Book Review: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

10805588Title: The Name of the Star

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Shades of London #1

Rating: 4 stars

Cover Comments: Very pretty, I like the watercolour effect. Though the butterfly is a little out of place.

Review:

The mystery of Jack the Ripper is one that has fascinated the world since the anonymous murders occurred in 1888. Who was this serial killer? How did he evade capture? And what drove him to such brutal actions in the first place? Part of the terror (or some might say allure) comes from this lack of knowledge, which has stood the test of time among scholars and creatives alike. This is why when teenager Rory moves from Louisiana to Wexford, a London boarding school, only to find the work of a copycat killing has happened right on her new doorstep, she is in far more danger that she could realise. Especially since she’s the only one to see the suspect – but that’s not all she can see – after nearly choking to death Rory can see ghosts. Now a secret organisation of ghost hunters known as The Shades need her help to stop the killings, as the new Ripper may be more that he appears.

Ultimately, The Name of the Star is an enjoyable book. Rory is an interesting and funny character, whose inner musings, (—), as she compares and copes with life between America and England make her not only likeable, but relatable. As a British person living in London, reading Rory’s thoughts were quite amusing and just show that what one person considers normal can be new and strange for another. I was also grateful that neither nationality was stereotyped or overly mocked – whilst there was a gentle poking at both English and American culture, it all seemed in good nature.

As for the plot, the idea of ghost-busting police is engaging and original, not to mention fun (they are sometimes known as “Scotland Graveyard”). The reveal of Rory’s new ability marks a distinct change in the tone of the book, from contemporary to paranormal. Seeing ghosts changes her life quite dramatically, which is reflected in the narrative, bring the Ripper into the spotlight. As for the Ripper himself, he is convincingly creepy and dangerous, which builds up tension between the murder dates and increases the pressure on the Shades to stop him.

For a book about ghosts, I would have liked to have seen a few more. I was also intrigued by the use of an abandoned Underground station, which was a clever metaphor for the ghosts themselves – hidden in plain sight, known only by those who know where to look – but again, I wish there had been more development around this topic. I was also slightly annoyed about the almost cliffhanger ending; it was abrupt and jarred with the narrative pace of the rest of the novel.

Luckily, the next volume was available to me as soon as I finished, so I just set this one down and moved on to the next one.

4 stars

Book Review: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

16101128Title: The 5th Wave

Author: Rick Yancey

Series: The Fifth Wave #1

Rating: 3.5 stars

Cover Comments: I like the silhouette of the woods, but it took me a while to realise the person was a solider.

Review:

Anyone who believed that the first contact with aliens would be peaceful was dead wrong. And after the first four waves, probably just plain dead too.

Cassie may be the last person on earth. At least, alone in the woods after watching her life and the whole world being destroyed by the ‘Others’, that’s her fear. The looming spaceship hovering over Earth that appeared a several months ago did not come in peace. In a few short weeks they unleashed four waves of attack: an electromagnetic pulse that wiped out all electronics, an earthquake that causes a tsunami, the Red Plague that made people bleed out of every orifice, and people turning on other people who may or may not be the Other’s in disguise. Now all Cassie has left is a gun, her brother’s ratty old teddy bear, and a promise to keep. A promise to rescue her five year old brother Sammy, at any cost.

Sometimes in my tent, late at night, I think I can hear the stars scraping against the sky.”

The first quarter of this novel, describing Cassie surviving on her own, was easily my favourite part. The sense of loneliness and isolation is captured in a haunting and beautiful way. The story of how she ended up in the woods, of how the aliens attacked Earth, intertwined with Cassie’s survival builds tension as you slowly see all the death that surrounds her. From the incomprehensibly huge numbers of people killed in the first waves, to the intimate death of her parents, this novel begins in such a disturbing and heart-wrenching way. The fact that it is called The 5th Wave leaves you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next attack. This is how alien novels should be: realistically terrifying, where the characters are unable to trust anyone or anything.

That being said, I don’t feel the rest of the novel quite lived up to this amazing beginning.

I enjoyed Cassie, Sammy, and (to an extent) the solider “Zombie”. I felt Cassie was interesting, funny, and fiercely determined, and Sammy was so sweet I just wanted him to be safe. Zombie’s inner thoughts compared to his actions, constricted by his military life style, maked him an interestingly conflicted character. However, his chapters were where I became slightly bored as I felt he suppressed himself too much and the constant military routines just didn’t interest me that much. My interest was caught again when a new solider “Ringer” was introduced: she was smart, badass, and willing to stand up against their superiors when she sensed something was wrong. I want to see a lot more of her.

The character I had the biggest problem with was Evan. The romance between him and Cassie was just too intense too fast, nearly all from his side. I can understand falling into a romance after being alone for so long, but then claiming that this person is your only reason to live after only knowing them for a few days is too much. He also seems untrustworthy, sneaking around using the “it’s for your own protection” excuse that has been over used in YA books for far too long. I’m hoping he gets more development in further books. (Speaking of the next books and over used themes, please let there be no Cassie/Evan, Cassie/Zombie love triangle.)

The writing, for the most part, was very good. It was very atmospheric and as I said before the tension building was excellent. Yet, along with the middle section which slowed down and became a bit boring, there were points with Cassis were she kept repeating phrases like “I must trust him. I can’t trust him.”. This was used over and over, in this same style which got increasingly annoying each time it was used. The end of the book picked up again, thankfully, and ends on a very interesting, but slightly abrupt cliffhanger (I turned the next page expecting more, only to find it was over). I will be back for more in the next book, as I really want to see what happens next.

3.5 stars

Book Review: Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

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Title: Man in the Empty Suit

Author: Sean Ferrell

Rating: 2.5 stars

Cover Comments: Simple, though the coloured silhouette of the man is very eye catching.

Review:

Time travel can be messy business. Especially if you celebrate your birthday every year with your former and future selves in an abandoned hotel, watching your younger selves get unashamedly drunk, whilst your older selves shake their heads in pity at how stupid and reckless you used to be. But this is where we find our unnamed protagonist, on the eve of his 39th birthday, preparing eagerly for his party as this year he gets to be ‘The Suit’.

However, his night is ruined when he discovers ‘The Body’: himself at age 40, dead. It turns out the Elder versions of him have been hiding this conspiracy from the youths, and it’s up to The Suit to determine what exactly happened, and how to stop it. Only 41, The Drunk, knows how to escape this fate, but he’s in no state to help. Things become even more complicated when an outsider, Lily, arrives at the party for the first time ever. Can she help, or is she just at risk? Can The Suit save himself?

This was an interesting concept that sadly didn’t work out for me.

Firstly, there is a huge problem with the time travel element of the book. Basically, you can either have the ‘time is linear’ theory (everything that happened happened, you can’t change history), or the multiverse theory (travel to another universe where you can change things because it’s not actually your time line). To make a time travel novel successful you have to pick one theory and stick to it, especially if this is the centre fold of your entire premise. Man in the Empty Suit, however, doesn’t do this. It starts with a linear idea of time, then suddenly revels that it can be changed, even in a small way. Since there is no mention of other universes, we must just assume that the author doesn’t understand these rules.

Now, the other issues I had was with the characters and the pacing.

I found both the nameless main character and the mysterious woman Lily to be fairly unlikable. You never really connect with either, despite being inside his head. All I can tell you is he’s arrogant, self-loathing, and an alcoholic. Even when surrounded by his other selves, the main character can only pity the Youngsters and resent the Elders, all whilst seeing his current self as better. Perhaps this is a comment by the author about how our perceives change over time, and how we view ourselves, always comparing how we used to be to what we are now, and what we’d like to become. But it seemed that the protagonist never learns from his this, only ever seeing his current state as been right.

As for Lily, even after hearing her story I found it hard to care. She felt a little tacked-on, more of a plot device to give The Suit a motive and a romantic interest, and so she fell a bit flat to me.

I also disliked the pacing and sudden change from the party to six months before hand. I felt like the story would have worked better if had been isolated to the party. It would have given a tighter time constraint, causing more tension and interest.

A couple of other questions; what happened to the world in 2071? What did the time machine/raft actually look like and how did it work? What made him build one in the first place? Why come back to a rundown hotel in 2071, of all the points in history?

2.5 stars for the original and intriguing idea.

Book Review: The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

the cloud roads Title: The Cloud Roads

Author: Martha Wells

Series: The Books of the Raksura #1

Rating: 5 stars

Cover Comments: Isn’t it beautiful? I love the detail, and found it helped when it came to picturing the Rasksuran race.

Review:

After hiding in his human form and constantly travelling between different races of humans, Moon is finally caught out. Having been spotted transforming, Moon is discovered for what he really is: a creature who can shape shift from human to a being with black scales, wings, claws, and a tail. The group of superstitious humans he has been living with mistake him for a demon race known as the Fell. Poisoned, tied to a post in the middle of the forest and left to die, Moon is rescued by a stranger, named Stone, who turns out to be a shifter like him – not a Fell, but a Raksura, the people he has been searching for his whole life. But when Stone takes Moon back to his court, it’s not the happy homecoming Moon has always hoped for. Tensions rise at his arrival between two Queens, the ruling Queen Pearl and her sister Jade, while other court members are trying to discover why all their new born children seem to be dying, and what is causing the court to sicken. Moon must help strengthen his new home and defend his people from a Fell invasion.

Books like The Cloud Roads remind me of why I love fantasy. The world building and detail that are included are simply beautiful, and after reading it I still want to know more about the many different races of creatures mentioned. The way the world was presented was both skillfully done and revealed slowly in an almost frustrating way. Martha Wells teases her readers with glimpses of one race/culture that you can’t help but want to know more of, only to then show you another, equally as fascinating. I hope for many more books in this series, just to see every part of the Three Worlds – sea, land, and sky. One of my favourite parts was the flying islands, but I would also love to see more of the sea creatures, as this was only briefly touched upon in book one.

As for the story itself, I liked Moon from the beginning and loved Stone. In fact, my only complaint with this book was that Stone wasn’t featured as much as I would have liked. There wasn’t one character I disliked, and found them all to be detailed and three-dimensional. Even the arrogant, slightly unstable Queen Pearl had an understandable motive for her actions. I enjoyed the growth of Moon, as this is a coming-of-age story, though a more mature one that usual, as the protagonist is about 30 instead of an adolescent. This creates an interesting mix, as Moon is learning who he is, but in some ways he already knows. The other members of the Rasksura court have to adjust to him as much as Moon adjusts to them.

As I have said, I sincerely hope that this series continues beyond the two books already written (The Cloud Roads and its sequel The Serpent Sea), and will grabbing a copy of the sequel as soon as I can.

I truly loved this book and will now automatically buy any more in this series a.s.a.p.

5 stars