Review

Review: The Quick (The Quick #1) by Lauren Owen

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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.

This is going to be a fairly short review for two reasons: one, it’s hard to write about this book without giving much away, and two, I didn’t want to break away from the story by taking lots of notes, considering I had a huge break from reading it part way through.

My first impression was that I loved the setting. Starting in a big manor house in the Yorkshire countryside, The Quick is a modern work that echoes stories of the Victorian era. It’s evident that Lauren Owen knows her stuff (she has a Masters degree in Victorian Gothic Literature), and she skilfully creates a rather dark and foreboding tone, even during the early scenes of James and Charlotte’s childhood. The setting moves briefly onto Oxford and then London, all the time retaining the feeling that there is something around the corner, some big shocking moment just waiting to happen. And when the twist does appear – well that’s when the story begins to get very dark. It is wonderfully gloomy and Gothic, I had no trouble at all imagining the London streets filled with smog on a chilly night. Unfortunately I can’t explain much more without spoilers, so I will refrain from explaining myself further!

As for the characters, there is a big reveal to do with James about one hundred pages in that I just did not expect. It has you worrying about what the consequences might be for James, in this society that does not yet understand. One of my favourite parts of the book was the back story of Shadwell and Miss Swift, in itself a wonderful little Gothic story that really helped to build up the characters.

Unfortunately I ended up taking quite a long break (three or four weeks) between reading the first 25% or so, and the last 75% of the book. For the first week of that I just didn’t read at all, and when I got back to reading I moved on to some other books that had closer publication dates. It does make me wonder, if I had read the book all in one go, would I have rated it even more highly? I really did enjoy the story, but I think that because of the break I took in the middle, it felt like it dragged a bit. However, I most definitely cannot fault Lauren Owen’s gorgeous writing style, very evocative of the period in which it is set, and her skill at creating and weaving together multiple stories – the result of which is one beautifully Gothic novel that certainly keeps its secrets well hidden.

I also had the privilege of meeting the author, Lauren Owen, back at the end of April.

Review

Review: Doctor Who – Keeping Up With The Joneses (Time Trips #3) by Nick Harkaway

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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 didn’t actually take too many notes whilst writing this one – firstly because it’s such a short book, and secondly because I just couldn’t really think of much to talk about… needless to say, this will be a short review.

Serves me right for not reading the blurb of this one properly: I saw a Doctor Who book with the word ‘Jones’ in the title, and assumed it was about Martha. Unfortunately not, although this is a Tenth Doctor adventure. Our favourite Time Lord is companion-less on this particular adventure, as he has been with the other Time Trips stories so far. However, unlike the previous Time Trips, this one features a familiar character: the Lady Christina de Souza. If you don’t recognise the name, she was featured in the episode ‘Planet of the Dead’, where a double decker bus somehow got transported from London to the desert planet of San Helios.

Whilst it contained some ‘typical’ Ten moments (he finds brushing his teeth fun, I can definitely imagine that for Ten), this book just felt really… weird, even for Doctor Who. It felt like there was no real consistency to it, flitting from one bit to the next and it never really gripped me. I read it in one sitting, and I actually struggled to finish it because, quite honestly, I was bored.

I don’t know if it was the advanced copy I had, or if this is pretty much the finalised version, but some of the sentences felt really mangled. The structure was very odd, and that made it really hard to picture things.

Sadly, although I’ve enjoyed all the Doctor Who books I’ve read so far, this one was quite a let down. I would say read it if you’re a hardcore fan (for completionist purposes!), but if you’re just looking to read some of the DW books then there are plenty more enjoyable ones out there.

Review

Review: Doctor Who – The Death Pit (Time Trips #1) by A.L. Kennedy

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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.

Just like Doctor Who: Into the Nowhere, this is part of the ‘Time Trips’ series, a sequence of short Doctor Who novellas by different authors and covering different Doctors. This one in particular follows the Fourth Doctor – one I’ve not actually watched in action, but probably the most familiar of the ‘Classic’ Doctors. It has the brilliant Doctor Who trait of combining both funny and scary situations in a unique blend, whilst still being pretty horrifying in parts – and this one really is.

Unlike other Doctor Who books I’ve read so far, there is no companion alongside the Doctor when he lands, meaning we get to experience that initial excitement of someone meeting the Doctor for the first time. Bryony, the someone in question, is a wonderful character in that she surprises even the Doctor. She is ambitious but somehow just got stuck working at the golf club, and her adventures with the Doctor help her to realise that if she wants to achieve her dreams, she needs to go out and do something about them. For such a short story the characters were quite detailed, which really added to my enjoyment of the novella.

As well as being well written and developed, there were plenty of fun and humorous moments to keep the reader amused. The Doctor was his manic self, as Tom Baker’s Doctor was, and it was pretty funny imagining him in a shower cap (especially with all that hair!). Overall, a wonderful short adventure for fans of the show, particularly those who would love some more stories involving Four.

 

Review

Review: Doctor Who – Into the Nowhere (Time Trips #2) by Jenny T. Colgan

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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 very first paragraph of this book, I immediately knew it was more skillfully written than previous Doctor Who reads – at least in terms of the description. The story wasn’t quite as fun as some of the books aimed at younger audiences. Jenny T. Colgan captures the personalities and mannerisms of the Eleventh Doctor and Clara really well, and I could easily picture each scene in my head with Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman acting them out – Clara with her no-nonsense ways, and Eleven acting like a child and showing off occasionally (or more than occasionally…).

The setting was a ‘typical’ Doctor Who planet – mysterious, a little bit creepy and naturally very intriguing to the Doctor. The forest that the two travel through felt like the one from Disney’s version of Snow White, with trees seemingly coming to life and reaching out for our protagonists. The Doctor Who books can get away with some more grisly images and moments than the TV series, and this one certainly does.

There were, however, a couple of things that bugged me. I know that Doctor Who as a TV show contains pop culture references, for example the Doctor has referenced the Harry Potter series before, but for such a short book (forty-nine pages) this contained a few too many pop culture references. The villain of the story, a nerdy computer geek, felt like a major cliche – and also completely ruined the scary image of the planet.

Overall, despite a few clunky and overlong sentences and a couple of other points, this was a fun read. I mean, it is Doctor Who after all…

And I just want to share this status update I posted to Goodreads…

Review

Review: The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co #1) by Jonathan Stroud

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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.

If you are a fan of Supernatural or BBC’s Sherlock, then chances are you’ll love this.

It feels like a mix of the two shows, a sort of supernatural sleuth story, and perhaps if the characters of the shows were in their teens. It is set either in an alternate present, or not too far into our own future, where it has emerged that ghosts are in fact real – and some are pretty dangerous to human beings. Since a yet unknown and unexplained event in the past, ghosts have been visible and active around the country, and as a result ‘agencies’ have sprung up; agencies that are almost like supernatural police. Armed with various implements made of iron, silver and salt (Dean and Sam would be proud), the agencies take on cases to rid houses or areas of supernatural beings. Lockwood & Co is one of these agencies, albeit a small one, and made up of just three agents: (Anthony) Lockwood himself, Lucy and George.

The characterisation in the novel was fantastic. Lockwood is like a teenage Sherlock: inquisitive, extremely intelligent and passionate, whilst also being perhaps a little socially inept and reckless. He is quite a mysterious character, even Lucy doesn’t know all that much about his background. Both Lucy and George are the Watsons to Lockwood’s Sherlock. George is the researcher of the group, studying and writing, whereas Lucy is the down-to-earth one. She is also the narrator of the tale, and to me her voice even seemed reminiscent of Arthur Conan Doyle’s tone of writing.

As for the plot and events – some of the ghosts the trio encounter were incredibly creepy! It’s impressive that a book that had many humorous moments also managed to really freak me out at some points. And it wasn’t done through the sights, but Stroud’s descriptions of the feelings and sounds that come with a haunting, which really captured an ethereal feeling. The classification system of the ghosts was clever and meant the reader could instantly assess just how much danger the characters were in.

A brilliant take on the paranormal genre, with a pretty unique concept, especially for Young Adult fiction where the concentration seems to be on vampires and werewolves. I’ve always been aware of Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy, but never read it, and after reading this fantastic book I may now have to reconsider that decision.

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It has the Official Castiel Seal of Approval, so it’s got to be good, right?
Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: Review of Acid by Emma Pass

Today, as part of Sci-Fi Month, I have a review of Acid by Emma Pass. Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using 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 have read a lot of Young Adult dystopian fiction lately. I really enjoy dystopian, plus there is a bit of trend for it at the moment (just a teeny weeny bit…). This means that these sorts of books have a lot to live up to – and I felt the tone of this one was quite different from the others, which made it even more enjoyable.

To start with, our protagonist, Jenna Strong, is supposedly a criminal. It opens with her in prison – an all-male prison, it’s never quite explained why she’s the only female in there – which sets her character up nicely. She is skilled in combat, tough-skinned and able to defend herself. In the time she has been there she’s forged a reputation for herself, and whilst the new inmates see her as easy pickings, the old ones know better. The reader is immediately given this impression of a cold-hearted young woman, but more and more of Jenna’s past and personality are revealed as the book progresses.

Jenna’s world, like all the setting of all dystopians, is not quite our world. She lives in the Independent Republic of Britain, which is ruled by a force called ACID (I can’t remember if Pass ever mentions what it stands for!). All content is monitored, news screens with approved feeds from the government must be switched on for a set number of hours per day, alcohol and tobacco are banned, prolonged contact with an unrelated member of the opposite sex is illegal, and people are put with a ‘LifePartner’ in their late teens, who they will be with for life. It’s very much your typical dystopian government, all seeing and all controlling – what I’ll never get is why so many of these dystopian governments force people upon each other – and it’s never really explained. It’s mentioned that the rest of the world hasn’t changed – for example, the Internet is just a rumour in the IRB but at one point one of the characters mentions how other countries still have it. So the reasoning behind this radical governmental change is never explained, but I can only assume it happened just within Britain, and not the rest of the world.

Yes, there is a romance. However, it’s only minor – and it’s not a triangle! I actually originally thought it was going to be another guy at first, and I was completely and utterly wrong, which was nice. And to top that off, Emma Pass adds in some great twists – some I saw coming, and others that I did not.

There were a couple of moments I had to question. At one point, Jenna wakes up after a certain big event to find that the people who have taken her in have performed cosmetic surgery on her (actually it happens twice), so she no longer looks anything like herself. She doesn’t even bat an eyelid at this sudden change, which was really weird. Sure, some people might not like their appearance, but I know for one that I would be pretty upset if someone did that to me. I’m used to my features, like my small nose and greenish-brown eyes, even if I do sometimes wish I could change things, and if I were to wake up one day with a big nose and blue eyes I’d freak out more than just a little bit! It would be unsettling, and you wouldn’t feel yourself at all. There was also a bit towards the end where Jenna does something really awesome, and then makes the stupidest decision and basically undoes all her work – and then has to fix it again a bit later on. However, she also makes some unexpected choices throughout the book which really surprised me, so kudos to the author there!

The last section of the story was really fast, tense and action-packed, and really fun to read, although I do think the story concluded a little too quickly. I was at about 95% thinking that it couldn’t possibly wrap up, and wondered if there was a sequel – but no, it did and it’s a standalone novel.

So whilst the world building and explanations could definitely be improved upon, I thought this was generally a really fun read, with a different feel to the other Young Adult dystopian novels out there, and am certainly glad I requested it.

Review

Promo + Mini Review: Wayland – The Tale of the Smith from the North by Tony Mitton and John Lawrence

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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.
Just as the blurb says, this book is beautiful. I was lucky enough to be sent a copy by Random House, and as I do not feel I can write a properly detailed review on such a short book, I’m combining it with a promo post. The verse is stunning in itself, but combined with the gorgeous illustrations it really comes to life. For someone such as myself, who loves mythology and folklore, it would make a beautiful gift. I’d never heard the tale of Wayland before reading this – apparently it was brought to England by Vikings – and I hope that many others are exposed to the story through this book.
Honestly, the cover does not do the illustrations inside justice. John Lawrence is one of the leading wood-block engraving illustrators in the world and the exquisite illustrations within, which could tell a story all by themselves, reflect that.
Tony Mitton, who wrote the verse for the book, is an award-winning poet, and his words are the perfect combination with Lawrence’s artwork.

I would rate the book five out of five stars. Despite being short, it is wonderfully told and beautifully illustrated.

Still not convinced? Have some wise words from Philip Pullman:

 

“I’ve read nothing so enthralling for a long time. Tony Mitton’s verse rings with the power and clarity of an ancient ballad, and is perfectly matched by the force and splendour of John Lawrence’s illustrations… I think it’s a marvellous piece of work, and I’m sure anyone who reads it will agree.”

 

Wayland – The Tale of the Smith From the North is due for publication on September 5th 2013, published by David Fickling Books, and priced at £14.99.
Amazon |  Tony Mitton’s website | John Lawrence’s website

 

Past Features

Feature: Why You Should Read This Book #8 – Ready Player One

Five Reasons Why You Should Read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

1. It’s a rags to riches story with a futuristic, cyber twist.

2. The pop culture references are fantastic – often that can be a pain in books, but here it works so well! They don’t just feel shoved into the text for the sake of it – more often than not, they are an integral part of the story.

3. If you are a gamer, or a particular fan of early gaming, you need to read this. It’s so beautifully geeky. It also has plenty of sci-fi references from all eras. Plus trying to solve the clues is fun – I managed to solve one and felt so proud, haha!

4. Despite constant pop culture references, Ernest Cline has managed to fit in some wonderfully rounded characters, some that you really wouldn’t expect. Wade really develops over the course of the book, and meets many fascinating people along the way.

5. The world-building is well executed. Both the real world and the virtual world – the OASIS, as it is known.

Review

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

This book. This book. I’ve never read anything so completely geeky, so packed full of pop culture references – whilst being so, so good.

As someone who relied on an online game, and the people I met on it, to get through a very tough two years, this book really resonated with me. Wade escapes into the OASIS because his real life is dreary, he lives in poverty – and the OASIS is the only way he can attend school. Even though he is poor and low-levelled in the game, life in there is better than life ‘out there’. And with his great knowledge of 80’s pop culture – an obsession of James Halliday’s – he starts working out clues for the location of the keys.

Normally, I would get annoyed at the amount of pop culture references thrown at me in a book. But they are so fundamentally part of the story here, and it is amazing that, with the amount of references there actually are, very few feel just chucked in for the sake of it. Practically every single one has some sort of meaning. And I am incredibly impressed by the amount of research Cline must have done, and how clearly passionate he is about that period in time.

The first half of the book or so goes past without much major action, but the story still flows well and is – most importantly of all – just great fun. Whether it is the way Cline writes, or the references to games, films etc that many readers will know and love, the whole story just seems so vivid and easily imaginable. Trying to work the clues out was fun – and I was so proud of myself when I instantly guessed the meaning of the clue for the Jade Key (hint: it helps to love your sci-fi!) – ages before Wade worked it out. [if you really want to see the spoiler, then click here]

All the characters felt pretty well-rounded, and there were some nice character ‘twists’. Wade starts out as a bit of sloppy, lazy boy, but develops into a determined young man, training himself both physically and mentally. Whilst he initially seems a bit of  a wimp, he later proves to be a truly courageous in a moment of very risky espionage.

If you are a gamer, a fan of science fiction/fantasy, or 80s pop culture, then I cannot stress it enough: read this book. Unfortunately, what makes this book such a fantastic read for one group of people will most likely completely isolate it from non-gamers. But as a gamer myself, that doesn’t apply to me – and for that, I am glad.