Half Bad by Sally Green tells the story of Nathan who is the son of a white witch mother and a black witch father. In Nathan’s world, black witches arHalf Bad by Sally Green tells the story of Nathan who is the son of a white witch mother and a black witch father. In Nathan’s world, black witches are hated and feared and Nathan’s parentage makes him a pariah, someone to be caged and studied. To make matters worse, Nathan’s 17th birthday is approaching by which time he must receive three gifts and the blood of a family member – or die.
The story starts off with Nathan in a cage and trying to escape before flashing back to recount his earlier life. The story is told primarily in the first person present, almost stream-of-consciousness – with some diversions off to the second person when Nathan is trying to distance himself from what is going on, such as during torture. The narrative style is deliberately simplistic to reflect Nathan’s lack of book learning.
What I liked
The narration. I LOVED the audio narration of Half Bad, which was done by Carl Prekopp. Written as it is in the first person present, the narrator IS Nathan, and it’s as if the protagonist himself is speaking. This is emphasised by the simple, informal language. My heart rate did shoot up during certain sections because of the writing paired with the narration. This is a book I would definitely recommend enjoying as an audiobook rather than in written format.
The world. I found it interesting that those in the world try to separate witches into black or white, good or evil, when it’s obvious right from the beginning that this is not an realistic worldview. One character tries to claim that the difference is that white witches use their powers for good and black witches not so much. Clearly that is so simplistic as to be laughable. From all the second-hand reports we hear of attacks by black witches, it seems that these incidents were in reaction to white witch activities. Given that the first witches we meet are white witches who harshly curtail our protagonist’s freedoms with regulations reminiscent of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter before imprisoning him in a cage, the reader is not exactly disposed to like them.
The pacing. Given that our hero is under a deadline – to receive his gifts before his 17th birthday or die – the pacing and narrative tension is kept high. It always helps the pacing when the protagonist has to chase down a McGuffin – in this case, someone who can grant him three gifts and the blood of a family member. Incidentally, it’s not made clear to me whether the consequences of meeting this deadline would be as severe as Nathan believes – the point is, he believes it. The action sequences are interesting being written in the first person present. This was the point at which my own heart rate increased notably.
The protagonist. I did like Nathan – despite his lack of book learning, he is pretty shrewd I look forward to seeing how he upsets the Council’s worldview in future books.
What I didn’t like
The romance. For me, it just didn’t gel – it felt forced. My issue was that Nathan didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Annalise before falling for her. OK, she is one of the few non- family members who is nice to him, but still, this subplot just didn’t work for me. (In all fairness, I should point out I rarely like the romance in YA.)
I would certainly recommend Half Bad – especially as an audiobook – and gave it four stars out of five. ...more
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige was one of my most anticipated reads of the season. I read and loved the prequel - No Place Like Oz - and indeed myDorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige was one of my most anticipated reads of the season. I read and loved the prequel - No Place Like Oz - and indeed my desire to read Dorothy Must Die sent me into a reading slump for a while as nothing else hit the spot. Having read it, I can say that, while there was a lot to enjoy about Dorothy Must Die it didn’t quite live up to my anticipation.
What I liked
The protagonist. I really liked our protagonist, Amy Gumm, and enjoyed following her journey. She is a strong, kick-ass heroine, yet is dealing with her own internal demons and has her own buttons that can be pressed. Coming from Kansas as she does, she is the reader’s inroad to Dorothy’s Oz. Many parallels are drawn between Amy and Dorothy; both are originally from Kansas, both were feeling trapped in their mundane lives with little escape from their farm/small town before their arrival in Oz. Both are sensitive to the magic that is all around in Oz.
The worldbuilding. While it’s fair to say that L. Frank Baum did a lot of the heavy lifting in his creation of the world of Oz, Paige has added her own twist to the world. Baum’s Oz is clearly identifiable in the book, but there is a much darker twist to it with Dorothy’s influence. It’s based on the children’s novels rather than the 1939 Judy Garland film in that there are characters mentioned who are in the books not in the movie, and also that the original slippers are silver not red. I would suggest you read No Place Like Oz first before coming to Dorothy Must Die to get an idea of the background.
Good vs Wicked and Trust. The question of trust and whom to trust and whom not to trust comes up too many times for it not to be a major theme in the series. Amy is working for the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked and is repeatedly advised by the operatives not to trust anyone. It’s clear that they don’t trust Amy either, keeping her in the dark until the last possible moment. It’s a common trope in good vs evil fantasy that the good guys always win because they trust their colleagues to have their backs and are willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good whereas the bad guys are too busy looking out for themselves to implement any cohesive plans or trust their colleagues to work with them. Although the so-called wicked have come together in Dorothy Must Die they don’t have that trust that good guys have. It’s an interesting twist and I look forward to seeing how it plays out in subsequent books.
Writing style. I did enjoy Paige’s writing style. It came across as fresh and immediate and really brought me into the story.
What I didn’t like
Pacing. Here we come to the main problem I had with Dorothy Must Die; the pacing was off. For a significant chunk of the first half of the book Amy is training with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked yet, due to trust issues mentioned above, has not been given a goal to work towards except the vague Dorothy Must Die. This section drags on far too long and really slows the book down. I would encourage you to work past this section though - it improves a lot once Amy is working on a more specific goal.
Misleading marketing. HarperCollins’ blurb for Dorothy Must Die contains the following:
"My name is Amy Gumm—and I'm the other girl from Kansas.I've been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.I've been trained to fight.And I have a mission: Remove the Tin Woodman's heart.Steal the Scarecrow's brain.Take the Lion's courage.Then and only then—Dorothy must die!"
If that is the blurb you’re using to hook readers into the book, it might be a good idea to have your protagonist actually work towards that goal in that book and not have it be a supposed finale twist that Dorothy can’t die until the Tin Woodman, Scarecrow and Lion have been neutralised. Clearly, it’s a blurb for the series as a whole not just Dorothy Must Die. When reading the book please bear this in mind so that you are not frustrated at the end.
The audio narration. In general I really liked Devon Sorvari’s narration. She really brought out Amy’s strength of character and kick-ass attitude. However there were long pauses left at the end of each paragraph - long enough to be very noticeable and very irritating. I kept wondering if I’d reached the end of a chapter.
In general though I really enjoyed Dorothy Must Die and will definitely continue with the rest of the series. Amy is a really great character and I love the world of Oz. I look forward to seeing more.
I gave Dorothy Must Die four stars out of five....more
First of all, may I just say isn’t this the most gorgeous cover art? I’m not certain who created them, but all three covers (four if you include the nFirst of all, may I just say isn’t this the most gorgeous cover art? I’m not certain who created them, but all three covers (four if you include the novella) in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series are simply stunning.
Days of Blood and Starlight is the second in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy which is a contemporary fantasy based on the themes of Romeo and Juliet. We have the star-crossed lovers from different and opposing sides, faked death, boyfriend goes off the rails. This second instalment is based on the premise of “what if Juliet woke up from her fake death and found, not that Romeo had taken his own life, but that he’d killed all her family and friends?”
What I liked
The world. The world that Taylor has created is wonderfully rich and detailed. I loved reading about the chimaera and seraphim. We learn more about their world in this book.
The themes. The idea of star-crossed lovers is a timeless one. There is a reason that Romeo and Juliet is a classic, and Taylor has done a great job of interpreting that into modern fantasy. Add into this the theme of war and peace and you have a wonderful framework for a story.
The characters. It is very easy to become invested in Karou and Akiva and root for them. They are likeable, engaging and you feel for their plight. The supporting characters are also great. Zuzana and Mik add some much-needed levity to the story.
The writing style. Taylor’s writing style is poetic and lyrical and is beautiful to read. Go check it out.
The audio narration. Once again, Khristine Hvam did a wonderful job - I particularly enjoyed her interpretation of Zuze and Mik. I really should check out the Zuzana/Mik short story Night of Cake and Puppets also narrated by Hvam.
What I didn’t like
It has to be said, I didn’t enjoy Days of Blood and Starlight as much as Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I found it a little too… depressing. After the events of Daughter of Smoke and Bone neither of our protagonists are in a good place emotionally and when you add to that the escalation of the war between the chimaera and the seraphim it doesn’t make fun reading. Thank goodness for Zuze and Mik!
Because of this, I gave Days of Blood and Starlight three and a half stars out of five. ...more
I was recently given a copy of The Re-Awakening by the author free of charge to review. This is the second book in Vance’s Second Coming series and coI was recently given a copy of The Re-Awakening by the author free of charge to review. This is the second book in Vance’s Second Coming series and continues the story of Lazarus Christos, the reborn Christ who has come to battle evil in the end of days. Like its predecessor, The Return (see my review) it is a mystery thriller in the vein of say Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.
Being the second in a series, The Re-Awakening is more setup and less action packed than the first book. One of the characters described the conflict as a chess match - this book is where the players are putting their pieces into place and are preparing for the final battle. That is an excellent analysis of the book. I continued to find the characters and concept interesting and will probably read the next book to see what happens next.
I gave The Re-Awakening three and a half stars out of five ...more
The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken is a young adult dystopian novel which tells the story of Ruby, a young survivor of the IAANS plague. IAANS kilThe Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken is a young adult dystopian novel which tells the story of Ruby, a young survivor of the IAANS plague. IAANS killed off most of the children between the ages of about eight and fourteen and this who survived, like Ruby, are left with supernatural powers. This frightens the government who responds by placing them in “rehabilitation camps.” The Darkest Minds is about Ruby’s escape from such a camp and her search for a way to live a normal life.
What I liked
Multi-layered characters. The people we meet in The Darkest Minds are generally neither wholly good nor wholly evil. There are a lot of shades of grey in the characters and it’s often difficult to tell whose side a person is on. Even those characters who are not, shall we say, altruistically concerned about Ruby’s welfare have good and believable motives for their actions. This adds a great deal of depth to the characters and a nice level of narrative tension. Even the mute Suzume has a real personality.
Beautifully descriptive writing style. I immediately fell in love with Bracken’s way of writing. She has a wonderful way of describing things that made me laugh as well as making crystal clear what she meant. A couple of examples I noted were “the kid is basically a grumpy seventy-year-old man trapped in a seventeen-year-old’s body.” Wonderful! It also describes Chubs to a T. “We got Hansel and Greteled.” Tee hee!
Nice balance between narrative tension and romance. Too often in YA, the romance overshadows the narrative plot, which for me is off-putting. The romance between Ruby and Liam was beautifully developed – enough to really make me feel sad at the ending – yet didn’t overshadow the plot. After all, these kids are basically running for their lives – I’m sure romance isn’t at the forefront of their minds.
The worldbuilding. I really enjoyed the world of The Darkest Minds. The premise of the IAANS disease and the supposed threat of the superpowered kids was well thought out and executed. Again, it was portrayed that there was neither a wholly good or wholly wrong side in this struggle.
Brisk pacing. Tied into the above, other than a brief slump about a third of the way through, the book kept me listening in to see what happened next. The fact that the characters had shades of grey kept that tension high, not knowing what their real motives were.
The narration. Amy McFadden narrated this book and did a great job. She really brought Ruby, Liam and the others alive for me. Here’s a sample
00:0000:00 What I didn’t like
Other than a brief point where I lost interest about a third of the way through, I loved The Darkest Minds. It is a gripping story with wonderful characters.
It will come as no surprise to learn, then, that I gave The Darkest Minds five stars out of five....more
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 areThe 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...more
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 FrI 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. ...more
James Marsters' narration of this series is pitch perfect, and this sample is an excellent demonstration of the talents of both writer and narrator. IJames Marsters' narration of this series is pitch perfect, and this sample is an excellent demonstration of the talents of both writer and narrator. It rained toads. Let me say that again. It rained TOADS, great big slimy TOADS! And, of course, things don't get any better or easier for poor Harry. If you have not yet started this series about Harry Dresden, Chicago's only consulting wizard/private eye I can strongly recommend it. It's also an excellent one to start on audiobooks thanks to Marsters' wonderful work. ...more
Codex Born by Jim C Hines is the sequel to Libriomancer which tells of Isaac Vainio, a libriomancer with the power to access magic from within books.Codex Born by Jim C Hines is the sequel to Libriomancer which tells of Isaac Vainio, a libriomancer with the power to access magic from within books. If you have not read Libriomancer, I would strongly suggest you start there. While it is not impossible to enjoy the story without having read the first book, it builds upon concepts, characters and events detailed in Libriomancer. Codex Born continues Isaac’s story and develops what we know of libriomancy.
What I liked
Lena’s backstory. We learn much, much more about Lena Greenwood through brief snippets before each chapter. For me, this was one of the most beautifully written and touching parts of the books as she learns to come to terms with her nature and the accommodations she has to make to achieve a little freedom.
The visual imagery. Hines has a real talent for describing scenes that had me flat out giggling like a schoolgirl with the picture it evoked in my mind. An example was “She appeared to be holding off a small swarm of bugs with a drinking straw and a yo-yo.” I’m snickering even now at that mental image. If you are interested in the quotes I found most amusing, feel free to follow me on my Kindle Amazon profile where I share notable quotes from the books I’m reading.
The magic system. One of the attractions for me about Libriomancer was the magic system. The idea that the love of books is so powerful that certain people – libriomancers – can harness that to draw magic from the book really intrigued me. I felt it was handled slightly better in this book than in Libriomancer, where sometimes I felt that the rules and limitations weren’t fully explained before being broken. In Codex Born I felt these were more clearly defined which meant I felt the ending was less of a deus ex machina.
What I didn’t like
I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about Codex Born. The plot did get a little complex at times, and it was a little tricky to keep track of who was manipulating whom and who wanted to kill whom.
I gave Codex Born a solid 4 stars out of 5....more
For my first pair of books I chose to read two dystopian novels, the classic 1984 by George Orwell and the modern YA book by Lauren Oliver Delirium. 1For my first pair of books I chose to read two dystopian novels, the classic 1984 by George Orwell and the modern YA book by Lauren Oliver Delirium. 1984 was a reread for me to complete the “reread a book” challenge of BookTubeAThon. I have been hearing good things about Delirium so I thought now was a good time to add it to my TBR.
I had forgotten just how effectively Orwell sets his scene in 1984. From the moment the clock strikes 13 in the first paragraph to the final sentence (this is the only time I ever reread a book’s final words multiple times in the hope that they would change – they didn’t) 1984 is full of danger, menace and despair. This is only broken up by a few interludes of happiness.
Delirium, on the other hand, is the opposite. Much of the book feels like a light, easygoing teen romance with only a few episodes of real danger and tension. In 1984 the threat of being captured by the government feels very real and in the protagonist’s eyes inevitable. In Delirium, the protagonist forgets about her society for whole long stretches.
For me the premise in 1984 of a totalitarian State controlling everything is far more terrifying than a “cure” for love, mainly because I see it as more possible. In both 1984 and Delirium, the totalitarian governments view romantic or familial love as a threat to society. Other than enforcing the “cure” and persecuting those who have refused it, the government of Delirium remains far more in the background.
Winston and Lena are both very interesting characters, but opposite in every way. Winston is a middle aged man, who is resigned to the situation in which he finds himself – he refers to himself often as a “dead man.” While he would like to fight against Big Brother, he feels powerless. Lena is a young woman with all the passion and naiveté of her age. She is only beginning to become aware that perhaps her society isn’t as perfect as it seems. While both lose themselves in the present during their respective love affairs, Winston is far more aware that it cannot last.
Love and sexuality
This is a theme in both novels, which is why I chose to read them together as a pair. In both societies, love (both romantic love and familial love) are actively put down; in 1984 because it draws loyalty away from Big Brother and in Delirium because of the “side effects” and societal “chaos” it causes.
In 1984 though, love – while a crime – is less serious than “thoughtcrime” (active disloyalty to Big Brother). Winston does not believe Big Brother can be defeated by any action of his, so his affair with Julia is as much an act of defiance as a desire for a human connection. Interestingly though, despite this it’s his betrayal of Julia in Room 101 that causes his capitulation. His relationship with Julia is contrasted with his Big Brother sanctioned marriage and its breakdown. It broke down because his wife viewed sex as a duty to Big Brother in order to procreate new Party members.
Love in Delirium is the ultimate crime. Lena however doesn’t view it as an act of resistance against the Government, rather she is simply following her own desires and feelings.
Thoughts of rising up against the State are mentioned in both 1984 and Delirium. In 1984 it’s a major plot point with Winston at one point believing he’s made contact with them. However he doesn’t seem to believe that they have any chance at all of being effective – he places his hopes in the proletariat. Certainly he himself does not believe he can make a difference.
In Delirium references are made to a resistance group and to those living outside the system. Lena herself doesn’t appear to wish to be involved with them at this point, although this is only the first in the trilogy. I imagine she may become more active in subsequent books.
While both 1984 and Delirium share many themes, 1984 is a far more tightly written, well crafted novel. Orwell keeps the tension far more adroitly than Oliver. In all fairness Delirium is a fun read, and I suspect I would have appreciated it more if I had not read it in conjunction with a classic. I will certainly read the followups Pandemonium and Requiem....more
I received a free review copy of The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau through Netgalley, and here are my thoughts.
The Testing tells the story of Cia ValI received a free review copy of The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau through Netgalley, and here are my thoughts.
The Testing tells the story of Cia Vale from a small village struggling to survive in a post apocalyptic future. The government invites Cia to undergo testing for admittance to the University, an opportunity which could change her life and that of her community. It soon becomes apparent that this is not an invitation Cia can refuse, and that she will become involved in a struggle for her very survival.
It is very difficult to read this book without comparing it to Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games. Many of the same themes are there: dystopian society struggling after a cataclysmic war; young teens forced by an all-powerful government to compete to the death in a competition for a marvelous prize; heroine torn between two loves; shadowy rebel forces attempting to overthrow the government.
What I didn't like
I felt at times this borrowed too heavily from The Hunger Games. The premise is very similar, and many of the same themes are explored.
Again, comparing The Testing to The Hunger Games, I felt the setup was lacking somewhat. In The Hunger Games, the government's motivation for the Games is crystal clear; it's a method of control. I struggle to see where Charbonneau is going in her setup. It is made clear that the post apocalyptic society is struggling to maintain population levels, so it seems very strange that the government would choose to cull a significant number of young people who could otherwise have made a positive contribution to the society. However, as this is just the first novel in the series I'm prepared to give the author a pass on this, on the understanding that this will be explained more fully in future books.
On the other hand, I felt the slow breadcrumbs trail hinting at the danger of the Testing was very well done.
What I liked
I found the heroine Cia to be very well written and engaging. Although she is a teenager, she has a good head on her shoulders and acts sensibly and thoughtfully in the situations in which she finds herself. She does have a tendency to trust where she should perhaps be more wary, but her thought processes are well described, so you can see her trusting as a risk she did consider. This makes her a much more engaging heroine than say Twilight's Bella.
The love triangle was also very subtly and well written. Clearly, in this novel, the heroine's first priority is survival, but enough groundwork was laid that this will become an interesting theme for future books. The whole question of who should she trust will be fun to explore.
The setup for book two is very intriguing. Cia will be in a very different situation, and I look forward to seeing how she handles it. It will also move it well away from Hunger Games territory, which can only be to the good.
If you enjoyed The Hunger Games or Divergent it would certainly be worth your while picking up The Testing.
I gave The Testing four stars out of five. ...more