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Jul 24, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: A CITY CALLED SMOKE by Justin Woolley

The battle was only the beginning; the real danger is beyond the fence …

The Diggers have been destroyed, a horde of ghouls is moving inland and the High Priestess has seized control of the Central Territory. Together with Nim, a Nomad boy seeking vengeance against the ghouls, Squid and Lynn begin their long journey toward the city of Big Smoke, a city that may not even exist.

Pursued by forces that wish to see them fail, facing threats on all sides and conflict from within, Squid, Lynn and Nim search for a weapon against the ghouls. It is a search that will lead them into forbidden lands where long-held beliefs about their world are tested and Squid may finally unravel the truth of his identity.

At the risk of stating the obvious, A City Called Smoke picks up where A Town Called Dust finishes, and then charges off into the outback.

I have some pretty mixed feelings about this one, but in the good way. The whole book is filled with great scenes, and the character development is fantastic.

I loved the introduction of Nim, and quite frankly, I’d happily read a whole book on how he and his tribe have survived over the years, and especially how their stories have evolved. I enjoyed the dynamic between Nim/Lynn/Squid much less though, and there were several occasions where I found myself quite exasperated with Squid.

PLUS! There is quite a decent amount of time spent with sky pirates, which is something I was really hoping for after finishing Dust. They’re another group I’d happily spend more time reading about, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they turn up again in book three.

The plot continues to trundle along brilliantly – there were parts I guessed at before they happened, but the whole last third of the book just blew me away. Absolutely wasn’t expecting it at all, and I really can’t wait to see how it all ends. Of course, there’s more time spent on the back story/world building, and that was very interesting. I’m still left with a lot of questions, but that is as it should be – there’s just the right amount of information shared.

If you’ve read book 1, you really need to keep going. And if you haven’t, please go and do that right now, then grab this one.

Purchase: Kobo | Amazon

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

Jul 21, 2015 - Book Reviews    1 Comment

Book Review: A TOWN CALLED DUST by Justin Woolley

Stranded in the desert, the last of mankind is kept safe by a large border fence … Until the fence falls.

Squid is a young orphan living under the oppressive rule of his uncle in the outskirts of the Territory. Lynn is a headstrong girl with an influential father who has spent her entire life within the walled city of Alice.

When the border fence is breached, the Territory is invaded by the largest horde of undead ghouls seen in two hundred years. Squid is soon conscripted into the Diggers—the armed forces of the Territory. And after Lynn finds herself at odds with the Territory’s powerful church, she too escapes to join the Diggers.

As an Australian, I am an absolute sucker for books set in Australia. When that book happens to be a genre I enjoy and involves zombie-like creatures, there is little that will stop me from getting my hands on it.

LUCKILY there was nothing about this book to let me down.

I really enjoyed the plot, it was different enough from all those other zombie-like books/movies out there to keep me entertained. As much as I don’t mind good zombie-based media, it does get tedious seeing the same thing over and over.

It took me a little while to warm up to Lyn, but Squid had my heart pretty much right from the very beginning. The supporting cast are quite intriguing in their own rights – especially the dynamic between state and church as horde shambles towards Alice. I think many people will see real-world parallells in how they interact not only with each other, but the wider populations they’re attempting to protect.

This is a really great read, even if “zombies” or “dystopia” aren’t really your thing. And if I haven’t convinced you to drop everything and go buy it yet, stay tuned for a review of book two later this week.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository | Amazon

Jul 19, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE GREAT BAZAAR AND BRAYAN’S GOLD by Peter V. Brett

From the dangerous world of the Demon Cycle comes the early adventures of Arlen, Peter V. Brett’s quintessential fantasy hero. These exciting origin tales follow Arlen as he learns to navigate a world where the elemental forces of evil conjure themselves from the earth each night.

Humanity has barely survived a demonic onslaught by using magical wards that protect their cities and homes. Only a handful of mercenaries and explorers risk traveling after the sun sets. Arlen, seeking adventure and fortune, is barely protected by the warded armor upon which he has inscribed intricate defensive runes. From a journey ferrying a wagonload of dynamite to a mountain stronghold, to a dangerous mission to recover desert treasures, Arlen faces friends and enemies with a strong arm and a cunning wit.

These two novellas were my introduction to Peter Brett and his Demon Cycle, and I must say, they were pretty great.

There are just enough references to the greater series for existing fans, and enough explanation for new readers to make it perfect for everyone, regardless of whether you’ve read the series or not. And really, if this is your first exposure and you don’t want to read more afterwards, you may be a little crazy.

My favourite of the two was The Great Bazaar, Arlen is a bit older than in Brayan’s Gold, and has settled into himself a bit more. Plus, it was just a good story.

I’m sure this happens in the actual series, but I do like how the characters are not infallible – they make mistakes and have to live with the consequences of them, and I think I’ll really enjoy seeing how these two experiences shape Arlen in the rest of the series.

This collection is rounded out with a deleted scene from The Warded Man, which didn’t leave much of an impression on me to be honest. Probably why it was deleted! There’s also a dictionary and grimoire of the wards, but I suspect that holds more for someone familiar with the rest of the series.

If you’ve read the series and want to know more about Arlen’s history: grab this book.

If you haven’t read the series and want to know whether it’s worth your time: grab this book.

It will be well worth your time.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository | Amazon

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

Jul 9, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: TO HOLD THE BRIDGE by Garth Nix

Far to the north of the magical Old Kingdom, the Greenwash Bridge Company has been building a bridge for almost a hundred years. It is not an easy task, for many dangers threaten the bridge builders, from nomad raiders to Free Magic sorcerers. Despite the danger, Morghan wants nothing more than to join the Bridge Company as a cadet. But the company takes only the best, the most skillful Charter mages, and trains them hard, for the night might come when only a single young cadet must hold the bridge against many foes. Will Morghan be that cadet?

Also included in this collection are eighteen short stories that showcase Nix’s versatility as he adds a fantastical twist on an array of genres including science fiction, paranormal, realistic fiction, mystery, and adventure.

This is a very fantastic collection of short stories, one that I’m going to enjoy revisiting time and time again. Garth Nix is such a talented writer, and I really don’t think there’s anything he can’t write.

The Curious Case of the Moondawn Daffodils Murder was probably  my favourite (aside from To Hold the Bridge itself). Anything even tangentially related to Sherlock Holmes is okay by me, and this one had me giggling more than once. I also really enjoyed Vampire Weather and An Unwelcome Guest, but I must note that there wasn’t a single story I got to the end of and thought “meh.” They were all pretty great.

Honestly, I don’t even know what else to say about it. It’s fantastic for long-time fans, but also for those who are wanting to test the waters – it covers so many different writing styles and genres that there’s something for everyone, and everyone needs a copy right now.

Purchase: Booktopia | Amazon

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

Jun 20, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE MOUNTAIN STORY by Lori Lansens

On his 18th birthday, Wolf Truly takes the tramway to the top of the mountain that looms over Palm Springs, intending to jump to his death. Instead he encounters strangers wandering in the mountain wilderness, three women who will change the course of his life. Through a series of missteps he and the women wind up stranded, in view of the city below, but without a way down. They endure five days in freezing temperatures without food or water or shelter, and somehow find the courage to carry on.

This was a beautiful story. Not in the “everything was peaches and cream” kind of way, there was plenty of sad stuff, but it was beautifully written and handled from beginning to end.

It was easy to identify with Wolf without having to experience the same things he had, and I really enjoyed his perspective on everything happening. I also really enjoyed the way the story was presented, it was balanced beautifully between the past-past and present-past (the book is written as a letter from Wolf to his son, recounting his journey to the mountain).

The writing style was wonderful throughout, Wolf’s voice came through clearly in each situation, and the whole thing flowed perfectly. As interesting as it would have been to see some things from another character’s perspective, I think the whole book would have lost its oomph if it was in anything other than first person.

It’s just a really great survival/coming of age type story and I recommend it to everyone.

Purchase: Booktopia | Amazon

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

Jun 17, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE WITCH HUNTER by Virginia Boecker

Elizabeth Grey is one of the king’s best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. But when she’s accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake.

Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful and dangerous wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal: he will save her from execution if she can break the deadly curse that’s been laid upon him.

How much I enjoyed this book will depend on what day you catch me. For the most part, I did enjoy it and I really want to read the rest of the series, but that did not stop some serious eye-rolling in the first third or so.

The biggest issue I had with it was the overwhelming divergence between “Elizabeth Grey is one of the king’s best witch hunters…” and the first few chapters of the book, in which all of Elizabeth’s recent mistakes are detailed, and she continues to make new ones. Quite frankly, if she’s the best, then it’s no wonder that the witch hunters are so reviled.

On top of that, the continual hypocrisy between her beliefs and actions starts to get a little tedious. Some gratitude definitely wouldn’t hurt.

But, once the actual point of the story starts, I really started to enjoy it, mostly because of all the new people introduced. The characters around Nicholas Perevil were all pretty great in their own ways, and they’re pretty much the sole reason I kept reading.

I’m hoping that the rest of the series has quite a bit more world building in it, there are a lot of things left hanging or barely mentioned, but are actually very relevant to the world, such as why witches are so hated.

Overall, it’s a well written book with a great story, and I do want to see what happens next. I just hope there’s more info, and Elizabeth pulls herself together.

Purchase: Booktopia | Amazon

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

Jun 12, 2015 - Book Reviews    1 Comment

Book Review: HANNU RAJANIEMI: COLLECTED FICTION

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.