Review

Review: The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

Disclaimer: I am totally obsessed with the TV series Mr. Robot. Not only is it sleek and mysterious, with incredible characters, but there’s something about it that always leaves me totally hooked (also yeah maybe Rami Malek is kinda of cute ahem). From that I ended up playing a couple of hacking-based video games, and then I was offered this book, which felt kind of like perfect timing.

I have read and reviewed work by Benjamin Percy before (Red Moon), and I wasn’t the biggest fan of it, so I didn’t go in with super high expectations. However, to begin with I was quite surprised and was pretty intrigued and drawn into the story. Sadly this did not last very long.

When I picked up this book, I was expecting a high-paced hacker story, full of cool technology. What I actually got was more of a paranormal novel that happened to involve technology. I wasn’t really sure what to make of the supernatural element when it was introduced – basically a virus is being spread via any sort of screen that turns people hostile and incredibly violent, and pushes them to attack and kill anyone around them. There were times where I felt like the hacking and supernatural were completely unconnected plot devices. At this point, my interest in the book started to drop.

Whilst the blurb mentions four main characters, most of the book follows only two. Lela is definitely the main character of the bunch, and she was pretty unlikeable – bossy and selfish. I didn’t care what happened to her, which immediately removed any sense of peril from the book. I also had a bit of an issue with how many times the word ‘rape’ was used out of context. Not cool.

Whilst I may not have enjoyed The Dark Net as much as I’d hoped, it was definitely an easy read. Like Red Moon, Percy writes very well – it was just the story that fell apart for me, with a confused mix of technology and the supernatural.

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Review

Review: The Dead Men Stood Together by Chris Priestley

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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.

The Dead Men Stood Together was, perhaps, not quite what I was expecting. I actually ended up reading this in print, rather than the e-galley originally from Netgalley, and the cover of the finished version gave the impression of a book for much younger readers than I’d originally thought. This is supported by the size of the font (HUGE), which for some reason was all in bold, a choice I found rather odd.

Formatting aside, this was a strange book. It is based on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an odd choice considering the book’s intended audience – and especially when, on reading, I think I would have appreciated the book a lot more had I prior knowledge of the poem, which I expect most middle grade/teen readers won’t have. It is not entirely clear when the book is set, the prologue is clearly the late 19th century but the majority of the story is centuries before that – from the elements of the story I would hazard a guess at the 1700s, which is also when Ancient Mariner was published.

The Dead Men Stood Together tells of a young boy who joins his uncle on a supply ship, but their ship gets lost in a storm and ends up in frozen and foggy waters. They are soon frequently visited by an albatross, whom the crew begin to see as a beacon of hope. However, the boy’s uncle, who is possibly mad and completely untruthful, kills the albatross, and the crew turns on him. Fortunately, just before they can kill him, the ice and fog begin to clear, and they are free. It just gets weirder from there – although this is all a direct retelling of the Ancient Mariner, the poem in prose form. The only original element is the narrator, the young boy on a journey with his uncle.

This was an easy and quick read, but a very odd one. I would definitely have appreciated it a lot more if I’d previously read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and I have a feeling the book will suffer a lot for much of its target audience being unfamiliar with the poem. I have to admit, whilst I’d heard of it, I knew very little about it before now. There were no names in the book – as with the poem, I believe – but this only meant that I had no chance to ‘get to know’ the characters. And now that I know that the book is pretty much the poem exactly, with a few additions at beginning and end, it feels almost lazy.

Review

Review: Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen by Alison Weir

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

I learnt about the Tudors endlessly at school. It seemed to be our history topic every other year, but we always started with the infamous Henry VIII, and then moved on to his children. Therefore I really know very little about Henry VII, and his wife Elizabeth, in comparison – particularly Elizabeth, who barely seems to have gotten a mention in the school textbooks. It seemed like this book, by well-known historical writer Alison Weir, would be a good introduction to the ‘first Tudor queen’.

Whilst this book was immensely detailed and clearly Weir cares a lot about the subject matter and did her research very carefully, it perhaps did not feel like the right choice for someone with very little knowledge on Elizabeth to begin with. I just felt glad that I already had a lot of knowledge of later in the period, otherwise I think this book would have been very confusing. For anyone without a prior knowledge of English history, this would not be the right book at all. As you might have noticed, our monarchs have never been creative when it came to choosing names, so history books can often get confusing, what with endless Henrys, Elizabeths, Thomases etc… Obviously this is nothing to do with the author, but I feel like a family tree might have been to some advantage here, especially as the book opens a while before the birth of Elizabeth.

It is also not an easy book to dip in and out of, which I like to do with some history books – some I can read all the way through, others I’d rather just read certain bits. There are chapters only, no sub-chapters or even headings or sub-titles, which made it really quite difficult to work out where I wanted to focus on or not. And whilst some sections were really interesting – for example on Elizabeth’s childhood, her marriage with Henry VII, others were really quite dull. Weir also seems to have a habit of listing items and prices, which seemed unnecessary in some places – although the conversion to modern day currency was interesting, making the opulence of the monarchs all the more clear.

Overall, an interesting book that might be a difficult read for some, and that could definitely have benefited from sub-titles or sub-chapters, easily allowing the reader to pick out sections to read. It feels quite a heavy text without it, and whilst this may work for some, it doesn’t feel like a good place to start for those unfamiliar with this area of history.

Review

Review: Fellside by M.R. Carey

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

Well, this was incredibly disappointing.

After the absolutely astonishing book that was The Girl With All The Gifts, I expected something just as amazing from M.R. Carey the second time round. Sadly, it was not to be.

I wouldn’t call this horror, not in the same way that The Girl With All The Gifts was. It’s more paranormal, but it’s also just very odd. Jess Moulson finds herself in prison after a fire, a fire that she apparently caused whilst high. When Jess finds out what happened during the fire, she decides the best thing to do is to end her life, and goes on hunger strike. She is teetering on the very edge of life and death when she suddenly starts to hear voices and see visions, a figure from her past that might hold all the answers.

To be honest, I think my main issue with this book was Jess. She was just a bit of a limp character, and there didn’t seem to be much to her. I also found the whole explanation for Jess’s visions to be a bit of a let down. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but with the way that the book was going I had started to suspect the reason behind them (it is very difficult to write about this book with giving anything away to be honest, which is why this review is so short!), regardless it was still disappointing and almost felt as though the involvement of Jess’s case was entirely pointless. And if, like me, you’re more interested in prison dramas after Orange is the New Black – this ain’t that.

As with The Girl With All The Gifts, Carey’s writing is excellent. It was just the story that did not work for me this time – it wasn’t even creepy like the blurb claimed. I will still read his next book with the hope that it will live up to the first, but I feel sadly disappointed by Fellside.

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.

Review

Review: Midnight Never Come (Onyx Court #1) by Marie Brennan

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

Oh, what high hopes I had for Midnight Never Come. Having read Anne Lyle’s The Alchemist of Souls in October last year, I was smitten with the idea of a fantasy Elizabethan court. There’s something about that particular era that really lends itself to the idea of magic and faeries, so when I was offered a copy of this by Titan Books I snatched it up. Sadly, I found it to be lacking.

I know I enjoy Marie Brennan’s writing – A Natural History of Dragons was excellent. But with Midnight Never Come I often found myself tuning out and not concentrating on the story a little too often – I just never quite got into it. The time skips were also really disorientating, jumping here and there very suddenly, and I had no real sense of how much time had actually passed in the story. I didn’t feel attached to a single character, neither fae nor human, and none of them felt particularly developed.

I had two main issues. The first was the name of the faerie queen: Invidiana. I had to say it so many times out loud to work out how it was pronounced, and still I’m not sure – any way sounds weird. In-vid-ee-ana? In-vid-ee-ah-na? I don’t know, and every time I came to the name in the book, I had to pause. And my second issue: when it is revealed whom Lune, the main fae character, has been disguised as in the human court, it didn’t mean anything. I hadn’t had enough time with this human character to know anything about her or suspect what was going on.

Whilst I love love love the idea of a fae court underneath the human Elizabethan one, this just did not work for me as well as I expected. I’ve given it three stars – but it’s more of a ‘disappointed’ three stars than a good, solid rating.

Review

Review: Speak by Louisa Hall

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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 was initially drawn to Speak through its cover – I frequently do, in fact, judge a book by its cover. Having just re-watched the film Ex Machina for Sci-Fi Month 2015, it immediately struck me as sounding similar, plus the figure on the cover looked a little like Ava, the A.I. in the film. I’ve always been intrigued by A.I., but my recent exploration into the sub-genre of science fiction had me interested.

And so I dove into the book, expecting something dark, technologically very clever, and most of all, exciting.

I hate to say it, but I came out very, very disappointed. Speak is not a novel as much as a collection of diary entries and chat logs, all from different time periods, all linked together by artificial intelligence. However, the link felt tenuous at best, meaning that it felt more like a collection of random stories, all told in different chapters. One diary was of a 16/17th century teenage girl, making the journey from England to the New World. Another was a chatlog between a chatbot and a paralysed teenaged girl. There was also the diary of the creator of a certain artificial intelligence.

In some ways, maybe they were linked. Both in others, not at all. I didn’t find any single chapter or event to be particularly interesting or exciting, there was no real chance to get to know any character and I was, quite honestly, rather bored of it all by the end. It’s a shame, because Speak looked so full of promise, but despite the beautiful writing it ultimately felt like a lot of loose ends with no real conclusion.