioscience, so I’m admittedly nitpicky when it comes to science fiction, but I try to encourage the suspension of disbelief in myself where possible. This being said, the whole premise of the Feed itself just makes no god damn sense to me. There’s a scene in the first chapter (Which, by the way, was from a different person’s point of view to the rest of the book – why? Like it’s not like that character disappeared or died or anything, she’s still there, just… relegated to side character) where she is trying not access the Feed, but does so. It describes all the things she’s able to do with it (generic social media stuff since the whole feel of the book can be summed up by that picture of a guy wearing a shirt saying “durr hburr technology is bad fire is scary and Thomas Edison was a witch”), and mentions that she did all that in like 11 milliseconds before switching it off again so her husband or fiancée or boyfriend or whoever he was doesn’t notice. First off – no, you can’t do all that. I don’t give a flying one how good the technology is, the human brain cannot process that amount of different information at that speed. No, not even with incredibly advanced technology, not going to happen, it’s dumb.  

Second of all, he then notices and berates her (of course). Using the Feed is described as making you slackjawed, rapid eye movements, phased out, all that typical “why is this generation constantly on their phones” bullshit – however, 11 milliseconds is not long enough to notice. MAYBE I can accept that if you were living with that technology present in all aspects of daily life you’d pick up on the cues of it a lot quicker, but… come on. 

My next big gripe with this book is how vague it was. When a writer does the irritating “six years later…” thing after the first chapter, a lot will have changed, and so they make allusions to those things and slowly make reference to them. That being said, the author reeeally wanted to keep his cards close to his damn chest with this stuff. He was trying to be all vague and mysterious, oooh what could be happening, what are they all so afraid of, which would be fine if he handled it well. He didn’t. There were ample opportunities to explain what was going on – hell he’d set it up perfectly for the main character to explain to his child what was happening in a natural conversation, but apparently flashbacks are better. See what I mean about wanting to write a screenplay? 

I’m going to be honest, maybe the book gets a lot better. Maybe it draws you in later on. But I read through a decent portion of it and I had less than 0 interest in finding out any more. I had much more interest in coming to my computer, which will probably make my brain rot and my eyes fall out if Nick Clark Windo has anything to say about it, and writing this review in one shot.


Product details
Paperback, 368 pages
Publisher: Headline (9 Aug. 2018)
Language: English
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Last Girl on Earth - Alexandra Blogier

Title - The Last Girl on Earth
Author - Alexandra Blogier
Blurb

Li has a father and a sister who love her. A best friend, Mirabae, to share things with. She goes to school and hangs out at the beach and carefully follows the rules. She has to. Everyone she knows--her family, her teachers, her friends--is an alien. And she is the only human left on Earth.

A secret that could end her life.

The Abdoloreans hijacked the planet sixteen years ago, destroying all human life. Li's human-sympathizer father took her in as a baby and has trained her to pass as one of them. The Abdoloreans appear human. But they don't think with human minds or feel with human hearts. And they have special abilities no human could ever have.

Fit in or die.

When Li meets Ryn, she's swept up in a relationship that could have disastrous consequences. How far will Li go to stay alive? Will she save herself--and in turn, the human race--or will she be the final witness to humanity's destruction?

Review

It seems like I am on a roll, another book from my to-be-read pile is complete which gives me great joy - perhaps more joy than I ended up getting from this book. In its 250 pages it created something that felt more like a synopsis of a book rather than a fully fledged story. It is as if Blogier had been more interested in the title of this book rather than creating a feasible and well fleshed out story.

I've read plenty of books with bad writing, bad characters, bad narrative etc., but it's been a long time since I read a book that elicited so little emotional response from me that when it was over after less than two hours of reading, I honestly didn't care who was alive or dead. Writing the story of the extinction of our species should be a rather easy road to tugging some heart strings, but this book failed to even coax my survival instinct. It would be easy to point out that all Blogier had to do to connect her audience was to really flesh out what it feels to be the last survivor of her species - the utter loneliness, loss of everything and everyone that has ever existed, but even the fear that is a repeated theme on this book was portrayed as lacklustre. 

Moreover, the character of Li was unconvincing almost in every way. We are told that she spent her whole life being trained just to keep up with the innate abilities of the aliens, but somehow she never gives us the indication that she is finding anything hard. She seems to go through the educational aspect and military training with a lot more ease than she should have. Additionally, for someone who is supposed to be trying to hide from aliens, she spends an awful amount of time spewing out her secrets and doing dangerous stunts that would reveal her identity to the "overlords".

Her romance with Ryn is wholly unconvincing; there was so little time dedicated to exploring their feelings for each other, when they got together after what felt like three pages I neither understood nor cared about their dull little romance doomed to fail. The "villains" are equally boring, with no defining features and, despite having only read this book less than two days ago, they have mostly left my head already.

In the end, I am glad that this book was as short as it was since it was not worth any more of my time. 

*drops mic*

Product Details
Paperback, 250 Pages
Publisher: Delacort Press
Lanuage: English
Author's Website: www.alexandrablogierdoula.com
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Horus Rising [Horus Heresy #1] - Dan Abnett

Title - Horus Rising
Author - Dan Abnett
Blurb

After thousands of years of expansion and conquest, the Imperium of Man is at its height. His dream for humanity nearly accomplished, the Emperor hands over the reins of power to his Warmaster, Horus, and heads back to Terra. But is Horus strong enough to control his fellow commanders and continue the Emperor's grand design?

Review

If you’re likely to read the Horus Heresy series, chances are you already know how it’s going to end. Any Warhammer 40,000 player knows the basic story – Horus, favoured son of the Emperor of Mankind, and one of the 20 18 Primarchs leading the Legiones Astartes to war in the Great Crusade to reclaim the galaxy, succumbs to the Chaos Gods of the Warp and rebels. After a bitter war that turned Primarch against Primarch, brother against brother, the traitor Horus slew his brother Sanguinius during the Siege of Holy Terra, and the Emperor destroyed him utterly, but was mortally wounded and confined to the Golden Throne to power the Astronomicon for the next 10 millennia.

If what I just said is complete and utter gibberish, I completely understand – believe me – and I’ll give fair warning that the rest of this review is unlikely to be much clearer. Warhammer 40,000 literature suffers from a critical flaw, and Horus Rising, the first Horus Heresy book, is no different: it uses hundreds of terms unique to its own universe and rarely explains what they mean, making them pretty inaccessible to the casual reader who hasn’t already sunk ungodly sums of money into space-gothic figurines and paint. All this being said, if you like dark sci-fi and you don’t mind taking the book at face value, then go right ahead by all means.

Horus Rising is written from the perspective of a few characters, but it is chiefly the story of Captain Loken of the Luna Wolves 10th Company, fighting beside his father, commander and Warmaster of the Great Crusade, Horus Lupercal. Before the fall, that is. While pacifying a world long forgotten since Humanity first spread throughout the galaxy, Horus Rising subtly shows the reader the perception of Horus by Space Marines and Humans alike, introduces the concept of Chaos with a gut-wrenching possession of a Luna Wolves Captain by the Daemon Samus, and sets the scene for the beginning of the end.

I enjoyed this book greatly as a Warhammer 40,000 fan, but I think my earlier comments about already knowing the overarching plot of the series can give you a good idea of why I’d be hesitant to recommend it. Most people who would be interested already know how it’s going to end, and those who don’t probably won’t be interested. As a book of its type, I think author Dan Abnett did a wonderful job drawing the reader into the universe they already know, allowing you to see characters they’ve heard of many times and see them as they were, and not as old legends necessarily depicted them.

I wouldn’t say this is the best Warhammer 40,000 book out there, but it’s definitely not a bad one by any stretch of the imagination - it's very well written and I will be seeking out more Dan Abnett as a result, but I found the plot to be a little slow. Embarking on reading the Horus Heresy series, which at the time of writing numbers 42 books, is a massive undertaking, which could be offputting (but not to my dumb ass, because I am a glutton for punishment when it comes to my wallet and creaking bookshelves, apparently).

Product Details
Paperback, 416 pages
Publisher: Black Library
Language: English
Purchase: Amazon | Black Library

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Warcross [Warcross #1] - Marie Lu

Title - Warcross
Author - Marie Lu
Blurb

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game — it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire. 

Review

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Normally I like to start my reviews with a bit more… eloquence, but I just finished reading the book and my fingers are flying across the keyboard with very little control from my mind. I’ve been catching up with my book recommendations from the past year and so far I have been rather disappointed. After two mediocre reads, I have finally struck Gold!

This book is simply incredible. The first half sets up an incredibly complicated setting, and yet grounded in reality – a world full of intriguing characters, fantastically rich world building, and one seriously - and I mean seriously - amazing romance sub-plot. I’m usually in top reviewing form when I am critiquing a book (*looks into the camera like I'm on the Office*) so bear with me while I try to do this book justice. 

Emika Chen, a former foster kid and genius hacker, is whisked into the glamorous world of international Warcross games after a hacking attempt goes wrong. As a narrative perspective, Emika is fantastic – she allows you to feel the same sense of desperation during her hard times, wonder at being introduced to this incredible virtual reality integrated world; fear, excitement, joy and so much more.

I’ve never had a book that made my heart race like this before, I was glued to the page from start to end. The first half of the book beautifully sets up this world and the utter dependence that 90% of its inhabitants have on this one game world – it is less like a single game and more like our total reliance on the internet. The second half of the book is one hell of a ride with twists and turns at every page, hearts racing and fingers flying through pages at a breakneck speed. This is Marie Lu at her best. She is easily one of the best action writers I have ever had the pleasure of reading, which I think is in quite a contrast with the genre as a whole. I find that YA books often contain lacklustre and somewhat vague action scenes which makes visualising a scene exceedingly difficult.

One of the absolute best features of this book is the sheer diversity of the cast itself, Warcross is a global phenomenon and the cast definitely show that. Asian main character, people from different countries and nationalities, LGBT relationships, a permanently disabled character – it has one of the best cases of representation I have ever seen and I am LOVING it!  

I have read quite a bit of criticism about the ‘unrealism’ of how the hacking actually works and I do agree with it. While I am not a hacker, even I know that furious typing is not the way you hack into things. But if you are willing to suspend your disbelief and chalk it up to a different kind of technology then you will have a hell of an exciting time with this book. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to change your life but if you give it a chance, you will be sitting here blankly staring at the last page wondering why Lu has left you feeling stressed out and wondering how she can leave you at a cliff hanger like this.

Please bring me the next one already, what am I going to do with my life now? 

Product Detail
Hardcover, 368 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Language: English
Author's Website: marielubooks.tumblr.com
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Faithless - Graham Austin-King


Title - Faithless
Author - Graham Austin-King
Blurb

The temples of the Forgefather have fallen. The clerics and defenders that could once be found across the nine lands are no more. Priests huddle in the great temple, clinging to the echoes of their lost religion. But the Father has fallen silent. There are none who still hear his voice.

The mines of Aspiration lie far below the temple's marble halls. Slaves toil in the blackness, striving to earn their way into the church and the light. Wynn has been sold into this fate, traded for a handful of silver. In the depths of the mines, where none dare carry flame, he must meet his tally or die. But there are things that lurk in that darkness, and still darker things within the hearts of men.

When the souls bound to the great forge are released in a failed ritual, one novice flees down into the darkness of the mines. The soulwraiths know only hunger, the risen know only hate. In the blackest depths Kharios must seek a light to combat the darkness which descends.

Review

We received an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for our honest reviews

TW: Rape, child abuse, violence.

This book is stunning. Simply, truly stunning. From the incredible cover art that drew me in as soon as I saw it on Netgalley, to the rich world built organically by the story, Faithless was nothing less than a pleasure to read. I’m often suspicious of independently published books, but this has dispelled any hesitation I may have had previously, and you will probably see a lot more reviews of independent books from me from now on as a result.

Low fantasy is a genre more common now in the wake of books like A Song of Ice and Fire, and boy, am I glad for it. While I love high fantasy, being a Dungeons & Dragons addict for over 10 years now, I love the dark and oppressive tones of excellent low fantasy. Faithless has this in spades.

Before I go any further and lavish praise upon the incredibly well-developed world Graham Austin-King has created, I need to address the trigger warnings I mentioned at the beginning of this review. The child abuse and rape elements of this story are crucial, fundamentally important parts of the story. They do not shy from the subject, they are not kind, and they are a tough read when it happens. I think this is very important – it paints the issue in the ugly, revolting light that it should be seen in. I don’t think I’ve felt such intense hatred for a character in a book since I read Stephen King’s The Green Mile and wanted to drag Percy into Old Sparky myself.

Onto the world itself: if you want a lesson in organic worldbuilding where the core facts of the world are introduced naturally and without long passages explaining how things work, then please read Faithless. The author managed to create an entire, fleshed out religion, its deity, the history of the faith, a complex hierarchical structure and interconnected system from the lower city of Aspiration in the mines to the temple of the Forgefather. It certainly helps being given the view of a character freshly introduced to the mines in Wynn, one of the two main characters the story is told from.

On the cover of Faithless is a quote from a reviewer, who described the book as “claustrophobic”. It was one of the reasons I was drawn to read the book, because that particular word suggested that the imagery and tone of the book would make you feel as though you were really there – I was right. The descriptions of the scenery, characters and overall atmosphere made me smell the coal dust in the air, feel the spray of rock chips upon my face, and hear the faint murmur of Priests at prayer, all mixed with the ring of hammer on anvil (this book has not helped curb my fantasies of someday owning a medieval forge. On the one hand, I may as well just smoke 100 cigarettes a day, on the other… cool swords…).

I’ve avoided really speaking about the plot in this review, partly because I think the blurb is enough of a hook to give you an idea of what the story is about, but also because I found it so engaging that I wouldn’t really want to spoil any of the twists and turns, major or minor. In my experience, that’s often the highest praise someone can give a work of art, whether it’s a book, a TV show, a movie, a video game, or even a song. Just read it.

A note to Graham Austin-King: Please, for the love of the Forgefather, continue this series soon. I mean if you want to write a little handbook of how to Call the Flame and the rites of Embers then don’t let me stop you – my D&D games need an infusion of new lore.



Product details
Paperback, 404 pages
Publisher: Fallen Leaf Press (30 Jun. 2017)
Language: English
Author's Website: www.grahamaustin-king.com
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Red Queen [Red Queen #1] - Victoria Aveyard

Title - Red Queen
Author - Victoria Aveyard 
Blurb

This is a world divided by blood - red or silver. The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change. That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.Fearful of Mare's potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance - Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.

Review

I went into this book wanting to love it – I’ve heard a lot of positive reviews for it, there are three in a series and while I know this has nothing to do with it, that cover?! The graphic designer who came up with these covers need a raise.

So in a serious attempt to love it, I began reading intently in the way only those with a furious love of books can understand. The first half of the book was nice enough; it gave me a serious Hunger Games flash back, but the pseudo-medieval, futuristic, dystopian feel (hell of a mouth full) completely did it for me. I love books that attempt to create a real political power dynamic and a hierarchical struggle. I also love books with superpowers, so we seemed to be a match made in YA heaven.

After delving a few chapters into the book, my attempts to cling to the pages with my proverbial rose-tinted glasses firmly in hand began to fail. Mare Barrows was a good enough introductory voice to gently ease you into the world of the subservient Red and ruling class of Silver, but after a few chapters you awaken to the realisation that she is once again the character you were hoping to avoid – devoid of any character development, steeped in the age old ‘all the boys love me and all the girls hate me because I am so special’ trope, and perhaps worst of all, in a constant state of indecision. 

This is supposedly the character that is the core engine in a social revolution that could change everybody’s life, for better or worse, but what we are given is a girl who spends most of her time constantly worrying exclusively about herself until the plot demands that she shows a level of care and duty to her friends and family. Perhaps Mare has some lessons to learn from fellow revolution leaders (do they have telephones in Panem?).

The plot itself leaves much to be desired. Red-born Mare Barrows displays her suddenly emerging power in front of a group of Silvers and, in an attempt to hide a potentially new power among the Reds, the King and Queen disguise her as a fellow Silver who has been taken in by a Red family after the dead of her ‘noble’ family – because apparently as a 17 year old girl, she has never seen her own blood and is supposedly just convinced that she was nothing but a Red. Not to mention the fact that any of the remaining Silver lords and ladies did not have a single brain cell to rub together to ask for a demonstration – a pin prick test if you will. But no, they carry on their lives happy to parade this pink, blushing and warm Red girl into one of the most important positions in the crown – a princess.

Most of the other supporting characters do not fare very well either, they are painted in the most two dimensional way possible with as much dichotomy as you can master between the two images – the charming prince and his mirror-verse soldier; the evil queen who inevitably loves her only son; the wise old man who is also a lot tougher than he looks, the king who might as well not be there for all he does for this book, etc. It felt like page after page, we were being asked to care about these characters who could have been eaten by a creature from the fourth dimension three chapters ago and I wouldn’t have noticed.

The book is not without its positive aspect; the premise for this book is excellent. I’ve read a lot of comparisons between Red Queen and X-Men and I do agree with that. As I’ve said before, superheroes are my Jam and I thoroughly enjoyed the creative new powers in this book. Additionally, I loved that the events of the book had real consequences – I felt like every step, every action and every foul-up had a serious consequence that was far reaching. People lived and died by the actions of the characters and that was quite refreshing. Plus the serious of twists and turns (especially near the end) made this book manageable - but only just.

I think in the end, this book is just okay. It had a good potential to be so much more than it was. It left so much more to be expanded upon – the war could have been a much more prevalent aspect of this book, the family dynamics could have been better, and relationships with characters could have been more… just more. I think this book is going to be part of the ever mounting books that failed to meet their potential.

Product Detail
Hardcover, 383 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Language: English
Author's Website: www.victoriaaveyard.com
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Renegades [Renegades #1] - Marrissa Meyer

Title - Renegades
Author - Marissa Meyer

Blurb

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies — humans with extraordinary abilities — who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone... except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice — and in Nova. But Nova's allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.



Review

Where do I begin with this book?

It's been a long time since I read a YA book that could be considered an archetype of its genre, so I wasn’t sure what to expect with Renegades. For one, superheroes are my absolute JAM, and seeing a teenage perspective of a post-catastrophic superhero emergence seemed like an interesting take on the comic universe. And for another, while I haven’t read enough of Meyer’s books to be considered a fan, I did really like Cinder so I knew Meyer could carry a story alright.

Reading the first half of this book gave me a painful case of déjà vu; I mean, a group of supervillains rebelling against an oppressive regime of non-powered people who treat "prodigies" like a sub-human species while an opposing force of superheroes constantly clash with them to save the "normal" people – this pretty much screamed X-Men to me. I mean there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the Anarchists from this book and the Brotherhood of Mutants from X-men. Even their respective leaders, Ace and Magneto, seem like a derivative of each other – both are rebel leaders with ability to move things with their mind and a cool helmet that magnifies their power.

The characterisation of Nova is borderline Mary Sue - for one she is called Nova, I mean seriously? She is ridiculously good at fighting, taking on people who are a lot better trained and bigger than she is on a regular basis. She is super smart, super good at her new job that she is completely untrained for, and she has a tragic sob story to wrap it all up in a neat little bow so you don’t dig any deeper as to why she is the way she is. I understand her ability (read the book to find out what it is 😉) gives her an advantage over the average person in terms of learning new skills, but I am unconvinced that a six year old was building a hydraulic pressured lift for a doll house. Just saying. I am also not a massive fan of Adrian as a character - I think what Meyer was aiming for was someone driven, trying to figure out the person responsible for the tragic event in his life while maintaining the ideals of what it is like to be a superhero, but what came across is an obsessive and insubordinate character who would just as easily break his own ideologies as follow them, all the while preaching about the virtues of his kind.

I am also completely unconvinced with the romance subplot in this book. Nova is indecisive and in a constant battle over where her loyalties lie, and the primary driver of this somewhat annoying behaviour is Adrian. We are expected to believe that five minutes after joining their team, Nova is wavering in her convictions that she has apparently had her whole life. Surprise surprise, a girl questions all her beliefs as soon as she meets a man. Plus, I usually don’t have the patience for that nihilistic "the world would be better if none of us existed" crap. You don’t get to spend your whole life fighting the establishment and attempting to validate your existence against all odds only to dissolve that same fight with one throwaway comment about how the non-powered folks would be better off without you.

So. I know I have been rather scathing with this review so far, but I do actually have a lot of good things to say about it. I really liked the casual inclusion of an LGBT couple without the unnecessary fanfare that usually follows these things; the main character was described as half Italian/Filipino; and one of the main supporting characters was permanently disabled, so the diversity in this book is pretty good.

Diversity and representation aside, there are a few other things I really liked about the book. I thought the vast variety of the powers in this book were fairly unique - I was especially excited about Adrian’s power and the unique way Meyer handled him. I think the story on the whole was okay: it wasn’t fantastic and I don’t think it’s going to be the book that starts the YA genre on the road to superheroism, but I also don’t think it’s going to be used as the cautionary tale. It keeps you mostly engaged through a somewhat clichéd but fun plot, and it gets the job done.

I realise that I have said a lot more negative things than I planned, but honestly, this book was just a little "meh" for me. The ending was great, but the story felt like I’ve seen it before. It was just okay, so I think I’m going to give it 3 out of 5. I’ll probably read the next one but I won’t be running to the book store the moment it comes out.



Product Details
Hardcover, 556 pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Language: English
Author's Website: www.marissameyer.com

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Mortal Engines [Mortal Engines Quartet #1] - Phillip Reeve

Title - Mortal Engines
Author - Phillip Reeve

Blurb

London is Hunting!

The great Traction City lumbers after a small town, eager to strip its prey of all assets and move on. In the not-so-distance future, mobile cities consume one another to survive, a practice known as Municipal Darwinism.

Tom, an apprentice in the Guild of Historians, saves his hero from a murder attempt by the Mysterious Hester Shaw - only to find himself thrown from the city and stranded with Hester in the Out Country. As they struggle to follow the city, the sinister plans of London's leaders begin to unfold...



Review 

Nothing pushes me to dust off a book and give it a read than it being adapted into a film, and this is no different. I tried to read it a few years ago without much success, which has more to do with my own personal laziness rather than the quality of this book.

Mortal Engines is the quintessential dieselpunk book of our generation; it flawlessly combines a diesel-based retro futuristic technology with the backstory that left mankind scattered in the remnants of a nuclear irradiated earth, and asks the one question that you have wondered your whole life: What if cities just… got up?

After the devastating 60 Minute War, humanity was thrown back to a dark age of technology and for thousands of years has scrabbled in the dirt to gather enough old-world tech to win the only evolutionary race that now matters: Municipal Darwinism. Simply put, a world where city eats city, the strong prey on the weak and drag them into the hungry jaws of a city on the move. Reading this book, I got a serious case of “How freaking awesome is that!”. I haven’t been this excited about a concept for a long time. Not to mention the gloriousness that is the phrase ‘Municipal Darwinism’ - it takes the simple idea of the survival of the fittest and subverts the idea to describe cities engaging in a seemingly eternal battle for existence.

The heroes of this book, Tom Nastworthy and Hester Shaw, are two very different but equally brilliant narrative glimpses into the Mortal Engines world. Tom is a London born city dweller who engages with the devouring of other cities with much vigour and enthusiasm. To him, Municipal Darwinism is not only a way of life, it’s simply the right way of life. Although your natural reaction to this carnage and implied slavery might be a certain level of disdain and abject horror, Reeves does an incredible job of forcing the reader to really think about what your view might be had you been raised as Tom had. Hester on the other hand presents the flip side of the argument – she is as horrified of the traction cities and their ruthless practice as we might be. To me, she presents the voice of the audience; her idea of savage nations are not the cities that choose to plant their mobile bodies in the ground and remain in motion as Tom might think, but those roaming cities that are consuming each other to extinction.

I really appreciate Reeve’s effort in creating Hester, she is a hell of a strong character and unlike a lot of young adult books I have read in the past she doesn’t spend the duration of the book feeling sorry for herself and being led by the hand through the plot. She is as much the driving force of the story as her male counterpart and I really appreciate that. This doesn’t necessarily mean that she automatically deserves the strong independent female character badge just yet, much like a lot of ‘bad ass women’ she has been awarded a tragic backstory solely for the purpose of excusing her eternal hostility to basically everybody and her extremely violent tendencies. Still, you take your good with your mediocre I suppose.

The only real criticism I have for this book is perhaps the pace of the story – this book might as well be strapped to the end of one of those running cities as it burns through story and characters as if they are a dime a dozen. I would have appreciated a slightly slower pace and a more detailed exploration of some of the characters we encountered. 

Overall, however, the story is very well driven, with a plethora of interesting characters that keep it from becoming stale. It builds a magnificent and original world which I would thoroughly recommend if you are looking for an afternoon of fun reading.


Product Details
Hardback, 293 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Language: English
Author's Website: www.philip-reeve.com
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Saturday, 20 January 2018

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Max Brooks


World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Title - World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
Author - Max Brooks

Blurb

It began with rumours from China about another pandemic... Then the cases started to multiply and what had looked like the stirrings of a criminal underclass, even the beginnings of a revolution, soon revealed itself to be much, much worse. Faced with a future of mindless, man-eating horror, humanity was forced to accept the logic of world government and face events that tested our sanity and our sense of reality. Based on extensive interviews with survivors and key players in the 10-year fight-back against the horde, World War Z brings the very finest traditions of American journalism to bear on what is surely the most incredible story in the history of civilisation.


Review

If you’re a big lover of Zombie media (which is most people these days) you probably went and saw the Brad-Pitt-athon that was World War Z. I know I certainly went to see it.

Y’all. What a waste of source material. My God.

I picked up a copy of World War Z a couple of months back from a charity bookshop called “Healthy Planet”, who let you grab any 3 books and take them free of charge, and ask for donations if you want to or donations of books (I’m a big believer in their cause, by the way, if there’s a Healthy Planet near you then please donate!). I wasn’t really sure what the structure of the book was going to be, having only seen the movie, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it took the form of interviews with survivors of the Zombie War after the fact – it lent it this detached, documentary-like feel that instantly engaged me. The imagery was so vivid, both in the accounts of the interviewees and the occasional interjection from the author describing the subject’s mannerisms as they give their interview, that I truly felt as though this had been a real event and these were the harrowing survivor’s tales of people who had been through hell.

Yeah, the movie did not give me that feel. I promise I’ll stop ragging on it now.

Max Brooks divides the book into several parts, covering the entire war chronologically, beginning with tales about the first infections with isolated cases of Zombies cropping up across the world. The novel then moves on to discuss how the Zombies took the world completely unprepared, the measures that needed to be in place to prevent their spread but weren’t, and how it degenerated into a full-blown war. Tales of surviving soldiers talking about the last stands they fought in, where their comrades were dragged screaming to the ground by the living dead, withstanding everything but a precise headshot, chilled me to the bone, and Brooks gives an incredible sense of the desperation the world at large must have felt through these eyewitness accounts.

I remember one story regarding a battle to hold a bridge in Southern Asia where the Zombies stretched as far as the eye could see, the hopelessness of the interviewee as he talked about his commanding officer sacrificing himself to hold the line, and I reached for my phone to look up the event on Wikipedia to hear more about it before I realised it was fictional. I am not a smart man.

It’s hard to discuss the book in too much depth without giving the plot away, so I’ll say this. If you like Zombie related fiction, and you want to be immersed in one of the best examples of worldbuilding I’ve come across in a long time, then this book should move way, way up your “Yeah, I’ll read that at some point when I’ve got time” list.

(The movie sucked).


Product Details 
Paperback, 334 pages
Publisher: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd
Language: English 
Author's Website: www.maxbrooks.com
Purchase: Amazon Barnes & Noble