Review

Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

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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 was immediately drawn to this book on Netgalley due to its title. As a Museum Studies graduate, and a museum worker, it intrigued me. However, it was a while before I finally got round to reading it, at a time when I needed to escape from the science fiction and fantasy genres (that doesn’t happen often!) and branch out a bit.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is definitely a unique novel. Set in a period of history I don’t often read about, yet in a city I have read plenty about, it felt refreshing and different. The unusual topic – the ‘museums’, or rather halls of curiosities, that were popular at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, only added to this. Within the first 5% of the book, I was struck by the beauty of Alice Hoffman’s writing. I’ve not read any of her work before this, but after reading The Museum of Extraordinary Things I would definitely give some of her other books a try.

Yet whilst I enjoyed the writing style, the pacing was far too slow for me. It felt as though not much really happened during the course of the book, and at some points it dragged a little. Despite being labelled or portrayed as a romance, or at least as having romantic elements, I wasn’t really feeling it. The relationship was too sudden and made little sense – and additionally, I didn’t feel an attachment to any character.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is unique and beautifully written, but was ultimately too slow for my liking, as well as lacking any real feeling.

Review

Review: The Witch Hunter (The Witch Hunter #1) by Virginia Boecker

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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 was really excited to read The Witch Hunter, the first book in a new series by Virginia Boecker. I just can’t resist tales of witches, wizards and magic, and alternate history really appeals to me. And whilst The Witch Hunter was a fun, fantasy romp, it was rather predictable and unfortunately included a rather insufferable main character.

The reader is told that Elizabeth is an amazing witch hunter, one of the youngest ever and a female witch hunter to boot. Yet throughout the book she never really proves herself. The story opens with Elizabeth messing up a hunt, when she is sent to capture necromancers. We are then told of how she recently made a lot of mistakes. The reason for this is soon revealed, but at no point did I feel she deserved her status as a talented witch hunter.

I also really was not impressed with how she practically took a disliking to every female character she came into contact with. She even imagined pulling the ex-girlfriend of her crush by the hair – I mean, really?! How old are you? So as well as being naive and clumsy, Elizabeth is also judgmental and a lot of the time I just wanted to push her off her high horse.

Also – love triangle. Well, sort of. Elizabeth pines after two guys – her childhood best friend who is quite frankly an utter arse, and a healer that she meets after being accused of being a witch. There was a lot of wondering about her feelings and trying to ignore them, and honestly I couldn’t care less about the love interests. I was much more interested in the magic, and why it was forbidden – which was never actually explained, now I come to think of it.

The first 15% or so of the book went by very quickly – but that was also where the majority of the story happened. It slowed down significantly after that, although it was still enjoyable and easy to read, if predictable in places. I really liked the pseudo-medieval alternate England setting – at least that’s what I assume it was, being set in ‘Anglia’ with ‘Gaul’ across the Channel. Or rather, I liked the idea of it, as the world-building did not feel very detailed. This is a ‘I had higher expectations’ three stars, but chances are I will end up reading the sequel – not for Elizabeth, but for the magic and alternate England.

Review

Review: The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold (The Demon Cycle #1.5) by Peter V. Brett

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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 first discovered Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle series three years ago, when I picked up The Painted Man from my local library. I absolutely fell in love with the series, and have now read and reviewed all three books in the series so far. The first book is definitely my favourite of the three, so I thought it would be interesting to go back to Arlen’s roots with these short stories.

However, fans of Abban and Leesha will also be pleased, as they each have their own short stories in this volume. My favourite was the first, the story of Arlen and the thundersticks, his first encounter with snow demons and another battle with One-Arm, the rock demon hellbent on killing him.

I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of short stories that I find them difficult to review, because often I’m left a little disappointed and wanting more. This volume does not suffer from this, being an accompaniment to a longer series, but it didn’t really add anything necessary. However, it was interesting nonetheless, and something to quench the thirst until I can get my hands on the recently released fourth book. A recommendation for anyone who enjoys Brett’s writing, and especially those who can’t wait for book five!

Review

Review: Doctor Who – Engines of War by George Mann

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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 may not have been a Doctor Who fan as long as some, entering the fandom sometime in 2010, but I feel I’ve attempted to make up for lost time in many ways – one of them being to read as many Doctor Who books as I can get my hand on. So far, none of them have quite hit the heights of the television show, none of them have shown the Doctor in quite the right way.

But that’s the good thing about this book – it features a Doctor we barely know, the ‘War Doctor’ who was first introduced in the show’s 50th anniversary special. This Doctor is nothing like the others, and this is the point in his life where he earned the nickname ‘Predator’ from the Daleks. This means that George Mann had an opportunity to create his ‘own’ Doctor, in a way, or at least not have to rely on the mannerisms and characteristics of the Doctors we know from the screen. The War Doctor is how he sounds – more ruthless, perhaps a little cold, but every bit as determined to save people.

And because this is the War Doctor, Gallifrey still exists, as do the Time Lords. It was wonderful being able to glimpse their society, and also shocking to see that the majority are not as compassionate towards the human race as the Doctor. This definitely felt like a more adult book, compared to other Doctor Who novels I have read, but then again Doctor Who has always had a reputation for being unexpectedly scary in places!

This was a fun adventure that allowed me a glimpse into the Doctor’s past, and fleshed out a version of the beloved Time Lord that we have only briefly seen. If you’re looking for something to tide you over until the next series, this could be it.

Review

Review: Those Above (The Empty Throne #1) by Daniel Polansky

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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.

You know the feeling of excitement when you get a brand, shiny new book – the cover is gorgeous, the plot sounds perfect, and you can’t WAIT to read it. Then you have to wait a little while to fit it into your reading schedule, but you know it will be worth the wait. And then you finally, finally get to read it.

And it breaks your heart just a little bit, because it is utterly disappointing.

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That is what Those Above was to me. I fell in love with the cover (hello Roman inspired fantasy!) and the premise. I eyed that book up a lot, sat on my shelf, waiting patiently to be read whilst I battled with university work. And then I could finally read it, so settled down for a few hours of cosy reading – and found I couldn’t even concentrate on it for one.

Why, Those Above, why?? In the simplest terms, you just weren’t as exciting as I’d expected. By two thirds into the book, I was still waiting for something to actually happen. Yes, it’s the first in a series so there’s lots of world-building to do and lore to set out, but it’s got to draw me in if it wants me to carry on reading the series. I felt no attachment to any character, and not just because of the fact that they were pretty despicable in their own ways (here’s looking at you, cast of A Song of Ice and Fire), but because they felt rather flat. I honestly did not care what would happen to any of them.

I appreciated the Roman and Greek influences and it didn’t even bother me that they were mixed. But the world in which Those Above is set did not feel particularly original. So, you’ve got your warring nations, your shanty-towns, your aristocrats and nobility, even if that nobility is a strange alien (I think?) race. The issue with ‘Those Above’ as rulers is that they weren’t scary. There was maybe one or two scenes that demonstrated their strength, but I never completely got a clear impression of why the people of this world let themselves be enslaved, or how it happened.

In addition, I suppose this book came at a bad time. I’m getting quite bored of fantasy books where the women are second class. Is this historically accurate? No, it’s fantasy. So why are the women always down-trodden and less important in society than the men? Also due to the story pretty much taking place in one city, or certain parts of one city, I got no impression of the rest of the world and as a result it felt very small. I had no idea what sort of influence ‘Those Above’ had on people outside of this city, because I never saw them.

So regrettably, I only want to award this book three stars – a ‘you disappointed me and it makes me sad’ sort of three stars. I have another book of Daniel Polansky’s, and this won’t put me off reading that – but I’m not sure I will continue with this particular series.

Review

Review: The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs

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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 would definitely consider myself a fangirl. There are so many fandoms I’m a part of, whether they are books, films, television shows or video games. Therefore, a book that discussed all the wonderful parts of being a fangirl seemed pretty damn perfect to me. And according to The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, I am a Potterhead, a Whovian, a Tolkienite, a Bookwalker, a True Believer, a YA Book Nerd, a Whedonite and Girl Who Games – and I am PROUD to be all of those.

As a girl who plays a lot of online games, I have sadly encountered a lot of casual (and sometimes not so casual) sexism. And also a lot of disbelief – I distinctly remember playing one particular online game, and just sitting around chatting to my guild. I always tend to play female characters (normally with red hair!), but I have plenty of male friends who do the same and guys playing as female characters is pretty prevalent in the MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) world. So I was innocently sat around and this guy just came up to me and said ‘So you’re one of those types then’. I asked him what he meant, and he responded with something along the lines of ‘Why the hell would a guy want to play as a female character, it’s so weird’. He had just assumed I was a guy playing as a female character, and by that reasoning ALL girls in the game were actually guys, because A GIRL PLAYING AN ONLINE GAME, THAT CAN’T HAPPEN. I then told him I was actually female and why did it even matter (because it’s a GAME, you can be whoever you want), and he proceeded to try and flirt with me. Nope. No. Not happening. And this is why I was happy to see a chapter on online gaming and how sometimes gender can unnecessarily and sadly have a negative impact on your experience.

There were plenty of other great themes: explaining the whole ‘otaku’ image and why you should avoid certain convention habits like glomping (ugh), a chapter on feminism and awesome women from various fandoms as well as some wonderful references that appealed to my nerdy self. BUT, and this was really quite a major issue, I honestly felt as if the author was just trying too hard to appeal to her audience. Overuse of slang made me cringe regularly and, despite the intended audience probably being girls in their mid-teens to early twenties, a lot of the book felt incredibly childish.

In addition, about three quarters of the book was really basic, self explanatory stuff. You’re going to pick this book up if you’re a fangirl of some kind, therefore you’ve probably already done most of the stuff the author gives advice on: attending conventions, using social media (yeah… really) and other things, most of which were really very dull to read about.

Overall, the book was fun in parts, but really really made me feel embarrassed for fangirls worldwide in others. The last quarter of the book was definitely the strongest – it would kind of be wrong to write a book like this without a chapter on feminism. This was something I greatly approved of, something I honestly feel we need a little more of in our science fiction and fantasy. Also, I’d like to thank the book for providing me with the knowledge that a letter from Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, to her mother, written in 1782, is probably the first recorded use of ‘feels’. Just imagining a duchess flailing around, whining about ‘her feels’ provides me with a great mental image!

Review

Review: Drawn by Cecilia Gray

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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.

It took me a while longer to get to this book than I intended, especially as it is relatively short, and by that point I’d pretty much completely forgotten what it was about! Therefore I decided to dive into it with little knowledge, and was pleasantly surprised.

The basic premise is that Sasha, our protagonist, was abandoned as a baby and grew up in various foster homes. Due to a strange power of hers that makes people who hear her voice speak whatever is on their mind at that moment, she didn’t last long with many families, who were afraid of what she could do. Sasha ends up working for the CIA, as an agent in training, who want to use her strange gift to their advantage. After living happily with one agent for several years, she is suddenly placed on a case in Belgium and has to relocate, leaving behind everything familiar.

Drawn was a sweet story, if not hugely well-developed. It had a really interesting premise – a girl able to make people speak their minds, recruited by the CIA – and I would love to see it as a full novel rather than the 150 odd pages it currently is. This would also have allowed more time to develop the characters from the cookie cutter characters they are, particularly Vivianne as the teenage rebel. Sasha as a protagonist was interesting, with her artistic talents as well as the more unusual, and I really like one particular personal element that was added at the beginning of every chapter: comic strips of Sasha’s life, drawn by Sasha herself. She felt more real, more 3D, although unfortunately she was one of very few developed characters. The reason for Sasha having to go to Belgium seemed a bit far-fetched: the CIA getting involved in graffiti terrorist? Really? But I suppose it had to also be something suitable for younger audiences. The ending was lacking, but again I think the book would really have benefitted from being longer.

This was very much a story about building friendships and trust, about first love and working out who you really are and where you belong. Those were the elements I enjoyed, more so than the mystery of the identity of Kid Aert. A sweet, short story that I would love to see developed into a full novel.

Review

Review: The Mime Order (The Bone Season #2) by Samantha Shannon

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I won a gorgeous hardback copy of this book from Debby – thank you so much!

Having read The Bone Season at the beginning of 2014, and found it not quite as amazing as many of my fellow Goodreaders and bloggers, I was still impressed by the whole concept and story and gave it a solid four star rating. Yet when it came to reading this, I found I had forgotten the majority of the events of the first book – but luckily the Recaptains were there to help me out, and my memory was jogged as I read on. I remembered that the premise was intriguing, even if some of the characters were a bit lacking, and I loved the idea of this monstrous camp juxtaposed against the ruins of beautiful Oxford.

That, however, is where I believe The Mime Order fell short for me. Without that setting, without the whole camp, the feeling of Paige being in constant peril, without the Rephaim always around, it just wasn’t the same. London just wasn’t as exciting or interesting as Oxford, and the entire book felt so slow. There were whole sections where nothing really happened, and I was waiting for some action. In addition, it really didn’t feel like Paige had prepared for the Scrimmage enough, and why was she not more scared about what could happen? Because of her lack of fear, there was no tension or sense of peril over what would happen and it somehow felt like a big anti-climax without all the build up.

I also much preferred the wider cast of characters from the first book. I don’t feel that Paige is particularly exciting or inspiring as a main character, in fact Jaxon feels more well-built than her, with some real personality. And for some reason I’ve always had real trouble picturing how the Rephaim appear!

But yes, overall I DID like this book. It’s a ‘didn’t quite meet my expectations but I still liked it’ kind of three-star book. I’m just really hoping that the rest of the series, especially considering that Shannon has signed on for a seven book deal, are as good as the first, rather than this one – which to me, definitely suffers from ‘second book syndrome’.

Review

Review: Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez

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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.

A road trip comedy, based on the works of Homer, featuring gods, monsters and creatures of Greek myth and legend, based in modern day America? I definitely had to request this one!

Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest had all the humour I expected. The mythology-based puns, the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) references to previous Greek heroes, legendary ferocious beasts being not quite as tough as expected. It is a silly and fun comedy about a teenage girl, who just happens to also be a minotaur, and a teenage boy who are thrown together by a Lost God to go on a quest and retrieve some artefacts for him. In true heroic quest style, they are given little indication of what to do, where to go and how to get there.

Yet for all its humour, it does actually go a little deeper. Helen’s constant worries about her appearance and how others perceive her, due to her minotaurism, will be relatable to many a reader – although perhaps for reasons other than being a minotaur… She worries about what would happen if her and Troy ended up together, more about how people would see him than her. Both Helen and Troy are genuinely good people, but I didn’t feel I got to know much about them, past the scope of their interest in each other.

However, this was a good and light-hearted read, that I really appreciated due to all the mythology references. Considering my thesis involves classical religion and mythology, it was really nice to read something about it that wasn’t all stuffy and academic! Fans of Greek mythology will especially enjoy this, but I’m pretty sure it will appeal to anyone looking for a road trip story that’s just a bit different.

Review

Review: The Chronicles of Narmo by Caitlin Moran

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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.

Having first read Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman a few years ago, I was definitely intrigued to read something that she had written at the age of only sixteen. Her previous writing showed that she is one incredibly funny woman, and as The Chronicles of Narmo shows, she was also an incredibly funny teenager.

A semi-autobiographical look at the life of the ‘Narmo’ family, there isn’t much of a plot to the story – just that Morag’s mother decides to take her and her siblings out of school and educate them at home, which leads to much tomfoolery and many shenanigans. There is no clear plotline and it is more like a series of events patched together, but that didn’t really matter when I considered the writing. I just cannot believe that Caitlin was only fifteen/sixteen when she wrote this – the descriptions are vivid, wonderful, odd and just so unique. Take this one for example:

“Bill smiled a smile last seen on a piranha with toothache that has just eaten the last dentist in the Amazon.” The Chronicles of Narmo, 32%

I just can’t imagine writing like Caitlin did at the age of sixteen as I am now, in my twenties. She has clearly always had a great talent. This is the kind of book that you can’t really compare to many others due to the author’s age at the time, and it is really very astounding all things considered – I mean just look at the quote from Terry Pratchett on the front cover! Her view on the world and her environment are, for a teenager, actually incredibly mature, and she is not afraid to really make fun of herself.

If you’re a fan of Caitlin Moran, definitely give this one a try for more of her wonderful wit and humour.