Review: Vic James – Bright Ruin

Bright Ruin
Vic James

Abi has run from being set free, but she hasn’t set free her heart. Luke has made it off the island, but not out of Crovan’s reach. With their small world in upheaval, who should Abi and Luke trust? And can they trust anyone – Equal or not…

I don’t know where to start with how disappointed I was in this ‘finale’. There were too many perspectives and it became difficult to work out whose side I should be on. Betrayals and side-plots seemed to be the norm, with no sense of continuity.

Luke. What has happened to that boy? Or perhaps, what hasn’t happened? Am I expected to think that everything else played out happily ever after? That you-know-who would just be ok with giving up power? That a dalmation (not Dog) can change its spots?

Let’s talk about character development. We get to see a bit of Silyen, but it doesn’t seem to be authentic or consistent with the previous two novels. He seems to have ‘grown up’, yet at the same time his wonder and questions are still child-like and simple. Does he have a mental condition? What’s with him in general?

It seemed like the author herself got sick of having so many characters that she decided to just kill them off in order to finish up the novel quickly. I didn’t have even an ounce of remorse for any of them dying. More could have died in fact, and I would have been happier!

I really enjoyed Gilded Cage, mostly enjoyed Tarnished City and this one? Well this one didn’t do the series any justice. I would have originally promoted this series as a modern take on slavery, but I just couldn’t justify it given all of the other problems. I’ll give it 3 stars, because I did finish it and enjoy some parts, but it wasn’t the killer ending it could have been.

Review: Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch – One For Sorrow

One for Sorrow
Magpie Society #1
Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch

Audrey is fleeing something and Ivy is trying to move on with her life after a death. Audrey is confused by the rules and other stuff and Ivy has no time for her. There seems to be a mystery – but does anyone know the truth?

This reads as a novel with two authors – Zoe wrote the chapters from one character perspective and Amy wrote the chapters from the second character perspective. I’m not sure that this really works. Somehow Ivy has it stuck in her head that Audrey is a complete prat, but at the same time Audrey seems to unreasonably hate Ivy? Even more so, the staff seem to either be cute, or completely unreasonable. There’s no consistent characterisation or actions.

I was personally unmoved by Audrey’s final big reveal. It made 100% sense that she would be creeped out by drownings, but I didn’t really get it. There’s frequent mentions of the school therapist getting plenty of work, but we never actually see any of them attending a counselling session – and some of these girls really need help. I felt like therapy was belittled when it could have actually been a useful tool.

I found it disgusting that Teddy just presumed things about both Ivy and Audrey. Getting a creepy teacher to leave school is one thing, but being a creep as a teenager can lead/suggest bad behaviour in adulthood. Just like in Foul is Fair, being rich seems to excuse you for a lot. People need to be able to report problems and feel like they are being heard and that there is action.

I was wary of this novel from the beginning because I knew it was part of a series. However, in the end although some have identified it as a cliff-hanger, I was pretty bored by that point. There’s no resolution.

As an Australian, I figured I knew what a magpie was. Imagine to my surprise that what we call a magpie is not a magpie to the rest of the world! Pretty typical of Australia, really. Anyway, these magpies are closely related to crows, and they’ve always had some superstition around them, which the authors take advantage of as a springboard for a secret society.

Another day, another boarding school drama. Are people this lucky just going to boarding school? Sounds like hell to me, particularly if you don’t happen to get along with your room-mate. I get going to a boarding school if your local school is truly horrible or your parents don’t have time for you. Surely the majority of readers can’t be boarding school students… It reminds me of my childhood where boarding school sounded cool because I didn’t go to school – Enid Blyton’s “The Naughtiest Girl in the School” anyone?

The more I write this review, the less impressed I am in this novel. There could have been so much more! And I’m still not sure if ‘magic’ is involved or not. Let’s go with 3 stars, and I MIGHT read the next (or at least a summary of it).

Penguin Random House | 29th October 2020 | AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Jacqueline Carey – Phèdre’s Trilogy

Phèdre’s Trilogy
Jacqueline Carey

Phèdre is Naamah’s servant, laying down with people she does not love for her master. Unlike her companion, she looks forward to being tormented by her patrons. She was taught intrigue and spycraft, and no matter what else happens she will help the true Queen hold the throne.

I feel some confusion about these novels. Yes, they are on an epic scale, but somehow I can’t bring myself to care about most of the characters. Delaunay was nice and all, but I didn’t feel sorrow when he died. Thus the power grabs are secondary to my interest in Phedre’s character. I felt this way when I read Kushiel’s Dart nine years ago (review here).

Perhaps part of the problem is that I couldn’t get a real understanding of why Phedre is so special. She could have gone to Valerian House, and I’m not sure it would have mattered! If she can get excited by a sewing needle going in an inch on her spine, I don’t see why ‘punishing her’ would get such a rise out of people. Or perhaps there are more people into bondage and pain during sex than I would expect? Update after reading Kushiel’s Chosen: I think it is more that she can have endless sex, and pain makes it somehow better? Or maybe it’s pure humiliation.

I slogged through Kushiel’s Chosen, but I couldn’t make myself read the final book in the trilogy. I feel guilty that I’ve not finished reading them (especially as I own all 9 books!) but I also don’t want to waste more of my reading time. I need to let them go and make more room on my shelves for the epic fantasy that fills me with joy (The Way of Kings, anyone?).

I find it difficult to suggest an audience for these books – maybe those who enjoy non-historical / alternative-historical novels, who aren’t afraid to invest in a short-sighted character who shows little growth. Part of the problem was that it was written in past tense, with hints as to future events, and so I had no fear of the main characters dying. I demand more from my fantasy.

Review: Amy Tintera – Reboot Duology

Reboot and Rebel (Reboot Duology)
Amy Tintera

Wren 178 is the oldest Reboot in the system. She died once, and it took 178 minutes for her body to reboot and become superior to a human one – no emotions, no problems. Wren’s favourite part of the job is training new reboots to kill ‘bad’ humans effortlessly. She always gets her first pick of trainees, and she always picks the ones that took a long time to reboot – only the fittest and hardest can survive. In a fit of confusion, Wren chooses Callum 22 to train, and then finds that she isn’t quite the emotionless monster she thinks she is.

I felt some confusion on why the virus was only in Texas. I didn’t get a sense of anything in the rest of the global landscape. It would have been better, I think, if this had just been set in a new world. I spent a fair amount of time wondering what the other states/cities of the USA were doing about the virus. Is there scope for a sequel where Wren takes on other states that treat reboots like property?

I had some unanswered questions. Why wasn’t HARC looking into why adults that caught KDV went crazy? I feel like since some of the drugs they were testing on the under 60’s (Reboots that revived under 60 minutes) caused craziness rather than obedience, and the adult link could be useful.

This is a successful perversion of the fact that in some countries, war has created ‘child soldiers’. The ‘civilised’ countries can’t believe that someone would do that to an innocent child – but Tintera takes that concept and makes it worse. You only need to be 10 to train to be a Reboot soldier.

There’s a whole lotta kissin’ in these novels. Sure, two of the characters eventually have sex, and sex seems to be a sort of substitute for love/feelings earlier in the series – but it’s not satisfying. It’s not even that obvious, so you could even give this to a teenager who isn’t quite comfortable with the idea of sex yet.

I have to say that I was very disappointed in the ending of this. Riley was dealt with far too calmly, and the escape from HARC unlikely. I guess that it seems quite straight forward that the threat could be contained. This fits the feeling of the Ruina series (reviews here) where the first book was a fantastic 5 stars, but the later ones left me cold with only a 3 star rating. So it’s a 4 star average for this one – fun to read, but not a reread.

Review: Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill – The Waters and the Wild

The Waters and the Wild
Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill

Olivia’s summer is looking pretty fine. A family vacation away from her divorcing parents with her super-hot, popular boyfriend? But when her boyfriend pays no more attention to her than he does to his brothers, Olivia is left wondering why he brought her – for himself? Or someone else…

I was surprised that Blake didn’t try to take sexual advantage of Olivia. Olivia was (and is) such a pathetic character with almost no spine (and no self-confidence) that I felt sure Blake would have pushed her into sex, and she’d have justified it. Her best-friend’s concern just seemed to blow right past Olivia, but how can one person be so clueless? Olivia is just plain dumb (perhaps what more can I expect from a vegan who survives on PBJs?).

Olivia’s depression is a grey fog that I almost thought was supernatural – Blake literally pulling the life out of her. She certainly couldn’t think straight about anything that was going on, and her inner voice rang true for me. However, the ending of the novel basically has her curing her clinical depression with a near-death experience and some bonding with her mother – and that reads to me of just being

I found the ending particularly unsatisfying. Blake is essentially able to get off scot-free to continue abusing women. I find that extremely upsetting and although realistic, not a notion that I want to see furthered anywhere. Essential Olivia’s going to go off the college, and the rest of the world will just go on.

This is a return to the Serrated Edge series where elves drive race cars. The novel Silence (my review here) is very similar to this on in plot (young woman/girl in peril is saved by mysterious otherworldly person). Actually, I thought that this series / world / universe was commanded by Mercedes Lackey with co-writers, but it turns out that there are a couple of books by single authors as well that I might bother reading if I can find them at the library. 3 stars from me, but don’t go rush out and buy it.

Review: Amelia Mellor – The Grandest Bookshop in the World

The Grandest Bookshop in the World
Amelia Mellor

Pearl Cole is sure that she lives in the greatest place in the world. She stays home, and reads on the topics that make her happy. She looks up to her Pa and loves her siblings. But one sibling has died, leaving a hole in the family that the mysterious Obscurosmith can exploit. Can Pearl and Vally save their arcade, or will it, and their memories, be gone forever?

This novel confused me. My daughter received it for Christmas and I grabbed it up – who wouldn’t want to read a book about a bookstore? I was then informed that it was based on a true location/story/event. However, although I was able to suspend my disbelief for some of the novel, eventually I was left feeling confused and a bit cheated. It might be a real location (as described in the historical note), with some of the games passed down from child to child, but it wasn’t a true ‘based-on’ novel.

I liked the magic system in this book. Magic works based on three things: imagination, articulation and conviction. But apart from that, there are no rules! Each person can shape the magic as they like to, and some are better at it than others. Some people are very successful at it, such as writers like Pa Cole, while others are not so good because they are too practical.

There were some laugh-out-loud moments where I giggled so much my birdie thought the world was shaking! The games were fun, and I got enjoyment out of trying to solve the riddles just from the information the children gave me. As the novel progressed, I had to work harder to keep the magic alive in my mind, and that spoiled the novel for me.

I love the idea of a bookshop where you can read as long as you like – I have some favourite memories of sitting in a bookstore, hidden from the staff, polishing off a novel while my parents shopped. Of course it’s frowned upon – but there aren’t any libraries in most store arcades! As digital books continue to take over, the historical artifact of a brick-and-mortar bookstore will fade. And I will be very sad, even if it’s just the idea that excites me.

I won’t reread it as the games aren’t fascinating enough for that, but I’d highly recommend it to its intended audience of children, say 8 years and older. 3 stars from me for adults, 4 stars for children.

Review: Karelia Stetz-Waters – The Admirer (N)

The Admirer

Karelia Stetz-Waters

Helen Ivers has just become president of a tiny little college on the strength of her ability to fund manage and drag the college with her. In truth its a place Helen can escape to, since her life has spiraled beyond her control since her sister’s suicide. All she wants is to forget. Instead she comes face to face with a mystery in the form of two human legs shortly after her arrival. In a town where she is considered an outsider, its hard to know who to trust, especially when she can’t even trust her own mind.

It’s immediately clear that Helen is trying to escape something, and throughout the reading its clear that she is haunted by what happened to her sister. She doesn’t let that stop her from trying to do what is best for the college. Though she seems to face opposition from all sides, its clear she is used to being in a position dealing with the various egos of those around her.

I know it was supposed to be a sense of mystery with the killer, making it hard to tell who the killer was right up until the big reveal. But from roughly halfway through the book it seemed obvious to me who the killer was. There was a sense of age to the character that ruled out many potentials. And there were other clues that Helen herself missed in conversations.

The denied romance aspect was different. I haven’t really read many books that have that so well written. Normally its a token resistance then onward into a relationship. Here the tensions between Helen and Wilson is clear and stays throughout the novel. Even when Helen gives in there is a degree of withholding herself. It was a nice change to read.

It was a good read with solid psychological thriller elements. I did find the early sections from the killer’s point of view left my head reeling and that feeling of discomfort stayed with me. The later killer scenes didn’t have nearly the same feel. But the sensation of the hair standing up on the back of my neck from those earlier pervaded through my reading. Overall, I’m giving it 3 stars. It was a good read but not 100% my cup of tea. That’s more about me than the book though, if psychological thriller is your jam definitely give this one a go.

Review: Jason Segal & Kirsten Miller – OtherLife

OtherLife
Jason Segal & Kirsten Miller

Simon has made it out of the OtherWorld/OtherEarth, and is aiming up to defeat the Company who started it all. But he’s somehow on the run again, but this time on a tropical island. IT looks like he might have some powerful allies

What was with Simon’s grandfather? Reality vs non-reality was really quite confusing. And the ending was too neat to be true. In a true dystopian setting, this wouldn’t have happened. I didn’t want there to be a happily ever after. I had engaged with the characters to the extent that I actually empathised maybe a little bit too much with the ‘bad guys’? I never liked Simon that much, so I would have been happy to see him killed off.

I also think the ending was shortsighted, because everyone knows that a democracy very rarely keeps a community presence for long. After speeding through these novels in the course of three days, I ultimately felt that the series was lacking. I feel no need to go back and reread them, which is quite disappointing. I hate books that have ‘oh, but it was just a dream’ and this novel is just too close to that premise.

I’m giving this novel 3 stars. The ending was hopeless, and the cliff-hanger from OtherEarth mostly set me up for disappointment. There are other novels out there to appeal to young people who love dystopian novels.

Review: Jenni Hendricks & Ted Caplan – Unpregnant

Unpregnant
Jenni Hendricks & Ted Caplan

Veronica is the poster child for her parents – straight As and a prestigious college acceptance letter. She wears her chastity ring with pride, and her parents are glad that she didn’t turn out like her sister – married to probably-not-Mr.-Right with a third child on the way. When she gets pregnant despite playing it safe, her best friend of old has to get her out of trouble.

Oh dear. I had to look up the main character’s name. I at least remembered Bailey’s name, probably because I used to have a guinea-pig named Baileys (after Bailey’s Irish Cream liquor). Veronica on the other hand is a blank, boring slate with nothing unique about her. I mean, I felt for her having an unexpected pregnancy and having to drive a bloody long way to get an abortion, but it’s not like she was actually a 3D character I could care about.

Now, tell me how two high schoolers got away with stealing two cars. Yes, not one, but two cars! I thought Veronica was dumb and clueless, and I couldn’t believe Bailey tolerated her at all. Sure, we all dream of a roadtrip with our bestest best friends, but doing it with someone you don’t even really like? I don’t even get the reason why Veronica and Bailey broke up as friends (and I’m not sure they know either).

Veronica spends the whole weekend making sure that no one will know she ended up pregnant and then she ends up telling them all anyway! Just because she was new and empowered and didn’t care about that anyway, since she was so much more empowered and unafraid than she was before. I just couldn’t believe the 360 degree turn she made! She went to a lot of trouble to cover her tracks and then told everyone anyway, because she felt free and relieved.

Overall it was too much of a cliche. What was the purpose of this book, besides the “journey”? I knew from the beginning that she wasn’t going to change her mind. I knew from the beginning that they’d end up besties again. So why did I read it? Well, I was sent a free copy and I thought I should finish it.

TL:DR? The straight A girl gets pregnant and therefore takes a road trip with her ex-best friend to get an abortion, breaking multiple laws on the way. Also, don’t trust the dude not to get you pregnant. 3 stars from me.

Scholastic | 1st April 2020 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Kalynn Bayron – Cinderella is Dead

Cinderella is Dead
Kalynn Bayron

Sophia has been preparing for her debut for her whole life. Or at least, her parents have been trying to prepare her. Every girl may go to the ball three times and be chosen by a man – or her life will be forfeit. Sophia can see through the facade though, and she doesn’t want to be chosen by a man. She wants to be with Erin.

I liked the new twist on the Cinderella fairytale, but some elements left me feeling disappointed and short changed. I was happy that I had a lesbian protagonist. I was happy that she didn’t instantly fall for her new female friend… but that she lusted over her. Who doesn’t want something that is forbidden? I feel like that love was really just lust, and that’s far more preferable to insta-love.

I would like to know where Sophia got her blackness from. The kingdom seems tiny and racially white, so where did she come from? I get that she doesn’t fit in, and I get that that resonates with many people of colour at the moment. My problem is that the world that Bayron has built in this novel is too small to have more than one race of people. The ‘Kingdom’ itself just seems to consist of one large town?

I didn’t understand the ending with the Fairy Godmother. What did she get out of the status quo? Living forever doesn’t seem like a fabulous thing to me, particularly if you’re isolated. Also, the ending made it seem like if you can just topple the Man at the Top, everything will be breezy. It’s not that easy though. You can’t just make a hole in the power structure at the top, and expect everyone to come to the new system. I wanted to see more – how will this new way of living go? What other countries might they learn about?

Ultimately the ending let me down and I kind of regretted spending my time reading it. A light-hearted and unfulfilling novel. I can only hope that this author’s worldbuilding skills improve for her future novels – and if she’s still writing queer fiction, I’ll be reading it!

Bloomsbury | 1st September 2020 | AU$15.99 | paperback