Sunday, 20 May 2018

Book Review: Every Thing About You by Heather Child


Every Thing About You is a debut novel by Heather Child. Touted as a sort of Black Mirror mixed with Gone Girl, this a slightly futuristic thriller that is eerily plausible if technology continues as we know it.

Freya is working a deadbeat job where she fears she will be replaced by sales robots who can mine data about a customer and tailor the service to their needs. This is a future where virtual reality is commonplace and used for escapism or fantasies. Where your digital footprint is used in every aspect of your life, using data to predict your needs like what to order for lunch or what outfit you should wear for a date. Smartspecs are VR glasses that overlay information to what you see, like showing a trail leading you home, or covering graffiti with flowers. Freya has recently acquired a digital assistant that only she can hear, who is designed to make whatever Freya wants happen. The only problem is, her assistant has the voice of her sister Ruby who disappeared 8 years ago. Freya still holds out hope that Ruby is alive somewhere, so when her assistant seems to know more about Ruby than she should, Freya goes on a mission to try and track her down.

This obsession leads Freya into some dark places, including Yearnfield, a virtual landscape where not everyone is as they seem and can become quite addictive. Freya needs to learn whether or not she can trust the information that is being fed to her.

This book was very fascinating, especially in terms of the technology that has been created. The way that Heather Child created a world where this tech was integrated well into everyday life is impressive and seems very plausible. I found that the tech was talked about quite a lot and it almost was too much to remember. I found Freya to be an interesting character, who clearly has some issues and struggles to manage the tech integration. The overall feel of the novel was quite disjointed, there were a lot of aspects to work in and I don't think they resolved as well as they could, or even flowed together well throughout the book. I was intrigued enough to finish the book, it did get pretty dark at times but thankfully not in a sexual way, although this was alluded to at times.

I wasn't overly satisfied with the conclusion, the big questions were answered but so many other little things were left unexplained or things seemed to be thrown in just for the sake of semi-resolving a character's story. Overall though, this novel was an eye-opening view into what could come, and it definitely makes you think twice about the data you create online. Worth a read if this kind of thing intrigues you.

Available now from book retailers.
Thanks to Hachette for a review copy of this book.


Saturday, 28 April 2018

Book Review: The Farmyard Idol by Angie Belcher *NZ Author*


How many times have you told your child that books are not for drawing in? What if there was one that was designed so that your child can colour in half of the illustrations?
That book is The Farmyard Idol.

The farmyard is very noisy so Farmer Fred decides to hold a competition to see which animal has the best voice (think American Idol style). Each animal practices then heads to the performance. The musical layers build on each other as Chicken (peck peck peckity-peck) finds Dog (howooool), who finds Horse (clipity-clop, clipity-clop) and so on. At the performance, three judges critique the animals - Farmer Fred, his wife Betty, and Farmhand Joe. Joe is the typical Simon Cowell judge and it takes something special to impress him.

I really enjoyed this book. It took a couple of read-throughs before I got the animal noises and rhythms in a way that flowed and sounded good to me but it works if you change them up too. At first I wasn't sure about having a judge that wasn't very encouraging but then I remembered real life and I decided that it actually makes the competition more of a competition!
I like that the text has a variety of colours and sizes for emphasis and animal identification. There are also some interesting phrases introduced such as 'sensational sound', 'scintillating solo' and 'breathtaking beat' that aren't commonplace in picture books but are great for adding to children's vocabulary.

This book has a lot of aspects going on - and in a good way! Call it value for money. Read-aloud-ability (it's a thing - parents you hear me), silly farm animal voices, playing with rhythm and other musical aspects, colouring in, and even some tear out postcards with feature illustrations from the book.

The book recommends that it best suits 4-9 year olds but I think it is still a great read aloud for younger children, especially if you 'forget' to tell them they can colour it in. Addison (4) has been really enjoying having the book read to her - her favourite animal noise is the cow and the pig. Once she found out she could colour it in she went straight for the postcards at the back and has cautiously begun to work her way through the pages.

This book was written by Angie Belcher and Illustrated by Debbie Tipuna. These two amazing women have collaborated together before and hail from my hometown of Te Puke. I grew up with Angie and Debbie as wonderful role models in their community and I love that they are passionate and quirky and use that to their advantage.

Angie Belcher promoting The Farmyard Idol

This is a great book to gift, or to add to your collection. Know that you are supporting two local legends when you purchase this book.
 

Angie gave me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Book Review: This Could Change Everything by Jill Mansell


I don't usually read what I like to call 'fluffy' books - light, romantic fiction books, but occasionally, if one gets recommended to me or it has a good blurb then I may go for it. This is one of those and I enjoyed it so much I would even consider reading another!

This Could Change Everything starts with Essie, who is in her mid-twenties. Essie is playing grown-ups having just moved in with her boyfriend Paul. One night over a bottle of wine she and her friend write a joke version of a holiday card which states in much detail, how much she dislikes Paul's mother. It was never meant to be sent, just a bit of a vent, but she wakes up to the email having been sent to her entire contacts list - including Paul and his mother. The sender turns out to be Lucas - a friend of her brother's who had come home drunk in the middle of the night. Suffice to say Essie does not like Lucas.

Suddenly finding herself on her own Essie is at a loss with what to do. In a stroke of luck she chances across an 83 year old, well-dressed lady called Zillah who decides that Essie is just the right person to rent out her fancy flat upstairs. Zillah moonlights as a wish-granter for elderly folks near the end of their lives, along with another young man, Conor. Through this, along with a new job at a pub where the manager is no other than email-sending Lucas, Essie begins to change her perspective on life, and love.

The characters are all well developed and relatable, each has a beautiful voice that draws you into their thoughts. I deeply cared about the outcome of a couple of relationships, as well as the outcome of an incident involving Zillah.

It was funny, it made me want to keep reading and it got me invested. All marks of a good book and so this one gets a tick from me. I'm glad I ventured out of my dystopian/crime thriller zone for this latest read. I will definitely keep Jill Mansell in mind for when I next need a fluffy read!

Thanks to Hachette for the review copy of this book. Out now at the usual retailers.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Book Review: Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser


It feels good to get back into some good ol' thriller fiction. I always seem to come back to it after dabbling in other genres. I was definitely not disappointed by Jessica Strawser's second novel.

Not That I Could Tell starts with a group of neighbours struggling to remember the night they had round a fire pit in one of their backyards. Then one of them goes missing along with her young twins and suddenly a suburban neighbourhood is the centre of an investigation. The women at the campfire are a mixture of mothers with young children, a military wife, a newly single professional and a woman in the middle of a divorce. The women try to piece together any small hints of what could have happened to Kristen, when it seems that she managed to hide a lot of her life by becoming great at pretending her life was going so well.

The suspicion eventually falls on Paul, her soon-to-be-ex-husband, a much loved doctor who is visibly distraught, especially when allegations of domestic abuse arise. 
But how well do we really know the people who live around us?

I loved this book and I tried very hard to read it in 5-minute snatches of my days and eventually I managed to get to the final chunk in one solid time slot. At first the book seemed very predictable, the twist was pretty simple to follow and clues were being dropped all over the show. But then, a final twist was one I didn't see coming and it was perfectly planned. It also made the ending great for me
A trigger warning - domestic abuse, especially the emotional side, is brought up. There is also very minimal sensuality which I enjoyed, where relationships were real and sometimes messy but didn't need to be defined by sex.

I identified with the life stage of most of the women who were at home with young children, a lot of their emotions rung true with me. Like getting caught up in the neighbourly gossip, while still trying to be a good friend and keep things running smoothly.

A great book, slow to start but keeps getting better. I will definitely go back and read Strawser's previous novel and if you are a thriller fan then give this a go.

Published by Hachette NZ. Available from 10/04/2018. RRP: $37.99.

Thanks to Hachette for a review copy of this book.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Book Review: The Squirrels Who Squabbled by Rachel Bright



Rachel Bright teams up again with illustrator Jim Field (previously seen in The Lion Inside) with another eye-catching, stunning and funny book that has a strong message to boot.

The book features two squirrels: Spontaneous Cyril and Plan-Ahead Bruce, who both have their eyes set on the Last Nut Of The Season. They scamper and fight through the pages and are thwarted at every turn, leading to them both going over the edge of a waterfall without the nut. Finally the two squabbling squirrels realize that they have been silly, and put aside their differences to share the bounty and become friends.

Addison's favourite part of the book was the waterfall. I loved the autumn-y setting that is shown through the illustrations in beautiful colours and trees in all shades of yellow, red, and orange. There are some very cunning rhymes and the words flow nicely off the tongue. This is a great read-aloud book and had plenty of scope for emotion to be added. It is the perfect book for Addison at the stage she is at, where she can learn about turning squabbling into friendship and sharing.

A great addition to your collection, and definitely worth a read if you spot it at your local library!

Thanks to Hachette for the review copy of this book.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Book Review *SCI-FI* Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds


How cool is this cover! I do love a good bit of sci-fi and Alastair Reynolds delivers. He has a Ph.D in astronomy and after leaving astrophysics for writing, he has produced a whole bunch of great novels. When you have that kind of background, you can guarantee that the depth of his sci-fi world will be stunning.

Elysium Fire is set in the same world as The Prefect (2007) which has been renamed as Aurora Rising, but this is a stand-alone novel. However if you prefer to have a bit more background then seek this first novel out.

The premise involves Prefect Dreyfus who is part of a sort-of task force which patrols the Glitter Band and its hundred-million citizens. Not everyone is happy with the way the Prefects run things and there are the beginnings of civil unrest among the colonies. Making matters worse, the brain implants that every citizen has, have been malfunctioning seemingly randomly and killing the unlucky victims. The Prefects are in charge of figuring out why this is happening.

This novel is pretty heavy reading, not one you can devour in a night or two. Typical of sci-fi there are a lot of characters to keep track of, as well as names unique to the world which take some remembering. There is plenty of awesome high-tech, gadgety stuff and the overall content makes you think deeply and stays with you once the book has finished.
I enjoyed this novel, it took me a while to get into but I think I just wasn't ready for such a heavy book when I started reading. Alastair Reynolds is a great author and this book has been reviewed very highly since its publication. If you are a sci-fi fan, check out this novel, as well as others by Reynolds. You won't be disappointed.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Book Review: YA Series Round Up (Chemical Garden, Uglies and Zeroes Trilogies)

 Sometimes when authors spend so much time building a world and characters, it deserves writing other books into those worlds. YA novels are generally slightly quicker to read so it makes it easy to devour a series in a weekend. Once again these are all (mostly) dystopian in their themes, with the exception of Zeroes, which is set in the present, only with characters that have powers.

THE CHEMICAL GARDEN TRILOGY By Lauren DeStefano


Wither is set a few generations into the future where, after too much meddling with IVF, a virus was introduced and now children who are born are only able to live until 20 for female and 25 for males. There is obviously lots of research going into trying to cure this abnormality but attempts so far have been unsuccessful. The protagonist is Rhine, who is 16 and lives with her twin brother. Rhine is kidnapped and chosen to become one of three brides of a young man named Linden who comes from a wealthy family. Her other two sister-wives are either excited about the prospect of bearing children or depressed. Rhine can't wait to escape but things change when Linden begins to fall for her.

This novel is often referred to as the Handmaid's Tale for Young Adults. It definitely has similarities and has plenty of enticing 'fluff' that make it more fun to read - such as the brides having personal maids who create fancy gowns for them and they get whatever they want from the kitchen made especially - sounds like the dream right?
Then you realize that the father-in-law is experimenting on people and is power-crazy and things go back to being horrible.
This novel contains some pretty rough themes but I really enjoyed it and went straight onto book #2.



Fever is book #2 in the Chemical Garden Trilogy. Rhine and her servant/love interest Gabriel have escaped the mansion and head across the country to New York to try and find her twin brother Rowan. The country is is a right mess and they quickly get entangled in a new type of  prison in the shape of a carnival that deals in prostitution. Plus the father-in-law is still hunting them and will Rowan even be there if they make it that far?
You don't get much of an idea about the world outside the mansion in Wither so this novel gets to explore it a lot. It is a lot different to book #1 but the characters are there and you care about them so this alone is enough to keep reading. The last third of the book is an awesome lead-up to book #3 and ends on a cliff-hanger.



Sever is the conclusion to the trilogy and it's a tricky one to summarize without giving away too much. Rhine breaks back out of the mansion where she was not a guest, and finds an ally in her...uncle-in-law? The entire book has a bit of a depressing undertone and an ending I wasn't a huge fan of. Rowan finally makes an appearance but doesn't quite live up to the hype that has been put on him because of some choices he made. Still a decent enough novel but not quite as good as the first two.


THE UGLIES TRILOGY

Uglies is set in the distant future where our cities have gone to ruin and new cities have been built with better technology and each city exists in self-sufficient isolation. Tally is a prankster who is anxiously awaiting her 16th birthday when she gets to undergo the operation to make herself pretty and live in the city. The operation is like a full-blown plastic surgery to conform to variations of beauty standards. This is intended to allow more harmonious living in the city (because attractive people don't consider violence?). She is currently an Ugly and she meets Shay who doesn't want the operation and runs off into the wild to a group of Rusties who live essentially how we do now, with no technology and are all Ugly. The 'police' are called Special Circumstances and discover one of Tally's pranks and blackmail her into finding the place where the Rusties live to betray her friend. But when she gets there she finds more than she was expecting.

This series was quite a fun read, Tally can be a bit hit and miss with her decisions but the world is fun to explore and includes a lot of shallow-ness. I enjoyed it!


Pretties is book #2 in the trilogy. Tally is now a Pretty and can't remember the events of the previous book and lives up her Pretty life. Until she realizes that there is some sort of mind-fog going on and a group called the Crims understand how to evade it. Then she meets a boy, and escapes the city to head back to the Rusties.
It has some pretty terrible ratings but I didn't think it was that bad. There is some annoying slang and half the time you feel like slapping Tally but keep at it, and read #3.


Specials is book #3. Tally has had yet another lot of surgery and is now part of Special Circumstances. A ruthless, agile, fighting machine who aims to keep the Pretties stupid and the Uglies from messing up the city. She gets given a mission to destroy the Rusties but something inside her tells her that she shouldn't. Each book gives Tally a whole new personality which is fascinating to see her learn and fight the brainwashing. Again, I was not a fan of the decisions she made but she has grown as a character over the trilogy.

If you aren't a fan of the first novel then don't push through to the others. There is a unique writing style that only continues and it's not for everyone. I did enjoy this trilogy and I listened to Pretties and Specials as Audiobooks which was interesting.


Extras is the fourth book in the 'Uglies' quartet. It is set three years after book #3 with new characters. I was so attached to the characters from the first three that I got a few chapters in, the plot was all new, characters were different and I just wasn't into it. I have read a few reviews that says it does tie in eventually but I didn't bother pushing through. I might go back and read it eventually, with different expectations.

THE ZEROES TRILOGY


I picked up Zeroes after finishing the Uglies series because it was shelved next to them and had similar looking covers. I liked the style of Scott Westerfeld's writing so I thought this series was worth a go. Turns out it is totally different but very awesome.
Zeroes is the self-appointed name given to a group of kids who were born in the year 2000 and have weird, hard-to-control powers. They live in small town America and live normal lives but they have found each other and Glorious Leader (the kid who's power is to be super dazzling and focus all the attention on himself) decides to try and get them to hone their powers and work together. They end up in a whole mess of trouble of course. I liked the idea of this series because it seems like a more plausible way that teens with powers would play out.


Swarm is the second book in the Zeroes trilogy. The teens are getting better at using their powers and have added another to their crew. Then they discover a pair of rogue Zeroes making headlines and decide to stop them. It turns out they were running from a dark Zero who has a murderous power, and has something in common with one of the original Zero crew. But will she surrender to her dark side?

This novel was good because it expanded on the relationships between each character. It also added new characters in the mix and most of them were working through some inner turmoil. Another action-packed book that was on par with the first.


Nexus is the third in the series and has only just been published. I had to wait a wee while to read this one but it was worth it! This book contains the epic showdown with the Zeroes and another Glorious Leader who had rounded up an army of other Zeroes ready to strike at the Mardi Gras Parade in New Orleans. The team are learning to flip their powers inside out so that they can do the opposite (hard to explain) and this leads to some very interesting choices being made. A great conclusion that was unexpected but also wrapped everything up nicely. There is also scope for spin-offs from this series as each new character clearly has a story to tell.

Zeroes Trilogy is highly recommended by me. It is definitely not targeted at any gender, I get a bit over lovey-dovey plot lines so one that still includes relationships but focuses more on action is down my alley.