Review

Review: Morning Star (Red Rising #3) by Pierce Brown

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I’d like to blame my lateness for this review on how long it has taken me to gather my thoughts on this book – which was an absolutely EPIC thrill ride of a conclusion to what has quickly proved to be one of my favourite science fiction series.

However, whilst the latter is true, I really have no excuse for how long it has taken me to write this other than I have not been particularly active in the blogosphere for the past few months (my list of currently waiting reviews is rather daunting). So I’d like to apologise to Hodder, who sent me an ARC of Morning Star, and were very careful about who they sent them to. When I received this in the post, I’m pretty sure I screamed, had a little celebratory dance and then immediately settled down to read it, because Golden Son left me with so many questions that HAD to be answered as soon as possible. So I actually finished this in February and planned my review around the release date – and never got round to it. So here we are.

Like Golden Son, Morning Star began a few months later than the previous book, and was completely brutal and action-packed from the very beginning. Pierce Brown excels at serious dramatic moments and action scenes, as well as humorous ones – basically he is one truly talented author. He writes characters so fantastically; the character development throughout this trilogy has been astounding, especially for Sevro. The friendships and complicated relationships shine through, and despite the fact that this is a book sent in space, far into the future, everyone feels so real. It truly makes you wonder whether Darrow would have made it this far without these friendships – I highly doubt it.

Expect more shocks, deaths and devastation from Morning Star than the first two books combined – all the more painful because the reader has now had the time to get to know these characters, has grown attached to them. Brown is unafraid to kill off major players, from both sides, and most of these are completely unexpected and utterly heartbreaking. However, this is war, and that’s what happens. The reader must learn to move on with the story and with Darrow, because death is just a part of war. Watching Darrow push on through all of the heartbreak and pain made for an amazing read that simultaneously made me want to cry, and cheer them all on even more.

The events of the story are made even more horrific by the fact that Darrow’s enemies were once friends and acquaintances. Friends who are now tearing each other apart in order to achieve their goals, some of whom do not care how many people they hurt or kill along the way. With so many twists and turns (in my notebook I just have written ‘THAT TWIST’, but I don’t want to add anything else for fear of spoilers!), Morning Star is sure to leave your heart racing, your hands shaking and your head pounding – for all its brutality and violence, it truly has heart. It provides a perfect, beautiful ending to a fantastic series that I have loved the whole way through, and am going to miss. I may have to do a re-read of all three books back to back…

Review

Review: Powers – The Secret History of Deena Pilgrim by Brian Michael Bendis

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2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I love superhero stories. All the classic comics, plus more recent novels. So when I was offered this for review, I leapt at the chance. It takes a classic detective story and adds superhero elements, based on the comic book series of the same name by Brian Michael Bendis, and an hour long show on the Playstation Network. However, whilst it seemed that I would not be at a disadvantage being unfamiliar with the Deena Pilgrim universe, I definitely felt I would have enjoyed the book a lot more were I more familiar with it.

Also, I feel like this book may have suffered slightly from bad timing. I began reading it at the same time as I was reading Calamity, the third book in the Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson. Reading two books about superheroes at the same time – especially when one of them is from a series you really love – you’re sure to compare the two, and unfortunately The Secret History of Deena Pilgrim didn’t quite live up to it.

Overall, I didn’t particularly enjoy this one – the detective element or the superhero element. There wasn’t much involvement of superheroes, apart from a link with the murders that Deena investigates. The whole mystery felt a bit of a mess, and rather than drawing me in and encouraging me to work things out for myself, it just really confused me. There was an entire chapter where one character was referred to by three different names, constantly alternating – which had me convinced for a while that there were in fact two characters present, instead of one. I found myself reading this book only at lunchtime at work, mostly just because it was smaller and easier to fit in my bag than the other book I was reading…

It’s a shame that this one didn’t work out for me. If I’d previously read the comic and understood more of the back story then perhaps I would have enjoyed it a lot more – so I’d love to hear if anyone has read both, and enjoyed them!

Review

Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) by Becky Chambers

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

Do you ever have the feeling after finishing a book that it was written especially for you?

Because that’s exactly how I felt after reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

It was perfect, perfect, PERFECT. Everything I wanted in a sci-fi novel. It felt like a bit of a mash up of two of my favourite things: Firefly and Mass Effect. Firefly (which I feel I have compared a LOT of books, but this is the ultimate) because of the setting and the crazy crew, Mass Effect because of the alien races and the world-building. Here are just some of the things that were truly, wonderfully amazing about this book:

  • The crew of the Wayfarer. They felt so alive, each character was fantastically crafted and felt so alive. I WANTED TO BE FRIENDS WITH THEM ALL SO BAD. Even grumpy-face Corbin.
  • The story. Although actually not a lot happened in terms of plot, I really loved that. Most of the book was scenes between various members of the crew, a study into their relationships and lives.
  • A wide range of alien species. And not just humanoid aliens, but bug-like aliens, crab-like aliens… and you know what? The female aliens were not sexualised. They did not have obviously ‘female’ features. You would not believe how notable this is…
  • The fact that these aliens had their own languages, and some of them weren’t verbal but based on hand signals, facial expressions or even the colouring of their faces. It was so refreshing to read about all these alien cultures that were so DIFFERENT from our own, rather than a re-hashed human race.
  • The use of the pronouns ‘xe’ and ‘xyr’ in some cases, which is the first time I’ve encountered that in a book. I just felt like the fact that Becky Chambers included these shows that she put a lot of thought into sexuality and gender within this future alien society, delving deep into the world building.

 

Even if you’re not a huge science fiction fan, this book could definitely work for you – it is so much more than just that. It is less about the setting and more about the characters, their relationships and the dynamic on the ship. I am just so, SO happy that I finally picked this up. It worked perfectly for me, and has quickly made its way into my favourites. My only regret here is that I didn’t read the book sooner – although that does mean I have slightly less time to wait for the next one… Additionally, it’s also given me an urge to re-watch Firefly and replay the Mass Effect series – perhaps that will sate my appetite whilst I wait!

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Review

Review: HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Shortly after starting this book, I knew I’d made a huge mistake.

It was going to stop me from sleeping for a while.

I’m not normally too creeped out by books. Unlike films, you can alter how something might look, make it seem a lot less threatening or scary than it actually is. However, when it came to HEX I had troubles ‘adapting’ the book in my head. My housemate was away for a day or two whilst I was reading it, and during that period I wouldn’t touch the book because I couldn’t possibly be alone in the flat at night after reading it.

HEX follows the inhabitants of a small town called Black Rock. It might be your usual image of small town America – if it were not for the 400-year old witch that lives there. Katherine, ‘the Black Rock Witch’, is a seventeenth century woman who is still hanging around the town of Black Rock, four centuries later. With her eyes and mouth sewn shut, she can just appear around the town at random – including in people’s houses. For the residents of Black Rock, this is normal and they’re used to it. But they can’t possibly let outsiders know, so great efforts are made to conceal the existence of Katherine from the rest of the world. Therefore this small American town is in fact under constant surveillance.

Not only is it super creepy that Katherine’s eyes and mouth are sewn shut and there’s obvious fear of what might happen were the stitches to be removed, but I found it absolutely TERRIFYING that she could just basically appear anywhere at any time. Just drifting off to sleep in your warm cosy bed? Oh look, there’s Katherine at the foot of it. HOW ARE THESE PEOPLE USED TO IT. IT WOULD NEVER NOT BE TERRIFYING. Needless to say, I may have slept with the light on that first night after reading HEX, ready to spot Katherine when (because in my mind it was when) she appeared.

What I really like was how modern technology was weaved into this tale of horror. Due to the efforts of the town to prevent knowledge of Katherine reaching elsewhere, it is forbidden to record or photograph Katherine. Despite this, one of the main characters is a rising YouTube star, and as the story progresses him and his friends start taking more risks when it comes to Katherine, which leads to some truly shocking scenes.

So in conclusion… if you’re looking for a creepy read that’ll keep you up late into the night – because it’s both scary and a great read – this is it.
Hex-BlogTour

Review

Review: The Vatican Princess by C.W. Gortner

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Oh, the Borgias. Infamous throughout history for murder, debauchery, incest, bribery, nepotism, poison, adultery and so much more. From the moment Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI, he was already scandalous – a pope with at least four children, possibly more.

My question is, how could you possibly not want to read a book about this family?

I’ve been fascinated by the Borgias, and the period of history within which they lived, for a while now. Their story is so familiar to me, but still I love to read about them – whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, I love it. The Vatican Princess in particular is, I have to say, one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read about the Borgias. Told from the point of view of Lucrezia, the Pope’s beloved daughter or his ‘farfallina’, the story begins when she is 12 years of age, about to be married off to Giovanni Sforza. Lucrezia’s life was a sad one – forced into a series of marriages from a young age, some unwanted, some happy, but all ended badly.

Gortner’s narrative worked beautifully. The book spans about eight or nine years, divided into sections of several years each, but it skips through chunks of time without missing anything important. There is a real sense of Lucrezia growing, perhaps too early, from a girl into a woman, and learning what her family is really like. She hardens herself, learns how to protect those she loves – without Gortner falling into the trap of portraying her as an evil seductress, poisoning every Borgia enemy, as some texts show her.

I don’t know whether it was due to my familiarity with the Borgia history, or because of Gortner’s writing, but the book was so accessible. There is quite a large cast of characters, some of whose names might seem very odd to someone who does not know this period of history, but at no point did I feel lost amongst them all. It would be interesting to know whether someone who does not know the history as I do felt so comfortable among the cast of characters. She is both strong and naive, retaining some of that childish innocence whilst still learning how to make her way through the politics of late 15th century Rome.

Overall, The Vatican Princess was a wonderful novel, some of the most engaging and beautifully written historical fiction that I have read in a while. The thing about the Borgias is so much of their history is uncertain – so many rumours contradict each other, there is a lot that is not set in stone – that actually, it is possible to be quite inventive when writing about them. Gortner uses this, but also sticks fairly faithfully to the ‘history’, making some changes where they allow the story to flow more easily – and explaining all of this at the end. Whether you’re already a fan of one of history’s most infamous families, or know nothing about this, I would highly recommend this title.

Review

Review: Holy Cow by David Duchovny

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2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

This book was… uh, not really my kind of thing. At all. I read it in about three hours, but seven pages into it I already hated the tone and the awful jokes. So by that point, I was truly glad it was only 250 pages or so.

Holy Cow follows a young cow who learns the truth about ‘meat farms’, and decides to move to India where she won’t be eaten. She is joined by her friend Tom the Turkey, who wants to go to Turkey, and a pig called Shalom who has recently coverted to the Jewish faith and decides to move to Israel. The only problem – well, they’re animals, and can’t just waltz onto a plane.

But oh – they can.

I just didn’t quite get where this book was going. The characters used slang like ‘totes cray-cray and ‘amazeballs’, as well as actually saying ‘OMG’, and every time slang was used I found myself grinding my teeth (pls pay for my dental work Mr. Duchovny, thanks). And let’s forget all about that dreaded word, the worst one ever… ‘bae’. No. No no no. Please don’t ever use that in a book – okay, maybe it would work in a book where the characters are all teen HUMANS, but there is no excuse this time.

There were also about 50 mentions of ‘my editor told me to do this so I will…’ as well as pop culture references and even a reference or two to porn. This entire book felt like one atrocious mess.

The only redeeming feature was the illustrations, which were really quite cute. Elsie was only a likeable character when she was being serious, but sadly the moral of the story was pretty much downplayed and hidden behind all the ‘humour’.

Try again, Mulder.
you tried

Review

Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

A tale of magic versus science, All the Birds in the Sky had me gripped from the very first page. It was a truly enchanting story, all the more wonderful for going in pretty much unaware of the plot, or anything about the book (apart from the pretty cover).

There was something really wonderful about Charlie Jane Anders’ writing. She added in all these unnecessary details, so small and yet they made the story all the more intriguing, the world all the more vivid. I have previously spoken about how I like magic systems that require some sort of sacrifice, rather than just saying some words or waving a wand and casting a spell, but here this system seemed to work quite well. Patricia’s magic required no sacrifice, but that felt natural. I felt that the book would not have benefited from an explanation of how the magic worked – it would have just distracted away from the story.

Although All the Birds in the Sky did lose its wind a bit in the last quarter or so, I was gripped throughout almost the entire story. It was a truly lovely story of two ‘weirdos’ who come together, united by their social awkwardness and alternative interests. As you can see by how short this review is, I just don’t feel I can truly tell you how wonderful this was – so go out and read it yourself!

Blog Tour, Review

Blog Tour + Review: The Sisters of Versailles by Sallie Christie

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I’m pretty picky about the blog tours I take part in nowadays, and will only sign up if I know I’m going to enjoy the book. So of course I knew I would enjoy The Sisters of Versailles – whilst I’m not a fan of romance novels, I do enjoy a bit of steamy historical fiction – but I didn’t realise just how much I would enjoy it. Told from the point of view of the Nesle sisters, this novel is unique in that whilst its main characters were historical figures, very little has been written about them in English. Four of the five Nesle sisters became mistresses to King Louis XV of France, and whilst this was of course a huge scandal at the time, it doesn’t seem to be something that has been recorded quite as much as you would think. In fact, I’m pretty sure more people would be nore familiar with Madame de Pompadour, another of Louis XV’s mistresses, than Louise, Marie-Anne, Hortense, Diane or Paulie Nesle.

From the very first chapter of the book, I got a really clear and vivid image of life at Versailles. It seemed so colourful and fast-paced, but there was also something darker hiding in the shadows, hinting at what was yet to come. The reader sees it all at first through the eyes of Louise, the eldest of the Nesle sisters and the first to go to Versailles. From the moment the sisters become of a suitable age for marriage, they are obsessed with the idea of it – so it is so sad that Louise’s marriage, to a man twenty years her senior, makes her feel so lonely. Her husband is an imbecile and a horrendous person; when her mother dies he complains of the ‘inconvenience’ of having to travel to Paris to help his grieving wife. Therefore it is completely understandable when she is persuaded by the ladies of the court to have an affair, after all everyone is doing it. But then Louise comes to the attention of the king, and everything changes.

Whilst each sister narrates at least one chapter each, their voices didn’t feel entirely distinctive. They had very clear cut personalities though: Diane the slob, Louise the naive one, Hortense the pious one, Marie-Anne a revolutionary in the making, and Pauline, determined to get whatever she wanted despite the consequences. Pauline’s letters, not so subtly hinting to Louise that she deserved a visit to Versailles, were kind of hilarious. At first I quite liked Pauline, but her later actions turned me against her. Watching her steal the man her sister loves, then reading Louise’s point of view of the whole experience was pretty heartbreaking. Marie-Anne was a surprise, going from seemingly innocent to a real schemer.

As time went on, I didn’t know whether to feel sorry for Louise or whether I want to just shake her and shout ‘Get a grip!’. It was sad watching her pine after someone she couldn’t have, who was clearly not interested in her anymore, whilst sister after sister replaced her. I don’t know how Louis XV is represented in history (having studied his grandson Louis XVI in much more depth), but in this he felt so shallow. He wasn’t outright mean, but the way he treated people, especially women, as objects that he could just use and then toss aside when the next exciting thing came along, was abhorrent. He did it without people even realising they were being replaced until it was too late.

I’m so glad I got the chance to read and review The Sisters of Versailles. I have found the whole ancien regime period of French history very interesting ever since I studied it in school, and I’m always happy to read historical fiction set in that era. What I really loved here was learning about historical figures that aren’t widely written about, and the whole scandalous history of the Nesle sisters. How is the fact that Louis XV slept with four sisters not as widely known as his affairs with Madame de Pompadour? History does love a good scandal, after all.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Sally Christie for giving me the chance to read and review this one! 🙂

 

Links

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Review

Review: The Bees by Laline Paull

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first received a copy of The Bees. A story told from the point of view of a bee? It sounded like it could be really wonderful and unique, or really fall flat. Luckily, this was definitely the former. The Bees follows Flora, a sanitation worker bee from the lowest kin within the Hive. The Hive is separated into kins, each named after plants and flowers such as Sage, Lily, Thistle etc, and each with ‘typical’ duties, for example the Sages being priestess type figures. Floras are normally mute and unable to fly, but Flora defies all expectations of her kin and proves herself capable of any job that the Hive can throw at her. The story follows Flora as she tries to work out her purpose in this very strict society.

Whilst it might sound like a very strange concept, Laline Paull has taken a really wonderful step in creating this story. I think we need more books told from the point of view of unusual and unexpected protagonists. I found myself entranced by her writing, not only her style but also the way in which she told Flora’s story. It might seem odd to read about bees doing things we expect from humans, such as dancing, but in this case Paull makes it fit in. The bees ‘dance’ in order to communicate with fellow gatherers the paths that they should take to collect nectar and remain safe. Even though this is not dancing as we know it, I completely understood what Paull meant. It was so, so vivid, I could easily imagine the hive and everything within it. The structure of the Hive was quite terrifying: almost a dystopian ‘Big Brother’ society where everyone has to stick to their assigned duties, and anyone who breaks rules or has no purpose is killed.

What I loved most about the book was how alive everything felt. Plants, flowers, bees and other insects – Paull’s writing brought so much life to all of them. If you’re a little unsure of this title because of the strange topic, I would definitely say don’t hesitate and give it a try. It’ll certainly make you think about how important bees are within our ecosystem and what really goes on in the hive.

Review

Review: Divergent (Divergent #1) by Veronica Roth

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

This is actually a review of a re-read of Divergent, as I first read it in 2012. It was chosen as a Book of the Month for my Goodreads book group last year, but I didn’t have access to my copy, as I was living in the Netherlands at the time. I then decided to read and finally review it after coming back to the UK. I also wanted to re-read it because I felt it wouldn’t be quite as good the second time round – now that I’ve read so much more YA dystopian fiction, which has very much flooded the market in the past few years.

Just a note that this review will contain spoilers for the first book, Divergent. My reviews do not usually contain spoilers, but I really wanted to discuss some of my issues with this one, which cannot be done spoiler-free.

Firstly, I really need to question the whole system of Divergent. Is Chicago the only city left? What happened to the rest of the world? And why oh why did they think a faction system, especially one that relies on every person having one characteristic, help? Surely the fact that people can choose to switch factions only encourages Divergence? And I’m pretty sure everyone in the world would be Divergent. There’s no way that all of those people aren’t brave AND clever AND kind AND selfless AND honest. Does that mean anyone who is not in Candor is dishonest? Surely then their government would be a mess, as it’s run only by Abnegation? And speaking of Abnegation, whose smart idea was it to let just one faction be effectively in charge? Sure, they’re supposed to be ‘selfless’ but if there are Divergents out there then that only means there is a chance of corruption. I’m also pretty sure that being selfless does not equal being a good leader.

I had to sigh when Tris was described as ‘plain’. Of course, of course. Why are basically all YA dystopian heroines plain? And white, and blonde. And then of course the moody ‘bad’ boy with the mysterious past is interested in the ‘plain’ girl, who of course is special and talented. I am so so bored of this kind of romantic trope.

More questions. Why do only half of the Dauntless initiates get to pass? Surely, in this post-apocalyptic/whatever the hell happened world, you would want to keep population numbers fairly stable, and therefore NOT just randomly let people die? And why have the factionless never rebelled? It’s implied that there’s quite a lot of them, and with Dauntless’s elimination system, you’d assume quite a large percentage of them would be ex-Dauntless. And therefore trained to fight, how to use weapons – and probably willing to go down trying to free themselves.

I still don’t quite know how to rate Divergent. Obviously I have a lot of problems with it; so much of the story just doesn’t make any sense. But I also breezed through the book and quite enjoyed it, despite the gaping plot holes and questions. The last 80 pages or so contain so many shocks and twists, and it’s clear that Veronica Roth is not against making some serious decisions in terms of her characters. It’s better than some YA dystopian fiction that I’ve read, but worse than others – sitting somewhere firmly in the middle.