Thursday, 11 January 2018

Book Review: The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart

One summer 70's evening, five boys discover a box in the woods. To cement their friendship, the friends decide to make sacrifices to the box by giving up something meaningful to place inside, with the threat that if one of them opens the box, terrible things will happen.
1982, and the friends have drifted apart. Until terrible, wicked things start to happen. Someone has broken the pact and opened the box.

On ready the blurb for this, I immediately drew comparisons with IT, The Goonies and Stand By Me which unfortunately does not help the novel. There's nothing new here, except a large portion of animal cruelty. I believe the novel is aimed at young adults and children - yet I found some of these violent scenes quite graphic in nature, and uncomfortable to read about. They didn't seem to fit with the target audience at all.

The characters, when comparing to these classic 80's films and novels, are also rather underdeveloped. We never spent enough time with one character (with the possible exception of Sep) to really understand their nature and get to know them. It's also hard to understand how any of these boys were even friends. There's no emotional connection between them at all except for their link to the box. This is proven by the fact that they've drifted apart by the time 1982 comes around.

The plot also suffers, as the author tries to pull the reader in several directions at once, not allowing you to concentrate on one plot development at a time. This makes the story convoluted and confusing at times as I was constantly trying to remember what everyone was doing at any given time. There was too much going on at once.



Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Book Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

This was BY FAR my most anticipated read of 2017/2018, so when I received an ARC I was so excited. And nervous. What if it didn't live up my expectations? What if it turned out like every other run-of-the-mill YA fantasy involving fairies? I needed have worried though - this was awesome. It had everything I'm looking for in a YA fantasy - drama, awesome inspiring characters, a complex villain and an interesting plot with a twist.

We start The Cruel Prince with a double murder which leaves twins Jude and Taryn orphans and, along with thier elder half-Fae sister Vivienne, stranded far from home in the land of Faerie. Raised by the Fae Madoc, who murdered her father, we skip ten years later and find the three girls each trying to fit in among the very race they should despise. A race that is cruel to humans, keeping them as slaves, who mock Jude and her sister for their mortality and inability to be as perfect as them. Yet Jude still wants to make a name for herself within this world, and she's going to do it by deceiving and spying her way to the top. Faeries cannot lie - and Jude will exploit this weakness to topple the High King and crown a new royal.

In Jude we have a main character who is deeply conflicted. She's bullied by her 'peers' at school, subjected to cruel tricks by Cardan, one of the royal Prince's who rule the land she's now living in, and his gang of followers. Yet still she wants to be like them, and is envious of their beauty and talent. She feels deeply inadequate, yet also feels like she doesn't belong back in the human world either. She's also desperate for the attention of her 'father figure' Madoc, despite all he's done to her. She still loves him.

Her relationship with sister Taryn is wonderful. Alike in appearance only, we see Taryn struggle to gain her own place within Faerie - deciding that the best way to fit in is by marrying a Fae and accepting her fate as a 'lesser' being. In her own way she has the strength to accept her position in life, and it mirrors Jude's own acceptance to go against what it expected and make her own name for herself.

It's the character of Cardan however, that really stands out here though. Through Jude's eyes we see a mean and vicious Fae who hates her. He's all consumed with hatred for Jude, and wants nothing more than to make her life hell. But it goes deeper than that. This is no one dimensional character, and as the story unfolds we meet a man that's deeply troubled, taunted by his older siblings, yet charismatic and complex. And repulsed at himself.

The plot itself is fast paced, with plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing until the end. I didn't want to put this down. It's also incredibly well written. Every character we meet is fully developed, with so much potential leading into the second installment for Bomb, Ghost, Roach and all the rest. I cannot wait. Cannot. Wait.

 - 5 stars

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Bookish New Year Resolutions

I'm trying something a bit different with this post. I'm stepping outside my comfort zone of book reviews, and into the murky waters of 'New Year Resolutions'. I'm not a resolution maker, but I do like a good list. So this year, I plan on making some bookish related resolutions. Something achievable other than just my usual 'goodreads challenge'. So here goes:

  •  I know I've just said 'other than my usual goodreads challenge' BUT my main goal is still to read 100 books in 2018. There's something deeply satisfying about reading, and making the time to read, that many books in one year. It opens up so many books to me.
  • I will read at least 5 books outside of my normal genre. My normal genre is fantasy, YA, science fiction and historical fiction. This still leaves a large number of options open to me, and ideally I'd like to try something really outside my comfort zone. I'm hoping that by doing so I can find some really good new reads.
  • I will read at least 5 books on my TBR long list on Goodreads. These are books that are more than 1000 pages, that have been sat in my TBR shelf for a long time, and that I really want to read but never seem to find the time or I find too intimidating.
  • I will get my TBR list below 150. I'm ashamed to say I have over 250 books on my TBR list at the moment. These are books I physically own, either on my kindle or on my bookshelf, and have probably been meaning to read for a long time. I will also not purchase any more books until I am under this amount.
  • I will read and donate at least half of all the physical books I currently own. This is for my own sanity and clutter free dreams.
  • I will read at least 12 'classic' books that I have not previously read before. 'Classic' books are those as defined on my Goodreads shelf under 'classics'. Read: Twelfth Night
  • I want to revisit at least 5 old favourite books. These are the books that made me fall in love with reading, and that I always feel guilty about returning to because I feel I should be reading ARCs instead. Read: Northern Kights, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass

And that's all of them. A lot of them link into each other, making the challenges helpful to each other. I'm really desperate to get my TBR list down, but I do fall into the trap of reading old favourites for pleasure. But sometimes, I find a good old favourite comforting. Like revisiting an old friend.

I'll try to update this as 2018 trundles along.

Book Review: Close To Home by Cara Hunter

Close To Home follows Detective Inspector Adam Fawley and his search for missing 8 year old Daisy. As is often the case, the kidnapper may be closer to home than everyone thinks, and Adam is tasked with finding out who lying.

Adam Fawley is a dynamic leading man. He's charismatic, likable and obviously good at his job. I liked that. Too many times in novels like this we see police officers who are so incompetent its a miracle they even catch the suspects. I was happy to see this was not the case in this book.

The other characters in this were all a little annoying and unlikable. Daisy's mother doesn't seem to care that her daughter's gone missing, and her father is more concerned with 'keeping up appearances' than actually trying to find his child. As the story continues, we see why the parents are acting like this, and the reasoning behind their behaviors is explained well - but I just still didn't like them. As we see Daisy's backstory unfold and we see a precocious intelligent little girl, I couldn't even bring up any feelings for her. I had no sympathy for any of them, and that made it difficult for me to care.

The story itself is also a little all over the place with flashbacks to back fill and flesh out the main characters and develop their history and significance to the case. This meant the plot jumped around at times, and disrupted the flow of the story. I'm not a fan of this type of story telling personally. I like a more linear approach. I also would have appreciated less of the police reports which seemed to reiterate or repeat information the reader already knew, making the plot a little too long winded.

Look, I'm very picky with my contemporary thrillers. I like something a little out of the ordinary, and something that's going to really shock and surprise me. Unfortunately, I think this subject matter is very common at the moment, with a flood of novels relating to missing children etc. and I think in some parts the novel suffers because of this. I didn't find it particularly original or griping enough at all - and the ending requires a large amount of suspension in belief, and made no real sense to me.

Unfortunately not for me.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Book Review: The Girl In The Tower by Katherine Arden

Well this was truly magical to read. I loved the previous novel in this series, The Bear and the Nightingale, and had high hopes for the follow up. I was not disappointed. Everything I loved from the first novel - the atmospheric setting of medieval Russia, the richness and depth of characters, and a strong background rooted in Russian folklore were developed and expanded upon to make one of the best reads of the year.

The Girl in the Tower continues to follow Vasya, as she struggles to find herself now she's free from her strict father and the rules she has been made to follow. Above all else she wants freedom. She wants to travel the world with Solovey, her companion horse, and taste the feel of adventure. But the constrictions of her time, and the imminent dangers that face her family in Moscow - particularly her sister Olga and brother Sasha, bring her crashing back to face her responsibilities. The only way to taste the freedom she longs for is to disguise herself as a boy, and join her brother in the hunt for men determined to topple the Grand Prince of Moscow from rule.

Mixed in among the politics of a developing nation, we have a story steeped in Russian folklore. The domovoi and creatures of Midnight seen in the previous novel return, and of course we have Morozko - frost demon and Winter king. Slayer of human girl's hearts, and Vasya's lover. Although labeling him this makes it seem everything is black and white, when it's far more complicated than that. Morozko is deeply conflicted in his feelings for Vasya. He is immortal, and should be unable to feel such things as love. Yet he struggles to let her go and lead the life he wants her to live. He's grown attached to things that should be forbidden to him. He's got so much emotional depth as a character, even though his time with Vasya is often so fleeting and void of conversation. Honestly, I think I'm a little bit in love.

Vasya has also grown so much as a character since we first saw her in The Bear and the Nightingale, and it's great to see her develop slowly. It's almost as if I've grown up with her, and faced these troubles by her side. She's determined to rule her own life, not needing anyone and anything to do what she wants. Her relationship with her older siblings Olga and Sasha has also developed, now that she's meeting them for the first time as an adult. She's challenging them on an intellectual level, yet she loves them deeply - to the point where she would sacrifice her happiness and freedom to keep them safe. She's not perfect either. She's rash, and bullish - at one point taking someone's choice out of their hands when it is not her decision to make. She's refreshing and wonderful.

Father Konstantin also returns - after being banished by Vasya in the previous novel, although he is woefully missing from most of the novel. I enjoy the complexity of his character - his deeply ingrained belief in his faith, yet with a love/hate of Vasya and a yearning to belong.

The plot itself to contain all these wonderful characters is great. It's well paced, as we travel with Vasya and Solovey on their journeys around Russia and then onto Moscow with Sasha, and the plot developments largely left me surprised. There's horse races, magic and little girls in danger. Unlike the previous book, I also thought the ending was well defined and didn't end abruptly. I was satisfied (and sad).

Honestly, I enjoyed this immeasurably, and I cannot wait for the final book - and bringing Vasya home.

 - 5 stars

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Book Review - The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries by Mimi Matthews

The Pug Who Bit Napoleon takes a unique look into 18th and 19th century European history, by looking at the pets and other animals associated with the people of the time. From Fortune, the pug belonging to Napoleon's new bride, to Looty, the stolen Pekingese presented to Victoria on the sacking of China.

As I may have mentioned once (or twice), I'm the proud owner of a miniature dachshund named Monty. Because of this, I have a keen interest at the moment in anything dog related - and I really enjoyed the sections relating to dogs in this. Relatively short, I managed to read it in one afternoon, I particularly enjoyed reading about the different personalities of the dogs and the fondness often (although not always) shown by their owners. Dog really has been man's best friend for a long time.

The chapters on Fortune were my favorite. I'm a sucker for French history, and I'd never heard of Fortune's tale before and how he was used as a 'spy' during the revolution. The research was well thought thought in this regard, and I could tell that Mimi Matthews really enjoyed regaling Fortune's exploits with Napoleon. I also enjoyed the sections on the bloodhounds used in the Jack the Ripper case and the introduction to rabies that's mentioned near the end when discussing foxes as pets. It's actually got me interested in researching more on the rabies virus.

I was less enthralled by the later sections of the book, which featured birds, horses and smaller mammals (and rather randomly, sharks). I would have preferred more time with the various dogs and their owners as I felt the research done here was not as strong, and it just wasn't as interesting.

I also wasn't fond of the authors use of other writers texts that make up good chunks of the chapters. I felt it took away some of the author's credibility by using up half of the book with other people's work - especially as it was so short.

Started strong, but too short and not enough dog content for my liking. However, a rather unique look at an area of history I like to read about.

 - 3 stars

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Book Review: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

In The Last Hours we find ourselves in the village of Melcombe, Dorset 1348. The Black Death has taken Britain, and all - old or young, rich or poor, are subject to its whim. Many believe it is a curse sent from God, but Lady Anne has other ideas. Raised by nuns, she has the foresight that could save her household - by barring the door to the sick and isolating them from everyone else. But how long can the survivors stay isolated when food stock dwindles and tempers fray?

This is such a well researched novel, of an extremely compelling period in history. The author has clearly done her homework and this shines through. It's incredibly detailed in its description of the infrastructure and hierarchy present at this time, from the gentry to the working serfs - which is invaluable information as the story progresses. It has left me desperately seeking out more information with regards to this part of British history I have little previous experience of.

The characters are also wonderfully complex. Lady Anne. our leading lady, defies her station and her upbringing to befriend the serfs of her lands - teaching them to read and treating them as something other than slaves. Because of this they have a deep sense of loyal towards her, and she has a deeper understand of their plight. This leads to Lady Anne having an innate need to protect them and help them when the plague comes, bringing them into her fold within her home. Eleanor her daughter. by comparison is volatile and self centered. Similar in nature to her father, a brute who Lady Anne does not love or respect. As the story progresses we see Eleanor descend into madness as a mirror to Lady Anne's unbreakable will to survive.

This is really an intimate look at an almost apocalyptic society, as social constraints fall away within such a confined space. Paranoia and mistrust run rampant, and we see these characters forced to come to terms with each other. and share everything they have. The tension at times is palpable. I enjoyed the section where a 'party' goes out beyond the walls of their sanctuary in search of other survivors and food, as the serfs realise that such a catastrophe could actually lead to their freedom. It was a real turning point in the novel.

My only real issue with this was the pacing. It was incredibly slow at times, and as such it took me a long time to get through this as I got distracted and yearned for a little 'action'. At times I was desperate to know what was going on outside of the walls out characters were confined by, and I struggled to keep reading. This is at heart a character novel. The characters define this world and compel the story along. I just wish the editing at times could have been a bit more cut throat.

 - 3 stars