Review: DM Cain – The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project
DM Cain

This world of violence is only a small step from our own. Religion has been blamed for terrorism and driven underground, and prisons are bursting at the seams. The only solution is to reduce the number of prisoners and getting them to kill each other for spot is a logical solution. Charged with a deadly crime, Raven punishes himself again and again with no hope of salvation.

This novel opens with a bloody fight scene that positions the reader to empathise with Raven while at the same time wondering why he has killed before. Although the blow by blow of the fight is written slightly awkwardly, the feeling behind it is strong enough to seep through the action and encourage the reader to keep going!

This is a bloodier, more brutal criminal punishment than that explored in Day 7 and Cell 7. I rather like this novel more because it is more detailed and meaty, with a protagonist who has sinned, but is ready to redeem himself eventually.

Ah yes. Raven is a tortured, depressed prison inmate who nevertheless cannot stop fighting for his life. His despondency seeps through the pages and his self-harm (extreme trigger warning) is painful to observe. I felt myself wondering what choices I would have made, and whether I would be as strong as Raven.

This novel comes with an optional epilogue, as the ending within the novel is quite abrupt. I liked being given the option to read it or not, because I can’t decide how I feel about it. I like there to be a concrete ending, even if it is not a happy one. Go purchase this book for yourself, and then decide whether you too want to read the epilogue.

I read this novel a long time ago, and remember that I loved it so much that I gave it 5 stars. Then I neglected to review it, and let it just sit there on the review pile for a year (or more!). So this review is actually written based on my re-read, and it was worth the time.

Review: Lisa Ireland – The Shape of Us

The Shape of Us
Lisa Ireland

The WON forums are a haven of fat women all desperate to lose weight to improve something in their lives. What starts as impersonal interactions online quickly turns into a fast friendship between four women – but will life get in the way of their happiness? Will the group be able to lose weight?

The author has managed to make four very different women all equally interesting to read about. The mix between internet posts and insight within each woman’s head is done well and doesn’t detract from the storyline. The internet posts hold the different perspectives together. I felt like I got to know them all as people and this made it easier to sympathise with them even when they made choices that I myself didn’t agree with.

The dialogue, particularly Mezz’s, feels stilted and awkward at times. It doesn’t seem to read like a real person would say it. At other times I felt like I wasn’t convinced by their interactions and insight when they were together. Somehow, they are almost saintly when dealing with each other’s problems and forgiving rude posts! The only breakdown of this was the Jewels-Josie interaction which felt rushed and unnecessary amongst the rest of the drama.

The end comes up very rapidly. I felt irritated by the fact that we didn’t see a lot of the character development that must have occurred between the climax of the novel and the final chapter (I can’t say more without it being a spoiler). It’s sort of like the author was told that the old ending didn’t have enough drama, and that a catastrophe needed to occur to sell the novel.

I read this novel twice with a year gap in between! I hadn’t reviewed the novel right after I read it the first time, I think because I had read the mother’s promise and both novels came to similar conclusions. This is a light read, and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t recommend a reread. There isn’t enough substance – this is more of a poolside read. It is fiction after all, so I would suggest A.J. or Shauna’s novel/books for a realistic weightloss book. For an actual how-to guide, try Do you really want to lose weight? or Diet and Weight Loss Lies.

I’m giving this novel 4 stars, with the caveat that there are some things you need to overlook before you can enjoy it fully.

 

Guest Reviews from Kyria #2

Remember last year when I had a guest stay with me for 11 days and she read a bunch of book and reviewed them for me? Well, she’s back and in 7 days she read all these novels. Take it away Kyria!

Akarnae

The start of the book didn’t do it justice. It felt jumpy and confusing, because the book went to the effort of explaining and describing a situation that the character would be in, only to pull her out of it almost directly afterwards. This continued throughout the book to some extent, although never as bad as in the beginning; there were parts that felt jumpy or rushed.

However, after making it through the beginning, the book got much better and by the end of it I was really interested in what was going to happen; so much so that I might have to buy the sequel. 4 stars

The Ash Princess

If there’s one word for this book, it’s mediocre. It had a great idea, but the book didn’t live up to expectation. The idea of different ‘personalities’ that the character had, depending on who she needed to be (Thora vs Theodesia) seemed more like a way to hide a jarring personality change that instead should’ve been written into the book in a much slower, and careful way. The only way that combination of submissive and powerful would have worked is if she had been Theodesia the entire time, choosing instead to act as Thora when she needed. However, this isn’t what happened; instead, it seemed to happen over the span of a few pages, when she decides to reclaim her name, and her kingdom, and not be broken anymore. It’s reasonable that a decision like this could be made in a moment, but there should have been more happening before this, of her slowly gaining confidence, instead of just jumping on an opportunity she’s been beaten away from her entire life. 3 stars

The Bone Queen

This book was definitely not one of the best books I’ve ever read. By the time I was halfway through, I was barely skimming through it, and only because I hate leaving books unfinished. The book started out solid, however, the first change of POV started the downhill spiral than this book went on. Starting with a character who knew nobody meant that there wasn’t a bombardment of names to remember, but this changed once we left his point of view. Already, this meant that I was disinterested in half of the book, because I couldn’t understand who was doing what. The other part of the book was really good… until the two sides inevitably met up, and brought along all the name problems.

The exciting parts of the book were always good; when something interesting was happening, it was well-written, and I was interested. However, these parts seemed to be few and far between as I entered the second half of the book, instead filled with pages and pages of meaningless filler that didn’t add much to the storyline. It was around this part where I just began skipping the filler and reading only the more exciting parts; and while there was some storyline that I missed, the only noticeable difference from ignoring a significant part of the book was one change in location.
This had the potential to be a great book, but sadly fell short. 1 star

The Phoenix Project

This was an amazing book! I was hooked from start to finish. It was unpredictable; but not in a bad way. Instead of being able to guess what was going to happen from the very beginning, the book went in directions I wouldn’t have expected. The character progression felt natural, and I could really understand his actions, and why he did them.
There was only one part of this book that I didn’t particularly like, and it was relatively minor. The relationship between two of the characters felt a bit rushed; they went from barely knowing each other, to disliking each other, to being friends in a way that felt much too fast for my taste. 5 stars

Elantris

Wow. Just wow. This book legitimately blew me away. I usually have trouble keeping up with a book as it goes through separate storylines; one always seems much more interesting than the other. However, this wasn’t the case at all for this book. Both storylines had me equally interested, because they both brought something new to the table, instead of one half being the necessary but boring part. The author clearly focused on making sure that the book was well-written, and was interesting all the way through, instead of knowing what he wanted to happen, and just finding a way to get there. I started this book in the afternoon, so I inevitably stayed up late to finish it. However, usually when I’m up late to finish a book, I wish it were shorter so that I could get all the enjoyment out of it, but still go to bed earlier. This was absolutely not the case for this; I wanted the book to continue forever, even if it meant I wouldn’t go to sleep for the next few weeks.

The book did a great job at constantly keeping the reader in suspense. There were unexpected twists all throughout the book, which kept me constantly on my toes. I also appreciated that they made sure not to give the surprises away too soon. The two main characters spent so much time together, with one of them not knowing who the other was, that it constantly frustrated me. However, it also kept me reading to wait for the sweet moment when everything would be revealed.

The only negative that I have with the book is that a little more backstory would have been nice. I understand why the book started out on such a vital part, but it meant that as a reader, I was unaware of the relationships that the prince had to the other characters, so it meant that I didn’t have much to expect from when he revealed himself. 5 stars

A Chronicle of Chaos

Absolutely great book. The first part of the book played with suspense really well; I never knew what was going to come out of the relationship. It kept me hooked from the second I started reading. Throughout the book, the character development of the demon was done perfectly. I didn’t think it would’ve been possible for a genuine character development to take a demon into… a not-demon, but it felt genuine the entire time. This also happened with the main character, although there was less development because he hadn’t started off at as extreme a position.

I feel like the quality dropped near the end of the book, when Anathema became human. It felt less exciting, especially compared to earlier in the book. The transition between the relationship of the characters also felt unnatural; Chaos went from hating Anathema to instantly risking everything for him. I understand that this was done because he realised Anathema loved him back, but it still seemed unrealistic, and a bit of a jump. That said, because the rest of the book was so spectacularly done, I kept interest the entire time, because I really felt invested in the characters. 4.5 stars

The Traitor’s Game

This was a solid book. It had a great storyline, and was written well for the most part. The major let-down of the book was the predictability. I could’ve guessed a significant part of the storyline from the very beginning, which ruined a lot of the book for me. There was also one part of the book that I found very confusing, after she found the blade, where it wasn’t made clear what she had actually done with it. I understand that this was for a big reveal later on, but as a reader it just left me confused and wondering if I’d skipped a page.
The character development was also all over the place; especially the character of Trina, who went from hating Kestra to wanting to be friends in the blink of an eye. Kestra was also very predictable. Although she made a few decisions that I thought were genius, and hadn’t expected, a lot of her personality focused on her (extremely predictable) relationship with Simon.

That said, it was enjoying to read, and would definitely be a good choice for a light book you don’t want to think too much about. 3.5 stars

Review: Giovanna & Tom Fletcher – Eve of Man

Eve of Man
Giovanna & Tom Fletcher

Fifty years ago, baby girls stopped being born – making women an endangered species. Eve is a biological anomaly who was born during the drought. At age 16, it’s time for her to start reproducing. Her holo-friend Holly is there to keep her company, just as she has for their lives – but the boy behind it is starting to fall for Eve. As the EPO’s lies fall apart, will Eve and Bram ever be able to be together?

Eve is a naive girl who you want to like as a protagonist. But without more from her it is impossible to do so. I get that it is difficult to get inside her head – that’s why the EPO has Holly after all. But that’s why there are split perspective chapters! I much preferred Bram as the alternative protagonist. Good work Bram on having an actual personality, but you couldn’t carry the novel by yourself when there were other fatal flaws.

It felt like a hard slog to get into the characters, and I didn’t find the premise of the novel particularly promising. It is almost impossible to restart a population from a single individual – even if they are bred every year. Just ask any conservationist of endangered animals! Yet Eve is expected to repopulate an Earth that isn’t even worth saving.

I did finish this novel, but again, just like Zero Repeat Forever, I wish I hadn’t wasted my time. I was a chapter out from the end when my partner pointed out that this was the first novel in a trilogy. I immediately stopped reading in disgust – honestly I would have been happy if the ‘happy ending’ was both of them dying!

I did finish this, so I have to give it 2 stars, but honestly don’t waste your time. I’m not sure who this would appeal to because the science behind it is so unreasonable that I can’t recommend it. Try The Ego Cluster and Sapient instead.

Penguin Random House | 28th May 2018 | AU$22.99 | paperback

Review: Brian Conaghan – The Weight of a Thousand Feathers

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers
Brain Conaghan

Bobby’s life is boring enough on the outside. Inside his house though he has a sick mother who is getting sicker every day, and a little brother who just can’t fit into society or life. When his mother asks him the ultimate question, Bobby feels that he must make a decision.

Bobby’s devotion to his mother is admirable, is is his devotion to his rather difficult little brother. However, a child should never be put into this position. I can’t believe that the professional carer for his mother is such a numskull. Or actually I can. Health professionals that aren’t nurses aren’t always as well trained as they could be.

The circle that Bobby starts going to is a good idea. But if such a problem has been acknowledged, shouldn’t someone be doing more about it? As with any teenage novel, there’s instalove that didn’t go anything for me either.

I’m giving this 1 or 2 stars. I didn’t finish this novel, but whether this was because I had other things to read or it was truly irredeemably terrible, your guess is as good as mine. There are plenty of other good Young Adult novels dealing with this topic in a more believable way.

Bloomsbury | 1st July 2018 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Sam Hawke – City of Lies

City of Lies
Sam Hawke

Jovan was first poisoned when he was seven to train him to protect the Chancellor’s son. His older sister Kalina should have had the role, but she was too weak. With Jovan and Kalina’s Tashi killed by an unknown poison, and the same with the Chancellor, the city must change or die. A siege adds pressure to the already tight city and tensions run high.

What I wasn’t too convinced by was Kalina’s ‘secrets and lies’. I’m pretty sure that except near the end, Jovan knew most of her secrets. I do agree with Kalina that Jovan should back off sometimes, because she needs the right to look after herself for a change. The interplay between the siblings was really believable.

I was caught up in this novel the whole time I was reading it, and I didn’t want to put it down for anything. I was craving a good fantasy after rereading Elantris, and City of Lies hit the spot. A bit of understated magic, some fierce battles and some poison makes for an exciting, plot driven novel that left me feeling sad when I finished it (happy sad, just sad I had finished it so soon!).

I love the notion of being raised by your uncle and your mother. It is in fact considered heresy to raise your children with their biological father. If you are wanting a child, all you have to do is go through the curtains to find basically a sperm donor! This means that women hold a lot of the power in this society.

The blurb reminded me of Three Dark Crowns, where one of the children is trained from birth to be immune to poisons – but the first choice in poisoner is deadly. Anything to do with eating also reminds me of The Sin Eater’s Daughter and of course the popular Poison Study.

Uh oh. I didn’t realise that this was a first in a series, because the ending was so darn satisfying all by itself! I’m giving this one 4.5 stars, as it was almost good enough to read again.

Penguin Random House | 30th July 2018 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: G.S. Prendergast – Zero Repeat Forever

Zero Repeat Forever
GS Prendergast

Eighth is part of an invasion of Earth – dart them, leave them where they fall. Raven is one of those to be darted but she refuses to give in. Little by little Eighth gets caught up in the human world, while Raven is beginning to realize more about the Nahx than she wants to.

I really wish I hadn’t wasted my time on this novel. I started reading it once and then put it down. I was feeling like a fantasy novel so I picked it up again right from the beginning. More fool me. The action is surprisingly slow, and the main character Raven isn’t inherently likable. I liked Eighth, but his mind was so fragmented that I could barely follow along what it meant to be a Nahx.

I appreciate that people behave strangely if they are suffering from PTSD, but Raven is just over the top. Her relationship with her friends isn’t even really a friendship. She seems to antagonise everyone around her, and honestly I wouldn’t have minded if she dropped dead in the middle of the novel – it might have added some actual danger.

That ending. I saw it coming about mid-way through the novel. In fact, if Tucker hadn’t been buried, I would have thought that he would return too! There is no happy ending to be had for humans, but even if there was one, would I have wanted it? This train wreck of a novel didn’t have any redeeming features for me.

I am sick of dystopian science fiction. I have read so many recently, and I seem to get as many hits as I do duds. Think NK3, Killer T and the Rending and the Nest for some recent examples sci-fi. Now that the duology has been published, I can recommend The Rains wholeheartedly for an apocalyptic alien showdown.

I finished this novel because I held out hope that it would improve, so I have to give it 2 stars to meet my own standards. But honestly, don’t waste your time like I did.

Simon & Schuster | 25th October 2017 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Elantris

Elantris
Brandon Sanderson

Serene has arrived in Kae to discover that her husband to be has died, but that her marriage is still valid. Determined to make the most of it, she decides to bait the harsh religious gyorn to keep helpful occupied. At the same time, her would-be husband is not dead, instead he is afflicted with the curse of Elantris

I allowed myself to reread this one to put me in the right frame of mind to write a review. Knowing (vaguely) what would happen next didn’t stop me from being on the edge of my metaphorical seat. Ah! Serene! Why don’t you see what is in front of your face? I had forgotten the wonderful nuances that Sanderson build into this novel, and discovering them again was almost as pleasant as the first time.

Sanderson builds a unique world where magic is possible – just not very probable now that Elantrians get sick but don’t die instead of transforming into radiant Gods. It of course has Sanderson’s flare for never designing the same magic system more than once, and his characters are trying to jump off the page. I couldn’t put it down and found myself trapped reading it longer than I should have been.

There’s a little baby short story that is a companion for Elantris as a compliment to let the readers know what occurred within Elantris at the final showdown. Don’t get your hopes up, it really is very short and sweet. Sanderson has said that eventually he will write a sequel to Elantris, but even if he never does, Elantris is excellent all the same.

This one well and truly earned its five stars. I reread it and it didn’t disappoint, and it has only wakened my desire to reread my other Sandersons. I lent this book to a friend, and it changed her whole policy on star giving to books. She realised how wonderful Sanderson’s works really are!

Review: Scott Westerfeld – Impostors

Impostors
Scott Westerfeld

Frey and Rafi are identical twins and thus should do everything together. Instead, they are never seen in the same room – Frey is trained as a body double for Rafi, just because Rafi was born 26 minutes earlier. When a hostage is needed to secure the help of a nearby city, Frey is sent out and Rafi is hidden. But their father has other plans in mind than just that…

Despite being in the same world as Tally Youngblood’s Uglies/Pretties/Specials (and Extras), Impostors is well and truly its own novel. The world has moved on and the technology has significantly advanced. Imagine a world where even the dust is spying on you! Rafi is trained to kill, but has her own personality trapped in there.

I only forgive this novel for being the first in a trilogy because I knew from the very beginning that Westerfeld pretty much ALWAYS writes trilogies (Afterworlds is an exception). Additionally, this novel rounds out very nicely, and didn’t disappoint with its ending.

Unfortunately, this novel features the same trope as a couple of others I have read recently, including Ruined, Glass Sword and Ash Princess. The heroine always falls for the prince(s) and gets into trouble while / for doing so. I’m going to think positive thoughts to myself that Westerfeld was probably already writing it before those novels got popular…

I’m giving this novel 5 stars for its amazing characters and world building. Also, Westerfeld was my hero before Sanderson.

Allen & Unwin | 12th September 2018 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Laura Sebastian – Ash Princess

Ash Princess
Laura Sebastian

Princess Theodosia has been a captive since she was six and is Princess in name only. Brought out on State occasions dressed sumtiously but with an ash crown, Theo is punished for any uprisings by her people. When she is offered the chance to escape, she can’t decide whether to stay or go.

I found this novel lacking and predictable. Of COURSE she’s going to fall for an inconvenient guy. OF COURSE she’s suddenly going to gain a backbone. Theo is a perfectly fine protagonist, but she’s just not believable. Her behaviour, particularly when she betrays someone close to her, is just repulsive. I couldn’t get behind her quick changes in personality and pathetic excuses either.

Perhaps I can say something positive about the world-building. I certainly could imagine the confines of Theo’s room, with the Shadow’s niches all around, but the world outside that was opaque. Perhaps this was deliberate on the author’s part to make the reader feel like they too were trapped in the castle. I’d like to give the benefit of doubt here, since otherwise the scenery was nice.

It’s a 3 star novel for me. I have just reread Amy Tintera’s Ruina series which has a similar princess/prince storyline, and honestly it is far better executed! Go and get your hands on Ruina (and its sequels) and don’t bother with Ash Princess.

Pan Macmillan | 24th April 2018 | AU$16.99 | paperback