Book Review: River Road by Suzanne Johnson

13539162Title: River Road

Author: Suzanne Johnson

Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #2

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Spoilers for book one.)

It’s been three years since Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans, and through DJ’s life, but she has come to terms with what happened and is settled with her life working for the Elder wizards along side her close friend and FBI enforcer, Alex. But when, out of the blue, undead pirate Jean Lafitte contacts DJ about conflict between two clans of merpeople and the debt she owes him for saving her life, DJ must investigate before poisoned water spreads and harms the humans of the city. Whilst breaking up fights between the mermen, and judging whether to trust Jean and his advances on her, DJ also has to juggle a werewolf who likes her but may not be able to control himself, her parner Alex who is suddenly acting funny around her, and the elves who want to meet (and probably use) her. Maybe running off to the Beyond with an undead pirate isn’t the worst idea in the world…

River Road picks up three years after the events of Royal Street, and though the time gap may seem a little much, the main characters have , thankfully, not changed. This book is in fact an improvement over the first: the pacing is a lot more even, the events are better connected to each other and don’t feel hastily thrown together (as the last book suffered a little from), and DJ on the whole felt more sure of herself without losing any of her humour, stubbornness, or practical mindedness. She is a character who is not afraid to get her hands dirty or push her limits. Though this is a trait often found in Urban Fantasy heroines, DJ doesn’t fall into the trap of being too headstrong to make rational decisions that end up putting herself in danger. When danger does arise, she uses the backup help Alex offers her, without insisting she doesn’t need him or taking his offer to mean that he thinks she isn’t strong enough.

The world of this series is expanding, be it slowly. River Road heavily featured merpeople, nymphs, and their relation to the human world, but also mentions the River Styx (a place in the Beyond), the fact that the Beyond has links to different time periods, and the elves (who seem to be becoming an increasingly bigger part of DJ’s life as she tries to research her own elven heritage). Once again the Beyond is visited, but only briefly, giving the reader an almost infuriatingly small glimpse of this huge world. As DJ learns more about herself, and discovers yet more ways the Elders are trying to keep wizards from travelling to the Beyond, I can only hope that this means a greater amount of time spent there.

The other big part of this book is the romance, and all the male character are written so well, it’s hard to know who to choose. Though slowly taken, DJ has not one but three romantic interests, each with their own charms and faults. Her partner and friend Alex seems the obvious choice, as the relationship they have is both sweet and funny – in any other series he’d be the only guy to root for. Whilst his cousin Jake also seems sweet, his struggle to control himself since he became a werewolf makes him dangerous, but also sympathetic and vulnerable beneath his tough exterior. Lastly, Jean Laffite is the wild card, both dangerous and attractive. Though he (mostly) behaves in this book, the fact that he not only hurt DJ in book one but actually tried to kill her, makes him unstable and untrustworthy. Had that incident not happened, I would have been a big fan of Jean.

In summery, River Road takes everything that was good in Royal Street and makes it better. Add some more journeying into the Beyond, and the next book may even be a five star read.

4 stars.

Advertisements

Early Review: Indelible by Dawn Metcalf

12411687Title: Indelible

Author: Dawn Metcalf

Series: The Twixt

Rating: 1.5 stars

Review:

Joy thought her life was hard enough already – her mother left after having an affair, her brother, the one person she can properly confide in, has gone away to university leaving her alone with her Dad, who tries but is still caught up in his own problems. That was before the night at a club when a boy tried to blind her by stabbing her in the eye. Since then she’s been seeing . . . things. Flashes in the corner of her eye, strange messages she doesn’t understand, creatures coming for her.

The boy who tried to stab her, Ink, reveals he is in fact a faerie, and tells her that she has been marked as one of his lehmen – a messenger, servant, and, sometimes, lover. Now Joy is caught in a world of monsters and magic, between those who want to use her to get to Ink and those who want the fey to dominate the human world.

Young adult books about the fey are often hard to get right: the juxtaposition of unearthly, immortal, magical creatures against human teenagers in the modern day world is difficult. Some are written beautifully, and manage to explore the fey world in great detail[1], but others unfortunately (like many YA fantasy books) end up using this magic as a set up for a predicable romance between annoying characters, wasting the great ideas that were made to sound so much bigger in the blurb. Sadly, Indelible was the latter of these books –  another case of great ideas, poor excision. This had the potential to be a very interesting book, but not enough focus on the magic, with a brief explanation as to how the magic worked which barely made sense, and unlikeable character, ruined it.

The few faerie creatures who did show up, like Filly the viking warrior woman who loves battle and Aniseed the villain who believes in fey supremacy, were interesting, but not featured anywhere near  often enough. In fact, Aniseed, who was meant to be the main villain, wasn’t even mentioned by name until about three quarters of the way through the book. The odd messages left for Joy, before she understood what was happening, were quiet creepy and created a fair bit of tension as she didn’t know where or when the next one would come from, but this seemed to be dropped far too quickly once Ink was properly introduced. Joy’s job as messenger as a whole was overshadowed and all but forgotten in exchange for the romance and parties with Ink’s sister, Inq. Which leads to another huge problem: why on earth would you name two of your main character Ink and Inq? It’s confusing and comes across as lazy.

None of the characters were likeable. Joy was unbelievable selfish: with every problem that occurred, including ones that were nothing to do with her,   Joy’s first thought is “this make it so much harder for me!”. For instance, when her brother tells her he has discovered he is gay, her first reaction is to become angry and upset at him for hiding this information from her. This, and many other similar instances, made her sound like a spoil, bratty child. Inq was just as petty and annoying, a girl who thought of nothing but her own wants and needs, even if that means pulling people away from their lives, just so she can party, with no notice. Ink was bland and boring, making him a very poor romantic interest. Other reviews have mentioned his ‘slowly learning to become human and feel love’, but I personally couldn’t see it. Using contractions in your speech and obsessing over the shape of ears doesn’t make you human, or particularly interesting to read about. The stereotypical idea of a girl ‘curing’ a boy, and teaching him to love is both patronising and stupid.

The worst part of this book, however? It was boring. So boring, that had it not been an ARC, I would have stopped reading about half way through. I was not impressed in the slightest by Indelible.

1.5 stars.

[1] Examples of good faerie books are Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series (YA), Malissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series (YA), Seanan McGuire’s Tody Daye series (adult), and Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series (YA).

Cheap Books: The Fairyland Series by Catherynne M. Valente

Kindle UK are throwing a Summer Sale, which include the first two books of the amazing Fairytale Series by Catherynne M. Valente for only 99p. It’s the story of September, a twelve year old girl who travels to fairyland for an adventure, to help save it from its evil ruler, the Marquess, who is imposing laws that make the creatures of fairyland miserable. A truly great series.

 The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairlyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

9591398Description:

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.
13538708September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows—and their magic—to the world of Fairyland Below. This underworld has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September’s shadow. And Halloween does not want to give Fairyland’s shadows back.

Fans of Valente’s bestselling, first Fairyland book will revel in the lush setting, characters, and language of September’s journey, all brought to life by fine artist Ana Juan. Readers will also welcome back good friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. But in Fairyland Below, even the best of friends aren’t always what they seem. . . .

Book Review: Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson

12009478Title: Royal Street

Author: Suzanne Johnson

Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #1

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review:

Drusilla Jaco, DJ to her friends, thought her job was hard – mixing potions, helping to guard New Orleans from supernatural creatures (including attractive undead pirates), and negotiating politics with the Elder wizards. When the city is warned to evacuate due to the oncoming Hurricane Katrina, her mentor Gerry insists DJ leaves while he stays to defend the city from whatever may come. DJ watches safely as her city avoids the worst of the hurricane, only to be severely damaged by flooding. As heartbreaking as it is to watch, DJ’s worst nightmare comes true when she gets a call from the Elders: Gerry has disappeared and the walls between the Otherworld and the mortal world have weakened.

Partnered with the stubborn, but good looking, Alex who works for the FBI, and hiding from the undead pirate she tricked who is back for revenge, DJ must help rebuild New Orleans and protect it from the supernatural monsters now unleashed. With a serial killer targeting wizards with voodoo rituals and the rise of disturbing questions about Gerry’s views concerning the Elders, DJ may have her work cut out for her.

The use of Hurricane Katrina was very interesting, and justly done. Seeing the damage done to New Orleans through DJ’s eyes, and her relief and guilt as she realises just how lucky she was to have escaped and have her home undamaged, was almost painful to read. Her heartbreak was real and helped to make DJ a sympathetic character.The descriptions of the city were also thorough, creating some very moving scenes. The few scenes in the Otherworld towards the end of the book where also very enjoyable. Hopefully, the Otherworld will be explored further in the rest of the series as it was isolated to Old Orleans, and had the potential to be far more varied in both setting and characters.

The romance in Royal Street is of the slow-burn variety, beginning with hostility between DJ and her partner Alex, slowly becoming friendship as they trust and confide in each other. Both DJ and Alex are likeable characters, despite their faults – namely both being stubborn, unnecessarily so at times. Jean Lafitte, the undead pirate and other half of the possible love triangle, on the other hand, was a character who was much harder to like and trust – though this does make him quite interesting. His motives are constantly unclear as he changes allegiances and plans with no notice. It is only obvious that he looks out for himself. Though this makes his character interesting and unpredictable, as a romantic interest it makes him unstable and fairly unbelievable, since he has tried several times to kill DJ. Other than his looks, there doesn’t seem to be any other reason to be a romance with.

The use of voodoo in this book was very interesting, but could have been expanded. In fact, this seems to be the biggest fault with Royal Street. Though a few ideas and especially the world building was not as extensive as it could have been, as this is just the first of the series, I can only hope that these great ideas are further explored in the next novels, which I will be reading.

3.5 stars

Book Review: Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn

12665819Title: Another Little Piece

Author: Kate Karyus Quinn

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

It should be a day for celebration. After a year of heartache and suffering, the missing Annaliese Rose Gordon has been united with her parents, who never gave up hope. Annaliese knows what she has been told, these are her parents, this is her home, her school . . . but she can’t remember anything. Who is she? Where was she all year? Why was the last anyone saw of her at a party, covered in blood? Annaliese has been told it’s natural to feel like an outsider, an intruder – like she is not the real Annaliese.

Little does anyone know that she is right. She is not the real Annaliese, and slowly memories come back to her about what she is. A bloody razor blade. A promise of love. A list of girls who have disappeared. And another, like her, who will stop at nothing to get her back. No matter what the cost, or blood on his hands.

Another Little Piece is not for the faint hearted. It is a horrific book –  in the best way possible. Blood and gore are used throughout in great detail, with descriptions of hearts being cut out and wrists casually slit open that will leave you cringing in sympathy. Be warned, this is not a book for those who are squeamish. The pace of the horror, and the slow reveal of Annaliese memories build a lot of tension, that makes it near impossible to put this book down. The questions leads to answers that only leads to more questions, and there are a few that are left unresolved by the end. This can cause a lot of problems for reads, as I myself really wanted to know just what exactly was going on, however the journey is so captivating that this issue can be over looked.

Annaliese was a very relatable character. In the beginning, before the paranormal aspect of this novel was revealed, she is a realistic teenage girl going struggling to adjust to a life she can’t remember. Both she, and her parents, who have regained but still lost their child, are very sympathetic characters. The villainous character Franky is another very creepy part of Another Little Piece, and his ‘love’ of Annaliese shows the dangerous obsessive side of this emotion. It’s refreshing to see this type of relationship correctly labelled as ‘disturbing’, as apposed to ‘romantic’ which is still used in too many YA paranormal novels.

If gore and not getting all the answers doesn’t put you off, Another Little Piece is highly recommended as a very entertaining horror book.

4 stars 

July Classic Challenge: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

“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.

July’s Classic challenge is a series I, like many, have had my eye on after enjoying many different cinematic retellings. Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous characters in British literature, and with the recent wave of adaptations (including Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes movies and the BBC’s modern day Sherlock, both of which are very entertaining) I decided it was time to read the original story. So we start at the beginning with A Study in Scarlet.

10943536Title: A Study in Scarlet

Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

Publication Date: 1887

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review:

After serving his country in the Afghanistan war, Dr John Watson returns to his beloved London looking for a home. Permanently injured during his service and with little money, John soon realises he’ll need a roommate. By chance, a friend introduces him to the world’s only Consulting Detective, Sherlock Holmes – a man of great intellect and almost terrifyingly accurate observations. Thus begins their many adventures together, starting with the body of a man found in Lauriston Gardens, and the word Rache spelt in blood across the wall. With the police stumped, only Sherlock can solve the puzzle.

Sherlock Holmes is undoubtably the most well known fictional detective in the world, famed for his amazing ability to decipher clues that no-one else can. We are repeatedly told of his genius, through the adoring eyes of Dr John Watson, and the joy of this entire series is the many mysteries and trying to figure out just how Holmes was able to solve them. It is stated by Holmes several times that he is not in fact a genius, but merely able to observe tiny details that other people nearly always miss. The big reveal in A Study in Scarlet shows that it was actually a fairly simple case had the police seen all the details – as Holmes himself says “I’m not going to tell you much more of the case, Doctor. You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick, and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all”.  Since the novel is written from Watson’s point of view, we are unable to notice what Holmes sees, as Watson is not an observant man – or at least, not as observant as Sherlock Holmes. The reader of this series comes to idealise Holmes as capable of solving anything because we see him through Watson’s eyes as an impressive genius beyond all doubt.

In terms of characters, both Watson and Holmes felt a little flat, especially Watson, which is odd considering he is the narrator of this novel. Watson spends most of his time marvelling at Holmes’ amazing abilities, and Holmes showing off said abilities. It seems that Conan Doyle wanted the reader to feel the same love for Holmes as Watson does, and what better way than to have the whole story narrated by a admiring (though not mindless) fan? This appears to be one of those issues with knowing the characters more through adaptations that through the source material itself. The relationship, which plays a huge part in practically all the films/TV shows, felt under developed as we were told, rather than shown, that they had become friends. This relationship is almost certainly expanded during the course of the entire series, but in terms of A Study in Scarlet, it seems to be sacrificed in favour of the mystery.

There were a few other surprises, namely that the story changes in both scenery and characters in the second half, to explain the mystery, and that the author’s political views aren’t exactly subtle1. On the whole, A Study in Scarlet is an enjoyable book, but I can’t help but feel that people’s love of Sherlock Holmes comes both from the entire series and the many different interpretations we have available.

3.5 stars.

1 Conan Doyle seemed to really hates Mormons. I wonder why?

Book Review: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

7962513Title: Bitterblue

Author: Kristin Cashore

Series: The Graceling Realm #3

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

It’s been eight years since the death of the monstrous King Leck, but the kingdom of Monsea is slow to heal. Leck’s daughter Bitterblue, now Queen, struggles to help her people – stuck in an office signing paper all day, she feels useless and isolated from her people. One night she decides to visit her capital in disguise to find out what her people are really like, and meet two thieves, Saf and Teddy, who also run a printing shop. Drawn to these men and the need to know her kingdom, Bitterblue realises that her advisors are lying about the state of her people and are trying to forget what Leck did to them. Bitterblue, and her people, need to know the truth of what Leck did to them – before whoever is killing truth seekers kills her new friends.

Bitterblue is, above all else, a novel about healing from trauma, from the grand scale of an entire kingdom getting past the atrocities of a mad king, to the smaller scale of one young woman trying to face her abusive father. Whilst the moral of the novel seems to be that in order to heal you need to face what has happened, as suffering alone can cause a person to do horrible or destructive things, it does address the fact that some details are better left alone. This is a longer, quieter novel than the first two of this series, with far less action and more focus on politics and the need to find answers. Though it is easy to become slightly frustrated at the slow pace, and the fact that answers to many questions aren’t discovered until the every end, it felt right that Bitterblue should be a more gentle novel than its predecessors.

The character of Bitterblue is a sympathetic and relatable one, who is curious and above all else determined to do right by her people. She is only eighteen, but has to live with the responsibility of helping her kingdom heal whilst the stigma of being the daughter of the very madman who hurt so many people in the first place. She feels useless at her lack of knowledge, and frustrated at not being able to find any answers to all the problems that seem to be piling up on top of her. The other characters in this novel are also engaging, from the familiar faces of Po and Katsa, to the new, like Death the Graceling librarian or Thiel her most trusted but haunted advisor. The only somewhat dislikable character was Saf, the romantic interest, who when he discovers Bitterblue’s true identity, overreacts and treats her unfairly for a good portion of the novel –  though he does eventually come to see his selfishness and apologises. The romance as a whole felt a little unnecessary, as though it was just added in to tick all the boxes, but it doesn’t take away too much focus from the main plot.

Although longer and slower pace than Kristin Cashore’s other books, Bitterblue is a sweet story about the healing process and the strength we take from other people in these times. It is also unafraid to show the trauma and consequences of people trying to suppress what has happened to them rather than face it, and makes some bold, almost shocking choices as to how certain people deal with their pain. It was a pleasing ending to the series that leaves room for more stories from this world.

4 stars

Kindle Daily Deal: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I urge everyone to buy a copy of Throne of Glass, only 99p on today’s Kindle Daily Deal (Amazon UK). It was one of my favourite book of 2012, and I will be reviewing the sequel, Crown of Midnight, in August. It has everything I love in a book: confident, kick-ass heroine who actually has a brain, a sweet romance that doesn’t overwhelm the plot, action, and references to a fairytale (in this case, Cinderella).

13519397Description:

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another.

Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

16078220Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

What makes us who we are? How much of ourselves is created by our memories? When a forty year old man returns to his childhood village for a funeral he rediscovers the home of an old friend, Lettie Hempstock, who believed the pond in her back garden was actually an ocean. As he explores Hempstock Farm, he finds memories, hidden inside his mind, unfolding and revealing a battle with a monster from another world when he was just seven years old.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is both a strange and beautiful novel. It manages to portray grand ideas and themes, such as memories and the changes we all go through from childhood to adult, on a small, almost isolated scale. The whole novel has a sense of being only a small part of the bigger picture, leaving a feeling of being almost uncompleted. This mirrors beautifully the unnamed narrator’s situation – as a child he never fully understands what is happening to him, since adults often don’t explain themselves to children in a possibly misguided belief that they won’t understand. As an adult, however, he still doesn’t see exactly what has happened as he realises that he has forgotten his adventure until he visits Hempstock Farm.

The narrator is a very sympathetic character. He is a lonely young boy who feels isolated and struggles to communicate with his family. The monster, disguised as Ursula Monkton, who infiltrates his family pushes him away from them even further, and the fact that the family never realise her true nature makes it even sadder. The young boy has to live with the trauma caused by her manipulation of his father, which is never resolved or even addressed, as no-one else remembers what happened. This brings up the question as to whether the whole novel is in fact the narrator’s way of dealing with this trauma, a fantasy conjured up because he couldn’t face what had actually happened and no-one else knew or talked about it.

The Hempstock women – Lettie, Mrs Hempstock, and Old Mrs Hempstock – are another part of the mystery in this novel. Reminiscent of the Pagan Maiden, Mother, and Crone, they are magical and mysterious, but again, never fully explained. As a child, the narrator barely questions them and is satisfied with the vague answers he gets. Who are these women exactly? How old are they, and are they immortal? What exactly is the Ocean in their garden?

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a beautifully written, dream-like novel that captures the imagination throughout – but ultimately leaves a feeling of being incomplete. Whilst it does create a sense of nostalgia, a lingering feeling of quiet sadness stayed with me many days after finishing the book – and I believe that this shows Neil Gaiman’s great skill as a writer.

4 stars

Series Review: The Too-Clever Fox by Leigh Bardugo

Welcome to a special series review, where I review all the books in a series I love in one go. This week’s series is the amazing Grisha Series by Leigh Bardugo; a Russian inspired world where one girl discovers she is the Sun Summoner, gifted with the power of light, and must fight against the darkness spreading over the land, and the man who can control it.

Lastly, this is the second short story and most recent in the series The Too-Clever Fox.

17790188Title: The Too-Clever Fox

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Series: The Grisha #2.5

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

There is such a problem as being too clever. Koja, the runt of a litter of foxes, has learnt to survive on his wits alone, as his cleverness has saved him several times already. It has helped him escape traps and gained him friendship with some of the more dangerous animals in the woods. When a hunter so skilful they enter and leave the forest with no trace begins killing his friends, Koja believes his cleverness can save everyone – but in doing so he learns the difference between confidence and arrogance.

The second of Leigh Bardugo’s fairytale short stories, The Too-Clever Fox is another success: well-written, quaint, and very entertaining. After reading Siege and Storm, the comparison between the fox Koja and the privateer Strumhond is very clear, as they both rely on their wits and charm to weasel their way out of problems and win friends. Koja’s exploits are enjoyable to read, and despite the briefness of the story you find yourself engrossed with the plot and the friendships he forms.

In terms of the message this story gives, it is more heavy-handed than the first fairytale, The Witch of Duva. It features similar morals: you can’t always trust appearances, and women are more that their fairytale stereotypes. However, the hunter, the villain of the piece, felt a little too two dimensional. It’s not shown what goes on in their mind, and they never fully explain why they killed the animals other than “because I can”. They just brag about how they cleverly tricked all the animals, which links in to the story’s moral but isn’t much of an explanation.

Another great addition both the series and the world, we can only hope that a full collection of these fairytales will be in the near future.

4 stars.