Book Review: A Sliver of Shadow by Alison Pang

11929939Title: A Sliver of Shadow

Author: Alison Pang

Series: Abby Sinclair #2

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review:

(Spoilers for book one.)

Abby is still adjusting to her new life as a Touchstone – someone who can help the OtherFolk cross between our world and the world of Faery – and though she is getting the hang of it, it’s not easy. Especially when Moria, the Protectorate, leaves for the Faery Court. With Abby left in charge things go from bad to worse when a spell on Abby backfires and causes the Queen of Faery seals the doors between the two worlds closed. Now OtherFolk on Earth are fading, and Faery is preparing for war with Hell. All Abby can do is travel to the CrossRoads and attempt to override the Queen’s magic, and prey she is strong enough for it to work.

This book continues the dynamic politics and magic system set up in the first book, exploring Abby’s role as a Touchstone and the relationship between Earth, Faery, and Hell. Abby herself is a great urban fantasy character, strong and brave without becoming a stereotype; she admits her fears and doubts but doesn’t let them stop her, and is willing to sacrificing herself to save Faery. However, Abby fails to live up to this when it comes to her first love interest, the incubus Brystion. He turns up half way through the book and does nothing but act self absorbed and arrogant, with no respect for what Abby wants. Sadly Abby never calls him out on his actions, only ever half-heartedly telling him to back off then giving in to him. In book one, Brystion was the classic sweet but tormented and misunderstood hero, but in A Sliver of Shadow has become the other urban fantasy cliche; the self involved jerk who can’t understand the word “no”. This change is hugely disappointing.  Also, the descriptions of Faery were very interesting, but few and far between and felt like they could have been much more extensive. This was a missed opportunity, and very disappointing seeing as most of the book is set in Faery.

What saved the book though, other than Abby herself, was the elf prince Talivar and the unexpected cliffhanger ending. Talivar, the second love interest, was much more preferable than Brystion – in fact, he seemed to fill the void of positive male love interest left by Brystion. Talivar is sweet, understanding, charming, and funny; a much more favourable character in general and a better match for Abby. The cliffhanger was a complete surprise, leaving you wanting to read the sequel now, and may be a complete game changer for this series. Let’s cross our fingers and hope for the best in book three.

3.5 stars

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Book Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

7619057Title: Warm Bodies

Author: Isaac Marion

Series: Warm Bodies #1

Rating: 2 stars

Review:

(Contains spoilers.)

What exactly happens to a person’s mind when they’re bitten by a zombie? R knows he has lost a huge part of himself to the virus, including his name, but that doesn’t mean he stops thinking – or dreaming. He spends his days wandering the airport he and his fellow zombies have overrun, losing himself in routine of walking in circles, as he tries to remember. He even has a friend he can talk to (albeit very slowly).

Despite this R is still a zombie: a monster that craves human blood. Until he meets Julie, a human girl, and find he has to save her life or reasons even he doesn’t know. Can R still be human in some way? Is it possible he’s falling in love?

Warm Bodies starts off beautifully. Through R’s first person narrative, we are shown the inner workings of a man who has become a monster, still clinging onto the last few pieces of his humanity. He wonders who he is, as “R” is all he can remember from his name, and tries to forge relationships with other zombies. He understandably becomes obsessed with human creations, like music, to try and feel connected to humanity again. This novel also uses the interesting idea that the reason zombies eat human brains is because they can relive a person’s memories through this. This leads to a hilarious scene between R and his friend M, sharing a brain like two teenagers sharing a joint.

If the book had continued in this fashion it would have been five stars. Then along come the love interest, Julie. This girl has survived a zombie apocalypse, watched the world fall apart around her, seen her boyfriend eaten in front of her, yet spends the whole book whining her life is so hard and that Daddy doesn’t love her enough, because he’s trying to save everyone else and fix the world. It’s near impossible to believe that she’s so special that she is supposed to be the one who cures all the zombies by spreading love.  Also, how could you fall in love with the zombie who literally ripped apart your boyfriend right in front of your eyes?

The book would have worked so much better if it had been the story of R’s redemption by facing all the monstrous things he’d done to survive, but he is never punished for his actions and all the people he has killed, not even by himself. In fact, Julie forgives him for eating Perry, her boyfriend, almost instantly because they were having relationship problems. By eating Perry’s brain, R is (somehow) able to communicate with the dead man through his memories – these scenes are very weird and disjointed. The whole book was written in a a poetic style that felt forced, like the author was trying too hard.

Warm Bodies could have been such an amazing novel, but it quickly lost its harsh, realistic edge then continued to go downhill as it tried too hard for a “happily-ever-after” ending, which ruined it completely.

2 stars.

Early Review: Ink by Amanda Sun

17852056Title: Ink

Author: Amanda Sun

Series: The Paper Gods #1

Rating: 3 stars

Review:

After the pain of losing her mother and the huge culture shock moving to Japan to live with her aunt, Katie could be forgiven for suffering from stress and seeing things that aren’t really there; drawings moving, staring at her with blank eyes, or crawling towards her with razor sharp teeth, and ink that pools and oozes like blood. If only Katie could believe it was just stress, but she knows different – this is all somehow linked to Tomohiro Yuu, the good looking senior with amazing artistic skills and a bad attitude. Is he human, or kami – a person with god-like power?

As Katie gets closer to Tomohiro they discover that her being near him causes the ink he uses to act strangely. With her Tomohiro’s power is increasing, and his control is slipping. Soon, Katie isn’t the only one who has discovered what he can do.

Ink had so much potential to be an amazing book, full of monsters and Japanese culture – and whilst it is clear a lot of research has been put into this book, in the end it just doesn’t do enough to break through the typical YA paranormal romance cliches. The setting is very fleshed out (at least to a Westerner who has never visited Japan) and described beautifully, especially the images of the cherry blossoms in bloom. The romance also began rather sweetly – for all its “insta-love” problems, they can be forgiven as they fit with the character of Katie. She is alone in a foreign country, living with an aunt she barely knows, and often struggles with her new life. She has trouble speaking and reading Japanese, she keeps forgetting every-day customs like bowing and when it is acceptable to address someone by their first name, and she is the only white person in her school. For her, falling in love with Tomohiro so fast is about finding someone who also feels like an outsider, and their shared pain over loosing a mother is the beginning of their bond. Throughout the novel we see Katie’s confidence grow until she feels at home in Japan, in a realistic and sweet way.

Unfortunately, the romance soon gets fairly boring, and has practically all the annoying stereotypes of a YA paranormal romance. Insta-love (not even half way through Katie claims she can’t live without him now), not being able to be together because one of them will get hurt, ignoring or dropping friends the moment a guy comes along – these are just a few of the cliches used. The mythology of the Kami was such a unique idea, and the few scenes that depicted Tomohiro’s power (like a dragon coming to life and attacking them) were amazing to read, but they were few and far between, ultimately not enough to save the book. There is also far too much of Katie running around, stalking Tomohiro, and generally being paranoid.

If a standard YA paranormal romance, with a beautifully described setting, is what you are looking for then Ink is perfect – but if, like me, you where hoping for something special and memorable then prepare to be disappointed.

3 stars.

Book Review: The Oathbreaker’s Shadow

13643064Title: The Oathbreaker’s Shadow

Author: Amy McCulloch

Series: The Knot Sequence #1

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review:

In Raim’s world the words “I promise” are not to be taken lightly. For every promise you make a knot is created that binds you to your word. Breaking that word causes the knot to burn a scar into your skin, labelling you an oathbreaker. Scorn, hatred, and exile will become your life.

It should have been the best day of his life: Raim had just passed the last fight to become a Yun, an honoured warrior, and made a sacred vow to his best friend and Crown Prince, Khareh, until the knot on his wrist bust into flames. It had been with him for as long as he can remember – but he had no idea what the promise was. Running for his life across the desert, haunted by a spectre of Khareh, Raim is determined to discover the origins of his knot and clear his name.

The concept of knot binding for promises is a compelling one. The act of making a promise to another is taken with deathly seriousness, and the stigma surrounding an oathbreaker is ingrained throughout almost all the societies, but to make it worse they are be haunted by an image of the person they betrayed as a constant reminder of their mistake. Raim struggles with being labelled as a traitor and worse, tormented by the belief that he has done nothing to deserve it, and his painful journey arose the desert is one of the best parts of the book.

Although the friendship between Raim and Wabi was thoroughly enjoyable and progressed at a realistic pace, that could lead to a sweet romance in further books, certain situations towards the end gave the impression that Wabi was being used in the typical damsel in distress role in order for Raim to be the hero. This clashes quite strongly with the strong, resourceful young woman who reached out to an outcast boy when no-one else would and snuck into a forbidden city to satisfy her own curiosity.

Despite the first half of the book focusing on the mystery of Raim’s broken promise, this is soon overshadowed by other events and left as one of the many unanswered questions that will, hopefully, be addressed in the next book. The magic system is also slightly confusing and not described in detailed, but, again, more may be giving in the next instalment. The Oathbreaker’s Shadow can also be accused of info-dumping a fair bit, however as the information given about the society and history is very interesting, this issue can be overlooked.

Ignoring these reservations, with its cliffhanger ending and interesting directions with magic and politics, The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is a good read that leaves you looking forward to the sequel.

3.5 stars

Book Review: Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown

12681097Title: Lies Beneath

Author: Anne Greenwood Brown

Rating: 3 stars

Cover Comments: I really like the effect of reflection of her red tail on the water, and the light shinning through.

Review:

There have always been legends about monsters living in Lake Superior, but no-one really believes them. People still take boats out and swim in the water. For some that will be the last mistake they’ll ever make, for that is where Calder White and his sister live. Their beauty and charm will draw you close as they pull you under until the bubbles stop.

Calder has never fully felt a part of his mermaid family, but he cannot resist their mental connection. He struggles as the killing to survive and yearly migrations to Lake Superior take their toll. This year his sister, Maris, the head of the family, has offered him a deal he can’t refuse: seduce Lily Hancock, and use her to lure her father out into the lake where his sister can kill him. Calder agrees as his desire for revenge on the man responsible for his mother’s death has consumed him for years, but he didn’t expect to come to care for Lily so much. Now he must choose between love and revenge, and fast because his sisters refuse to wait forever.

The mermaids in Lies Beneath are easily the best part of this book: beautiful and chillingly lethal. The murder scenes are exciting and creepy, and the descriptions of their appearance and their journey through the lake is alluring. This was an area that should have been further explored, as the mythology was limited to Calder’s family and his own personal knowledge, and even he confesses that there is much he doesn’t know.

The romance, however, was fairly lacklustre. Before Calder reveals what he is, Lily seems a little too accepting of the very few answers she is given. This is a troupe that has been over-used in Young Adult novels: one character acts very strangely, but the other ignores it because it severs the plot to have them oblivious until the “big reveal” scene. Lily does ask a few questions, but acts in an unrealistically trusting way towards Calder. As characters, both Lily and Calder are non-offensive but slightly dull. Lily seems to be slightly quirky and weird to make her seem more interesting, but it doesn’t really work. There is an almost love-triangle that feels kind of pointless as it dies off fairly quickly.

The ending was a pleasant surprise: it was not the typical neat and happy ending that is often used in Young Adult books. It leaves the story open for further books, where hopefully the idea of the mermaids themselves will be explored in greater detail. Still, the book as a whole was pleasant but bland; it was interesting whilst being read but ultimately fairly forgettable.

3 stars.

June Classic Challenge: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

“Classic” – a book which people praise and don’t read. – Mark Twain

Welcome to a new monthly feature, where I challenge myself to read a ‘classic’ novel. This is because I, like so many others, haven’t actually read many of the amazing novels that are hailed by many as masterpieces or a defining work of a certain genre.

Since this is my first classic challenge, I thought I’d ease myself in with a book that is both classic and a genre I already enjoy. Having read other books based around this, including the brilliant This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel, and seen many movies who borrow characters from this work, June’s Classic Challenge is Frankenstein.

3328742Title: Frankenstein

Author: Mary Shelley

Publication Date: 1818

Rating: 3 stars

Review:

After a childhood of indulging his scientific curiosities, Victor Frankenstein has realised his purpose: to create life from death. But despite succeeding, once he lays eye upon the creature his has created Victor knows he has made a grave mistake. He has created a monster, one which torments his soul and preys upon his family. No-one is safe, and now Victor must travel and destroy his work before anyone else is hurt.

Frankenstein is a novel that explores the nature of playing God and questions the limits of science. Through its melodramatic prose and horrific descriptions, it is a masterwork of the Gothic and Horror genres. The idea of an arrogant young man who believes he can defeat death only to have it go terribly wrong is one that has been used many times since this novel’s publication. Victor tries to play God, only to regret his actions and detest his own creation, which in turn causes the Creature to hate him in turn, blaming Victor for his wretched existence. The novel challenges the idea of power between man and God: Victor is the creator thus the Creature believes him to be the cause of his suffering, and the only one able to relieve it, yet the Creature is far superior in strength and ability to survive in the wild. He haunts Victor’s every move, striking down those he loves one by one despite all efforts to stop him; the Creature’s free will gives him power over his God. The Creature also blames his murderous intent on Victor, insisting that he was inherently virtuous before the misery of rejection caused him to seek vengeance, whereas Victor believes him to be monstrous through and through. Mary Shelley questions the nature of mankind: are we born to good, or is this just a human ideal? After all, animals have no sense of evil, just survival. Is Frankenstein’s creature man or beast? As in real life, there are no solid conclusions drawn.

Within this novel’s style it is possible to see the origins of the Gothic genre. Whilst the questions asked are intriguing and it reads well, it is written in an almost painfully melodramatic way. Victor is often found weeping at mere thoughts and worries, whilst his creature laments his fortunes over and over to anyone listening: “When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.1” This reads as awfully heavy-handed, and soon becomes fairly boring.

It is easy to see why Frankenstein is considered a classic: its deep questions into human nature and the tormented journey of both Victor and his creature are fascinating to read. However, it is hindered by the overly dramatic writing style and self-serving soliloquies, which causes the novel to become repetitive.

3 stars.

1 All you need to do is add an “O” to the beginning of this quote and you have yourself a Shakespearian monologue!

Book Review: Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

16124692Title: Necessary Evil

Author: Ian Tregillis

Series: Milkweed Triptych #3

Cover Comment: Screams military, but I like it.

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Spoilers for the first two books in the series.)

To be given the chance to undo the mistakes of his past, to not only change the fate of his family but also save the world, Raybould Marsh has agreed to trust his most despised enemy. Gretel is one of the few living genetic experiments created by the mad Dr Von Westarp, who were used as soldiers during the Second World War. She can see the future, and has used her powers to kill Marsh’s infant daughter once already. But the only wait to save his baby, and everyone else, is to trust Gretel. As the Eidolons – a race of god-like beings who abhor humans – destroy the world Gretel is able to send Marsh back in time from 1963 to 1940 in order to save this time line from destruction and redeem himself.

Necessary Evil is a very bittersweet book. After seeing Marsh become a shadow of the man he used to be in the last book, The Coldest War, he is given a chance to change history – but for a different version of himself. He gets to see his wife, when she still loved him, and his baby daughter, who has been dead for nearly twenty years, but can’t reveal who he truly is. Marsh’s pain and loneliness is visible throughout the novel, and heart-wrenching to read.

The comparisons between Old Marsh and Young Marsh is interesting to read. Both are obviously stubborn and determined to protect their family,  but Old Marsh has become better at scheming and manipulating people: more willing to do the “necessary evil” in order to reach his goals. His loneliness has hardened him, and the possibility of saving his child has made him desperate. Yet, despite these faults, Old Marsh is a constantly sympathetic character.

The few insights we get into Gretel’s mind are fascinating, in a very disturbing way. She has been described as “evil” constantly throughout the series, and these chapters certainly show she is unstable and obsessive, willing to kill anyone who gets in her way. No-one is safe, and a few key characters are killed in a fairly gruesome way.

Ultimately, this is a satisfying and emotional ending to a great series.

4 stars.

Cheap Books: Lost Voices by Sarah Porter

There’s a new bargain on Amazon Kindle UK, Lost Voices by Sarah Porter. This is another book I’ve had my eye on for a while (I have a soft spot for mermaid books). Grab it now like I did, because who knows how long this deal will last?

7656222Description:

Fourteen-year-old Luce has had a tough life, but she reaches the depths of despair when she is assaulted and left on the cliffs outside of a grim, gray Alaskan fishing village. She expects to die when she tumbles into the icy waves below, but instead undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid. A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: the mermaids feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks. Luce possesses an extraordinary singing talent, which makes her important to the tribe—she may even have a shot at becoming their queen. However her struggle to retain her humanity puts her at odds with her new friends. Will Luce be pressured into committing mass murder?
The first book in a trilogy, Lost Voices is a captivating and wildly original tale about finding a voice, the healing power of friendship, and the strength it takes to forgive.

Kindle Daily Deal: Angelfall by Susan Ee

Today’s Kindle Daily Deal on Amazon UK is a book I’ve had my eye on for a while: Angelfall by Susan Ee. It has angels causing an apocalypse and a sixteen year old girl trying to save her sister who was taken by them. It sounds interesting, and for £0.99 I’m giving it a go. Why don’t you too?

 

11500217Description:

It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco where she’ll risk everything to rescue her sister and he’ll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

Locus Magazine, March 2012 Finalist for Cybils Bloggers Award for Best YA Fantasy & Sci-fi Book of the Year 2011

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

17855844Title: The Shining Girls

Author: Lauren Beukes

Rating: 2 stars

Cover Comments: Fairly standard, though I do like the graphics on the word “shining”.

Review:
Discovering a key that allows him into a house that travels through time could be the escape from a bleak life during the Great Depression that Harper Curtis needs. But Harper finds himself drawn to darker, more twisted desires. As he journeys between the 1920s and the 1990s, Harper searches for his shining girls; brilliant girls who practically burn with potential. He hunts these girls out, gives them a gift and a promise they will meet again.

It’ll be the last meeting they ever have.

Harper crosses through the years, taking these shining girls spark away from them, one after another, until one girl somehow manages to survive. Kirby will never be the same again after the gruesome attack that nearly killed her. Scarred both physically and mentally, she is determined to hunt down her unknown assailant and bring him to justice. After hunting through news articles and chasing down possible leads, Kirby begins to suspect that these murders seem to be spanning over seventy years. But how can that be possible? And can she stop him before he kills again?

This novel sounds like a fascinating mix of sci-fi and thriller, full of tension, death, and the twisted psychological workings of a serial killer. Sadly though, The Shining Girls fails to live up to this great premise. Ultimately, the house that allows Harper to time travel is little more than a gimmick that is never fully explained. It just is. In fact, “it just is” seems to be the explanation for most of the novel. Why is Harper a killer? He just is. Why does he choose these “shining” girls? He just does. How does the House work? It just does. I could go on. Once the time travel theme is used, all that is left is a standard thriller, with nothing particularly amazing to make the novel worth much interest. This includes very poor “investigative” skills on part of the mine character Kirby, who seems to get lucky with her search more than anything else which proves to be very annoying.

There are several major questions left unanswered about the serial killer. Harper is not a character: he is a plot device. He has no history, no depth, and nothing interesting other than his narrated action, which only serve to tell the story. This novel could have been a fascinating study of motives and the inner workings of a serial killer. Instead we simply get a blow by blow account of his actions, which reads as dryly during a murder scene as it does during his daily routine. We are told what he does, but not why he does it. There is no real explanation as to how or why Harper chooses his victims. What exactly is it that makes them shine? This leads to another problem: the unquestioned sexism that rises from the stereotypical portray of a male serial killer who only ever attacks women (who are frequently referred to as “girls” in a very patronising tone). Issues have been raised by other reviews about the gendered violence against women (The Book Smugglers have a great review which looks at this), which is used in a graphic and often sexualised way. As well as this, there is also the issue of the serial killer being a man. Though there have been many male serial killers who target women, the problem The Shining Girls has is that it is treated as the norm, never challenged and only ever mentioned once in the text: “Always a ‘him’, these perpetrators of terrible violence upon women. As if women were incapable of evil.” This idea is is then dropped completely from the novel. Even a brief description at what drove Harper to murder would have helped these issues, but sadly there wasn’t one to be found.

With these problems, and others (unnecessary gore and sex, the use of the murder victims as devices to show how disturbed Harper is, and a slightly creepy romantic angle between Kirby and a journalist who acts more like a father figure) I’m afraid this book simply didn’t shine for me. For more of these issues in greater detail see Wendy Darling’s brilliant review.

2 stars