The second I read the back cover blurb for The Boy With Two Heads I was hooked – there were just so many p...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
The second I read the back cover blurb for The Boy With Two Heads I was hooked – there were just so many possibilities for this story and I knew I had to read it. The book didn't quite live up to my expectations, but its central themes of friendship and acceptance are important and well-handled.
The Boy With Two Heads starts at a great pace – Richard Westlake wakes up one morning with a suspicious lump in his throat and is rushed off to hospital. The lump continues to grow and the reader is caught in breathless anticipation as one of the doctors announces that it is a second head, and that it's developing at a rapid rate. I was swept up by the beginning of The Boy With Two Heads – the excitement of the unknown and the undercurrent of menace coming from the doctors promised a thrilling adventure. Unfortunately I found that the central portion of the book dropped the ball. The pacing slowed to a crawl and the charged atmosphere that Mulligan had created in the beginning was nowhere to be seen. There was a rekindling of that spark that had initially caught my interest towards the end of the book which went some way towards redeeming the story.
The lead characters in most Young Adult fiction are in their mid-to-late teens, so it was a bit of an adjustment reading about a group of eleven-year-olds. They're interesting characters, but I think I'm just a bit too old to connect with that age group and that affected my enjoyment of the book as a whole. Richard is a quiet, well-mannered boy and the contrast between him and Rikki, his second head, is marked. Where Richard just wants to get along with people, Rikki seems hell-bent on destroying his friendships and reputation. It was interesting to watch the relationship between Richard and Rikki as it initially worsened and then began to heal as the two parts came to terms with one another.
The Boy With Two Heads is essentially a book about accepting who you are and the nature of friendship. It has an important message for young people and I think I may be just a bit too old to have appreciated it fully.(less)
The opening chapters of this debut novel won Michéle Rowe the 2011 CWA (Crime Writers Association) Debut D...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
The opening chapters of this debut novel won Michéle Rowe the 2011 CWA (Crime Writers Association) Debut Dagger Award and I can see why. This is crime writing just the way I like it – smart, pacy and character-driven.
The cover for What Hidden Lies is very much in line with the current style in crime fiction – moody with large print that catches the eye. The image of a lone figure walking along a beach with dark clouds hovering above has been chosen to suit the story. It could represent either Persy or Marge in their journey to find a killer – both fiercely independent and isolated from those around them. The Penguin (South Africa) design team has done a great job with this cover.
What Hidden Lies is Michéle Rowe's debut novel, but it suffers from very few of the signs of an author trying to find her feet in a new book. Rowe's background is in scriptwriting and I think that this has given her a great advantage when diving into the field of novel writing. Rowe's writing style is assured and she makes great use of the peripheral characters and side-plots to add interest and depth to the central murder investigation. What Hidden Lies is well-paced and – like all good crime fiction – has the reader trying to solve the case right along with the characters. The Cape Town setting – mainly centred around Noordhoek, Fish Hoek and surrounding areas – is brought to life with vivid description and Rowe has populated her story with an eclectic cast of characters who bring energy to the scenes.
All of the characters in What Hidden Lies have interesting backstories that shape their view of the world and their decisions. The fact that this level of character development isn't limited to the central characters is something that I must applaud the author for. It takes a lot of work and it has paid off in making the interactions between the characters more engaging and it allows for Rowe to introduce some great red herrings into the plot to keep the reader engaged. The two central characters – Detective Persy Jones and Marge Labuschagne – act as interesting foils for each other. Both are fiercely independent and determined to be taken seriously in their lives, but both are also incredibly isolated and lonely. I think it's these similarities that cause the initial sparks to fly in their relationship, but they do ultimately find a grudging respect for each other which I will be interested to see develop in further books.
Michéle Rowe has produced a great debut novel with What Hidden Lies and I am looking forward to following her writing career as it develops. Things can only keep getting better and that makes this reader very happy. (less)
The fantasy genre was one of my first loves as a young reader – the amazing worlds and characters that th...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
The fantasy genre was one of my first loves as a young reader – the amazing worlds and characters that the authors brought to life in my imagination were (and still are) wonderfully addictive. So you can understand why I leapt at the chance to read The Oathbreaker's Shadow.
The cover for The Oathbreaker's Shadow is fun and eye-catching. The bright tones of yellow, orange and red immediately bringing to mind the heat and dryness of the desert – the place where oathbreakers find themselves banished to in the world of Darhan. The figure in the foreground glares defiantly out of the cover with his blades in hand. It captures Raim's determination and strength of character as well as his martial training. The last element of the cover image is probably the most important – the out-of-focus shadow standing just behind Raim, its eyes fixed on his back. It is the accusing shadow that all oathbreakers must live with.
Apart from being a huge fantasy fan, another reason I wanted to read The Oathbreaker's Shadow was the simple, yet potentially powerful, premise behind the story. Promises. Take a moment and think about the last promise you made. It may have been something simple; like promising to pick up milk and bread on the way home from work. Or it may have been something with more weight to it; a parent promising a child that they'll be safe, a wedding vow, or a medical student swearing the Hippocratic Oath at graduation. Now imagine what it would be like if breaking your promises carried more of a punishment than being deemed untrustworthy or losing your job. What if a broken promise meant that you lost everything? Would you make them as lightly? See what I mean? A relatively simple premise, but with so much potential.
Amy McCulloch has created a vibrant and interesting world in her debut novel. Magic and intrigue abound, but those able to perform magic – the Sages – are now nothing more than legends in old stories. The only magic left in the land seems to be that which binds the people to their promises. McCulloch writes with a quiet confidence that brings her characters and world to life easily for the reader. There were some parts of the story where I felt that the plot lagged slightly – where I wanted more momentum from it. But I am confident that this is just a part of the learning curve; of an author getting to know herself and her creation. The Oathbreaker's Shadow is the first book in the series and I am very keen to see what McCulloch has in store for her readers in the next installment as her experience grows.
The characters in The Oathbreaker's Shadow are what really drive the book. But for the purposes of this review I am going to focus on the main character, Raim. I liked Raim very much – his strong sense of duty and loyalty to those he cares about are central to his character. A lot of main characters in Young Adult fiction have amazing abilities and come across as being rather egotistical as a result. Raim is a skilled warrior, but it is something that he gets very real private enjoyment out of. He doesn't swagger or boast and I found that very refreshing. Raim grows into himself as the story progresses. He is forced by his broken oath (a tantalising mystery that I can't wait to be solved in future books) to step out of his best friend's shadow and to make his own way in the world. And when he finally lets go of his stubborn belief in what he sees as the truth he really starts to develop.
Amy McCulloch's debut novel is an entertaining introduction to a fantasy world that I am looking forward to visiting again in the next book. (less)
I have been rather disillusioned with the Young Adult genre recently. Mainly because I have read a string...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
I have been rather disillusioned with the Young Adult genre recently. Mainly because I have read a string of books with nothing fresh or new about them. They just seems to be the same story wrapped in a different cover – weak lead characters whose only redeeming feature is the boy/girl they are making googly-eyes over. But, with The 5th Wave, Rick Yancey has renewed my faith that there are still authors out there bringing something new and intriguing to the genre.
The cover design for The 5th Wave is stark and effective. A young girl fenced in by looming trees makes her way towards a burning city. Not only does this image capture the chaos that the world has been plunged into, but the juxtaposition between the forest and the destroyed city points to the fact that humanity has been stripped of its modern veneer and returned to a more primitive state – where the battle to survive is all that matters.
If alien beings do ever decide to conquer Earth I sincerely hope that Rick Yancey has nothing to do with their invasion plans. The Waves that have beaten down on the world are elegantly simple, yet devastating. I found myself making mental notes of what I would do in various scenarios while reading The 5th Wave – a sure sign that the book had me completely in its grasp. Yancey has a very good understanding of human nature that he weaves through his story, bringing the characters to life and immersing the reader in the dystopian world he has imagined. The 5th Wave is an intelligent read from a very capable wordsmith.
Cassie is a strong female lead. Before the Waves struck she would never have been the heroine – too normal, too shy. But in this new world Cassie has blossomed. Where good looks and a football playing boyfriend may have been an asset in her high school, it's her determination and wits that have allowed her to survive when so many have failed. We see the new world through her eyes and it is through her story that we gain a real appreciation of all that she has endured. I found myself occasionally wanting Cassie to behave in a certain way and then pausing to remind myself that she is only seventeen-years-old. Yancey has put his characters in an unimaginably difficult scenario, but has not forgotten that they are still teenagers and will think like normal teenagers do. It makes the story more real as a result.
There is a great supporting cast of characters that are well rounded in their own right and we are given glimpses of their inner lives as they tell their portion of the story. There's Evan Walker – mysterious and caring, he may be Cassie's biggest challenge yet. Ben “Zombie” Parish – a survivor from Cassie's past who must decide whose side he's on. And Sammy – Cassie's baby brother and the only family she has left. They all add to the narrative and as their stories mesh and twine with Cassie's things become more complicated and intense.
The 5th Wave is an intelligent science fiction novel that will win Yancey many new fans. (less)
In The Demonologist, Andrew Pyper has created a book laced with currents of menace and mystery that will h...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
In The Demonologist, Andrew Pyper has created a book laced with currents of menace and mystery that will have you turning the pages late into the night to find out what happens next, while at the same time hoping that you'll never know.
I love the cover art for this particular edition. The view of Venice in brilliant shades of blue with the sin glinting off of the famous buildings and gondolas seems idyllic. It's only when you look closer that the peace of the scene is shattered. First, there is the tiny black figure in the top right of the scene falling with arms outstretched towards the waiting water. And then in the bottom right of the scene the shifting lines of the currents in the canal are transformed into a demonic visage, waiting for the falling figure with mouth wide open. The cover depicts the start of Professor Ullman's journey as his daughter falls towards the Grand Canal. But it is also symbolic of the novel as a whole – sometimes you need to look closer to see the whole picture.
The Demonologist is the first of Andrew Pyper's books that I have read and I was impressed by his ability to draw the reader into the story and the paranormal world he has envisaged. This is horror the way I enjoy it – a building sense of wrongness and menace that doesn't rely on cheap tricks to affect the reader. Rather, as the story progresses the reader becomes so immersed in it that the horror and unease build like a rising tide and sweeps them along in its wake.
There are numerous references to John Milton's Paradise Lost throughout the book, but it is not necessary for you to have read this epic poem to understand the story. All the information you need is relayed seamlessly through the main character, Professor David Ullman, without muddying the story with obscure references and academic discussions. Paradise Lost chronicles the fall of Lucifer and the rebel angels as well as that of man. Themes from the poem are woven through the book and add depth to the story.
David Ullman is an academic. An English professor who specialises in literature dealing with the demonic and the divine, with a specific interest in Milton's Paradise Lost. A demonologist. Yet he doesn't believe in any of it.
“The mind is its own place, and in it self Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
These words, as spoken by Lucifer in Paradise Lost, resonate with him as he believes that good and evil are purely man-made distinctions. This contradiction between knowledge and belief makes David an intriguing character. And it is this contradiction that Pyper explores as he takes David on his own journey through hell – and, like all mythological heroes who take this journey, he is transformed by it.
The two other characters who play an important role on David's journey and subsequent transformation are his daughter Tess and his friend O'Brien. Tess, while not physically present through most of the book, is a central figure in the narrative. Her disappearance signals the start of David's journey and she is his lodestone as he navigates his way through a world of myth brought to life. When Dante descended into hell in his The Divine Comedy he was accompanied by a guide, Virgil. In much the same way O'Brien is the voice of reason in David's unravelling reality. She is a strong presence who centres him and forces him to look deeper. To question.
The Demonologist is an unnerving and well written book that will make you want to sleep with the lights on long after you've finished reading it.(less)
Lauren Beukes has long been on my list of local authors to read. But it took reading an interview with her...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
Lauren Beukes has long been on my list of local authors to read. But it took reading an interview with her about her new book, The Shining Girls, to make me realise that I couldn’t wait a moment longer to explore this imaginative writer’s work. I have four words for you that will no doubt spark a similar response: time travelling serial killer.
The cover for The Shining Girls is a collage of photographs that invokes a sense of mystery. The images conjure a feeling of the different time periods visited in the book. For me they also represent how seemingly disjointed moments can come together to form a coherent whole; as Kirby’s investigation into Harper’s crimes does.
Time travel is difficult to write. The different events and locations scattered across various years can get confusing and authors often make mistakes with their continuity. I must tip my hat to Lauren Beukes – she has handled the time travel aspect of her story masterfully. The changes in setting and time flowed as a natural part of the story. Each setting has its own unique feel that allows the reader to instinctively know where in the timeline they find themselves. From the gritty feel of ‘20s and ‘30s Chicago to the more familiar ‘90s – each location springs to vivid life in the pages of The Shining Girls.
Kirby is an interesting heroine. Her world is falling apart around her and she doesn’t know what to do about it. The only anchor she has is her determination to find the man who nearly killed her. I really liked that Kirby isn’t your typical ‘damsel in distress’. Here is a smart girl whose already chaotic life (thanks to her free-spirited and sometimes absent mother) has been torn apart. But she is determined to do something about it. One could argue that Kirby’s obsession with the man who attacked her is at least partly to blame for her situation and I appreciate that Beukes allows the reader to entertain this idea. She has created a complex and driven heroine to drive her story forward and it works. The reader may be wary of Kirby’s motivations, but you want to know where her path will lead.
Harper, the villain of the piece, is a particularly nasty character. Upon discovering the house which allows him to move through time he sets out to find and kill his ‘shining girls’, women who have a particular strength of spirit about them. He never gives a reason for his crimes or tries to explain them away and this, as far as I’m concerned, makes him a truly interesting villain. Harper is just bad. Beukes makes no excuses for it. It makes him unpredictable and adds to the feeling of menace he evokes. I especially liked the detail of Harper leaving items from different times at the scenes of his crimes. It serves as a link between the women across the years.
The Shining Girls is a well written and entertaining thriller with a skilfully handled time travel element adding to the mystery. Recommended reading.
John van de Ruit's Spud books are a publishing phenomenon in South Africa. My theory is that a large part...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
John van de Ruit's Spud books are a publishing phenomenon in South Africa. My theory is that a large part of their appeal is the fact that van de Ruit has managed to make the reader feel that they are part of the story. We've followed John “Spud” Milton through his last three years of boarding school – cheered at his successes, cringed at his family's madcap antics and followed his less-than-simple love life. And now with Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear we join Spud for one more year of adventure, discovery and would-be romance.
A book written entirely in diary form runs the risk of losing its sense of narrative, so it's a testament to John van de Ruit's writing skill that Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear reads comfortably as a continual story. It's been great to see how Spud's voice has matured through the series and it remains true to character and age. It's this consistency in storytelling and voice that allows the reader to dive straight into the book from page one.
In Spud- Exit, Pursued by a Bear John van de Ruit is back to the form that had me falling in love with Spud and the rest of the Crazy Eight in the first book. There's a great balance of laugh-out-loud humour with the more serious theme of personal identity and the challenges of impending adulthood and independence. And there are some priceless comedic moments which had me laughing out loud and in serious danger of choking on my coffee at one point. But the comedy never feels forced and that is the gift of a writer with real talent for the genre.
Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear is the perfect ending to a series that has captured people's hearts and imaginations.
Linda Grimes' debut Urban Fantasy novel, In a Fix, hit me like a breath of fresh air. It's filled with in...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
Linda Grimes' debut Urban Fantasy novel, In a Fix, hit me like a breath of fresh air. It's filled with innovative ideas, engaging characters and effortless humour. I was completely charmed by In a Fix.
Urban Fantasy is one of my favourite genres to read. I love the interplay of the supernatural with the modern world that we are all so familiar with. But, truth be told, I do find that the usual suspects – the vampires, werewolves and demons – can feel stale after a while. But Grimes has taken the path less travelled and created a new and interesting supernatural group – aura adaptors. They're human, but they have the ability to borrow and use other people's auras – taking on the physical appearance and traits of that person. I think it's a fantastic idea and Grimes uses it with skill and humour in her novel.
In a Fix is a well-paced read and balances action, humour and even some romance to leave the reader wanting more. Grimes drags you into the world she has created from the first word and you will find yourself emerging hours later with a smile on your face and the desire to dive straight back in again.
The characters in In a Fix are a real treat – each has their own distinct personality; complete with quirks, habits and a solid backstory. Ciel Halligan is In a Fix's narrator and main character and I immediately liked her. She's unsure of herself, but has an underlying feistiness that is delicious to see when it does break through. Unlike many Urban Fantasy protagonists Ciel does not have amazing fighting skills or deadly magic, but she still manages to be a strong, independent heroine. Then there are the men in Ciel's life – Mark, her long-term crush, and Billy, her best friend. Ciel's interactions with Billy are easy and full of the sort of banter that comes from knowing someone for a long time. But there is an attraction bubbling beneath the surface which presents interesting possibilities. I really liked Billy – he's irreverent and fun, but there is a more serious, protective side to him which I felt gave the character more depth. Mark is a harder character to get a handle on – largely because he plays his cards close to his chest and is more circumspect with his emotions. It's obvious he cares for Ciel and I enjoyed watching him come out from behind his walls through the book. Ciel's ongoing crush on him also makes for an interesting, charged dynamic between the two.
In a Fix is an entertaining, addictive Urban Fantasy debut and I am dying to get my hands on the next book in the series. Linda Grimes has definitely earned herself a fan. (less)
I believe that there is a lot of writing talent in South Africa, so I'm always on the lookout for somethi...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
I believe that there is a lot of writing talent in South Africa, so I'm always on the lookout for something new and interesting to read from local authors. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I first met Carlyle Labuschagne on Twitter and heard about the book she was writing, The Broken Destiny. A sci-fi YA novel written by a local author – I leapt at the chance to get my hands on a copy.
The real treasure in this debut novel is the world that Carlyle has created. She has taken elements of sci-fi, mixed in some fantasy themes and added a sprinkling of mythology to flavour. As a result The Broken Destiny has a rich and textured landscape and history that supports the characters and the plot. I have to take my hat off to Carlyle for this achievement – fantasy and sci-fi books come alive when they have a unique world and setting and she has managed to pull this off with the ease of a seasoned writer.
One aspect of the world that I want to highlight is Carlyle's inclusion of the Zulu people in her story. I loved the nod to African culture and the slightly exotic feel they give to the book for international readers.
The Broken Destiny is a book about change and finding our place in the world. The story follows Ava, one of the third generation Broken living on Poseidon after the destruction of Earth. I have very mixed feelings about Ava, especially as she is the central character in The Broken Destiny. Her fear and confusion as unknown forces start to affect her life are effective tools to draw the reader in and engage them in the story. But I found Ava to be very self-centred which detracted from my enjoyment of the book. In fact, it was often the secondary characters who kept me wanting to read more. There is a shift in Ava's character by the end of the book, but I would have liked to see that shift and the maturity and depth it gives her start happen earlier in the story. The cast of supporting characters that Carlyle has created are great fun to read about. She has made sure to give them their own unique problems, quirks and fears and they help to carry the story.
The Broken Destiny is a promising debut novel from an exciting new voice and I look forward to seeing how Carlyle's confidence and skill continue to grow. (less)
Bubbles is a novel that's difficult to classify. Part murder mystery, part historical and part drama it is...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
Bubbles is a novel that's difficult to classify. Part murder mystery, part historical and part drama it is Rahla Xenopoulos's re-imagining of what Bubbles Schroeder's life and death may have been like. Bubbles is a vibrantly written debut novel that holds the promise of a great career for Xenopoulos.
The cover design for Bubbles is delightful. The platinum blonde glamour girl on the cover looks out at the reader as though she has a delicious secret to share. She immediately puts you in mind of the 40s era in which the book is set and gives you a glimpse at what Bubbles may have been like. My compliments to the team at Penguin (South Africa) for this effective and uncluttered cover design.
I had previously read (and loved) Rahla Xenopoulos’s account of her struggle with bipolar disorder in A Memoir of Love and Madness. So when I was offered the opportunity to review her debut novel I leapt at the chance. The subject of the unsolved murder of Jacoba “Bubbles” Schroeder also intrigued me.
Rahla Xenopoulos’s writing is bold and confident, effortlessly transporting the reader back in time to the South Africa of the 1930s and 1940s. From Lichtenburg, through Vereenigng, and finally to the bright lights of Johannesburg; she brings the locations and people to life, providing a colourful and nuanced background to Bubbles’ story.
Bubbles is the story of Jacoba “Bubbles” Schroeder and how she may have ended up dead at the age of eighteen. Bubbles views the world through rose-tinted glasses, believing that she will be swept off her feet by a rich gentleman one day and that all of her troubles will then vanish. Unfortunately for her, life just doesn’t work that way. Bubbles eventually finds herself in Johannesburg, where she gets taken under the wing of a middle-aged bookie, Barry. So begins her life as a “glamour girl”, with days spent at the beauty parlour and evenings spent in the company of young men. I felt very protective of Bubbles, but I also found myself wanting to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. She could be so incredibly naïve at times in a lifestyle that punishes that kind of blind faith.
Bubbles is a strong debut from a talented author and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
The Winter Palace is my kind of historical fiction – there's intrigue, danger and a world that has been b...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
The Winter Palace is my kind of historical fiction – there's intrigue, danger and a world that has been brought to life so beautifully that I could immerse myself in the pages while the story unfolded around me. Wonderful.
The cover for The Winter Palace is what originally made me notice the book in my local bookshop. The crisp blues and whites drew me in and I was struck by the contrast between the cold desolation of the winter sky and the opulence of the palace. But it was the dark-haired girl making her way to the palace that really caught my eye. There are no lights in the windows to welcome her and she is so achingly isolated that I wanted to know her story. And what a story it is!
Eva Stachniak's passion for Catherine the Great and eighteenth-century Russia are both wonderfully evident in her writing. She transported me into the halls of the Winter Palace and stood next to me whispering its secrets while I watched in fascination. All historical fiction should be well-researched, but it takes a great talent to translate that level of detail into a story that lives and breathes. There is a fine line between flooding the reader with too much information and giving them just what they need for the world to come to life for them. Stachniak walks confidently on the correct side of that line and never once does she falter. The Winter Palace is a rich reading experience because of it.
The Winter Palace is told from Varvara's point-of-view. She is a strong character and having her narrate allows the reader to become part of the story itself. Varvara's poor upbringing and introduction to the Russian court are stark and effective tools used to highlight the obvious and marked differences between the different tiers of society in eighteenth-century Russia. The pettiness, cruelty and changing whims of Empress Elizabeth creates the perfect breeding ground for court intrigue and power plays that could topple thrones. I liked Varvara, she has a real strength of character that makes her enjoyable to read about. But what really made me care for her were her rare moments of weakness as she continues to struggle in a world where she doesn't make the rules, but has to find a way to live with them. I didn't know much about Catherine the Great before she was crowned Empress, so I really enjoyed learning about Sophie and her trials and small triumphs at court. Stachniak does not gloss over or omit elements of Sophie's story and that allows her to become a character in her own right rather than just a pawn in the greater story. In fact, Stachniak manages this with all of her characters and The Winter Palace is a much richer book as a result.
Well-researched, engaging and detailed The Winter Palace is a wonderful book to get lost in for a few hours. Eva Stachniak is a talented writer of historical fiction and this book is sure to win her many fans. (less)
Review: I knew I had to read this book the second I saw the title. I loved the idea of a nerd as the heroin...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
Review: I knew I had to read this book the second I saw the title. I loved the idea of a nerd as the heroine in a romance novel and the play on the famous Marilyn Monroe movie is a nice touch. Gentlemen Prefer Nerds lived up to the promise of its title and I was thoroughly charmed by this light-hearted adventure into the world of jewel thieves and cons.
The bright blue and yellow used for Gentlemen Prefer Nerds' cover compliment each other nicely and serve to effectively draw the readers attention. If I was browsing in my local bookshop I would definitely stop to pick it up. The male model has a taunting half-smile on his face, as if he knows more than he's letting on and is a perfect fit for how I pictured Fabian. The female model isn't quite how I imagined Maddie, but with her glasses, hair pulled back into a sensible ponytail and shy stance she does capture some of Maddie's nerd-factor. The pink heart-shaped diamond glittering next to the title is the valuable gem that puts the whole story in motion. This is a fun and effective cover and I must compliment the design team at Carina Press.
Gentlemen Prefer Nerds was a delight to read. Joan Kilby writes well, bringing her characters to immediate life on the pages. The story progresses at an entertaining pace with action and drama interspersed with humour to keep the story in balance. One great example of this humour is when, during a dramatic helicopter escape from the police, Maddie stops and stubbornly refuses to abandon her cat, forcing Fabian to perform an impressive feline rescue. Kilby skilfully uses these moments to give us a better understanding of the characters' histories and personalities.
Maddie is a fabulous heroine. Brilliant and passionate about jewels she lives a rather boring life where she lives vicariously through her books – picturing herself as the daring heroine who saves the day. It was interesting to see how she reacts when she is forced into new and dangerous situations in real life. Maddie really blossoms in the book. Fabian is a mystery when we first meet him, but we slowly learn more about the gorgeous Englishman as the story unfolds. I liked the respect he has for Maddie and her abilities and the quiet strength coiled in him. The chemistry between Maddie and Fabian sizzles through the pages of Gentlemen Prefer Nerds. In fact my only problem with the book was that when they finally made love it wasn't the exciting event that all of the chemistry and tension had been building towards. It felt like a bit of a let down.
Gentlemen Prefer Nerds is a fun, entertaining read that will have you glued to the pages. Definitely worth reading. (less)
Those of you who know me know that I am not fond of books involving fairies, elves, goblins or any other...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
Those of you who know me know that I am not fond of books involving fairies, elves, goblins or any other fairytale race. So imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying Switched and the world of the trylle that Amanda Hocking has created.
The cover for Switched makes use of one of my favourite techniques – contrasting black and white images with bright colour. The woods in the background resemble the unknown and hint at the fairytale elements of the story. The orange butterflies are gorgeous and draw the eye immediately. They also have two symbolic meanings that tie in with Wendy’s story: freedom and change/metamorphosis. Wendy longs to find a place where she belongs – the ultimate freedom – and she experiences change on two main levels through the book – in her life and in herself.
I love that Amanda Hocking first found success with e-books. For me it proves that readers will always find a good story and that indie authors can make it. Now, in this new release from Tor, Hocking’s Trylle trilogy is being introduced to a whole new audience.
Amanda Hocking has created an interesting world where trylle (trolls, although the stereotypes don’t apply) leave their babies with human families to be raised. She has put a lot of thought into the social structure of trylle society and the different factions that exist. I enjoyed this, because it always helps the story to come to life when the world the author creates is alive. Hocking starts Switched on a high note and controls the pace quite well throughout the story.
There are a few memorable characters in Switched. The first is Wendy and I couldn’t help but feel horrible for the way she has been treated by her mother. At seventeen Wendy is older than a lot of YA heroines and I liked the extra surety this gave her. But she does have a tendency to be a drama queen and I found myself wanting to slap her out of it a few times. But even so, I became involved in Wendy’s story and wanted to know what happened to her. Finn is a good balance to Wendy. Where she is impulsive and prone to fits of anger, he is calm and considers his actions. He plays his cards close to his chest and that intrigues me. Matt, Wendy’s older brother, is a strong presence in her life, but he came across as rather one-dimensional and I hope that we get to learn more about him in the next book. Willa, Tove and Rhys are all great characters Wendy meets among the trylle and they help to round out the story and give it added depth.
Switched is an entertaining read that explores everyone’s need to find somewhere they belong. (less)
One of the great things about finally owning a Kindle is that it allows me to read more books by indie aut...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
One of the great things about finally owning a Kindle is that it allows me to read more books by indie authors. I had the feeling that there were brilliant stories out there just waiting for me to be able to read them. Matt Merrick’s Exiled proves that I was right.
Exiled’s cover is eye-catching and I must offer my compliments to Julija Lichman for her artwork. But more than its visual appeal; it also ties in with the story on a number of different levels. The four main elements are all represented – Earth, Air, Fire and Water – and they represent the elemental powers that the Circle use. I found it interesting that they are paired in opposites – Fire with Water and Air with Earth – because in many ways Exiled’s two main characters, Chase and Rayna, are complete opposites.
Matt Merrick has created an exciting and fast-paced Urban Fantasy world that sucked me in from the opening paragraph and kept me in its embrace until the final page. Although Exiled is an action-packed read I never felt that Matt sacrificed character or plot to maintain it; he manages to keep the fine balance between all of these important story elements. I think that that is one of the main things that I really enjoyed about his writing. Often I find that an author has sacrificed some aspect of their story in favour of another. But Matt has delivered a balanced and interesting story that checks all of the right boxes.
I enjoyed the idea behind the Circle and their use of elemental magic – especially the history that comes through in the story. I also appreciated that Matt has made the effort to bring something slightly different to paranormal entities such as vampires and demons. I never expect an author to completely reinvent the mythology surrounding these creatures, but it is always great when they manage to give them a new twist. It breathes new life into the world.
Chase and Rayna are the two main characters in Exiled. Chase is a wonderfully three-dimensional character with a great backstory that has a real impact on where he finds himself and the choices he makes. From the first page I connected with him and the intense rage and pain that he carries with him. I loved how Matt challenged Chase’s beliefs right from the beginning, allowing him to come to terms with that anger and begin to move past it. Rayna took a bit longer to grow on me, but I started to get a feel for her and I like the volatile relationship between her and Chase. Then there’s the great supporting cast of secondary characters: Chase’s mother, Marcus, Willy, Vincent and Tiki. They are each characters in their own right which I love.
Exiled is a very promising debut novel from a talented author. I can't wait to get my hands on Matt's next book, Shift. (less)
The moment I read the blurb for Hellsbane I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy – here was a book promising me...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
The moment I read the blurb for Hellsbane I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy – here was a book promising me something different from the usual stories involving half-angels. Sadly, I didn’t feel that Hellsbane lived up to its potential.
Hellsbane’s cover art is great. The statue of the angel holding the sword is a very effective way of linking in Emma Jane’s job as Heaven’s bounty hunter. I also love the figure’s pose, it screams sassiness and attitude and both are most definitely elements that Emma Jane has in spades.
Paige Cuccaro has created an interesting Urban Fantasy world with a fresh spin on Fallen angels and half-angels. Once a half-angel is chosen as a warrior in the fight against the Fallen their only hope of escaping the constant threat from demons and their masters is to find and kill the Fallen who sired them. I really like this premise and the possibilities it opens up for the story world and characters. But I couldn’t help but feel that Cuccaro let her great story idea down with an erratically paced plot. The action in Hellsbane hits you from page one and immediately draws you into the story, but Cuccaro doesn’t capitalise on this. I also felt that there were elements of the plot that could have been explored further, such as the growing attraction between Emma Jane and Tommy. There were moments of stunning description where I felt myself completely gripped by the images on the pages, but they never lasted for more than a few sentences and although Cuccaro writes well, the rest of the book suffered in comparison. I would have liked to have seen more consistency in Hellsbane’s plotting and the level of writing.
Emma Jane is a sarcastic and sassy young lady and it was entertaining following her as she comes to terms with the new world she suddenly finds herself immersed in. She’s a strong character and able to carry the story. Tommy and Eli are the other two main characters in Hellsbane. Tommy is a half-angel as well and I enjoyed the growing relationship between the two of them and felt that it could have been used to better advantage in the story. Eli is an angel sent to Earth to observe and train the chosen half-angels. We’re given a glimpse into his backstory which helped to add depth to his character.
Hellsbane is an action packed Urban Fantasy, but I felt that more could have been done with this original story idea.
Warning: As this is the second book in the series this review may contain spoilers for those who have not read the...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
Warning: As this is the second book in the series this review may contain spoilers for those who have not read the first one, Eternal Rider.
Before I’d finished the first twenty pages of Immortal Rider I was already completely hooked on Larissa Ione’s world of Horsemen, angels, demons, shape-shifters and gifted humans. This may be the first of her books I have read, but it definitely won't be the last.
Immortal Rider's cover is attractive and eye-catching. The black and white image is an effective counterpoint to the violets and oranges used for the title and author’s name. The writing lures the eye in and the figures of Limos and Arik keeps it there. Two details stood out for me – Arik's dogtags and the tattoo of a set of scales on Limos' shoulder. Both of these details are important to the characters and tie in nicely with their story.
While Immortal Rider is the second book in the series, I didn’t have any trouble following the story and I am definitely planning on going back to read the first book, Eternal Rider. This series is set in the same world as Ione’s hugely successful Demonica series and I have to compliment her on the detail and texture she brings to her books. She manages to pull elements from paranormal romance and urban fantasy and weave them together into something new and worth exploring.
Larissa Ione writes with confidence and I was impressed with her ability to handle multiple characters and storylines without the reader feeling confused. It is a real talent and allows her to create plots that impact the world as a whole and not only one or two characters. It also means that characters from previous books in the series are not dismissed from the overall story once they have had their book. And considering the characters that Ione has created that is most definitely a good thing.
The two central characters in Immortal Rider are Limos, the Horseman who will become Famine in the Apocalypse, and Arik, a human soldier who belongs to a unit in the military specialising in the paranormal. I wasn’t overly fond of Limos, but that was more of a personality “clash” than anything else. I could understand her motivations and actions, but I just didn’t really like her much. But it is a mark of Ione’s skill as a storyteller that that didn’t stop me from enjoying the book. I liked Arik from the first page – he’s loyal, protective and caring. In many ways he is a balance to Limos. The relationship between Limos and Arik was layered and I always appreciate that – while physical attraction is important it can’t be the whole basis for a relationship and Ione’s shows us that there is more.
Immortal Rider is a sexy paranormal romance set in a rich urban fantasy setting and will leave fans and new readers alike smiling.
In Ultraviolet R.J. Anderson has combined a fascinating neurological condition with a murder mystery – the result i...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
In Ultraviolet R.J. Anderson has combined a fascinating neurological condition with a murder mystery – the result is an interesting book that offers something different in the YA market.
The thing I like most about Ultraviolet’s cover is the purple shading and foil effect that’s been used. It really does capture some of how Alison sees the world around her. This visual idea of altered perception is reinforced by the image of the girl with the wild hair. Most photos are taken on a level with the subject, but here the girl is viewed from slightly below and to the side. It creates a level of disconnect with her that ties into Alison’s story. While this isn’t the prettiest cover, I do like how it links to the story.
Ultraviolet is the first R.J. Anderson book I’ve read, so I can’t compare it to any of her earlier work. I enjoyed her writing style and she conveys atmosphere and emotion very believably with her words. The story moved at a good pace and just when I thought I’d figured something out Anderson would challenge my assumptions and make me look at things from a different angle.
I must admit that I have a fascination with books set in mental institutions. I think part of it is the glimpse into a world that most of us will never see or understand. But I also find the characters, whether fictional or based on fact, to be intriguing and often more than a little unsettling. Pine Hills, the fictional psychiatric institute that Anderson has created, is an interesting setting. Anderson has populated it with a cast of well fleshed out characters that give it a life of its own. During her time there Alison learns a lot about herself and begins to heal.
Alison has synesthesia. It’s a neurological phenomenon where a person’s senses are interconnected so that more than one sense responds to the same stimulus. Examples would be someone seeing numbers and letters as colours or being able to taste sounds. Anderson’s use of words and descriptions allow the reader to step into Alison’s world and see through her eyes. Through flashbacks and memories we are given insights into events in her past that have contributed to her problems. These flashbacks are woven into the narrative so that they are part of the story. Alison is estranged from her mother and feels that she has abandoned her because she is different. I thought that Anderson handled this difficult relationship very well. When Alison meets Faraday, a visiting neuropsychologist, she finally finds someone who helps her to see the truth about what makes her different. The quietly growing attraction between them was refreshing.
My only problem with Ultraviolet was the ending. I don’t believe in spoilers, so I’m only going to say that towards the end the plot took a serious left turn. The story suddenly became something else entirely and there hadn’t really been much of a build up to it. The two pieces didn’t seem to fit together very well. I did manage to adapt once I got over the initial bump, but I never relaxed back into the story totally.
Ultraviolet is an interesting YA novel that will open your eyes to new things. I would have liked to see the ending handled differently, but overall the book is worth a read. (less)
I expect two things from any Paranormal Romance novel I read: a solid story and an interesting relationship at its...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
I expect two things from any Paranormal Romance novel I read: a solid story and an interesting relationship at its heart. In Blood of the Demon Rosalie Lario delivers on both.
The colour scheme used for the cover of Blood of the Demon is wonderfully eye-catching. But it also ties into the story itself which is something I really appreciated. The red in the lower half of the cover and the flames that lick up into the blue are representative of both the demon world of Infernum and of Keegan as well. The cityscape shows the setting for the book – our own world where otherworldly creatures and beings walk among us. The couple are a good match for the image of Keegan and Brynn I have in my mind.
In good Paranormal Romance the world and the story are as strong as the romantic aspect of the book. And Rosalie Lario has created an interesting and nuanced world of demons, humans and things that go bump-in-the-night. I really appreciated the thought that she has put into the history of her world and of her characters – it adds depth and texture to the story. The plot of Blood of the Demon is well paced and kept me turning the pages to find out what happens next.
Keegan is a strong character and I liked that Lario let him show softness on occasion – it prevents him from being a completely dominant alpha male and makes him more real. His loyalty to his brothers is a strong driving force in his life and it influences his decisions and actions. I loved watching that loyalty slowly expand to include Brynn. I have mixed feelings about Brynn. I felt that Lario could have rounded her character out more. She seemed to react to events in the plot, but not really take charge of her situation which is at odds with the strong-willed character she is supposed to be. But through Keegan’s view of her I came to understand and like Brynn. The romance between Keegan and Brynn is intense and very sexy. There was more to the relationship than the purely physical though, and they both grow and develop as characters through the story. Although Brynn and Keegan are the main characters in Blood of the Demon Keegan’s brothers make a definite impact. Each brother, including Keegan, is half-demon from their father, but they have each inherited different traits from their mothers. The bond between the brothers is clear and a pleasure to read.
Rosalie Lario debut is a promising start to a series that looks set to excite and entertain readers and I’m sure that as she continues to write that her books will only get better. (less)
The Dig is an entertaining adventure with just a dash of romance thrown in to keep things interesting. It’s a promi...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
The Dig is an entertaining adventure with just a dash of romance thrown in to keep things interesting. It’s a promising start to a new YA trilogy with some Greek flavour.
I love this cover. It does everything a cover should do – it attracts your attention and it gives you a feel for the kind of book you’ll be reading. The slightly out-of-focus hall with its statuary and marble flooring brings to mind an ancient temple and sets the scene for the book. But it’s the legs with their wings of sparking electricity at the ankles that really catch the eye and make you want to know more. My compliments to the design team at Backlit Fiction for a job well done.
I love Greek mythology. It has it all; the drama, the romance, the danger and even the family feuds. And it is such a fertile land for authors to explore. Some get it right and some just don’t. But Audrey Hart has definitely gotten it right with her debut novel, The Dig. She’s taken the Greek myths we know and love, brushed off some of the dust and cobwebs and shown us something new and interesting under the surface. Purists will probably frown on this, but as far as I’m concerned Hart has given her own fresh slant to the mythology and her story world benefits from it.
I enjoyed Hart’s writing style. The words flow easily and her world came alive as I was reading. It was refreshing to read a YA novel that wasn’t drowning in drama – there are important themes of self-discovery in The Dig, but Hart manages to use humour to keep the mood from becoming too dark.
Zoe Calder is a bit of an outcast – she doesn’t really fit in with any of the groups at school. And it’s largely because she doesn’t see the point of all of the effort and stress that goes into fitting in. I could identify with that. I liked Zoe. She’s independent, logical and a little feisty. Through the book Zoe learns to appreciate her own strengths and I enjoyed this character development. Then there’s Zeus. Forget the mental image you have of a big beard, a scowl and lightning bolt. Well, you can keep the lightning bolt, but we’re talking about a young and earnest young god here. And did I mention good-looking? I enjoyed the budding romance between Zoe and Zeus, although I’m hoping she learns to think straight around him.
Audrey Hart’s debut novel, The Dig, is an entertaining re-imagining of Greek mythology. When can I get my hands on book two? (less)
I have rarely been as blown away by a book as I was by Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The artistry of h...moreReview from my blog: The Word Fiend
I have rarely been as blown away by a book as I was by Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The artistry of her writing and the story she weaves are breathtaking.
The famous saying tells us that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I would love to see the image that could capture Laini Taylor’s. It would have to capture the imagination, subtlety and grace of this talented author’s work and I’m not sure that a single image could manage it.
The flow of the story is very well handled, with seamless shifts in perspective and place that I could only marvel at. Often there is a feeling of disjointedness when books shift in time between the present and memories, but Daughter of Smoke and Bone remains a cohesive whole and these shifts only act to enhance the story. Laini Taylor has a real talent as a writer. She breathes life into her world and characters through her words and it was a pleasure to just experience this book. I was very quickly swept up by the narrative and my first thought when finishing the last word was: I want more.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is set in two different worlds; the human one and Elsewhere. Both settings are rich in detail and atmosphere – so much so that I could easily imagine opening a door somewhere and coming face-to-face with Brimstone. The magic used in the book is interesting and I was especially intrigued by the system of wishes and their strengths that Taylor has created. But more than that is the fact that she has given Elsewhere an interesting history that has a direct impact on Karou’s story. I love the world of chimeras and seraphs and that it feels as real as the one we live in.
Karou is an engaging character with her love of drawing, her peacock blue hair and her mysterious background. And that’s not even counting her association with Brimstone. I liked Karou’s determination and kindness and that she grows and develops as a character through the events of the story. Brimstone is a fascinating character and I especially enjoyed discovering the depth in his personality that he tries to cover up. Then there’s Akiva, the gorgeous, but tortured seraph who enters Karou’s life. He is a complex character and I loved the relationship that began to develop between him and Karou.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is an astonishing read filled with depth and magic by a very talented author. (less)