Tag Archives: 4*

April – Read a non-fiction book… Freakonomics

1202So, non-fiction month… I don’t often read non-fiction, but I do really enjoy them when I do. I started Freakonomics about a couple of years ago, read the first couple of chapters/essays and enjoyed it, but then popped it back into the bedside table pile and didn’t get back to it. This time, spurred on by the need to read a non-fiction book in the month, I just grabbed it and read! The way the chapters are divided over different subjects, but with vague links between them, makes it very easy to read and the style with a conversational tone taking you through their theories is a nice change for a non-fiction book.

The idea behind Freakonomics is the juxtaposing of some quite outlandish ideas, with core economic theories and approach to evaluation to give alternative perspectives on areas as diverse as violent crime statistics and the importance of parenting. Below is a snapshot from the blurb and picks out some of the best questions explored in the essay chapters:

“Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?”

I’d definitely recommend this for anyone who likes examining the world from different, less conventional perspectives. Their website, http://freakonomics.com/ has all sorts of articles, videos and more covering a lot of other content on other subjects, so is worthwhile checking out if you like the sound of this book. I’ll definitely be adding Super Freakonomics to my TBR list – but might need to leave tackling it to another year! 🙂

Overall 4* for this

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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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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…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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Just Finished…City of Bones

image  So, this is my first book of 2016… I realise that I am about eight years late in giving this series a try, but it has been sat on my bookshelf for ages now and I just randomly plucked it off and started it over Christmas.

Overall, my rating for this would be 4* – up until about two-thirds of the way through, it was probably more of a 3*, but the writing style and ideas behind the world created in The Mortal Instruments held things together for me, when perhaps I wasn’t as invested in the characters or their actual adventure. That might sound like an odd thing to say, but I’ve found that happening with a few books I’ve read lately (including a very long trilogy that I’m just coming to the end of and will review soon).

In terms of the world created, it has a lot of typical YA supernatural elements: wolves, vampires, angels, demons… But, in here they are all in the same ‘world’ for once, rather than split into an angels book, or a vampire-wolf combo, which is interesting. I liked the idea of the city setting as well; seeing the action unravel around various parts of New York was a nice twist for me, with demon clubs and vampire hotels around every corner.

The action/pacing wasn’t amazing for me though – I never felt ‘gripped’ by the story and could easily put it down and walk away. I enjoyed the characters and the witty banter was great, but I never really bonded with them. As it stands, I’d read more in the series if the opportunity came up, but as a completed series, ready and waiting for me, I don’t feel the urge or that invested to pick up book two. In honesty, I like the sound of Clare’s second series more and so may give the Infernal Devices a go before I venture further along the paths of shadowhunters and demons…

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Just Finished…Stealing Phoenix by Joss Stirling

imageThis was a good follow up to book one and it was nice to come back to the series after a long break. Initially, I didn’t warm to Phoenix’s character as much as I had Sky and Crystal (I’d actually skipped this book when I read the others in 2013, thinking that the story in the third book sounded better than this one, so I read them out of order. Strangely, that isn’t an issue really with this series as each book is in a different location and comes as first person narrative from a different female lead each time).

Anyway, in the first few chapters it was the action and pace that kept me going. Phoenix’s world is not a pleasant one and her life is hard, so I think that’s why I struggled to enjoy her story. However, once she meets Yves and the whole ‘soul finder’ thing kicks in, you see the best parts of her character and strengths that she doesn’t see in herself normally. When you read a first person narration from someone who isn’t confident, I can see why they are hard to like…they don’t like themselves. It’s only when you begin to see the true character of Phoenix, reflected back into the story through her interactions with Yves that you get to see the best in her.

I will admit, I’m not sure what I think of the ‘soul finder’ thing in this book. It feels more forced than the other two I’ve read, where the characters have at least some interaction with one another, before the soul finder part happens. It’s quite like the ‘imprinting’ thing in Twilight (which I really didn’t like in that series because of the weirdness with age differences, etc.) Anyway, with soul finders, they have to be a Savant (magical person, of course) and be born around the same time, the idea being that they are two parts of a single whole, thus the drive to get together in the first place and soul mate importance of holding onto that person when you found them… It seems that not many Savants find their special person under normal circumstances. Anyway, if you hate ‘instalove’ this might put you off, although it’s interesting seeing how Phoenix questions the bond and impact it has on her for much of the book, so it’s not too cheesy on that side of things.

As with the other books in this series, the writing is good and action/twists abound as you go through the story. The savant/supernatural parts are good, but not over relied on for the action, and the relationship between Phoenix and Yves is interesting, very differnt from the pairings in the other books.

I really liked Yves…how his mind seems to work, his approach to life, and firey spirit, which contrasts strongly with the logical, academic, side of his personality. I’d really like to see a snapshot book from his point of view, like you saw in ‘Challenging Zed’, to see what he’s like when it’s not through the filter of Phoenix’s eyes.

Overall, a quick and enjoyable read, comparable to the others in the series. If you liked them, I’m sure you’ll like this 🙂

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