Saturday, 28 February 2015

Book Review: Naomi Grim


Naomi Grim by Tiffany Nicole Smith

3 stars

Verdict:
You’ll probably enjoy it, but it is flawed.


The assignment:Collect lifestones from humans after they die.

Rebellious, sixteen-year-old Naomi craves a normal life, but unfortunately, she's a Grim by birth. That's right, she sees dead people and hoards their living essence in a stone. Not a fun occupation.

In order to be good at her job, she must live among human teenagers for weeks at a time. But Naomi soon becomes attached to the kids she's been assigned to watch over. And knowing that these teens are gonna die under less than ideal circumstances, she has the opportunity to prevent their deaths from occurring. Only one big problem--interfering with death is the worst crime a Grim can commit. If she intervenes, she'll put herself and her family in danger.

Naomi must make the hardest choice of her career, go against the sacred covenant or watch her new friends walk blindly to their deaths.

Only one thing is for certain--Naomi has a grim knack for finding trouble and she's about to break all the rules...


~*~

This is brilliantly original. The first chapter hooked me with a clean and crisp concept revolving around Grims collecting lifestones from the dead. I thought I’d never put it down, until the flaws seeped through and the weaknesses left too many holes for me to pick at. Around the middle, my rating had plummeted, and towards the end I just wanted it to stop before it shot itself in its foot. Overall, this had five star potential but it wasn’t written like a five star book.

The writing is very simple, which is good and bad. Terms are explained very simple and carefully so anyone can understand them. The pace was swift and it was easy to read. Okay, so it was a little dry, but it also reflected Naomi’s personality and drew me in. It's a book anyone could read.

As the novel went on, the simple writing started to get to me. Smith nearly always tells rather than shows, and hardly anything in the novel is actually described. Sometimes paragraphs were awkward because they contained a chain of unlinked events to move the story along. The writing style doesn’t have much flare or creativity either. The words do their job, but nothing more.

My main issue with this? There are more characters than you could shake a stick at. Picture that for a moment...

Seriously. Even chapter one lumbers the characters on quite heavily, but each chapter seems to dispatch another fresh set of faceless names. I can list 30 off the top of my head, although I can’t exactly remember what they were called or their personality. I felt very distant to most of them.  It would be easy to scrape back on around ten of them, and others could have been reused so that readers have a chance to connect with them more. For example, Naomi and Keira don't need younger brothers - neither affects the plot and neither are memorable.

I also got very annoyed with some of the stronger characters. Naomi's brother Bram started out as an entitled hothead, who I thought would be an unpredictable troublemaker with heart. As the story progressed he came across as nothing more than a selfish bully. Naomi’s best friend Keira is supposed to fancy him, although seeing as he shows no positive qualities, I have no idea why she would. The only reason given for why he likes her is that she’s beautiful. There’s nothing that makes me root for that relationship. It doesn’t help that I stopped liking Keira, too. For a best friend, she doesn’t seem very understanding. I found them one dimensional for the most part of the book.

The only person I knew and liked was Naomi. She has a good heart and a terrible decision to make. But even then, she tended to act thoughtlessly and with little concern for her actions, especially concerning those she’s supposed to care about most. It made for a good story, but it felt illogical and clashed with her personality. By the end of the book I was a bit frustrated with her too because she seemed inconsistent and very passive.

I’ll avoid spoilers by not going into details, but there were also several plot holes, (arguably) illogical actions, and somewhat unlikely events. At times, the plot felt wrong. Messy. It was still entertaining and full of action, but I felt like the book was unravelling the more I read it.

In other places, it lacked emotion. If one scene hadn’t mentioned ‘so and so was crying’ I would have thought they were rather impartial to the matter. Naomi in particular became dryer and dryer. This line in particular summed it up for me: *** See bottom for quote.
That said, I wasn’t going to stop reading. The plot is very giving, and keeps moving forwards and onwards to the next issue. There was always something to draw me back in. It's such an original and creative world; I wanted to know more about it.

It could have been written better. It could have fewer characters and more emotion. The plot could have been tighter, and description in general would have been a nice touch. The pace was still excellent, the world building was amazing. I still loved it, but I'm not sure if I'd recommend it.

Source: NetGalley.com



***Might be considered a slight spoiler:
”You pretty much sentenced yourself to death, didn’t you?”
I shrugged.
(At that point I started to wonder what Naomi did care about...)




Thursday, 26 February 2015

Book Review: Cleo

Cleo by Lucy Coats

3 stars

Recommend:
Fans of ancient Egypt who can persist through a shaky start.

Her precious mother is dead - and it isn't an accident! The young Cleopatra - Pharaoh's illegitimate daughter - must flee the royal palace at Alexandria or die too. 

As her evil half-sisters usurp the throne, Cleo finds sanctuary at the sacred temple of Isis, where years later she becomes initiated into the secret Sisters of the Living Knot. But now Isis's power is failing, Egypt is in danger, and Cleo must prove her loyalty to her goddess by returning to the Alexandria she hates. She must seek out the hidden map which is the key to returning Isis's power - on pain of death. But will she be able to evade her horrible sisters? And will she find dreamy Khai, the über-hot librarian boy she met as she fled Alexandria years before? Cleo's powerful destiny is about to unfold...

~*~


Firstly, I am grateful for the review copy, but it contained missing letter pairs. I’ll try and not let it affect my review.

At the start, I didn’t like it very much. I thought Cleo was a bit of a whiner, the scene was poorly set, and although a lot of Egyptian terms were dropped in here and there, it didn’t feel like the characters were in Egypt. At the start, sometimes the narrative became very general, sweeping over details like a diary extract. The evil sisters also begin rather one dimensional, ‘bad because they’re evil and want to rule’ and might as well have been the same person.

It got better. The plot spices up. Cleo is under constant threat and those closest to her are far from safe. Her relationship with Charm, her slave, also made me warm up to her over time. Even the one dimensional badies developed a little and started to separate out. And without the setting jumping around so much, the Egyptian charm came through.

Most of all, I felt that Cleo grew as a character. She stops asking ‘why’ and starts taking action. The scenes where she faces her sisters in political power struggles were among my favourite in the book, as we got to see Cleo take a few risks and stand up against evil. Some parts reminded me of the House of Night series, especially when Cleo asks for her goddess, Isis, to help in times of need. I hope that as the series goes on, Cleo will depends less and less on her Goddess and will learn to just act her will.

There’s something about the writing that feels very weak in places. Even for a review copy, there was a lot of word repetition, (for example, prostrate, soft, and fingers drove me insane), and yet other times Coats displays originality and flare.

My main issue was that, whilst a lot of the descriptions are colourful and creative, not much care has been put into the setting. This is an Egyptian tale and I wanted to feel like I was in the middle of a great Egyptian palace, and it just didn’t feel like that. However, it's clear that the author knows her stuff, and I enjoyed the references to the gods and symbolism. The info in the back was great to sift through, and I'm glad it was extra detail rather than necessary information needed in order to understand the story.

For a début author, this is alright. Not bad. The thought of hearing about teen Cleopatra is such a great concept that it might have set up false expectations of the book. I still enjoyed it.

Source: NetGalley.com
Available: May

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Book Review: Life of Pi

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

5 stars

Recommend:
Those who want a gritty and thought-provoking story, and can take a slow start.


Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.


~*~

My English teacher from sixth form recommended me this book. I didn’t read it. I wanted to. I was, erm, going to after I finished my coursework... It was next on my list... Well, now I’ve seen the film the book will feel slow. I saw it in a charity shop and finally stopped making excuses.

I’m mentioning this because if I hadn’t been so motivated to finally finish it, I might have stopped 50 pages in. I’m glad I kept reading, but I do sympathise with 50-pages-in me. Not often a book will manage to hook in and bore at the same time, but that’s exactly how I felt in part 1. If I had met Pi in real life, I’d listened to his stories endlessly but I might have piped up with ‘When do we get to the part with the boat?’ a couple of times. After finishing the book, I finally appreciated more of the musings at the start but that’s not much good when you’re actually reading it.

As soon as the front cover came into play, I was reluctant to put the book down. Martel certainly has that 'storyteller' quality. His prose is rich with metaphor, interesting facts and musings, and character development that spun a bizarre tale into a believable account.

This book is not for the fainthearted and some bits set off my haemaphobia. Vivid is an understatement. I saw the film first, and this was more vivid than the lifelike replay. You have to commend Martel’s way with words for that!

The animal psychology sections appealed to me a lot. As a psychology graduate, I always love to see a bit of psych in action, especially when the author knows what they’re talking about. So many authors will mention brain regions, social psychology titbits, or, as I recently read, ‘olfactory nerves’ without knowing more than a skim-read wiki article on the topic, but Martel knows his stuff. He knows his animals. He knows them so well, I felt like Pi must really exist because who other than a zookeeper's son would know so much about animals and animal psychology?

The ending is designed to make you think, and that’s exactly what I did for hours after putting it down. If you’ve read it and are wondering which way I sway, I’ve decided to believe in the tiger up to the bit with the blind man. I’m glad we’ll never know because I can keep thinking and wondering without any restraints.

I learned a lot from this book. I learned that green sea is shallower than blue, and you can paralyze a fish by poking its eyes. I learned that a tiger won’t attack if you stare at it, and the psychology behind how lion taming. Most importantly, I learned I wouldn’t survive in the unlikely event that I end up stranded in the sea with not much other than a Bengal Tiger...

Source: Bought from a charity shop. 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Last 6 Self-Published Novels I've Rejected

I won’t name names. I’m posting this article as part of my mini campaign to improve the quality of self-published novels.

The reason why I turned the authors away is because I couldn’t finish their novel or I knew it would be a one star review if I had. In my opinion, they’re not ready for publishing. Yet. Some of them even had a special something, but the book was too flawed or crippled by undeveloped writing that I just couldn’t recommend it.

I don’t mean this in a subjective way either (well, to a certain degree). It’s very easy to blame preference, but good grammar shouldn’t be preference. Sometimes I’ve felt so baffled that I’ve asked the nearest person to read a paragraph or so just to check it's not just me.

There are some fantastic self-published novels out there too, like Apple by R.A. Black and The Prince of Prophecy by N.M. Mac Arthur, both of which I enjoy recommending whenever I get the chance. Both novels took hard work, beta-readers, and a hell of a lot of redrafts, which is why both authors have my full support.

So here is the last six self-publishing novels I had to decline and the reason why:


1) The one that was just too Irish

The author advised me to refer to the glossary. That isn’t how I read. I googled several phrases and did some research into Irish lore to help, but it wasn't enough. Also, there were around 6 characters with names beginning with C, none of which were English and most of which had accents in them. The page looked messy.

Call me crazy, but the sentence ‘News of it came to Bodb Dearg, king elect of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and he gave Lir to wife Aoife, sister of Aobh’ should never appear in a book.


2) The one where nothing happened

I read 70% of this book and stopped. It was well written despite the high number of typos, and I quite liked the characters... but nothing happened. No conflict, no stakes, no twists. Things were starting to pick up, but I’d already made up my mind. A book needs to have a story from start to finish. It can’t all be preparation for something big to come.


3) The shockingly bad cover, terrible prose, and infinite typos

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the cover sorta summed up the book in this case. It was just really bad. Someone else had already written a 1 star review so there was no need for me to pile on the criticism.


4) The undeveloped writer

This is actually two books, although number 6 accounts for one of them. Both were lovely authors which made it so much more difficult to turn them down. Both had written supernatural romances... both lacked characterisation, pace, and voice in their prose. Both had typos, bad grammar, and ill use of taglines. Yet both had a special something in their novels too. Maybe one day they’ll write a best seller.


5) The one written almost fully in simple sentences.

Variation is important. This includes sentence structure. Short sentences are repetitive. It’s hard to read a book like this. It’s so choppy.


6) The fantastically heavy info dump

The book was actually kinda alright. I was thinking three stars unless something amazing happened. And then bam! An unprovoked Q&A scene that seemed to last forever and dumped so much information on I could barely remember half of it. If I was the girl, I would have run or at least left earlier to digest the moment. Instead, the main girl asks question after question like a robot – sometimes of things she couldn’t possibly know to ask but the author needed to share.


When I turn authors away, I also tell them the problems I had because they've kindly offered me a review copy and so I feel like I shouldn't just leave them in the dark.  Most were very polite although I get the sense that few will really take what I had to say on board. At least not right away.

Half of these novels just needed a good edit. They needed to find 20 beta-readers and/or hire an editor to help them work out how to reach publishing standards.

The fact is, everyone thinks they can write a book. But just because you’ve actually managed to get the whole thing down on paper (and that’s a challenge in itself) doesn’t mean people will want to pay money to read it. Friends and family also make terrible beta-readers.

To all self-published people out there, give me a book that can rival the traditionally published alternatives. After all, that’s the whole point.

Soon I'll either be posting up a mini contest for the best opening to a self-published novel or a 'Would I read on' challenge. If anyone has any ideas then feel free to post below.

I am as honest as it gets when it comes to review - you have been warned! 

Friday, 20 February 2015

My 100th Post!

Not bad, eh?

Personally, I never thought I'd get to 100 posts. Is the next goal 1000 posts? Never going to happen...

A few things that might interest aspiring authors and self-published authors:

* Have you got a completed manuscript and are just about to look for an agent?

For the next three days you can enter a Pitch Madness which may result in snagging an agent. I'll be entering The Clearing and crossing my fingers for the next 71 hours and 59 minutes.

* Have you spent years learning to write, hired editors or beta-readers, and redrafted your novel until you were certain that self-publishing was the way to go? And then you took the plunge and finally did made yourself a novel that strangers can buy and everything?

Great. I'm planning a self-publishing contest which I hope will help uncover hidden gems. There's no prize, just the support of a somewhat difficult critic. I also know several book reviewers I can recommend your novel onto, and of course, they'll be an author interview opportunity and other promotional tidbits. More info to come soon.

* This probably won't interest anyone, but I have no idea why google reposts my article as a comment or how to make it stop. Anyone got any clues?

Cheers, all!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Book Review: Hidden Deep

Hidden Deep by Amy Patrick (Release date: 23rd March 2015)
5 Stars
Recommend: Highly! Teens who love supernatural romances.

Shortened blurb: Sixteen-year-old Ryann Carroll is irresistibly drawn to the woods. There she encounters the boy who kept her from freezing to death that long ago winter night and was nowhere to be seen when rescuers arrived. He's still mysterious, but now all grown-up and gorgeous, too. And the more she's with him, the greater the threat he poses to Ryann's strict policy-- never want someone more than he wants you. 

I’ve read a lot of disappointing book lately, and after reading this one, I realised something. A five star book doesn’t have to be flawless; it has to make me love it despite its flaws. Hidden Deep is one of those books.

I loved Ryann. She's a character with Southern American charm who strives to remember that a man shouldn’t be her everything, he should the icing on the cake.  I was drawn in by her voice and entertained by the way she chose to go about getting her way. She wasn’t perfect and lived to regret, and that made her very easy to connect with.

It starts out with a mystery boy and instant chemistry followed by forbidden love and another boy on the scene. I couldn’t help but think of Twilight although I can promise you this book has something more to it. More energy, character, and far more mystery.

Broodiness is replaced with sassiness.

Blood is substituted for sweet tea.

Vampires become.... well, something I was never going to guess!

Not knowing what Lad was made me read and read and read. That said, a lot of this book was very predictable. Some of the ‘twists’ were so obvious I was surprised the main character didn’t cotton on earlier. I would go as far to say that some scenes should have happened sooner, and once they finally came around, it was more about getting that bit over and done with. Yet even in those moments, I wasn’t too sure which way the characters would swing and that’s what made me keep reading.

Some parts warmed my heart, others made me smile. Most of all, I was rooting for Ryann and Lad to find a way to make their romance work. What more could you ask for in a romance novel?

A few sections were a little abrupt and once or twice the scene jumped forward within a paragraph rather than a break. That’s more of a stylistic choice and didn’t ruin the book for me in the slightest.

The epilogue on the other hand threw me and I'm not too sure what to make of it yet. It’s basically a snippet that yanks you by the hair as you try to put the book down, asking, “Where do you think you’re going? Not away from this series, I hope...”

As a standalone novel, epilogue not included, it’s a book I was glad to read and sad to finish. On the other hand, book 2 will need to have more to it. The story needs to get more complicated and less... happy. It’s all very sweet and fuzzy at the moment, which is a welcomed change in the young adult category, but it won’t work if it continues with the same feel. It needs to get a bit rougher or darker, a little more conflict and a bit less predictability.

Despite those flaws, I loved it. The mystery, the narrator’s voice, the men... This book was more than just the icing for me. ;)

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

SP Book Review: The First

The First by Lisa M. Green
2 stars
Recommend: Wait for a heavily redrafted version.


A tale of myth, mystery...and a past long forgotten.

Something is out there.

And the people live in constant fear.

But their biggest threat lies within their own village. Everyone and everything is dying, slowly and without hope of salvation.

In a world where almost nothing is truth and isolation is the purest form of self-deception, the possibility of hope exists only in the heart and mind of a young woman who chooses to follow an unknown path in order to save everyone she knows and loves. Before long, she discovers that her most vital beliefs are based on a deception that will rock the foundation of her entire people. To save them, she must learn to open her heart and sacrifice…everything.

You may think you have heard this story before, but be warned.

You haven’t.
~*~

The Rating Breakdown

Enjoyment: 3  I had to read most of it twice, but it was a good read.

Writing Style: 1  Verbose, vague, and too many questions.

Plot: 2  Good but hard to follow. Then it got weird...

World & Concepts: 2  Mostly underdeveloped.

Characters: 2  Good main character with strong voice. The rest didn’t stand out to me.

Finish: 5  No typos. The cover looks amazing and well-suited to the novel.

Strengths: The pacing and the potential.

Weakness: The prose. Nearly everything about the prose.

~*~

I’ve spent a lot of time with this novel, which isn’t something I would do if it was beyond hope. More than anything, I tried to like it. In it's current state, it's just a mess.

Concepts are underdeveloped, the prose is poor, and only Rinni (main character) felt fleshed out. Events happened spontaneously, characters referred to things that hadn't been introduced, and other lines waffled on until I lost the point. At first I blamed myself, but the more I read – and reread – it started to become clear that this book need a good edit both developmentally and by line. Not proofing though. It's exceptionally well-proofed.

Here are three examples that struck me as particularly bad:

I had barely heard her words from further down the path as I had never stopped my forward motion, having quickly picked up a sprint again without missing more than a stride or two.

I can't remember how many times I've read that sentence, but I still struggle with it even now.

I indulge in a moment of aromatic ecstasy as my olfactory nerves register the intense sensory experience.

Jesus. She’s just smelling a pie. Plus, for a society that doesn't seem to know how to start a fire from scratch, how on earth do they know about olfactory nerves?

My voice is a throaty whisper in the darkness, the pregnant words hanging in the air, floating among the tendrils of mist and spray, defying gravity with their weight implications.

I can't believe the author thought this was okay. All I'll say is sometimes fewer words can say more. Similarly, more words can tie the scene into the very noose that hangs the book.

For every 10 sentences that were confusing, verbose, or irrelevant, I read a phrase that was excellent or made me smile. What this novel has is potential. I felt like the author should consider scraping away all the unnecessary text, replacing words which sound like they’ve been thesaurus-ed back to their simple forms, and tweaking the deictic wording with specifics. It would make a huge difference in my opinion.

Rinni is a great main character with personality. She is also an anxious person. It was an unusual trait that worked well because Rinni’s anxiety made me very nervous in turn. Even when I didn’t know what was happening, I fed off of her tension. Other times, Rinni’s voice was too flustered and melodramatic. The author needed to let the scenes speak for themselves. One time Rinni goes on and on about how she’s the bigger person and how their empathy will ‘go a long way’. It made it sound disingenuous.

I noticed that most of the characters sounded similar, including an extract from an old journal. Bhrandon intrigued me because he was around a lot, but he didn’t say much. Most of what I know about him is what Rinni told me to think.

I got a tired of being told what to think.

The prose is so stuffed with every question possible that I started to become confused about what I was supposed to be questioning. Why did we even go down there?/ Who ask you to follow us down there, dear?/ Who invited you anyways? And while we’re at it, how did you manage.... It goes on. I’ve only omitted a few lines from that section. My boyfriend peered over my shoulder once and commented on the sheer amount of question marks on the page. The question never stopped and sometimes a few sarcastic ones were thrown in which just made things more confusing.

When the narration was more concise, the pacing was actually quite good. Lot’s happened... Things were revealed... I can’t be more specific because I didn’t always fully understand.

Most chapters ended on a dramatic note that lacked the proper context. One ended with Rinni stating that she already knew the answer to something! That’s great for her, but I wasn’t sure whether or not I was supposed to know the answer too. I didn’t. And I didn’t pick it up for quite some time, either. It prompted rereading...

I couldn’t picture the village. I didn’t understand how it worked. Could they go outside the village boundaries? Did they go outside the village boundaries for any reasons, or was it completely bounded off? If so, by what? And how does it keep the Shadows out? That’s just my questions about the boundaries.

I didn’t understand what or who the Shadows were, either. Humans? Zombies? Ethereal? I just knew they were bad. I still don’t know why they couldn’t get into the villages and it took 95% to finally get a satisfactory description of them. At this point, it reminded me how pointless they were anyway.

Two clear facts about this novel are that the healing tree is dying and the fire is dying. I couldn’t work out why either mattered. Surely the fire can be restarted. Surely they could plant seeds or rely on the other trees and food sources. It’s not enough for our main character to call it ‘Our only hope of survival’. I needed to know why in order to care.

At 40% in, I finally learned that the fire powers some mills (there are mills?) and allows them to cook, but I still didn’t know how the fire began nor why these humans are incapable of restarting it. I also discovered that the healing tree is one of the only trees in the village. I don’t consider these spoilers or plot twists – I consider them necessary facts. If I had known about the tree in the first few chapters, I might have cared more that it was dying.

That was another main problem. Vital information was withheld past the point of caring.

I’m reluctant to mention the ending, because I’m still utterly perplexed by it. Was it a different novel? A lot of stuff suddenly came in to play, new conflicts arose, and old themes and questions were disregarded to make room for a rush of action that had little continuity to the rest of the book. It was entertaining, but as a reader I felt it made no sense. By that point, I expected aliens to wake up and think it was all just a dream... The ending can go under the rug for now though, because there’s a much more pressing issue.

That prose...

Prose should flow. It should provide the right amount of information at the right time. The story should feel logical, even if there are gaps in our understanding. The question should be ‘what will happen next’ rather than just ‘what the-?’ before flicking back and rereading. At the moment, this just doesn’t feel ready to be published.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Book Review: Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth

4 Stars

Recommend: Dystopian lovers!

Society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue, in the attempt to form a 'perfect society'. On her Choosing Day, Beatrice Prior renames herself Tris, rejects her family's Abnegation group, and chooses another faction.


~*~

This book has been on my radar for a while. It’s had a lot of hype which is almost always a bad thing, and it’s got a many well-loved shadows cast over it. I’ll do my best to treat Divergent fairly.

Let’s get it out of the way: The Hunger Games was better in premise, thrill factor, world building, and characterisation (book 1, anyway). Divergent didn’t need to be the next Hunger Games to get five stars out of me, but it didn’t hit the spot either. I still enjoyed it, I still can’t wait to read the next one, but I think the greatness is yet to come in this series.

The world is split into 5 factions which each focus on one good trait: peace, knowledge, honesty, bravery, or selflessness. When you think about it, the whole book concept revolves around stereotypes and hazing, which is quite a scary but intriguing idea.

It’s a bit jargon heavy at first, but information is layered on and gradually the different factions felt natural. The world concept is probably my favourite thing about this novel, although there’s a lot of wiggle room for books 2 and 3 to flesh out the details.

Tris struck me as pretty normal at first. As soon as she was able to make choices, her true character started to shine. I love the dark and rough aspect to this, and the fact that our usual morals are kicked aside to make way for the strong and the brave (although a little mean). Tris is a character who doesn’t act the way I expect, and that’s what made me want to read on.

I’m glad the romance was the subplot. I didn’t feel the chemistry, although Four really intrigues me. He seems a complex character, and I found myself trying to read more meaning into his words. I felt like his dialogue was chosen very specifically, although I still don’t fully understand what that reason is. If you haven’t already guessed, the theme of this review is ‘maybe the sequel will give me more answers’.

Light spoilers ahead, guys!

Some of the other stuff seemed a bit... uninteresting? The fights only gripped me at first, and the simulations were too superficial to hook me in. Even if the characters tend to believe the simulations are real, I can’t. At least those sections were short and pointed, and there were other twists and gripping scenes to mix the plot up a bit. Tris chooses to move from the selfless faction (Abnegation) to the bravery faction (Dauntless). Things get rough, dark, and dangerous as Tris has to prove she’s brave in a corrupt and tough faction. The brutal ranking the individuals kept me on the edge of my seat to make sure both Tris and the nicer Dauntless folk would make it.

The ‘Dauntless folk’ isn’t exactly what they’re called, but none of them stood out too well, apart from maybe Christina. Roth needed a big pool of characters to whittle down. I think characters were handled as best as could be expected, with Roth focusing on the mains and working the sides in over time. Again, the next book could be where I really start to care about the others.

The end almost felt like a simulation to me. A rush of events and twists and deaths and what the hell’s. If the rest of the book had been a bit shorter and this section was a bit longer, the pacing would have felt better balanced. Overall, the pacing was above average.

There’s enough of everything in this book. There are enough thrills, enough twists, and enough character to root for. It was easy to read and I can’t wait for the next book. I kinda feel like this book is a prequel to something big, and so fingers crossed it’s all up from here.

Source: Paid for it myself with money and everything!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Book Review: Seeker

Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton

2 Stars

Recommend
: If you don’t mind a long, slow pace, and quite confusing novel with a good ending.

Quin Kincaid has been put through years of brutal training for what she thinks is the noble purpose of becoming a revered ‘Seeker’.

Only when it’s too late does she discover she will be using her new-found knowledge and training to become an assassin. Quin's new role will take her around the globe, from a remote estate in Scotland to a bustling, futuristic Hong Kong where the past she thought she had escaped will finally catch up with her.


~*~

At first I thought it was brilliant but slow. Soon I felt it was a bit naff and slow. The ending picked up, but I’m glad it’s over. I can finally write my review and be done with it.

Firstly, I have a bone to pick that has nothing to do with the author:

‘A new YA fantasy thriller perfect for fans of Mortal Instruments and the Hunger Games series.’

Damn. I fell for marketing again. This is NOTHING like either of those series. That line drops in two well loved books and crosses its fingers that all readers will love this too. No. Bad, marketers!

So what is this book actually like? Um...Erm... I haven’t figured that out yet.

I was originally hooked in by the creativity of the concepts. I loved everything about the Whipsword. The athames were well thought out, even though I don’t really get why the characters valued them above the lives of loved ones. The Seekers intrigued me to start with so much so that I was ready to write a review for a five star novel. The longer I read, the more the rating dropped. The author made some choices that, in my opinion, were detrimental to the novel.

When Quin experiences what a Seeker is, the narrative jumps past what actually happens so that we only see how she reacts. The blurb explains she’s an assassin. It’s not a twist. I can’t understand why the author would go to such lengths to hide what the Seekers actually do. I felt like I missed out on an epic scene and was supposed to go back to being curious... except I wasn’t waiting for answers – it’s in the blurb. The mystery was constantly discussed and never defined, which felt like a bit of a drag.

Quinn became a germaphobe at one point. That was a bit weird and short lived...

I’m still not sure when it was set. At first I thought medieval Scotland, until a car pulled up. The floating ship over London hinted to a dystopian theme, yet the horseback riding, acupuncture, and lack of technology in general made me think this can’t be the future. Then in Hong Kong a phone is mentioned and guns become a thing. I didn’t know what to picture, and jumping around so much didn’t help. It felt like high fantasy characters living in a slight variation to our time. The two didn’t come together.

A lot of punches were thrown that I didn’t see coming. So that was odd...

The characters were interesting. The boys didn’t seem to have a very good idea of love, which I actually found quite intriguing although I’m not sure if that was intentional. The love triangle is stated from the start, but I never saw any of the characters act out of love. I stopped rooting for the guys and just wanted Quin to be happy. But the book was pretty miserable. It reads like the aftermath to something horrid, except we never really learn what that something is.

The writing was just a bit too bland for my tastes as well. It was free from metaphors and imagery, and heavy on the proper nouns. Jon did this. Quin did that. Sufficient but dull. It didn’t help the pace.

I didn’t feel like I got much out of it consider the time I put into reading this rather long novel. The narrative was just too distant. The meat of the novel was kept vague. I’m upset that I can’t be more positive, but a good concept doesn’t always seal a book’s fate.

Source: NetGalley.com

Monday, 9 February 2015

Book Review: Lost and Found

Lost and Found by Brooke Davis 

3 stars

Recommend: Exceptional prose, terrible story - I'd recommend the author.

I couldn't find a short blurb for this, just loads and loads of praise where a blurb should be. Instead I'll do my best to shorten the long blurb:

Millie Bird is a seven-year-old girl whose mum leaves her alone in a department store, and doesn’t come back.

Karl the Touch Typist is eighty-seven years old and once typed love letters with his fingers on to his wife’s skin. He escapes from a nursing home, knowing that somehow he must find a way for life to begin again.

Agatha Pantha is an eighty-two-year-old woman who yells at passers-by and maintains a strict daily schedule, until she spies a little girl across the street.

Together, Millie, Agatha and Karl set out to find Millie’s mum. Along the way, they will discover that the young can be wise, that old age is not the same as death, and that breaking the rules once in a while might just be the key to a happy life.


~*~

At the beginning I loved it; at the end I was miffed. Review done.

Okay...

I usually stick to young adult/new adult novels, but the opportunity arose and I took it. How could I refuse a free review copy of a novel so plastered in praise?

This book has multiple brilliant lines which are richly spread throughout, a subtle prose laced with dramatic irony and humour. There was always something for me to mentally highlight, and I would definitely read another book by this fantastic author – unless her stories are structured in the same way.

Half-way through, I felt like the story needed to come together a bit more. That didn’t happen.

The characters were fascinating and complex at first, but soon became odd. The writing was funny in places, but the plot just felt silly. I was originally drawn in by a young girl wanting to find her mum, but the characters' priorities seemed to shift until I don’t know what the book was about. Death? Circumstantial love? I’m not sure.

Millie is seven. She’s fascinated with death in a way I felt was honest and curious, but could also be construed as morbid. Her dad has died and her mum has abandoned her, but she doesn’t give up on finding her mother. Anywhere she can, she writes, ‘IN HERE MUM’. It’s heartbreaking. I love a good story about the young trying to understand complex situations. I felt close to tears at times.

Karl is another character I loved. He came across as a young boy trapped in an elderly body. I didn’t understand his typing thing (for lack of a better word), but I loved his spirit. He wants to cause mischief and be a hero!

Unfortunately he harbours a mannequin named Manny, which seemed to prompt every single person from then on out to accuse him of dragging around a sex doll. It seems the strangers in this book are both blunt and horny. I started to wish Karl would chuck Manny out the window and become that young-spirited and quite funny character that I really did grow to love.

Lastly, Agatha Pantha – a name I won’t forget. I’ve heard that anger is a secondary emotion, and in this case I felt Agatha’s pain, regret, and fear to change or to live her life, all though her anger. She’s the crazy old lady that the neighbours are scared of (you know the one) but still has a heart and a bit of life left in her. She just needed something unusual to happen to shake up her life. I found her odd but intriguing, at least at first, anyway.

It was a good set up, but nothing happened in the second half to make me feel like it was a good read. In fact, this book was mostly a build up to a bit of a flop. Amidst Millie’s random poems that I didn’t understand, and after a rather unrealistic bus scene, I lost my love for this novel. Or was it when Agatha randomly said something bizarre, just so she could have a pointless spin off adventure that ended predictably so I don’t know why we had to go through it? I think it was before that though, where a group of young boys decided to beat up the elderly without a real motive... I started to disconnect.

The whole time, the writing was still fantastic, mesmerizing, and the type of lines that stick with you long after the final page. The author obviously had other plans for this novel, a different message to leave us with than the one I hoped, and it just didn’t hit the right note with me.

But the ending... What a naff way to round up 300 pages.

The ending didn’t answer any of the questions the book so powerfully asked, despite them being the main reason I was still reading. As for the characters, we have no idea what happened to them other than everybody dies in life eventually. Well, I know that. To be honest, I don’t need to be reminded. I felt the ending was as good as if the first Harry Potter book finished with Neville Longbottom persuading Harry not to go find the philosopher stone... followed by a quick note to say he died 50 or so years later.

I wasn’t satisfied. In fact, I was very disappointed. Now I have new questions. Did the author go over her recommended word count? Did she struggle to think up an ending in time? Or did she get bored? The story may be about the journey, not the destination, but did that really mean we could drop the destination entirely? For me, it was one of the worst endings I’ve ever read, especially for a book written so well.

I received a review copy for a group read and I’m grateful for the opportunity. Based on the other comments, I think I enjoyed it the most which isn’t a good sign. I fell in love with it at first, but I lost the plot and never found it again.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Book Review: Nightbird

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

4 Stars

Recommend: Middle grade, or for a smooth Sunday afternoon.

Twig lives in a remote area of town with her mysterious brother and her mother, baker of irresistible apple pies. A new girl in town might just be Twig's first true friend, and ally in vanquishing an ancient family curse. A spellbinding tale of modern folklore set in the Berkshires, where rumours of a winged beast draw in as much tourism as the town's famed apple orchards.

~*~

The reason why I thought Sunday afternoon is because it’s a light and nice way to end your week before Monday comes and drags you from your bed. It’s a book that made me feel happy, and that’s not what I’m  usually drawn to in a novel...

And isn’t it refreshing to read a story mainly about friendship and sibling love, rather than romance?

While it’s middle grade, I found it akin to Peace and Conflict by Irene Sabatini – a book anyone could enjoy. A child narrator doesn’t necessarily limit the novel to a child audience, and this didn’t strike me as a young person’s book. It has a young voice and a nice lack of swearing and adult behaviour, but it’s certainly not a simple or dull or immature story. Its family fun rather than a kid’s novel.

In fact, it’s imaginative and charming. I noticed it was described as modern folklore which I didn’t realise was a thing. But now they mention it, yes. That’s the perfect way to describe it.

I do have a minor quibble. I wanted to connect more with James and Agate, who were the older siblings of our main character and her new best friend. The couple are a big part of the story, but not the narrative, if that makes sense. We hear a lot about them, yet we spend very little time with them. Maybe the story isn’t about them really, but I know the ending would have been a tear-jerker if I had felt a little more for James. I just didn’t know him well enough.

A few events didn’t happen the way I expected. This was mostly great and kept the story at a brisk pace, but sometimes it felt anticlimactic. When Agate first meets James, we assume she realises something extraordinary, but we don’t see how she deals with it. After that moment, everyone seems okay with such an oddity. Another reveal also took me so off-guard I didn’t know whether it was brilliant or terrible. I still haven’t decided.

In truth, you could probably write a book about what’s not included in this story. And I would read it. I’d love to read James’ point of view of the whole scenario. After all, a book has a limit to what it can include, and this one in particular had a subtle way of building the novel.

But I wasn’t blown away either, which is why my review is rather short. I enjoyed the ride and I felt happier after reading it, but it won’t be going on my favourite novel list and I don’t feel particularly inspired by it either. It’s just quite nice, like a piece of apple pie.