July 2016 Reads, Uncategorized

Red Rising, Pierce Brown

  • Red Rising by Pierce BrownScreen Shot 2016-07-26 at 09.26.47.png

Rating: * * *

Series: #1 Red Rising

Publisher: Hodder

Publication Date: 2014

Goodreads synopsis:


The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity’s last hope.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it’s all a lie. That Mars has been habitable – and inhabited – for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield – and Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda.

To be honest, I found it hard to give a rating for ‘Red Rising’. There were some really good bits in the novel, but these were counteracted by some bits that I found boring. During these latter bits I was tempted to put the book down and pick up something else from my TBR list.

I was divided on the book as a whole, but especially in the opening. On the one hand it is very good at establishing the grim and awful world Darrow lives in:

‘On Mars there is not much gravity. So you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.’

‘I’m looking for the pitvipers that curl through the darkness seeking the warmth of my drill. They’ll eat into your suit too, bit through the shell and then try to burrow into the warmest place they find, usually your belly, so they can lay their eggs.’

Brown establishes the dystopian nature of the world very quickly. However, at times in the opening I wanted to shout at the book, ‘Show, don’t tell!’ Some of the information is left for the reader to discover – about how the caste system actually works and about the Golds – but some information about Darrow, his life and his relationships is just plonked down. The vital information we are left to discover actually makes the novel confusing. I also found it irritating how there are lots of terms in Darrow’s world that have a capital letter midword. This is a common trait in dystopian novels that is sometimes unnecessary.

Additionally, while there is action and tension in the beginning  – Darrow is drilling and it is dangerous – it didn’t come across particularly vividly for me and didn’t capture my imagination. I wasn’t picturing what was happening the way I do with most other books. There wasn’t dialogue for a while; it was more reflective and I found the first person present narration dragged slightly. It’s definitely not one of the best openings I have read. I felt it could have been punchier and it did not really grab me or make me want to read on.

However, I did read on and from 6 percent the book really picked up for me. I thought the section from 6 to 13 percent was fantastic: it was dramatic, tense, moving, and I loved Eo. She had such vitality and passion when she made her speech to Darrow:

‘Death isn’t empty like you say it is. Emptiness is life without freedom, Darrow. Emptiness is living chained by fear, fear of loss, of death. I say we break those chains. Break the chains of fear and you break the chains that bind us to the Golds, to the Society.’ 

I also really enjoyed the detail in Darrow’s transformation and that bit did really capture my imagination and it interested and intrigued me. Darrow as a character, however, wasn’t actually that great for me. I didn’t root for him in the way I have rooted for other characters recently. He was okay, but he didn’t have any obvious flaws or defining characteristics, so he wasn’t especially memorable or vivid. In fact, none of the characters aside from Eo actually stood out for me, apart from Mustang and Sevro who did at select times.

As well as enjoying the description of Darrow’s transformation, I liked the twists concerning Titus at the end of chapter 28 and the one concerning Mustang at the end, as well as the fact that Darrow and Mustang’s budding relationship was described subtly and developed slowly (none of the dreaded ‘instalove’!) Darrow’s stand off with Jackal was very tense and dramatic, as was the trap where someone pretended to be Mustang to fool Darrow.

In my opinion, overall, ‘Red Rising’ was a mix of very good sections and less good sections. I won’t be rushing to read the sequel, but if I have time I will probably check it out because I think that it might be one of those series that gets better as it goes along.

 

 

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July 2016 Reads, Uncategorized

Walk The Edge by Katie McGarry

NB: This review assumes you’ve read Nowhere But Here, the first novel in the series as it contains a spoiler for that novel. 

  • Walk the Edge by Katie McGarry

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 17.05.51.pngRating: * * * *

Series: #2 Thunder Road

Publisher: Mira Ink

Publication Date: March 2016

Goodreads Synopsis:

One moment of recklessness will change their worlds 

Smart. Responsible. That’s seventeen-year-old Breanna’s role in her large family, and heaven forbid she put a toe out of line. Until one night of shockingly un-Breanna-like behavior puts her into a vicious cyber-bully’s line of fire—and brings fellow senior Thomas “Razor” Turner into her life. 

Razor lives for the Reign of Terror motorcycle club, and good girls like Breanna just don’t belong. But when he learns she’s being blackmailed over a compromising picture of the two of them—a picture that turns one unexpected and beautiful moment into ugliness—he knows it’s time to step outside the rules. 

And so they make a pact: he’ll help her track down her blackmailer, and in return she’ll help him seek answers to the mystery that’s haunted him—one that not even his club brothers have been willing to discuss. But the more time they spend together, the more their feelings grow. And suddenly they’re both walking the edge of discovering who they really are, what they want, and where they’re going from here.

‘Walk the Edge’, the second novel in the Thunder Road series, is an exciting and enjoyable contemporary romance and one I’d definitely recommend having in your beach bag this summer.

To summarise, it’s the story of Razor, a newly patched-in member of the Reign of Terror Motorcycle Club, and his fiercely clever fellow high school student Breanna. Both Breanna and Razor face their own separate struggles: Breanna is the 5th out of nine children and the responsibility for caring for her younger siblings falls on her because her parents have to work and her elder siblings are rather selfish and gang up against her, and she also was laughed at in middle school for her academic prowess; meanwhile, Razor is haunted by rumours that his mother committed suicide because death was better than a life with him and a visit by a detective at the start of the novel makes him question both these rumours and the things that he’s been told by his father and other members of the Terror about his mother’s death. He’s also watched carefully by the board of his club because they aren’t sure that he is fit to be a proper member. Razor and Breanna also share a joint struggle which drives much of the plot of ‘Walk the Edge’ – someone has got hold of a photo of the two of them in a compromising situation and is threatening to post it online.

Razor and Breanna are both great characters. Both are very likeable because we witness and empathise with the burdens they carry – Razor with his mother’s death and Breanna with being the ‘perfect’ and isolated one of her siblings. Both are weighed down by their troubles. Not only are they each likeable in their own right, but I love the two of them together. Although they appear to be very different on the surface, actually they are very similar and are well-suited to each other – they can relate very well to each other. Their emotional connection is even stronger than their physical one and it develops steadily over the course of the novel. While both can be quite closed off to other people – Breanna can’t talk to her siblings because they’ll just laugh at her and her parents do not talk to her  because they think she has everything sorted and can handle things herself, and Razor has a reputation for being tough, hostile and quiet – they open up to each other and feel comfortable around each other. They also have great chemistry together.

There are also lots of other complex and well-portrayed relationships in the novel apart from this central relationship. Friendships are a focus in the novel and I enjoyed Breanna’s relationship with her best friend Addison. Addison is a well-developed character and what I particularly liked is that she’s developed by little bits of extra information slipped in here and there, such as her ill-treatment by her father and also by one of her teachers at school – her development feels very natural and smooth. She’s a very faithful best friend to Breanna and I’m hoping that we see more of her in subsequent books as I really like her.

We also get to see more of Razor’s friendship with Oz and Chevy. I love the three of them together and the fierce loyalty between them all. Razor also has a lovely relationship with Violet, taking care of her when she is upset and always looking out for her. However, I think my favourite of Razor’s relationships has to be he and Pigpen’s relationship. Pigpen in this novel is Razor’s unlikely advisor, an older-brother-type figure who Razor turns when trying to get rid of the image of him and Breanna. Pigpen and Razor’s conversations were at times humorous and at other times poignant and they were a big highlight of the novel for me. Additionally, we discover some very intriguing things about Pigpen’s past in ‘Walk the Edge’ and I’m hoping that these things will be further explored and that his whole story will be revealed soon. In fact, I’d actually really like it if Katie McGarry wrote a whole novel about Pigpen – maybe even a NA novel since he’s quite a lot older than the central Thunder Road characters. I’d love to read his story.

We learn more about the inner workings of the Reign of Terror in this novel and it’s all very interesting. I loved seeing the meetings between members of the Reign of Terror and the details we learn about them – for example how when they embrace they avoid touching the other person’s cut as a sign of respect. There is such a strong bond between all the Terror members and they are very much like a family – at times dysfunctional and rowing, but always loyal and there for each other when it counts. Olivia was at the centre of that family, and I loved this quote about her and the way she felt about Violet, Chevy, Oz and Razor:

‘We weren’t born to her, but we were her children. She loved us when we were unlovable.’ 

 

I also really like the way that Katie McGarry has structured this series, with each of the protagonists who are part of the Reign of Terror – Oz and Razor so far – receiving a letter from Olivia after her death and having to decide where to scatter her ashes. It is a lovely and very poignant touch and one that highlights how far that specific character has come and an important realisation that they have made during the course of their novel.

Katie McGarry’s writing is absolutely addictive (as always!). There’s lots of tension in this novel because of the rivalry, which was first explored in ‘Nowhere But Here’, between the Reign of Terror and the Riot motorcycle clubs and because of the constant threat of Kyle posting the picture online and the way that he hounds Breanna about it at school. I really like the way that, as usual with Katie McGarry’s novels, the chapters alternate perspective between the male and female leads because I am always excited to see how the other character is going to react to what went on. Katie McGarry’s writing is always very solid – she’s my go-to writer whenever I want to read a romance – and I feel that she’s completely settled into her style now. I always race through and really enjoy her novels and they keep getting better and better. I really enjoyed her other series, ‘Pushing the Limits’, but I think that this current series is even better!

I am very, very excited for the next book in this series. I have been looking forward to Violet and Chevy’s story since this series began. They are two characters who really stand out for me and I like the fact that, while Oz and Emily and Razor and Breanna met each other in their novels and established a romance, Violet and Chevy have already dated once, so it is a completely different scenario. I also really felt for Violet in ‘Walk the Edge’ because of her experiences with a photo and blackmail. I can’t wait for January and ‘Long Way Home’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 2016 Reads, Uncategorized

Paper and Fire, Rachel Caine

  • Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 21.52.33.pngRating: * * * * *

Series: #2 The Great Library trilogy

Publisher: Allison and Busby

Publication Date: July 2016

Goodreads synopsis: 

In Ink and BoneNew York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine introduced a world where knowledge is power, and power corrupts absolutely. Now, she continues the story of those who dare to defy the Great Library—and rewrite history…

With an iron fist, The Great Library controls the knowledge of the world, ruthlessly stamping out all rebellion, forbidding the personal ownership of books in the name of the greater good.

Jess Brightwell has survived his introduction to the sinister, seductive world of the Library, but serving in its army is nothing like he envisioned. His life and the lives of those he cares for have been altered forever. His best friend is lost, and Morgan, the girl he loves, is locked away in the Iron Tower and doomed to a life apart.

Embarking on a mission to save one of their own, Jess and his band of allies make one wrong move and suddenly find themselves hunted by the Library’s deadly automata and forced to flee Alexandria, all the way to London.

But Jess’s home isn’t safe anymore. The Welsh army is coming, London is burning, and soon, Jess must choose between his friends, his family, or the Library willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in the search for ultimate control…

‘Paper and Fire’ was my most anticipated book of 2016 and I am delighted to say that it lived up to exceeded all my expectations. Here’s what I loved so much about it and why I would recommend it:

THE CHARACTERS

‘Paper and Fire’ has an awesome cast of characters. A highlight for me has to be Glain. She’s determined, strong, and fiercely loyal. She’s also very astute and rather blunt:

‘If that bit of false-modesty theatre was meant to distract me from the fact you’re wearing some kind of smuggling equipment under that shirt, it failed.’ 

I really like the fact that it is Glain who is the Squad Leader and that she is assertive and very much in control in this role, and also that she’s addressed as ‘Sir’ and Jess describes her as ‘handsome’ rather than ‘pretty’. She defies stereotypes of young women and her strength really captures my admiration. I’m so glad that she has a large role in this book and I love that her and Jess’ friendship is built on mutual respect.

Although she’s quite a minor character and only appears in a few scenes, something about Anit’s quiet strength and practical nature really makes her, too, stand out for me. I’m very much hoping that she will appear in the next book.

Additionally, I love that another layer is added to Dario’s character. In ‘Paper and Fire’, we see his vulnerability, his guilt, and his disappointment in himself when he tries to do the things Jess can but fails because he isn’t as experienced. His character is developed as we see his flaws along with his successes. I also really like seeing more of him and Khalila together – they were my favourite couple in the first book in this series, ‘Ink and Bone’. We also get to see more of Jess and Morgan and of Wolfe and Santi. Santi’s loyalty to Wolfe during Wolfe’s struggles in this book is very touching.

I have to say that this series is the best fantasy series I have read in terms of the diversity of the cast of characters. There are characters with different sexual orientations, religious faiths and from different cultures and countries. I know this is something very important and that many readers look for books which are representative.

WORLD-BUILDING

I loved the world that Rachel Caine created in ‘Ink and Bone’ and couldn’t wait to return to it. ‘Paper and Fire’ makes me love it even more, as we get to see so much more of it. We learn more about Translation, the black market for books and the Black Archives, and more about those who run the library and the Library’s past. We also learn more about Wolfe’s past through Mesmer-induced trances.

A particular highlight for me is learning more about the automata and how they can be switched on and off – it’s fascinating, and the different automata are vividly described. It’s also really interesting to learn more about the various career paths and options available in this world through seeing what Jess’ fellow library initiates are up to. Through Morgan, we get to glimpse the duties of being an Obscurist. These duties, we discover, are particularly sinister for females – the Library controls and constrains them in an awful way.

When reading this novel, you are swept away into this fascinating, tense, imaginative and vivid world of the Library. More aspects of the world are filled in and developed in this sequel, and this world is wonderfully unique and original. It’s a world I love to live in and I can’t wait to return to it in the final novel. It’s just like Morganville, the setting for Rachel Caine’s other YA series – you never want to leave!

PLOT AND PACE 

One of the main things that makes ‘Paper and Fire’ so enjoyable and un-put-down-able is the great amount of tension in the novel. The protagonist Jess is always getting himself/being put into scrapes that he must find his way out of, whether it’s being chased by menacing and dangerous automata, illegally smuggling books in his harness, having to avoid blazes of Greek Fire, or desperately searching for the off-switch or place of vulnerability of a Spartan warrior statue. I especially love this line of his narration:

‘Running for his life was a feeling that settled on him like old, familiar clothes.’

There’s also constant tension because of the fact that those running the Library, like the automata, are always watching and lurking ready to strike. This is especially brought out when Jess receives a letter from the Artifex Magnus that merely reads ‘Our eyes are on you.’ Additionally, the often ominous and threatening ephemera between chapters create a tense and hostile atmosphere right from the very beginning.

One of my very favourite scenes in the novel is where Jess and Glain’s squad are forced to undergo a training test, which turns out not to be a test at all but a very real and very dangerous situation. The half-strength weapons are actually at full strength. This scene is action-packed and hugely tense. Jess can’t slow down or relax for a second – there is always another danger present, whether it’s a biting cobra or an enemy posed as a friend.

The ending of the novel is just fantastic. Everything builds to a crescendo and it’s totally unpredictable with a few twists. One particularly horrifying, destructive and heart-breaking thing happens at the end and this bit made me feel very emotional, especially because I knew how much it meant to Jess – I can’t give specific details because there’d be massive spoilers. The final cliffhanger has left me desperate for the final book in this amazing trilogy. I don’t know how I will wait a year for it!

OVERALL

‘Paper and Fire’ is a brilliant novel, full of wonderful characters and scenes, and The Great Library series is rapidly climbing up to the top of my all-time favourites list. I highly, highly recommend reading this series if you aren’t already!

 

 

 

 

 

 

July 2016 Reads, Uncategorized

This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

  • This Savage Song, V. E. Schwab

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #1 Monsters of Verity

Publisher: Titan Books

Publication Date: June 2016 (July in the US)

Goodreads Synopsis: There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwaba young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.
Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 17.06.00.png
Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.
 

 

 

I’m tempted to just write a review for this book simply saying ‘READ IT!’ Seriously. This book blew me away. The characters, the world-building, the plot…everything is spectacularly done. I absolutely loved it and it has officially secured V. E. Schwab’s place as my favourite author.

The World-Building

I love the world of the Shades of Magic series and V. E. Schwab has created an equally fascinating and immersive world in this new novel. Essentially, there are multiple different territories called things like ‘Prosperity’, one of which is Verity. The North of Verity is ruled by Callum Harker. He controls the majority of the Malchai and the Corsai and makes the citizens there pay for protection from these monsters. North is separated from the South by a linear area called the Seam. In the South, the Flynn family is in control. Among them are three of the final and most rare type of monster – the Sunai. The peace treaty between North and South is very fragile and any more animosity between the two areas will lead to warfare. The monsters in the city are born when violent acts are committed – violence breeds violence. The three species of monster have different qualities:

“Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.”
“Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.”

I think that the strength of this world is that it is complex enough that it is enveloping, developed and captures the reader’s imagination, but at the same time it’s simple enough, with having just three types of monster and two ruling families, that it can be easily grasped by the reader and is very memorable. It also seems very logical that violence breeds violence.

The Characters

‘This Savage Song’ is full of striking and memorable characters, something I have come to expect from V. E. Schwab.

The two main characters are Kate and August. Kate is strong and fierce, qualities which would be expected given that she is the daughter of Callum Harker, the leader of the North of V-City and the man in control of many monsters and thereby many humans. She’s the girl who wants to be a monster, where August is the boy who wants to be human. When I first read this summary of the two characters, I wasn’t sure how likeable or easy to empathise with Kate would be. However, when I started reading, I realised that any worries I had were misplaced. Kate has a softer side and I love how this is brought out by the game she plays with herself – she asks herself ‘Where is Kate?’ and pictures alternative and happier versions of herself. She is, in some ways, very vulnerable, and still hurting from her mother’s death. She’s also very likeable, I think, in the way that she treats August.

August himself is very easy to like. He’s trapped as someone he doesn’t want to be and terrified of what will happen when he goes dark again. I love his friendship with his sister, Ilsa, a girl with amazing ability but whose strength divides her – their relationship and characterisation is one of my favourite things about this novel. I think that it’s very clever and neat that August and Kate essentially contrast with each other – the humane monster and the monstrous human – but that they share and are united by both an inner sensitivity and a need to be strong and monstrous when it counts, and they fit together very well.

Sloan is another highlight for me in this novel. He is Kate’s father’s lead Malchai and right-hand man (well, right-hand monster!) and he has a great presence about him. He’s creepy and sly, and I always felt tense when Kate was alone with him. I could imagine him very vividly.

The Plot and Pacing

‘This Savage Song’ is gripping, gritty and utterly un-put-down-able. The pacing of the novel is on point.  It speeds up perfectly towards the end of the novel. The ending is also unpredictable, rich in twists, turns and revelations, and it left me desperate for the next book, but at the same time feeling satisfied and blown away by just how amazing and imaginative this first installment was.

July 2016 Reads, Uncategorized

The Problem With Forever, Jennifer L. Armentrout

  • The Problem With Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Rating: * * * *

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 19.35.37.pngPublisher: Mira Ink

Publication Date: June 2016

Goodreads Synopsis: For some people, silence is a weapon. For Mallory “Mouse” Dodge, it’s a shield. Growing up, she learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. And even though it’s been four years since her nightmare ended, she’s beginning to worry that the fear that holds her back will last a lifetime.

Now, after years of homeschooling with loving adoptive parents, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at public high school. But of all the terrifying and exhilarating scenarios she’s imagined, there’s one she never dreamed of—that she’d run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn’t seen since childhood, on her very first day.

It doesn’t take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded. Yet the deeper their bond grows, the more it becomes apparent that she’s not the only one grappling with the lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider’s life spiral out of control, Mallory faces a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants, and the truths that need to be heard.

I have read many of Jennifer L. Armentrout’s books and all of her YA ones. ‘The Problem With Forever’, a contemporary novel about a teenager who grew up in an abusive household and has difficulty speaking in public as a result, is very different to Armentrout’s other novels, in terms of the themes and the tone of it. I really like it when authors turn their hand to something different and I think that, overall, Armentrout did so  successfully and proved that she can write very well in a range of different genres.

Mallory’s story really moved me, particularly towards the end of it. Her journey is a difficult one. Not only does she have to face being laughed at by those who call her ‘mute’ and mock her, she has to struggle against the burden of not being able to help feeling like her new adopted parents, Carl and Rosa, have taken her in as a replacement for their deceased daughter. She feels pressure to choose the same career path their daughter would have chosen. She also struggles with memories of her past and remembering that, while she had to remain silent in her foster home, now she is safe to speak. Over the course of the novel, we see Mallory grow in confidence in herself and in her speaking ability. It is wonderful to see her transition and there were moments in the novel when I was overcome by a sense of pride for her, particularly when she stands up to Paige and especially when she does her final speech at the end of the book – that last one brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face! I felt very connected to her when reading and was willing her on all the time. She may be named ‘Mouse’ at the beginning of the novel, but she is certainly not a mouse by the end. Her development feels very natural.

I also really liked the characterisation of Rider, the way that he seems very self-assured and carefree compared to Mallory, but actually, in a way, they are the other way around and it is he who has stayed standing still while she has moved forward. I thought that was an interesting and meaningful twist to have and it added depth to his character. Mallory’s conversations with him in the final few chapters are fantastic, powerfully written and very touching. In fact, I thought the ending as a whole was wonderful.

I also enjoyed the fact that this book contained numerous friendships. Not only the friendship between Rider and Mallory (and while it develops into a romance I think it is the underlying friendship and familiarity between them that makes their relationship so strong) but also the friendships between Mallory and Ainsley, her best friend, and between Mallory, Kiera and Jayden.

The only issue I had with the novel was that the inclusion of Puerto Rican, through Hector and Jayden, seemed clunky. Their speech is scattered with the odd Puerto Rican word that seems to be added in a bit falsely and unnecessarily. It just struck me as a little off and got on my nerves a bit, which is why I docked a star.

Overall, however, I think that ‘The Problem With Forever’ is a moving and very powerful story which deals with difficult themes, and that its main strength lies in the characterisation and development of Mallory, which feels sincere and gradual. I would recommend this novel.