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…

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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

Author Interview, Blog Tour

Blog Tour + Author Interview: HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

HEX Blog Tour

Today I am taking part in the blog tour for HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Today I’ll be sharing a Q&A with the author, who has kindly answered some questions that I posed to him. When I was offered a chance to take part in the tour by Hodder & Stoughton, there were two things that immediately drew me to the book. Firstly, the fact that it is written by a Dutch author and popular in my adopted second home country, the Netherlands. And secondly… well, just look at the blurb:

Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay until death. Whoever comes to stay, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth-century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Blind and silenced, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s beds for nights on end. So accustomed to her have the townsfolk become that they often forget she’s there. Or what a threat she poses. Because if the stitches are ever cut open, the story goes, the whole town will die.

The curse must not be allowed to spread. The elders of Black Spring have used high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break the strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into a dark nightmare.

And if somehow that’s not enough to convince you that this book is wonderfully spine-tingling, then take a look at this TERRIFYING trailer for the book:

Freaked out yet? I’m pretty sure I’ll be sleepless again after watching that – because the book certainly kept me wide awake… I’ll be sharing my full review tomorrow, but today as part of the blog tour I have a small Q&A with Thomas!

Q&A with Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Rinn: Why was the book moved from The Netherlands to the USA in the translation?

Thomas: I love the fresh perspective that comes with reading fiction from different cultures. Being Dutch, about 90% of all the books I read come from abroad, as The Netherlands is such a small country. Sometimes I even want to be taught about these cultures. The Kite Runner gave me a much more nuanced view about Afghanistan than Fox News. Murakami taught me more about Japanese customs than any sushi restaurant I’ll ever visit. But there’s also a limit to what I want to be taught. Some books I just want to read for the fun of it. The thrill. Or the scare. And I realized my novel, HEX, was such a book. My favorite comment from Dutch readers is that it makes them sleep with the lights on (Rinn: Me too…). I have literally hundreds of those. I could care less about what the story taught them about social values in communities or the depravity of mankind, as long as it gave them nightmares. Some literary critics will probably shoot me for this statement, but there’s nothing wrong with a good scare every now and then, right?

To thoroughly scare readers, you have to create a perfect sense of familiarity in a story and then rip it to pieces as soon as they’re hooked. And here’s where the Dutch setting became problematic, once the book was sold to publishers in the US and the UK. If I’d read a horror story set in, say, rural Azerbeidzjan (Azerbaijan), I’d be worrying all the time about what the place actually looks like, what’s the norm for these people, what are they scared of and oh, by the way, how do you even pronounce their names? Bang! Familiarity gone, and a missed opportunity to make me scream at night. I imagined it would be the same for British and American readers when they read about a Dutch setting. I mean, how do you actually pronounce Olde Heuvelt? (Rinn: Having lived in the Netherlands, I would’ve loved this book set there too. But I completely understand your reasoning, it would definitely make it difficult for readers who aren’t familiar with the country. Maybe I’ll get myself a copy of the Dutch version!)

That’s why I decided to change the setting. And I had tremendous fun doing it! It was an exciting creative challenge. I had a book that I loved, I had characters that I loved, and here I had the opportunity to relive it all, without having to face the horrors of a sequel.

Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Rinn: Did this have any big effect on the story?

Thomas: It’s still the same story about a modern-day town haunted by a seventeenth-century witch. One if its strengths I think is the utter Dutchness of the book. The secular nature of Dutch small-town communities and the down-to-earthness of its people, for instance (Rinn: I can definitely vouch for the down-to-earthness of the Dutch!). If a sane person sees a seventeenth-century disfigured witch appear in a corner of the living room, he runs for his life. If a Dutch person sees a seventeenth-century disfigured witch appear in a corner of the living room, he hangs a dishcloth over her face, sits on the couch and reads the paper. And maybe sacrifices a peacock.

The new version left all of that intact. It’s a remake, an enhanced version, a HEX 2.0 if you will, with all new rich and layered details, culturally specific legends and superstitions, but without ever losing touch with the Dutch elements of the original. Katherine Van Wyler, the original Dutch seventeenth-century witch, came to the new land on one of Peter Stuyvesant’s early ships. The rural town of Beek became the Dutch trapper’s colony of New Beeck, later renamed Black Spring. The Dutch characters became Americans, but with the down-to-earth quality of the Dutch. The dishcloth stayed. So did the peacock. I think it has become a better book.

Rinn: What were your inspirations behind the legend of the Black Rock Witch?

Thomas: I wanted to write a story about a witch ever since I was traumatized by Roald Dahl’s book The Witches, and the 1990 movie adaptation of it (Rinn: Ahh they were both terrifying!). The moment when Anjelica Huston, the Grand High Witch, takes off her mask… gosh, I was seven years old, and I didn’t trust any women for the next six months. Imagine what my winter was like, with women wearing gloves all the time. I saw witches everywhere. Then I watched The Blair Witch Project when I was fifteen, and of course, the scary part there was did you did not see the witch. Katherine van Wyler, the witch in HEX, has influences of both (Rinn: I did wonder if there was an element of Blair Witch – it certainly had the same effect on me.). Of course she has this horrible, disfigured face because her mouth and eyes are sewn shut… but for exactly the same reason, you never really get to see her. If you can’t see someone’s eyes, you’ll never know what they think. That makes her so scary.

Me whilst reading HEX.

Me whilst reading HEX.

Rinn: What gave you the idea of mixing technology in with the supernatural?

Thomas: It kind of follows naturally, if you have a town that needs to hide a dirty secret like this. I love the practicality of it. The witch keeps popping up randomly in public spaces, and there’s always a chance of outsiders spotting her, so the HEX service workers have all these props and scenarios ready. Like the elderly choir that surrounds her and walks along wherever she goes, practicing hymns. Or the construction shed if she stands at the side of public roads. And you gotta be on top of her to make it work. You gotta be fast. So everybody in town has a special Hexapp on their iPhone, which has GPS, and they’re obligated to report immediately when they spot her. I’d personally love to have an app to report ghost sightings.

Rinn: Was it difficult to write a book with such a large cast, and still bring each resident of Black Spring to life?

Thomas: I deliberately avoided to use a large cast in order to make the town come alive. Stephen King is a master in doing so – some of his novels have more than twenty point-of-view characters. But the downside of that is that often, the more POV characters you have, the less attached you feel to them as a reader. I think King’s novels that tell the story from only one or a few point-of-views, are his strongest, and much more emotionally gripping. So in HEX, I tried to paint the town from the perspectives of only four characters, two of them from the same family. This gives the reader a lot more space to start caring about these people, which is one of the most important things if you let bad things happen to them. (Rinn: To me the cast felt quite large, even with just a few POV characters – quite a few named residents and very minor characters, but maybe it’s just my perspective!)

Thank you so much to Thomas for taking the time to answer some questions, and to Hodder for organising the blog tour. Look out for my review of HEX on the blog tomorrow, and let me know if you dare read this bone-chiller of a novel! 😉

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

#ReadGoldenSon: Review of Golden Son (Red Rising #2) 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.

When I mark a book as ‘read’ on Goodreads and I’m planning on eventually posting a review, I often like to leave a reaction GIF as a placeholder. This was said GIF for Golden Son:

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Thank you, Emma Stone, for so accurately portraying my feelings at the end of this book. That GIF will remain alongside my review, because as they say, a picture (or GIF, in this case) paints a thousand words.

Golden Son was pretty much everything I wanted and expected from Pierce Brown, after the absolute wonder that was Red Rising. However, it was so, so much more brutal than the first book, but that’s what it needed. As the stakes rose, as Darrow’s task grew more and more dangerous and he grew more determined, there needed to be an element to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Brown pulls it off for sure, with this violent and shocking addition to the series that kept me reading and gasping at each twist and turn.

Occasionally, I felt a little bit lost by the (seemingly) endless names, so thank goodness for the character list at the beginning of the book! Whilst I would have enjoyed a bit more about Darrow’s time at the Academy – the book skips a year or so, to move things forward, and I would have liked that element of development, there is really not much else I can fault about Golden Son. The events suddenly felt so much more ‘real’; Darrow was no longer in the confines of his education and training, but out in the ‘real world’. This time, it felt personal.

With a lot more politics this time round, Golden Son had less of the action than Red Rising, but it certainly wasn’t lacking in it. There were so many reveals and surprises, so much going on. And that cliffhanger. Oh… help. I mean, I’m frustrated about having to wait the couple of months between reading Golden Son and the release of the next book, Morning Star, so I feel very sorry for the people who read Golden Son as soon as it came out, and have had that horrendous wait in between (not long to go now!).

Whatever happens in Morning Star, I feel it is going to be even more brutal, even more heartbreaking, and even more astounding than the events of Golden Son. And that is definitely something I do not want to miss.

 

This review is part of the #ReadGoldenSon readalong hosted by Hodder, in preparation for the release of Morning Star.

Golden Son

Review

Review: Way Down Dark (The Australia Trilogy #1) by James Smythe

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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. 

In a sea of Young Adult dystopian novels, Way Down Dark felt like a breath of fresh air. Ironically, considering it is set entirely on a claustrophobic spaceship. I really don’t like it when books are branded as ‘The next Hunger Games’ or whatever the current trend is, as this has been called, and it really isn’t that similar.

Australia, the ship where Chan lives, has several different factions: the Lows, the Bells and the Pale Women. Not everyone is in a faction, the former two being particularly violent and the latter a religious sect. But as the story begins, the Lows are becoming more violent and slowly taking over more and more of the ship. And then Chan begins to fight back against them.

I actually liked the violence of this book. There are a lot of YA dystopian novels out there that talk about how violent society is, but it is never shown. In Way Down Dark, life is tough. The Lows are brutal and what they do is horrific, but through this Smythe demonstrates just how much of a dystopia Chan is living in. It was also good to finally have a YA protagonist who doesn’t feel guilt for killing and doing what she has to survive – Chan is tough, she is a product of the Australia, and what she does is, for the inhabitants of the ship, just a fact of life. Smythe does not skim over that, and the book is all the more shocking and effective for it. Additionally, Chan’s appearance was not mentioned once, apart from when she says she shaved her hair to avoid lice, as most people on the ship do. A YA protagonist who does not talk about her looks, how ‘plain’ she is? What a relief!

I had several questions about the world-building. Why is everyone on this ship? We don’t get much more detail than ‘the Earth was dying’, but I want to know more. What was actually happening? Global warming, nuclear war? Is everyone on the ship all that is left of humanity? Why are there no authority figures or any form of government? And most importantly, why was Chan’s mother so well-known amongst the ship’s inhabitants?

However, I really really enjoyed this book. It’s short, at only 288 pages, and there’s a lot crammed in. I’m just hoping that my questions will be answered in book two (although some were sort of answered towards the end, which then opened up more questions that I can’t discuss without spoilers!), which I will definitely be reading. How can I not, after that cliffhanger of an ending?