Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Araminta Star Matthews & Stan Swanson - Return of the Loving Dead

Horror Highschool - Return of the Loving Dead
Araminta Star Matthews & Stan Swanson

Amber thinks she has the best life. She's going to be top of her class, she has a fantastic loving boyfriend, and everything is right in the world. Unfortunately for her, there is an untreated zombie on the loose, and she's going to lose her life as she knows it.

This is an interesting turn on the zombie theme that seems to be getting out of control (zombie apocalypse survival team anyone?). It's a slightly different idea, to have zombification as a curable disease to some extent, rather than people running around and randomly killing each other.

I couldn't understand how Amber knew that she'd want to look after Zach for the rest of his life. His ears were falling off for goodness sake! Amber seems like a bit of an idiot to me. True love is a bit hard to detect (or at least, I think so with my current experiences), and she's committing to a life time of expensive medications and making sure he doesn't eat brains.

I agreed that the holding facilities were just cruel. They should have just killed them. I'm sure it's hard to kill someone who's been zombified, but at the same time, are they really much more than a potato? I would think I would put plans in place to kill me off if I ever became a zombie!

I would have liked to hear more science about the zombies and the treatments. How do the treatments work? How did they come up with them? What's with the new genetic testing? Why can't they detect whether someone is infected earlier and do something about it? I guess this is a teenage fiction novel, so I can't expect too much of it.

Worth reading if you like the genre, if not, give it a miss as there's other novels to be read where to protagonist isn't quite so stupid and naive. Perhaps the second novel in the series will be more enlightening, but we'll see.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Ellen Wittlinger - The Long Night of Leo and Bree

The Long Night of Leo and Bree
Ellen Wittlinger 

It's been 4 years since Leo's sister was killed by her boyfriend. Leo is still haunted by the sight, and his mother is out of her mind. Bree leads a boring life in comparison, but when she heads out to a bar, and finds herself lost, confronted by Leo and threatened with murder.

The back of this novel is very misleading. This is not romance. It's a horrible night for them both, but it has the potential to lead to positive things. I'm not sure exactly what though.

I felt along with the characters, I felt Bree's terror and Leo's confusion. I found myself being disturbed by what was happening, and not wanting to put the novel down for fear of something happening while I wasn't looking!

At the same time, I couldn't feel the same connection with both characters. Leo has so much depth, while Bree seems like a simple rich girl. I guess that's her role, but surely Wittlinger could have picked a better antagonist? Or at least make me feel some sympathy for her. If I had thought it would make Leo feel better, I would have told him to kill her.

I purchased this novel because I've enjoyed Wittlinger's novels in the past. It has nothing on Parrotfish, but is really much better than Hard Love. That's not to say it's perfect though, or anything other than a quick, worth-reading-once, novel. Don't bother buying it unless you're determined to collect everything from this author, just borrow it from the library to make up your mind yourself. I'd recommend this for mature teenage readers.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Brian Caswell - Double Exposure

Double Exposure
Brain Caswell

Cain and Chris are two very different people. One is an artist, the other feels he's just average. Cain is living under the thumb of his domineering parents while Chris has his own artist pad. When they both follow their jobs to romance, it's difficult to say what will happen next.

This is another Brian Caswell novel I picked up at the same time as 'Cruisin''. Of the two, I enjoyed this one more, even if the ending left me feeling a little confused. Ok, amend that. A LOT confused.

You can feel everything happening, Caswell has captured the immediacy of everything in beautiful descriptions that don't feel forced or unnatural.

Caswell's character building was so strong that I couldn't decide which of the boys was my favourite. Even with the narrative jumping around a bit, which I usually abhor, it was great. This is an example of it working well to get insight into the psyche of the chacaters.

The ending was so confused! If I had time, I would certainly read it again to work out what the hell was going on. I didn't understand how the friend couldn't notice, or didn't say anything! And that the girls never suspected anything.

With it's twists and turns, it is sort of still just another young adult love story. I enjoyed that it had some deeper themes (prostitution, stalking and the like), but overall, it was nothing outstanding apart from the descriptions and ending. Well worth reading, however make sure you leave time to read it twice! Or just pay a lot of attention as you read through the novel...

Friday, 18 July 2014

Maria Farrer - Broken Strings

Broken Strings 
Maria Farrer

Jess has a desire to play classical violin beyond everything else in her life. Focused on her goal, she is blind to other things that are happening around her until her bid for a scholarship fails. Drawn in by a grandmother she's never met, she has another chance to make it with violin.

At times, I found this novel too painful to put down. It seemed like one thing after another turned out incorrectly. Jess just couldn't help getting into trouble! It doesn't help that her grandmother is very out of touch with children, and always has been.

I loved the way the characters were developed. Even the 'servants' had attitudes and opinions, even if the grandmother tried to suppress them. It's hard to fit all of that into one novel, but Farrer manages it beautifully.

I didn't really understand Jess' reluctant teenager-ing. I mean, sure rebel, but you still play Classical violin! Who wouldn't want an excuse to wear nice clothes? Sure, not dresses (I can understand that, I never loved them much until recently myself), but a lovely pair of dress slacks would have done the job.

I wasn't satisfied with the way things ended up with Charlie. Sure, age gaps are a hard thing, but still! Jess never should have gotten involved with anyway, she is in such a mess herself, not to mention not having time for anything!

I had never heard of any of the musicians in the novel, so I'm still not sure if they are 'real people' or not. Probably not. But the music, oh, the music. Well worth listening to. I'd even go so far as to say listen to it while reading the novel! It's nice when the author can add atmosphere in this way, just with a mention of music.

I received this novel from Scholastic in return for an honest review. Personally, I would have purchased this novel anyway if I had seen it. I look forward to seeing more from this author.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Brain Caswell - Cruisin'

Brian Caswell

Jules and Suzi are stuck on a cruise ship for the old and almost-deceased. While Jules is chasing after the pretty girl, and Suzi is putting up with him, they develop a friendship that is going to change their lives in unexpected ways.

This is a very light read, in the lines of many Judy Blume novels.
Jules says at the very beginning of the novel that it's likely to end up a love story. And in a perverse kind of way it is.

I liked Suzi, she was spunky, but had her own issues that meant that she wasn't just the boring side kick. I could have heard more from her perceptive to be honest.

I had trouble getting into this story. The drama felt manufactured, and the bullying seemed extreme. Jules felt like a push over! Adrian didn't seem so bad, but all of the characters were rather one dimensional much to my dismay.

It's a nice idea, going on a cruise. I've never been on one. I wish there had been more details of the places they visited so that I could have lived vicariously through them.

I picked it up for a literal song at the local library as they were going out of stock. I'd heard good things about Brian Caswell. It's not a reread for me, but it's worth it for younger teens who want to get into reading (particularly guys).

Friday, 11 July 2014

Ben Burgess - Wounded

Ben Burgess Jr.

This is a review intended for readers of 18+ years

Samantha had an abusive childhood, and now she's working in a strip club where she abuses and torments men in return. Not content with that, she is set on her mission to turn as many straight, or almost straight, women gay.

I didn't love the sex scenes in this book. I always struggle with either unrealistic portrayals or an excess of cussing words. At least in this case, it was almost all lesbian sex scenes, which although they weren't respectful, they were thought out.

I found the prose a bit disconcerting at times. I just couldn't get into it! Sometimes there are too many descriptions of people's emotions in a 'telling' rather than 'showing' way. Somewhere this was very apparent was in the fight scenes, as well as some of the conversations.

The storyline in this novel was a strong one. Samantha is so wounded and broken it seems like she'll never fix it. She makes so many stupid mistakes, culminating in a life changing one, and she doesn't seem to learn unless other people point out the facts for her. She is willfully ignorant, and although I can't like her, I appreciate a protagonist who is different for once.

I find it interesting that although Samantha says that she has no family except her 'girls',  she has the entire gay community and also a sense of solidarity in being a coloured woman. In the scene in which she gets into a fight, she is backed up by both these.

That all being said, I did enjoy this novel! It was another break from my usual novels and it provided a welcome distraction. The storyline alone should pull you in, and perhaps could make it a reread for some people who resonate more soundly with the novel.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Juliet Marillier - The Caller

The Caller
Juliet Marillier

Neryn still has another guardian to meet before she can undertake her task as a Caller. Little does she know that magic has been weakening under the Tyrant's rule, and it may be more difficult than she imagines. When it comes to the final battle, will she be able to succeed against the other forces moving against her?

The Caller is everything I wanted from Marillier. Action packed, strong friendship ties, and a bit of drama that doesn't allow you to hope that the main characters will turn out ok.

I liked that we heard more from Flint's perspective in this novel. Something from the other rebels would have been good too (such as Tali), but this lack meant that you felt like you were truly in Neryn's shoes.

Hint, don't read the back of this novel's cover, or any summaries online. I accidentally read one, and then spent the whole book wondering when the thing was going to happen. It didn't, and I didn't feel cheated, I just wished I could have appreciated the bits more.

The conclusion isn't surprising. Or rather it is, but then you realise you should have guessed from all the pointers in the beginning. You feel satisfied, but not too satisfied. And there's still some tension lurking right to the very end. 

I'm sort of sad that I didn't feel enough connection to any of the secondary characters to be sad when they died. There was one exception, but I can't tell you about that, obviously.
I'd love to know what happens next. Who will be king? Who will be the regents?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Juliet Marillier - Raven Flight

Raven Flight
Juliet Marillier

Having safely reached Shadowfell, now Neryn needs to master the elements of earth and water, each testing her in their own way. She must leave the safety and her tenuous forming friendships, and get on with Tali, a warrior set on hating her.

I'm not entirely sure why this novel is called Raven Flight. I would perhaps call it Crow Flight, but that name would be even better suited to the third novel if you were going for straight-forward names.

Ravenflight improves on the first novel, and in terms of magic and learning it proved to be the best of the three. I really enjoyed the practical elements of magic. The breathing, understanding water and its volatility, learning the rituals and offerings. Remember to be respectful of the elders and the native environs.

A lot of this novel is Neryn working out the ethics of using her skills. She doesn't want to let anyone die, yet she knows that some must die in the process. It's an interesting conundrum, something most people would not face. Trial and error seems the way to go.

Not much I can say about this novel really. Just as good as the first one, but still not as enthralling as some of Marillier's other works.

The cover on this one matches the first, which naturally makes me happy. Thanks to Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy to review.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Juliet Marillier - Shadowfell

Juliet Marillier
Neryn has been fleeing Enforcers for most of her young life. After she is snapped up in a game of chance, she is given the opportunity to make her way to a safe place. Trusting no-one, she heads off on her own, but doesn't know the way in the winter.

Neryn and Flint's relationship is a tenuous one. Neryn doesn't trust anyone, sensibly enough in her world. She tries to trust the un-canny folk, but in the beginning they aren't that fond of her either.

This novel is mainly about the journey to Shadowfell (which often seems hopeless and too far away), and Neryn displaying the signs of the Caller before she can begin training. Although not particularly entrancing at the beginning, it did warm up.
This novel reminded me strongly of another set of books I enjoyed by Alison Croggon. The Books of Pellinor is also a journey and powers quartet.
In every novel of Marillier the background and landscape (as well as traditions), are strongly rooted in Celtic beginnings. If you're fond of her other works, you'll like this one too. If you (or your younger reader) aren't ready for the Daughter of the Forest, this is a perfect starter into this world-type.

The magic system in this world is not particularly new. People are 'canny', and the fairy folk they see are 'un-canny'. Although the tyrant king holds that these people are 'smirtched', and wants to kill them all off. I don't quite understand this, as it was a prophesy that he would die at the hand of someone canny, yet he brings them closer to him if they suit his purposes. Then again, he is a tyrant.
I received this novel straight from Pan Macmillan for review. I would have bought it on my own however, as I love these sets of novels from this author.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Anna Frost - The Fox's Mask (review and giveaway)

The Fox's Mask
Anna Frost

Akakiba is part of the Fox Clan of samurai. He can change into a fox - but he hasn't told his apprentice yet. With dragons at stake and strange demon possessions going on, it's important to be honest, and reduce the inevitable shocks. But Akakiba isn't as contented with himself as he seems.

Nothing was dramatic with the love and affection through the novel. It was ok to love other people, and it was ok that foxes could change their gender. There wasn't any huge fanfare about Akakiba and Yuki's relationship, which appeared deeply, but confusingly, loving. I loved how being queer was treated normally - or so I thought. The novel highlighted an issue that's rampant within the Queer community and is yet to receive widespread acceptance from the general public.

This is historical YA LGBT fiction, and I want to get my hands into more of it as soon as possible. In fact, the next time I have a book buying spree, I think I may need to purchase the second and third books in the trilogy. Or I might get lucky and the author will send me a review copy. Either way, I want them!

I had a couple of reservations at the beginning of the novel, as some of the text and dialogue didn't sit right with me. I went into this novel dreading the end, because I didn't know it was a trilogy and I couldn't see how the action could possibly resolve. The action really was quite slow. There was quite a lot of traveling, which was fine with me, as I wanted to hear more about the countryside.

The thought of magic dying out was scary. It's a new dread to have in a novel to me,  as most fantasy novels take magic for granted. More could have been done with it, but this novel was mainly about exposing Akakiba.

The Japanese words scattered throughout the text didn't bother me, as I studied Japanese at school and remembered their meanings. They added a bit of interest to the text for the average reader I felt - more than just saying it's set in Japan, the culture and language hold true as well.

I was requested by the author to read this novel, and participate in the tour. I haven't toured a novel for a while, since my reading scedule doesn't always allow me to finish novels in time. This one however was entracing enough that I devoured it in one gulp.

I'm lucky enough to have a giveaway associated with this novel (but don't think that's why I gave it a glowig review, I loved it!)