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. 

Monday, 5 February 2018

Book Review: YA Round-Up #2



I have been reading a wee bit in the spare time that I have - here are some brief reviews of the Young Adult books I have enjoyed - or not.



Who Runs The World by Virginia Bergin is a dystopian novel of a semi-near future where a virus has wiped out almost all of the men in the world. The females have pulled together a new society complete with Global Agreements, a voting system and no violence. One day, fourteen year old River runs into a very sick creature who turns out to be a BOY. River has never seen a male before and drags him home to her Granmumma. He is immune to the virus but his presence disturbs the community and River starts asking questions about why things are done the way they are.

I did not enjoy the writing style of this novel very much. It was very fragmented and there was very little explanation or backstory, mainly just thoughts and observations from River's point of view. I wanted to know more details but it was obviously kept simple because River did not know these extra things.

After reading the author notes at the back of the book I understood how she got the concept for the book. She wanted to write about a world where it wasn't that the gender roles were reversed, it was one where there was no need for the concept of gender and how this would create new versions of culture and community.It is a very interesting thought and for me this was the concept that drew me to the novel. Unfortunately it didn't deliver for me personally, although I can tell that if you like the sound of the premise then you should at least give it a go, you should be able to tell by the first couple of chapters if it is for you. A Matriarchy would be very interesting!


Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

This novel is another dystopian (surprise surprise), set in a world where women are designed, not born. They are taught that beauty is everything and when they turn seventeen, men who were born in the same year as them will choose a lucky few as companions, the others destined to be concubines or chastities.

With an interesting premise I jumped at the chance to read another messed up take on a possible future. It was an interesting read but not quite my favourite style of writing. The first thing I noticed was the lack of capitalization for peoples names - but only the girls because they don't deserve to be more than an object of pleasure and procreation. But this just made reading hard! There was also very little world-building outside of the school the girls attended. It was a very negative and rather depressing take on the pressure for girls to look a certain way and there was so much cattiness between the girls. The ending was quick and unexpected.
It was quite the opposite to the previous book I read! All that said, it wasn't a terrible read, it showed insight into mental health, bulimia/anorexia and digital addiction. It has been described as a vague cross between The Handmaid's Tale and Mean Girls. I'd say this was accurate. Don't read this if you want an enjoyable book, read it if you want to be shocked.



When We Wake is the first book in a sequel about a 16 year old girl called Teegan who is living a great life when she gets accidentally assassinated while at a protest. Then she wakes up, 100 years later after being one of the first experiments for being cryogenically frozen. The world she wakes up to looks a lot different, with Australia holding the cards and although the world has got a handle on green energy, racial tensions are high and there is a very strict policy on migrants trying to enter the country. Teegan obviously goes through a big dose of culture shock, still reeling from the fact that her boyfriend, parents and literally everyone she knows being long-dead.

She gets paraded round the country as a 'miracle' of technology and some see her as the opposite. Teegan is strong and brave and quickly figures out that all is not as it seems and starts digging deeper with the help of some new friends.
The book is written as it is delivered from a live-stream video journal featuring Teegan. This is a refreshing take as she is able to add some retrospective thoughts in as she goes. There is a romance thread but is pretty minimal in the scheme of things which is nice.There is a lot of politics and activism with some crazy religion thrown in but the action and fierceness of Teegan makes this a great read. 



While We Run is the sequel to When We Wake. Teegan and her *its complicated* friend Abdi are on the run after spilling some nasty government secrets to the world. Abdi narrates this book which is a stark change from Teegan and it takes a while to get used to, especially if you read them in quick succession. Abdi is betrayed by Teegan and this really affects him. He is a very clinical thinker and it makes him both unrelatable but also endearing. His backstory comes out and it turns out his mother trained him to be this way so he could be a politician in his home country of Djibouti. Being a migrant - a legal one- in this environment brings a lot of diversity into the plot. There are a few new characters introduced and it is hard to trust any of them after what the government put them through.

A good sequel with a new perspective, plenty of action and plot twists and a nice reveal of living in the aftermath and consequences of their actions, which is not always explored.


Gated is about Lyla who's younger sister died when she was little which sent her parents into a tailspin which led them to be chosen to invest in a 'gated community' (Read: cult) led by a man called Pioneer. Having spent 12 years in the community, 17 year old Lyra enjoys the seemingly idyllic life as the chosen ones who will survive once the world turns to evil and ends.
Lyla's character is quite likable because while at shooting practice (where the targets are cardboard humans - for defense of course), Lyla just cannot bring herself to fire and is horribly punished by Pioneer for it. The story gets more intriguing when a young nephew of the local police comes to scope out the community and manages to make in impression on Lyla. And so sows the beginning seeds of doubt about the world she has grown up to believe was evil and doomed.

From there the story takes a more intense turn, ending with some major psychological thriller events involving an underground silo. I didn't see this coming and made for harrowing reading but mostly because in the back of my mind it is plausible. It does happen to various extents all around the world. I am fascinated by the psychology behind cults and their charismatic leaders and have read quite a few books along this theme recently.
The writing and some of the characters weren't amazing but the plot made up for that. I really enjoyed this read.

Gated has a sequel that I have not been able to get my hands on yet but I will!

I hope you enjoyed this round-up, I'll have another coming shortly, my reading game has been strong recently!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Book Review: This Is What Happened by Mick Herron


This book was awesome. Yup I led with that. If you like crime thrillers then you must read this.

Maggie Barnes leads a life that not many would notice. No ties to anyone, deadbeat job, keeps to herself. Which makes her perfect to be recruited for a spy job - which goes wrong and leads to her being a safe house for two years.
There are so many twists in this book, not too many, enough that leaves you thinking - hold on-what? Not everything is as it seems but I can't say much more without giving the plot away. It is also not a spy-book as the blurb indicates - it is a psychological suspense that involves some very interesting but flawed characters.

Thanks to Hachette for the review copy of this book.