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

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Book Reviews

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

Book Reviews

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

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Holly Black is most well-known for her Modern Faerie Tale series, and her co-authorship of The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi). So, before I opened her latest young adult (YA) offering, The Darkest Part of the Forest, I knew I would be in for a fantasy/paranormal type novel.

Hazel and her brother Ben live in an odd little town called Fairfold, where the local residents live in a peaceful co-existence with the faeries of the forest. Hazel dreams of becoming a knight and vanquishing evil forces, while Ben dreams of harnessing his otherworldly musical abilities. The town attracts many tourists who want to experience the magic, and occasionally one or two tourists will fall prey to a faerie’s tricks. The locals know how dangerous and unpredictable the fae can be, but they know how to guard against them.

The main tourist draw card in the town is a glass casket that lies in the darkest part of the forest. Inside the casket lies a sleeping faerie boy who has been there for as long as anyone can remember. Hazel and Ben grow up imagining what it would be like, and what kid of adventures they would have if he were to awaken.

However, none of the townsfolk, not even Hazel and Ben, are prepared for what happens to Fairfold when he finally does.

The thing I loved the most about this novel was how it completely flips stereotypes around. Ben is the more emotionally driven character, and the one who pines and obsesses over an unattainable love interest, whereas Hazel is the strong, heroic lead character who wants to save the day. I loved the character of Hazel, another strong lead female in the YA genre. Of course it wouldn’t be a YA novel if there wasn’t a bit of romance thrown in as well – Hazel and he brother’s best friend Jack, and Ben and the sleeping faerie prince.

This novel toes the line between Children’s and YA genres, which is really the only issue I have with the book. When I first picked it up, I thought I was going to be getting a great offering in the Children’s genre. The more I read, the more I realised it was definitely a YA novel! However, that being said there were times in the novel where I had to roll my eyes a little at how young and childish some parts were. It’s almost like Black couldn’t decide which audience she wanted to write the book for.

I would recommend this novel for the older readers (14+) who enjoyed Black’s other novels when they were younger.

Rating: 6/10

Book Reviews

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

 

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I know that there are a lot of young adult (YA) books around at the moment that delve into the themes of a hierarchical and unfair society, and rising up against oppression.

So, when one of our publishing reps at work gave me an uncorrected proof for Red Queen, I was sceptical. I fully expected it to be going to be just another YA book that conformed to the current dystopian fad – nothing special, and basically a carbon copy of something already out there.

But Victoria Aveyard’s debut novel (the first in a planned trilogy) has certainly raised the bar for dystopian genre YA novels.

Mare Barrow lives in a world where everyone is divided by the colour of his or her blood – you are either Silver or Red. The life of a Red is not one that is coveted, and it is one that is lived shortly, and in misery. Silvers, on the other hand, live in wealth and luxury, and have different abilities that give them power and position over the Reds – the ability to read minds, the ability to control a particular element, or even the ability to control nature. For the Silvers it is all about power and control.

Mare is a 17-year-old Red and spends her days thieving and pick pocketing to help her family to survive. Reds must have an apprenticeship by 18 years of age, otherwise they are conscripted to the kingdom’s long running war with the neighbouring Lakelanders. This weighs heavily on Mare’s mind, as she is almost 18-years-old with no apprenticeship or job prospects. The war has already taken her three brothers away from her family, and she hates the Silvers for it.

A twist of fate intervenes, and Mare finds herself working at the summer palace for the Silver royal family of her region, and she soon discovers that she possesses a mysterious power of her own. In an attempt to cover up this genetic anomaly, the king forces Mare to pretend to be a lost Silver noble, and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she must decide whether to follow her head or her heart, knowing that one wrong move will lead to her death.

I got totally absorbed in this book. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about what had just happened, and what I thought was going to happen next. It hooked me right in! I will admit that there are elements of the book that reek with familiarity, but the more you read, the more you start thinking that it is actually quite different.

I am a sucker for a strong, downtrodden female protagonist, so I loved the character of Mare – strong, independent, but still flawed and unsure of herself. I also love that there is an element of romance in the book, but it takes a back seat to the overall storyline, which is refreshing in this genre. And the ending! Not at all what I was expecting, which is fantastic! The book has moments of suspense throughout, but the ending takes the cake – not at all what you think is going to happen.

I really did love this book, and considering Universal Pictures acquired the film rights before Aveyard even finished writing it, I’m obviously not the only one who thinks it great! A great read for teens aged 14+, and for adults who enjoy a good dystopian novel.

Rating: 9/10

Book Reviews

Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Up until about a week ago, I had never read one of Liane Moriarty’s books, which is rather surprising considering she is a local author in my area, and I am a huge supporter and advocate for Australian authors.

I had also been hearing almost all of my colleagues at work rave about her novels, so I thought I would give her latest one a whirl, though I was a bit worried that I may not enjoy the book. I will admit I am not normally one to read a book about the lives of fictional suburban mothers and their families. Quite frankly, I find the notion of reading a book about daily trials of mothers and their kids rather dull and unexciting.

That is, until I picked up Liane Moriarty’s latest book.

Big Little Lies takes place in the fictional Sydney suburb of Pirriwee and revolves around a group of kindergarten parents and their respective children who attend the local public school. The whole novel revolves around one key event – Pirriwee Public’s annual school trivia night. Why? Because a parent is dead.

The three central characters are Madeline, a highly extroverted, bubbly force to be reckoned with, Celeste, an effortlessly gorgeous, wealthy mother of twin boys and close friend of Madeline’s, and Jane, the young single mum who is new in town. This trio form the foundation of the story we are told, and all have their own worries and trials to deal with in their personal lives.

The majority of the novel takes places over the months leading up to the ill-fated trivia night, and delves into the cliquey world of helicopter parents and playground politics. At times, you almost forget that one of the characters you are reading about is in fact dead, but Moriarty very cleverly keeps you on track – at the end of every chapter there are excerpts of witness statements and background information being given by the schools parents and teachers. In this way, Moriarty also cleverly keeps you guessing as to who exactly the deceased person is.

As sombre as the overall storyline sounds, Moriarty’s latest novel is actually quite funny, while at the same time heartbreaking. She really knows how to get you emotionally invested in her characters, and to love and loathe them in equal measure. This is one of the best examples I have seen of really well written, well-defined characters. You know exactly who they are and how they will most likely react to certain situations, even though they are works of fiction.

I also love that Moriarty hasn’t compromised herself as an author just to appeal to the American mass market. The book is rife with ‘Australian-isms’ – including a brief discussion of ‘mum’ vs. ‘mom’ spelling, greetings of ‘gidday’, and particular aspects of the first year of school that evoked nostalgic memories of my own kindergarten days. I was able to relate to many things in this novel, despite not being in the target reader demographic.

I can’t wait to pick up another Liane Moriarty novel sometime soon.

Rating: 9/10

Edit: It is exciting to see both Nicole Kidman’s and Reese Witherspoon’s respective production companies option the screen rights to Big Little Lies! Read more here.

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