Archive for December, 2013

Legend by Marie Lu is the first in a YA dystopian trilogy and tells the story of Day and June two teenagers on the opposite sides of the political fence.  June is a young government soldier, while Day is a freedom fighter.  When June’s brother is killed during a raid on a hospital in which Day is taking part, their paths collide.

What I liked

The romance.  It’s an old trope, but an effective one, to have the protagonists fall in love but be unaware that they are in fact mortal enemies because of their political viewpoints.  (see You’ve Got Mail, Pillow Talk, The Shop Around the Corner)The added personal motivation of Metias’, June’s brother’s death adds an extra element to the mix.  Lu builds up an excellent tension for the reveal of the identities to each other.  She actually had the revelation take place earlier in the book than I’d expected – however, it works well, as the rest of the book is devoted to finding out the truth behind Metias’ death.

The setting.  I found Lu’s world nicely written.  The dystopian side of it is very subtle at first, and it’s only when we learn more about it that its nature really becomes apparent.  This fits in with June’s growing understanding of her world.  I liked that our learning about the world was tied into the mystery of Metias’ death.

The characters.  I really liked both June and Day and was fascinated by the parallels, contrasts and comparisons drawn between them.  Sometimes it was a little heavy handed though – it didn’t need a character to explicitly say that their lives could have been the same had Day’s not taken a different turning at one point.  I liked that June was very book smart, but is rather naive and trusting whereas Day is equally intelligent, but his knowledge is more street smarts.  Unlike June, his experiences have made him bitter and not very trusting.  I liked that their relationship with each other made them both really think about their points of view.

What I didn’t like

The narration.  I found it hard to become engaged in the audio narration of this book.  I personally didn’t enjoy Mariel Stern and Steven Kaplan’s narration, which I found rather flat.  That is my own opinion, and of course you may enjoy the narration.  Here’s a sample.

All in all, I really enjoyed Legend and gave it four stars out of five.  I look forward to continuing with the series.

 buy from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Audible

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As it’s now near the end of 2013, I feel it’s about time I did my review of the top books I read this year.  First of all, some statistics.  According to GoodReads, I have read an incredible 115 books this year!  I am certain that this is partly due to Audible and my being able to listen to books during my nightshifts.  As I am moving onto day shifts soon, I suspect my total will drop for next year.  As an item of interest, the longest book I read was A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson at a total of 909 pages.  

So without much further ado, onto the retrospective.  Here, in no particular order, are my favourite books of 2013.

[book-info title=”A Memory of Light” author=brandon-sanderson-2] A Memory of Light is, of course, the final book in Robert Jordan’s magnum opus The Wheel of Time, completed by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan’s death.  There was a lot of pressure and expectation on this book; the series has been ongoing for nearly 25 years and had a cast of thousands as well as hundreds of narrative plot threads.  Sanderson was faced with a real challenge to pull this all together and to create a satisfying ending in a world he had not created. While not perfect, I felt the book was a wonderful farewell to much-loved characters and was emotionally satisfying.  

Read my reaction to A Memory of Light. (note: contains spoilers)

[book-info title=”Cinder” author=marissa-meyer-2] Cinder is a fantastic blend of fairytale and sci-fi.  I loved this book because of the creative concept, the humour, the wonderful characters and witty writing style.  Sci-fi is not my favourite genre, and I was curious to see how well it would integrate with the fairytale world of the Brothers Grimm, but Meyer did a wonderful job on this.  I can wholly recommend it.

Read my full review of Cinder.
 

[book-info title=”Emperor of Thorns” author=mark-lawrence-2]  Emperor of Thorns is one that really sneaked up on me.  I had disliked Prince of Thorns, the first book in the trilogy, mainly due to the unsympathetic main character.  Reluctantly I was persuaded to read the second book and finally the third.  Due to Lawrence’s wonderful character development I began to really care about Jorg, or at least to understand him better, so the ending came as a real sucker punch to me.  Any book that can leave me feeling as emotionally drained as Emperor of Thorns  has to be worth reading.

Read my full review of Emperor of Thorns

[book-info title=”Emerald Green” author=kerstin-gier-2] The real charm of this and the rest of the Gem Trilogy is the main character Gwyneth.  She is just so charming and engaging it’s hard not be sucked into her story.  The time travel concept is very interesting and well done.  It should be noted that the Gem trilogy is best read as a marathon – the books are not very self-contained so it’s best to read the story as a whole.

Read my full review of Emerald Green.

[book-info title=”The Golem and the Jinni” author=helene-wecker-2] The concept of The Golem and the Jinni – a golem and a jinni emigrate to late 19th century New York and form a friendship – is very fresh and engaging.  I also loved Wecker’s detailing of the New York of the time, which felt so real, as well as the characterisations and interrelationships between the characters.  This is a wonderfully charming novel that I heartily recommend.

Read my full review of The Golem and the Jinni.

[book-info title=”The Darkest Minds” author=alexandra-bracken-2] I was hooked on this book from the first few chapters I read.  The brisk narrative style kept me turning page after page after page and I was very invested in the characters.  I was intrigued by the dystopian setting and felt it worked very well.  I have yet to read the sequel, but I’m looking forward to it.

Read my full review of The Darkest Minds.

[book-info title=”Eleanor and Park” author=rainbow-rowell-2] Eleanor & Park is a sweet coming-of-age romance between two outsiders Eleanor and Park.  I loved Rowell’s writing style and the characters felt very real and engaging.  I could easily imagine meeting Eleanor or Park on the bus into town.  This is the first book of Rowell’s that I have read, but I will certainly read more of her work.

Read my full review of Eleanor & Park.

[book-info title=”Allegiant” author=veronica-roth] Allegiant is the final book in Roth’s Divergent trilogy.  While not without flaws, Roth’s willingness to break YA dystopian tropes along with engaging characters and a beautiful writing style made this a wonderful, emotional read.

Read my full review of Allegiant. (NB spoilers)

Do you agree with my thoughts?  Let me know in the comments.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer is the second in The Lunar Chronicles series and is loosely based on the fairytale of Little Red Riding Hood.  The narrative is split between continuing the story of Cinder from the first book and following Scarlet as she attempts to find and rescue her kidnapped grandmother.

What I liked

Strong, intelligent protagonist.  Scarlet, like the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood, is a spirited, feisty young heroine and a lot of fun to read.  I enjoyed her story and watching her learn about her grandmother’s secrets.  I was amused that at the end both of the male protagonists were out of commission and it was up to the ladies to save the day.

Intriguing love interest.  The character of Wolf was very well written.  Meyer deliberately keeps the character’s motivations unclear right until the very end and the way Meyer fulfilled the fairytale’s wolf role was masterfully done.

There are probably fewer iconic moments to bring over from Little Red Riding Hood – the red cape of course, “what big eyes you have, grandma” and both of those do make an appearance.  I loved the way Meyer brought those and the wolves into her narrative – it was very imaginatively done – and well woven into the broader story arc of Cinder and the Lunar Queen.

The pacing.  Having the dual points of view kept the pacing moving along very quickly.  it also allowed for mini cliffhangers as Meyer would switch PoV just at a crucial point.

The narration.  Once again, Rebecca Soler took on narration duties and I loved her interpretation.  She gave unique voices to the characters and enacted the directions “she said, snippily” excellently.  Here’s a sample.

What I didn’t like

Again there was nothing I disliked about Scarlet.  Meyer’s world and characters are just so beautifully written.

I gave Scarlet five stars out of five.

From Netgalley and Amazon I picked up the first few chapters in the sequel, Cress, which is due out in early February 2014.  This continues the story of Cinder and Scarlet and throws the spotlight on Cress, a character we met briefly in Cinder.  Cress is loosely based on the fairytale of Rapunzel, and even in the first few chapters I loved the character.  I really look forward to seeing more of the interaction between “Big Sister” and “Little Cress.”  It’s already clear from the excerpt how Meyer is weaving the fairytale into this story and the wider narrative.

I really look forward to reading Cress, and it’s on my pre-order lists at both Audible and Amazon.

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As I may have mentioned before, my job requires me to work regular nightshifts.  Now, it’s a very reactive job, so some of the time you are waiting around for something to go wrong.  That is the point at which I rely on my audiobooks to get me through the nights.  I need to keep my eye on the computer screen at all times to watch for alerts, so I can’t really focus on a Kindle or other reading matter.  However, in those circumstances, audiobooks are a real lifesaver.  I can keep my eye on the screen while still enjoying my story.  Having my mind on the book also helps me stay awake.  As well as nightshifts, I also enjoy listening to a few chapters of a book before going to bed.  

With Whispersync for Voice it’s even awesomer.  During my breaks I can pick up the Kindle book for a bit of variety and it keeps my place.  I’m certain I wouldn’t get through as many books as I do if it weren’t for these nightshifts.  From January I’m moving to regular dayshifts so I fear my book consumption may drop, unfortunately. 

One production I listened to during this week’s nightshifts was the BBC Radio 4 production of Gaiman’s Neverwhere starring James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer and Benedict Cumberbatch which I picked up from Audible.  This is a wonderful production of a great story and I loved it.  McAvoy in particular really made me laugh with his interpretation of Richard Mayhew.  I understand it’s going to be repeated on the radio over the festive season, so I would definitely recommend catching this one.

When do you like to listen to audiobooks?  Let me know in the comments.

Added to my library this week

From Netgalley I picked up Hobbit Lessons – A Map for Life’s Unexpected Journeys by Devin Brown.  The blurb says: For generations, The Hobbit has been loved and shared by readers who thrilled to the challenges faced by the band of fourteen. Most didn’t realize, however, that some of life’s greatest lessons could be learned by going along on that journey. Discover these and other exiting truths from Bilbo Baggins journey—without the danger of being eaten by a dragon.  It sounded a fun read, so I picked it up.

Since I loved Cinder and Scarlet so much I used an Audible credit to preorder Cress, a book I also have on Kindle preorder.

I’ve been hearing a good deal of buzz about Veronica Rossi and when her Under the Never Sky was on special I picked it up on both Kindle and Audible.  I’m not 100% certain that the story will appeal to me, but for the price I paid I am certainly willing to give it a try.

So I’ll take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2014.  I will be posting a review on Monday 23rd December and will do a year roundup and anticipation of 2014 the on Friday 27th.  Have fun!

Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong is the first in a new YA epic fantasy series.  It tells the story of Ashyn and Moria, twins who are destined from birth to take on the roles of Seeker and Keeper respectively.  In the world of the Sea of Shadows, the dead don’t always rest quietly, and it’s the job of the Keeper and Seeker to keep them under control and to send them to their rest.  Ashyn and Moria are new to the role and are inexperienced, and naturally, this is the point at which the dead choose to mount a full scale attack.  Their attempt to control and investigate this uprising brings them in contact with the upper echelons of power and all the accompanying politics.

I must admit I found this a difficult book to get into.  That wasn’t through any fault of the book itself I don’t believe; it just didn’t appeal to me personally.

What I liked

The relationships.  I thought the relationships between Ashyn and Moria and also between the girls and their respective love interests was well written and believable. I did feel invested in the pairings and I am glad that there was no love triangle.  They have enough work dealing with their trust issues.

The concept.  I did think the initial concept was interesting, although I wasn’t so fond of its execution.

The twist in the ending.  Mmmm, I didn’t see that coming, although in hindsight it was well set up.

What I didn’t like

Horrific descriptions.  I found that I was put off by the amount of blood, guts and gore mentioned in the book.  We get that these walkers are evil and that dangerous beasts lurk in the forest – I don’t think we needed quite so many descriptions of people’s innards being ripped out or their faces being dissolved by acid.

As I say, Sea of Shadows didn’t grab me personally.  You may enjoy it more than I did.  Let me know in the comments

I gave Sea of Shadows three and a half stars out of five.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug directed by Peter Jackson
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Format: Cinema release
Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellan
Length: 2 hours 49 minutes
five-stars

The Desolation of Smaug is the second in Peter Jackson’s trilogy based on J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit and stars Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and Ian McKellen and continues the story of our party of dwarves accompanied by Bilbo the titular hobbit and Gandalf.  It follows them through Mirkwood and their encounter with Thranduil’s woodland elves and finally to the goal of their quest, the Lonely Mountain.  However, they still have a lot of work to do before they can reclaim their homeland and all the gold it contains.  Check back at a theatre near you Christmas 2014 to find out what happens.

There are spoilers here so please check back after the cut

(more…)

One book I added to my library recently was The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Martin Sixsmith.  This is the book on which the movie Philomena is based; it’s the story of a middle aged Irish woman who is looking for her son having been forced to give him up for adoption as a teenager.  The film stars Judi Dench and Steve Coogan and is excellent.  Indeed, Dench has been nominated for both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actor’s Guild award for her role as the titular Philomena.  For me though, the real surprise was Coogan – who not only starred in the movie as but co-wrote the screenplay.  In Philomena, Coogan plays Sixsmith, the journalist who helps Philomena trace what happened to her son. In general, I’m not a fan of Coogan in comic mode, but he played excellently against Judi Dench and their growing friendship was one of the real highlights of the movie.

Although I’ve not read the book, the first few chapters I have read were very interesting and well written.  That is hardly surprising as Sixsmith is a former BBC journalist.

As I’m starting three weeks of nightshifts next week I have been planning my audiobook consumption.  Currently, I’m planning on marathoning Marie Lu’s Legend series.  I’ve heard a lot of good things about the series and am looking forward to starting it.  I’m also thinking of continuing some of the other series I have on the go, such as the Mortal Instruments or The Darkest Minds.  Another option is to listen to the BBC Radio production of The Lord of the Rings which I also picked up from Audible a while ago.  This is a brilliant production, and even now Robert Stephens’ voice as Aragorn still sends shivers down my spine.

In any case, it’s clear I won’t be short of things to listen to!

This week I’ve been struggling to read Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong.  It’s just not gripped me yet, but I will persevere.

Added to my library this week

Having loved Cinder so much, I added Meyer’s sequel, Scarlet to my library in both Kindle and Audible formats.  Incidentally, if you’re keen to start this series, Amazon has the first five chapters of the first three books in the series.

In order to celebrate the season I picked up Debbie Macomber’s 1225 Christmas Tree Lane in Audible’s daily deals this week.

Other than that it’s been a quiet week.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer is a YA sci-fi novel and is the first in a series of four books based on classic fairytales.  This first one is based on Perrault’s Cinderella.  Many elements of the original are incorporated: the persecuted heroine, the wicked stepmother and stepsisters, Prince Charming, a ball at the palace, the protagonist’s desire to attend thwarted by her stepmother, the pumpkin turned coach, footwear left on the palace step.

Cinderella is an interesting choice for the basis of a YA novel.  Generally speaking, YA heroines tend to be strong, proactive heroines (we’ll try to forget Bella Swan for a moment).  This fairytale princess is the epitome of a passive character. In part, that is why the tale is so beloved. The idea that a fairy godmother could suddenly whisk you away from your humdrum existence to a life of luxury and privilege is very appealing to many people.  it’s the ultimate rags to riches story.  As a character though Cinderella is, well, boring.  She does very little to earn her happy ending other than to be generally nice.

Fortunately, that is one aspect that Meyer did change for her novel.  Her Cinder is strong, assertive and willing to go after what she wants.  Having said that, just as Cinderella’s innate goodness leads to her life being changed, Meyer’s Cinder’s cyborg nature has a significant influence on her life.  The one major aspect not carried over from the fairytale is the fairy godmother (or magic tree, depending on what version you’re looking at.)  Meyer’s Cinder doesn’t hang around waiting for someone to come along to wave a magic wand to change her life.   Certainly, she starts off the story in a comparatively powerless position, but she doesn’t sit around passively and wait for her fairy godmother to improve her life, she goes out and works for what she needs. She needs transport; she gets out and gets her hands dirty by fixing up a car.  In essence, Cinder is her own fairy godmother.

Like Cinder, Meyer’s Prince Charming has a lot more depth than the prince of the fairytale.  We can see just what a difficult position he is in.  I have the impression that things are only going to become more difficult for Kai as the series progresses.

What I liked

Sci-fi twists of the classic tropes of the tale.  I just loved how Meyer incorporated all the favourite aspects of the original but gave them a wonderful sci-fi twist.  I had such fun playing spot the original.

Wonderful characters. As I have mentioned above, the protagonists of Cinder are such wonderful rich characters and I loved reading about them.

The narration. Rebecca Soler performed the narration for Cinder – as she does for the other two released/soon to be released books in the series.  I absolutely adored her reading of the book.  She gave each of the characters unique voices which fit perfectly with my mental picture of them, and she brought out Cinder’s humour too.  Here’s a sample.

[audio http://samples.audible.com/bk/aren/001333/bk_aren_001333_sample.mp3%5D

What I didn’t like

There was nothing I didn’t enjoy about Cinder – except that it wasn’t long enough!  I’d have happily read a book twice as thick.

As you might have guessed I gave Cinder five stars out of five.

 buy from Kindle, Kobo, iTunes, Audible

five-stars

Cinder by Marissa Meyer – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader

Cinder by Marissa Meyer is a YA sci-fi novel and is the first in a series of four books based on classic fairytales.  This first one is based on Perrault’s Cinderella.  Many elements of the original are incorporated: the persecuted heroine, the wicked stepmother and stepsisters, Prince Charming, a ball at the palace, the protagonist’s desire to attend thwarted by her stepmother, the pumpkin turned coach, footwear left on the palace step.

Cinderella is an interesting choice for the basis of a YA novel.  Generally speaking, YA heroines tend to be strong, proactive heroines (we’ll try to forget Bella Swan for a moment).  This fairytale princess is the epitome of a passive character. In part, that is why the tale is so beloved. The idea that a fairy godmother could suddenly whisk you away from your humdrum existence to a life of luxury and privilege is very appealing to many people.  it’s the ultimate rags to riches story.  As a character though Cinderella is, well, boring.  She does very little to earn her happy ending other than to be generally nice.

Fortunately, that is one aspect that Meyer did change for her novel.  Her Cinder is strong, assertive and willing to go after what she wants.  Having said that, just as Cinderella’s innate goodness leads to her life being changed, Meyer’s Cinder’s cyborg nature has a significant influence on her life.  The one major aspect not carried over from the fairytale is the fairy godmother (or magic tree, depending on what version you’re looking at.)  Meyer’s Cinder doesn’t hang around waiting for someone to come along to wave a magic wand to change her life.   Certainly, she starts off the story in a comparatively powerless position, but she doesn’t sit around passively and wait for her fairy godmother to improve her life, she goes out and works for what she needs. She needs transport; she gets out and gets her hands dirty by fixing up a car.  In essence, Cinder is her own fairy godmother.

Like Cinder, Meyer’s Prince Charming has a lot more depth than the prince of the fairytale.  We can see just what a difficult position he is in.  I have the impression that things are only going to become more difficult for Kai as the series progresses.

What I liked

Sci-fi twists of the classic tropes of the tale.  I just loved how Meyer incorporated all the favourite aspects of the original but gave them a wonderful sci-fi twist.  I had such fun playing spot the original.

Wonderful characters. As I have mentioned above, the protagonists of Cinder are such wonderful rich characters and I loved reading about them.

The narration. Rebecca Soler performed the narration for Cinder – as she does for the other two released/soon to be released books in the series.  I absolutely adored her reading of the book.  She gave each of the characters unique voices which fit perfectly with my mental picture of them, and she brought out Cinder’s humour too.  Here’s a sample.

What I didn’t like

There was nothing I didn’t enjoy about Cinder – except that it wasn’t long enough!  I’d have happily read a book twice as thick.

As you might have guessed I gave Cinder five stars out of five.

 buy from Kindle, Kobo, iTunes, Audible

My review of Pawn by Aimee Carter

 buy from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Audible