Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Book Review: The Chimes by Anna Smaill

Read: September 26 - 29   Verdict: 3 Stars

The Chimes tells the story of Simon, a boy who loves in a strange dystopian/alternate version of London, where reading and writing no longer exist. Instead, everything is told through sound and music - directions, announcements, conversation. People can no longer retain memory, only the vaguest sense of body memory. Memories are stored in physical objects and are taken out now and again in an attempt to relive and remember.

Simon meets Lucien and the other members of the Five Pact and before too long, Simon realises that he can hear and remember differently to others. Soon Simon and Lucien embark on a mission to destroy the memory erasing The Chimes and change the order of their world.

I quite enjoyed this. I didn't love it but I didn't hate it either. It's definitely something very different and I'm glad I gave it a chance. I do wonder if I was a little bit more schooled in musical terms if I'd have understand more. I have no idea if lento meant fast or slow. It was hard to imagine a world where everything is sung and it was both repulsive and beautiful at the same time. It was definitely not the kind of dystopian or alternate world I would like to live in. It didn't seem like anyone had a great life.

I enjoyed the fluidity of Simon and Lucien's relationship. It was slow and lapping and beautiful with subtle undertones. There was no great passion, but there was such a beautiful strength and connection between the two that I really loved.

If anyone is feeling hesitant about picking this book up, I'd urge you to give it a chance. It has such beautiful imagination and stringing together of words that while it's not the best book I've ever read, it's definitely rememberable.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Book Review: From A Distant Star by Karen McQuestion

Read: 25 - 26 September   Verdict: 5 Stars

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

The best way to describe this book is E.T meets YA fiction. Emma is the girlfriend of Lucas, a young man dying of cancer. On a night that Emma vows to do anything to save the love of her life, he suddenly wakes up, miraculously cured. However, Emma soon realises that the new and improved Lucas is not actually her Lucas. Instead, his body has been temporarily taken over by the consciousness of an alien life form called Scout, who is looking for a way to call home. Before too long, Emma ends up becoming involved in a race to get Scout home, and Lucas back.

I really enjoyed this book. It took me little over a day to read and it really kept me enthralled throughout. I felt that the personalities of all the characters really shone through, even Scout. Karen McQuestion had a great way of allowing her character's unique personality to shine through, such as Mrs Walker's...annoyingness, and Eric's smarts. I liked the small glimpses the reader got of Scout's world...I'd almost really love some kind of novella all about Scout when he returns home and reunites with Regina (also, I loved the Mean Girls references).

While Emma's devotion to Lucas was one of the strongest points in the book, I did feel concerned about how Lucas seemed to be her whole world. While I understood that Emma would be preoccupied with Lucas while he was sick, it seemed that even before that she had no one else but him. At only points in the novel does Emma mention her friends - one was when she said she used her phone for updates from friends (but didn't mention names), another was when she said that two of her friends had ditched her in fifth grade. She didn't seem to have one best friend. When Lucas got sick, his friends dropped her to school...she had no friends of her own. I found this concerning, and a little unhealthy. I don't think it's a great message to send to younger readers, that's it okay to make your world center around one boy because when they leave, you end up with nothing. I enjoyed the book overall too much for me to detract a star because of this though.

This was a fast-paced, easy and enjoyable read and I just really want to know how Scout is doing now!

Book Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Read: September 22 - 24 Verdict: 3 Stars

Seraphina lives in a world where dragons can take human forms and mix in among human folk. After years of terrible war, a fragile treaty now exists between the dragons and humankind but that doesn't mean that Seraphina is free to broadcast the fact she is half human/half dragon. Seraphina is now 16 years old and working in the palace as an assistant to the music master. Suddenly Seraphina is pulled into an investigation of the death of the Prince, alongside Prince Kiggs.As the treaty becomes close to snapping, can Seraphina try and save both the humans and the dragons she has come to love?

I really wanted to give this book more stars as the premise itself was very interesting. I think the problem I had was that it seemed to take a long time for me to really get into the story and get into the characters. None of the characters really stood out for me, even Searaphina. I didn't get much of a glimpse of who Kiggs was, despite him being nosy and quick to anger, I didn't see anything else there. I would have liked to see a more colourful Seraphina instead which I hope will happen in the next book when she's not so scared of what she is.

The world itself, hmm...while I am impressed at the imagination it took to create such a story and land, I felt very discombobulated for a lot of it. There was no quick explanation or summary about the relationship between humans nad dragons at the start of the book, and the reader is quickly immersed in the life of Seraphina and she lets us know what's going on. However, all the strange words and lands etc dropped into conversation and description threw me off a little bit. I think a map at the start of the book would have been a big help.

Despite my initial reservations, I do think I'll continue on with the series.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Book Review: The Soul Thief by Majanka Verstraete

Read: September 20 - 22   Verdict: 3.7 Stars

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

Riley thought she was an ordinary 16-year-old girl until the night she's involved in a terrible car accident and she sees a girl collecting a young victim's soul. Suddenly, Riley finds out that she's a member of the supernatural world. She is a halfling, the product of an Angel of Death and a human being and she's not suppose to exist. Riley is put under the guidance of Leander and she discovers how to be angelic, and tries to find out more about the mysterious deaths of teenage girls in her town.

The concept of the book is really good and the plot itself is fast-paced and quite informative. I really enjoy the world that the author has created. The hierarchy of angels and the strange rebellion that happened reminds me a little bit of the TV show Dominion, which isn't a bad thing. Riley took things pretty in stride I felt, she didn't really have a lot of freak-outs until her gran had a talk with her. Overall, I found her a pleasant character though perhaps a little bit too 'Mary-Sue', Hopefully, she'll step up the game in the second book in the series, which I think she will. I also hope we will have a better look at more creatures and even angels in the next book as, while they're mentioned in The Soul Thief, I wish we had a few more character of different species - seeing as they actually exist and all.

The major problem I had with this book though was the relationship that occurred between Leander and Riley. Now, when I was 16, I definitely felt like i was really grown up. Now that I'/m 23 however, I realise I was still a baby! So the fact that Riley and Leander, who despite looking like he's in his twenties, is actually probably like over a thousand years old, started a romantic fling.....EW! If Riley was 18, or on the cusp of 18, this would have been okay. But 16? Nope, don't like it at all. It's probably one of the very few times I've read a book and really not shipped the relationship! 

Overall, I enjoyed the book and where it's going and I'll definitely pick up the next one!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Book Review: Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes

Read: September 16 - 19 Verdict: 4 Stars

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

Barbara the Slut and Other People is a collection of short stories about various groups of people in their early twenties and different experiences in their life such as new jobs, relationship struggles, bullying, etc. It's very much a book that gives quick, brief glimpses into a 'slice' of different lives.

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I never pick up collections of short stories, they're just not something i read. However, after hearing about this book several times on YouTube and Goodreads, I decided to risk requesting it on NetGalley and I'm glad I did. Despite being out of my comfort zone, I really enjoyed the specific stories and I was able to deal with any disappointment and frustration I felt when I wanted to know more about what happened and didn't get it. Instead, I quickly became immersed into the next person's story instead.

I think my favourite stories were, I Will Crawl To Raleigh If I Have To, Desert Hearts, My Humans and Barbara the Slut with the latter two being the top two. I enjoyed the frankness about sexuality and sex in the stories and how all the women and men really owned their bodies and weren't ashamed. It was quite the opposite of 'slut-shaming' particularly in Barbara the Slut, in which she is being bullied for her sexual history. I felt like she really took advantage of her situation and admired how she stood up for herself.

I feel like most of the stories in this book would resonate well with anybody, but in particular with those in their twenties and early thirties. The characters are easy to connect to, and the stories easy to follow. The book left me both happy and sad that I didn't get the full story of each character's life but I guess that's just how these things go.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Book Review: Bomb by Sarah Mussi

Read: September  14 - 16  Verdict: 1 Star

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

Genesis Wainwright can't remember last night. She can remember the guy she had a blind date with, she can remember feeling that she didn't really like him. But she can't remember the point when, somehow, she ended up with a bomb strapped to her chest.

Bomb tells the story of a day in the life of Genesis, except it's not a normal day. Sudden;y genesis is in a life or death situation. She can blow up at any minute, she has to listen to the voice in her ear and can't even talk to anyone to try and get help. Genesis needs to find out what's going on and save herself, and a lot of other people, in the process.

This book had an amazing concept. As soon as i read the summary, I knew I wanted to read it. The plot could only be thrilling and leave me at the edge of my seat, right? Wrong! I was so bitterly disappointed. I ended up rally hating the main character when I should be feeling nothing but sorry for her, and possibly proud of her for how she is acting. Instead, for some weird reason, she ends up turning the whole situation around into a very weird love triangle, kind of.

I found the whole thing quite unbelievable, despite suicide bombings being a very big and unfortunate reality in today's society. The way she thought just didn't add up for me and I hated the way she kept coming up with these random sayings. I felt like the author was trying to just cram a whole load of nonsense that was probably suppose to make Genesis seem super smart and rational and didn't.

I mean...why didn't she attempt to call the police. Or Holly? Or Dave? Why didn't any of them do anything like that. And Dave's experiences and knowledge didn't seem right for me. From the story i got the jist he hadn't been in the army that long, maybe a year. How could he know so much already? Not buying it.

And the way the police decided, yep, shoot first when the terrorist organisation have a history of abducting young girls and using them as suicide bombers yet they have orders to conduct kill shots?? That just really annoyed me. Also, how did someone spot Genesis as acting oddly, it wasn't explained, the police just showed up. The same with the blind date. How did Genesis end up organising this date? I don't think it was ever explained properly.

And Naz, oh my god Naz. Genesis was so moony over this boy who was obviously so deranged. At first it was pathetic and then it got annoying and hello, I could see what she found out about 70% in, at 10% in. It was so obvious!! And her feelings towards Dave, Genesis you have a bomb strapped to your chest, maybe think about that rather than the way Dave's lips feel. Jeez Louise!

Plus, what the hell was with Genesis' dream just being thrown in the mix? It made no sense to me, though at halfway through I started skim reading because I just couldn't take it anymore,

This book was just trying way too hard, and if it could have been stripped down with the weird messy love relationship(s) taken out of it, it would have been much better. Overall, a really disappointing book.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Book Review: Never Never by Brianna Shrum

Read: September 10 - 13   Verdict: 5 Stars

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

When James Hook was twelve years old, he really looked forward to becoming a student in Eton College and learning to be a man just as good as his father. That is, until, he meets a strange pixie-like boy in Kensington Gardens. Peter Pan manages to convince James Hook that perhaps growing-up isn't a good thing after all, and he allows Pan to take him to Neverland for a short holiday.

If you've ever wondered how a man like James Hook ended up on a magical island where children never grow up, this is a story for you. I really loved this take on the story. Presenting James Hook as a rather misunderstood hero is a rather genius idea, especially for anyone a fan of Once Upon A Time.

Never Never really brings into play all the wondrous ideas we all have of Peter Pan, the endless play, the cheeky smile, the amazing imagination. But, it also introduces some more sinister things as well. The manipulative nature of Pan - he tricked James Hook into flying to Neverland, and then, disgusted that James didn't think the same way he did about growing up, never showed him the way home. Pan also is a true child in that, when someone doesn't do it his way, he becomes a bully and rather vicious. What happens to the rare Lost Boy whose experiences do make them grow up. Unfortunately, we find out in Never Never.

I feel like Shrum brought in elements of all our favourite Peter Pan stories and wove them all together to create the perfect story of the ultimate anti-hero. We got J.M Barrie's Peter and then the impishness and the likability of the pirates of Disney's cartoon movie. I believe that the emphasis on 'good and bad form' definitely came out of Steven Spielberg's Hook while the dark side to both Neverland and Peter Pan could be cast back to the Peter we knew from ABC's Once Upon A Time.

This is a magical book, telling the story of the Lost Boy (or Girl) inside all of us and that terrible desire to grow up but stay forever young at the same time.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Book Review: The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

Read: September 8 - 10 Verdict: 4 Stars

I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

During the day, Carly Johnson seems like a normal teenager. She has friends, she goes to class, she flirts with boys and she writes in her diary. However, at nighttime, Carly is no longer, well, Carly. Instead Carly is Kaitlyn. But who is Kaitlyn, is she an alter-ego made up to cope with the death of her parents? Or is Kaitlyn, as Carly and Kaitlyn believe, a long sister sharing the same body?

This story is so intriguing. Not only is the concept something I've never read about before but the whole story is told through a series of diary entries, police interviews and transcripts of videos. All the reader knows is that there was a fire in Elmbridge High, Carly's boarding school, which resulted in the death of several people. Ten years later, the mystery behind the fire, the events surrounding it and Carly/ Kaitlyn Johnson have never really been understood. Until Kaitlyn's diary is found.

What is amazing about this book is we don't really get told whether this is a story about the darkness of magic, or the darkness of mental health. Is what's happening because Carly is mad, or is it happening because Kaitlyn is possessed by a demon? It threw up so many questions for me and really made me think about how I, and others, think about mental health that's not just depression or anxiety. Is it fair for the reader to dismiss Kaitlyn as someone not real because Carly presumably has DID. I really went back and forth with thinking who Kaitlyn was, and how she was real. I really enjoyed the fact that the reader receives the story, for the most part, through Kaitlyn's words. It made her real, and her struggles made me feel sympathy for her. How could I feel sympathy for someone who wasn't really there? Surely, that in itself proved that Kaitlyn existed.

 This was a really creepy, yet amazingly thought-provoking read. Its definitely something completely different to what I normally read and i'm so gad I decided to delve into it. And if they ever make this into a movie, boy will it be terrifying!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Book Review: The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes

Read: September 4 - 6    Verdict 4.5 Stars

In 1916, Sophie is trying to help her small family survive in a French town under German occupancy while constantly worrying about the survival of her artist husband. When the new German commander becomes enthralled by a painting of Sophie, and quite possibly Sophie herself, how far will the French woman go to save her husband?

In 2006, Liv is still battling with grief following the death of her husband. Liv lives all alone, under crippling debt with a lone painting of a young woman staring back at her. When Liv meets a new man, the painting suddenly becomes a source of tension. Liv knows she needs to find out more about Sophie and what happened to her.

I really loved this book! Both Sophie and Liv are amazing, complex characters with a lot of similar characteristics. I really loved reading Liv and thinking, 'Sophie would do that,' and the same with Sophie.

Both women are living a life they never expected, trying to keep things together while apart from their husbands. Both had husbands who were very successful, and they both seemed to be content just supporting their other half in their work while being fiery enough to keep him on his toes. I found the similarities between David and Edouard interesting, both artists in their own right and immersed in their work. I felt Paul's stature yet kindness also similar to Edouard.

Liv and Sophie are both stubborn at the best and worst of times. Sophie isn't too afraid of speaking her mind to German soldiers where many times Liv could have backed down and made life easier for herself but she didn't. They both show kindness - Liv to Mo and Fran, and Sophie with Louisa and the rest of the villagers. I also found it interesting how Sophie was treated by the village after the rumours of her relationship with the Germans could be compared to Liv's treatment by protestors during the court case. Both women were in situations that they couldn't do anything much about, and despite being innocent, were treated poorly for it.

I really loved how Liv called her home the Glass House as I really felt like she was living for a large portion of time after David's death in a glass house. She was very fragile and seemed on the verge of cracking a lot, yet she was surprisingly strong when you'd expect her to crumble.

The history is rich yet not too much for a book in this genre, and it really gives us just enough to know Sophie and her situation. This book is just packed with two strong yet fragile women dealt with blows in the life they didn't expect but who still remain standing tall afterwards.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Book Review: Last Night in Montreal by Emily St.John Mandel

Read: September 3 - 4    Verdict: 4.25 Stars

Lilia never stays, she always just arrives for a short time and then leaves, regardless of those she's briefly connected with. Leaving has become part of Lilia's DNA, ever since the time she was seven years old and she was taken away in the middle of the night by her father and they never stopped running from invisible pursuers.

Last Night in Montreal examines not only Lilia's story but how her story affects the others that are someway connected with her life. In much the way I found Mandel's writing to be beautifully portrayed in Station Eleven, I found the same with this book. The prose is breathtaking. Mandel has a power to weave words that only comes along now and again. I really enjoyed drinking it all in.

I love the small emphasis on different things throughout the novel, the leaving and going, the impact you can make on people's lives even if you haven't known them very long and the lost and dying languages. Are people like Lilia, perpetual travellers, a dying language? Are most people content to stay, or is it the other way round? Does everyone want to travel? Mountainside or riverside?

Mandel has a way of creating one character in her books that becomes the sole beacon of light whose rays touch upon other minor characters. I felt the same with Arthur in Station Eleven. The character becomes almost like an unintentional puppet master and with barely visible strings, manipulates so many others whose lives have been changed because of their actions. I found this extremely true in the case of the relationship between Lilia and Michaela. Lilia's story had such a devastating affect on the outcome of Michaela's life, yet they never met until they were in their twenties.

Once again, this novel proves Emily St John Mandel's skill in examining human life, and interaction. And our ability to love and let go. A beautiful piece of work.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Book Review: Born of Shadow by Sarah Benson

Read: August 30 - September 1    Verdict: 3.5 Stars

I received a free digital copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Kami has never known the grandparents on her father's side. So when one day she receives a plane ticket to join them in Cairo for the summer, Kami knows she must take the opportunity of a lifetime. However, strange things begin to happen as soon as Kami boards the plane, weird shadow creatures seem to be stalking innocent people and Kami's grandparents are nowhere to be found. With the help of some new friends, and a new cousin, Kami must discover what the story is behind the shadow creatures and the queen with a strange obsession with Alexander the Great.

This book was a really good, enjoyable read overall. The culture in Egypt was quite deep and rich throughout the book, and I liked that different things such as women wearing veils and certain characters praying in Mosques (so the introduction of different beliefs). I also thought it was fantastic that Sarah had her characters talking about the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, part of the Arab Spring. This was such a huge deal and really brought social media into the world's eye as a powerful tool for news-making and telling, so to have (young) Egyptian characters talk about it, their troubles with police and refusal to back down was really wonderful to see.

The historical facts are so well researched, it's really impressive. There was lots of Egyptian history mixed in with a little bit of greek in parts because of Alexander's relationship with Greece during his reign.

I felt that at times both some of the historical facts and general dialogue in the book may have been a bit mature for middle grade readers - namingly the parts where police gave protestors virginity tests. I thought that this was being classed as middle grade, which I would presumer to be 10,11,12 years old but I think it's better of as 14 years old and up. I'm not American though so my knowledge of what 'middle grade' is could be completely wrong.

I felt the start of the book dragged a little bit. I was over 50% through before it before it really started going, and even at that, there's wasn't that much action in it overall. It mainly seemed to be them all driving places and talking solutions. I wasn't a huge fan of Kami's and Liam's relationship - for this book in particular being the first and Kami's huge feeling of loss and distance when it comes to family, I would have preferred there to be more emphasis on Kami and her cousin. While it wasn't insta-love, Liam's mooning over Kami was a bit bleh, I've seen it all before. Maybe I'm just becoming hardened to it though.

I wish it hadn't ended where it did. I feel like there could have been a bit more. I kinda felt like when there's an action scene in a movie on TV and suddenly there's an ad break. It just felt too abrupt.

Overall, a good read and perfect for anyone who loves a bit of Egyptian-god/mythical action. It would be good for fans of Greek gods too as it's a bit similar.

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Read: August 27 -30   Verdict: 4 Stars

The Handmaid's Tale is set in a new kind of America, now known as Gilead. In Gilead, sterility is a countrywide, and possibly worldwide, problem. Because of these problems, the world for females is no longer a nice place. They no longer have any rights, and are seen more as breeding factories than human beings. Young fertile women are now given the choice to be handmaids, which means moving in with a rich couple, having ritual sex with the husband and, hopefully, having a baby.

Offred, the main character in this book, is literally the handmaid of Fred. Along with their bodies, the women's names are taken from them too. Offred tells the story, flitting back and forth between her current situation as a handmaid and her life before - as the wife of Luke and the mother of a young daughter.

I felt like parts of the story were told by Offred in what could be described as a distant manner. I felt like Offred was trying to distance herself from her situation and it made the whole thing even creepier. I found the whole concept of the book creepy, just the thought of being in that kind of situation repulsed me. It was also the kind of book that made me angry when I reading it, not because it was badly written, but because of the way women, not just the handmaids, were treated.

I found it very interesting how, at the same time, the handmaids seemed to be honoured yet reviled at the same time. They were so many people's only hopes at having children - their jib literally meant having their own children ripped away from them. They weren't allowed sit down, weren't allowed hardly any kind of comfort at all and even their food was extremely basic. You would think, being pregnant, they have been allowed have a second helping of eggs now and again but nope, not allowed.

The scariest thing about this book is I just kept having this feeling about how it could almost be possible. It didn't seem that far-fetched. There are still so many places in the world where women have zero rights and are treated just as badly, even worse, than Offred and Ofglen. There is definitely something in the back of people's minds that things like this could happen - you only have to read all kinds of disaster books, or watch disaster movies/TV shows, and see how there are always communities who go back to treating women like crap.

Overall, The Handmaid's Tale was an extremely powerful, yet not a very comfortable read. I can't read to pick up another book by Atwood.