Posts Tagged ‘book review’

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray is a YA sci-fi mystery in which teenager Marguerite Caine must use technology developed by her parents, the Firebird, to chase her father’s murderer across multiple dimensions.  She finds out that things aren’t as they first seemed.

I picked this book up partly because of this concept and partly because I’ve enjoyed books (Star Wars) by Claudia Gray.  Thanks to Amazon’s Whispersync for Voice I picked up both the Kindle book and the audiobook, narrated by Tavia Gilbert.  Most of the time I listened to the audiobook which was amazing.

What I liked

The concept.  I found this a really intriguing premise for a novel, moving into alternate dimensions to solve a murder mystery.  Gray comes from a sci-fi background and clearly has a firm handle on it.  It was a lot of fun when Marguerite jumped into a new dimension trying to work out what situation she was in! I’m not certain that I’d agree with the Orphan Black comparison; the main – only? – similarity is that characters frequently find themselves having to impersonate other people and to think on their feet to work out what’s going on. 

The audio narration.  Tavia Gilbert did an awesome job of narrating this book.  Her accent work was impeccable.  There’s a funny scene early on where Marguerite has fun with her current doppelganger’s accent.  That came across really well in audio format.  My one frustration with this is that often the accent “spoiled” in some way the leaps into new dimensions.  From the voices it was often clear where Marguerite had landed long before it was revealed in the text.  

The worldbuilding.  The fun thing with this concept is that Gray gets to build several worlds; the multiple alternate dimensions into which Marguerite leaps.  It would be too spoilery to name them all, but each of them is beautifully developed with supporting characters, rules and challenges for our protagonist.  The fact that Gray’s travel system has limitations was particularly well done – as in fantasy, often it’s the limitations in the magic system/technology which can generate the most interesting conflicts for the characters.  I loved that the dimensions had varying degrees of technological advancement which made things interesting.

The pacing.  Gray keeps the plot moving along fast, with new information and revelations keeping our protagonists – and readers – engaged.

What I didn’t like

The characters.  I found Marguerite somewhat bland.  The way her loyalty seemed to be so easily won and lost did not sit easily with me, and the revelations of the villains was a little too obvious.  The fact that Gray reverted to the trope of “the special”, our protagonist having unique traits which make her the only person capable of foiling the evil plot is rather disappointing.

Despite these flaws, I really loved 1000 Pieces of You and gave it four and a half stars out of five.  I will certainly be picking up the sequel soon.

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader

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One of the books I was most anticipating this year was Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Quest, which was released on August 11th and it certainly didn’t disappoint.  I found it impossible to review this book without mentioning some minor spoilers, so I will hide the spoiler part of the review.

To summarise though I loved this book.  Fitz and the Fool are one of my favourite literary partnerships and I loved reading the continuation of the story.  This is the second in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, following on from Fool’s Assassin.  The first book was a slow burner, if still very enjoyable, focussing more on character development than action.  This followup is more action oriented and is a wonderful read.

I gave Fool’s Quest five stars out of five and would thoroughly recommend it to any Hobbs fan.  For those new to Hobbs, start with Assassin’s Apprentice (but be aware it’s a slow starter but well worth it)

The rest of the review may contain spoilers and my speculation for book three, so click through only if you have read the book and/or want to be spoiled.

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Firefight by Brandon Sanderson – ReviewFirefight by Brandon Sanderson
Series: The Reckoners #2
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Macleod Andrews
Length: 11 hours 39 minutes
Genres: Contemporary Fantasy, Young Adult
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Evelynne’s rating:

four-stars

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson is the second in his YA contemporary fantasy trilogy Reckoners about ordinary humans turned megalomanic villains when they received superpowers.  It continues the story – begun in Steelheart – of David and the Reckoners who aim to bring down the despotic Epics.  If you enjoyed Steelheart, you’ll likely have fun with Firefight – it’s more of the same.  It continues on the theme of power corrupting and strength of spirit perhaps overcoming this.

What I liked

Expanded world and character set.  In this instalment David and the Reckoners leave Newcago, the location of the first book, to go take on a new Epic, Regalia, in Babylar, in other words, New York.  It’s always fun when an author takes you new places, and Sanderson’s world building is excellent.  His take on New York is unique and adds to the whole scope of the novel.  As well as new locations we also meet new characters.  They are a lot of fun and and are reasonably fleshed out.

New layers in the whole origin of the Epics plot.  In this book, David learns more about the cause of the Epics’ superpowers and their weaknesses.  I imagine we’ll learn even more in book three, Calamity.

The pacing.  As with most of Sanderson’s works, the story moves along at a brisk pace with something always going on.  It helped keep my interest in reading.

The narration.  This is one of the first audiobooks I have listened to since getting my hearing aids.  It was narrated by MacLeod Andrews who did a great job of bringing the characters to life.  

What I didn’t like

David’s dodgy metaphors/similes.  At first in Steelheart this quirk was cute and funny.  By the end of the first book it was getting very old.  By the time we reached Firefight I was truly done with it.  I hope it’s moderated considerably in book three…  It was beginning to drive me nuts.

I did enjoy Firefight – it is a fun, easy read – and I gave it four stars out of five.

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four-stars

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb – SPOILERS Review and SpeculationFool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
Series: Fitz and the Fool #1
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Elliot Hill
Length: 27 hrs and 18 mins
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunesAudibleeBooks.com
four-stars

Before I start, let me be upfront – here be spoilers for Fool’s Assassin and the other books in the Realm of the Elderlings cycle.  If you have not read these, enter at your own risk.

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Ironskin by Tina Connelly is a retelling of Jane Eyre with a fantasy twist.  Unlike similar classic/fantasy blends such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Jane Slayre, Ironskin avoids the humorous side of such a juxtaposition and plays it relatively straight.  It tells the story of Jane Eliot, a young woman who must wear an iron mask to contain the effects of a injury sustained in the war against the fae.  Although the war is long over, she is still very much an outcast and takes employment with one Mr. Rochart looking after his young daughter, Dorie.  Dorie, it seems, has also been affected by the fae.

What I liked

The adaptation.  This version, while not following the exact plotline of Jane Eyre, does an excellent job of maintaining the characterisations and emotional beats of the original story.  Like Jane Eyre, our Jane Eliot lives at the fringes of her society, and this has a large influence on her character.  Edward too, is very similar to the Edward Rochester of the book – his guilt for his past is a block in his admitting his feelings for Jane.  Ironskin focusses mainly on the Jane/Edward relationship and hits most of the same emotional beats as the original with the love, betrayal and reunion.  I didn’t feel Ironskin came quite up to the emotion of the Jane Eyre ending where Jane is finally reunited with Rochester.  The fae side of the story was nicely woven in along with this key relationship.

Beauty as a theme.  This is an interesting theme woven throughout the novel.  Jane, physically scarred as she is by the Great War, is very sensitive to this, especially as she sees the “pretty ladies” who congregate around Edward.  She must decide how best to compete for the love of the man she adores.  The whole fey beauty becomes a major plot point.

Supporting characters.  Although it focusses on Jane and Edward, I did enjoy the supporting characters in the book, especially Poole (half dwarven!) and Dorie.  I liked how Jane’s relationships with them are developed through the book.

The narration.  I was drawn to Ironskin as much by the plot as the audio narration sample.  When deciding whether to buy the Audible book or the Kindle ebook I often listen to the sample.  I loved Rosalyn Landor’s voice and narration in the sample and she did not disappoint in the least.  I loved the entire narration.  Maybe it’s because I am British (soon to be Canadian!), I generally warm to British narrators more than American ones.  Landor narrates this with a wonderfully rich received pronunciation accent and brings a lot of life to the tale.

Check out the sample here.

The pacing.  With the focus on Jane’s time at the manor, the story moves along briskly.  Like in the original, there are several hints at Rochart’s secret, and this keeps the audience intrigued.

What I didn’t like.

There was little I disliked about Ironskin.  There were a few occasions where a more modern turn of phrase was used which I found a little off-putting, but other than that I really enjoyed it.  Ironskin is the first in a series of books set in this world.  The second, Copperhead, follows Jane’s younger sister, Helen.  To be honest, I’ll probably give that a miss as the character of Helen rather irritating in Ironskin and I have no interest in following her story.  However, the third book, Silverblind, due out later this year follows a grown up Dorie.  Now that I am interested in, and will certainly pick it up in audiobook when it’s available.

I gave Ironskin four and a half stars out of five.

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The One by Kiera Cass is the final book in the Selection trilogy which tells the story of America Singer and her participation in the Bachelor type contest to win the heart and hand of Prince Maxon.  I absolutely ADORED this book and would have happily read it had it been three times as long.  Cass continued to develop the things I loved about the earlier books and my minor gripes about the series were all resolved.

Before I start I would like to reecho the comment I made in an earlier post about the Selection Collection – the ebook compendium that includes all three novels plus the two novellas, The Guard and The Prince.  I honestly don’t know what the editor who put it together was thinking: they have the two novellas following on after The One which makes zero sense.  The Prince is set before The Selection and The Guard is set between The Elite and The One.  If you read them in the order presented in the compendium you’re going to end up frustrated because all of the great character development of the later books is reset.  

What I liked

The blend.  In The One, Cass has achieved a wonderful balance between romance, politics, worldbuilding and character development.  It all fitted together perfectly  and made a gripping story.

Character development.  All three of the main characters seemed to gain a great deal of maturity in this book.  This is particularly true in the case of Aspen, a character whom I’d actively disliked in earlier books.  Not only did I end up liking him a lot more, but I could also respect him which is saying a lot.  In general, too, I felt America handled her romantic situation in more of an adult fashion in this book, although she did have flashes of immaturity to keep her endearing.  I liked that characters who’d seemed a little two dimensional such as Celeste became a lot more human as America’s growing maturity gave her a more understanding perspective of them.  This was an aspect of the book that I felt was particularly beautifully written.  I noted in my review of The Elite that at times it seemed that America wouldn’t necessarily be the best candidate to take on the role of princess.  By the end of The One, Cass has convinced me that she can handle it.

The triangle.  This was one aspect which had really irritated me about the earlier books, but I felt it was exceptionally well handled here.  I appreciated that America finally resolved her feelings for the two men in her life after a date in which they had an open and honest conversation.  It also helped that that date in the rain was super adorable!  That’s not to say that things were plain sailing after that – she still made mistakes but that kept her human.

That scene at the winner announcement.  Holy crap.  It’s not often that I have to back up and reread a few paragraphs thinking bloody hell, did that just happen?  But in this case I did.  It caught me completely off guard.  After the fact though, it’s obvious that Cass has done her work well.  All the signs and foreshadowing were there if I’d been paying attention.  

The narration.  I’d not been too fond of Amy Rubinate’s narration of The Selection and The Elite.  Perhaps it was because I enjoyed her narration of Rebel Belle so much that I did enjoy the narration of The One much more.

What I didn’t like

Aborted plotlines.  There were at least one or two plotlines which really intrigued me and then seemed to disappear.  One of these in particular I felt could have led to some really interesting conflict, but was resolved rather easily.

This is a very minor gripe, so do I really have to say that I gave The One five stars out of five?  So far it’s one of my favourite books of the year, up there with Cress.  Go read it.  Now.  

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Lockstep by Karl Schroeder is a space opera sci-fi novel which tells the story of Toby McGonigal who wakes up after a drift into cold sleep to be confronted with a new and confusing world.  He must learn about the lockstep and his place within this new society.  I was given a free copy by Tor/McMillan to review. I should point out straight off the bat that sci-fi/space opera is not a genre with which I am very familiar.  In some ways that is a good thing; I am not so clued in to the standard tropes of the genre, as I am with contemporary fantasy, which means I can approach the story with perhaps fresher eyes.  On the other hand, I freely admit some of Schroeder’s subtleties may have been lost on me.
 
What I liked

The lockstep concept.  Because I am not so familiar with the genre, it took me a little time to get my head around the lockstep concept, but once I did get the general picture I could really appreciate what Schroeder did.  I’m not going to try to explain it – go read the book.  What I did like about it was the narrative tension it introduced for the characters.  Being a part of the lockstep or not is a decision that you cannot go back on.  I also felt that the concepts behind lockstep were very interesting; resource management and technological advancement.  
 
The denners.  Orpheus, Toby’s pet/plot device, is just so darned cute, especially when Toby gets the glasses and app allowing Orpheus to communicate with him in emoticons.  I really want one of those apps for my cat.  Mind you, I’m pretty sure Isis’s emoticon would be a pretty constant “feed me.”
 
The ending.  Perhaps it was a little cheesy and too easy, but I loved it.  I finished the book with a smile on my face.  In all fairness, though, I do believe the way Peter’s and Evayne’s characters were developed that it was earned.
 
What I didn’t like

The love interest angle.  I really didn’t buy the Toby/Corva relationship.  It felt rather forced to me, given that both of them were dealing with a whole lot of other urgent issues during the book.
 
Other than that, I would recommend Lockstep and gave it four stars out of five.
 
 

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Silverthorn by Raymond E. Feist is the third book in the Riftwar Saga and together with A Darkness at Sethanon forms a kind of duology within the series.  This first part tells the story of Prince Arutha’s search for the magical silverthorn plant to cure his beloved Anita from magical poisoning and of the growing threat of Murmandamus,

I consider Feist to be one of the master storytellers of his generation.  Let me tell you a story to prove it.  I studied language and literature at university and after four years of deep literary analysis sucking all the enjoyment out of reading I refused to read anything more complex than a Cosmopolitan for many, many years after graduation.  Not until, that is, a colleague loaned me Feist’s Shadow of a Dark Queen, the first in his Serpentwar saga.  I completely DEVOURED it and the rest of the series.  I was immediately drawn into Feist’s world of Midkemia and it reignited my love of reading that I’d all but forgotten.  When I bought my first Kindle and made the switch to ebooks, a book by Feist was also the first book I bought to ease my transition to the new format.

So, onto Silverthorn.

What I liked

Worldbuilding.  Feist has been writing in his world of Midkemia for over 30 years and knows it inside out.  Each of the nations in his world has its own distinct character, flora and fauna and customs.  The world feels real.  The magic system is what Brandon Sanderson would call a soft magic system in that it’s not always fully explained to the reader.  Feist is good at avoid using magic to create a deus ex machina which can be a strong temptation of a less well defined magic system.

Characters.  The characters, too, feel real.  While Arutha is the hero of Silverthorn and displays many heroic qualities he can be a really moody son of a gun which keeps him real.  The young Jimmy the Hand too, could be annoying, but his occasional moments of real vulnerability keep him endearing to the reader.  Admittedly,  in Silverthorn his female characters aren’t my favourite.  Carline comes across as shrewish and Anita is your stereotypical damsel in distress.  We don’t have a kickass Brienne of Tarth or Egwene al Vere.  Still, Silverthorn is one of Feist’s earlier works, and his female characters are better written later on.

Pacing.  Feist knows how keep a story moving along at a brisk pace and to keep narrative tension.  In Feist’s books there is always something going on; always an obstacle to overcome or an enemy about to try to kill our protagonists. 

The humour.  I adore Feist’s writing still with its not infrequent humour.  it is a rather dry, understated humour which is often expressed in quips by the characters and  really appeals to my British sense of humour.

What I didn’t like

Not available in ebook format.  Here I have to have a rant.  It seems that the publisher for the English version of Raymond E. Feist’s Silverthorn in North America doesn’t have the rights to produce an ebook version.  The only ebook version available to us Canadians is the French version.  I see that the UK publishers to have an ebook version available, but can we Canadians buy it?  Nope. We can easily buy hard copy books from Amazon.co.uk, but not ebooks.  Grrrr.  I look forward to the day when digital rights are less restrictive. I started reading Silverthorn in French as ebook, but in the end I found I was missing too much of Feist’s nuance and humour so switched to the paperback version.  (Note, the links above are to the French ebooks.)

Few female characters.   See above.

All in all I loved Silverthorn and gave it four stars out of five.

 

Silverthorn by Raymond E. Feist – Review

I received a copy of The Pilgrims by Will Elliott from Tor McMillan free to review – thank you, guys!  It tells the story of journalist Eric Albright and Stuart Casey, a homeless drunk, who stumble across a hidden door which leads them to the fantastical world of Levaal.  Naturally, there is an evil overlord they have to defeat.  As can be inferred from the ages of the protagonists, this is more adult contemporary fantasy than young adult.  The language and attitudes of the two main characters is more mature than that of your average Twilight or Mortal Instruments.  Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

First off, I need to be totally honest and say I was unable to finish this book.  I started it at least a couple of times, and even bought it on Kindle as I find hardback books bulky and awkward to read now after several years of Kindling.  Yet, I was unable to get beyond the first third of the story.  Now, I don’t believe this is a reflection on the story or the author; just that I, personally, was unable to relate to the characters enough to become involved in their adventure.  it may even be that I was simply not in the mood for the tale that was being woven.  There was a lot I enjoyed about the book, but not quite enough to keep me reading, unfortunately.  It could be I’ll return to it later.

What i liked

The worldbuilding.  Elliott has crafted a vivid and fascinating world in Levaal.  From what I read I felt there were some interesting seeds sown for future developments. I believe this is the first book in a planned trilogy.

Language as skill.  I was intrigued by the fact that Eric’s and Case’s key strength (in this first third at least) was that, as Otherworlders, they have the ability to understand each language spoken in Levaal as if it were their native language.  This applies even to magically encrypted speech.  The local resistance is quick to see what an advantage that could give them and I enjoyed what I read of their adventures in spying.

Genre-savvy protagonist.  It always makes me smile when the protagonist is aware of fantasy tropes and expects his/her adventure to follow similar lines.  I loved that Eric was all “oh yeah, I know how this works: someone from my world falls into a fantastical realm, so that person must be the prophesied Saviour.  Point me in the direction of the evil overlord.”  I didn’t read far enough to learn whether or not Elliott will turn this on its head, but it could be fun to find out.  

What I didn’t like

The main characters.  For me, personally, I could not engage with either Eric or Case.   I found nothing about them that struck a chord with me.  However, that’s not to say they’re not interesting characters.  They just didn’t pull me into their story.

Despite the fact that I was unable to finish the book, I feel that was very much a personal thing.  I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone else from reading it; just because it wasn’t for me doesn’t mean you mightn’t think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.  

I gave The Pilgrims three stars out of five.

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City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare is the fifth in the Mortal Instruments series and the middle book of the second trilogy.  It continues the plot points set up in City of Fallen Angels.  We follow several plotlines; Clary’s attempt to infiltrate Sebastian’s and Jace’s fortress, Simon and the Lightwoods’ McGuffin hunt in an attempt to find a way to separate Jace’s soul from Sebastian’s and the furtherance of Sebastian’s dastardly plan.
 
Clare also explores some of the relationships in depth, notably Alec and Magnus Bane and also Simon’s relationship with Izzy.  Given the work put into them, I am rather nervous for these couples for City of Heavenly Fire.
 
What I liked

Pacing.  One of my complaints about the previous book was that the pacing was not great.  This was considerably improved in City of Lost Souls.  Having set up the plot threads earlier, Clare was able to run with them and keep the narrative flowing.
 
Relationship development.  I really loved how the relationships developed in this book.  I became invested in Simon/Izzy, Maia/Jordan, Magnus/Alec.  Their actions and how it impacted their relationships came across as very believable.  I was particularly touched by Izzy’s backstory and how it affects her relationships.  I am very concerned for their welfare in book six though – being the final book all bets are off…  
 
Narrative tension.  Naturally, with this being the penultimate book in a six book series, with characters the reader has grown to love, Clare doesn’t have to work too hard to create narrative tension.  Even so, the situation set up for the final book does not look good for our protagonists.  I really look forward to seeing what will happen in City of Heavenly Fire.
 
What I didn’t like

Clary.  I have to admit Clary really annoys me.  I know she is a fan favourite, but she has a bad habit of being overruled by her emotions – not a good thing when the fate of the world is at stake.  Did she seriously think she could remain objective enough around Jace to help Team Good?
 
I really enjoyed City of Lost Souls and believe it sets up some great hooks for book six, City of Heavenly Fire.  I gave it four and a half stars out of five.
 
 

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four-half-stars

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader