Posts Tagged ‘review’

Last night Amazon’s new Fire HD 6” arrived on my doorstep.  Here are my first impressions of the new budget tablet.  I will direct you to Amazon’s main Kindle page to get the full specs.

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The good

The 6” format is darned cute and practical.  Here are some pictures comparing it to the Fire HDX and Kindle Paperwhite.

IMG 1301

IMG 1304

IMG 1302

IMG_1305

The format is going to be very practical for sticking in a handbag or pocket to take around.  It is blockier than the Fire HDX or Paperwhite – no tapered edges but it is very compact.  In terms of weight though, there is very little difference between the 6” HD and the 7” HDX – a mere 0.6 of an ounce.

The Fire HD 6” comes with the new Fire OS 4 Sangria, which will be sent as a free update to existing Fire devices according to the note on my Fire HDX this morning. There are some really neat features to Sangria.  A backup feature worked well.  This will allow you to restore your device to a previous state if there are any issues.

The new About the Book feature which you can setup to open as you read the book could be very useful. It tells you brief information at a glance – author, number of books in the series, order in the series etc.

There are also badges in the Audible app again! Yay!  I am kind of a badge collector when it comes to my Audible listening.  What will be even better is when they sync badges across devices.  I also like that they now show the estimated download time when downloading an audiobook

GoodReads is more tightly integrated with your being able to add the book to your Want to Read/Currently Reading/Read shelf from within the book. Nice. It will still be even better when they allow you to access your own shelves from within there.

The bad

The Fire HD 6” is a budget device as you might expect from the price.  It has single band WiFi compared to the HDX’s dual band.  it has mono speakers – forget about listening to the device without headphones. Its processor is Quad Core up to 1.5GHz rather than the HDX’s 2.2 GHz.  It also comes with 8GB or 16GB of storage which is not great if you want to store content on the device rather than rely on Amazon’s Cloud.  My requirements for a Kindle tablet are pretty basic.  I need to be able to read my Kindle books, listen to my audiobooks, pick up my email, some basic web surfing, play the odd game.

When I was checking it out last night, I really felt it was struggling to meet those basic requirements.  I found the device to be at times unresponsive, with multiple taps being necessary to do something.  Browsing on Silk was painful.  It’s never been great at the best of times – often I will reach for my iPhone and use Safari on the small screen rather than deal with Silk – but last night it was particularly laggy.  Typing on the device was slower than on my Paperwhite.

However, I found this morning that it was much more responsive.  Maybe the device was doing some update in the background.  I will try using it as my main tablet for the next week or so to see how it performs.

That being said, it would be unwise to expect iPad like performance from a tablet costing $134.

The ugly

Fire OS 4 Sangria is very new.  While there are a few great new features, I have found my experience with it to be rather buggy.  The registration process when I first opened the device threw up errors.  It subsequently went through, but it was worrying.  I found the GoodRead apps crashing forcing a restart of the device.  I also found I couldn’t get Immersion reading to work.  For me that is a real deal breaker.  The issue is now with third level support at Amazon/Audible.

Although I have not had an altogether positive experience with the device so far, I do feel it has potential as a budget tablet if you set your expectations accordingly and wait a couple of weeks for Amazon to get the kinks worked out.

 

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My review of Pawn by Aimee Carter

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It’s always fun when you pick up a great read unexpectedly. I first saw Crewel by Gennifer Albin on the Tor website, where they were offering the first five chapters for free. The concept seemed very fresh (although reminiscent of the Three Fates from Greek/Roman mythology – can’t go wrong with an age-old story) and intriguing so I picked up the free five chapter sample.

Before long I’d finished the first five chapters, and happily bought the full book. It really sucked me in. The premise of a girl who has the power to literally weave people’s life stories and that of her region proved as intriguing as my initial reaction and I really like where Albin seems to be taking this in the next book in the series. The characters were engaging enough, with about the depth you’d expect from a young adult novel. Adelice is no Arya Stark, but then again she’s no Bella Swan Cullen either. The novel is written purely from Adelice’s point of view, so she – and the reader – are never entirely sure which of the people she meets can be trusted. This increases the tension nicely.

This is in a similar vein to The Hunger Games, and if you enjoyed that, you will certainly enjoy this. It’s well worth reading

I gave Crewel five stars out of five

 

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare is the third in the Mortal Instruments series and ties up the first three books in the series.  In it Valentine’s end game is revealed as is the truth about Jace’s lineage.

What I liked

Visiting Alicante, the so-called City of Glass.  I was fascinated to see Alicante, the capital of the Shadowhunters.  I personally would have liked to have seen more of how its inhabitants manage without electricity.

Logical plot progression.  All of the plot development within the book was entirely logical within the framework of the story.  There were some surprises, certainly, but nothing to disrupt the internal logic of the story.  The foreshadowing was well done and very subtle.

The relationships.  I was invested in all the key relationships: Jace/Clary, Luke/Jocelyn, Magnus/Alex.  They were all beautifully written and I was happy that they worked out the way they did.

What I didn’t like

Pacing.  For once I felt the pacing was slightly off.  For a book that was supposed to tie up a lot of loose ends, there were a lot of slow moments, especially towards the beginning.  

Scenery chewing villains.  Personally, I prefer my villains to be a little more ambiguous.  Both Valentine and especially Jonathan Morgenstern were squarely in the sociopathic camp.  I had the strong impression both of them liked killing for the sake of killing. I suspect Clare was trying to give Valentine more depth with his belief that his way was the right way, even if it was flawed, but it didn’t quite come off for me.  It would have been a stronger book for me if Valentine had been truly conflicted by the Clave’s inability to see his point of view and the ensuing need to purge the Shadowhunters.

All in all though, I still love the Shadowhunter world, and thought City of Glass was a good tie up for the first three books in the series.  I gave City of Glass four stars out of five.

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When I finished Allegiant I really couldn’t decide if it was a brilliant piece of writing or a garbled mess.  However, given that I had a major emotional book hangover and couldn’t face picking up another book for several days, I’m going for the “brilliant piece of writing.”  For those of you concerned about my mental wellbeing, I was rescued from the emotional depths by Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, a sweet story of first love, so that in a couple of days I may actually be ready to go back to The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken.   So, onto Allegiant.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to review Allegiant without spoilers, so please join me after the cut once you have read the book.

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The Selection by Kiera Cass is about a young woman named America who ends up involved in a sort of Bachelor competition to win the heart and hand of the crown prince.

I hadn’t actually intended to read it.  I had tried the sample and didn’t get into it enough to want to buy it.  Then I watched PolandBananasBooks’ YouTube review and when I saw that the audiobook was available at my local library I decided to give it another shot.  After I got through the first few chapters I found the story sucked me in and I finished it in almost the one sitting.

What I liked

The concept.  I hadn’t expected to enjoy a teen princess version of The Bachelor but the main character was so engaging I found I really enjoyed it.  It helped that America’s motives for entering the competition were laid out pretty clearly – she has no illusions about marrying the prince and living a life of luxury.  She knows that the longer she stays in the Selection the longer her struggling family receives financial support from the state, and that is one of her main motivations.

The America/Maxon relationship.  I really liked that their relationship was based on honesty and friendship rather than love at first sight.  They are just so cute together!

The world.  I was intrigued by the world of The Selection.  There are just enough hints dropped throughout the book that the society isn’t as healthy as it pretends to be.  There is a strict class system and there are some neat little touches such as the names of those is the lower castes who do all the work describe the person’s occupation – our entertainer protagonist’s surname is Singer – whereas those in upper castes have more varied names.  I look forward to hearing more about the rebels in future books.

The characters.  I would have found this concept much more difficult to swallow with a less engaging protagonist.  America doesn’t buy into all the “he’s going to fall in love with me, he’ll pick me, we’rs going to be soooo happy, and I’ll get to be a princess and wear a crown and tell people what to do” nonsense.  She’s very grounded.

Maxon is also a very sympathetic character.  He is perhaps a little naive, but is basically a decent guy.  He and America seem very well suited.

What I didn’t like

The narrator.  I normally don’ t like to criticise a narrator, but I did struggle to enjoy Amy Rubinate’s narration of this story.  I personally found her voice flat and monotonous and with a less gripping story I would have turned off.  But that is just my opinion.  Here’s a sample to judge for yourself.

[audio http://samples.audible.com/bk/harp/F002844/bk_harp_002844_sample.mp3]

 

The love triangle.  Teen love triangles can be annoying and this was one of the worst.  I found it irritating because it’s crystal clear that there is absolutely no competition between Aspen and Maxon.  Maxon treats America with kindness and respect, can offer her and her family security and the opportunity to make a difference to Illea.  Aspen, on the other hand, manipulates her into breaking the law, uses emotional blackmail, makes false promises, can offer her less financial security and as soon as she turned the corner was making eyes at another girl.  America, of course, is all “but I luuuurve him!”  I really wanted to reach into my Kindle and give her a good talking to!

All in all I really loved The Selection and am looking forward to The Elite being available for me to borrow.

I gave The Selection four stars out of five.

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor tells the story of Karou, a young woman with a double life.  By day she is a student in modern day Prague, but at night she runs errands for her chimaera foster father, usually involving collecting teeth.  It also tells of her love for an angel, Akiva, and of the war between angels and chimaera.  

What I liked

Romeo and Juliet.  Daughter of Smoke and Bone borrows a lot from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  We have the star-crossed lovers on either side of opposing factions, betrayal, discovery, faked death and its fallout.  Hey, I don’t mind – there’s a reason why Shakespeare and his themes have lasted so long – the idea of star-crossed lovers torn apart by war and death still resonates.

Multiple threads woven together.  We see the story from multiple points of view.  At first, I found this confusing – who is Madrigal and why am I hearing from her when I want to hear from Karou? However as the book went on, these multiple points of view came together beautifully to create a wonderful story.

The humour.  Karou and her friend Zuzanna are just so funny together and had me snickering to myself on a regular basis.  Khristine Hvam’s wonderful narration really brought that out and that was one of the highlights of the book for me.  I also really enjoyed Karou’s and Zusanna’s solid friendship.  I look forward to reading more of it in Days of Blood and Starlight.  I’m very glad Akiva only becomes a more prominent character later in the book – initially he comes across as very cold and unsympathetic and I would have struggled to keep reading the book if he’s been a main protagonist from the beginning.  By the time we learn more about him and his backstory – and why he is the way he is – Karou had already drawn me into the story.

The worldbuilding.  Often in fantasy, the main character is someone initially unfamiliar with the society (think the Pevensie children, Rand al Thor or Harry Potter) so that the reader can more easily identify and engage with him/her and also so that the reader can learn about the world at the same time as the character.  This is not the case with Karou.  When we first meet her, she is fully immersed in the world of the chimaera having grown up there.  Certainly, she has a lot of secrets to uncover, but the fantastical universe is familiar to her.  With Karou’s double life as a student in Prague it’s easy to engage with her, Taylor does an excellent job of familiarising the reader with the world while avoiding info dumping.

Narration.  As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed Khristine Hvam’s narration.  Her Zuzanna voice is wonderful!

Here’s a sample

[audio http://samples.audible.com/bk/hach/000710/bk_hach_000710_sample.mp3]

What I didn’t like

There was nothing I didn’t like about Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  It is a great read and I would certainly recommend it.  The sequel has been added to my wishlist for after I’ve got through my current TBR pile.

I gave Daughter of Smoke and Bone four and a half stars out of five

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Cold Magic by Kate Elliott is the first in the Spiritwalker trilogy and tells the story of Cat Hassi Barahal as she comes to terms with the strange new path her life is taking her and the new powers she acquires.  Cold Magic has been on my TBR list for some time.  I’d picked it up several months back when it was on special offer on Kindle for $1.99, but never got round to reading it.  It moved up the list a few weeks ago when I read an intriguing article on the magic system, yet it never quite made it to the top.  Finally  a couple of weeks ago, Audible released it as an audiobook.  This is the first of the books to be released on Audible, so I picked it up to listen to during my nightshifts and it finally made it to the top of the list.  I’m very glad it did!

What I liked

Interesting themes.  Elliott explores some interesting themes in this novel.  One of the major ones is magic vs technology.  The society in which Cat lives is beginning to make progress with industrialisation and this engenders conflict with the powerful Mage Houses, the magic wielders.  It is notable that the brunt of the Cold Mages’ destructive power is directed at symbols of industry and innovation – an airship and a factory.  I look forward to seeing where this goes in the subsequent books

Another interesting theme is that of family and betrayal.  Cat feels deeply betrayed by the actions of her uncle and aunt as does Andevai’s family to some extent by his changed attitude since his becoming a Cold Mage.

Identity is another interesting theme explored in the series.  Cat strongly identifies with the Hassi Barahals who raised her, but after what she perceives as their betrayal she is no longer certain about who she is, especially given the new powers she discovers. When she meets her half brother Rory, her identity is thrown into even more confusion.  This theme is even more apparent in the character of Andevai who is torn between his identity as a member of a poor but loving family and his status as a Cold Mage.  It appears he is struggling to fit in with either community.

The worldbuilding.  Ms Elliott’s blog is entitled “I make up worlds”  and it’s clear this is something she very much enjoys.  The worldbuilding in Cold Magic is excellent.  I enjoyed the alternative history variation of our world that she has created.  I especially enjoyed the intelligent trolls – one of whom is a solicitor!

I understand one of the lynchpins of the series is intended to be the relationship between Cat and her cousin Bee, whom she loves like a sister.  It’s clear that they are very close, and protecting each other is a major motivation for the two.  However, the cousins don’t spend much time together in this book so it doesn’t come across as strongly as it might.  I suspect this may be more prominent in the next two books.

The narration.  I listened to the audiobook narrated by Charlotte Parry.  A poor or mediocre narrator adds little to a book other than saving you the trouble of reading it for yourself, offering little more than the Kindle’s robotic text to speech.  A great narrator, on the other hand, really brings the characters to life.  Ms Parry is of the second variety.  It was easy to tell which character was speaking by the voice she used, and she picked up the stage directions perfectly (he said coldly, for example).  Here is a sample.

[mp3j track=”http://samples.audible.com/bk/reco/007080/bk_reco_007080_sample.mp3″ volslider=”y” title = “Cold Magic”]

What I didn’t like

The overall story arc.  At this point, I’m not entirely certain what our protagonist’s goals are other than self preservation and what the consequences might be if she fails to achieve them.  I hope this is clarified in the subsequent books.

All in all, I very much enjoyed Cold Magic and gave it four stars out of five

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The Woken Gods by Gwenda Bond tells the story of Kyra Locke, a young woman living in a world where the mythological gods of legend have woken and are living in our society.  Rick Riordan this is not; you will not find Bond’s Set in biker’s leathers happily munching on a hamburger in a diner.  Bond’s gods are inhuman, deadly and barely kept in check.  They do not even pretend to a veil of humanity.  Kyra must work to prevent that fragile balance – and the world – from being destroyed.

What I liked

Strong narrative. Bond takes us through the story at a brisk pace, keeping the narrative tension high.  The writing style is smart and efficient and kept me hooked on the story.

Great characters.  Everyone should have a best friend like Bree!  I particularly appreciated that the kids were smart enough to realise there was no way they could defeat the bad guy on their own – it’s a bugbear of mine when young teenagers save the world on their own!  I also thought the relationships between the characters were nicely written.

The world.  I did enjoy the world Bond has created – the gods were far more overtly menacing than in Peter Jackson with far less of Riordan’s humanity and humour, and there were some quite dark scenes.  The fact that the awakening of the gods has caused problems with technology – ah the old magic vs technology theme – added an fascinating dynamic to the story and imposed some interesting limitations on the characters.

What I didn’t like

There wasn’t anything specific I disliked about The Woken Gods.  It was a fun and exciting read.  However, I found myself missing the humour of Riordan’s tales.  Still, I gave it a solid four stars out of five

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I received a free copy of Dream of Time by Nancy J. Price from Netgalley to review.  It tells the story of modern day wife and mother Robin from San Francisco who, when she sleeps, inhabits the body and life of turn of the century Jennie diMedici.  It relates her attempts to prevent tragedies and crimes using knowledge gleaned from her present day life.

What I liked

The basic concept.  I loved the main idea and felt it was very well thought out and executed.  Price wove Robin’s two lives together very well and I enjoyed her attempts to correct the past.  I liked the way limitations were built into the time travel scenario so that Robin couldn’t just fix everything straight away.  The fact that there were consequences in Robin’s present for the actions she took in the past also helped to up the stakes.

The relationship with Travis.  “Jennie’s” relationship with Travis was beautifully written and very touching.  It felt very real, and I enjoyed watching them build up trust and love.  The techniques they used for communicating across the years was particularly inventive.

The Victorian setting.  The Victorian setting for Robin’s alternate life was wonderfully described.  It is clear Price had done a lot of research into the subject.  There were some beautifully descriptive passages about the architecture and lifestyle of early twentieth century San Francisco.  The particular ebook I have included links to the book’s website where more detail is provided.  It was fun reading about Robin’s trying to adjust to life in turn of the century San Francisco.   I actually would have welcomed reading more of this, but Robin’s culture shock was put to the side fairly quickly in favour of the time travelling crime solving plot.

The ending.  I loved the way everything was brought together and the impact Robin’s time in Jennie’s life had on those around her.

What I didn’t like

The writing style.  The book is written from Robin’s perspective and uses a very informal, colloquial style.  While I understand that this was almost certainly a conscious choice to fit with the protagonist, I personally would have preferred a slight more formal way of writing.  At times I cringed inwardly at a particularly informal turn of phrase which jolted me out of the story somewhat.  That is just my own personal opinion, however, and others may have no issue with the style.

Two dimensional characters.  I felt there were some wasted opportunities for some character development in the book.  The two main protagonists are pleasant enough, but the villains of the piece were almost cardboard cutouts.  You could almost see them twirling their moustaches and chortling evilly.  There were a few half hints that they did have more depth, but they were not explored fully.  A similar issue occurs with Jennie’s neighbours.  Just as Jennie – and the reader – was beginning to get the impression that they are unique individuals with their own goals and desires they disappear from the scene.  I would have welcomed hearing more about them.

All in all, while I loved the main plotline and setting, the narrative style and uninteresting secondary characters lessened my enjoyment of the book, so I gave Dream of Time three and a half stars out of five.

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