Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Book Review: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

There are hints of many classic novels in this, including The Wizard of Oz and The Chronicles of Prydain series, with its depiction of a plucky young hero and a trusted sidekick. But Weylyn is slightly different from these characters, as Weylyn can control the weather. And bring plants back to life. And talk to animals. From the moment he was born, sprinkling the doctor with snow, he's been special. After the accidental death of his parents, Weylyn is left to survive with a pack of wolves. And then he meets Mary.

This reads a bit like a modern day fairy tale. It's full of magic, wonder and adventure. I liked the descriptions of the various weather events, ranging from snowstorms and rain, and I felt the magical aspects of the tale were woven together well into the story. It never felt overly 'fantasy', and kept itself grounded in realism.

The characters Weylyn meets are vastly varied - including a pack of wolves and a talking pig. However, I felt aside from Mary, they were rather woefully underdeveloped with no depth or dimension to them. I also didn't really connect with Weylyn himself. Perhaps this is because we don't hear from him directly, as the story is told from these characters he comes into contact with rather than himself. I would have preferred to have had a few chapters from Weylyn's perspective to gain some kind of emotional attachment to him, and get to know him better. However, that said I like the interesting way the author told the story through these 'bystanders' as opposed to the main character - it showed the story in a rather unique way. Perhaps this would have worked better if there were fewer narrators which were more 'fleshed out'.

I also found the plot a little lacking in direction. Although we see, essentially, Wenlyn on a journey to self-acceptance and a 'home' to call his own, I found myself wondering - what's the point?

A short read, that would have been better if longer and the characters more developed. But I liked the ideas, the imagination, and the memories it invoked.

 - 2.5 stars rounded up to 3

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Book Review: These Violent Delights by Victoria Namkung

There's no denying that in the current climate, this book serves a purpose. It's insightful, and promotes an area of abuse and sexual assault that is often swept under the carpet. These Violent Delights follows four women: a journalist and three victims of abuse from a former private school teacher, and their reactions following the exposure and subsequent re-exploration of their past.

The subject of  sexual abuse is sensitively approached, and clearly researched well. All the women are from different social backgrounds (although granted, they're privileged enough to go to a private school) to cover the issue that sexual assault can affect anyone and everyone. The text itself is hard-hitting and to the point. Some of the scenes where the women are retelling what happened to them is uncomfortable to read. It also doesn't shy away from the psychological damage this abuse has caused these women, and how they have each dealt with their issues in their own way - whether it be turning to drugs, denial, or religion. I would have liked to have seen some more diversity in the characters however. Yes, they come from different walks of life - but they're all middle-class, white or mixed race (Asian/American).

I also didn't adjust well to the writing style. At times I found it clinical, with an almost secondhand feel to it in its retelling of the story. The characters felt devoid of any deeper affectional behaviour, and there's not much provided to flesh out their backstories that could make me feel any attachment towards them - aside from feeling sorry for what had happened to them. In particular, I didn't care for Jane's side story with her former co-worker. It felt very out of place and didn't really fit with the overall feel of the book- although I perhaps get the meaning behind it, offering up a 'normal' relationship as a parallel to the 'relationship' the girls had with their teacher.

I understand the importance of telling this kind of story, and can grasp that the author wrote this with the best of intentions. But unfortunately this just didn't work for me because of my disinterest in the main characters.

 - 3 stars

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Book Review: The November Girl by Lydia Kang

What starts as an unusual romance develops into something wild and untamed in this unique tale of a girl, a boy, and the November storms. Hector is running from his home life, ending up on the deserted Isle Royale, when he meets Anda - born of the lake and the maker of November storms. Known as the November Witch, she's more inhuman than mortal. But Hector's made from violence too, and somehow the two collide - but Anda cannot hide from her fate forever.

This was so atmospheric. The prose really transported me into the Autumnal stormy weather, and the descriptions of the lake and the storms in particular were wonderful as we are transported to the scene of a shipwreck through Anda's eyes. A lot of the plot takes place on the water, and my favourite scene involves Anda and Hector traversing the lake to an old shipwreck where 'Mother' makes her presence known. The Isle Royale itself is haunting in it's stillness and devoid of life - which I felt echoed Hector's personality as a boy on the verge of adulthood who's deeply lonely and without any outlets for his pain.

Anda as the other main character is just as complex and unique. Wild yet giving. naive yet dangerous, a creature of chaos who is constantly struggling with her 'true nature'. She's a character quite unlike any I've seen before. Hector is her companion completely in this respect too. Hurt by a past too painful to confront, damaged and angry like Anda - she can see herself reflected in him. Their relationship is different to a typical 'romance' too. Anda is not out to be 'rescued' by Hector, although she does try to suppress the murderous side of her nature for him (understandable). She knows what she is, and what she can do. There's an obvious spark between them on first meeting, which felt natural as the story progressed.

The plot is possibly slow to start, as we see Hector struggle to thrive on the island, and there's lots of time spent dithering about food and fishing and tip toeing around each other. I found myself wanting Anda and Hector to interact quicker than they did, to the point where I was getting frustrated - but in reality I think this was just a reflection on their personalities. One has never interacted with humans before (other than her father), and the other is afraid too. As the story progressed, I found myself enjoying the story more.

I actually think that Hector's past is addressed relatively sensitively. It's never thrust on the reader, rather we are given glimpses of what happened to Hector as he's allowed to tell his story in his own way to Anda. The subject matter is also dealt with delicately, and is rather an extension of why Hector behaves the way he does, rather than let it define his character.

I thought the ending was very fitting for the story, and works perfectly as a stand alone novel. A wonderful read, perfect for Autumn, and fans of magical realism with a splash of winter storms.

 - 4 stars

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Book Review - This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada

If your father was responsible for the apocalypse would you try to set it right? That's the dilemma Catarina faces when a mysterious man shows up at her cabin after a virus wiped out most of humanity, and drove the rest underground, two years ago. But there's more to Cole than meets the eye - genetically enhanced to protect, he arrives to guide Catarina towards the cure they've all been searching for, and she's the key.

The writing for this was wonderfully descriptive, and the overall plot and pacing was good. I never felt bored, or feel the need to skip text to get into the action - the action was pretty much continuous, and I didn't want to stop reading.The world building is also done well, and fully explores the world in which the characters inhabit. However a downside to this was that I wanted to send more time with Catarina on her own in the world, especially when we first meet her. More time spent exploring the horrors that the people left behind must face, and the sacrifices they make, would have helped to better understand the virus itself, and why everyone is so afraid of it. I feel I could have understood the former Neurosurgeon and his family more, and perhaps had more sympathy for them, if I had a better understand of what they'd been through. As it was, I just really wanted Catarina to punish them, and I felt a little let down by her actions.

Aside from this, I liked Catarina as a main character. She's intelligent yet insecure about her abilities, brave yet still reckless and foolhardy. I would have liked to have seen her portrayed in the eyes of the other main characters as someone who can look after themselves though. Too often I've seen these YA protagonists portrayed as fragile young women who need protecting. I want more badass female characters who don't need wrapping up in cotton wool. However, that said I did enjoy her early interactions with Cole, and the playful too-ing and fro-ing of their relationship with some obvious chemistry. This later evolved into something a little forced in my opinion, and it lost the early charm that the author had managed to develop as soon as their feelings progressed.

I would have liked to have seen more interaction with Agnes, her friend first introduced early on. She's quickly dropped as soon as Cole arrives, and barely mentioned again aside from a few offhand comments about her comms link. It felt a bit like she had served her purpose to the early plot, and was quickly left without any further thought until near the end.

However, I did like the moral ambiguity that we see with all the characters throughout the novel, especially with Catarina's father Lachlan. Often the characters are put into morally questionable situations and must decide what course to take. Questions such as: to save millions, is it ok to let a few suffer? What would you do to survive?

The most unique aspect of this book was the inclusion of DNA and technology as the driving factor behind the virus, and humanities growing reliance on it to maintain all aspects of their life. Genetically modified food which tastes like nothing unless an app is downloaded. Apps that allow a person to alter their sight, make them fast, strong. Although sometimes the jargon got in the way of the story at times, I appreciated it for the unique quality it brought to the text.

The ending left me feeling a little bit left down. Not giving anything away, I had very mixed feelings with regards to how the novel developed and I felt I invested a lot of my time in a character that ultimately turned into something else entirely. I thought it was a little bit like taking the easy way out.

That said, this is still a decent science fiction YA novel, and I'd read the sequel.

 - 3.5 stars (rounded up)

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Book Review - Fire Lines by Cara Thurlbourn

Disgraced by her father's rebellion against The One City, Emi and her mother have been banished to the impoverished Red Quarter. Here they are subjected to nightly raids by ruthless Cadet's in search for anything magical - outlawed since the fall of the cities outside the walls of The One City. But Emi has a secret. She's magic. When her secret is exposed, she must leave everyone she loves behind in search of the truth that could save her family. But can Emi really live up to her destiny beyond the walls?

This started off really well. The world building is good - early on we get a story explaining a little of the history and backstory of the world in which the characters inhibit, and it's detailed and well described. It also helps set up Emi's predicament, and the harsh reality in which she lives. I really enjoyed the opening chapters as they were filled with an overlying tension and a strong sense of danger as Emi really struggles to get her magic under control. I was also fond of the characters, and relationships that were formed between Emi and the other Red Quarter inhabitants, especially Hedge.

The execution scene we see early on is also great. It almost felt like there was a gradual build up of emotion among the witnesses that leads to the inevitable outcome. I had high hopes at this point that this would be a really good novel.

However. I felt after this point everything started to unravel. I know it's a fantasy novel, but the story started to take a really unbelievable turn. The 'friend' of Emi's from the Gold Quarter, Tsam, has a rushed and rather far-fetched back story that Emi just believes and accepts blindly. He's woefully underdeveloped at the point of his reveal, and because of this I wasn't interested or surprised. Emi's past is also hurriedly explained, and again, accepted without question even though it's slightly ridiculous.

 Then the author takes this moment to remove Emi from this wonderfully described city and plonk her into the unknown, with a bunch of new characters. I was desperate for more time within the city walls, and further develop the relationships established here. Unfortunately, these new characters are really annoying and one dimensional. All of them.

I lost interest after about 60%. I was so disappointed after such a promising start, but Cara Thurlbourn has proven she's more than capable of building a wonderful fantasy world. I'll look out for future novels.

 - 3 stars for the promising start, 2 stars for the rest

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Book Review - Gather The Daughters by Jennie Melamed

Every summer the girls run wild.

Set on an isolated island, Gather the Daughter follows a series of girls on the verge of their 'fruition', where for one last summer they'll be allowed to roam free without any boundaries or rules before marrying and becoming mothers. The island follows strict rules, or 'shan't nots' which must be obeyed, whereby women must submit to fathers, and later husbands. There also appears to be no technology, or contact with people from outside the island, known as the 'wastelands'. However, one girl witnesses something during this summer that will unravel the truth on the island, and things will never be the same.

This was disturbing, confusing and unsettling in equal measures. The plot hints at things rather than describing them explicitly, meaning the reader has to put the mysteries of the island together themselves through a series of flashbacks and current events  from the older girls narratives. I enjoyed Vanessa and Janeys narratives the most. Vanessa, as a privileged child of a wanderer has access to books and information the other girls don't. As such, she plays a pivotal role in unlocking the islands myseries, and it's the snippets of information she overhears from her father talk that I was most interested to read. I also enjoyed Janey. Her struggle with independence from the islanders, and her fight to prove the truth was endearing. I also really enjoyed her relationship with younger sister Mary. She acts more of a mother to her, and the other younger children, than their biological mothers.

Although I enjoyed the ending, I was left a little disappointed that more things weren't explained. I left the story feeling just as confused and lacking in information as i was from the start. Some explanations of why he island was like it was, and why the first wanderers came to the island would have been helpful to understand the reasoning behind their actions. I never really got any answered to any of my questions, and because of this I just can't rate it any higher.

 - 3 stars

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Book Review - A Skinful of Shadows by Francis Hardinge

I loved The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, and had high hopes for her next offering. I wasn't disappointed. This was the perfect blend of history, magical realism and dark fantasy.

Set in the early days of the English Civil War, Makepeace has been raised by her mother to fear and fight off the dead who want to inhabit her body. When events force her to leave her home and live with her powerful father's family, Makepeace must confront the shadows that lurk in the dark and learn more about her 'inheritance' in order to retain her freedom.

I loved the background of Puritan England. Frances Hardinge paints a vivid picture of this time period, and I really felt part of the story. I never felt at a disadvantage for knowing little about this historical period because everything is explained so well - although I'm sure I would have gained even more from the text if I knew more about King Charles I. There also wasn't extensive details about various battles or sieges aside from what is integral to the plot itself - which allowed me to really just enjoy the story, and stopped it from getting bogged down in facts.

The plot itself starts out a little slow. I wasn't fond of Makepeace's mother, and I found the possessions in the early sections confusing. With no backstory yet developed for Makepeace's family, her mother comes across as extremely strict and almost zealous in her religious fervour without really having a reason behind it. Thankfully, these chapters are swift to get through, and the rest of the story is well paced and carries a good 'adventure' feel to it. The magical realism aspect is well explained, with a good level of mysticism and air of dark fantasy. The Fellmottes are great villains, and the opportunity to have a family completely devoted to living forever through their absolute belief in what they call 'The Inheritance' is wonderful. It's such a unique concept, and I loved it.

Makepeace is great. She's almost a shadow herself in the beginning, an almost parallel to the ghosts who wish to inhabit her. Yet we see as she sets out to save her companions, and with each subsequent possession, how much she grows as a character, and develops an aspect of each character she possesses. She's deeply kind, loyal and at heart a just individual. Unlike James, she doesn't try to better herself in front of her Elders, nor is she swayed by the enticement of power. She's also practical. Whereas James has numerous ideas to escape the ancestral home on discovering her families secrets, she's the voice of reason.

I didn't really warm to James. Aside from when we first meet him, and he rescues Makepeace he comes across as a 'jack the lad'. Easily swayed and taken in, he also readily drops Makepace when a better offer comes along - leaving her behind to face the music.

The story itself is well developed, and well concluded. I felt Makepeace really comes full circle, and I was left feeling satisfied and yearning for more.. Hardinge really is shining at the moment. I don't know anyone who quite blends fantasy and history together quite like she does.

 - 4 stars