Archive for February, 2014

With the movie coming out soon, I decided it was time to pick up James Dashner’s The Maze Runner.  I wasn’t too sure if I would enjoy it so I picked it up in eBook from the library.  

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I’m glad I didn’t purchase it because I found it was not really my cup of tea.  It reminded me in some ways of Lost – more questions being asked than answered.  It was particularly frustrating when characters refused to share information when it would have been in the interest of the larger group to have done so.  The worldbuilding was otherwise excellent and there is no fault I could point to in the writing.  It just didn’t appeal to me personally, and I am unlikely to be continuing with the rest of the series.

I gave The Maze Runner three stars out of five.

One of the TV series I’m looking forward to most this year is Starz adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander.  For those of you unfamiliar with this book, it’s about a WWII nurse, Claire Beauchamp, who finds herself transported back in time to 18th century Scotland and falls in love with a handsome red-haired Scot, Jamie Fraser.  The project is being helmed by Ron D. Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame and the novelist, Diana Gabaldon, has considerable input.  

Outlander is a fantastic story with wonderful characters and memorable scenes.  Battlestar Galactica is one of my favourite dramas, based as it is on human drama as much as sci-fi which is why I am so excited about Moore’s leading this project – I think he’ll do a great job of bringing Gabaldon’s characters and story to life.  The trailer looks amazing – go check it out and tell me if you’re not excited.

Upcoming releases in March

There are a few releases coming up next month about which I am excited.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson.  This is the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive epic fantasy series.  It’s been a long wait for this book as Sanderson was busy completing the Wheel of Time, so it’s been a while since I read The Way of Kings.  I’ve been relying on Tor.com’s Wheel of Time reread and Where We Left Our Heroes summary as I doubt I will have time to reread the 1009 pages of The Way of Kings before Words of Radiance is released on the fourth of March.  I have pre-ordered WoR in both Kindle and Audible formats.

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs.  This is the next in the Mercy Thompson series of books.  I’m not entirely certain Mercy’s story hasn’t run out of steam several books ago, but I trust Briggs as an author so I will certainly check it out.  I picked up Night Broken in Kindle format.

William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher.  This is the second in Doescher’s Star Wars in the style of Shakespeare series.  I adored his version of Star Wars – do yourself a favour and pick it up on Audible because it’s awesome.  The Empire Doth Strike Back is not yet available for preorder on Audible, but I do have it on Kindle preorder.

Added to my library this week

Dear Mr Knightley.  This was on special this week for $1.99 on Amazon.  it seemed intriguing: the premise is as follows:

Samantha Moore has always hidden behind the words of others—namely, her favorite characters in literature. Now, she will learn to write her own story—by giving that story to a complete stranger.

Sam is, to say the least, bookish. An English major of the highest order, her diet has always been Austen, Dickens, and Shakespeare. The problem is, both her prose and conversation tend to be more Elizabeth Bennet than Samantha Moore.

But life for the twenty-three-year-old orphan is about to get stranger than fiction. An anonymous, Dickensian benefactor (calling himself Mr. Knightley) offers to put Sam through Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism. There is only one catch: Sam must write frequent letters to the mysterious donor, detailing her progress.

As Sam’s dark memory mingles with that of eligible novelist Alex Powell, her letters to Mr. Knightley become increasingly confessional. While Alex draws Sam into a world of warmth and literature that feels like it’s straight out of a book, old secrets are drawn to light. And as Sam learns to love and trust Alex and herself, she learns once again how quickly trust can be broken.

If any of you have read it, let me know what you think.

From Netgalley I picked up The Here and Now by Ann Brashares.  This is not yet on general release but the premise seems really fun – a young adult time travel romance with strict time travel rules.  I’m looking forward to this one and I shall of course give you review.

 

Bloodlines by Richelle Mead is the first in the Bloodlines series, the spinoff from Vampire Academy.  It follows the story of young Alchemist Sydney Sage whom we met in the Vampire Academy series.  In it, Sydney is tasked with protecting Jill Mastrano in Palm Springs and in order to do so attends an elite boarding school with her.  We learn more about the Alchemists and also some secrets about Vampire Academy characters are revealed.

To be honest, Bloodlines didn’t grab me nearly as much as Vampire Academy did.  With VA we were introduced to interesting characters and they drew us into their fascinating world.  While reading VA I had been interested to learn more about the Alchemists, but other than Sydney the Alchemists we meet in Bloodlines are very unsympathetic characters which killed any interest I had in learning about their organisation.

What I liked

Sydney.  I did like Sydney in Bloodlines, and I feel her character has great scope for development.  I would love to see her develop from a competent if anxious and insecure operative to the kick ass Alchemist we know she can be.  I would also enjoy seeing her deal with the prejudices she’s carrying around from her upbringing.  However, I’m not sure that that is enough to make me want to continue with this series.

The magic.  There were some new forms of magic hinted at in this book and I was intrigued by these.  What is the story with Sydney’s blood and what’s up with Ms Terwilliger?  These are intriguing hooks for the rest of the series.

Pacing.  Once again Mead kept the story moving along.  There were no points at which it dragged for me.

What I didn’t like

Unsympathetic characters.  Poor Sydney does seem to be involved with some unsavoury characters within the Alchemists.  While I can empathise with her, I really don’t feel like learning more about this narrow-minded, cruel group.

While I enjoyed Bloodlines to some extent and it contained some intriguing hooks for the rest of the series, for me personally at this point I probably won’t be continuing with it.  That could change; initially I didn’t warm to Vampire Academy.

I gave Bloodlines three stars out of five.

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is whimsical tale of a magical competition by proxy between two conjurers which takes place through the medium of a fantastical circus which “opens at nightfall, closes at dawn.”  The challenge is further complicated by the fact that the two chosen proxies fall in love. I read recently that the novel in its original form was little more than a series of vignettes with little in the way of plot or cohesion to pull them together.  While in the published form it’s true that visual images are more important than plot, it still flows very well.

I found that The Night Circus sneaked up on me.  It didn’t immediately draw me in, but the more I read the more I fell in love with Morgenstern’s circus and the people who live and work in it.

What I liked

Visual imagery.  One of the real treats of The Night Circus is the beautiful images conjured up by Morgenstern’s writing.  Her descriptions of, say, the Ice Garden or the Cloud Maze are breathtakingly evocative and stunning.  It really made me wish I could visit them in person.

Larger than life but relatable characters.  All of the characters in The Night Circus are wonderfully written, each with his or her own quirks and motivations.  They added real life to the story.  The romance between Celia and Marco was slowly and realistically built up and I felt invested in their relationship.  Even the rêveurs – the circus devotees – brought something to the story.

The magic.  Clearly Morgenstern has gone for what Brandon Sanderson would describe as a “soft” magic system.  This means that if it has any internal logic or rules, this is not explained to the reader – it’s a case of just accept it and move on.  That works very well for this particular story.  In many aspects it’s very subtle, such that the circus patron could accept it as sleight of hand, but taken in the bigger picture it is quite fantastical.  

What I didn’t like

The pacing.  As I mentioned, the book was very slow to draw me in.  It is worth sticking with it – it is a truly magical story.

I gave The Night Circus four stars out of five.

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Recently I was asked to review The Land of Honey by Chinenye Obiajulu.  This is the account of Zimako’s and Anuli’s, a professional Nigerian couple’s, experiences as they immigrate from Nigeria to Canada.  It deals with their struggles to adapt to Canadian culture and also to enter the Canadian workforce.  It is additionally a moving account of how struggle to adapt put a strain on what appeared to be a strong marriage.

What I liked

Well written and structured.  I appreciated that Obiajulu spent some time with the couple in their original home of Nigeria before their move to Canada.  This section of the book did an excellent job of introducing us to Anuli and Zimako and explaining their reasons for moving as well as the ties that continued to bind them to Nigeria.  Obiajulu describes Nigeria in a vivid and colourful way, making use of local dialect to add to the picture – there is a glossary of Nigerian terms included in the book.It is important to get a sense of where the couple is coming from, their values and what they hope to gain from the move to Canada.  

Relatable.  As an immigrant to Canada myself, I found myself very much relating to Anuli and Zimako and their experiences.  I actually found myself viewing the story through two sets of eyes.  I saw myself when I first came to Canada, full of excitement and certainty that a wonderful new life was waiting, but also with the eyes of a more experienced immigrant knowing the struggles and frustrations that lay ahead for them.   

What I didn’t like

I really enjoyed this book, but the ending felt a little abrupt and rushed.  I would have liked to have learned more about how Anuli’s story continued.

I gave The Land of Honey four stars out of five.

Added to my library this week

I picked up the Kindle version of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.  So far, it’s really growing on me – expect a full review at some point.

Recently Amazon emailed me about a new YA book, Alienated by Melissa Landers.  It’s about a teenage girl who is chosen to have a humanoid alien L’eihr as a houseguest as part of an ambassador’s program to foster better relationships between the L’eihrs and humans.  I was intrigued by the synopsis and enjoyed the sample so will be reading it at some point.

Finally, my attention was directed to a YouTube trailer for The Return, a book I have reviewed.  Check it out.

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani is the fairytalesque story of Sophie and Agatha who attend the School for Good and Evil.  The twist is that Sophie, who s is beautiful and thinks of herself as a princess and is expecting to go to the School for Good, ends up being placed in the School for Evil whereas reclusive, less traditionally attractive Agatha is placed in the School for Good.  Much of the book revolves around the girls’ struggle to adapt to an environment and course of study which feels alien to them.

What I liked

The Sophie Agatha friendship.  This relationship is really at the core of the book.  Although the girls are very different, they do share a close bond even if they don’t always recognise or acknowledge it.  I loved the way their friendship was developed – and tested throughout the book.

The nature of good and evil.  Of course, it’s implied that, since the girls were sent to the schools they were, there was obviously some implication of what made Agatha “good” and Sophie “evil.”  From various incidents it appears that evil is equated with selfishness and good with consideration for others.  I’m not 100% certain that this is the case in real life, but it works consistently and well within the framework of the story.  The reader has to ask if Sophie’s character arc is caused by her being in the School for Evil and if under different circumstances she could have become the good, kind person she always believed herself to be.

The love triangle.  Normally I become easily bored with love triangles in YA fiction, but the Sophie/Tedros/Agatha one worked very well. Of course by the end you’re not entirely certain which the pairing is.  There is even a strong hint that the true love pairing may be Sophie and Agatha themselves, especially as book two is titled “A World Without Princes.”

The balance.  It was well done how well Agatha and Sophie’s storylines were balanced.  When Sophie is making progress in her aims, Agatha is struggling and vice versa.  It is also reflected in the girls’ physical appearances.  As Agatha begins to accept her own beauty, Sophie’s physical appearance suffers.

What I didn’t like

There was little I disliked about the School for Good and Evil and will certainly read book two when it comes out this April.

I gave The School for Good and Evil four stars out of five.

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Red Rising by Pierce Brown is the first in a trilogy of YA dystopian novels.  It tells the story of Darrow who, after his wife’s martyrdom, is given the opportunity to escape his lower class existence in order to infiltrate his society’s elite.  The idea behind this is that he will give the rebels opposing the current regime a man on the inside to help bring down the current system.  When he learns that his class has been lied to for many years, he doesn’t hesitate to take this opportunity.

I received a copy free to review from Netgalley.  Del Rey is promoting Red Rising quite heavily at the moment, and it’s always quite fun to see books I’ve read free on huge piles in bookstores or in internet advertisements.  Feedback has been generally excellent – Red Rising has an average rating of 4.35 on GoodReads.

What I liked

Good worldbuilding.  Brown does an excellent job of setting up the world in which Darrow lives originally, his challenges, and despair at his wife’s death.  He then follows it up with a good description of the world of the Golds – the elite – the world Darrow must infiltrate.  While survival of the fittest to be accepted into a program is hardly unusual it was well written and enjoyable.

Pacing.  The pacing throughout the novel was brisk and kept the story moving along.  There was never a point where I was waiting for the next thing to happen.

Characters.  The central character dilemma – how to remain true to your values while acting and living as one of the people you despise – was well explored and very interesting.  It was clear many times that Darrow was struggling to do what was required of a Gold in terms of ruthlessness.  However, it did leave the reader with the definite concern that he might “turn native” so to speak and adapt too well to his Golden status.

What I didn’t like

Just didn’t grab me.  There is nothing wrong with this book.  It is an interesting premise well executed.  For some reason though I just couldn’t connect with the main character.  I sympathised with him, but I found I didn’t really care about him.  I don’t believe this was any fault of the author, more just personal preference.  I’m not certain I will read the second book, Golden Son, when it comes out.

I gave Red Rising three and a half stars out of five.

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This week I have read some fun books.  The first of these is William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher.  Doescher has taken the script for George Lucas’s Star Wars movie and translated it into Shakespearean English, complete with the Bard’s iconic iambic pentameter.

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In short, this is the most brilliant piece of writing I have read in a long time.  I am a big fan of the original trilogy Star Wars movies and it’s just incredible how well they work in Shakespearean language.  Doescher studied Shakespeare and is also a big sci-fi geek and his understanding of both media comes across very well.  The dichotomy of the sci-fi content in old fashioned language adds a real interest to the writing.  It’s also a heck of a lot of fun to play “spot the (adapted) Shakespeare quotation.”  For example, we have “Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not” referencing Hamlet’s thoughts on Yorrick.

I have both the audiobook (narrated by a troupe of Shakespearean actors including the author himself) and I strongly recommend experiencing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars in audiobook format rather than the written word.  The cast really brings it to life.

Here’s a sample:

I gave William Shakespeare’s Star Wars a resounding five stars out of five.

Hobbit LessonsDon’t Even Think About it by Sarah Mlynowski
Genres: Young Adult
Format: ARC
Pages: 336 pages
Buy from AmazonKoboeBooks.com
three-half-stars

I was given the chance to review Don’t Even Think About it by Sarah Mlynowski for an honest review through Netgalley.  It is an upcoming young adult novel in which a class of teenagers suddenly develops the ability to hear peoples’ thoughts after receiving a vaccine.  Mlynowski explores both the positive and negative sides of the ability in quite an interesting and thoughtful way and there is quite a bit of humour in the book as well.  The characters weren’t particularly well developed – pretty typical two dimensional teens.

All in all though it’s a fun, quick read.  I gave Don’t Even Think About it three and a half stars out of five.

Bobby Ether and the AcademyBobby Ether and the Academy by R. Scott Boyer
Genres: Young Adult
Format: ARC 
Pages: 368 pages 
Buy from Amazon •

Bobby Ether and the Academy by R. Scott Boyer was the second book I received free to review through Netgalley.  It tells the story of a boy who discovers he has supernatural powers and is taken off to a safe place for protection.

I have read the first few chapters of the book, and in all honesty, I doubt I will finish it.  While I am grateful for the opportunity to review it, i has so far failed to grab my attention and the impression I have is that it is written for a younger audience.  Now some books of that kind can transcend age groups – I’m thinking Harry Potter or Percy Jackson – but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Now, there is nothing inherently bad in what I have read, and a different audience may love it.  For that reason I’m not going to give it a rating as I think it was just not really what I was looking for in a read.  Feel free to check it out and let me know in the comments if you enjoyed it.

Added to my library this week

This week Audible had a first-book-in-the-series sale so I went a little mad.  I picked up The Fairy-Tale Detectives: The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley just because it sounded like a lot of fun.  For some reason, the Kindle book I own of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies isn’t the one that’s Whispersync for Voice enabled, which is annoying, so I took advantage of the sale to pick up the audiobook.  The final book I picked up from the sale was Enclave by Ann Aguirre, mainly because I’ve heard a lot of good buzz about this series. 

Finally I picked up Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in Kindle format. I’ve been seeing some YouTube videos of the author and his new wife, Tahereh Mafi of Unravel Me fame, and they are both just so cute and funny.  It really made me want to read their books.

That’s all I have this week – what are you planning to read?

Cress by Marissa Meyer is the third in the Lunar Chronicles series and is loosely based on the Rapunzel fairytale.  It also continues the stories of Cinder and Scarlet, the heroines of the first two novels based on Cinderella and Red Riding Hood respectively.  

Cress is quite a different kind of protagonist to Cinder and Scarlet who are both rather feisty and capable.  This fits very well with the Rapunzel backstory; like her fairytale counterpart, Cress has spent the majority of her life isolated from human contact and the world in general and when the girls and their guys break her out she is naturally very uncertain and rather naive.  One of the themes of the fairytale is leaving parental (over)protection and going out into the world despite all its dangers and this is seen in Cress.  Once again Meyer has woven in the main storybeats of the original fairytale – maiden, trapped in a tower, wicked witch, prince blinded – but has given them a very original twist in her retelling.

What I liked

Cress’s characterisation.  Despite being less kickass than Cress or Scarlet, Cress still has her strengths more so as she gains in confidence.  Certainly, she ends up in situations that her more worldly wise companions might have avoided, but she doesn’t allow her fear to hold her back from doing her part to help her friends.  I have the feeling that by book four Cress will be a force to be reckoned with.

Good balance.  The novel was perfectly balanced with Cress’s story and the continuation of that of Cinder and Scarlet.  Meyer was able to give all the characters plenty of time and space for their development without compromising the pace, which moves along at a good clip.

The androids.  I don’t know why, but I have a real soft spot for Iko and in this book Little Cress.  I suspect it’s a combination of Meyer’s excellent writing and Rebecca Soler’s fantastic narration – she adds so much life to these non-human characters!  I really enjoyed the dynamic between Cress and Little Cress, who is a programmation of a younger version of herself.  I was sorry that Little Cress didn’t remain in the story very long, but I can understand why she had to go for Cress’s character development.  

The romance between Cress and Thorne.  This was beautifully done, moving from Cress’s childlike crush on her distant idol and Thorne’s wry amusement at her feelings for him, learning to know him as a real person, through mutual dependence and finally a clearer understanding of each other’s strengths and faults.  

The narration.  Once again Rebecca Soler give an amazing performance as narrator for these books.  She brings so much life to the characters that it’s a joy to listen to these books.  This is one series I definitely prefer to listen to thanks to the narration.

What I didn’t like

There was nothing I didn’t like – Cress was a fantastic continuation of a brilliant series and I can’t wait for Winter!

I gave Cress five stars out of five.

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Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead is the sixth and final book in the Vampire Academy series.  It is an excellent end to the series, and ties up a lot of loose ends.  In it Rose must go on the run to avoid execution on false charges.  Meanwhile Lissa must navigate the murky waters of Moroi politics.  

What I liked

Culmination of foreshadowing.  As the final chapter of the story unfolds, it’s clear Mead had everything well planned out from the beginning.  Throwaway lines from earlier books take on major significance.  We also get to meet characters who have only been mentioned in passing.

Lissa’s character development.  By this book Rose’s character has already matured significantly, and in terms of character the spotlight is more on Lissa in this book as she navigates Moroi politics.  She learns a good deal about herself and her future role in society.  Of course it doesn’t quite mitigate my personal gripe of teenage characters being given real power despite their limited life experience.

The Alchemists.  I loved what we learned about the Alchemists and I look forward to reading the spinoff series, Bloodlines.

What I didn’t like

The Rose/Lissa bond development.  I really didn’t like how that was ended.  I suspect Mead was trying to show that both characters have developed sufficiently to adjust to the change, but I don’t quite buy that.  St Vladimir, a saint, was unable to manage; I really have concerns for Lissa’s future.

All in all, I gave Last Sacrifice five stars out of five. 

Incidentally, the entire series is currently on special offer over at Amazon Kindle – they’re $3 each! 

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First of all, my apologies for the hiatus in posting this week.  I’ve been suffering a miserable cold and eye infection so I’ve not really been feeling much like blogging.  On the other hand, audiobooks meant I was still able to enjoy my reading without hurting my eyes.  I was able to get through both The School for Good and Evil, a good vs evil fairytale by Soman Chainani and Cress, book three in the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer.  Both of these are excellent books narrated by fantastic narrators and I will do full reviews once I get rid of this cold.

Added to my library this week

I had been hearing good things about The Maze Runner by James Dashner, but it was not one that grabbed me so much that I wanted to buy it.  I waited patiently to come to the head of my library’s ebook queue and downloaded it to my Kobo today.  

Cress, in both Kindle and Audible formats.  This is the week of release of the third book in the Lunar Chronicles and as I adored the earlier books in the series I had this on preorder.  I listened to it straight through and loved it – Meyer does it again.  A full review will be forthcoming.

The Guard – A Selection Novella by Keira Cass, which I picked up in Kindle format.  This also was released this week and I had it on preorder.  It was a fun, interesting story, told from Aspen’s viewpoint.  However, as I am not exactly Aspen’s biggest fan, I didn’t really warm to it.  I don’t care how much you claim to love your girl, if your actions are consistently putting her in danger for no good reason, that doesn’t sound like love to me.  I did enjoy the sneak peak chapter of The One that was included.  This series while not brilliant is a real guilty pleasure for me and I look forward to reading the rest of the book. 

So onto the main event.  The Vampire Academy audiobook giveaway!  The winner is… drumroll please….  Mindy Demars!  Congratulations!  Please drop me an email at evelynne@scottishereader.com so that I can send your codes to you.