Tag Archives: fiction

Book #153 – The Spell Book of Listen Taylor

6652532 Sinéad has a habit, over the course of the last few years, of buying me books for Christmas and birthdays based on the fact that she thinks she’d like them. That’s how I got The Testing last Christmas (and, to be fair, she was spot on, I did like it) and The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (review forthcoming, the last from the 2014 list) this Christmas. The second book I got off Sinéad this Christmas was this one, The Spell Book of Listen Taylor. It’s a rewrite of Moriarty’s adult book, I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes, aimed at a more YA audience. I love Moriarty’s other YA books – her Brookfield/Ashbury epistolary novels are definitely some of my favourites, so I was going into this with high hopes.

Since Listen Taylor’s dad started dating a Zing, her life has gone from unusual to downright weird. The Zing family live in a world of unexplained projects, coded conversations and start-of-the-art surveillance equipment – all designed to protect the Zing family secret, a secret so huge it draws them all to the garden shed every Friday night. And Listen isn’t invited. Listen herself has things she’d rather keep hidden, including an unconventional spell book that might just be the answer to her problems . . .

This book follows a diverse cast of (seemingly) unconnected characters in a suburb in Australia, including Listen Taylor, her dad, his girlfriend, her sisters and parents, her niece, and her niece’s school teacher. It’s aimed at a YA audience but, to be honest, it doesn’t read a lot like YA. Listen might be the titular character, but she’s not where the plot focuses, really – this book is far more centred on the adult characters.

Moriarty writes with her usual distinctive, quirky style, full of interjections and little notes to self which, while not as good as the truly epistolary Brookfield/Ashbury novels, still add a nice flavour to the book, and her characterisation is zany, at times hilarious, but often wonderfully real, too.

Listen Taylor doesn’t, I think, really fit as a YA book. It still reads like an adult book to me. It would be interesting to read Buttermilk Pancakes, and see how much of a change there was during the editorial process, and what was removed or changed or added to make the audience change.

Besides the slightly odd classifications, though, Listen Taylor is full of Moriarty’s zany, quirky, hugely loveable characters and the human feelings which always resonate so strongly through her writing.

I mentioned at the start of these reviews, when I read a few books by Liane Moriarty, that I preferred Jaclyn of the two sisters, and this book has only reiterated those feelings. A wonderfully zany, genre-defying, magical, heart-warming book which I’ve passed on to Sinéad, and would happily recommend to anyone else, too.

Four Stars
****

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Book #150 – Far From You

20517739Sinéad sent me a link to this months ago, as she thought I might like it – and also thought she might like it, but that’s by the by – and I have to say, I agreed. Look at that cover! Doesn’t it remind you a lot of the Gone Girl cover? And the other Gillian Flynn books, too. Thus, given how much I enjoyed them, and the similar-looking cover, I was sold on this one. Plus, the blurb was pretty awesome-sounding. Sign me up! Far From You – Tess Sharpe

Nine months. Two weeks. Six days.

That’s how long recovering addict Sophie’s been drug-free. Four months ago her best friend, Mina, died in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone wrong – a deal they think Sophie set up. Only Sophie knows the truth. She and Mina shared a secret, but there was no drug deal. Mina was deliberately murdered.

Forced into rehab for an addiction she’d already beaten, Sophie’s finally out and on the trail of the killer – but can she track them down before they come for her?

I enjoyed this book a lot – it had two separate but related stories, really – one of Sophie and Mina’s relationship, and one of the hunt for Mina’s killer. The interaction between the two was, at times, choppy. The book plays out through a series of flashbacks which paint the story of Sophie’s accident, struggle with subsequent addiction, blossoming feelings for others and the struggle all the characters face with the extraordinary circumstances they all shared. Nothing about the murder, though – that’s all in the present day, as Sophie and Trevor (Mina’s brother) try to piece together the story of why Mina was killed, which, predictably, ends up pissing off all the wrong people and putting them in grave danger themselves.

There’s a lot going on in this book, and most of it is done quite well – it was a lot of balls to juggle, but I was engrossed for most of it. There were a few moments which jarred for me, and sometimes the characters were a little unbelievable – why, exactly, was everyone in love with Sophie, when she was a cranky drug addict, for example – but for the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

Four Stars
****

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Book #152 – Rose Under Fire

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After my glowing review of Code Name Verity, it was obvious that I was going to have to read the follow-up, Rose Under Fire. While not a direct sequel (it follows a different pilot, although her story relates to one of the pilots from the ATA. Rose Under Fire is far more harrowing than Code Name Verity, but no less powerful, or engaging.

Rose Under Fire – Elizabeth Wein

Rose Justice is a young American ATA pilot, delivering planes and taxiing pilots for the RAF in the UK during the summer of 1944. A budding poet who feels most alive while flying, she discovers that not all battles are fought in the air. An unforgettable journey from innocence to experience from the author of the best-selling, multi-award-nominated Code Name Verity. From the exhilaration of being the youngest pilot in the British air transport auxiliary, to the aftermath of surviving the notorious Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp, Rose’s story is one of courage in the face of adversity.

Unlike CNV, which focuses on two female characters as narrators, Rose Under Fire focuses only on Rose Justice, who is taken captive and (eventually) transferred to Ravensbrück concentration camp, an exclusively female camp in northern Germany.
While there, she meets and befriends a number of other prisoners, including several Rabbits, who were subject to medical experiments.
Rose Under Fire is a powerful, harrowing, and at times painful read – the details are truly disturbing. Code Name Verity was largely invented, taking place in a fictional town, with a fictional Nazi HQ, although the details could have applied to many different pilots at the time.
Ravensbrück, however, was not invented at all – the concentration camp and the details of the Rabbits weren’t fabricated at all, which makes the book all the more impactful and, honestly, terrifying.

I wouldn’t say I enjoyed Rose Under Fire – I probably didn’t, in all honesty. However, I would thoroughly, highly recommend it. It’s an engaging, powerful and difficult read, but it was definitely worth it. Much less enjoyable than Code Name Verity, but certainly just as good a book.

Five Stars
*****

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Book #145 – The Iron Trial

20578940 A couple of months ago, I discovered the magisterium website while I was bored in college one day, and started playing the games on it. It was through this that I realised that Cassandra Clare was co-authoring a new series of books with Holly Black. Now I’ve read all the Shadowhunter books so far (TMI/TID) and Holly Black is probably most famous for her Spiderwick Chronicles, which I haven’t read, but I’ve read Tithe. I didn’t really enjoy Tithe, but I guess that’s beside the point, really. In any case, I thought the Iron Trial was probably an interesting enough bet. First in a series of five books, incidentally, the rest due to be released over the next few years.

The Iron Trial – Holly Black, Cassandra Clare

Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.

So he tries his best to do his worst – and fails at failing.

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that’s both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .

I have a big issue with this book – how do you pronounce Call? It is pronounced like the first syllable of Callum, or is it pronounced like phone call? This hurt my head the whole way through the book.
If you check the goodreads reviews for this book, it’s full of people calling it a copy-cat Harry Potter, and insulting Cassandra Clare’s lack of originality.
While The Iron Trial is set in a magical school, and the main trio is two boys and a girl, there was a lot to like about this book, and a lot of originality in it. The style of magic was inventive and the story engaging, with a lot of story-building behind it.
Magisterium, from the look of the first book, is written for a younger age group than I’d normally read (straight children’s as opposed to YA), but nonetheless I quite enjoyed the book.
The ending was very much a set-up for further books, which I always find frustrating, but I’ll probably pick them up when they come out.

Three and a half stars, but goodreads only gives whole stars, so it got docked down to three.
***

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Book #144 – The Jungle Book

disneys_the_jungle_book_posterI read a huge number of books when I was a child, but for some reason, I seem to have missed basically all of the classics. The Jungle Book is one of those missed classics, so it was a Gutenberg project download which eventually helped me to catch up, at the age of 24, on another children’s classic.

The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling [Gutenberg]

Run with them. Or fear them–

Bagheera the Panther: A silken shadow of boldness and cunning.

Kaa the Python: A thirty foot battering ram driven by a cool, hungry mind.

Baloo the Bear: who keeps the lore and the Law, and teaches the Secret Words.

Rikki the Mongoose: The young protector who sings as he slays.

Akela and Raksha the Wolves: Demon warriors of the Free People.

Shere Khan the Tiger: The dreaded enemy of all.

And Mowgli the Man-cub: The orphan baby raised by the wolves, taught by Baloo, trained by Bagheera and Kaa. The sorcerer who knows the ways of the jungle and speaks the language of the wild…

I never realised before that The Jungle Book is a collection of short stories and not, in fact, a novel. It’s set out much like many other collections of short stories, with a moral at the end, and a variety of characters. Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, Shere Khan, etc., who I would be familiar with from the Disney film, are not the only characters to appear in these stories, so I was more than a little surprised.
Nonetheless, a collection of pretty engaging short stories, which I enjoyed, but didn’t love.

Three Stars
***

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Book #138 – Lord of the Flies

7624I had intended on posting every day in December so that I could review at least *most* of the books I read this year, but oh dear. Life seems to be getting away from me, and I’m drowning in footnotes, so that might not happen.
In any case, today’s book review is a middle-school classic of island life and, uh, terror.
Yesterday I reviewed the only book I’ve ever seen Alex read, and today is another book that I know he’s read – if only because it’s filled with his pencil marks from studying it in school (way back in the dark ages, of course, because he’s ancient.) I also can’t find a picture of the cover of it I actually have, so you’re getting the goodreads default. This review is a shambles already.

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

William Golding’s compelling story about a group of very ordinary small boys marooned on a coral island has become a modern classic. At first, it seems as though it’s all going to be great fun; but the fun before long becomes furious & life on the island turns into a nightmare of panic & death. As ordinary standards of behavior collapse, the whole world the boys know collapses with them—the world of cricket & homework & adventure stories—& another world is revealed beneath, primitive & terrible. Lord of the Flies remains as provocative today as when it was 1st published in 1954, igniting passionate debate with its startling, brutal portrait of human nature. Though critically acclaimed, it was largely ignored upon its initial publication. Yet soon it became a cult favorite among both students and literary critics who compared it to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye in its influence on modern thought & literature. Labeled a parable, an allegory, a myth, a morality tale, a parody, a political treatise, even a vision of the apocalypse, Lord of the Flies has established itself as a classic.

I read this book over the course of a few days in early November (despite having had it since, oh, 2010, I would think) and, to be honest, I don’t think I missed out on much by waiting so many years for it.
I realise that Golding’s book is a classic, but having been exposed to references to it for so long, half of the tension was gone before I even opened the first page – I knew what was going to happen, essentially, and so I was looking for something more than just a few twists to draw me in.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find it. The characters were generally one-dimensional, the action was predictable and at times even a little dull, and the tension which was supposed to ratchet up as the book reached its conclusion was, for me, sadly lacking. I think if I’d read this when I was much younger, or before I’d been exposed to a million references about how putting a bunch of young boys on an island won’t end well, I would’ve gotten far more enjoyment out of it – it’s a classic for a reason, and the writing at times is sublime, I will admit that.
Not a terrible book, but not a show-stopper either.

A solid three stars
***

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Book #137 – Fahrenheit 451

57947I borrowed this book off my sister one of the last times she came to visit, I think. I know Alex was reading it (the only book I’ve *ever* seen him read) one of the last times he came to visit too, so it was floating around the edge of my consciousness for months before I actually bothered to pick it up and get through it.
Even though it’s a classic, I wasn’t wowed by it.
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

The terrifyingly prophetic novel of a post-literate future.

Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

The classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.

Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology to create a novel which, decades on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock

I understand that F451 is a classic, and one of the foremost examples of dystopian literature around. And, as anyone who skims the list of books I’ve read this year might be able to tell, I’m a huge dystopia fan. So I was pretty excited to read F451 this year – it’s not only the only book I’ve ever seen my boyfriend read, but my sister had said she enjoyed it too, so it was coming with pretty high recommendations.

It just didn’t do it for me, though. I don’t know why not, because there were lots of things in F451 that I really enjoyed – the whole idea of a world where books are banned, where firemen exist to burn books, that society would be trapped by the idea of television, a ‘family’ in your front room which entertains without having to engage – all of these things were good, but there was something missing, and I don’t know what it was.

After finishing Fahrenheit 451, I was left wondering what it had done to push itself above its contemporaries and earn its status as a classic – maybe I’m jaded by the sheer volume of dystopia available now (there’s no denying that it’s a genre very much in vogue), but I just didn’t see what made it so deserving of much praise.
It seemed decidedly average to me.


Three Stars
***

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Book #125 – The Kill Order

13089710I posted way back at the start of the year about reading The Maze Runner trilogy. When I saw posters for the films, I figured it might be interesting to read the prequel to the trilogy, since I had it knocking around. It’s very different to the original trilogy, telling a story which happens ten years before the Maze ever shows up, before Thomas, before, well, most things. It’s not about the characters of the trilogy, either, focusing instead on Mark and Trina, two  teenagers (I think they’re teenagers?) who survived the Sun Flares three years ago, and are now witnessing the beginning of the Flare.

The Kill Order – James Dashner

The prequel to the New York Times bestselling Maze Runner series.

Before WICKED was formed, before the Glade was built, before Thomas entered the Maze, sun flares hit the earth and mankind fell to disease.

Mark and Trina were there when it happened, and they survived. But surviving the sun flares was easy compared to what came next. Now a disease of rage and lunacy races across the eastern United States, and there’s something suspicious about its origin. Worse yet, it’s mutating, and all evidence suggests that it will bring humanity to its knees.

Mark and Trina are convinced there’s a way to save those left living from descending into madness. And they’re determined to find it—if they can stay alive. Because in this new, devastated world, every life has a price. And to some, you’re worth more dead than alive.

I really had mixed feelings about this book – there’s a lot going on. And I mean a lot. There’s flashbacks to the original sun flares interspersed with the current-day (which is 13 years before The Maze Runner) so you have two distinct threads of action running through the book, as the characters try first to get away from the sun flares (which, obviously, we know they succeed in doing) and second try to figure out what the hell is happening as a giant berg starts shooting their tiny village with darts and people start dying left, right and centre. This brings them on a journey across the country, meeting Flare-crazed people in forests who practice human sacrifice, stealing a Berg, finding bizarre small children, escaping a forest fire and about a hundred other things that I can’t even remember right now.

The book could’ve been interesting – it’s certainly worth investigating how and why the Flare appeared (and it’s pretty interesting, I’ll admit that) and what the wider world was like in the years before Thomas and Theresa started working to create The Glade, but there is way, way too much going on in this book. It took me only two days to read the book, but it’s so dense that I actually can’t tell you what the major plot points were any more – there were just too many things happening.

I was disappointed by the end of the Maze Runner trilogy, having gotten bored of it, and the Kill Order wasn’t enough to redeem this world in my eyes. There’s a sequel to the prequel (a mid-quel?) due out in 2016, called The Fever Code, but I certainly won’t be holding my breath for that.

Three Stars
***

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Book #149 – The Door That Led To Where

23049597This book, most excitingly, was sent to me by Hot Key publishers in exchange for a review – this is the first time I’ve gotten a book from a publisher which was specifically for review, and so it’s kind of a milestone for my book blog. I was very excited to receive it in the post at the start of this week!
The picture I have of the cover here doesn’t really do it justice – the red is a separate page to the map behind, and it’s all very atmospheric as you can see the map of 19th-Century London behind the striking red cover. Not that I’d judge a book by its cover, but this was an unusual and impressive example.

The Door That Led to Where – Sally Gardner

AJ Flynn has just failed all but one of his GCSEs, and his future is looking far from rosy. So when he is offered a junior position at a London law firm he hopes his life is about to change – but he could never have imagined by how much.

Tidying up the archive one day, AJ finds an old key, mysteriously labelled with his name and date of birth – and he becomes determined to find the door that fits the key. And so begins an amazing journey to a very real and tangible past – 1830, to be precise – where the streets of modern Clerkenwell are replaced with cobbles and carts, and the law can be twisted to suit a villain’s means. Although life in 1830 is cheap, AJ and his friends quickly find that their own lives have much more value. They’ve gone from sad youth statistics to young men with purpose – and at the heart of everything lies a crime that only they can solve. But with enemies all around, can they unravel the mysteries of the past, before it unravels them?

A fast-paced mystery novel by one of the country’s finest writers, THE DOOR THAT LED TO WHERE will delight, surprise and mesmerise all those who read it.

I enjoyed this book – the time travel aspect was an interesting way of creating tension in the book, and the fact that AJ wasn’t the first to discover the door means that the tangled web of intrigue which came before him needs to be unravelled before he can begin to understand the implications of what he can do and what Jobey’s Door means for him and his friends.
I had a few tiny complaints about this book – one being that AJ seemed to have no issue accepting his new name, and that his surname was different to what it always had been. I also took issue with the fact that people could just hop between centuries with nothing more than a change of clothes. Whatever about the 19th Century, surely in the modern day, a lack of papers would prove to be a serious issue for anyone within a matter of weeks?
I also had a small issue with the fact that the book was a little predictable – I was cottoning onto things much faster than AJ – although I suppose that’s often the way with murder mysteries – and I knew once identities were revealed who would stay in which century. They’re really very small niggles, though.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot, but certain logistical issues brought me out of the moment on a few occasions. Not enough to detract a whole lot from my enjoyment of the book, though!

A solid Three Stars
***

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Book #117 – Speaker for the Dead

7967I read Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow earlier this year, and decided to read more about the Enderverse in around… August, I think. Unfortunately, there’s a complete change of tone from Ender’s Game to Speaker for the Dead, and it was not one I enjoyed.

Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card

In the aftermath of his terrible war, Ender Wiggin disappeared, and a powerful voice arose: the Speaker for the Dead, who told of the true story of the Bugger War.
Now long years later, a second alien race has been discovered, but again the aliens’ ways are strange and frightening…again, humans die. And it is only the Speaker for the Dead, who is also Ender Wiggin the Xenocide, who has the courage to confront the mystery…and the truth.

I don’t know what it was about this book which really disagreed with me. It’s so different to Ender’s Game, even though it’s still about Ender, sort of. The world has moved on, it’s many years after the Xenocide of Ender’s Game – I can accept all of this.
What really jarred, for me, was that the tone, the setting, the structure, the themes of the book, were all totally different to what had preceded it. Where Ender’s Game was a space dystopia, Speaker for the Dead is straight science fiction. It reads like it’s written for an older audience, and it tackles more mature themes, of identity, personhood, all kinds of things – it just wasn’t what I was expecting.

I found Speaker for the Dead, to be quite honest, dull. I really struggled to read it – from checking my GoodReads account, it took me a full month – most books take somewhere between two days and a week. I laid Speaker for the Dead to one side several times in favour of other books, and was reluctant to pick it up most of the time.
I find it hard to put into words exactly what it was I disliked about Speaker for the Dead. On its own, I probably wouldn’t have had such an issue with it, but coming as a sequel to Ender’s Game, the complete change in tone and themes was jarring.
I’ve heard the Bean quartet is thematically more similar to Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow than the other Ender books, so perhaps, if I do decide to read more Scott Card, I’ll try Bean instead of Ender.
I was thoroughly unimpressed with Speaker for the Dead.

Two Stars
**

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