Browsing "Book Reviews"
Jun 12, 2015 - Book Reviews    1 Comment


Inside the firewall the city is alive. Buildings breathe, cars attack, angels patrol, and hyper-intelligent pets rebel.

With unbridled invention and breakneck adventure, Hannu Rajaniemi is on the cutting-edge of science fiction. His post-apocalyptic, post-cyberpunk, and post-human tales are full of exhilarating energy and unpredictable optimism.

I hardly even know where to begin with this one. Unlike the last Tachyon collection that I read, I had no previous experience with any of Hannu Rajaniemi’s work, and it really was the perfect primer for anyone interested (and now I really want to read the Jean le Flambeur series).

One issue I often have with short stories is that they feel incomplete. They’re often a snapshot from an implied larger story, and leave me frustrated that I don’t know more about what’s going on. Hannu does the same thing; he has these great big, wonderful worlds that we only get to see a portion of, but he also manages to make each story self-contained. I still wanted to know more about that world, but I had the satisfaction of reaching an end, and that was just fantastic.

I also loved the fact that each story was different from the others in its own way, but there was a common thread exploring how technology has and could shape humanity throughout the collection that really pulled the whole thing together. Given the focus on technology and other SF topics, I did expect to get a little lost in some of the descriptions, but Hannu is a genius at communicating technical information in a way that’s accessible without feeling dumbed down.

I enjoyed every story to one degree or another, excluding the microfiction right at the end – they were just a bit too short for my liking. Standouts were The Jugaad Cathedral, with it’s immersive and invasive reliance on social media for every aspect of life and Invisible Planets, where we’re treated to glimpses of a large range of worlds – there are several that I’d love to explore more.

The crowning glory (and my absolute favourite) though, was section about neurofiction, a process where the story is created based on your own neurological responses. The story included is Snow White is Dead, a Choose Your Own Adventure-style retelling of the fairy tale made up of the most common paths created by the test readers. As a story, it’s a fantastic modern adaptation, and I loved it. From a technology point of view, my mind is completely blown. Being able to create individualised, interactive stories? Fascinating stuff. You can read more about the process here and here.

Even if you’re not that much of a sci-fi fan, I strongly recommend this collection. Sit back, strap yourself in, and enjoy some first-class storytelling.

Purchase: Booktopia | Amazon

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

Jun 7, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE NOVICE by Taran Matharu

When blacksmith apprentice Fletcher discovers that he has the ability to summon demons from another world, he travels to Adept Military Academy. There the gifted are trained in the art of summoning. Fletcher is put through grueling training as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against orcs. He must tread carefully while training alongside children of powerful nobles. The power hungry, those seeking alliances, and the fear of betrayal surround him. Fletcher finds himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with only his demon Ignatius for help.

I was a little hesitant when I first started this one, because how many times can you read the blacksmith-apprentice-turned-powerful-dude story without your brain leaking out of your ears? But! This one was actually worth it. It’s a simple, uncomplicated book but still manages to cover off on some very interesting topics (peer pressure, a bit of bullying, feeling like an outsider, etc).

I did find the beginning just a little too clichéd – Fletcher just happens to find a scroll that summons demons and it just happens to work for him and then he just happens to get in a situation that means he needs to leave town, but once the story actually gets going, it’s easy to forget it. That aside, I found the whole thing to be well written, and while it seems to be pitched at a younger audience, there’s definitely a bit of something for everyone.

The whole method of demon summoning, and the limitations on it, were really interesting. I very much liked the concept that each person has a limit to the strength of the demons they can summon. I won’t go into detail, but the whole process of getting a demon for the first time (Fletcher’s experience being an anomaly) was also very nicely done.

The dwarves and their story were probably my favourite part of the whole thing, and it looks like they’re going to be an important part going forward. Ignatius was just a lot of fun – I want one of my own, the cheeky little scamp. The rest of the characters are all great (in their own ways), and it was great to see a decent variety of personalities.

After the cliff-hanger ending of book 1, I’m really looking forward to book 2 and seeing how the characters grow once they’re out of the academy.

Purchase: Booktopia | Amazon

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

Jun 2, 2015 - Book Reviews    1 Comment

Book Review: THE BRASS GIANT by Brooke Johnson

Seventeen-year-old Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, wants nothing more than to become a certified member of the Guild, an impossible dream for a lowly shop girl. Still, she refuses to give up, tinkering with any machine she can get her hands on, in between working and babysitting her foster siblings.

When Emmerich Goss—handsome, privileged, and newly recruited into the Guild—needs help designing a new clockwork system for a top-secret automaton, it seems Petra has finally found the opportunity she’s been waiting for. But if her involvement on the project is discovered, Emmerich will be marked for treason, and a far more dire fate would await Petra.

The search is over! I’ve finally found a steampunk book that I really, really like!

The Brass Giant is a a thoroughly delightful book, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the series. It has a great plot, it’s very well written, and the steampunk elements fit neatly into the era.

There’s a fair bit of romance in the novel, and that’s not usually something I’m a fan of, but it’s just so sweetly done that I really didn’t mind it at all (and even found myself gushing in a couple of places). It’s a little bit over the top and a little bit angsty … but what teenage romance isn’t?

There’s a huge focus on the disadvantages Petra has being not only from a lower social class, but a girl, and this was very well done for the most part. A couple of times it felt a little over-emphasised, although still very accurate considering the era it was set in.

I really enjoyed the story line, and I’m very curious to see what comes next. I liked the detail that went into the mechanical explanations – thorough without being incomprehensible to those who have no idea about machinery. I also really liked how new information about various factions was introduced – it was very skilfully and subtly done, and I was very happy to see my initial reaction to one of the secondary characters wasn’t wrong after all.

I absolutely can’t wait to see how the story progresses, and highly recommend that everyone goes and reads it right now.

Purchase: Book Depository | Amazon

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

May 31, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE INVENTION OF FIRE by Bruce Holsinger

London, 1386. A mass murder has taken place within the city walls. Sixteen corpses have been dumped where they are sure to be found, bearing wounds like none seen before.

John Gower, middling poet and expert trader in secrets, is summoned to investigate the killings even as the ruthless mayor of London seeks to thwart an open inquiry for reasons unknown. Gower learns that the men have fallen victim to handgonnes, new and terrifying weapons that threaten to change the future of war.

The Invention of Fire is the second John Gower book, but it’s not essential to read book 1 before you start this one. You’ll know more about John, but it won’t interfere with the story.

I’m a sucker for a medieval mystery-type. They’re just a lot of fun. Despite being fiction, I almost always learn something new about the period – in this case, it was more about how the development of firearms changed society and warfare.

I enjoyed everything about this book – it was well written, the story was good, the characters enjoyable. The underlying politics were really interesting (although I often find the convoluted feudal system hard to follow) and gave extra depth to the main storyline.

I’m not head over heels for it, it’s not the Best Thing Ever, but it’s a very solid read and I did find it hard to put down once the story was established. One of these days I’ll even get around to finishing book 1!

Purchase: Booktopia | Wordery | Amazon

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

May 30, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE INVASION OF THE TEARLING by Erika Johansen

With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.

Invasion of the Tearling continues the trend of having really great things mixed with really terrible things. Another content warning: this one gets quite a bit more explicit about Kelsea’s relationship with [redacted] as well as, ahem, herself, and so is still not younger-person-friendly in my mind. It also involves several references to sexual harassment and self harm so if that’s a trigger for you, then please don’t even bother reading it.

As for the actual plot, it was great to learn more about how this civilisation came to be, although I think how the information was introduced was quite clumsy (Kelsea starts dreaming of pre-Crossing Earth, and not always while she’s asleep). That said, with the amount of information/detail needed to make sense of what’s happening, I really don’t have a clue how else it could have been done. It’s just that having the “dreams” suddenly start seemed more like a convenient plot device than a natural part of the story.

And speaking of convenient plot devices, Kelsea’s necklace has a much more prominent part to play in this book and … it’s a bit awful. Not only does this necklace solve every problem faced, but Kelsea automagically knows how to use it. Super handy when the “bad dudes” outmatch you in every way, right?

I could keep going for hours (especially when it comes to how the Red Queen is portrayed and how Kelsea changes as she matures sexually), but I’d run the risk of spoilers, so I won’t. Basically, if you didn’t hate the first book (or if you’re just plain curious about the world building), it’s worth picking this one up, but be aware that the bad bits get worse.

Purchase: Booktopia | Wordery | Amazon
Available June 9th

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

May 26, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING by Erika Johansen

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

I’m not big on spoilers, but I do think two things need to be clarified before going any further. The first is the intended audience. This book is marketed as YA, and it is YA, but it is definitely one aimed at the older end of the scale – some of the things that come up are not early-teen friendly in my rarely-humble opinion.

The second thing is something that confused me for a long time before I realised what was going on. Everything about this book screams historical/medieval fantasy. It’s not. It’s actually set several hundred years after the Earth goes well and truly to hell, so you will find lots of mildly jarring references to modern culture. Strap yourself in and just roll with it, all will eventually be explained.

Now that’s out of the way: I really enjoyed this book. Head scratching aside, it has a really interesting and well-written plot, the characters are pretty alright and it left me curious about what happens next.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Kelsea. She can be stubborn and a touch arrogant, and when she wants something to happen, she makes it happen and damn the consequences. You’ll either love or hate her for this. Sometimes when she went charging in, I wanted to sit her down and tell her not to be so stupid. But, I feel like that about most 19 year olds, so hooray for realistic characters! Another check on the realistic front is Kelsea’s perception of herself. She’s not tall, thin and attractive. She knows this. She occasionally wishes she were. She gets on and does what she needs to. I don’t know a single teenage girl that doesn’t wish she looked differently, and quite frankly I like how this was approached with Kelsea. She is a normal, healthy teenage girl and it’s so great to see that in any novel.

The plot was occasionally shaky, but overall it’s very well done. It does suffer a bit from being book 1 – there are several things alluded to (mostly relating to the world building) that won’t come close to being explained until book 2, but if you have a litle patience (and make it that far), all will be explained. I definitely don’t think that it’s the next Hunger Games or Game of Thrones, but it will no doubt cement itself as Must Read YA for a lot of people.

Overall, the good bits are done really well, and the bad bits are very cringe-worthy, but definitely worth a read if YA more-fantasy-than-dystopian is your thing.

Purchase: BooktopiaWordery | Amazon

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

May 24, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments


Atticus Craftsman never travels without a supply of Earl Grey and his five favourite books – so he makes sure he has packed both after his father, distinguished publisher of Craftsman & Co., sends him to Madrid to shut down a failing literary magazine, Librarte

When nobody has heard from him in three months, his father knows something must be very wrong.

I spent a fair bit of time while reading this wondering what was going on. Not because it’s confusing or poorly written, but because it’s just so big and out there that sometimes you have to sit back and say “WHAT are you DOING!”

There are three main plot lines twisting around each other in this book and they all weave themselves together pretty much perfectly. The whole thing, including the myriad subplots wandering in and out of the main narratives, is a somewhat ridiculous romp through stereotypes and literature.

Inspector Manchego was my favourite. He was so delightfully useless the whole way through – any progress he made was purely coincidental, and quite frankly that reminds me a lot of … me.

I also loved that each character had their own distinctive voice, and that was clearly shown not just in what they were doing and saying, but their entire POV sections. I don’t think there’s a chance of muddling any of them up.

Basically, if you’d like something light-hearted and fairly silly, go no further. This book is a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Purchase: Wordery | Amazon

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

May 21, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: SERPENT ON A CROSS by Wendy Garfinkle

Dennah Dubrovnika is a formidable hunter and talented healer. However, she cannot control her own powers, which have suddenly reawakened in the aftermath of her mother’s violent capture by a powerful warlord who destroyed their village in his wake. As she races to free her mother, Dennah is accompanied by Jeth, the man she loves. But she’s increasingly, inexorably drawn to the mysterious Skallon, who is allied with her greatest enemy.

This was quite a fun book. Well-written, easy to read, good plot. It’s quite obvious that a lot of time has been spent researching both the era (medieval Europe) and Jewish culture.

I really liked Dennah’s strength, and her determination to do what needed to be done – I can definitely identify with her stubbornness! I did find at times though, that there was a sense of inevitability – that some choices she made were because that’s what the plot needed to have happen, rather than the character. A few situations left me thinking “Really? Would anyone decide to that so easily?”

The other part I both enjoyed and struggled with at the same time was the Jewish references. Look, the book is a Jewish fantasy novel, by definition, it will have a very large amount of cultural, religious and language references. That was awesome – it’s not something I know a lot about so being able to learn something (anything) was wonderful. But more than once, I was left a bit confused by Yiddish words being used where context gave no idea to meaning, and often it seemed thrown around for the sake of reminding the reader that this is a Jewish novel.

I’m very curious to see how the story progresses, and I do recommend it to anyone wanting something a little different out of their high fantasy, but know that you won’t be finding anything ground breaking as far as underlying plot elements go – just the potential for a great series.

Purchase: Amazon

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

May 17, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: I AM RADAR by Reif Larsen

The moment just before Radar Radmanovic is born, all of the hospital’s electricity mysteriously fails. The delivery takes place in total darkness. Lights back on, the staff sees a healthy baby boy — with pitch-black skin — born to the stunned white parents. No one understands the uncanny electrical event or the unexpected skin color. “A childbirth is an explosion,” the ancient physician says by way of explanation. “Some shrapnel is inevitable, isn’t it?”

Even now, a couple of weeks after finishing it, I’m still not quite sure what to make of this book. I spent equal amounts of time enjoying it, being confused by it and wondering when on earth it would end.

Broken up into 5 parts, I Am Rader is a slightly convoluted read. Parts 1, 3 and 5 tell the main story, while parts 2 and 4 are used to introduce new main characters in the longest possible way. The first time that happened was very confusing – I wasn’t sure whether part 1 was it as far as Radar’s story goes. I was much more prepared by the time part 4 rolled around. On top of that, a fair amount of time is spent on science concepts that are well and truly beyond me – I skimmed a lot of those sections.

Plot-wise, it’s an interesting read. The whole thing is well written and easy to get through, just really long. Scattered throughout the novel are diagrams and excerpts, and I quite liked that. It really helped break the text up. I found adult-Radar’s story a bit more interesting, but the digressions of parts 2 and 4 were my favourite sections, the stories were just more engaging.

I Am Radar is far from a terrible book, but I’m not in a hurry to recommend it. If you’re up for a long, sciency/techy read, then this will be right up your alley but if the blurb doesn’t capture you, then you won’t really be missing out on anything.

Purchase: Wordery | Amazon

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

May 7, 2015 - Book Reviews    1 Comment

Book Review: WE ALL LOOKED UP by Tommy Wallach

Before the asteroid we let ourselves be defined by labels:

The athlete, the outcast, the slacker, the overachiever.

But then we all looked up and everything changed.

They said it would be here in two months. That gave us two months to leave our labels behind. Two months to become something bigger than what we’d been, something that would last even after the end.

Two months to really live.

With We All Looked Up, I continued my streak of not really reading blurbs properly. Despite being right there, I managed to miss the whole “asteroid” part, and when it was first mentioned, my reaction was “WHOA where did THAT come from!?”.

Luckily I’ve never let a silly old thing like confusion get in the way, and I proceeded to love the stuffing out of this book. It is dark and nasty. But it’s also beautiful and honest. It’s kinda like someone dumped The Breakfast Club into the middle of the apocalypse.

I really enjoyed all of the main characters, especially Andy and Anita. I loved how each of them found a way to be more than the roles pre-asteroid society had cast them in and had the chance to become themselves, with all the great stuff and poor choices thrown in. They are real people!

Tommy Wallach’s writing doesn’t pull many punches. He will take your feelings and he will stomp on them. And you will thank him for it, because he does it so beautifully. Moving between POVs is seamless while preserving each person’s unique voice. More than once, I had to stop reading for a little bit (a very little bit, I demolished the whole book in a day) because a scene either hit a bit too close to home, or was such an awful situation that I needed a moment.

And then it ended. I like my endings to be drawn in the sand. Wrapped up neatly with a bow on top. Something that clearly states, “here we are, we’re done now.” But like most things in this book, it was not neat and tidy. And you know what? I loved Wallach for it. Not only can I not see it ending any other way, I don’t want it to end any other way.

Basically this book is awesome and you should go buy it right now.

Purchase: Book Depository | Amazon

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