Review: Mercedes Lackey – Apex (N)

Apex
Mercedes Lackey

After discovering the plot in the sewers, and protecting Apex from a mass invasion. Joy continues to protect the city with her Hounds. With new allies things seem brighter than ever. But there are forces among the Othersiders and within the city who are conspiring for their own agendas.

The third installment in the Hunter series give a good continuation to the second book. Not an easy task since the second book ended post a climatic battle and triumph. The tension stays high with Joy stepping carefully around the Psicorp leader who she encountered in the previous book.

We have Joy teaming up with new Hunters helping lend a hand to the Elite. This get more Hound descriptions! Which makes me happy, I loved the descriptions of the different hounds and their different abilities. Another aspect of this that I loved was that even though Joy and the other Elite are just that, they still ask for an get help from the other Hunters. It embodies the feel of its about teamwork first and foremost. And that there is nothing wrong with stating extra hands are needed.

We get more of an outside focus beyond the city of Apex in this book. Which is a nice expansion to the world. As well as a few more new characters from the Othersiders. It gives a small fraction of the other side of the fence so to speak. Like A small taste of the greater details. It’s a frustrating balance that Lackey didn’t quite manage this time around. I wanted to know more. Overall the book left me thinking that there must be another book coming because it felt like there were too many holes in the series overall.

I mentioned a few about Ace and about the plots Joy uncovered in the first and second books. we got a couple of those resolved but additional larger mysteries that we don’t manage to get answers to sadly. Another thing that bothered me was a couple of locations seemed to get rehashed. Joy visited a noodle shop in the second book. Then when she goes back here in this book its like she never had visited. More annoying is that we get a bigger issue with the Folk not being known to teleport and Joys surprise regarding this. Yet in the first book she notes the Folk mage she encounters early on teleports. It was frustrating to have such errors in what was otherwise an enjoyable read to me.

Overall, it really feels like there should be another book following up after this to really close out the series. But just because I want more detail about the behind the scenes plots doesn’t mean Joy will actually learn about the motives of other characters. Much like the real world. It was a relaxed low stress read for me, desire to know more aside.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Elite (N)

Elite
Mercedes Lackey

Hunter Joy has largely settled in Apex. She’s managed to advance to Elite Hunter and now has a new mission from her Uncle, the city’s Prefect. However danger and conspiracy abound as she traverses the sewers beneath the city.

This makes for a nice follow up to Hunter. We get to see more details about life in Apex. Beyond the superstar treatment the previous book gave Joy for generally being a new hunter with impressive skills. There are additional characters we get to know as well as a clearing picture about some of the Othersiders only briefly mentioned before. We also get more information on some previous characters from the first book. They get additional time for us to get to know more than the picture they display the world which gives the world more depth and feeling.

One of the great things is the way different Hunters are portrayed with different skills. It gives a great element of team work between hunters, combining their skills and magic to overcome the odds.

We do see Ace again, after his previous downfall. Towards the end there is a feeling of more at play in the overall story but it doesn’t really eventuate in this book to anything concrete. It could just be a small detail that we will never know since the story is told from Joy’s point of view. Only time will tell.

As with the previous book definitely targeted towards the younger side of young adult. But a good leisure read for adults that don’t want something deep or heavy thought to read. Again sits somewhere between 3 and 4 stars.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Hunter (N)

Hunter
Mercedes Lackey

Monsters came forth from the Otherside after the Diseray. The catastrophe destroying human civilisation. But something else came with them, the last hope, the Hounds. Joyeaux Charmand is a hunter for her small community and has been for a long time. Now called to serve Apex City, where the best hunters protect the most important people.

I’ve been a fan of Lackey’s writing since I was much younger so I’m always eager to read a new one of her novels. This one was a different feel to her Valdemar series. I enjoyed reading about the different Hounds that different hunters have and learning about the way the world was in this novel. I enjoyed a large degree of the descriptions – since Joy is essentially a newcomer to Apex she notices things in a lot of detail that provides some excellent fodder for imagining the scene. We learn a lot in the first few chapters in a way that is very sudden. So keeping it in mind through the book is a bit difficult. The writing is geared towards young adult readers but makes for a relaxing read for an adult.

Very post-apocalyptic feel, with a good helping of redevelopment of politics. Though there is only the barest fringe of that holding center stage in the book. I mostly enjoyed the characters, there were some oversimplifications between the main character Joy and the people she interacts with. But nothing that made the book unreadable. The characters that are clearly in Joy’s corner are notable and different. Though there is a degree of one-dimensional-ness to them that gradually begins to fade when joy interacts a bit more.

There was at least one loose end regarding Hunter Ace, a semi antagonist of Joy. Just a throw-away line that just seems to be mentioned and never brought up or explored again. I would have loved to know a little more background beyond him being arrogant for arrogance’s sake. Still it was nice to see how Joy approached and handled the pressure.

This was a re-read for me, as Lackey remains a good comfort read. But to give it a rating I think it was sit somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. It really can’t match with story depth that shows good and bad for all characters. But comfort reads have their place as well.

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: Flynn Meaney – Bad Habits

Bad Habits
Flynee Meaney

Alex (she/her) doesn’t want to be at a Catholic boarding school. She wants nothing of gender traditions, boyfriends and study. In the spirit of getting kicked out, she decides to put on “The Vagina Monologues” to really shock the school into expulsion!

Alex is a badass young woman who speaks her mind and isn’t afraid to teach sexual education and action it. That being said, as the point-of-view is only hers, it was difficult to work out how much was her internal attitude and how much was her outer persona. At times, it seemed as if it was all a front – inside she’s just as scared about growing up as other kids.

There’s some lighthearted lol moments, yet this novel manages to get some important messages out. Sexual health? Tick. (ir)Responsible parenthood? Tick (and how I wish Australia had something like Planned Parenthood). Tampons? Yep, it has those too. Alex is a vehicle for change within her school and also somehow ignorant of the types of feminism that are equally valid. It’s a far better example of feminism than Juliet Takes a Breath, but it is still missing the trans* element that needs to be added to the feminist ‘agenda’.

What fell flat for me was a lack of actual action! Things seemed to be happening basically in a vacuum, with study and classes taking a back seat. That’s fine and all, but it seemed to me like all they did was plan extra-curricular activities. The play is supposed to be the highlight of the novel, but it never really happens. I also didn’t buy into the ‘best friends forever’ theme.

I’ve just realised that this is the third book in a row that had the setting of a boarding school. Now, maybe it’s just me, but boarding school always seemed to just be for rich people, and magicians! This novel doesn’t break the mold either. Still, it was a decent enough read that although I was somewhat embarrassed to read it (bright pink and yellow cover, anyone?) I did polish it off in a single sitting. For that, I’m going to give it 4 stars, and recommend it to teenage girls who need a strong female protagonist that isn’t afraid to say ‘vagina’.

Penguin Random House | 16th February 2021| AU$16.99 | paperback

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: Brigid Kemmerer – More Than We Can Tell

More Than We Can Tell
Brigid Kemmerer

Rev is tortured by his father, both in his past and present. He’s confused by his own strength and doesn’t know how to interact with anyone other than Declan and his adoptive parents. Emma is more comfortable online than in real life, and dreams of becoming a game designer. Her parents don’t understand, and they don’t understand why it’s important to her.

This is a second novel that is set in the world of Letters to the Lost. The characters overlap, but it’s not essential to review Letters to the Lost first or anything. We learn more here about Rev Fletcher, Declan’s friend. What was a tortured shadow friend now becomes a tortured soul that we get to see into.

I cried! Oh, all the feels. Rev’s story is heartbreaking and yet typical for many abused children in foster-homes. Really, Rev is lucky because he’s able to be adopted by a family who cares about it.

Do they always have to fall in love? Can’t they just not for a change? What’s wrong with making an amazing friend? Teenage love is great and all, but speaking as a voice with experience, it doesn’t always end up that this is forever love. When they rely on another person to keep them stable, it doesn’t bode well for the future.

While this got the review of my wife as ‘yet another YA novel with one of those covers’, I enjoyed it. I have to agree on the cover being a bit bland and in line with all of the other YA novels that depend on their title to draw the reader in. I have a couple more of this type of novel on my shelf, and I haven’t felt motivated to read them. Instead, I’m finding myself drawn towards non-fiction – maybe that’s because it’s been a hell of a year and I want something solid to read.

I requested this novel from Bloomsbury over a year ago, but never received a copy. Having enjoyed Kemmerer’s other novels though, I bought it for myself as a Christmas present last year – I don’t regret it at all. I can see myself reading it again, so it’s 5 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | paperback

Review: Will McIntosh – Burning Midnight (N)

Young adult novel with a unique take on small super-powers so to speak. One day indestructible marble-like spheres appeared the world over. When used in paired colours they would improve the person using, or burning, them, make them slightly better than they were before. Resistance to the common cold, become taller, better looking, be faster, stronger, increased ambidexterity, and higher IQ as examples. A total of 43 colours, each with a unique ability, and differing rarity based on availability. David β€œSully” Sullivan, a teenager who started the second wave of spheres prior to the boo.

Sully is a sphere dealer, in addition to typical teenager, to make extra money to help his mother pay rent. He meets Hunter, a girl who knows sphere hunting more than anything else. They team up to find and sell spheres. Kicking off a discovery of where the spheres came from and why the spheres ended scattered across earth. The story overall has a solid hook that grabs you in the first few pages and doesn’t let go until you finish the book. It’s a smooth, easy, and satisfying read as an adult. The twist at the end of where the spheres came from was nicely handled. Possible explanations are mentioned through narrative, though none quite hits the mark in terms of reality.

Through Sully, we get a clear picture of what colour spheres provide scattered through the book with each mention. I was a bit frustrated that there was no complete list at the end of the book for easy reference. But the main colours and abilities were easy enough to follow. I’d definitely be curious why certain colours were mentioned and not others. Also why the two new types of sphere discovered in the book had the colours they had. That is largely idle curiosity and not really a requirement.

Overall it’s an great read as a young adult novel, it hits the all the notes it needs to really give a satisfying read. But the twist at the end means some of the mystery is lost for a re-read. That doesn’t stop it from being a very enjoyable way to pass an afternoon.

Review: Jason Segal & Kirsten Miller – Otherworld

OtherWorld
Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller

Simon loves Kat. Regardless of everything else in life, that’s a fact. Sent away to boarding school, Simon can’t stop thinking about her – he falsely admits to cybercrime in order to get home. But when he gets there, Kat ignores him. Otherworld looks like a great place to find her in, but things really aren’t as they seem.

The opening scene of this novel took me off guard, because I didn’t really want to read about a self-absorbed rich kid who had a giant nose. I couldn’t have cared less about whether he was 6 foot and sunbathing naked on the lawn. I definitely couldn’t have cared less about the fact that his parents didn’t like him, and that his dad took his driving iron to his expensive, fancy gear.

Is this as good as Ready Player One? Mm, I’m undecided. Simon mostly just irritates me. Sometimes he’s so dumb… how would you expect not to wet yourself if you’ve been gaming for 2 days straight? How can that possibly be healthy? I’d love to play in a game as immersive as the others, although it’s really creepy if you can’t make it back out…

I’m not sure how I felt about the ending to this novel. It certainly seemed as if they had set it up for a second novel, which irritated me. Also, GoodReads tells me that this might be a knockoff of another Otherland? Regardless, I am going to read the next novel, because I’d like to know how people who have been plugged into the system can be rescued.

I originally received OtherEarth to review an embarrassingly long time ago. It looked great, but I didn’t read it because it was the second in the series. I’m making a concerted effort to work my way through books languishing on my shelves, so I decided to take the initiative and find OtherWorld online. I found it on Scribd and spent a very enjoyable evening reading it. 4 stars from me.

Review: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – Fighting Words

Fighting Words
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Why does Suki scream in her sleep? That’s the question Della wants answered. Suki has always protected Della since their mother went to prison and her boyfriend took them in. The girls find themselves in foster care, but it’s still not right. Della is determined that now she’ll support Suki – even if Suki doesn’t want her.

Let’s start off by stating that this is not an easy read. This is a terrifying read. It is not comfortable or comforting. You’re going to want to put trigger warnings on it for suicide, bullying and child sexual abuse. This is an #ownvoices novel from this author, and the authenticity of the writing is heartbreaking in parts. It lead to this being a compulsive read for me.

I was slightly confused by these characters, and their interaction with others. I think the girls were people of colour? And that they were able to be recognised by others in their community as needing help. It’s painfully clear that the foster care system isn’t fair to people of colour and that children’s knowledge of the system can be a rude awakening to fairness.

This novel highlights the sad truth that the foster care system is often understaffed in terms of specialist help for children and teenagers that have been abused. The people that foster in the foster care system can also be lacking in terms of compassion fatigue’ (it’s an official term). Working with traumatised young people can be difficult and unrewarding.

I unfortunately read an eBook copy of this, and I can almost statistically support that I like novels less when I have to read them on my laptop. With this in mind then (and the fact that I read it quite a bit ago now) I’m giving this novel 4 stars.

Text Publishing | 1st September 2020 | AU$19.99 | paperback