Review: Catherine Steadman – Mr Nobody

Mr Nobody
Catherine Steadman

Dr Emma Lewis is a specialist in memory loss and brain damage. Perhaps it comes from her own past, a man who did something terrible and a memory Emma couldn’t forget. Mr Nobody has no memories of his own, but he knows things about Emma that he shouldn’t know.

There is a beautiful slow pacing in the first half of the novel which potentially could be considered glacially slow if you prefer a novel with a bit more action. I wasn’t in a hurry because I’d only brought one book! I enjoyed the perspectives, although I felt like there was perhaps too much insight into each of their minds. I also didn’t really ‘need’ all of the characters. For example, the nurse wasn’t that necessary.

The ending to this one was a bit of a twist, but not quite as twisty as I thought? I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Honestly, after all the build up I thought something exciting might happen in the final pages. I was wrong, and it made me sad. It seemed like Emma had given up (something nebulous that I’m not going to say because it’ll spoil the book).

Thanks to COVID-19 I’m more than a year behind on reviewing this novel. With all the bad stuff that was/is happening in the world I couldn’t face a thriller. This is worthy of three stars – 4 from the beginning and 2 for the ending! If you want a gripping crime go check out Before Her Eyes.

Simon & Schuster | 1 February 2020 | AU$29.99 | paperback

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: David Arnold – The Electric Kingdom

The Electric Kingdom
David Arnold

Nico has been sent on a quest by her father to jump through the waters of Manchester. Kit’s never known life without his mother – or with more than 5 people in it. The Deliverer is an enigmatic unknown face that tries to support a failing human population besieged with Flies. Each has a potential mission to complete, but that seems impossible.

It wasn’t exactly edge-of-your-seat reading, but I did want to know what happened next. I was able to put it down though, because I just wasn’t as invested as I could have been. I’m not really sure that I believed the characters died when they did, and there was a sense that nothing was really real.

Also, what’s the deal with the title? Isn’t the fact that there is no electricity left? Well… except in the super special place where it worked. And the time jump wasn’t even electrical! I was disappointed.

As with all novels with potential time travel, although it is theoretically possible for a circle to be made, it makes the ending sort of pre-thought. Yet I kept reading in the hopes that the finale would redeem the book for me. It didn’t. Why was this particular cycle the one the author chose to write about? It seems like a personal hell.

I liked the characters well enough, and I enjoyed the different perspectives (for a change) but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this novel to everyone. A better time travel novel doesn’t come to mind right now, but if you have to pick a first one to read in the genre, perhaps don’t pick this one. 3 stars from me.

Text Publishing | 16th February 2021 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Lawrence McMahon – As Swallows Fly

As Swallows Fly
Lawrence McMahon

Kate is a plastic surgeon who cares for her patients even as they work her to the bone. Malika is an orphan abandoned after a bus crash, growing up in unforgiving Pakistan. Malika shows promise with her studies, but it seems unclear whether she will be able to bust through the stifling disregard of the village. Kate is volunteered to mentor Malika in Australia, yet Kate isn’t really ready for the child.

The novel opens on Kate’s childhood, but then skips forward to her mother’s funeral. It then swoops back to Malika’s childhood and follows through to present day. The tension builds because we know from the blurb that something terrible will happen to Malika and that Kate will (eventually) need to save her. Unfortunately the blurb basically gave the ending away, because it was of course going to be a happy ending.

The element of tension that tried to be introduced by the Taliban’s invasion of Pakistan seemed at odds to the rest of the characters. Sure, I liked the priests well enough, but I didn’t care enough about them that I wanted words wasted on them. I much would have preferred a critical look at Kate’s surgeries or Malika’s classwork.

This has to be the fourth novel in a row that has a boarding school setting! However, in this situation it is essential that there is a school who can take Malika on. What I didn’t understand was that the teacher wasn’t more understanding. How could someone so sour about people being different survive in a place where it seemed like diversity was supported? Anyway, I thought that it highlighted how judgemental people are without knowing more (anything) about the people that they meet.

For me ultimately this novel fell short. After a slow start and middle (no problems there) the ending seemed rushed and was unsatisfactory. I had so many questions left over. Did Malika recover fully? Did Kate actually move on with her life? While I read the rest compulsively in one sitting, ultimately the ending wasn’t good enough to justify 4 stars.

Ventura Press | March 2021 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Di Walker – Everything We Keep

Everything We Keep
Di Walker

Agatha has bounced from home to home, never really settling in. That’s until Katherine gives Agatha stability – and a way to get back if she needs to leave her parents again. What follows is the tug between being at home with your parents, or being at home with an adult who can treat her as the child she is.

Initially we don’t know what the circumstances are around the deterioration of Agatha’s home life. We know that something major must have gone wrong, but it’s unclear. Slowly and powerfully it is revealed, as is the level of stress and anxiety in Agatha’s life. I worried for Agatha’s future, even as I was sure her present would turn out ok.

Some of the dialogue is quite stilted in this, and I’m thinking that since it is an ARC it will be fixed in the final proof. If I wanted a comparison of this author’s style, I would guess I can read Unpacking Harper Holt. I’m not sure I’m going to, because there are plenty of other good middle grade reads already demanding my time.

If only this was the lived experience for more children in the foster care system. The ending is near perfect, and sadly, unlikely to occur for many children. What Agatha experiences before meeting Katherine is so typical it hurts. Surely there is a better way? I once again conclude that trying to place children back with their biological parents at all costs is absurd. At the same time, I can’t (yet can) believe that foster parents just hand the child on when they get to be too troublesome.

What I would have liked to see a little more of was a resolution at the end. What are the next steps? How can Agatha really move forward? Is there any hope for her parents? How will the dynamic actually change when Lawson joins the family? Can Agatha keep up going to school? What about her burgeoning OCD?

3 stars from me. It’s not quite as moving a story as Fighting Words, but a little more straight-forward than Watch Over Me. It’s a worthy addition to foster care literature, and it’s certainly perfect for the middle grade audience in a way that these other two novels are for older audiences.

Scholastic | 1st April 2021 | AU$18.99 | paperback

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.