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 clichéd. It also never quite reached the heights of horror or creepiness that I was expecting, which was quite a disappointment.

Review

Review: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

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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.

Initially, I was a little put off of this book when I started reading it because of the lack of speech marks – which may seem like a petty thing, but it’s not a device I particularly like. To me, it makes the text run into itself, and can sometimes make it difficult to tell who is talking. However I quickly got over this small hiccup, due to NoViolet Bulawayo’s gift for prose. Her writing is visual and vivid, shocking and touching, but also honest.

I felt just as gripped by Darling’s simple life of stealing fruit and inventing new games to play with her friends as I would be with some epic quest-filled fantasy or giant space opera. I was drawn into Darling’s world, where every little thing seemed to have so much meaning and significance.

However, this book was not just about a ten year old girl in Zimbabwe, passing her days playing games with her friends. There were so many serious issues – politics, poverty, AIDs, rape, child pregnancy, racism – covered within the book. The portrayal of these issues through the eyes of an innocent child made them all the more shocking, such as Darling’s emotionless reaction to her father dying of AIDs.

Darling’s main ambition is to move to America, and live with her aunt in Detroit (referred to by Darling and her friends as ‘Destroyedmicheygen’). Eventually she is able to join her aunt in the US, and this is where NoViolet Bulawayo demonstrates fantastic character progression. Darling’s language changes as she ages and adapts to the USA. She picks up slang, she is suddenly surrounded by technology and supermarkets and other things that were missing or less common in her life in Zimbabwe. As she grows, we see her lose her curiosity in things. We see how many people like Darling move to the States with big hopes and dreams, with the aim of providing for their family, and then can never return home because if they do, they cannot re-enter the States. Therefore they must sacrifice this connection with their family for the ability to provide for them.

We Need New Names was an absolutely beautiful book, in both prose and subject matter. We see Darling change from a curious young girl to a hard-working woman, working her way towards community college and also sending money back home for her mother, friends and other people from her village. The book felt both sad and joyful at the same time, in that Darling achieved her goals, but for that she had to sacrifice her connection to her homeland. Definitely highly recommended to all.

Review

Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

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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 had been waiting for Armada to be published from the moment I finished Ready Player One back in 2013. Despite my attempts to stop requesting ARCs on Netgalley until I raised my ratio, I just couldn’t stop myself when I saw Armada.

It was everything I wanted, and expected, from Ernest Cline. Pop culture references galore, every one relevant. A fantastic sense of humour. Fast-paced action. And video games – I can’t seem to get enough of books about or that involve video games. When the book opens we are introduced to Zack, an apparently ordinary teenager, living with his mum in a small town in Oregon. He daydreams through his classes and spends his free time playing an online game, called Armada with his two best friends. Soon we learn more – Zack has quite a temper on him, and he never quite got over the death of his father when he was only one year old. His father was a huge fan of science fiction – video games, films, books – and Zack has inherited this passion, along with his father’s collection, including his journals. Journals which detail conspiracy theories on how the government are using video games to train people for extraterrestrial combat, Ender’s Game style.

It turns out that Zack’s father was right, and Zack soon finds himself enlisted in the Earth Defense Alliance. This happens early on in the book, and from there on out Armada is an incredibly fast-paced and action-packed story. To me, this story did not feel as ‘big’ as Ready Player One, in that the reader only gets to see a few locations. However, this did not detract from my immersion into the plot, and I was cheering every character along every step of the way. Cline’s writing meant I could easily visualise each action scene as it happened.

With references from Star Trek to The Lord of the Rings, plus more subtle ones to games such as Portal, as well as ‘appearances’ from famous scientists, Armada will draw readers in with its link to our very own lives. Armada is, ultimately, a love letter to old school alien invasion sci-fi that also pokes some fun at the genre, one that many sci-fi fans will find themselves equally as in love with. Highly, HIGHLY recommended for all fans of Cline’s previous novel, Ready Player One, as well as any classic science fiction fan.

Throughout the book, Zack refers to his father’s ‘Raid the Arcade’ playlist, which he uses for gaming. I have recreated this playlist on Spotify, although sadly without the AC/DC tracks which aren’t on there.

My review of Armada is quoted in the UK paperback!

 

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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: Doctor Who – The Shakespeare Notebooks by Justin Richards

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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 really wanted to like this book. I really did. It has such promise – after all, any Doctor Who fan knows that the Doctor has met many a historical figure on his travels. In fact, those are often my favourite episodes of the show – not the ones where he travels to the future, but where he goes back in time and we get to see recognisable figures from history.

I do believe, however, that this book will be a much more enjoyable read in hardback or paperback format. I read the eARC, which I highly doubt did it justice. Judging by the illustrations, which of course were in black and white for me, the book is very nicely presented. What I did like was how it didn’t just focus on the ‘new’ Doctor, but all of his other faces, and brought in companions old and new as well. Those who remember the times of Jamie and Zoe, as well as newer fans of Amy and Rory, will be happy.

Unfortunately, I think this book suffers from having a rather niche audience. Sure, it will appeal to Doctor Who fans, but ironically the Shakespeare element of it won’t work for all. Ultimately to me, it felt a little like an attempt to cash in on the ever-popular ‘crossover’ book, mixing characters from different fandoms (if you can refer to Shakespeare as such!).

As much as I love Doctor Who, and as much as I like to read anything about it that I can get my hands on, this sadly did not work for me. It feels more like the sort of book an ultimate fan would buy to complete their collection – it’s not one I can see myself reading again, unlike the adventure story series about the Doctor.

Review

Review: The Dagger in the Desk (Lockwood & Co #1.5) by Jonathan Stroud

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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’m never sure about reviewing novellas and short stories. Sometimes I don’t feel I have enough to say about them, or that I will have developed enough of a sense of the book in such a small number of pages. Luckily, I am already familiar with the universe of Lockwood & Co having absolutely loved the two books written by Jonathan Stroud so far, and The Dagger in the Desk just leaps straight into the action.

What I didn’t realise until after I’d read the book is that it was written over six days, with help from members of the Guardian newspaper’s children’s website, who voted on the name, location and the ghost. My initial thought, before reading this, was that it would most likely appeal to the target audience even more, due to being set in a school. It’s definitely something that would have appealed to me when I was younger, having to miss school due to a haunting!

Despite the very short nature of the book, Jonathan Stroud proves that he is a master storyteller by building up the tension in only a few pages. What I’ve always found surprising about this series is that despite being aimed at Middle Grade and above, it is actually genuinely creepy in some places – and this novella was no exception. Even though the case is over and done with rather quickly, Stroud provides some eerie moments and a memorable ghostly foe.

The book was even shorter than expected, with a handy guide to the ghouls Lockwood, George and Lucy encounter through the series, as well as a sample of The Screaming Staircase. Definitely worth checking out for fans of Lockwood & Co who just can’t wait for book number three – such as myself!

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.

Review

Review: A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley

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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.

Despite not having seen the accompanying television series, I pretty much proved Lucy Worsley’s point when I was drawn to this book because of the title. A tale of how the British public have been obsessed with the idea of murder, particularly in the past three hundred years or so, it’s actually quite a lot more than that. Covering the development of the police force, the popularity of horror and true crime novels, famous authors inspired by true crime and other anecdotes like the origins of Madame Tussaud’s, Lucy Worsley manages to pack a lot into one volume.

The first chapter, the story of the Ratcliff Highway Murders, just didn’t do much to grab my attention despite its rather morbid happenings, and I have to admit that I only glanced over much of it – and I actually skipped over many more, but there were some stand-out sections. For example, the chapter on the first appearance of the ‘Penny Dreadful’ was fascinating – these were cheaper alternatives to true crime novels and therefore also accessible to the lower classes. It also explains the name of the recent TV series, which features familiar characters from horror and crime together in one place. There are also sections on authors like Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie – which serves to remind me that I haven’t read anything by either of them!

Although I may have skipped some chapters, this is definitely the sort of history book you can read the entirety of due to Worsley’s writing style, which panders to all. She does not assume the reader is familiar with the history, which makes it perfect for anyone with a new interest in the subject, yet she also does not patronise. However, some areas just unfortunately failed to capture my interest at all. Recommended if you’re interested in the history of criminology and inspiration behind true crime, or fancy reading something a bit more macabre!