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.

Review

Review: Winter Be My Shield (Children of the Black Sun #1) by Jo Spurrier

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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 have read a lot of fantasy novels in my life; it has pretty much always been one of my favourite genres since as far back as I can remember. Therefore, if I can find a fantasy novel that feels like a breath of fresh air, is unique and original, then I’m happy. Unfortunately, whilst Winter Be My Shield did not quite hit that high note, it was still a good, solid read.

The story follows a girl named Sierra, who until recently was held prisoner and forced to work for a sorcerer named Kell. The reason she was so useful to Kell is because she can use the pain and suffering of others to draw power. The book never really explained how this works; I can only assume that Sierra becomes a conduit of power around those who are suffering or in pain, and others can draw upon that power, as well as drawing upon it herself. Sierra is a bit of a mystery, and for much of the book the reader knows about as much as the characters know about her, which is little. This was both effective in that it kept me reading, wanting to know more, and slightly frustrating in that she was then harder to empathise with.

A quotation on the cover claims that this book will contain ‘villains you will cheer on’, and I can see where the reviewer is coming from. Although Rasten was, quite frankly, disturbing in his thoughts towards and about Sierra, it was also obvious that his mind was twisted by Kell. Occasionally, it was clear that he wanted to be free of his master, and I did want him to succeed in that pursuit, if not others.

By 130 pages in, I had not noted anything that made this fantasy world particularly unique. By 250 pages, I was still waiting for something big to happen. There was a potential romance/relationship which seemed pretty cliche, but then managed to change things round a bit and avoid it. However, it felt like both characters were constantly thinking ‘it couldn’t be love…’, which seemed like foreshadowing. I also had an issue with one of the main male characters, Isidro. We were told that he was, before being captured and tortured, a strong and fierce warrior. However, since he was never shown that way in the book, I had real trouble imagining him as anything but the weak and broken young man he had become. There were also far too many chapters ending ‘And everything went black…’. One of my biggest problems with the book was more edition specific: the font was far too small! Teeny weeny letters…

All in all, I did enjoy Winter Be My Shield. It didn’t feel like a particularly special fantasy novel, not in the way that other series have, but it’s a good, solid fantasy read and I’m interested to see where the second book goes.

Top Lists

My Top Ten Summer Reads

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Now that I’m back in the UK, I have access to ALL MY BOOKS! This is so exciting – although my Kindle was a bit of a godsend in that it allowed me to read a wide variety whilst in the Netherlands, I also really missed having an actual book in my hands most of the time. I was also aware of the many unread books I had back at home, not to mention review copies I’d received whilst away. Therefore I was eager to get back to my collection! 😉 So here are the top ten books from my shelf that I can’t wait to read this summer.

Summer Reads

  • Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days #1) by Susan Ee – I’ve heard a lot about this series since it was published, especially the first book. I was never particularly bothered about reading it, but then I got a free copy in my Glamour Book Club goodie bag. After checking out some reviews, it seems that plenty of my friends were surprised by it – it’s not quite as it seems.
  • The Bees by Laline Paull – I was kindly sent this by HarperCollins, and it sounds so unique. Told from the point of view of a bee? How could I not be intrigued by that?
  • Beneath London by James P. Blaylock – steampunk is something I’ve gotten into more recently, and definitely something I want to read more of. So when I was offered this one by Titan Books, I had to snatch up the opportunity to read it.
  • The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy – I won this from Goodreads, and I really want to give Benjamin Percy’s writing another shot. I read |Red Moon last year and felt there was something missing, so I hope I enjoy this one more.
  • The Twelve (The Passage #2) by Justin Cronin – it took me ages to find a second hand copy of this, and it was just before I left for Leiden last summer. So now I can finally read this sequel!

Summer Reads

  • Lord Foul’s Bane (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever #1) by Stephen R. Donaldson – I picked this up for free at London Film and Comic Con last summer, and then managed to find the other two books in my local charity shop just after. It comes highly recommended, and also fits in nicely with this month’s DC vs. Marvel villain challenge!
  • Before They Are Hanged (The First Law #2) by Joe Abercrombie – I read the first book in this series over Christmas, and really loved it, so it’s definitely time to read more.
  • Edge of Tomorrow by Hiroshi Sakurazaka – I’ve wanted to watch the film Edge of Tomorrow ever since it came out, but haven’t yet gotten round to it – now I’m going to try and read the book first. The original title was actually All You Need Is Kill, but versions published with the film cover have the new title. I bought this from Amazon, as part of a 3 paperbacks for £10 deal.
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – this was Book of the Month for my Goodreads book group earlier this year, and I managed to get it as part of the deal with Edge of Tomorrow. I’m not entirely sure what it’s about, but my book group seemed to enjoy it so here’s hoping I do too!
  • The Hunter’s Kind (The Hollow Gods #2) by Rebecca Levene – I was super excited to receive the first book in this series last year, and couldn’t wait for the sequel, which has just been published. Thank you, Hodder!

What are you planning on reading this summer?

Review

Review: See How Small by Scott Blackwood

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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.

See How Small was one of my top anticipated releases for this year, and oh how disappointed I was.

Whilst Scott Blackwood surely has a talent for beautiful prose, and there were some sentences that were just absolutely gorgeous, the story felt so disjointed. It seemed to skip around from character to character and event to event, with no real link to what happened next. Because of the constant flitting between characters, I never got a chance to get to know any of them, and as a result felt very removed from the story. What did it matter to me if X was having an affair with Y? As well as this, I often completely lost track of who I was following because one minute it was one character, the next a totally different one.

Ultimately, whilst the story started off well, it just did not work for me. The book felt so uneventful and I was actually bored in parts – I’m just glad it was a quick read, because I was very much tempted to give up on it. I was also disappointed at how little the girls were involved considering the blurb – they may have been the ones narrating, but you wouldn’t have known if not for a short section at the beginning.

However, whilst this book did not work for me, it appears to have been a hit with many other people, with many four and five star ratings on Goodreads. I just wish I could agree with them!

Review

Review: The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #1) by Erika Johansen

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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.

The Queen of the Tearling is a bit of an odd one, there’s no other way to put it.

I opened the book, expecting this huge fantasy epic set in an original world and – well, I’m not sure what the world is. There are frequent mentions of the ‘Crossing’, some big event that is never properly explained – why did it happen? Are the inhabitants of Earth still on Earth, or is it a new planet altogether? If they are on Earth, where are they and what happened to the UK and the United States (as they seem to be the only countries that are mentioned pre-Crossing)?

Actually, I had quite a few issues with this book. The strange-possibly-future-Earth was one of them, as was the sudden mention of things like The Lord of the Rings or people like J.K. Rowling. I hated that Kelsea was described as ‘plain’, like so many other female teenage protagonists. I also didn’t understand how she was so confident around other people, and giving orders and commands when she’d literally spent her entire life holed up in a cottage, and had only ever really known two people.

So my four-star rating might seem a bit odd at this point. But despite all my grumbles and issues (many of which I hope will be cleared up in the next book, but at least some explanation in book one would have been nice), I really did enjoy it. I’m not reading a lot right now, but every free moment I had during the six days or so it took to read was dedicated to this book – it was just addictive. Kelsea might not have been my favourite protagonist, but I wanted to know more about the Tearling and what consequences her actions would have on the people. I wanted to learn more about the dynamics of the Guard, and the history of its members.

The chapters with the Red Queen were also great, setting up a terrifying antagonist that I’m sure Kelsea will have to face soon. She is vicious, brutal and most of all selfish – pretty much a total opposite to Kelsea, who only wants to do right by her people. A queen who has a slave’s vocal cords severed for snoring is not one to be messed with.

Overall, this book was a great read, despite some of my issues! The mentions of the pre-Crossing countries like Britain and America just sort of popped out of nowhere and threw me a bit, and there were other areas that could do with more explanation, but it’s definitely a page-turner.

Review

Review: The Hobbit (Illustrated Edition) by J.R.R. Tolkien & Jemima Catlin

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5 out of out 5 stars | Goodreads

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

When I saw the email from the Tolkien Shop offering me a copy of this book, I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been a fan of Tolkien’s work from a young age, and have been enviously eyeing up the various special editions of his works as they are released – and I certainly didn’t miss hearing about this one.

I’m not going to review the story of this book, because it’s hard to fairly review something you first read at the age of nine and have been in love with ever since. Instead, I want to talk about the illustrations in this book, how they fit into the story and the general quality of this edition.

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To start off, it looks absolutely stunning from the cover alone. A special cloth-bound edition, with gilded lettering and a gorgeous yet simple illustration, the colour scheme instantly appears very ‘hobbit-like’. And then you finally open the book itself, and it is an absolute delight. Many artists have illustrated works of Tolkien, both officially and unofficially, and Jemima Catlin really does his work justice. Her style is a little quirky, like Tolkien’s own writing, not too cartoon-like and not too realistic – making this edition perfect for both older and younger audiences. The larger text size also makes it a perfect edition for reading along with children, or perhaps for slightly older children to have a go at reading themselves.

The illustrations are also perfectly spread out, every couple of pages or so, plus full page inserts for big events like Bilbo and the dwarves stuck up in the trees, or Smaug attacking Laketown. The colour schemes are wonderful, with greys, greens and browns for the Company, and blues and purples appearing as we meet the elves. And then of course, as we meet Smaug, the palette explodes into a gorgeous array of reds, yellows and oranges.
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Overall, this book is an absolutely stunning read – not just for the story (which I would give five stars anyway!) but Jemima Catlin’s illustrations which completely and utterly do the words of Tolkien justice, and deserve five stars in themselves. Plus, at this period in time where film-based Hobbit books are coming out left, right and centre, it’s refreshing to see an edition like this. I know that I will treasure this book for years to come, and would definitely recommend it to any Tolkien fan, young or old – and it will make a perfect gift for those hobbit lovers in your life.

 I could not be happier to have been kindly sent this book by the Tolkien Shop and HarperCollins – thank you once again to them for this wonderful chance!

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The photographs of the illustrations within the book are my own, but the illustrations themselves are copyright Jemima Catlin and HarperCollins. I had permission to use images from the book.