Review

Review: Speak by Louisa Hall

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2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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Review

Review: A Natural History of Dragons (Memoir by Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan

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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.

A Natural History of Dragons is what you get when you take the sort of memoir written by upper-class female explorers of the nineteenth-century, and add dragons. The writing style as well as the world which Isabella inhabits is not our world, but very similar. In fact, if it were not for the various countries named that Isabella visits or knows of, then I would assume it was our world. Although I am an avid reader of epic fantasies, I also really appreciate and enjoy these more ‘subtle’ fantasy tales, where just one element is a little bit different, or there is something extra.

I was completely enthralled from the start of the book. Being a memoir, we learn of some of Isabella’s childhood, namely how she grew to become obsessed with studying dragons. This is, of course, a most unsuitable activity for a lady of her station, but she finds ways around it until it is impossible to stop her pursuing her passion. To be honest, I have to say that I found the sections of the book before her first major expedition to be the most interesting – they built up the world and society, with a social system not that dissimilar from nineteenth-century Britain. I felt more of Isabella’s passion and love for dragons within the first few chapters, than anywhere else in the book.

In terms of Isabella as a character, she was a fun protagonist – I always love to see studious characters who have something they are really passionate about – but she did occasionally have a bit of an ‘I’m not like other girls attitude’, which can be very grating. She also made a few questionable (read: stupid) decisions that seemed a little out of character for someone so intelligent, although I suppose book smart is not street smart… Her husband was a sweetie, and I would have liked to see their relationship develop a little bit more.

Overall, this was a really solid and fun fantasy read. I loved how Isabella followed her interests and her passion for dragons, even though it was entirely improper for a young lady of her standing. Defying all social expectations of her peers, she did not let them stop her or slow her down. What I would have liked was more detailed information about the various dragons – the book title kind of implies that there might be a lot more ‘scientific’ information than there was, but is in fact named after a book that Isabella holds very dear. I did lose focus on the story about two-thirds of the way through, but the beginning was just so wonderful that I felt it made up for it. One more thing though… can we have even more dragons next time?

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Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Review of The Six Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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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 can’t say that I have read many, if any Westerns. And I definitely haven’t ever read a supernatural/paranormal themed Western novel. The Six Gun Tarot was a new and unique experience for me, and definitely one I would happily repeat. Golgotha initially seems like a small, typical mid-Western town of the late 19th century, but soon it is clear that it is a magnet for all that is unusual.

The main character, Jim, ends up in Golgotha after trekking through the 40-Mile Desert, fleeing a crime he committed and perhaps others. The sheriff is a man who has evaded death countless times, his deputy seems to have an affinity with coyotes, the mayor hides ancient treasures and a respected lady of the town is not quite who she seems. The Six Gun Tarot has a wide range of interesting and diverse characters, each of whom have some kind of secret. Jim, whilst shown as the main protagonist, is often put aside in favour of the other denizens of Golgotha, and this is not a bad thing in the slightest. I have to say that my favourite character was definitely Maude Stapleton, a respected lady of Golgotha who is trained in the art of assassination. Belcher really focuses on the back story of each major character, bringing them all vividly to life.

The evil blight that overtakes the town reminded me a little of something from Leviathan Wakes, and the origins all tie in nicely with the religious beliefs of that particular period and location. However, the religious elements are not overpowering and do not feel at all ‘preachy’ – this was important to me, as someone who would find that a complete turnoff. It felt like, whilst this was happening to Golgotha now, it was not the first time something out of the ordinary had taken place in the town. Additionally, the author also recognised social issues that would have taken place in that era, such as sexism and many of the inhabitants’ prejudice against Mutt, a Native American character.

I’m so glad I finally got round to checking out The Six Gun Tarot – several months after it was chosen as my book group’s Book of the Month! I will definitely be looking out for the next book in the series, and may have to delve further into this newly discovered, rather niche genre.

Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Review of The Fearless by Emma Pass

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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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.

Having previously read Acid by Emma Pass for the first Sci-Fi Month in 2013, and enjoying it much more than expected, I had quite high hopes for The Fearless. Sadly, these hopes were not met.

The Fearless brings us a world where a serum has been developed for the military, a serum that removes all fear from the user. Unfortunately, as meddling with things like this often goes, the serum has adverse side effects and turns the user into a zombie type creature, although more aware than your typical zombie. Cities and towns are overrun by ultraviolent army types, who start to convert civilians. The book opens with Cass aged eleven, escaping some of the Fearless with her parents, and heading to live on an isolated island society.

Initially, I did not realise that the book used multiple points of view. I do not mind this at all, apart from when the voices are not distinct, or it is not particularly obvious when the POV switches. This was an issue with The Fearless. Part of the blame lies on the formatting of the eARC, where the name of the character narrating the chapter was not immediately obvious, and this will not be an issue with the final publication. However, the voices of the three characters were so similar, that sometimes I had to go back and double check whose point of view I was reading.

I didn’t particularly think much of any character. Cass did not stand out, her childhood best friend Sol was petty and jealous. Of course, her childhood best friend is in love with her and Cass does not return these affections. Sol becomes abusive and violent, and Cass doesn’t seem to think until much later on that his reactions were unusual. Then there is Myo, the mysterious outsider whom Cass falls for, but isn’t quite who he seems. This relationship was just so… predictable, again. The romance had zero chemistry and no other reason but two teenagers thrown together. They even talk of love after less than a week has passed. Relationships are a deal breaker for me in books – they need chemistry, they need to feel genuine. I don’t just cheer for couples just for the sake of it, and Cass and Myo made no sense – particularly when Myo revealed his ‘big secret’ (that was also easy to guess).

This was quite a major disappointment after Acid, and at over halfway through I felt like barely anything had happened. Boring and undeveloped characters, a predictable plot and a ‘romance’ that lacks any real feeling. If you’re going to read some of Emma Pass’ work, I would definitely recommend you try Acid instead of this.

Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Review of Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce Brown

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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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.

Red Rising. Red Rising. Why did I take so long to get to you?? Chosen as the Science Fiction Book of the Month by my Goodreads book group, Dragons & Jetpacks, this had actually been sat on my Kindle for months. Despite having heard some really wonderful things about it – which I now completely understand – its nomination as Book of the Month was what finally pushed me into reading it.

The opening gripped me straight away, introducing the reader to Darrow’s world. It is a dark, grimy world, with only a faint glimmer of hope. The people of this world work hard to terraform Mars, so that in the future their descendants can live normal lives on the red planet. Yet soon, Darrow discovers that everything he and his people have worked for is a lie – Mars is already terraformed. The Reds, as his people are known, are being used as slaves, tricked into thinking they are making a contribution to society, and other higher social groups benefit from their work. Darrow becomes involved with a group of rebels, and must disguise himself as a Gold, the highest of the groups, in order to infiltrate the system. To do this, he gains a place at their military academy, and what followed felt almost like a feudal setting on another planet: groups of teenagers vying for power and territory.

One thing that really struck me about this book was the relationships and character development. In a book that is very brutal and sometimes shocking in its portrayal of a society and human nature, there were also some tender moments. Darrow’s relationship with his wife, Eo, was wonderful. Having known each other since they were small children, their relationship is a close one and felt so genuine, nothing like many teenage relationships in books. This may also be a byproduct of Darrow’s society throwing children into adulthood too early.

Additionally, Darrow’s character progression was fantastic. The reader follows his journey from a courageous but perhaps reckless Red to a focused and determined Gold. He keeps to his roots, but on the way he develops so much. One scene that really stood out to me showed what Darrow could become if he really immersed himself into the Gold way of life, and demonstrated the stark contrast between the social groups. Although he becomes a Gold on the outside, he never really forgets why he is there, remaining a Red within.

The action slowed down a little towards the middle, but this doesn’t mean nothing happened. Darrow and his house prepared themselves for battle, allegiances were forged and shattered, friendships built and destroyed, enemies made and truths revealed. I finished this book in a matter of days – carrying my Kindle with me everywhere I went, reading it at every spare moment. Red Rising is an absolute must read for science fiction fans, but I would also highly recommend it to those who are new to the genre. I cannot WAIT to read the sequel, Golden Son!

Review

Review: This House Is Haunted by John Boyne

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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 am finally getting round to reviewing this title, just in time for Halloween! I first heard of This House Is Haunted, when Leanne (who sadly no longer blogs) reviewed it a year or two ago. I was really intrigued by the idea of the story – although I’m not the biggest fan of the horror genre, I do quite like the traditional ‘haunted house’ tale, especially with a historical setting. This House Is Haunted follows the story of Eliza Caine, a young woman who becomes governess to the children of Gaudlin Hall. From the moment she arrives, a strange force seems to be attempting to drive her away, by any means necessary.

Firstly, I really liked the tone of the book. I have read several books set in the 19th century that just didn’t seem to capture the essence of the era, with their use of more modern language and tone. Boyne writes in a manner that is fitting to the time period, a time when horror stories and tales of ghosts were becoming more popular through the distribution of penny dreadfuls. The inhabitants of the nearby village, as well as the few other employees of Gaudlin Hall, deny knowledge of any strange goings on, but it is clear there is something they are avoiding. A shocked glance, a sudden reluctance to associate with Eliza, a refusal to discuss the history of the Hall – it is clear that something unpleasant happened there.

Eliza’s backstory felt a little overused – a young woman who becomes a governess after a family tragedy, but as a character she was witty and brave, determined not to run away from Gaudlin Hall, even after multiple attempts on her life by paranormal forces. At first she is logical and cannot even consider the fact that there might be something supernatural at bay, but soon the evidence begins to stack up and she has no choice but to admit to herself that Gaudlin Hall is, in fact, haunted.

Whilst This House Is Haunted felt like a classic Gothic novel, with all the required elements: a large creepy house, a missing employer, young children who seem to know far more than they should, local villagers who avoid the new governess, these ultimately made it feel a little too clich├ęd. It also never quite reached the heights of horror or creepiness that I was expecting, which was quite a disappointment.

Review

Review: The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

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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 murder mystery set partly in an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game)? Intriguing.

The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss definitely appealed to my (not so) inner geek, as the cover claims. In fact, not only geeks will be able to understand Dahlia. She will probably be familiar to many a twenty-something year old, trying to find their way in life. Unemployed for thirteen months, apparently useless at job interviews and unlucky in love, Dahlia Moss is offered a job by a strange friend of her flatmate – as a private detective. She is asked to work out who stole something from him. But that something is an item from an online game, and within a few days of asking her, her ’employer’ has been murdered. Dahlia soon finds herself caught up in a lot more than she expected.

At first, I found Dahlia a funny character. She was witty and happy-go-lucky, but soon her jokes and moods began to rub off on me and I actually found her to be quite irritating. How could someone be so useless, and miss SO MANY CLUES? Additionally, her flatmate felt a little too much like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl type of character, with her impromptu home theatre shows and crazy personality. In fact, most characters felt a little ‘cookie cutter’.

On the other hand, the story was quite fun, if a bit ridiculous. Dahlia gets dragged into the game more and more often as she gets deeper into the mystery, and learns more about her ’employers’ guildmates. However, the overall conclusion felt so weak, especially the motive behind the murder – as well as the murderer being quite obvious to the reader.

Whilst Dahlia Moss was a fun read at times, it loses points from me for having a rather abrasive main character, as well as being a little too obvious in its mystery. However, whilst the subject of MMORPGs/video games in books seems to be appearing more often, it’s still not that common – so if you’re looking for a book that involves those elements, it might be worth taking a look at this.