Browsing "Book Reviews"
Apr 14, 2016 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: SORCERER TO THE CROWN by Zen Cho

It’s been a little while since I finished this one, I had hoped waiting would help me figure out what I think of it, but it hasn’t really.

There were a lot of things I liked about it – the way it dealt with racism and sexism, the whole magic school for ladies and Zacharias himself. The entire construction is perfectly delightful Regency. The premise was more than enough to keep me interested the whole way through. These would normally be enough to have me raving but I’m still quite ambivalent about the whole thing.

I was not a fan of Prunella at all. I find it very baffling that someone as determined to not learn as she is, manages to swoop in and fix everything on such a regular basis. As much as I liked Zacharias, he sometimes felt a little flat. On top of that, it’s Regency nature meant that sometimes the plot meandered a little too much.

I’ll be reading the rest of the series, I’m definitely interested in seeing how it all pans out, but I can’t see myself rushing out to get them.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository | Amazon

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Mar 6, 2016 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: HOW TO BE HAPPY by David Burton

A funny, sad and serious memoir, ‘How to Be Happy’ is David Burton’s story of his turbulent life at high school and beyond. Feeling out of place and convinced that he is not normal, David has a rocky start. He longs to have a girlfriend, but his first ‘date’ is a disaster. There’s the catastrophe of the school swimming carnival – David is not sporty – and friendships that take devastating turns. Then he finds some solace in drama classes with the creation of ‘Crazy Dave’, and he builds a life where everything is fine. But everything is not fine.

And, at the centre of it all, trying desperately to work it all out, is the real David.

‘How to Be Happy’ tackles depression, friendship, sexual identity, suicide, academic pressure, love and adolescent confusion. It’s a brave and honest account of one young man’s search for a happy, true and meaningful life that will resonate with readers young and old.

Honestly, the blurb explains this book better than I’m ever going to. Let’s try anyway.

It’s taken me a long time to digest this one. I’m roughly the same age as David, so a lot of my experiences (both personal and viewed) are reflected in this book, but the themes explored are so universal that everyone will get something out of it.

David has such a beautifully candid style, and there were several moments where I both laughed aloud and fought back tears (and sometimes at the same time!). While it is a wonderful and heartbreaking book, there is so much hope to be found, even in the darkest moments, and I loved that about it.

There were a few times where I wished there was more included about things like his home life, but at the same time, it’s a very introspective book, and the style of the writing doesn’t allow for much peripheral information, so it’s something I can easily forgive.

In all, there are some good things to be picked out regardless of whether you’ve struggled with sexuality/mental health issues, and while it’s not a definitive guide (or any kind of guide in the traditional sense of the word) on how to be happy, it IS a charming and challenging exploration of one path to happiness.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository | Amazon

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Dec 6, 2015 - Book Reviews    1 Comment

Book Review: THE LOOKING GLASS HOUSE by Vanessa Tait

What happened before Alice fell down the rabbit hole?

Oxford, 1862. As Mary Prickett takes up her post as governess to the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, she is thrust into a strange new world. Mary is poor and plain and desperate for change but the little girls in her care see and understand far more than their naive new teacher. And there is another problem: Mary does not like children, especially the precocious Alice Liddell.

When Mary meets Charles Dodgson, the Christ Church mathematics tutor, at a party at the Deanery, she wonders if he may be the person to transform her life. Flattered by his attentions, Mary begins to believe that she could be more than just an overlooked, dowdy governess.

One sunny day, as Mary chaperones the Liddells on a punting trip, Mr Dodgson tells the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But Mary is determined to become Mr Dodgson’s muse ­ and will turn all the lives around her topsy-turvy in pursuit of her obsession.

I’m a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland, and I always enjoy reading about the people behind the story. This book is less about Alice though, and more about her governess attempting to snare Charles Dodgson.

Mary is a thoroughly unlikeable character, the way she treats everyone she encounters is absolutely horrible, and watching her delusions progress is a little bit like watching a train wreck – you can’t quite look away. Alice isn’t much better, and is portrayed as a spoiled and impulsive little girl. Thinking back, not a single character stood out to me as one I could like.

That said, the whole book is very well written, and I didn’t even mind that the characters were not particularly pleasant. There are several easter eggs for Alice fans scattered throughout the book, which was a very nice touch. I also liked that it wasn’t yet another retelling from Alice or Dodgson’s point of view, they can get quite boring.

I’d recommend this one for fans of Alice and historical fiction, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository | Amazon

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Nov 29, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE INVISIBLES by Cecilia Galante

Thrown together by chance as teenagers at Turning Winds Home for Girls, Nora, Ozzie, Monica, and Grace quickly bond over their troubled pasts and form their own family which they dub The Invisibles. But when tragedy strikes after graduation, Nora is left to deal with the horrifying aftermath alone as the other three girls leave home and don’t look back.

Fourteen years later, Nora is living a quiet, single life working in the local library. She is content to focus on her collection of “first lines” (her favorite opening lines from novels) and her dog, Alice Walker, when out-of-the-blue Ozzie calls her on her thirty-second birthday. But after all these years, Ozzie hasn’t called her to wish a happy birthday. Instead, she tells Nora that Grace attempted suicide and is pleading for The Invisibles to convene again. Nora is torn: she is thrilled at the thought of being in touch with her friends, and yet she is hesitant at seeing these women after such a long and silent period of time. Bolstered by her friends at the library, Nora joins The Invisibles in Chicago for a reunion that sets off an extraordinary chain of events that will change each of their lives forever.

I really enjoyed this book, it was quite an emotional experience for me. Watching each of the women try to deal with their childhood scars was at times draining, but mostly a beautiful look at friendship and self discovery.

Told from Nora’s perspective, we still get a great picture of the other three women, both as children and adults. While each of their individual circumstances aren’t anything I’ve ever dealt with personally, it’s hard not to identify with various aspects their personalities. I found it harder to process their childhoods than their adult lives, without giving any of the plot away, the themes of those years are pretty universal experiences.

I really enjoyed how their shared past was woven into the tale of their mostly-separate futures, and how it built up to the final reveal. A more observant person might pick it a lot earlier than I did, but for me, it came a little out of the blue and while it wasn’t jarring, it was a little surprising.

Overall it’s a delightful exploration of how pasts can affect futures – or, more accurately, how we let our past affect our future, and I strongly recommend it for anyone that doesn’t mind having their heartstrings tugged.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository | Amazon

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Nov 26, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: ABOMINATION by Gary Whitta

He is England’s greatest knight, the man who saved the life of Alfred the Great and an entire kingdom from a Viking invasion. But when he is called back into service to combat a plague of monstrous beasts known as abominations, he meets a fate worse than death and is condemned to a life of anguish, solitude, and remorse.

She is a fierce young warrior, raised among an elite order of knights. Driven by a dark secret from her past, she defies her controlling father and sets out on a dangerous quest to do what none before her ever have—hunt down and kill an abomination, alone.

I quite liked the concept of this one, it fits neatly into a part of history that we don’t have much information on, and in the context of the story, it’s not an implausible scenario.

It was a bit hard to get through the first half dozen chapters or so, there’s a lot of world building and information, and it’s not until it skips forward a few years that the story itself begins. I think that if a lot of the information in those first chapters was spread out a bit more during the latter half, it would have made for a stronger story.

I didn’t find the characters overly relatable, but they were well portrayed – quite a few aspects were clichéd or predictable around how they approached the world or interacted with each other. That said, I still wanted to see how everything panned out. I did really enjoy how the abominations were portrayed, they’re just the kind of thing someone in the Dark Ages would come up with.

Basically, if you can make it through the first third of the book, you’re in for a decent historic horror novel with some very interesting beasties running around.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository | Amazon

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Nov 22, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Set in a world that draws heavily from Ancient Rome, the social structure is fascinating to see. On one hand, we have the oppressive and brutal Martials, and on the other, the Scholars. There is a whole lot of history not covered in this book about how the Scholars came to be oppressed, and I found that to be quite disappointing, considering the impact it has on the plot and characters, especially as the differences between them are almost portrayed as though they’re separate races, as opposed to different levels of society.

The violence in the story is very well done, big action scenes are not necessary to show how brutal and nasty the world can be, and when they do come along, they’re handled well. The references to sexual violence/rape sometimes felt a bit flippant, almost like they were stuck in there to tick off a box, and didn’t add a lot to the story for where they were inserted. Certainly they gave great insight to the characters involved, it was just at the wrong time in the story. I also think that it came  up far more often than it should have in a structure that is allegedly disciplined beyond belief.

I did find the characters quite difficult to connect with on a personal level. As much as I enjoyed many of them (Helene in particular), I don’t care about them. I also found the budding romance between Laia and Elias to be really difficult to swallow, especially when both are presented with, and react better to, more than suitable alternatives. It would just be really nice to see two characters thrown together like this not end up together. Boys and girls CAN be close friends without any romantic elements!

I found this to be a really interesting book, not necessarily for the plot, which I did like, but more for how it’s all put together. The bits I like the most don’t get anywhere near as much narrative time as I’d like, but perhaps will be addressed in the sequel, and a lot of the time it feels like a whole pile of plot devices have been pulled out at random points. But, I did enjoy it, and I do recommend it. I just think expectations need to be tempered a little.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository | Amazon

Nov 19, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE FANGIRL’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Sam Maggs

Fanfic, cosplay, cons, books, memes, podcasts, vlogs, OTPs and RPGs and MMOs and more—it’s never been a better time to be a girl geek. The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is the ultimate handbook for ladies living the nerdy life, a fun and feminist take on the often male-dominated world of geekdom. With delightful illustrations and an unabashed love for all the in(ternet)s and outs of geek culture, this book is packed with tips, playthroughs, and cheat codes for everything from starting an online fan community to planning a convention visit to supporting fellow female geeks in the wild.

I was quite looking forward to this one. I always really enjoy reading new takes on how women interact with pop culture, and anything that will help younger women navigate often-treacherous waters is very okay with me. It can be a really scary world out there.

Unfortunately, this is not that book. Far from being the “ultimate handbook”, it’s a very superficial look at what it takes to be a “fangirl”, perpetuating the squeeing-teenage-girl stereotype the whole way through. It’s filled with so much gushing and net-speak that I found myself glossing over many sections, and while there’s some great advice on how to deal with trolls, there’s a lot of emphasis on having the right swag and going to the right events.

I did enjoy the interviews at the end, their content was a lot more in line with what I was expecting from the whole book. There’s also a nice section with recommendations and resources that many will find helpful.

Overall though, this was not worth the time, you’ll find better content scattered around the internet, if you take the time to look for it.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository | Amazon

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Oct 6, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: UNDERTOW by Michael Buckley

Sixteen-year-old Lyric Walker’s life is forever changed when she witnesses the arrival of 30,000 Alpha, a five-nation race of ocean-dwelling warriors, on her beach in Coney Island. The world’s initial wonder and awe over the Alpha quickly turns ugly and paranoid and violent, and Lyric’s small town transforms into a military zone with humans on one side and Alpha on the other.

When Lyric is recruited to help the crown prince, a boy named Fathom, assimilate, she begins to fall for him. But their love is a dangerous one, and there are forces on both sides working to keep them apart. Only, what if the Alpha are not actually the enemy? What if they are in fact humanity’s only hope of survival? Because the real enemy is coming. And it’s more terrifying than anything the world has ever seen.

This was a rather interesting book, and another that I didn’t really read the blurb before starting, so I didn’t have much of an idea what it would be about.

I found the concept to be quite good, and it is very easy to draw parallels between how the Alpha are treated to how refugees are greeted. The blurb goes on to make a comparison to District 9, and I think that’s a very good one – although as a YA novel, this one didn’t hit me quite as hard as District 9 did.

That said, this wasn’t the most fantastic book I’ve ever read. A lot of the dialogue was a little on the ridiculous side, and I never warmed up to Lyric and Fathom’s relationship. There are a lot of the classic YA stereotypes, but as I wasn’t expecting anything different, they didn’t bother me too much. Many of the secondary characters aren’t given enough time or depth to become grating, which is a very real possibility for some of them.

In all, it was a nice easy read, the interesting parts are just enough to outweigh the silly ones, and I’ll probably make an effort to keep reading the series, if only to see how it plays out.

Purchase: Book Depository | Amazon

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Oct 4, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: FOOL’S ASSASSIN by Robin Hobb

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.

But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…

For the past 15 years, I have been absolutely in love with all of the books that fall into the Realm of the Elderlings, but as much as I love the Rainwilds, the Six Duchies are the ones that really hold my heart. To use a phrase that I don’t usually, Fitz and the Fool are my OTP.

So yeah, I was really excited to read this.

It was great to fall back in with characters I haven’t seen for many years, to see how they’ve changed and what they’re doing now. There were a few things that happened in the Tawny Man trilogy that I had deliberately forgotten, and I was sad all over again once reminded.

There were a couple of things that niggled me, but the biggest came from the repetition of a specific plot point – I won’t name it for those that haven’t read it, but by the time it was mentioned for the umpteenth time, I found myself skipping whole paragraphs and rolling my eyes.

When that particular plot point resolved though, there were actual tears and exclamations.

There are several new threads that I’m really looking forward to exploring, and I’m 100% invested in anything that explains more of the Fool’s mysterious past.

Overall, I enjoyed it more than the Tawny Man books, less than the original trilogy (because let’s be honest, none of them are every going to be as good as those three), and I will definitely be moving onto book 2 as soon as I humanly can.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository | Amazon

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Aug 25, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE CANDY STORE by Michele Poague

Teenage orphan Jett finally finds happiness working in a Candy Store with older owners, Jay and Henry but an explosion in the store spins her world out of control. Fighting to find a way back to her old life and yet trying to protect her new found friends, Jett must make some hard decisions. So sure of herself in many ways in her old life, Jett finds that a simple turn of a phrase could spell disaster.

 

I quite enjoyed The Candy Store, it was a lovely exploration of the trials of growing up, fitting in and finding a place in the world. Watching Jett grow from a rough street kid to a lovely young lady was really fun, especially as it was more a case of her growing into herself rather than having to change to fit other people’s perceptions of who she should be – a mindset she challenged often throughout the book.

The supporting characters were also really fun. I particularly enjoyed the energy in the Doyle family, especially Josie. She was definitely a bright spark throughout the book.

I also really enjoyed the writing style. It was simple and easy to read, which made it very easy to get lost in the story. I don’t want to give any of the plot away, but I do think it was very well-handled, and the contrasts between where Jett grew up to where she landed also meshed nicely. There was just enough sense of “other” to highlight the
differences without being jarring.

All in all, a really great book, and one I’d recommend to anyone that likes historic/turn of the century fiction.

Purchase: Amazon

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.