Category Archives: Reviews

March – Read something published in the last year…

The Women in the WallsThe Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not sure why I read horror books now and again…

This was a chance pick-up in the library because the cover and blurb were enticingly creepy. The overall style and story is good, picking up lots of horror-story stock items: isolation, mental instability, odd family history and of course, the spooky old house…

I really liked the first 3/4 of the book, where the psychological build-up was great. My problem – similar to most of the few horror books I’ve read – is that the actual reveal of what IS spooky or horrifying tends to switch me off. It’s almost the opposite of how I find horror films: the reveal scares me but the build-up is cheesy.

Anyway, I liked the characters and set up in this book – the background story to the horror was good as well, with some nice Shakespearian-esque gruesomeness thrown in! Young adult horror, but not if you’re squeamish 😉

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‘Carry On’ and ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember reading a review of this by Becky at Blog of a Bookaholic and I quite liked the idea of the story. When I stood in WHSmith waiting to fly out to Florida in the summer, looking for another book to complete my 3 for 2 offer, I saw this and thought ‘why not’?

And then, I carried it to the US and back without reading it and placed it into the dreaded bedside table, where it ultimately became part of my challenge to clear out that book eating piece of furniture.

I really enjoyed Fangirl, not always for the storyline, which sometimes was a bit slow for me – but I loved Cather (although I wished she’d gone for Cath and Erin for the twins over Cather and Wren – it just reminded me of the word catheter, which isn’t a great connection to make). I think Rowell wrote a very believable story about an introverted character’s experience of going to university and particularly the thought-processes of a writer. There were things that Cath says in the book, which I can only assume link about to how Rowell feels about writing herself – and they could have been thoughts from my own head.

So, it wasn’t really the ‘fangirl’ elements of Fangirl I liked the most – it was reading about a writer, writing about what they read. The correlation between reading and writing, along with the experience of being a writer, was what I loved about this book. Probably not what was aimed at, or what most people will like about it, but that was what did it for me.

So, that brings us to…

Carry OnCarry On by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF @ pg 145

I really hate not finishing books, but I was just finding this too hard to get into.

I really liked the Simon snippets in Fangirl and loved that book overall, but this just hasn’t worked for me. I think if it was written as the ‘proper’ Simon Snow book, i.e. like Harry Potter, I would have found it easier to engage with the story and characters – but as it is written in the style of fanfic, there was just too much implied knowledge needed for me to enjoy this.

So, sorry, just not for me.

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January – Read something you read in school…

Yes, I know it’s February now – but I did read the book in January, I just didn’t get time to do the  post until now 🙂

So… ‘read a book you read in school’ was the instruction and I decided that loosely this could mean anything from high school through to my post-grad stuff, which gave me quite a lot of choice. At the same time, I was already halfway through the month and in the middle of reading a couple of other books, so I didn’t want anything too heavy. Don’t worry, you’re not about to read a post about an Allan Ahlberg book, although they are pretty awesome.

In the end, I opted to read some poetry. Partly because it is was faster, but also, I don’t often read poetry – I suppose I don’t really consider myself a ‘poetry person’, even though I have no idea who I would be defining as such. Anyway, as a ‘not really a poetry person’ person, there are only a few poetry books on my shelves and I have a limited list of poets I would say that I enjoy reading. So, my choices were Robert Lowell, who I discovered in my contemporary literature class (I think!) in 3rd year at uni or Ted Hughes, who I first read in high school with things like ‘Crow’ and ‘The Thought Fox’ (for which I can still clearly the images in the poem, despite not having read it in years).

birthday-letterI ended up going with Ted, but re-read his collection of poems Birthday Letters, which I had read at the end of university, after watching the film Sylvia. Birthday Letters is probably my favourite poetry book (if I don’t count Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll). I remember reading both Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes in high school and again for A-level. I didn’t ‘get’ most of Plath’s poems – the bleakness and images she returned to over again, were perhaps not easily accessible for a younger, immature reader – someone not familiar really with the pain life can inflict. I still don’t enjoy them, but can appreciate something different in her poetry now as an adult than I did before.

sylvia

Daniel Craig and Gwyneth Paltrow as Ted and Sylvia in 2003 film Sylvia

Whether you enjoy the film Sylvia or agree/disagree with the presentation of Hughes and Plath’s life together, what I found for me was that it gave me a context for reading Birthday Letters against. If you’re interested in knowing more on this, check out Wikipedia pages on the book here. Most people believe that the poems collected in Birthday Letters are Hughes’ response to Plath’s suicide and their relationship as a whole – published in 1998 shortly before his own death. Compared to the ‘nature’ poems we had focused on at school, the poetry in Birthday Letters feels to me more personal and precise, like the words have been worked over repeatedly not to create the perfect poem, but to enable the poetry to properly express what had been worked over in someone’s mind, heart and soul over and over again, before making it on to paper.

sylvia-and-ted

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath

As I found Plath’s poetry more vivid and painful re-reading it as an adult, I felt the same about reading Birthday Letters compared to Hughes’ other poetry. When you read these poems you are being taken on a journey, one that is emotional and real – not to tell you a purely fictional story created in their imagination.

Whilst the poems have an autobiographical slant, talking about real events, they are still being interpreted through the medium of poetry. It feels like someone try to write through grief and perhaps bend it to the format that they felt most comfortable with. My own experiences with death have always been that I can express myself better on paper than I ever can out loud – like things make sense of how I’m feeling when written down, instead of being talked about with others or floating around in my head.

Of the many poems in Birthday Letters ‘Visit’ is one of my favourites. However, it is The Thought Fox by Ted Hughes that I’ve posted below for you to enjoy, if you’ve not come across it before. I’m sure it will ‘speak’ to the writer inside you, which I think is why it has stayed with me so long, since I read it over twenty years ago in school…

THE THOUGHT-FOX

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near

Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow,
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,

A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox

It enters the dark hole of the head.

The window is starless still; the clock ticks,

The page is printed.

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Just Finished…The Testing Trilogy

Maybe an odd few spoilers in here, so tread carefully, just as you might if you were going through The Testing yourself! 🙂

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read the three books that make up ‘The Testing’ trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau. I think I downloaded the first book in the series a year or so ago, when it was on a free Amazon download day… I picked it up because it was pegged as being for ‘fans of the Hunger Games…’ and with a blurb like this, you can see why:

Testing

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one and the same? 

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career. 

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one. 

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

See? Handsome boy from your home sector – check. Students chosen from outer colonies to come to the capital city for ‘Testing’ – check. Deadly competition and questionable morals amongst the candidates, check and check!

I think it was the reported similarities to The Hunger Games that made me avoid reading this for so long. I loved The Hunger Games: the competition, the rebellion, Katniss and Peeta (yep, Team Peeta, not the other guy – Katniss is the narrator and you never got the romance vibe from her in relation to him, did you?) The relationships between the characters as well, from Rue and Haymitch, through to Finnick and Mags – they all had good depth and realism, which I loved throughout that series and for me made it very strong.

Anyway, I’d not read any YA dystopian for a while and so I picked this up in the end and gave it a whirl – and it was worth it! Book one was good, book two was even better I thought – it moved further away from the Hunger Games-esque arena and built out it’s own world and plot.

After blasting through the first two books in this trilogy, I did stall a bit when it came to ‘Graduation Day’. I really liked the world built up in the first two books and in a way, keeping Cia’s world more compact (either controlled as part of the Testing, or built around her place at University) made her actions and the scale of the story realistic.

When we move to the final installment Cia doesn’t seem as ‘changed’ as she continually tells you that she is – this was something that started to grate on me a little in this final book. It felt like there was a lot more tell over show in this part and the characters that you were familiar with from books one and two began to feel a little more like cardboard cut-outs, despite the fact that you knew them already and could have seen their behaviours come out, rather than Cia telling you how she was interpreting things.

Overall, after two good books with plenty of pace and action, bounded nicely within the areas they were set inside, the third one fell flat. The various climactic elements left me a bit cold if I’m honest, which is a shame as the set up was good. I think for me – as some other reviewers pick up – things became quite unrealistic in the third book: the scope of what Cia got tasked with seemed inconsistent with the scale of everything else happening around her and her ever-present bag of magic tricks became a crutch. How could they be advance enough to manipulate genetics and do complex chemical engineering to revitalise their world, but not have anything more than basic communications, which a university student can apparently knock together in a workshop pretty quickly.

This is a good series and some comparisons to The Hunger Games are fair, particularly in the first book. But by the second it does stride out in its own direction, which I really enjoyed – the third book delivers many of the answers following the set up in the other books, it just didn’t grip me to the end as I hoped it might.

Overall I’d rate the series 4* – it is very readable and enticed me enough to buy the next two books in the series, having read the first one for free. I would have just liked something more, something different from the ending that was delivered.

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Just Finished…Fractured, by Dani Atkins

FracturedRandomly plucked from my Kindle list, mainly because the cover caught my eye, I got into this book straight away. Looking at the cover properly now, in full size and colour, it is just an even more perfect match for the story. Coming off the back of several quick ‘fluffy’ reads, I was ready for something a little more involved.

Much of the story of Fractured is told from inside main character Rachel’s head, which can sometimes make things feel less instant and pacy, but I didn’t find that with Fractured.

I’ve always liked the Sliding-Doors-type stories, you know: if one small thing changed, what would be the repercussions of that and how far-reaching are they? I like seeing an author set up one thing, and then flip it on its head – Fractured definitely delivered this. The characters were well-formed in both of Rachel’s realities and the journey you join her on is at times heart-breaking and others uplifting. I’m not normally one for crying at books, but the way Rachel’s story brings you into the middle of what she’s experiencing, I don’t think you can avoid an emotional reaction.
There are lots of things to examine in this book, which I’ll not share because of spoilers, but I do think it is the type of novel that stays with you afterwards, making you examine human nature, relationships and how the mind has the capacity to work in ways I don’t think we’ll ever work out.

Overall, a great read, but beware – your heart-strings will be pulled. Rating 5*

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Just Finished…Fluffy Romances :)

You know how it is sometimes, you just want some easy reading, a little romance and some nice characters… Coming off the back of the very long All Souls trilogy and finishing the reasonably lengthy fourth book of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles in a week (which I’ll post a review on soon), I needed something easy and fluffy 🙂 And, that’s what I got with the books that I read in the last few days.

Grover Beach 19263535First up was US-set YA romances from the ‘Grover Beach Team’ series by Anna Katmore and Piper Shelley (not sure why only one author name appears on the cover…) The first one, ‘Play with Me’ had been a random free download from Amazon before Christmas. It’s a quick, neat story of first love and frustrations with male best friends, set in summer holidays at high school. Told in first person from POV of Lisa Matthews, there’s lots of sarcasm and banter between the characters, which makes for a fun read and the issues and action of the book seem nice and realistic. Definitely YA, with some language and romantic scenes that turn up the heat over and above a quick peck – but nothing that would have E. L. James worrying. Rating 4*

‘Ryan Hunter’ is the second book in the series, and tells the same tale from Ryan Hunter’s POV (surprising, eh?) It’s a nice twist on the first one and gives you some nice missing scenes that show the other side of the story from ‘Play with Me’ – oddly enough, having liked Ryan in the first book, being inside his head, I came away not liking him quite as much, but that’s often the same when you take away the romantic goggles that you’ve viewed a character through in  reading the first book. By the end of this, I was ready to move away from Grover Beach, but overall, they were really well written books, with good characters and some nice high school romance. Rating 3.5*

23452501My last fluffy read of the week was a novella by Kat Latham from the London Legends series. Unwrapping Her Perfect Match was a freebie download from Christmas – unsurprisingly, set during the holiday season.

For a novella, it was a good length and had great characters that had some decent depth and you were able to get drawn into the story quickly. It wasn’t a straight-forward cheesy romance, there were some nice elements that held the story together and actually aside from the romance elements it would hold together as a story in itself. A nice, fast read, perfect if you’re looking for a quick adult romance, with some definite adult scenes and quite a lot of swearing – one of the MCs is a rugby playing giant of a man, don’t expect him to say “Oopsy Daisy” just because he’s British 🙂 Rating 4*

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Just Finished…The All Souls Trilogy…

A Discovery of WitchesIt’s taken a while to get to reviewing this series, as once I’d started the trilogy with A Discovery of Witches back in September 2015, I then bought the other two books and thought I would do a review for the trilogy as a whole.

In fact, this first book had been on my kindle since March 2012 waiting for me to get around to reading it! There’s nothing like trawling your old purchases to find something new to read, when you’re looking for inspiration – I think this may be the theme for most of my reading this year, as I started off in January reading the first in Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones series and am currently partway through the first Beautiful Creatures book by Garcia and Stohl. I’m only about six years behind the reading curve on those then! 🙂 I added a lot of books in 2012 and as quite a few of them are still there, bouncing around in digi-book purgatory in my kindle, I began to feel bad getting anything new before I released them.

Anyway, back to the book…

A Discovery of Witches lands you right in the middle of academic and book lover nirvana: it’s set in the beautiful libraries and colleges of Oxford, as American Professor Diana Bishop attempts to ignore the fact that she’s a witch to get on with her research without magic. When a strange book lands on her desk during her work, one filled with magic and questions, she deliberately dismisses it – sending it back to the archives, so that she can continue to ignore her magical abilities.

What I loved about this first book, which I would rate 4*, was the world-building and background premise to the magical world of ‘creatures’ that Harkness describes. The first few hundred pages flew by as I learned about daemons, vampires and witches in this world – what made them different, their characteristics and behaviours, and how all this came together in a meeting between genetic science and mythology. It was great. The characters introduced were also intriguing and drew me in to the story and mystery that was obviously being laid out.

There was a lull in the middle of the book for me – something that I found in each of the books in the series if I’m honest – where I was reading and reading and it didn’t really feel like there was much happening, significant character development or action. There was quite a lot of tea making, wandering around buildings described in lots of detail, and day-to-day happenings I wasn’t too fussed to be reading about. I love a good cup of tea, but when your protagonist is making them every few pages in considerable detail, you’re really not that bothered. All three of the books are long-ish (579 pages for this one) and I would have said a good 100 pages or so of exposition could have been lost without detriment to the overall story. After the lull in the middle, it finished with a bang – which had me heading to Amazon to grab the next two books, so that I could find out more about the characters and world I’d invested in.

Shadow of Night So, book two lands: Shadow of Night. Funnily enough, the lull for me in this one came at the very beginning – perhaps because I’d closed one book and opened the other immediately. Here the main characters have used Diana’s powers to ‘time-walk’ into the past to Elizabethan England, to the home – and former life – of her vampire partner Matthew. After a slightly slow start, the world-building picks up, as does the action and Diana – a historian – throws herself into this interesting world. Sixteenth century London is described in fantastic detail, with historical features mingling with the world of creatures set up in book one. We learn more about magic and the issues of the present, as we journey with Diana in the past. Spellbound as a child, to protect herself from her powers, she has always thought she was a poor excuse for a witch and thus focused on academia as her strength and not witchcraft. Now that she has found what was done to her as a child, she has to learn about herself and witches from the beginning, in an unfamiliar world. This was my favourite book in the series – the mixture of worlds and travels through history, living and breathing the places Diana and Matthew pass through, as they continue to unravel the mystery started in A Discovery of Witches. After the initial lull, the rest of the book flew by and I read it in a few days.

The Book of LifeThe Book of Life, brings us back to the present and the huge cast of characters assembled during the first two books now converge in the present day as Diana and Matthew continue their search for answers.

The book started well, but maybe 200 pages in it began to drag. I know loose ends had to be tied up, but just as in book one, there were long chapters of exposition that weren’t adding to the story for me. Also, after the majority of the first two books being written from Diana’s POV (first person) this book moved around a lot more – jumping into other characters heads, re-telling scenes in the third person. I didn’t find the jumps confusing, but just felt that if first person was good enough for the majority of the book, surely there were ways of conveying what was done here, without a quick and easy 3-4 paragraph jump out, to jump back. It felt lazy somehow, and with the detail and story-telling of this series, Harkness is not a lazy writer.

Anyway, there was a long lull and so I found it hard to keep reading in the sporadic moments I’d get. It felt like something I had to get through in order to finish the story and get my answers. In the end, you do get the answers – some are quite satisfying and delivered well; others, particularly action elements, could have been much more exciting. I started the book in September and have just finished it this morning.

So, overall – I’d probably be around 3.5* for this series. There are some great elements to the story and the complexity of the ‘creature’ world-building is excellent. There are characters that you buy into and want to know how their stories develop. But, the pace in several areas is just too slow – you shouldn’t be feeling that you need to ‘power through’ to the good bits. I’ve read several reviews for the books that compare them to Twilight – an adults version, if you like – and I can appreciate that. If Bella had gone off to uni and met her vampire around the age of 34, instead of 17, it probably would have been a very similar tale. My feelings about the drag in the books are very similar to the drag I experienced reading Breaking Dawn, with random characters appearing in an endless stream, leading up to the most anti-climatic battle ever. Action scenes and pace are not Harkness’s strong points either, but she can write depth and history and weave a huge tapestry of a new world that you can absolutely believe is realistic. Maybe just a bit less tea making, wandering in gardens and being coddled by other creatures in rooms described in minute detail; and when you get the violent climax of a three book series, don’t skip over it in a page or two. It was all a bit Finnick: *reading, reading, reading – turn page* “Wait a second!” *turns back a page* “Did Finnick just die?”

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