Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2014: Review of TimeBomb (TimeBomb Trilogy #1) by Scott K. Andrews

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2014, an event hosted by myself and Oh, the Books!. You can keep up to date by following @SciFiMonth on Twitter, or the official hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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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.

TimeBomb was certainly a fun read. Throwing the reader into this crazy revelation of time travel along with the characters meant it got straight into the action, no holds barred. And despite its super speedy pace, I was given a strong impression of each of the three protagonists almost right away.

Dora is naive and sweet, but stubborn. As a girl from the sixteenth century who is suddenly thrown into the twenty-first, she obviously has a lot of questions, but she learns fast. She’s sharp and witty, and was definitely my favourite of the three. Kaz is kind-hearted despite his difficult past, and although he lacks confidence he seems to grow throughout the book. Finally, Jana, the girl from the future, oozes confidence but was quite frankly a little annoying and blunt.

For a fairly short book, the story seems to cram in several genres: science fiction, historical fiction, adventure and thriller. It was pretty exciting how the three protagonists occasionally encountered their future selves in a variety of situations, allowing the reader to take a guess at what might come next. I also really appreciated one of the characters pointing out that they shouldn’t leave future objects in the past, to avoid confusing archaeologists!

However, the concept behind the time travel seemed like a really lazy explanation, and the way the three actually travelled through time just struck me as… odd. At times, the fact that they could time travel was a very overused deus ex machina. And despite the fact that you’d imagine a world in which you can time travel would feel huge, it actually felt strangely small.

Whilst I enjoyed the book, the conclusion was frustrating and I didn’t much care for the time travel explanation. Regardless, I think I would pick up the second book in the series when it comes out, just to see how Dora copes, although it won’t be my highest priority!

Review

Review: Doctor Sleep (The Shining #2) by Stephen King

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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.

Ever since I heard that Stephen King was writing a sequel to The Shining, I knew I would have to get my hands on a copy somehow. And then, lo and behold, the wonderful Hodder sent me a copy to review! I apologise for how long it took for me to finally get around to reading and reviewing it, but it was most definitely worth the wait.

If you’re not familiar with The Shining, I would definitely advise reading it before moving on to Doctor Sleep. Whilst it’s not necessary to have read it and I think you would have no issues following the story, it adds so much more depth. Echoes of moments in The Shining, similar scenes and lines come back to haunt the reader. Despite there being over thirty years between the events of the first book, and the final events of Doctor Sleep, the two books felt so interconnected in many ways.

This is definitely one of those books that’s difficult to review, in that you don’t want to stop and make notes – you want to just keep on reading. One of my best friends mentioned that it was one of those books she just couldn’t stop reading and there wasn’t a dull moment – when someone says something like that you know you have to check for yourself, and she was definitely right. Although I didn’t find it as creepy as The Shining (it was the topiary that got me last time), there was a constant eerie undertone and real sense of danger, to both Abra and Dan.

Speaking of Abra, she could have been a precocious and annoying little kid, with these strange talents to show off, but instead she was witty and mature, if a little naive at times. But that was good, it kept her grounded and reminded the reader that she was just a child. And as for Dan, I felt the book was a really interesting exploration into a character who was created over thirty years ago and not necessarily intended to have a sequel.

Considering that I haven’t been making much time for reading lately, this was definitely the right book to get me back into the swing of things. With a highly original concept, creepy undertones and some great characters, it definitely deserves five stars in my book – but could we expect anything less from Mr. Stephen King?

Review

Review: Red Moon 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.

From the blurb alone, you wouldn’t necessarily know this was a book featuring werewolves. You may be able to guess from the title, but it’s not immediately obvious. And the reason that I say a book featuring werewolves, rather than a werewolf book, is because there is so much more to the story than the fact that werewolves exist in this world. It’s less about the paranormal elements, and more of a commentary on the state of the world, how judgmental people can be when they find out someone is a little ‘different’, even if they treated that person with kindness and respect before.

To begin with, the reader is made aware that lycans are common knowledge. Everyone knows they exist, and in a Big Brother style move, the government decrees that they must all be listed on a register, for anyone to look up. Registered lycans must also undergo regular blood tests to make sure they are taking ‘Volpexx’, the drug that controls the change. So whilst at first it may seem that it’s not all that bad – many people are tolerant if not accepting – it soon becomes clear that lycans are second-rate citizens, not considered human despite the fact that they could be your friends, parents, siblings, grand-parents, anyone you know.

Only a few pages in, I had already come to the conclusion that I really loved Benjamin Percy’s writing style. It flows so smoothly and is wonderfully descriptive – but unfortunately, the story really slowed down about halfway through and almost seemed to drag in places. This is where the descriptive writing became more of a hindrance; I just wanted things to progress. However, in some places the slow pace worked really well where it was interspersed with sudden shocking moments and jumps, but I was never really scared. From a lot of the quotes on the inside cover, I expected the book to be pretty terrifying and was fully prepared to have to sleep with the lights on. However, but for a few eerie moments, it just didn’t do it for me in terms of a good scare.

There are three main characters within the story, although the book does skip around and follow a couple more, and I think it was the sudden changes as well as the fact that even the main characters didn’t feel massively fleshed out that meant I didn’t particularly care for them. Claire probably had the most interesting story, although I don’t think she developed much as a character.

Despite the fact that the conclusion was rather unsatisfying, I did enjoy this book – just not as much as I expected. Whilst it’s beautifully written and clever, it was just far too slow for my liking. And not at all scary – surprising, considering that Stephen King found it terrifying!

Review

Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

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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.

Thanks to the likes of John Green, Matthew Quick and Rainbow Rowell, I’m finding myself more and more interested in Young Adult contemporary novels. I thought I’d give this one a shot, particularly with university fast approaching – although I won’t be sharing a room, thank goodness. I’m also a particular fan of stories set during university or college, as it’s a period of my life that I really loved (and hopefully I’ll love my upcoming experience just as much!), so it resonates well with me.

Told from the point of view of two girls, Elizabeth (or EB) and Lauren, who find that they are going to be roommates at UC Berkeley, the story uses both first-hand accounts and emails. Although obviously hesitant to tell each other much at first, the two future roommates find each other confiding more and more as the summer comes to a close, things they can’t tell anyone else in their lives. I liked how the relationship built up that way, all online – because actually it can be really easy to open up to someone you only know online, and it was nice to have a book that addressed that, even if EB and Lauren knew they would meet eventually. As the protagonists learnt more about each other, so did the reader. One of my favourite parts was how EB used the father of Lauren’s boyfriend as a sort of moral code in her life – when she did anything, she asked herself whether his dad would approve. I just found this pretty cute for some reason!

Despite the fact that the book covered all different parts of growing up and moving on, I really felt like it centered on Lauren and EB’s respective boyfriends too much. Sure, it wasn’t all boy talk – but there was a LOT. I’d loved to have read more about their families, particularly EB who gave more of an impression of her mum being this cold, unknown figure than anything else. Actually more than anything, I’d like to read a young adult book WITHOUT a romance. And regardless of the different fonts used for each girl, I had to keep reminding myself whose chapter I was reading – I felt like their voices were a little too similar (despite each girl being written by someone different?).

This book flitted between a three and four star rating, but eventually I settled on three. The ending felt a little rushed and was actually quite disappointing in a way. However, I thought it was a very sweet book, and a great read for anyone making that same huge transition in their life.

Review

Review: Smiler’s Fair (The Hollow Gods #1) by Rebecca Levene

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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.

Smiler’s Fair is definitely not a book for the faint of heart. Opening with a rather gory and graphic birth scene, the gruesome detail continues without, showing the reader that this world is not an easy one to live in. Whilst ‘Smiler’s Fair’ may sound like a pleasant place, this is but a front for the grim reality. Prostitution, gambling, brawls and duels, all the seedy parts of life gather at the Fair. This is most definitely an adult fantasy novel, and all the more fun for it.

We meet each main character in their own introductory chapter – all start at Smiler’s Fair, and all begin this new page of their lives because of it. There is Marven, a man who loves killing a little too much; Nethmi, a young woman who is about to be married off to a minor lord; Krish, a goatherd who feels his parents are hiding something from him; Eric, a male prostitute who is tiring of his current lifestyle and wants something more permanent; and Dae Hyo, hellbent on revenge for the slaughter of his people. With such a variety of characters, the reader is bound to find someone they feel for. However, with the characters changing as they went on their own personal journeys, I found my own allegiances changing, and my feelings towards two characters radically reversing. It was well done and completely drew me in, one minute I was hoping for a success and the next I couldn’t believe I’d liked that character at all.

Each of the characters are united by both Smiler’s Fair, and death. Whether it be an outright murder, a revenge killing or a desperate attempt to free themselves, there is something they all have in common. And like some of the authors of current popular fantasy series, Rebecca Levene is unafraid to kill off characters, whether they be minor or major. For example, one character I really liked was fine and dandy one moment, and the next he was gone, just like that. When an author can shock you like that, and leave you feeling genuinely sad or upset, you know they’re doing something right. She also has a talent for creating a wide cast of characters, each with their own personalities and aims, and with their own clear tones of voice.

Some authors have a writing style that just flows off the page, allowing the reader to read quickly without missing a thing. Rebecca Levene is definitely one of those authors. Although the world building was not as rich in detail as some other fantasy series and I never got an all encompassing feel of the world, it was still enough to flesh out the lands and their inhabitants. Whilst the first half is a little slow, taking its time to weave together various storylines and paths, the second half really picks up in terms of action and pace – and the ending opens up for book two very nicely.

A fantastic beginning to a new, highly original fantasy series, and highly recommended for fans of authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch or Robert Jordan. I have a theory about a link between the various different pantheons and characters, and I’d like to see if the next book will confirm it in any way…

Review

Review: The Three by Sarah Lotz

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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 Three is unlike any book I’ve ever read. It’s a fictional non-fiction book (!) comprised of eyewitness accounts, interviews, IM chats and transcripts. Focusing around an event known as ‘Black Thursday’, where four planes crashed at the same time all over the world for unknown reasons, it is a book within a book. Between the four crashes, there were only three survivors: all young children, who don’t quite seem themselves after the event. You would think this not usual, considering what they’ve been through, but various people latch on to different theories about what ‘The Three’ might be. These range from the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse to aliens, to possession and many other crackpot theories. What’s immediately clear is that something isn’t quite right…

It is certainly a unique way of telling a story, and despite the size of the book (close to five hundred pages), definitely one to be read quickly. It keeps you drawn in, every page reveals new information whilst keeping you guessing. I mean, this is a book that managed to draw me away from the Steam sales and all my shiny new video games so that’s got to be something, right? 😉 As I read more of the story, the creepier moments began to appear – suddenly and completely out of the blue, exactly as they should be! However, I don’t feel the book was ever quite as ‘terrifying’ as several reviews have claimed.

Unfortunately, there were two major things that pulled the book down a rating for me. The first was that I felt an utter lack of connection to any of the characters, because of the way the book was written. It felt very detached and impersonal, with all these interviews and eyewitness accounts – although they were following the same people, there was no room for character development or even really getting to know any of them. Even with the ‘author’ of the book within the book, and her sidenotes – absolutely no connection to the character. I would have loved more information about ‘The Three’ before the crash: although we’re told by friends and relatives that they’re different post-Black Thursday, we don’t know how. The reader has no real idea what any of the children were like before the event, so the creepiness of the change is rather toned down.

The second reason was the completely open and ambiguous ending. I actually felt really frustrated at this, and in a way it sort of felt like the author just couldn’t be bothered to come up with an explanation for the events. When I read a thriller, I like to try and guess why something has happened, what is causing it, who is behind it etc – it’s quite satisfying to get it right! But as there were no answers or explanations for the past four hundred odd pages, I felt a bit cheated.

In conclusion, a read that draws you in and grips you – and is thoroughly enjoyable – but doesn’t quite deserve the ‘horror’ tag. Perhaps if there’d been some explanation or a proper conclusion, it would have been worthy of five stars in my eyes, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite cut it!

Review

Review: The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

 

18309415.jpg3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

I somehow managed to avoid hearing anything about this book until it turned up on my doorstep. But once I’d learnt a little about it, I thought it sounded fascinating – superheroes and an alternate history, a particularly apt book considering I’m reading all the Marvel comics I can get my hands on at the moment. Plus that cover – how amazing is it?! Now I have to admit I’m really not a fan of World War stories, but I was excited about reading this one due to it being an alternate history.

The story follows two superheroes, known as Oblivion and Fogg, their respective powers being able to obliterate anything, and produce and manipulate fog. Apparently people with these sorts of powers have been used to protect the world for centuries, and much of Fogg and Oblivion’s story takes place during and around World War II. I love the idea of people with these superhuman powers being recruited by the government and military, as part of special ops. However, the book frequently skipped between different locations and time periods which was, in some places, a little confusing – especially because these chapters were often only a page in length. Whilst it kept the story moving at a really fast pace, it also felt like there was no time to take things in.

Whilst it has such positive reviews on Goodreads, it just did not live up to that expectation for me. I can see why people love it – personally I really enjoyed the story. It was mostly just the writing style that really didn’t click. Written in present third person, without speech marks, and often using short, clipped sentences that forgo pronouns and names, I just didn’t like it. Sometimes it felt like every non-essential word was just dropped from a sentence.

But it’s not all doom and gloom in this review! Despite what it may seem, I DID enjoy this book. I loved the concept and the story (despite probably missing a few elements due to the pace) – it was just the writing style that really dragged the rating down for me. I found it difficult at times, and it just didn’t seem to flow. I don’t know why, but because of the setting (and perhaps the cover?), as well as the lack of speech marks, I was imagining the book as some black and white foreign film in my head, with subtitles – which was pretty fun! The way that Lavie Tidhar played on actual historical events was really clever.

Overall, a brilliant story for all fans of superheroes and alternate histories, but sadly told in a style that I just did not get along with.

 

I have passed my copy of the book on to Amber as she was super excited to read this one, so look out for her review!

Review

Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

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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’ve received quite a few books from the wonderful Hodderscape recently, and I’m working my way through the pile. I started off with this particular book – and what a way to start!

The reader is immediately thrown into the action, with a scene where one of the two protagonists, Wil, is at the airport and gets waylaid by two strange men. They drug him, and he manages to make a run for it, but his sense of confusion and the frantic feeling of needing to get away now is so well conveyed. It doesn’t hold back on the swearing or coarse language, and you know from the get-go that these guys mean business. I found myself whizzing through the pages, needing to know what their motive was, and why they were targeting Wil in particular.

Well as it turns out, words are power. People who are trained in the use of words are known as ‘Poets’ (they use pseudonyms when working, the names of famous poets), and can use them to convince, coerce and control others. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds though: any old words won’t work on everyone. As well as digging into linguistics, the book explores psychology, in that everyone’s personality represents a different ‘segment’, of which there are over two hundred. To control someone, you need to work out which segment they are, and then use the appropriate words. And on top of this, the words need to be of their language to have the greatest effect, e.g. using English words on a French person would not be as successful as using French. However, there are a few words, know as ‘barewords’, which can affect anyone, and they are also incredibly powerful. Wil has a link to one of these ‘barewords’, which is why he is being hunted. I liked that Max Barry included all of these rules, it meant that although Poets had great power, there was some sort of restraint.

There is also a bit of a 1984 vibe in the book: the government and many companies record personal information (lots of excuses are given for reasons why they need to record various personal things e.g. terrorist attacks), which is then processed by Poets, allowing them to sort the population into segments. The information is then used (or rather, abused) by lots of people, including political parties who may go canvassing, and change their stance depending on who they are talking to. Most of this information was revealed in between chapters, through newspaper articles, emails, IM chats and forums. It felt a little set back from the main story, sort of added in to keep the reader informed. It was nice to have this background information, but I felt it might have worked a little better if it was somehow more integrated into the story.

My favourite chapters of the book were the ones that followed Emily. When the reader first meets her, she is a sixteen year old runaway, living on the streets and getting by on card and slight of hand tricks. She is approached by someone from the ‘Academy’ (the school where the Poets are trained) and is given a chance to improve her life. One of the entrance tests for the Academy includes trying to persuade people in the street to cross the road and talk to her – this was possibly one of my favourite scenes, just for its sense of humour, although one of Emily’s ‘methods’ seemed a bit ludicrous for a sixteen year old! I particularly enjoyed her chapters because they were generally the ones where the power of words was explored; as Emily learnt about the Poets and their power, so did the reader.

I’m not sure if it wasn’t too clear to begin with, or if I was just being slow on the uptake, but the stories of Wil and Emily are actually on two slightly different timelines. I was unsure at how they were going to weave together, but as I read more of the book the cogs started fitting into place and I loved trying to predict what was going to happen next.

I am so grateful that I was sent this book – I’d not heard of it before I received it, and I’ve not seen it on many other blogs or Goodreads, so it might have missed my attention otherwise! It is a wonderfully unique concept, and although some parts of the story (mostly Wil’s) were a little too slow moving, I devoured it in a matter of days. A definite recommendation for fans of cerebral thrillers, or people interested in linguistics and psychology.

Review

Review: Delirium (Delirium #1) by Lauren Oliver

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

This one was quite hard to rate and review. It’s been pretty popular amongst my Goodreads friends – more so than I imagined in fact. And whilst I enjoyed it, helped along by Oliver’s fluid writing style, it was just so predictable.

 

Please bear in mind that from here on until the next bold text, the review will contain spoilers.

 

Maybe this isn’t going to be so much a review as a commentary on the state of YA fiction. Lena is a ‘plain’, average girl in this dystopian world. So from the get go, she’s already a sort of Mary Sue – in fact I don’t remember any description of her appearance apart from her eyes being muddy brown. And of course, her best friend is a super beautiful blonde goddess. As soon as the fact that Lena was terrified of the idea of love was introduced, I knew she would end up falling for someone. And as soon as Alex made his first appearance in the lab, it was obviously going to be him.

There were so many predictable elements to the story that crop up far too often in YA fiction. Of course, this being a book where the main theme is love (even though love is illegal), I suppose it was hard to avoid some of the typical YA features since they more often than not involve romance.

 

End spoilers.

 

But it has to be said, that Oliver also manages to throw in a few not so predictable elements, particularly in the last third of so of the book. I was not expecting that ending, so kudos to her for that!

One thing that was definitely lacking was the reasoning behind why people were so scared of the ‘disease’. Why was there all this sudden paranoia over the side effects? When did people decide that love was a disease and not just a natural state? Perhaps this is expanded on in the next book but it really would have been good in this one.

The whole idea with love being a disease was an interesting one though. The book had a definite ‘Big Brother’ feel to it, with citizens frequently being monitored, anyone suspected of being in love taken away to be ‘cured’ or locked up.

Whilst I enjoyed this book overall, I won’t go out of my way to read the second book but if I spot it in the library I’ll probably check it out.