UPDATE: Please find an Audible clip from Juliet Marillier's newest novel, Dreamer's Pool, on the original blog post.

Friday, 27 February 2015

B.R. Collins - Gamerunner

B.R. Collins

Rick is a Gamerunner - he tests The Maze to check if there are any glitches or bugs. Sent on a midnight errand by the man he things of as his father, Rick is going to suffer as he never has before.

I picked this novel up because I hoped it would be like The Maze Runner or Gillian Rubinstein's Space Demons. Much to my horror, it wasn't in any sense of the word. Yes, they are similar - outside the Game/Maze is a disaster zone, and there is an overarching mind coordinating it all. But the anticipation of The Maze Runner is completely missing from Gamerunner.

This is an apocalyptic  novel of what happens when the world falls apart and there are only video games left to immerse yourself in, and hope to find something to make your miserable life better.  If anything, I can see it as a highly suitable primary school novel that would be kicked off as soon as possible from the list, because it might place gaming in a too positive light.

Two stars. I'd give it 1 star, but I didn't finish it. Maybe it would have improved later in the novel? I tend to be a lot less tolerant of talking books that fail me in the first couple of chapters, because the reader doesn't grab me and I can't bear to listen any longer. Has someone else read this and enjoyed it? The Goodreads stars don't look all that positive to me.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Katerina West - Witchcraft Couture

Witchcraft Couture

While Oscar Pellegrino has had bursts of creativity, he finds himself in a creative slump again. Fleeing from himself into Russia to visit his mother's birthplace, he himself undergoes a transformation to become the slave of the Sampo.

Oscar seems like he got all the wrong things from his mother, and it seems fitting that the Sampo, while bringing Oscar's creations to life, seems to be sucking the life out of his mother. Is it a metaphor of the Sampo's abilities? Is it really happening? Oscar refuses to ask himself these questions for fear of the answers. It is a story of magic having its price, yet with an air of reality that makes the reader doubt his or her own mind.

Sarah is just a rotten egg. She's ambitious, driven and an all around killer. I felt like she was responsible for all of the failures in Oscar's life - her and his mother do an excellent job of breaking him If it wasn't for them, Oscar could have held it together! Instead he's off on a chase in Russia, which begins his rollercoaster ride to the top of fashion and back down.

Something the author brought in for me was that the fashion houses were always undergoing changes, their popularity changing over time.  I've never been very interested in fashion, but I do know that certain clothes suit certain people. This is an exploration of the concept of that it is 'truly the clothes that make the woman'. Anyone can look good in Oscar's clothes.

I didn't understand why Ben would destroy the dress. Veronica wears the dresses without any ill effects. Some of the people just seem so suspicious. I think it is somewhat absurd that ordinary people would believe that dresses can have such an effect on people - that's what the novel seems to ask the reader. This reminded me of the feminist ideas that are always being rolled around somewhere in the world. It is 'always' the woman's fault for being raped, because if she didn't dress provocatively, no one would have been raped.

While the drawn-out descriptions of colours and tastes might put you off, instead read them as another insight into Oscar's mind. The text is beautifully written and edited. I wasn't even put off by a small detail being out of place, in fact the world felt so complete to me that I stepped into it and I was lost within it while reading. I finished reading this novel feeling like something profound had happened to me while reading it. This is what I expected from Strum, but failed to find.

Even if literary fiction isn't your thing, I really suggest giving this novel a go. While the beginning is a little slow, it speeds up until you can't bear to put it down. I became so invested in the outcome of Oscar's designing that I continued thinking about it even when I put it down.

I think I'd give this 4-5 stars. It's unlikely that I will re-read it so I can't give it an unequivocal 5 stars, but it's so worth reading even if you have just a crumb of interest in literature.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Cassandra Clare & Holly Black - The Iron Trial

The Iron Trial
Cassandra Clare & Holly Black

Callum doesn't know what he is, or why he's at the Magisterium. But he knows he doesn't want to go somewhere that there are eyeless fish waiting to eat him, and there is magic running rampart that is the same as that which killed his mother.

Apparently this is a middle grade series, but maybe that was made it so pleasant to listen to. Each word was perfectly chosen, and I didn't find myself impatiently waiting the narrator to move through the scenes.

I loved the reader, his deep grumbly voice was perfect for Master Rufus. I did feel like sometimes I didn't know who was speaking, but it was entirely context dependant. I think some of the text could have become readily boring, but because it was read and I didn't have a perfect memory of the sentence structures, it worked for me. This was especially true of the sand-herding exercises.

This could feel like a rip-off of Harry Potter, but it really isn't. The dangers feel much more real, and they are consistent, like the authors have actually worked out what the complete series is going to be like. Also Harry is always a hero, and he's always nice to everyone. Doesn't that get a bit cloying at times?

Callum doesn't make you like him. And he seems to be going out of his way to get on everyone else's nerves. But inside there is a soul that wants to do the right thing, as angry as it is. Aaron and Tamara provide a more rational backdrop to him, and make it possible for Call to change.

The end is a twist! You guess from the beginning what might have happened, but there isn't anything to support your thoughts until later, and by that time it's too late! You're already committed to reading the novel from page 1.

I don't think this novel is meaty enough for me to want to read it a second time, so that makes it a 4-star novel. But it's a very good one, and I'd highly recommend it to beginning fantasy readers. I can't wait for the second book in the series to be released as an audio book - I'll gladly spend some of my commuting time devoted to it.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Katharine Kerr & Mark Kreighbaum - Palace

Katharine Kerr & Mark Kreighbaum

Vida is destined for sexual slavery, even as she tries to escape the protective confines of anonymity in a brothel. A lucky 'chance', set up by the previous generation means that there could be a way out - if only her fiancé would stop drinking and she can manages not to be killed by the Lep assassin sent against her. Meanwhile, someone is destroying the Map and making a mess of the whole basis of Palace's society.

While I was most interested in Vida as the strong female protagonist, the cheeky Rico got a lot of my attention too. The rapid changes in perspective seemed clean and sensible, and I didn't find myself wishing that I was back with the last person. It kept me reading frantically to the end. 

Look, I thought it would be hard for me to keep track of which character was which, and which person acted for each faction. The factor/mentor/mentee relationships became more clear over the course of the novel. And indeed, I feel like I'd like to read it again, just to make sure that I got all the points in it. But my complaint was that the novel felt unfinished. Yes, some people suffered, but other people just got away with things!

The torturing methods described were a little graphic. But then I have a thing about eyes. So if you don't like torture, just skip over that paragraph or so. The death of a thousand cuts is fine though. Just not my eyes, my poor eyes!

Ah, to live in a world with a true mix of fantasy and sci-fi. The cyber-hardware could have been explained in more detail. I found it interesting that the different pieces of a person's body could have different implants, but it wasn't really clear why this was the case. The world building on the other hand was detailed, and the authors made a point of reminding us readers why each place was important, but did it as subtly as possible that I didn't just skip over those parts.

While I was drawn to this novel because it had Katherine Kerr as an author, I've actually only enjoyed a subsection of her prolific writing. That was way back before I got into fantasy proper. The promise of an equal collaboration, combined with the attractive blurb got me eager to read it. However, once I got into the novel, I felt like the blurb wasn't actually very accurate. Yes, it has those characters in it, but the focus is not at all on Arno. In fact, I'm not sure he even ever gets a change to 'speak' with his own written voice during the text.

I picked this novel up from my local Op-Shop for a grand total of, um, maybe 50c? Or $1? Totally worth it. 4 stars from me, only because I don't feel the need that I have to reread it right now, and I was content to move on to another book, even though this one left me gasping for air near the end.

I have just had a look on Goodreads and it seems there is a sequel. Given that my copy is a beaten up old one, is there anyone out there who has a copy of the second novel? It looks like these novels haven't been touched by reviewers anywhere in recent history!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Ally Carter - All Fall Down

All Fall Down
Ally Carter

Grace has been thrown back into the life of Embassy Row, where countries stand side by side in buildings that could fall at any moment. After she left it, when her mother was murdered,  she was put away for her own mental health. Now released into the wild-world again, Grace isn't coping with being back near her remaining family, or the potential killer of her mother.

So I liked the idea of the novel. Embassy Row sounds pretty cool really. The chance to socialise with a whole bunch of different people and speak 7 different languages? Nothing but awesome! Although I think a couple of foreign words could have been thrown in for good measure. Then I could even pretend I was learning something from this novel.

Grace is so certain of these three things:  she's not crazy, her mother was murdered, and she wants to hurt the killer., that she can't listen to reason. She's determined to isolate herself. In fact, she's so self-willed that you feel like some of this has got to be her fault, but also that the adults are just being idiots and not helping at all.

Grace seems to be suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, which is basically belittled by any adult in her life, and which alienates her from other young people around her. It's the reason she's lost any friends, but doesn't explain why she didn't make any in the first place.

The sequences of events left me feeling disorientated. At the same time that Grace was trying to protect other people, she was caring little for her own life. If she's dead, she can't stop the next person from being killed. If anything, this novel wants you to empathise with Grace, but then throws you up in a very ugly manner near the end. The twists and turns and promises all turn flat.

I hated the ending. Absolute garbage. It was not a satisfying conclusion, and even as it left the ending open, it didn't leave Grace as having grown as a character. I felt like the book didn't actually achieve anything.

This novel is well written, and I can see that if it was part of a series (which it appears to be the first book of), and I had the next book to read right away that was going to give me some satisfaction and character growth, maybe I could score it higher. There are other things to read though, and so I'll give this one 2 stars, with the promise of three if the next book can tie up the loose ends.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Dan Gemeinhart - The Honest Truth

The Honest Truth
Dan Gemeinhart

Mark lives a normal life. He's got a great friend, a supportive family and a beloved dog. Except, it's a as normal as someone who is sick all of the time can be normal. Mark knows he's getting sicker, and maybe he won't be able to climb any mountains before he dies. 

The backstory on this is neatly woven into the text. I didn't feel like any of it was a step back in time. The novel kept moving inescapably forwards, regardless of what the reader desired. The splits between the two perspectives didn't feel false, and each break didn't make me try and skip through the person I wasn't interested in.

I guess the basis of this novel is the relationship between a man and his dog. A common theme, true, but this is a truly equal partnership, as shown by a couple of points in the novel. In this way, it makes it more relatable to kids who haven't been so sick, but have owned a pet of their own which makes life so much better.

I'm not sure how I felt about the hiaku poems Mark writes. Sure, they're neat in a way, but I don't think it gave me any more insight into his personality. Cryptic notes are good and well, 

This novel is either going to be one you are gripped with, or you can't wait to get away from it. I came from the 'gripped' category, but a housemate said she wouldn't touch it because 'sob stories aren't my thing'. I think it's very unfair to call this novel a sob-story - it felt genuine and gritty and painful. I think what kept me reading was that fact that Mark's future was really uncertain. His best friend understands what he needs, even if it kills her not to tell. 

This is the first middle grade novel I've reviewed in a while, and I had to readjust my expectations. once that was done, I really enjoyed it. Maybe 4 stars for me - it's in the region of novels such as 'Bridge to Terabithia', that would be perfectly readable to its target audience and brings up some important questions to think about in life.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Kit Alloway - Dreamfire

Kit Alloway

Josh is a dreamwalker - she enters the dreams of others to save them from her nightmares. On the eve of her 17th birthday, she still regrets and fears her relationship with others. Shackled with an apprentice that she doesn't think she can care for, she needs to stop the men in gas masks while still holding up a facade of normality.

This novel was brilliant. Dreamwalking isn't exactly a new concept, and neither is traits like this running in a family. But what is new is the idea of fates, and them being written down means they can be stolen. This novel combined so many good things, and scientific facts that when new things happened, they seemed quite believable.

The action sequences are breathtaking, and the possibility that people really do get hurt makes them all the more real. Once you're attached to Josh and her apprentice (and her whole family), you can't bear the thought of them being injured. When they are, it's like a blow to your own heart.

I felt both satisfied and unsatisfied with the ending. Why did it have to end? And at the same time, it's been left open for a sequel. For this to be a debut novel, it's likely that Penguin was taking a chance on the author and not committing to a longer contract. But I sure hope they do!

A touch of romance is all a novel like this needs - not too cloying, and gritty instead. Josh isn't a passive person, and she's not a passive girlfriend. But when you look at her background, she was a bit needy. The only part that didn't work for me was near the ending.

I felt pleasantly frustrated at times. I wanted to know Josh's background in bigger chunks! I wanted more of everything! I wanted more nightmares! Sigh. I want more of these characters. They're all built so nicely, their world is well-realised, and I couldn't put it down.

What would I have liked to have done differently? Well, one niggly thing was that the 'W' names got me a bit confused at times. And swapping between the dreamweaver names and their 'English' equivalents sometimes left me feeling confused as well. It could be there was a connection between the two uses, but I'd have to reread to make sure.

I received this novel from Penguin - and I couldn't have been happier that I had requested it. 5 stars - I can't wait to read it again.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Paul Collins - Dragonfang

Paul Collins

There are five pentagram gems on offer, bringing with them the promise of easily accessing distant worlds - whether that's to bring back armies or missing companions. Jelindel stars again, but Daretor and Zimak have a role to play in the places they find themselves.

I have similar things to say about this one to the first in the series. Jelindel is starting to feel like a real adult, and Zimak and Daretor are progressing as characters. That being said, the plot is what makes the novel enjoyable, and makes it possible for reluctant reader to get in on the action.

We see the return of the lindraks in this novel, and see what the Deadmoon lindraks have changed. They're still cut-throat assassins, but some of them are growing conscious of the importance of saving the whole of Q'zar.

Yes it makes sense that Jelindel would want to get her companions back, but seriously, hunting for extremely magical gems at the precise time she needs to? As it is a novel, I guess that's what I should expect, but I at least want some suspense. Everything is just a little bit too easy (I'm sure Jelindel wouldn't say the same thing).

This novel seemed like a tag-on to Dragonlinks. It was like the publisher discovered that the first novel was popular, and said, 'quick, write me a sequel' without considering whether the first novel should have been a stand alone or was originally designed to be read as one.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Paul Collins - Dragonlinks

Paul Collins

Jelindel's family has been murdered, and she is just struggling to survive out in the real world. Throw in a thief and a warrior consumed with honour, and you find that they make an incredible team.Which is good, because they're trying to hunt down missing links of a chain mail shirt in order to destroy it forever.

The characters are fleshed out nicely, and I was able to empathise with them. The only complaint I continue to have is that the characters don't really show much growth - particularly Jelindel's sidekicks. Even Jelindel herself doesn't change much, except to be more plucky.

Something I truly respect about Jelindel is her search for knowledge for knowledge's sake. I couldn't understand why she just didn't take all the skills from the dragon links! More skills are never a bad thing. Even if she didn't use the powers (which wouldn't seem very honourable), they would still be useful to have waiting around. That might have made the following books more exciting in terms of her abilities. Simple binding words get way too much importance - or maybe that the simplest things in life work best. 

The plot is quite straightforward, but there are some diversions from the set path that you can't begin to predict. My partner had trouble getting into it, she's a slow reader. She commented the beginning was quite slow. I like the beginning! But I've always enjoyed simple things like learning lessons and working in an everyday life just for a change.

I have reread this series more than once over the years, but obviously not for 3+ years now! I would choose it as an excellent novel for reluctant female readers, or to a beginning fantasy reader.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Michelle Baumgartner - Diet and Weight Loss Lies

Diet and Weight Loss Lies
Michelle Baumgartner

Michelle writes from her own perspective on exercise and anorexia, and finding your way out of the dieting hole. Backed up with science and a couple of relevant university Degrees, Michelle sets down planning for a new you in 8 weeks. Reminds me of the 12 week program touted by someone else...

Did I learn anything new from this? No, I didn't really. I've read other books like this before, and find many of them the same. That being said, one of the diet books I read was completely a fad, and I couldn't recommend it to anyone. See here for my rather ripping-apart review. This book is a reasonable source of information, and is certainly not a 'fad diet'.

I loved the recipe section at the back. It's a good formula for people who don't feel comfortable working out what they should be eating from a random list of 'allowed' foods. There are some random lists in this book that you can skip over if so desired. I only wish that the menu plans had come with a total list of what you needed for the recipes.

Some fad diets come up with diets based on blood type, which is completely absurd. Instead, this guide uses your body shape. I think the overall view is good, but don't shackle yourself into sticking to one body type meal. The main thing is being sensible about what you eat, and how much you eat!

I don't agree with putting only a fist-full of food in your stomach at one time. For people working 9-5 hours, it's simply not possible to fit in 5 meals. As it is, the earliest time we can have dinner is at 6pm. If you work from home like I do sometimes, I would strongly suggest packaging up your portions for the day, and eating them when you get hungry. If not, it is likely you will just snack from the fridge and not get far on anything.

A non-nonsense guide. I think I'd actually recommend this one. The only thing that let me down were the limited case studies - I always find that part the most fascinating.