Must-Read Monday

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

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It is going to take all my willpower and skills to give a relatively succinct synopsis of this book.

So, here it goes…

With her family torn apart by the powers that be, Mia Corvere is alone and afraid with only her gift of talking to the shadows to keep her company. It is this gift that leads her to a retired killer who takes her in and teaches her his trade. Years later, Mia has vowed vengeance for her family and she becomes an apprentice with the Red Church – the deadliest, most devious group of assassins that exist. She and her fellow students are put to the test, all of them vying for the ultimate honour of becoming a Blade of the Church. But soon someone in their midst starts killing off the apprentices, and Mia discovers that finding a murderer in an institution filled with assassins is not an easy task.

Wowza! Where do I even start? As a fan of fantasy novels, I absolutely LOVED this book! This novel is definitely in my favourite of all that I read in 2016. Kristoff’s attention to detail in his world building transports you into the universe he has created, so much so that at times I completely forgot I was reading a novel. His characterisation is likewise just as brilliant, complex and well thought out as his world building. Kristoff presents us with a fantastic cast of individual personalities taking part in the story, some of which you love, some of which you hate and some of which you underestimate!

While the main character is of young adult age, and struggled with/experiences issues and emotions typical of a young adult, I would definitely NOT class this book as a ‘young adult’ fiction novel. This novel has an abundance of coarse language – f-words are frequent and c-bombs make many notable appearances. It also contains several rather explicit and descriptive sex scenes. And of course, there is all the blood, stabbing, killing and general violence.

That’s not to say that I think we should censor the reading habits of teens or that I don’t think young adults should read this. However, since the publication and worldwide success of the ‘Illuminae’ series – a series Kristoff co-authored that is targeted at young adults and therefore means many of his fans are of young adult age – I do think it is worth mentioning that there are definitely adult themes and adult language present in this novel. As always when choosing a novel to read, regardless of the reader’s age, it depends on the individual reader and what they do and don’t like in a book.

The Elevator Pitch

Think Harry Potter but sexier, and with assassins. And vengeance. And stabbing. And death. Lots and lots of stabbing and death. #stabstabstab

Book Reviews

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

Book Reviews

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.

Book Reviews

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

Book Reviews

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

 

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I am a quick reader. I normally read about 2 books a week. I devour novels like lions devour gazelles. Or like my best friend devours chocolate. Books sustain me and I hunger for new stories all the time.

But The Night Circus was different.

It took me just over a week to finish it.

I wanted it to last.

I wanted it to go on forever.

I was actually quite upset when it ended (even though, as a logical adult, I know all books must end).

I have never been so reluctant to reach the end of a book, and so disappointed with my reality when it did. Much like the patrons of the circus in the novel, you do not want the experience to end. The challenge I face now is trying to adequately write a review of it. For those of you who have read The Night Circus, you will know how much of a challenge this is.

The novel is essentially about Marco and Celia, two illusionists, who are trained by their respective tutors in preparation for a challenge, of which the rules, time and venue are all unknown. But then again, it could be said that this novel is also a story about an impossible love and the nature of the human soul. Or it could even just simply be about a travelling circus.

You start reading this novel not quite knowing what you’re in for, the blurb simply stating:

“The circus arrived without warning. No announcements precede it… it is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

Even though this seems vague and meaningless at first glance, in hindsight, this sums up my experience reading this book – I came across it without meaning to, I hadn’t heard anything about it, and I knew nothing about it, but now it is ingrained in me when a week ago it wasn’t there at all.

The book, at first, seems to be an incoherent collection of stories of people’s lives. However, the further into the book you go, the more intertwined these lives become, and the clearer the bigger picture becomes. You fall in love with the circus and the characters, and you end up feeling like you have lived across the years that the circus spans – you feel apart of the circus, of something bigger than yourself.

Morgenstern jumps back and forth through the years from the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. The reader is able to keep track with the dates of the events taking place, as they are conveniently stated at the start of every chapter. Her writing style is sumptuous and enthralling, and you are immediately transported into the world of Le Cirque des Rêves – The Circus of Dreams – every time you open the book.

This novel is breathtakingly beautiful. If a book were to be compared to a work of art, this would be the shining example. You want to take your time with it, to savour it and give your full attention to it. You want to appreciate every word, every detail and every moment, trying to commit each to memory so you can relive it over and over again.

The best way I can think of to even come close to giving a sufficient summary of the novel is to give you one piece of advice: Do yourself a favour and go out and buy this book and get lost within it’s pages. It is the only way to truly understand and experience this world that Morgenstern has created.

I cannot recall the last time I read a book where I lost myself in the author’s literary vision so utterly and completely. Most definitely, without question, one of my top 10 books I have read this year.

Rating: 10/10

Book Reviews

Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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By now, most people are associating this book with Emma Watson and the inevitable forthcoming of the movie franchise. When books are immediately associated with celebrities, I can’t help but be a bit dubious about how good the book actually is, and how much I will (or will not) enjoy it.

But enjoy it I did.

Kelsea Glynn has had a sheltered and isolated upbringing, with only her foster parents for company. This all changes on her 19th birthday when the soldiers come for her. For on her 19th birthday Kelsea comes into her inheritance – to rule the kingdom of the Tearling. The kingdom she is about to become Queen of has certainly seen better days – it is corrupt, poor and dangerous. With her enemies putting a price on her head, and traitors everywhere she looks, Kelsea faces the greatest challenge of her life, to survive and be the ruler her kingdom so desperately needs.

Although this book, the first in a proposed trilogy, is set in the 24th Century, this is not made very clear through the narrative. For the savvy reader, there are a number of passing moments and pieces of the kingdom’s history that imply that this novel is set in the future, however the reader needs to be able to see beyond the obvious to get this. With the novel having a largely medieval Britain feel about it, the reader could certainly be excused for thinking that this is more of a Game of Thrones style set up. And this book certainly does have a very Game of Thrones feel about it. I think it would be a good novel for those young adults (16+) who may not yet be ready to tackle George R.R. Martin’s mammoth (and still unfinished) fantasy saga.

This book kept me hooked right from the beginning, and the character of Kelsea, although at times infuriatingly naïve, is very likeable and relateable. The physical descriptions of all the characters as well as the landscapes of the Tearling, are so well thought out and clearly presented, I felt like I was there in the novel at every scene and every chapter. I would definitely recommend this book to those who enjoyed The Game of Thrones series, and also to those who may be a bit reluctant to have a go at reading a fantasy novel.

One parting thought though…

With Kelsea characterised as a rather plain girl, with a little too much weight upon her 19-year-old frame, I am not quite sure how Emma Watson fits the bill for this role. After all she is perceived the world over as being the complete opposite of this character. I wonder what will happen to the character of Kelsea – I guess we will have to wait and see if she is subjected to what I have dubbed the ‘Jack Reacher’ effect.

Rating: 9/10