Browsing "Book Reviews"
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

Book Review: THE ALTOGETHER UNEXPECTED DISAPPEARANCE OF ATTICUS CRAFTSMAN by Mamen Sanchez

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.

May 5, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE BOOKSELLER by Cynthia Swanson

A provocative and hauntingly powerful debut novel reminiscent of Sliding Doors, The Bookseller follows a woman in the 1960s who must reconcile her reality with the tantalizing alternate world of her dreams

Nothing is as permanent as it appears …

Convinced that these dreams are simply due to her overactive imagination, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. But with each visit, the more irresistibly real Katharyn’s life becomes. Can she choose which life she wants? If so, what is the cost of staying Kitty, or becoming Katharyn?

This book had a really interesting premise, I’m not sure I’ve read anything quite like it before. Even besides that, the concept of parallel worlds/lives is just plain fun.

Unfortunately, The Bookseller suffers from being kinda boring. It’s really hard to talk about the plot without giving too much away, so all I’ll say on that topic is this – it’s not poorly written, it’s just not engaging. Neither Kitty nor Katharyn’s lives are particularly interesting, and often feel like they’re building up to a revelation that never quite arrives. The rest of the characters – and especially their relationships – feel so cookie-cutter as to be almost unbelievable.

I wish I had more positive things to say about it. I did like the detail in the world building, and the way history was worked into the background. That was very neatly done. And when it’s all said and done, it’s not a bad book, it’s just not good.

Purchase: Book Depository | Amazon

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

Mar 12, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE FIFTH GOSPEL by Ian Caldwell

In 2004, as Pope John Paul’s reign enters its twilight, a mysterious exhibit is under construction at the Vatican Museums. A week before it is scheduled to open, its curator is murdered at a clandestine meeting on the outskirts of Rome. The same night, a violent break-in rocks the home of the curator’s research partner, Father Alex Andreou, a married Greek Catholic priest who lives inside the Vatican with his five-year-old son.

I’m a sucker for anything that smacks of “history” and “crime”, and this one has plenty of both.

When the Vatican police are unable to find the person who broke into Father Alex’s house, or who murdered his friend, he decides to do a little investigating of his own, and falls headlong into a centuries old mystery relating to the fifth gospel, known as the Diatessaron.

I enjoyed this book a lot more once the initial set up was over with. Once it got into the meat of the story – following the history of the Diatessaron and the Shroud of Turin, it became much more interesting. My knowledge of church history is shaky at best, so I really couldn’t say how much is rooted in history and how much was created by the story, but I don’t think it really matters. Enough history is included for the story to make sense, making it accessible for everyone regardless of their background.

Despite all the different plots in the story – the murder and break in, the Diatessaron, marriage break down, brotherly love – there’s nothing overwhelming or difficult to follow. It’s simply a well paced, well written, churchy mystery. For those that want to compare it to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code: go wash your mouth out! Brown doesn’t come close to Ian Caldwell in any way, shape or form.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository | Amazon

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

Mar 10, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: THE FIRE SERMON by Francesca Haig

When Zach and I were born our parents must have counted and recounted: limbs, fingers, toes. We were perfect. They would have been disbelieving: nobody dodged the split between Alpha and Omega.
Nobody.
Cass and Zach are both perfect on the outside: no missing limbs, no visible Omega mutation. But Cass has a secret: one that Zach will stop at nothing to expose.
The potential to change the world lies in both their hands. One will have to defeat the other to see their vision of the future come to pass, but if they’re not careful both will die in the struggle for power.

What a story. I loved every second of this book.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the disparity between how the Alpha and Omegas live is fascinating – the delicate balance between keeping each pair separate (but not too separate) is essentially what this series hinges on. At a basic level, there’s nothing new here – Oppressed People rebel against Privileged Overlords, but as always, the devil is in the details. The world building is fantastic, and the society is like nothing I’ve seen before.

The characters were great, I was particularly taken by Kip and his outlook on everything. I did find the romance aspects of the story a little lacking – while I like Cass, I didn’t warm up to her enough to give much credit to the effect she apparently has over the two men she encounters. That said, there isn’t much reference to the romance, and when it does happen, it’s easily shrugged off.

This is definitely a great start to the series, and I very much look forward to seeing how the next instalment plays out, especially after the twists at the end.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository | Amazon

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

Mar 8, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: TOURNAMENT OF HEARTS by Dustin Bilyk

Hamelin, a town separated from the rest of the world, has a deadly problem. Fierce, flying beasts ravage the countryside and cull the sparse human population, forcing the majority of Hamelin’s citizens to live within the safety of her boundaries for fear of being snatched away and torn into pieces. With no help in sight, the Town Council look to their gods for salvation and unearth a chilling answer to their problems.

This was a really interesting story, with its two main arcs woven together well.

First up, we have the tournament itself: an annual event that pits 4 “gladiators” against each other, very much in a “winner takes all format”, as the loser has their entire bloodline wiped out.

And then we have Hamelin’s past catching up with it. Many, many years ago, an unnamed event caused Hamelin’s founders to remove themselves from their world and set up in the valley they now call home. But they can’t remain apart forever, and the outside world is beginning to creep in.

Firmly in the middle of these is Neven, who not only has to contend with fighting in the Tournament, but also content with the flying beasts that seem to have targetted him.

I did enjoy the story and the characters for the most part. The purpose of the tournament is definitely unique, and I’m very curious to learn more about Hamelin’s past, especially as despite the profound impact it has had on how the town runs, and despite histories being kept as far back as the town has existed, no one seems to have a clue that there is a world outside the valley – almost everyone is bizarrely content to continue just as they always have.

I did find it a bit of a struggle to connect with any of the characters though, and some areas were a bit too bogged down in details. There’s so much going on in the book! A run through by an editor will easily fix those issues though, and they don’t detract from the overall story too much.

When it’s all said and done though, this is definitely worth a read for anyone who enjoys their fantasy with an action-packed, dystopian edge.

Purchase: Amazon

Feb 22, 2015 - Book Reviews    No Comments

Book Review: DEMON CHILD by Kylie Chan

Kylie Chan is one of those authors that has burrowed right into my brain by writing books that I simply can’t get enough of.

Demon Child is book 2 in the Celestial Battle trilogy, which is the 3rd trilogy to continue the story of these characters. And it is just as brilliant as the 7 books preceeding it.

It’s very much a “middle series” book, everything is starting to ramp up, many plot lines are smack in the middle of their span, and not much is unexpected as far as the overall story goes. That doesn’t make it boring or predictable, however – the writing style and pacing keep everything nice and fresh.

There are a lot of battle scenes in this one, but that’s the nature of the story. There are plenty of things going on around the fighting, including the introduction of a new and precocious character – I don’t want to spoil anything, but she’s adorable. On top of that, I love any time the Tiger comes out to play.

If you haven’t read any of the previous books, I strongly recommend going back to the beginning and picking up White Tiger, although I take no responsibility for any addictions that may follow.

Purchase: Booktopia | Book Depository
White Tiger: Booktopia | Book Depository