Review: Brandon Sanderson – The Final Empire (K)

The Final Empire
Brandon Sanderson

This is an extraordinary book. I already had high expectations, as it was a Sanderson, but this truly reminded me of just how immersive and wonderful books truly can be.

This book – at least in the first half – has very few major plot elements; the book is focused mostly on introducing the characters and the world. This is something that would usually cause me to put down a book quite early on, as I often get bored when not much seems to happen. However, this was absolutely not the case in this book. The characters and their interactions were so interesting that I quickly found myself immersed.

This book was able to Riot my emotions in an extremely powerful way – there were many times when I had to put the book down, just to pace and think about what was happening. Although it may seem like a criticism that I was capable of putting the book down, it is far from it. The events in the book pulled at my emotions so much that I simply needed to take a break to calm down and think about them.

I have nothing negative to say about this book. The characters were amazing, their arcs felt realistic, and the world immersive. I’m already making plans to start the second book.

Review: Guillermo del Toro, Cornelia Funke – Pan’s Labyrinth (K)

Pan’s Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke


A year after her father’s death, Ofelia and her mother move in with her new Stepfather. The dense forest surrounding her new home provides a perfect hiding place, both for the resistance fighters her stepfather is trying to defeat, and fairies, Fauns, and a magnificent labyrinth.

This was a beautiful book. One of this book’s best features was its ability to inscribe wonder in my heart with the fantasy element, where it captured both the beauty and the danger of magic. I find there’s a big difference between fantasy which is simply ‘there are fairies and magic’ and the atmosphere and aura that a well-written fantasy novel can provide, and this book provided that perfectly. Part of the reason I think this is done so well was that the main character in the story is a child. This is the first time reading a book where the main character is significantly younger than I am, but I found that, far from being frustrated by annoying childlike decisions, the childlike innocence added to the atmosphere of the book.

The juxtaposition between the cruelty of Ofelia’s stepfather and the wonder of her secret world was outstanding. Both aspects of the book entranced me, and I never found myself trying to get through one part faster to move on to a more interesting story.

The worldbuilding of this book was beautifully done. The characters were vibrant and 3-dimensional, and the book pulled me in and refused to let me go until the very last page. I would definitely recommend this book, with a note of warning that there are some pretty extreme descriptions of violence, so it would not be ideal for younger readers.

Review: Maria V Snyder – Navigating the Stars (K)

Navigating the stars
Maria V. Snyder

Lyra is sick of leaving behind all her friends. She’s too young to make her own decisions, but every time her parents move to a new planet to continue their research, she says goodbye forever. The terracotta warriors – the subject of her parents’ research – litter nearby planets, but nobody has any clue why they’re there, or how they were made. When the entire population of a warrior planet is wiped out, Lyra realises she has much bigger issues.

Wow. This book was absolutely beautiful. The author clearly put a lot of time into planning the book and making sure that everything linked nicely. Events early in the book became important later on, and it felt like every word I read had a purpose for being there. Initially, I wasn’t too excited about the beginning of the book being based around Lyra saying goodbye to her friends, but it ended up being a great introduction to Lyra, and the characters involved were important to the story, so it was well worth the initial delay in the action.

The relationships and characters in the book were amazing. Even neglecting the fantasy/sci-fi elements of the story, it was wonderful, and more than interesting. I felt invested not only in the characters, but in their relationships, and at times I felt heartbroken along with them. I felt like the characters were my friends, and at the end of the book I was sad to say goodbye.

The book wasn’t afraid of commitment, which made everything so much more exciting and adrenaline-packed. Right from the beginning, it was clear that the author would not shy away from saying goodbye to characters permanently, so when people were in danger, I was legitimately scared for them. I went through so much emotional turmoil reading this book, as I experienced the characters’ ups and downs along with them. It was an amazing book, and I’m already itching to get my hands on the sequel.

Review: Philip Reeve – Mortal Engines (K)

Mortal Engines
Philip Reeve

Tom has lived all his life in London – not the city as we know it, but a giant monstrosity on wheels, which captures smaller settlements for spare parts and enslaves those aboard. Everything changes, however, when a young girl with a prominent scar is captured and his life changes forever. The pair fall off London and must make their way back on foot.

This was quite a nice light read, the story was interesting but simple to follow, and I had no trouble understanding what everyone was doing. This was particularly impressive to me, as there are times where the story is split between 3 different POVs, and I usually find that I struggle to keep everything in my head when this occurs.

The characters were all interesting and 3-dimensional characters. Even the villains had something more to offer than simply being evil for evil’s sake, or just wanting power. My favourite part of this book was absolutely the secondary characters, as they all had interesting traits to make them unique and help them stand out. That said, this emphasis on making every character stand out did somewhat decrease the realism, as some of the character traits didn’t quite make sense in context, and did not seem like they would be feasible in real life

While the characters themselves were interesting, the character progression in the book felt a little forced. The main example of this is with the main characters Tom and Hester. In the beginning of the book, Tom consistently thinks of Hester in insulting terms – often describing her as ‘ugly’ due to the scar on her face. It felt forced and a little rushed when he went from this to finding that he ‘would miss her lop-sided smiles’. I feel it would have been better if it had taken him longer to come to this conclusion, or if he’d had conflict with himself about his feelings towards her clashing with his opinions on her looks.

One other issue I found was Hester seemed to be too worldly. While the main character of a story is typically more interesting than the average person, and Hester’s backstory explained why she may have met lots of people, it felt unrealistic, as she had a personal connection with almost all of the villains in the book. Some of these connections definitely benefited the story, but there were others that did not contribute much, and I wish hadn’t been included.

I’m giving this story a 4/5, as the idea and storyline were amazing, and far outshone the issues I had with the writing. I feel this book would be best for a younger audience but could be enjoyed by anyone.

Review: Fiona Cummins – The Neighbour (K)

The Neighbour
Fiona Cummins

Four people have been murdered, their faces painted to look like a doll’s, and their eyes replaced with glass replicas. Everyone has secrets and it seems that nobody on the street is safe, so when a new family moves in, they’re not expected to stay long. Instead, as more murders are committed, the hunt for the killer starts to near its close – but at what price?

This book was structured quite differently to other mystery books that I’ve read. Instead of focusing on the police or a victims POV, the entire case was set in the past, and parts of the book are given from the killer’s perspective in the ‘present day’ as they run from the cops. I really enjoyed this style, as it provided more hints to who the killer was from the way they talked/acted, and opened up new questions by the cryptic way they described events.

Near the end of the book, when all the ‘past’ events had been told, the focus was exclusively on the killer after they have been determined by the cops. The ‘spoiler’ at the beginning that they were found didn’t detract much, as I usually expect in a mystery book that the killer will eventually be caught. For this type of horror/mystery genre, the ending of the book worked wonderfully. It left me feeling a little spooked, and with chills down my spine. I really appreciated this, as one of my least favourite parts of a mystery book is the ending where the detectives all congratulate themselves on solving the case, and the excitement has died down. This book didn’t do that at all, and ended in an amazing, terrifying, manner.

My one issue with this book was with the introductions to characters. While the main characters were distinct and 3-dimensional, it took me a while to be able to tell apart some of the side characters, because there wasn’t enough time early on dedicated to them. That said, I can understand why they were included, as each character provided their own flavour and added to the story in some way. I just wish that they had been fleshed out more thoroughly in the beginning of the book, instead of waiting to the middle/end.

In all, this was quite a good book, that I enjoyed reading immensely. I finished it in under a day, which tells me that it was good enough to prevent me being distracted from it too many times. I would definitely recommend this book, with the caveat that anyone who picks it up understands that it’s equal parts horror and mystery, and is much more scary than a typical mystery novel.


Review: Lois Duncan – Down a Dark Hall (K)

Down a Dark Hall
Lois Duncan

When Kit’s mother and stepfather go to honeymoon in Europe, Kit is sent away to a boarding school in the middle of nowhere. She hates the idea from the very beginning, but little does she know, the school is much worse than she could have ever imagined.

This book was focused more on atmosphere and feeling than on having a complicated storyline, with detailed descriptions of the characters and scenery. At first I wasn’t too fond of the descriptive nature as I felt like it was just fluff that didn’t add to the story, but over time I realized that it added to the atmosphere of the book and made it a much scarier read than it otherwise would have been. Considering that I read this book in the middle of the day, it did a great job at getting me spooked.

The mystery throughout the book, on what the school was trying to do, was quite well-written. The blurb on the back, describing it as a ‘psychic prison,’ gave away some of the mystery, which I wish hadn’t been included, but the details of what exactly was going on were still left to be discovered.

The ending of the book took me on quite a roller-coaster. At first, it seemed like the book was going to end in quite an unsatisfying manner, but at the last minute everything got turned around, and it became much more exciting.

This was quite a satisfying short book. I typically prefer reading longer books as I spend a lot of energy getting invested in characters, but for a short, few-hour read, it went through a nice arc and had a satisfying conclusion. The book also feels complete, which is nice as I often feel that shorter books leave loose ends that need to be tied up. The version of the book I read is the one written in 1974, not the 2011 update.

(This book was given to me by my grandmother, so I wanted to say thanks! And I love you <3)

Review: Patrick Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind (K)

Kvothe has lived a long and adventure-filled life. Known by many names, and surrounded by rumours, the true story of his life is known only to him. Finally, after many years, he agrees to tell his story to a chronicler, and release the knowledge of what truly happened.

This book begins quite slowly and takes a few chapters to really become immersive. The aspects of the book set in the ‘current time’ never really interested me, and I gave up on the book once before being able to reach the more exciting parts. This was a theme throughout my reading of the book; the events set in the present didn’t seem as engaging as those set in the past. Even when dramatic events appeared to be occurring, I never managed to find myself excited in them. I believe the main reason for this was that most of the book is set in the past. This meant that there were only a few pages of present time every few chapters, which was not enough to get to know the characters or immerse myself in the storyline. I also found myself forgetting the events occurring in the present, which often left me confused.

That said, the ‘past’ storyline was wonderful. It was well-written and immersive, and I fell in love with the characters. Even when nothing important seemed to be happening, the book was written well enough that I was still deeply invested. Young Kvothe’s actions around the university, and his reasons for everything he did were so well thought-through that he seemed as complicated and 3-dimensional as any person I have ever met. The book strikes a perfect balance between making the character stand out by being able to do impressive things, but not be so perfect that it is hard to believe. My only complaint with this part of the book was that there wasn’t enough detail into his education. It felt at times that he had learnt a skill out of nowhere, because it hadn’t been mentioned beforehand.

I wish that this book had been written entirely from the perspective of the young Kvothe, instead of having old Kvothe tell the story. The ‘past’ storyline was stronger and better-written, and the current storyline only seemed to pull me out of my immersion. Some parts were beneficial; it added to a sense of anticipation to hear the cryptic phrases old Kvothe says about young Kvothe’s situation, but the benefits do not outweigh the downsides of breaking immersion and having to sit through the less interesting background to get to the more interesting parts.

I would rate this book a 4/5. It very easily could have made a 5 if it had been the old storyline alone, but as it stands, and because I nearly gave up on the book before managing to even reach the ‘old’ storyline, I can only give it a 4.




Review: Matthew Reilly – The Secret Runners of New York (K)

The Secret Runners of New York
Matthew Reilly

It can be extremely challenging to join the cliques of the upper echelon of society, but once you do, a whole new world awaits. When Skye Rogers befriends Misty Collins, she is invited into an exclusive group, with secret access to a portal into the future. As friendships fall apart, and the future shown by the portal is discovered, their games turn from fun to terrifying.

The book started off slowly but picked up the pace over time. The plot was intriguing and executed very well. While there was a time-travelling portal, the book didn’t revolve around it, instead focusing on the behaviour and personalities of the characters, using the portal to help achieve that end. This made the book feel much more layered and complex than a simple story about some kids having fun travelling through time. The book was very immersive, and once I had gotten past the slow beginning, I was hooked.

The end of the book was absolutely wonderful! I was worried that somehow the characters would magic everything into perfection, and it’d be like the catastrophe talked through the whole book never happened, but instead the author managed to make an ending that tied up loose ends, was satisfying in not having all the characters die, and clearly changed the lives of the characters drastically.

I definitely felt that the beginning of the book was a let-down compared to the rest. The relationship between the main character and her brother Red wasn’t really shown, but rather we were told about how close the two were. The references to movies and games also felt a bit strange to include in a book. I had to google one of the references they talked about (which broke the continuity for me a little), and some of the others felt outdated.

This was a really good book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers, especially if they are easily spooked, but I found it a solid book and will probably read it again, which is why I’m giving this book 4 stars.

Pan Macmillan | 26th March 2019 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Ally Carter – Not if I Save You First

Not if I Save You First
Ally Carter

After Maddie’s father saves the first lady from being shot, he takes Maddie with him to make a new home in Alaska. Maddie finds herself torn away from her best friend Logan – the President’s son – and grows angrier with him over time as she sends him hundreds of letters and never gets a response. Six years later, Logan is sent to live with them in Alaska, both as a punishment for his behaviour, and to keep him safe. When he then gets kidnapped by the same people who tried to kill his mother years ago, Maddie must save his life, even if that means getting captured herself.

This book was full of plot holes, poor decisions, and just wasn’t exciting. The main character, Maddie, seemed to be either perfect or immortal. After falling off a 15-meter cliff, she’s able to trek through the Alaskan wilderness, make her way across a dangerous bridge, and run away from a man shooting at her. 15 meters might not seem like a lot, but it’s not uncommon for people to die from a fall that high. She later gets shot in the shoulder, and is still able to cause an explosion, survive the explosion, and throw a knife into a man’s back. Nothing felt like it had any meaning, and by the end the book felt boring and stale, because I knew that Maddie’s ability to shrug off fatal injuries would likely mean that nothing would happen to anyone else. The only progression that occurred throughout the book was the discussion between Maddie and Logan about the letters, and even that was resolved in a few pages.

There were some parts of the book that I enjoyed. I loved Maddie’s personality, with her mix of tough and girly, and her ability to annoy her captors. The letters at the beginning of each chapter were also a nice touch, helping to show more of Maddie’s personality, and how the lack of response made her feel.

This book wasn’t terrible, but it’s definitely not something I’d read again. I constantly found myself jolting out of the book and back into reality from a variety of just… strange occurrences, ranging from weird sentence structure, to poor decisions on the characters part, to people doing things that should’ve been impossible. I’m giving this book 2 stars as it wasn’t an effort to get through, but it also wasn’t very enjoyable.


Review: Shea Ernshaw – The Wicked Deep

The Wicked Deep
Shea Ernshaw

Penny lives on an island outside a small town called Sparrow. 200 years ago, three sisters were drowned as witches. Since then, they have returned every year on June 1st, and stay for a few weeks to possess the bodies of girls and take their revenge by drowning boys in the village that betrayed them.

This was a nice, light book that was a pleasant time-filler. I appreciated that it was short and sweet, and a book that I could read once, and move on from (instead of a larger book, or a series, where I remain invested long after I’ve finished reading). The book felt, at least to me, as if it was split into three distinct sections that each had a different feel and that I enjoyed differently.

The first section of the book was confusing for me to read. Although the blurb stated that the three sisters did exist, the book itself didn’t make that clear until around 1/3 of the way in. This meant that I spent the first part of the book unsure if it was meant to be a mystery or a fantasy novel, and as I read the two types of books differently, it was hard to immerse myself in the story.

The middle third of the book was much better than the first, as I was able to commit to the story now that I had some idea of what was happening. I don’t have a whole lot to say on this section, apart from thinking it was well-written and reasonable, although not outstanding.

The final part of the book was by far the best. The progression of events forces Penny to make difficult decisions, and I really enjoyed reading through her reasonings. That said, it felt like Penny spent a lot of time pitying herself – which wasn’t fun or interesting to read through – and the ending was predictable. The enjoyment of this third section of the book was very dependent on already having formed a bond with the characters and being invested (at least somewhat) in their romance.

The romance in this book was pretty average. It begins in such a predictable manner that I already lost some interest before it had hit full steam. The trope of ‘a mysterious person saves the main character, and they instantly have a connection’ is so overused in books that it doesn’t interest me much anymore. It wasn’t terrible, but it was predictable and not very engaging. Their relationship also felt like it moved much too quickly, going from first meeting each other to falling in love in a few weeks, with not a lot of time spent on their interactions. That said, this was a very short book, and I feel that fleshing out the relationship too much could have made the book feel bloated.