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Jun 15, 2017 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES by Seanan McGuire

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

I ate this book in a little over an hour and I’m not even sorry. For something so short – not even 200 pages – it sure does pack a hell of a punch.

I loved … all of it. I loved how the twins’ lives before going through their door wasn’t glossed over, especially as it informs so many of their choices later on. I loved the exploration of gender and sexuality, and how neither of those things were danced around. I loved the exploration of the relationships between each of the characters, and how the expectations placed on family members can affect who they become.

Just as in Every Heart A Doorway, the writing is beautifully written and pulls you in right from the very first line and flows perfectly from beginning to end. Considering the range of events throughout the book, this is no small feat.

Jack’s story was probably my favourite, and I enjoyed her personal growth very much. I find Jill to be a bit of a spoiled snot, but a believable one, and heartbreaking in her own way. That said, if I could have a book that was just Jack and her master, I would be very, very happy indeed.

Overall, a very worthy successor to Every Heart A Doorway, and if you haven’t read either yet, I highly recommend doing so.

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Jun 8, 2017 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: RED SISTER by Mark Lawrence

I was born for killing – the gods made me to ruin.

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy young girls are raised to be killers. In a few the old bloods show, gifting talents rarely seen since the tribes beached their ships on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones its novices’ skills to deadly effect: it takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist.

But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls as a bloodstained child of eight, falsely accused of murder: guilty of worse.

Stolen from the shadow of the noose, Nona is sought by powerful enemies, and for good reason. Despite the security and isolation of the convent her secret and violent past will find her out. Beneath a dying sun that shines upon a crumbling empire, Nona Grey must come to terms with her demons and learn to become a deadly assassin if she is to survive…

Red Sister is a slow burn. You’re there, learning about the world and the bundle of murderous delight that is Nona, and the rest of the nuns and then all of a sudden everything is happening! Some people may find it difficult to stick with because of that, but I really liked the sense of false security – you know bad things will happen, they aren’t hidden as the book progresses, but when they finally happen in their most stabby glory, it’s almost a surprise. Kind of like being on a rollercoaster – one minute you’re slowly creeping up the first incline, and the next you’re hurtling towards death.

The characters were all fantastic as well. The competition between the girls as they grow and learn was fantastically portrayed. I haven’t seen many books that capture the spirit of loyalty and determination and competition so often found in teenage girl relationships as well as Mark Lawrence manages, and I found it to be a very positive portrayal of how complex relationships can be. It was also great to see that secondary characters – primarily the adult nuns – weren’t neglected with their personal stories and relationships. There’s a great sense of who they are as people, not just as the girls’ teachers and role models.

The worldbuilding is also a huge standout. I didn’t feel like I was getting bogged down in details, but I still had a very good understanding of the world these nuns live in, and that’s a very good indication of the writing skill throughout the book. Mark Lawrence has a great way with words, and while Red Sister is quite different to his previous two trilogies, it has the same high quality throughout.

There is very little that I didn’t love about this book. It’s full of women going out there and Getting Stuff Done, pretty much regardless of the consequences, and that really warms the cockles of my heart.

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Jun 1, 2017 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE SECRET SCIENCE OF MAGIC by Melissa Keil

A captivating novel about two extraordinary teens, and the unsolvable problem of life after high school.

Sophia is smart, like genius-calculator-brain smart. But there are some things no amount of genius can prepare you for, and the messiness of real life is one of them. When everything she knows is falling apart, how can she crack the puzzle of what to do with her life?

Joshua spends his time honing magic tricks and planning how to win Sophia’s heart. But when your best trick is making schoolwork disappear, how do you possibly romance a genius?

In life and love, timing is everything.

While I’m not a super huge fan of YA contemporary, Melissa Keil is a HUGE exception because I adore her and I adore her writing, and with this book she doesn’t let me down at all.

It would be very easy to go “oh no not another coming of age novel” but Melissa Keil is so good at capturing the myriad of thoughts and fears and emotions of teenagers at that stage that it instantly takes me back to how I felt going through the same things. I especially related to Sophia and her social anxiety, which manifests in a way that makes me think she might be on the autism spectrum, but this is unfortunately never addressed in the book. What is addressed though, is how terrifying both Joshua and Sophia are finding the next stage of their lives, in their own individual ways.

I also enjoyed the slow build of their relationship as it moved from tentative friendship into something more. It was gentle and sweet and lovely. A huge highlight was a cameo appearance from characters in another of Keil’s books, and now I just really want a crossover novel. Please and thank you.

This is definitely a book that will be making it onto my reread shelf, and I’d recommend it to anyone about to tackle changes in their lives, regardless of their age.

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May 24, 2017 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: WHO’S AFRAID TOO? by Maria Lewis

Tommi Grayson: all bark, all bite . . . and now she’s BACK!

After the worst family reunion in history, Tommi needed some space. She’s spent the last few weeks trying to understand her heritage – the one that comes with a side order of fur – as well as learning about her Maori ancestry and how she can connect to it. But she can only escape for so long.

When an unspeakable evil returns, Tommi will need every piece of knowledge and all the skills she has. With the help of allies old and new, frenemies both helpful and super-annoying, she’s going to take the fight to the enemy . . .

 

The follow up to last year’s Who’s Afraid? was a really nice continuation of the series. I actually enjoyed this one a lot more than the first book, although there were a couple of things that niggled at me.

In a lot of ways, it really feels like Tommi has hit her stride with who she is, and that comes across as the book progresses. There’s less introspective infodumps, and we get more of a chance to see Tommi as herself. I would have preferred it if Tommi wasn’t automatically awesome at just about everything, even with her pedigree it should still take some time to learn new skills.

The other thing that bothered me I have mixed feelings about, and that was the limited time spent on exploring Tommi’s Maori heritage. On one hand, I was looking forward to learning more about Maori culture after the large focus in book one, especially as despite being so close to New Zealand, it’s not really a culture I know much about. BUT I also really like that there’s so much more to her than just being POC – it’s who she is, and is of course important, but it’s not ALL she is, and that’s something that is sometimes lacking in other culturally diverse books.

I loved the supporting cast, both old and new. I continue to have a love/hate relationship with Lorcan, Joss is a delight, and all the new characters are fun in their own ways. The writing continues to be snappy and sassy, and the story moves along at just the right pace.

In all, it was well worth sticking with the series, and I’m quite looking forward to seeing how book three plays out.

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Mar 23, 2017 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: CROOKED KINGDOM by Leigh Bardugo

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

Oh boy. What an amazing conclusion to the story.

Crooked Kingdom picks up right where Six of Crows leaves off, and I think it’s great that there was no “six months later” nonsense, that would have really destroyed the momentum gained in the first book. The plot in this book is a little more complex, and a lot more politically motivated, but no less intriguing. It was a lot of fun seeing everyone turn their skills to a very different type of thievery to what we see in Six of Crows. I also really appreciated the finale, as heartbreaking as it was. I won’t ruin it of course, but to have it end any other way would have been very dissatisfying. I’m still stamping my foot over it though.

“Isn’t that how things are done around here?” asked Wylan. “We all tell Kaz we’re fine and then do something stupid?”
“Are we that predictable?” said Inej.
Wylan and Matthias said in unison. “Yes.”

The character development was also brilliant, for the most part. I would have liked to see Inej grow a lot more than she did, but it’s a minor quibble really. Adding Waylan as a POV character was absolutely brilliant, I really enjoyed getting to know him more directly than in the previous book. I had hoped to see Kuwei play a larger part as a character, rather than a plot device … but then it might have been 800 pages long and honestly, I’m also not sure he could have done more than he did. Just feels a bit like a waste of a character.

Ultimately though, this book was amazing from beginning to end. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to throw it across the room several times. It was just about perfect.

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Six of Crows review

Mar 14, 2017 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE DJINN FALLS IN LOVE AND OTHER STORIES

Imagine a world filled with fierce, fiery beings, hiding in our shadows, in our dreams, under our skins. Eavesdropping and exploring; savaging our bodies, saving our souls. They are monsters, saviours, victims, childhood friends.

Some have called them genies: these are the Djinn. And they are everywhere. On street corners, behind the wheel of a taxi, in the chorus, between the pages of books. Every language has a word for them. Every culture knows their traditions. Every religion, every history has them hiding in their dark places. There is no part of the world that does not know them.

They are the Djinn. They are among us.

This was such an interesting collection of stories. I hadn’t heard of many of the authors before and that always makes an anthology more interesting to me – who doesn’t want new people to add to an unstable TBR pile?

Growing up with Aladdin, I really enjoyed that very few of the stories were in a similar vein – the variety of depictions of djinn nature and setting were fantastic. This variety made it a far more compelling collection of stories than if they had been the same old Middle Eastern trope, especially when several of the stories ventured into the future.

Standouts for me were:

The Congregation by Kamila Shamsie – This was such a beautiful beginning to the anthology, full of love and loss and longing, and had such a sweet and lovely ending. Would that we all find the contentment that Qasim eventually does.

Majnun by Helene Wecker – I really enjoyed the exploration of belief in this one. It was very well handled, and made for a compelling story. I also really enjoyed how the details were slowly teased out without needing to rush everything at the end – no small feat considering the average length of a short story.

A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds by Amal El-Mohtar – This is perhaps the shortest story in the book, and possibly the most heartbreaking. I could say more about this one, maybe even write a whole review just on it, but I don’t want to take anything away from it at all. Just go read it.

Reap by Sami Shah – This one was the creepiest in the book, and I loved it. The remoteness of the POV characters from where the actual story is taking place gives an otherworldly feel to the main narrative, while keeping you engrossed as you learn with those characters. I would absolutely love to see this turned into a considerably longer story – who can I harass for that??

Bring Your Own Spoon by Saad Z. Hossain – This one jumps into a post-apocalyptic setting, where the planet is pretty well ruined. Unlike the horror aspect of Reap, this one was terrifying in its realism, but despite that, our main characters find something good to pursue, and I think that’s something we could all do with these days.

History by Nnedi Okorafor – I really enjoyed this one, and it was a very strong end to the anthology. A bit like A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds, this one is hard to talk about without giving away the things that make it so wonderful. I will say though, the final line is pure brilliance, and I did chuckle when I read it.

As for the rest of the stories, I enjoyed them all to varying degrees and would definitely recommend them. There were a few, like The Sand in the Glass is Right by James Smythe or Message in a Bottle by K.J. Parker, that I loved the concept of but the formatting made it a less enjoyable read. Ultimately, it is a very strong anthology though, and I would definitely recommend anyone with a passing interest in all forms of djinn pick themselves up a copy.
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Feb 7, 2017 - Book Reviews    1 Comment

Book Review: SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

All of my super-favourite books lately have involved Bad People doing Bad Things for Good Reasons. Of course I was very excited to read a book about a criminal prodigy out to save the world.

Having previously read the first Grisha book, I had some idea what to expect from the worldbuilding and Bardugo’s writing, but I don’t think anything could have really prepared me for just how much I loved this book. It’s easy to see how Bardugo has grown as a writer since Shadow and Bone, running a much tighter ship throughout.

And the characters. Oh my the characters. It’s very hard to pick a favourite, I do adore them all. They come from such a range of backgrounds, and have such a variety of personalities, but it’s very easy to find something with each to identify with. I did particularly like Nina’s sass, she was quite delightful, especially when needling Matthias. I especially loved how they came together with their disparate skills and various preconceived notions, and found a way to work together.

In all, it was a fantastic beginning to the adventure, and kept me hooked right from the first page. I may have even sniffled a few times throughout. Highly recommended for anyone who likes to see realistic characters facing impossible challenges – both internal and external.

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Sep 15, 2016 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: TIME SIEGE by Wesley Chu

26028483Having been haunted by the past and enslaved by the present, James Griffin-Mars is taking control of the future.
Earth is a toxic, sparsely inhabited wasteland­­the perfect hiding place for a fugitive ex­chronman to hide from the authorities.
James has allies, scientists he rescued from previous centuries: Elise Kim, who believes she can renew Earth, given time; Grace Priestly, the venerated inventor of time travel herself; Levin, James’s mentor and former pursuer, now disgraced; and the Elfreth, a population of downtrodden humans who want desperately to believe that James and his friends will heal their ailing home world.
James also has enemies. They include the full military might of benighted solar system ruled by corporate greed and a desperate fear of what James will do next. At the forefront of their efforts to stop him is Kuo, the ruthless security head, who wants James’s head on a pike and will stop at nothing to obtain it.

The second book in a series can be a bit rough. A lot of the set up has already been done in book 1, it’s too early for the big finale, and you have a few hundred pages of Interesting Stuff to get through. Not every second book survives that, but luckily for me, this one does a fantastic job.

Unlike Time Salvager, which spent a lot of time in the past, Time Siege is almost exclusively set in the present, and everyone spends a lot of time dealing with the consequences of their actions. I really enjoyed the time jumping in the first book, so I was a little disappointed to begin with when I realised there would be less of it, but the shenanigans throughout the book more than make up for it.

James was considerably less exasperating, but he also lost some of his spark. Kuo was very interesting, kind of like the snarling dog you don’t want to walk away from, and would maybe like to try patting. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there were a couple of characters reintroduced brilliantly, and I really liked the effect this had on the plot.

The writing style was just as good as in the first book, and while there’s less time jumping, the action is just as intense and well-paced throughout the book. It’s definitely a strong continuance of the series, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how it all ends.

Publisher: Tor
Release Date: 12th July 2016
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I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sep 8, 2016 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire

25526296Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

This my first time reading something by Seanan McGuire, and I was absolutely not prepared for it at all. This is such a beautiful and heart-wrenching story. I loved every second of it.

The characters were all fantastic, I can’t even pick a favourite. I want to know more about all of them, follow them all through their own experiences and how they’re coping with their return to the “real” world. I loved watching their personalities and stories unfold, and seeing how they come closer to finding their own imperfect place in an imperfect world.

The exploration of range of issues such as gender/sexual identity, mental illness and belonging is done so tenderly, and it was refreshing to see that no two characters came away from their experiences with the same responses – even if they went to the same world. Human experience is so varied, and I’m always pleasantly surprised when I see that reflected in a book.

The writing and worldbuilding throughout was spot on. McGuire created the perfect atmosphere for this murder mystery, and none of the beauty was lost even as it became creepier and creepier. The glimpses into the various worlds are tantalising, and I hope that future installments in the series will explore them in more detail.

I highly recommend this novella to anyone with a heart, and I’ll definitely be hunting down more of McGuire’s work.

Publisher: Tor.com
Release Date: 5th April 2016
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I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sep 1, 2016 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE AERONAUT’S WINDLASS by Jim Butcher

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predatorto its fighting glory.
And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

I have been a fan of Jim Butcher since I first picked up a Harry Dresden book. His short, snappy writing style has always been perfect to slip in between the longer series I usually read. So, when I found out that he was writing a longer series – one with airships no less! – I was very excited.

While I’d hesitate to say it’s my favourite of all his books, The Aeronaut’s Windlass is full of all the things I like about Jim Butcher – it has a great plot, it has interesting characters, and it has a sassy feline. I’m not sure I could ask for anything better.

Grimm wasn’t one of my favourites, he was a bit prickly and it was hard to connect with him. He was surrounded by a great supporting crew though, so I found that easy to overlook. Overall, I liked Gwen, but there were a few moments where I rolled my eyes at her, she was a little exasperating. Bridget and Rawl, however, were very fun. I really enjoyed the feline society, and he definitely nailed their mannerisms perfectly. My absolute favourites though, were Master Etherialist Ferry and Folly – their whimsy was a constant delight throughout the whole book and I really look forward to seeing more of them.

Ultimately Jim Butcher has done exactly what he does best – written an action-packed, character driven novel that keeps one interested all the way until the end. I’m looking forward to seeing whether he can keep the momentum up throughout the rest of the series.

Publisher: Hachette Australia
Release Date: 29th September 2015
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