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Georgiana89 (London)

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Slade House
Slade House
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing literary horror by an author who continues to blur the line between genres, 6 Nov. 2015
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This review is from: Slade House (Kindle Edition)
It's fair to say that David Mitchell is one of my top five favourite authors. I love his way with words. I love how he can get into the head of any kind of character and tell their story in a compelling voice. I love his experiments with style and structure, and I particularly enjoy the way that he blurs the lines between the ultra-literary and the unashamedly fantastical and dramatic. But in the midst of all his cleverness, it's important not to forget that above all, I love him because he tells a great story.

I enjoyed Mitchell's previous offering, the Bone Clocks, and I was also impressed with it, but I didn't love it in the way I loved many of his earlier works. But this book, whether despite or because of its shorter length and more limited scope, sucked me in and blew me away.

At heart, Mitchell is first and foremost a storyteller, a spinner of yarns. And here, in contrast to some of his more sprawling narratives, he tells a relatively straightforward story. Every nine years, on the last Saturday in October, a pair of sinister, magical twins lure an unsuspecting victim to their eponymous mansion. They start by giving the new guest exactly what they want, move on to giving them everything they fear, and then, after toying with both their psychological insecurities and their sense of reality, kill them and devour their souls to further prolong their unnaturally long life and youth. Each of the five chapters focuses on one year, from the seventies to the present day, and is narrated by that year's unsuspecting victim.

In short, the basic plot would fit right into the pulpiest horror novelists' oeuvre, and unlike when some literary authors try their hand at genre fiction, it's just as scary and just as page-turning and compelling as something rather trashier. But at the same time, it's wonderfully written and characterised.

The opening story is told from the POV of a teenage boy with (presumable) Aspergers. That's a device I feel is a little overdone recently, but it was moving and believable. And then in chapter two, we move straight into the almost diametrically opposing head of a wife-beating "Ashes to Ashes" style cop who, "cut my teeth in the Brixton riots and earned a commendation for bravery at the Battle of Orgreave," but who, despite being broadly obnoxious, has enough hidden depths and decency to make you mourn his fate. And on it goes, from compelling voice to utterly different compelling voice, with the mood and pacing subtly shifting with each chapter too, despite the almost hypnotically formulaic plot.

And then there's the difficulty in struggling to understand what's real and what's the twins merciless trickery, which leaves readers just as lost and nervous as the victims, and becomes more complex with each chapter. The villians love to make their victims think they've escaped or better yet, helped someone else to escape, when in reality, they've just walked even deeper into their trap.

One word of warning. I know there were some people who didn't like the more paranormal aspects of Bone Clocks, with the battles between Horologists and the Shaded Way. Though this is ultimately as much a character-driven story of the five victims as it is a plot-driven horror, there's no getting away from the fact that the mythos Mitchell created in the earlier book suffuses this narrative. I'd urge you to give this a chance, but if you really can't stand that sort of thing, this might not be for you.

But for anyone who enjoyed Bone Clocks and wants more of that world, loves Mitchell's writing, or is just looking for a good spooky story that doesn't sacrifice prose or a moving character study that doesn't skimp on plot, I'd highly recommend this. It may be significantly less ambitious than his most famous works, but for me, this is Mitchell's best novel since Cloud Atlas.

The Rose Society (The Young Elites book 2)
The Rose Society (The Young Elites book 2)
Price: £4.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Feels like your average YA but actually much darker, 4 Nov. 2015
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The first book in this series, The Young Elites, felt like a very standard and predictable YA fantasy for the first two-thirds, then suddenly went down a more interesting path towards the end, with the heroine accidentally killing the romantic interest instead of falling for his charms. I was therefore interested to see where this second installment went.

Strangely, this book had the same problem as the first. The first half felt quite generic and predictable, and while I was vaguely enjoying it, and liking the fact that the protagonist was a darker than normal heroine, it wasn't capturing my imagination or leaving me desperate to read on. But once again, just when I expected it to go in one direction, it went in quite another, taking a further turn towards a dark, disturbing plot and the villainous protagonist the series kept promising but had previously failed to quite deliver.

I thought the author was brave in her approach, but for me, the opening was a bit too conventional and the ending went a bit too far. I'd have preferred a plot that struck a balance between the two poles right the way through.

The Traitor
The Traitor
Price: £5.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best fantasy novel about a morally conflicted lesbian civil servant I've read this year, 4 Nov. 2015
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This review is from: The Traitor (Kindle Edition)
There are some books I'd recommend to pretty much anyone who likes the relevant genre. Personally, I really liked this book, but before I go into the reasons why (as well as a few things I didn't like), it's worth making clear that there are some people who I don't think would enjoy this.

Firstly, don't read this if you're not comfortable with LGBT and polyamorous characters. As my title makes clear, the heroine is gay, as are numerous other characters, and this is central to the plot.
Secondly, step away if you have little knowledge of or interest in basic issues of politics and economics. More than most fantasy novels, this one uses things like trade wars, deliberate devaluation of currency and forensic accounting to drive the plot forward - something which you might find fascinating and clever, or might find confusing and dull.
Thirdly, if you like happy endings or uncomplicated heroines, don't go anywhere near this.

Luckily, I like a bit of diversity, I'm interested in politics, and I love anti-hero(ines), villain protagonists and dark plots. And as a civil servant myself, I enjoyed reading something with such an unusual choice of protagonist.

On the political side, there was lots of debate about the rights and wrongs of empires that take away colonists' culture but give them medicine and wealth, and about the morality of doing bad things for good purposes. It was pretty clear that the author had a broadly liberal bent, but this still felt like an interesting discussion, not a polemic.

Overall therefore, I found this an unusual and enjoyable read that engaged both my imagination and my brain. On the negative side, I didn't hugely engage with any of the characters or feel super-invested in the outcomes, and though it was enjoyably slowburn in places, in others, it felt a bit too stretched out. I also guessed the key twist at a relatively early stage.

If this sounds like something that would appeal to you at all, I'd highly recommend that you give it a try. I suspect it's one of those books people will love or hate. I was definitely closer to the former category and would definitely read any sequel, though that doesn't mean I found it a perfect read.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here
The Rest of Us Just Live Here
by Patrick Ness
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.29

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique premise, but there's only so much fun to be had in reading about background characters, 4 Nov. 2015
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I was attracted to this book by its unique and intriguing premise: a story set at a school where typical YA paranormal romance/urban fantasy happenings are afoot, but focusing on the ordinary students rather than the chosen ones.

Somewhere in the background, there are immortal beings trying to take over the world and seducing and killing the "indie kids" who'd be the heroes and heroines of most books. But our narrator, though aware of these events, only has a vague understanding of them, and is much more interested in graduating, getting out of the friend-zone, and beating his OCD. In short, it's 90% contemporary coming of age novel in the vein of John Green, and about 10% supernatural fiction that Stephanie Meyers would be proud of. Or as I like to think of it, Dawson's Creek in the foreground and Buffy in the background.

Ness is a great author, and I'm pleased to say that he did a good job of delivering something that more or less lived up to the premise and struck a good balance between his competing genres. Like all his books that I've read, there are well-fleshed out characters, lots of diversity and strong writing. The main plot made me laugh and smile and kept me hooked, and the vague hints of the weird stuff going on in the background were intriguing in their own right and amusing in the context of our hero's lack of interest.

That said, while I'm glad someone wrote this and pulled it off, it did make me reflect that, despite the way people attack "Mary-Sues" there's a reason that novels tend to focus on the special people that interesting things are happening to. My memories of the main characters and their struggles is already fading, and I was left with a vague feeling that while it would have been a less original and less clever novel, I might actually have enjoyed it more if it foregrounded the mystical, deadly, romantic stuff in the background. I'd love to see a writer with this level of this talent take a slightly stereotypical plot like that and write it really well.

To really enjoy and appreciate this book, I think you have to be both comfortable with reading contemporary YA, but also have a good enough understanding of the conventions of the YA paranormal genre to get the jokes. While Ness seemed to take his cues from several sources, the biggest inspiration was clearly Buffy, so having at least a passing familiarity with that show would probably make you "get" the book a little more.

Overall, I'd definitely recommend this because of its originality and fun, but more as a well-written oddity than something I absolutely loved or plan to read again.

Six of Crows
Six of Crows
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable spin-off that's probably technically better than the original series but didn't capture my heart to the same degree, 11 Oct. 2015
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This review is from: Six of Crows (Kindle Edition)
The author's Grisha Trilogy was one of my absolute favourite series of recent years, so I was excited to pick up this new novel, the first in a spin-off series set in the same world as the Grisha, but set in a different region (a Netherlands-style country and a Scandinavian-type one, rather than a Russian-inspired setting), with totally different characters and a more-or-less unconnected plot. Basically, it revolves around a criminal gang who set out to attempt a near-impossible heist, with lots of romance, politics, infighting, bonding and scheming along the way.

I thought this blend of continuity and originality was a good idea - I hate it when authors drag a serie out, and the trilogy has definitely reached a clear conclusion, but at the same time, I'd have been sad to completely leave the unusual and well-crafted world behind just yet. On the one hand, this meant I went in with very high expectations that were just asking to be dashed, but on the other, it meant I got really excited about certain throwaways lines and references, and was willing to love less exciting bits just because it was great to be back in the world.

On an objective level, this is probably, if anything, a better book than the earlier ones. The writing style is more developed, good use is made of varied POVs, and the plotting is more intricate.

On a personal level though, while I enjoyed this, I didn't fall in love with it to quite the same degree as its predecessors. This was partly because the story focused less on magic and chosen ones and the fate of the world, and more on personal, human quests. I suspect some people will prefer the latter, but I can never resist the grand, sweeping narratives. And partly because while the author did a great job of creating six main characters, all of whom I cared about and enjoyed reading about, there was no one character that captured my imagination and fascinated me to quite the extent of the Darkling in the other books. Again, other's views may differ, depending on what you look for in a character, but I tend to prefer intriguing villains to lovable rogues.

And on that note, one thing I really loved about this book was the way it showed that just because the magical heroine has killed the villain, that doesn't mean everything's fine. Here, life for normal people is as much a struggle as ever, and life for Grisha has got significantly worse. It was quite subtle, but very clever.

Overall, this is definitely worth a read for Grisha fans - just don't expect any of your favourites to pop up. Equally, it would work perfectly as an enjoyable standalone/introduction to Bardugo's world.

More Than This
More Than This
Price: £4.27

4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant in parts, dull in parts, 26 Sept. 2015
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This review is from: More Than This (Kindle Edition)
I feel like I could draw a graph of my star rating for this book as different points, as it lurched between a two and a five, and between utterly unputdownable and needing to force myself to keep reading.

On the first page, our hero seemingly drowns in his American home town. In the next chapter, he's waking up in an abandoned and rundown version of the British town where he lived until the age of ten. Its entirely unclear whether this is a coma dream, the afterlife, something supernatural or something else entirely. In this respect, it reminded me a bit of Ashes to Ashes/Life on Mars. At first, I was utterly fascinated to find out the answer and to see what was going to happen to the hero. However, for chapter after chapter, he doesn't meet a single other person, face any threat or real excitement, or come any closer to an answer. I don't mind stories being a bit slow-burning, but this really struggled to hold my attention.

On the other hand, this was interspersed with flashbacks (or are they something else?!) to the day leading up to the drowning. Seth's family dynamics, school life and romantic crisis felt very believable and well-depicted, and made a nice counterpoint to the strangeness of the main plot.

I persevered, and eventually,he finally meets two other teenagers, at which point, the mystery deepens ever further and the story picks up again. For the next few hundred pages, I was absolutely engrossed. And then we finally get what seems to be an answer to what's going on. I was surprised and I was intrigued, but the more I thought about it, the less convincing or internally consistent it seemed. This is one book where you really want to avoid spoilers, so I'll say no more, other than that it reminded me very heavily of a very well known film.

After this point, I sort of expected there to be further revelations or a cranking up of the ambiguity. Instead, the plot seemed to lose focus and rely on some slightly far-fetched action scenes. I was still enjoying it, but it felt like a bit of a let down after the head-spinning nature of what had come before.

As an aside, in a world where it's still relatively rare, Ness should be applauded for his attempts to have a diverse central cast. When it came to Seth, this worked brilliantly. The fact that he was gay was a key component of the plot without being the plot or being the most important thing about him. But with only two other characters to play with, the author's attempts to make them as diverse as possible (a black, overweight female domestic violence victim and a young polish immigrant) felt a little bit forced, in a way it wouldn't have done with a larger cast or a more normal setting. And while the girl was a strong, well-developed character whose race and size were simply a part of her, the polish boy, despite clearly being presented as sympathetic, felt like a bit of a strange comic caricature, with his weird speech patterns, violent temper and tragic past.

I'd highly recommend this, but for me at least, it didn't quite live up to the "best YA book ever" or "change the way you see the world" buzz I'd heard about it. Some bits were pure brilliance, but I felt it needed some serious trimming and tightening, along with more tying up of loose ends and internal consistency.

After Me Comes the Flood
After Me Comes the Flood
Price: £3.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing first half, anti-climactic finale, 26 Sept. 2015
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I loved this book until about the halfway mark. Throughout most of the first half, everything's wonderfully dreamlike and confusing. In the middle of a British heatwave, a man leaves town to visit his brother, gets lost enroute and visits an old, crumbling house to get directions. The inhabitants are either mysteriously expecting him or mistake him for someone else, and either way, he ends up staying. The other people at the house are a strange collection, some odd things occur, and the way the main character constantly halfheartedly tries and fails to leave almost hint at some combination of enchantment and entrapment.

I love books where I don't know what's going on, where you're not completely sure what genre you're reading, and where the explanation for events could be fantastical, mundane or supernatural. During this first half, the book delivered this in spades and also delivered a wonderfully odd atmosphere. I was racking my brains trying to work out what was going on and where the story would go.

Sadly, at around the halfway mark, the rather dull truth is revealed, but instead of ending there, the book meanders on, without much sense of plot or purpose but with some rather weird character development and slightly far-fetched events. At this point, though I was still impressed by the author's way with words and the atmosphere she evoked, I rapidly started to lose interest and finished the book feeling rather disappointed. I believe this is the author's first novel. She's certainly got some skill, and I suspect subsequent books could be very good indeed, but despite a promising opening, this just didn't quite strike the right note for me.

The Liar's Key (Red Queen's War, Book 2)
The Liar's Key (Red Queen's War, Book 2)
by Mark Lawrence
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable enough fantasy novel, but lacking some of the spark of earlier installments, 26 Sept. 2015
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Regardless of some of the criticisms I'm about to go on and make, let me start by saying that this is an enjoyable fantasy novel with some unusual elements, and it's well worth a read if you enjoy the genre and have read the other books. That said, it never blew me away or got me to the point where I couldn't put it down, which was disappointing, as earlier books by the author have been some of my favourite reads of recent years, and I'd been eagerly anticipating its release.

Most of the positive elements are the same as in my review of Book One, and indeed, my reviews of the previous trilogy - fundamentally, the interesting world (post-apocalyptic and reverted to medieval norms), the balance between science and magic, and the cliche-defying characters. In addition, there were some fascinating flashbacks to the Red Queen's childhood and teenage years, some revelations about the hero's dead mother, and a very well-done depiction of a city run on finance and a terrifying debtors' prison.

For me though, there were a few things that let this installment down. Firstly, the length. I was so impressed with the way Lawrence kept his first few books short and tightly plotted, as if to prove that fantasy novels don't have to be doorstoppers. With each new volume, the length has crept up and the pacing and tension seems to have crept down.

Secondly, I once read a (rather unfair) review of the Fellowship of the Ring that described it as "a load of blokes wandering about" and at times, I couldn't help but feel it was a fair description of large swathes of this book. In stark contrast to the first installment and the earlier trilogy, where the plots of both the author and the characters were clear and intriguing, our two heroes seemed to lurch from one success or disaster to another with little clear aim. I like my heroes to scheme and stay one step ahead.

Finally, there's the double-edged sword of the main character. One of my favorite things about the characters in both of Lawrence's trilogies is how they are very different from your average hero - in the case of Jorg from the original trilogy, a psychopathic borderline villain, in the case of Jalen here, a lazy coward. In both cases, this worked brilliantly for the first installment, but then presents a problem. Because either the character has to maintain that personality - in which case they rapidly risk becoming one-dimensional - or they grow and evolve, and lose the traits that made them interesting in the first place. To be fair to the author, he attempts to tread a careful line between these two extremes, but for me, it didn't always work. I found some of his heroics slightly unbelievable, and some of his ongoing disloyalty a little jarring. Added to which, there's no getting away from the fact that while Jalen's a likable and interesting character, I just don't find him quite as compelling as I did Jorg.

That's quite a lot of negativity for a fairly enjoyable novel. As I said as the start, it's worth a read, and I will still be picking up the sequel. But there's no getting away from the fact that I didn't enjoy this as much as earlier books or as much as I was hoping.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things: A Kingkiller Chronicle Novella (Kingkiller Chronicle 3)
The Slow Regard of Silent Things: A Kingkiller Chronicle Novella (Kingkiller Chronicle 3)
by Patrick Rothfuss
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

4.0 out of 5 stars Proof that this fantasy novelist has genuine literary skills - but probably not for all fans, 19 Sept. 2015
Before I start my proper review, two things need to be made absolutely clear. One, this is emphatically not the third book in the Kingkiller Chronicles, nor is it anything much like the two "proper" books in the series in style. Two, if you're not familiar with the series, though this is technically stand alone, it is not a good place to start. To enjoy this, I suspect that you both need to be a relatively hardcore fan of the series, and that you need to have an appreciation for gentle, literary works, not just dramatic, plot heavy fantasy.

The plot of this 30 000 word novella can be summed up in a couple of sentences. Auri, one of the more mysterious characters from the main series, relates a week in her life. Living alone in the "underthing" below the magical university, she spends her time obsessively trying to put random objects in what she sees as their correct place, coming up with whimsical names for different objects and rooms, and working out what she should give "him" (presumably Kvothe, the hero of the main series) as a gift the next time she sees him. No other characters appear. There is no dialogue, and very little real action. To state that this isn't action packed would be a massive understatement.

This is definitely not for everyone, and in the course of the first few mindboggling pages, I wasn't entirely sure it would be for me, despite my love of the Kingkiller Chronicles. But I pressed on, and grew to love the strangely detailed descriptions of places and things, and the perfect insight into Auri's mindset. I adore both epic high fantasy and literary novels, and with the KKC's intriguing literary devices, Rothfuss proved that he is one of those rare authors that can pull off both simultaneously. Here, he gives free rein to his more literary side, makes liberal use of strange language and imagery, and proves that he's just as much a literary writer as a fantasy novelist.

As far as the fantasy side and the connection to the main series goes, this doesn't offer an dramatic revelations, but does provide some intriguing food for thought. Auri is a complete cipher in KKC. We learn frustratingly little about her background through reading a story from her point of view, but it becomes very clear that she is utterly obsessed with objects being happy and in their rightful places and seems to be able to intuit their mood. It's extremely ambiguous to what degree this is madness/extreme OCD on her part and to what degree its real magic, though it's heavily implied that's she's both suffered a trauma in her past that broke her and is also an extremely talented and powerful practitioner of magic.

This is a tricky book to review, as I suspect fans will love it or hate it. All I can suggest is that you read a few pages of the online sample and decide if it's for you. I don't think that failing to read it will impact on your enjoyment or understanding of the series, but if you can cope with the weird style and very gentle plot, it is both a delightful read in its own right and capable of adding a subtle extra dimension to Rothfuss' wider world.

Baptism of Fire (The Witcher Book 3)
Baptism of Fire (The Witcher Book 3)
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good read but felt surprisingly generic in places compared to earlier volumes, 24 Aug. 2015
I went straight onto this novel as soon as a finished a Time of Contempt. The opening few chapters were very impressive, with a tense introduction of a new character and a clever and compelling approach to explaining events that have occurred between the previous book and this one.

However, most of the main plot, ie. the one focused on Geralt, who finally gets some real airtime in his own series after being rather absent for the first two full novels, revolves around a fairly standard "group of adventurers on a quest." There are some interesting characters with interesting dynamics, and lively events, but despite some twists and turns, it felt mostly rather generic for a series that tends to put an interesting spin on traditional fantasy tales. There was also a frustrating sense that after pages and pages, once I reached the end, little progress had been made.

The parts focused on Yennefer and the other sorceresses were more original and caught my imagination and attention rather more. I was in two minds about the Ciri bits. I'm always a fan of dark characters, but I'm hoping she doesn't become too broken and beyond redemption.

There were some great moments in this, and I enjoyed it overall, but it wasn't as good as its immediate predecessor, and for the second half, felt like a bit of a filler volume, getting the characters into place ready for the (presumable) drama of the next installment. I'll definitely read that (once it's finally been translated into English) and I'm looking forward to it, but not desperately awaiting it like I am some fantasy sequels.

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