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, not really, without being too predictable, so I understand the choice there. The way the ending was handle 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.