Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

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I pride myself on the fact that I do read a large variety of books, by a variety of authors, in a variety of genres. However, if I were only allowed to read one book genre for the rest of my life (please don’t ever make me do this) it would be Young Adult (YA). If we were getting really particular, I would say specifically fantasy YA. I have great admiration for authors who are able to seemingly conjure everything – languages, countries, characters, history, maps, landscapes, creatures – out of nothing.

One of these fantasy YA epics is the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas.

This series is one that I have only ever heard good things about. In fact, I have never actually heard anything negative about if from anyone who has read it. If that’s not a glowing commendation, then I don’t know what is. And I would be an idiot not to read it in light of this. So I decided to FINALLY pick up the first book, Throne of Glass (after which the series is named), and use my Christmas break to engross myself in the entire saga.

The story centers on 18-year-old Celaena Sardothien, a highly trained and notorious assassin who, having been captured, is serving out her sentence in the salt mines of Endovier. One day, Celaena is forcibly brought before the Crown Prince, Dorian Havillard. He gives her the opportunity of a lifetime – her freedom in exchange for competing to become his father’s royal assassin. If she is successful, Celaena will serve the King for four years before finally being set free.

Under the ever-watchful eye of Chaol Westfall, the Captain of the Guard, Celaena begins her training for the competition; a series of elimination tests, culminating in a final hand-to-hand combat showdown, in which a number of thieves, assassins and warriors will be battling to be crowned the King’s Champion. But there are darker, otherworldly forces at work, and one by one the other contestants start turning up dead. Fearing for her life, Celaena decides to investigate into the deaths, and soon discovers that she has a greater destiny and purpose than she could have ever possibly imagined.

I absolutely devoured this book! Straight off the bat, we are thrown into the thick of it, with Celaena being escorted under guard to her audience with Prince Dorian. And it just keeps getting better from there. Not once did I feel that the story dragged on, or wasn’t keeping a good pace. There is a good mix of adrenaline inducing action, and slightly more passive character and relationship development.

I also adore the character Celaena; she is my favourite thing about this book. I know YA literature is full of feisty, independent females, but I feel like Celaena takes the cake here. Yes, she is feisty and independent, but she is also smart, morally flawed (at least to start with), and incredibly sassy. Bonus, she doesn’t faint at the sight of blood or violence. Let’s face it; she’d be a pretty useless assassin if she did.

I also get a kick out of a good love triangle, and it certainly looks like there is one being set up here between Celaena, Prince Dorian and Captain Westfall. Although there is not too much made of it in this novel, I have a feeling that it will certainly be brought to the fore and explored in the rest of the series. For those wondering, I am definitely #TeamChaol all the way.

To be honest, I really have nothing negative to say about this book – it has everything that I need in a good YA fantasy series and then some. I guess I have converted into one of those people who will rave on and on about how wonderful this book is.

Now to start the next book in the series, Crown of Midnight.

Bring it on.

Rating: 10/10

Review: Hades by Candice Fox

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Have you ever read a book, recognised a location as one that you personally know, and gotten completely excited that you can accurately visualise it?

I know I have. Isn’t it the best feeling?

I think Australian readers often get the most excited when this happens.

Why?

Sadly, as readers, we do not often get to see locations we personally know in a book because not many authors, Australian or otherwise, set their stories in our wonderful country. So when I found out about a Sydney author who not only writes gritty crime, but also sets it in and around Sydney, I got a little excited. After all, as popular as psychological thrillers are at the moment, sometimes you just crave a good ol’ fashioned slice ‘em and dice ‘em crime novel.

Detective Frank Bennett has joined a new homicide unit and has been partnered with an intriguingly complex new partner. Eden Archer is a beautiful, cold mystery and between her and her brother Eric – also a member of the Sydney Metro police force – Frank Bennett is sure that there is more to the Archers than meets the eye.

At the centre of this character driven novel is, of course, a gruesome crime. A number of large steel boxes have been discovered on the bottom of Sydney Harbour with each one containing various human body parts. Naturally, Frank and Eden are put on the case. How does the title Hades fit into this, I hear you ask. It soon becomes apparent that the gruesome crime has some pretty grisly links to Eden and Eric’s unconventional childhood, and their adoptive ‘father’, Hades.

I loved this book.

I will admit, when you read a lot of crime novels, it all starts to look, feel and sound a bit similar after a while. With Hades, Candice Fox really does try to be a bit different and make her novel stand out from the crowd, an aim which I think she has successfully achieved.

Firstly, and most importantly, I loved the characters in this novel, as well as they way the author uses them. Let us take the character Hades, for example. The book is named after a character who is not only NOT the main character (in regards to the point of view the story is largely told from), but whose primary role seems to be to illustrate how the characters of Eden and Eric grew up into the kind of adults that they are. Genius.

Now, let’s take the character of Frank Bennett. The majority of the book is told from his perspective. Interestingly, despite the fact that it is through his eyes that we see the ‘current’ events unfolding, he is actually not the most interesting character in the novel. In fact, he seems to be merely the conduit through which we view the unfolding events and personalities of the more interesting characters. I have never come across this characterisation technique in a novel before, but it works!

Obviously, I also loved the use of settings and locations in this novel, but I especially loved the restraint Candice Fox showed in using them. I have found that authors quite often either focus too much on the locations, and thus lose the essence of the story they are telling, or they don’t use them enough, and you end up feeling like the story really could have taken place just about anywhere. Candice Fox manages to use her choice of locations in a way that adds to the story-taking place, but doesn’t define it. She has expertly balanced the story and the setting.

This novel is definitely one for anyone who enjoys a good, gritty crime novel, and for any fellow Aussies who would love to finally see a good storyline located in our very own sunburnt country.

Rating: 9/10

Review: Disclaimer by Renée Knight

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In the last year we have seen two exceptional psychological thrillers top the bestsellers lists; Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. Having read and enjoyed both of these books, I was pretty keen to hear about a new offering in the subgenre being dubbed ‘domestic noir’. The tag line for debut author Renee Knight’s Disclaimer hooked me right in: Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental…

Catherine Ravenscroft, having just moved house with her husband Robert, comes across an intriguing book amongst their belongings – The Perfect Stranger. Thinking it might belong to Robert, or may have been a forgotten gift, she begins to read it. However, the more she reads, the more she begins to feel a sense of déjà vu.

Why?

Because she is the main character.

Having failed to initially notice the opening disclaimer of “any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental” with a big red line through it, Catherine soon begins to realise the implications of it having been crossed out. For this novel not only stars her as the main character, but it also brings to light her deepest, darkest secret.

The secret that she has never told her family.

The secret she thought no one knew.

As Catherine begins to investigate into the mysterious author and their motives, the guards she has put up against her haunting secret threaten to crumble. With the past catching up with her, Catherine begins to feel her whole world falling apart, as she is forced to revisit and confront her darkest hour.

I love the idea of books that have a seemingly simple premise, yet develop into much more complex emotional and psychological stories. The idea behind this one particularly grabbed me – what if you realised that the book you were reading was all about you? It is such a simple (and somewhat creepy) idea that does end up becoming about so much more. Brilliant. I am also a bit of a fan of the parallel, double point of view storyline techniques that are becoming more and more prevalent in crime fiction, and this book definitely delivers on that front.

Admittedly, the book took a little while to get going, and felt a little disjointed at the beginning. Most of the first few chapters left me thinking they were all a bit superfluous, and I wondered when the story would actually start. It took a while for me to actually warm to the story and feel that tug that makes me want to keep reading to know what happens next.

But for me the biggest thing I look for in a good crime novel is a twist I didn’t see coming. And this novel certainly does that. Just when you thought you had everything figured out, just when you thought you know what’s going to happen, what it’s all going to come down to, it suddenly takes a turn and you wonder how you didn’t see it all along. I honestly did think I had figured it all out about halfway through, but that was obviously the authors intention, because at the end everything I thought I knew was shifted to expose the authors true intentions.

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who enjoyed Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

Rating: 7/10

Review: A Court Of Thorns And Roses by Sarah J. Maas

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As a bookseller, I can personally attest to the fact that Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series is very popular with customers. I had always entertained the idea of giving her books a try, but with my ever-growing ‘to-be-read’ pile, I kept putting it off. Then I heard that she would be heading to Australia later this year, and I knew the time had come.

And what better way to start than with an advance reading copy of the first book in her newest series,  A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Part fantasy saga, part love story, this book is a perfect example of the emerging ‘New Adult’ book genre, and is essentially a re-told version of Beauty and the Beast, with a bit of faerie lore thrown in for good measure.

The central protagonist and YA female heroine is Feyre, a nineteen-year-old girl who is the sole provider for her family. They live in near poverty just near the border between the human and faerie realms. While out hunting in the woods one day, Feyre kills a wolf. However, this was no ordinary wolf, and soon a huge beast-like creature is on her doorstep demanding retribution. Given the choice between dead and a life imprisoned in the faerie realm, Feyre chooses life. Her captor, the best-like creature, is in fact not an animal, but Tamlin, a very powerful, very deadly faerie lord.

As Feyre whiles away her sentence on Tamlin’s sprawling estate, she finds her feelings for him changing from those of hostility and near-hatred, to a genuine interest in him, and an intense desire for him. But there is trouble brewing in the world of the fae. An ancient power is slowly enveloping the lands, and threatens to boil over into the human realm. Feyre must find a way to stop it in order to save her family, the faerie world, and ultimately Tamlin.

As much as I am an absolute sucker for a good YA/New Adult fantasy book, I am always sceptical when a pick up a new one. This is mostly because there are just so many of these kinds of books around at the moment, and I am always afraid that when I start a new one, it will feel tired, and ‘been-done-before’, and that I won’t enjoy it because it doesn’t feel exciting and new anymore.

As such, I will freely admit that my expectations for this book were pretty low. I fully expected it to be just another YA-style fantasy novel, with predictable outcomes, an uninspired storyline, and cookie-cutter characters.

But A Court of Thorns and Roses surprised me, and it sucked me right in!

The thought of getting back to the book, and seeing what happened next is what got me through many days at work. I think this is definitely a sign that you are enjoying a book, and that it has captured your interest and imagination.

I actually really enjoyed how Sarah J. Maas has cleverly, and very creatively, reimagined and reworked the classic Beauty and the Beast story – you actually forget after a while that this is the creative basis for the story. Maas takes the storyline to such creative and inventive places that it becomes a story of its own, and you only really remember the Beauty and the Beast parallel when small elements of the original story are revealed. The characters are well written, and although Feyre was, at times, a little insufferable, I ultimately did really love her characterisation. Tamlin was the archetypal tortured male lead, but with a bit of a twist that made him an interesting character all on his own. I loved encountering all the different types of fae along the way, as well as the dispelling of some of the classic faerie myths and legends.

Fans of Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series will enjoy her latest offering, as will fans of fantasy novels, and fractured fairytales. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9/10

A Court of Thorns and Rose is due out in Australia on 7th May 2015.

Sarah J. Maas will be doing Q&A and signing sessions at the Brisbane and Adelaide Supanova conventions in November 2015. Check the Supernova website here for dates, times and updates.

Review: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The Little Paris Bookshop - Nina George

“The bookseller could not imagine what might be more practical than a book…”

[The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, pg. 1]

The two things I love most in the world are books and travel. Without getting into a long philosophical spiel about how the two go hand in hand, I’ll just say that they both let you experience new people, new cultures and new places. So when I was perusing our pile of advance reading copies at work, this book immediately grabbed my attention because it combines my two loves – travel and books.

Jean Perdu runs a bookshop out of a converted barge on the Seine River in Paris. He calls it La Pharmacie Litéraire – the literary apothecary – for he has an unusual gift for being able to see into his customers’ souls for what they most need. For according to Jean Perdu, there is a book for every ailment of the soul.

“Perdu reflected that it was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books.

They look after people.”

[The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, pg.19]

However, for the past twenty-one years there is only one person that Jean Perdu has been unable to successfully prescribe a book for – himself. For twenty-one years ago, the woman that he loved abruptly left him; no goodbyes, no forewarning, just a letter that Jean Perdu has not been able to bring himself to open. However, the sudden arrival of a mysterious new neighbour in his apartment building may be just the thing Jean Perdu has been waiting for. And so, one not so special day, Jean Perdu unmoors his literary apothecary and sets off for Provence in search of answers, closure and the ability to heal his own soul.

I am not one who normally finds literary fiction all that riveting, but I absolutely adored this book. It is, in a word, beautiful. The two things that struck me the most were the vivid descriptions of the French countryside, and the wonderfully eclectic and quirky cast of characters, all of whom are so well defined and written, that I half expected them to come leaping out of the pages.

Typically, as in all novels where the main protagonist needs to find themselves to gain closure, Jean Perdu gets more than he bargains for on his impromptu trip, but it doesn’t feel clichéd or cheesy in any way. As Jean Perdu’s second greatest love is books, this novel has lots of literary and book references, each one treated with the reverence it deserves. It gave me a little thrill every time I recognised a literary reference, and every time Jean Perdu mused his feelings about literature, books and life in a way I could completely relate to.

Whilst reading this book, I tried to keep a list of the quotes I loved, but in the end, it just became too impractical because there were so many that I loved, and that resonated with me. This is definitely one of those books where you try to explain to people why you loved it so much, but end up saying “You just have to read it, trust me”.

I would definitely recommend this book to those readers who like to read beautiful books, and to those who have a book addiction like myself. If you have ever looked for closure, called yourself a bookworm, been bitten by the travel bug or simply enjoyed quirky literary characters, then this book is definitely one for you.

Rating: 10/10

This book is due out in Australia on 14th April 2015.

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

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Everyone knows the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”.

And it’s true. Sometimes the best, most memorable stories you read are the ones that did not necessarily have an eye-catching, or aesthetically pleasing cover.

So, in light of this, I feel that I must confess that I do, on occasion, judge a book (and make my decision whether to read it or not) based on its cover.

One such example is The Winner’s Curse. The cover immediately caught my attention, and so I felt I had no choice but to read it.

Kestrel is the daughter of a general in the vast Valorian Empire. Living in a war driven society, Kestrel knows that the law requires her to choose one of two life options: join the military like her father, or get married. Neither idea appeals to Kestrel, whose passion lies in playing the piano – a skill normally only permitted to be practiced by the Herrani slaves of the region.

One day, while in the city, Kestrel finds herself attending a slave auction. Kestrel senses something of herself in Arin, the Herrani slave for sale, and against her better judgement and common sense, Kestrel purchases him for an exorbitant sum. Kestrel starts developing feelings for Arin, and she finds this growing love strange and unnerving. However, Arin has secrets of his own and Kestrel soon discovers that a split second decision at a slave auction may cost her everything she has ever known and loved.

I love the idea behind this book, that of the winner’s curse phenomenon. It is an economic theory that basically states that at an auction, the winner, although having won the item for sale, has also lost because they have paid more for the item than what the majority of bidders have felt it was truly worth. Ultimately though, you never know what value the item may hold in the future, so the idea of the winner’s curse is about that very moment of winning.

I feel like I may have been a victim of the winner’s curse with this book.

While the idea behind this novel was great, the novel itself is a run of the mill young adult (YA) fantasy novel – think, a cross between A Game of Thrones and The Jewel, except less medieval and less dystopian. This book, for me, was okay. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible – it was just an average read. There was nothing different, nothing to distinguish it from every other YA fantasy/romance novel around at the moment. It’s a familiar formula that I have seen over and over again in one form or another – rich, elite girl falls for handsome, rogue slave. Their love makes them question their preconceived beliefs of society and the status quo. An uprising occurs which tests their love and their beliefs, and cue book two 12 months later.

I felt it difficult to connect with either Kestrel or Arin. Throughout the course of the novel, they both made decisions that were completely illogical, and made no sense whatsoever, and this is what made it so hard for me to relate to them in any way. Kestrel in particular was a rather frustrating character. She claims to want freedom and to defy social norms when it comes to her own life. However, as soon as anyone else – primarily Arin – wants things to be different, and actually starts to do something about it, Kestrel says it’s wrong, that it goes against societal values, and starts defending the way things are. I felt like yelling at her “You can’t have it both ways!”

In saying all that, the second half of the book was much more interesting than the first, as this is when things really start to kick off. The first half of the novel tended to plod along, and was cluttered with Kestrel’s inner turmoil, and Arin’s brutishness, whereas the second half of the novel is when the action starts to take place as the rebellion begins to get in to full swing.

I think that YA readers 14+ who enjoy this kind of novel will love it, but I felt for me, it just wasn’t as good as it had the potential to be.

Rating: 5/10

Review: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

The hottest book at the moment is definitely The Girl On The Train. It has been in the top 10 selling books in my store for the past few weeks. People are constantly asking for it, and we are constantly selling out of it.

Touted as “the next Gone Girl”, I knew I just had to give this latest offering in the psychological thriller genre a go.

The Girl On The Train is told from three different points of view; Rachel, an alcoholic who is hung up on her ex-husband, Megan, an artistic woman behind whose seemingly perfect life lies a big secret, and Anna, a new mother and current wife of Rachel’s ex.

Despite the different points of view, Rachel is the central character in this novel. She rides the train into London CBD every day, and every morning it stops at the same rail signal that overlooks the same row of back gardens. Depressed with her own life, Rachel starts to take an interest in a young couple – ‘Jess and Jason’ – who live in one of the houses. From her perspective, Rachel observes that they are the perfect couple; they have the perfect house, the perfect marriage, the perfect life. They encapsulate everything her life should have been.

Then one day, while stopped at the same signal, Rachel sees something in that familiar row of back gardens that shocks her. It doesn’t last long, but it is enough to make Rachel think not everything is as it should be. From that moment on, things begin to change. Rachel is given the unique opportunity to be a part of those lives she has wistfully watched from afar. The more involved Rachel gets, the more she uncovers, the more she begins to realise that not everything she has been led to believe is always true.

Being a psychological thriller, The Girl On The Train is dark, gritty, and has a great twist at the end. However, it’s not as dark, nor as twisty as Gone Girl. At the start of the novel I kept wondering where everything was leading, especially all the smaller, seemingly insignificant details and incidents. Because when it comes to crime novels, almost everything that happens does so for a reason. I loved trying to guess why certain things were included and mentioned.

While Gone Girl surprised and shocked everyone with the complete 180 towards the end of the novel, by the time the revelations started happening in The Girl On The Train, I had pretty much figured out what was going on. It gave me a great sense of accomplishment, but I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more of a surprise in there for me.

One of the things I really did enjoyed most about this novel, was that none of the characters were perfect; each one had their own flaws and their own shortcomings. So, despite the extraordinary nature of the overarching storyline, it made the whole novel that much more relatable to the reader. After all, in real life, no one is without his or her imperfections.

Overall, I did really enjoy this book. It was suitable creepy and suspenseful, and the characters were really intriguing. I would recommend it to any one who enjoyed books such as Gone Girl and Before I Go To Sleep.

Rating: 8/10

Where Do I Live Again?

Me: *answers ringing phone* Good afternoon, XYZ Bookstore. How can I help you?

Customer: I got a message from you guys that my books are in, so I’ve called up to give you the address to mail them to.

Me: Certainly. What’s the address?

Customer: … umm…err….hmm… I wrote it down and now I can’t find it. I’ll call you back. *hangs up*

Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

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“I’m still playing games. This is just the deadliest yet.”

The tag line for Golden Son bodes extremely well for those who, like myself, got completely hooked on Red Rising (you can read my review here). I thought the toughest, deadliest, trickiest and most harrowing part of Darrow’s mission was over.

Apparently not.

Golden Son opens two years after the events that took place at the end of Red Rising. Darrow is now at the Academy where he is learning the art of war. He has fully ingratiated himself into Augustus’ retinue and into Gold society. He has made friends and enemies, as any good Gold does, and is well on his way to bringing down everything from the inside. Darrow soon finds himself heading up a full-scale rebellion against the Sovereign and the Society. It’s Gold against Gold, with constantly shifting allegiances. Darrow thinks he knows who he can trust, but they are all Golds – can he truly trust any of them? And with so many people from of colours becoming collateral damage along the way, is Darrow really willing to do what it takes to bring about change?

As Golden Son unfolds, we realise more and more that the Institute was child’s play – it was nothing compared to the Golds, war and alliances of the real world. Darrow not only has to be a good fighter, he also has to out-think, out-manoeuvre and out-politicise his enemies. And this makes for an excellent novel. It is a suspenseful, enthralling story that you enjoy reading, but also makes you think about what is happening. Personally, I kept thinking about how many of the seemingly isolated interactions and incidents may fit into the bigger picture, because, in the end, they all do, and it’s a lot of fun trying to figure out how.

Red Rising was as much about Darrow learning how to navigate the Institute and the world as a Gold as it was about him completing his mission and getting justice. Similarly, Golden Son is as much about bringing down the Sovereign – Octavia au Lune – and the Society, as it is about Darrow questioning his own motives, his morality and whether or not he is the person Eo would have wanted him to become. Yes, this novel has a lot of action, death and destruction, but it also is about the internal struggle Darrow is experiencing.

As in Red Rising, the characters in this novel continue to be extremely well crafted and well defined. Those characters we encountered in the last book, and that reappear in Golden Son have a wonderful new depth to them, especially Darrow as he questions himself in a way that the other characters do not seem to.

And what an ending!

I have read a lot of books in my lifetime (so far…) and this is the most dramatic ending I have come across – the cliff-hanger to end all cliff-hangers! I’m pretty sure I held my breath for the last 6 pages of the book, and that my heart stopped beating for the final 2 paragraphs. How am I supposed to be expected to wait until 2016 to find out what happens?!

Definitely recommended for those who loved Red Rising. For those who haven’t read either of Pierce Brown’s wonderful works, I would definitely recommend reading Red Rising first otherwise you will find yourself a bit lost with what is going on in Golden Son.

Rating: 10/10