Review: The Hazel Wood – Melissa Albert

the hazel woodSeventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

***

Then I got my hands on Althea’s book. And it was perfect. There are no lessons in it. There’s just this harsh, horrible world touched with beautiful magic, where shitty things happen. And they don’t happen for a reason, or in threes, or in a way that looks like justice. They’re set in a place that has no rules and doesn’t want any.

The above quote, I think, does justice to the book as a whole. It was surprisingly sad in places, which I wasn’t expecting. The Hazel Wood is one of those ~aesthetic~ novels, for want of a better word. It’s a creepy and atmospheric take on the nature of fairy tales, harking back to their grim (Grimm? ha!) origins.

The plot in brief: 17-year-old Alice has spent her life on the run with her mother, chased by a series of incidents attributed to sheer bad luck. Her grandmother is a reclusive and mysterious figure, famous for the publication of a book of strange and haunting fairy tales. One day, they receive news that her grandmother has died, and shortly after, Alice’s mother goes missing – her last words a warning for Alice to stay away from her grandmother’s hidden estate.

So of course, our protagonist does exactly the opposite, armed with her (understandably) prickly personality and an ally from school. He is helpfully rich, which conveniently overcomes many of the obstacles one would have as a teenager-on-magical-quest.

I found the book quite jarring and unsettling at times, but an intriguing read nonetheless. I think it’s the kind of book you have to be in a particular mood for, however.

Review: Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha #1) – Tomi Adeyemi

children of blood and boneZélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

***

“With her words, something clicks – a sign of the greater hand. We’ve been led to this moment, pushed in the tiniest, most obscure ways.”

Perhaps one of the most hyped books of 2018, Children of Blood and Bone is worth the acclaim and praise. It’s such a refreshing change of setting from the standard pseudo-medieval Western Europe which dominates the fantasy genre.

From the deities and the magic system to the physical locations, the food, the language, character appearances and clothing – it was richly descriptive, immersive experience of an African (more specifically, Nigerian)-inspired fantasy.

Yes, the author does use popular fantasy tropes, such as the “Chosen Ones” and hunt-for-the-magical-artefacts, but there is nothing inherently wrong with this. (I’ve seen reviews critiquing this, which is why I’m addressing it here.) These are just markers of the genre – it’s what you do with them that counts.

(Also, there is a problematic trend of allowing white writers a pass on this, but then as soon as POC writers do it, we claim it’s overdone/this particular subgenre is over. A discussion for another time, and I am probably not the most qualified person to explain it, but again worth mentioning in regards to this particular book.)

The short chapters made for quite a swift read, despite the length of the book. The high emotions of the characters reminds us of how young they are, facing political and magical obstacles; family and friend drama; potential matters of the heart and their own growing powers/involvement.

There were also unexpected moments of levity and humour – this particular exchange had me chuckling out loud:

“I guess the other night was my first time spending the night with a boy.”
Tzain snorts. “Was it everything you ever dreamed?”⠀
“I don’t know…” I press my finger to my lips. “I always imagined less bondage.”

(Above context – they were captured and tied up in a tent!)

Finally, the jaw-dropping ending upped the stakes, and certainly has readers like me hotly anticipating the 2019 sequel.

Review: Sadie – Courtney Summers

sadie courtney summersSadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water. 

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Rating: 5/5

And it begins, as so many stories do, with a dead girl. 

So well deserving of the critical acclaim it’s been receiving, Sadie tells the story of a girl out to avenge the death of her sister. Alternately told through the perspectives of the title character and a crime podcaster, West McCray, who attempts to track her down, the novel is an incredibly timely tale of girls who slip through the cracks.

Girls go missing all the time. And ignorance is bliss. I didn’t want this story because I was afraid. I was afraid of what I wouldn’t find and I was afraid of what I would. 

There’s a lot to unpack in this story. What firstly struck me was the critique of our true-crime podcast culture, the voyeuristic gaze justified under the guise of giving the victims a voice. It notes the truly staggering number of girls who go missing, their traumatised bodies used as props for someone else’s narrative.

It also examines the deterioration of small towns, the hopelessness and fatigue and endless daily struggle to keep the lights on and the kids fed that the lucky among us are privileged not to know. The families wrecked by alcohol, drug addition and violence. The bonds that form despite these hardships. The found families, however temporary they may be.

It’s a story of resilience, a somber celebration of girls who fight, who protect, who survive, who persist, who are silenced but still have worth.

While the ending may leave readers unsatisfied, it somehow seems fitting. There are too many missing girls whose fate we may never know.

Mini Reviews #8

I didn’t mean to abandon this blog for as long as I did, but academic reading has had to take priority over my favoured fiction! But it seems to come and go in waves, so I’m looking forward to getting caught up this week on some novels I’ve been meaning to get to. I hope all is going well with you, dear readers. The end of the year seems to be fast-approaching, much to my terror.

A Change Is Gonna Come

a change is gonna comeFeaturing top Young Adult authors alongside a host of exciting new talent, this anthology of stories and poetry from BAME writers on the theme of change is a long-overdue addition to the YA scene. Contributors include Tanya Byrne, Inua Ellams, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Ayisha Malik, Irfan Master, Musa Okwonga and Nikesh Shukla.

Plus introducing four fresh new voices in YA fiction: Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Yasmin Rahman and Phoebe Roy.

Rating: 3.5/5

This is truly a much-needed addition to the growing trend of of YA anthologies. A Change is Gonna Come is collection of poetry and short-stories by UK-based black and other minority ethnic authors. The stories contained within this volume are varied and interesting, featuring protagonists from a wide range of backgrounds: from a girl with anxiety and OCD, to a blind boy who discovers wormholes and time travel. The running theme is, as the title suggests, on the idea of change – whether in the course of an individual’s life, or in the wide scheme of global politics, which is, to use 2016’s word of the year, a dumpster fire. My only issue is that I find it quite difficult, on occasion, to connect with short story collections, but this is very much a fault of mine, not the book’s.

Daisy in Chains – Sharon Bolton

daisy in chains

Famous killers have fan clubs.

Hamish Wolfe is no different. Locked up for the rest of his life for the abduction and murder of three young women, he gets countless adoring letters every day. He’s handsome, charismatic and very persuasive. His admirers are convinced he’s innocent, and that he’s the man of their dreams.

Who would join such a club?

Maggie Rose is different. Reclusive and enigmatic; a successful lawyer and bestselling true-crime writer, she only takes on cases that she can win.

Hamish wants her as his lawyer, he wants her to change his fate. She thinks she’s immune to the charms of a man like this. But maybe not this time . . .

Would you? 

Rating: 4/5

I could absolutely kick myself for spoiling the ending for myself. KICK MYSELF, I SAY. Because if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have guessed the ‘twist’ until the author chose to reveal it. The book was an easy read – the author has a style that flows well and manages to build up the suspense while giving sufficient attention to both her characters and world-building. Chilling and intriguing.

Love – Toni Morrison

love toni morrisonNobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison’s spellbinding new novel is a Faulknerian symphony of passion and hatred, power and perversity, color and class that spans three generations of black women in a fading beach town.

In life, Bill Cosey enjoyed the affections of many women, who would do almost anything to gain his favor. In death his hold on them may be even stronger. Wife, daughter, granddaughter, employee, mistress: As Morrison’s protagonists stake their furious claim on Cosey’s memory and estate, using everything from intrigue to outright violence, she creates a work that is shrewd, funny, erotic, and heartwrenching.

Rating: 4/5

Toni Morrison has such an incredible, compelling writing style. This is my third book of hers, and I’m determined to make my way through her repertoire. She weaves mystery throughout her novels, revealing the crux only near the end, and sometimes, never at all. It would do a disservice to the women in this particular novel to say their lives revolved around the dead patriarch, Bill Cosey. While he did have a major influence on their lives, the book is more a tale of sisterhood and occasionally the lack thereof; the strength of women; their burdens and sacrifices and rivalries.

The planners believed that dark people would do fewer dark things if there were twice as many streetlamps as anywhere else. Only in fine neighbourhoods and the country were people entrusted to shadow. 

Jigs & Reels – Joanne Harris

jigs & reelsEach of the twenty-two tales in this enchanting collection is a surprise and a delight, melding the poignant and the possible with the outrageous, the magical, and, sometimes, the eerily haunting. Wolf men, dolphin women, defiant old ladies, and middle-aged manufacturers of erotic leatherwear — in Jigs & Reels the miraculous goes hand in hand with the mundane, the sour with the sweet, and the beautiful, the grotesque, the seductive, and the disturbing are never more than one step away. Whether she’s exploring the myth of beauty, the pain of infidelity, or the wonder of late-life romance, Joanne Harris once again proves herself a master of the storyteller’s trade.

Rating: 4/5

Now this was one short story collection that I adored. Joanne Harris proves that she’s not only adept at this particular medium, but also that she can take on any genre and excel at it. Jigs & Reels contains a veritable treasure trove of tales, including geriatric escapees; fairytale villains; sinister food; dystopian tales of our potential future modern society; a writer who ends up as a character in his own unfinished works; a live action roleplay game with a murderous component….and much, much more.

Stories do not die, but are simply reincarnated every generation or so into a different time or idiom. 

Review: Words in Deep Blue – Cath Crowley

words in deep blueThis is a love story. It’s the story of a second-hand bookshop called Howling Books where people leave letters to strangers, or those they love, or want to love, between the pages of books in the Letter Library.

Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie are best friends. Or they were. Before Rachel moved away to the sea. Now, she’s back, grieving for her brother Cal who drowned in the sea that he loved.

Rachel loves Henry. Henry loves Amy. Amy loves Amy but is happy for Henry to love her too.

This is a book about books. About the power of literature to cradle our past, present and future selves. It’s about how we leave ourselves behind when we die. How we leave our histories in the things we love – like books.

Rating: 4/5

Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon is one of my all time favourite books, so I was eagerly anticipating her next offering. Words in Deep Blue was a worthy installment, characterised by the author’s exquisite writing. It did lack some of the glorious humour of Graffiti Moon, but considering the subject matter dealt with in this book, this fact is entirely understandable. There was just one major problem I had with Words in Deep Blue, which I’ll tackle later on in this review.

But firstly, the setting. Books involving bookstores or libraries are always kryptonite for me – I suppose its something to do with seeing our love of books represented in a story, viewed through the lens of characters who appreciate them as much as we the readers do. And Howling Books sounds like a pretty fantastic book-lovers paradise – couches and mysterious letter-leavings and all.

“You start at ten, tomorrow morning. Sophia said she was looking for someone with people and computer skills, and that describes you perfectly.”

“I no longer have people skills.”

“This is true, but I chose not to share that with her.”

The book is a thoughtful exploration of grief, of having to rebuild your life after you’ve simply stopped living it. Rachel failed her last year of school, will not be heading to uni like her peers, and her family have virtually become islands unto their own sadness. So she returns to the city where she and her brother grew up, keeping the secret of her brother’s death and slowly beginning to take the steps back to a new kind of normalcy.

Of course, this also means she ends up encountering former (one-sided) love and ex-best friend, Henry of the Howling Books establishment. And what can I say about Henry? His naivety certainly grated on my nerves. He was so blinded by love that he allowed himself to be continuously treated like shit by his on-and-off again girlfriend, Amy. However, that’s also understandable, if annoying to witness. People do indeed put up with awful behavior when besotted.

But herein lies my issue with the book that I mentioned initially. Amy is a completely one-dimensional character. It would be different if we at least saw some redeeming qualities in her to explain Henry’s devotion, but she’s nothing more than a vapid prop, and a foil for Rachel.

“Do you mind? I’m having a private moment here, Rachel.”

I crouch on the floor beside him. “Here’s a tip for a private moment: don’t have it on the floor of the girls’ toilets.”

“The girls?” he asks.

“The added extras didn’t give it away?”

He lifts his head and squints at the unit in the opposite corner. “Not a mailbox?”

“Not a mailbox, Henry,”

I am, however, a sucker for second-chance romance, despite my complaints. Although the romancing really does only feature near the end of the book. I am, however, completely okay with this. The journey is Rachel’s, and grief is not cured by a man-love. Henry is just a nice, supportive added extra.

“I forget. Do you stand under a pole in a lightning storm?” Henry asks, moving faster up High Street.

“Sure, and it helps if you can find a puddle too,” I tell him.

“We don’t stand under a pole,” he says.

“We don’t stand under a pole,” I confirm.

The side character of George and her hopeful romance were also delightful and heartbreaking to witness. I also appreciated the depiction of imperfect families – who sometimes have to rally and make-do despite the circumstances – but there will not be a happy ending, just a new normal.

Overall, another gem from Crowley.  Her work is certainly worth the wait.

It has something to do with Cal being in a library along with other people who no longer exist in the world. The traces of them are hidden, small lines in books. In a library from which no one can borrow. 

Review: Caraval – Stephanie Garber

caravalRemember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

Rating: 2/5

Black sheep alert! I say, BLACK SHEEP ALERT. I was so looking forward to this one, but I have to say it’s my biggest disappointment of the year so far.

At first, I thought it was because it’s YA and I’m not the target audience – it did feel really juvenile, which is obviously not the book’s fault, but mine. But then I saw almost every other adult reader of the book raving about it – so that couldn’t be the reason!

The biggest issue for me was the writing. The overly descriptive, purpliest-prose that I have ever read. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for description – but every single object encountered by our protagonist is described. Every. Single. Object.

And described in excrutiatingly flowery detail, but using incredibly simplistic imagery. See the following examples:

“The isle on the horizon looked nothing like her familiar Trisda. Where Trisda was black sand, rocky coves, and sickly looking shrubs, this bit of earth was lush and alive. Glittering mist swirled around vibrant green mountains – all covered in trees – that rose toward the sky as if they were massive emeralds. From the top of the largest peak an iridescent blue waterfall streamed down like melted peacock feathers, disappearing into the ring of sunrise-tinted clouds that pirouetted around the surreal isle.”

“Lush red carpet cushioned her steps, while soft golden lights licked her arms with gentle kisses of warmth. Heat was everywhere, when a blink ago the world had been covered in cold. It tasted like light, bubbly on her tongue and sugary as it went down, making everything from the ends of her toes to the tips of her fingers tingle.”

Now imagine this but for 400 pages. (You don’t want to know how many times ‘emerald’ or ‘silver’ are used to describe something. If I took a shot every time I read a jewel-toned adjective…it would probably have made it a more enjoyable reading experience, to be honest.)

And the figures of speech were also clumsy and cringeworthy. They didn’t even make sense.

“She remembered her first impression of him, tall, roughly handsome, and dangerous, like poison dressed up in an attractive bottle.” 

“And to her horror, rather than feeling distaste, a tingle of periwinkle curiosity prickled her senses.”

Now all of this, of course, would have been slightly redeemed if we’d found out early on that the heroine Scarlett has synesthesia. But the author leaves it until past halfway to enlighten us. So I was left trying to grapple with these bizarre colour combinations and smells and the rest of it.

But let’s have more awful examples of the writing.

This is how the love interest’s eyes are described: “Light brown, the colour of caramel and liquid amber list.”

“She pictured two hungry pools of liquid amber fringed by dark lashes.”

Excuse me while I roll my eyes…sorry, I meant pools of liquid.

“Around her, the people on the street were as thick as a murder of crows.”

and

“Her skirt and blouse were silver this time, with eyes and lips painted to match. Like a teardrop the moon had cried.”

Huh?

But let’s get onto the other things I didn’t like, since I appear to be on a roll!

In terms of the plot, everything is just far too damn convenient. Oh, Scarlett needs to find a clue? Oh look, there it is, conveniently waiting for her. Repeat times 5.

Scarlett as a character is also incredibly slow on the uptake – it’s not great form if the reader keeps guessing before the character figures things out. Her naiviety and prudishness can be excused as product of her upbringing, but she gives absolutely no sense of agency to her sister, who is only younger than her by a year. While it’s admirable that she loves her sister and tries to save her constantly, Tella is not some helpless baby.

Also, some delightful slut-shaming:

“…she was not going to let Julian make eyes at some tart in a bar…”

And the romance didn’t do it for me. There’s a lot of pressing together through layers of flimsy dresses, oh my, and plenty of mentions of Scarlett’s curves. While Scarlett has waxed lyrical about Julian’s eyes (see above quotes), his mouth is also a point of descriptive butchering – sly, sinful, immoral. How a quirk of a mouth can be immoral is beyond me.

To be fair, CLEARLY THIS ENTIRE BOOK WAS BEYOND ME.

Free copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Windwitch (The Witchlands #2) – Susan Dennard

windwitchAfter an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

Rating: 3.5/5

As a result of the events of the previous book, Safi has been captured by the Empress of Marstok, Merik is presumed dead, Iseult is trying to find Safi, and Aeduon is on his own mission.

Unfortunately the momentum of the last book completely stalled in this one. While all our characters were on the move, it seemed like they were on particularly dodgy road trips, rather than having an end-goal in mind.

I suppose I should also have refreshed myself on what happened in the first book before delving into this one, because I was fairly lost on some of the major plot points and it took me a while to remember who was doing what and why.

I really do love the worldbuilding in this series, although we don’t have all the necessary information all the powers and the origin wells – I assume this will be delivered to us as we need it.

The characters and their relationships are what really make this series for me. I enjoyed Safi and Iseult learning how to compensate without the other one there – although I did miss their interactions, now that they are separated. Aeduan and Iseult have the world’s slowest of burns going on. I do wish there’d been more resolution to the Merik/Vivia conflict – it felt very abrupt at the end. And the newer cast members added some welcome flavour to the mix.

Plot-wise was where the book let me down. As I mentioned, it just felt incredibly slow to me, and it took them all a very long time to do the things they needed to do. And since the main characters were separated from each other, some of the quick-witted chemistry was lost. Furthermore, Merik wasn’t the most riveting of characters, and this was technically ‘his’ book.

Despite this, I’m still invested in the series, and I hope that Bloodwitch recovers the pace and excitement that was missing from this installment.

YA vs The Rest of the World

weird things in YA novelsYeah, what a well-phrased title!

For those of you who don’t know, I live in Cape Town, situated at the bottom of that mysterious and misrepresented continent – Africa.

As an avid YA reader, however, there are many things that I find utterly strange in these books – due to the fact that they are mostly based in the USA, and life is a tad different in your neck of the woods.

So let’s get into it, shall we? Here’s a list of the shiz that just doesn’t resonate:

  1. You can drive yourself to school. Your school has a student parking lot where you seem to spend a lot of time hanging out. Your parents let you get into a car with someone who has just got their license.

Over here, you can only get your driver’s license aged 18. So there ain’t no driving yourself anywhere. You rely on the parentals to taxi you around. By the end of my last year of school, there were only like 5 people who were driving themselves to school. Also, no way in hell my mother was letting me travel ANYWHERE with someone who just got their license. And how does everyone have a car?! That shit’s expensive.

  1. You just hop and off public transport, free as a daisy.

This is something of a class thing here, but if you’re middle class, you probably don’t use public transport alone as a teenager because your parents think you’ll be murdered.

  1. You sneak out the house

HA HA.

Try getting past security alarms, motion sensors, multiple door locks, barking dogs, extremely alert parents, the night time neighbourhood watch patrols…and then how would you get around if you and your friends can’t drive? Bad plan, homie.

  1. After school jobs

Sure, many of us get part-time jobs as a teenager, but these are for the weekends and holidays. I don’t know of anyone who had one after school – only ending at 3pm, and having to get home and do homework doesn’t leave much time for money-earning activities. (Unless its babysitting, or something like that.)

  1. Sneaking alcohol

In almost all countries of the world, the drinking age is 18. So we don’t really need fake IDs or have to bribe other people to buy our alcohol – we can all get our own drinks! (or at least, our already-18 friends in our group can do it for us and it’s not such a big deal as its made out to be in books).

  1. You seem to plan your outfits for school

Uniforms over here, yo. Makes life a lot easier, although today I still have a strong aversion to the colour brown.

  1. Parties when the house gets trashed

As far as I know, the raucous parties are cordoned off to one part of the house. And destruction tends to be limited to the breaking of a couple of glasses.

But maybe I just wasn’t invited to the cool house-trashing parties.

Scratch that, I definitely wasn’t invited to the cool house-trashing parties.

***

And as for the rest of you? What thing do you find completely out of place in YA novels that just don’t translate to your country?

 

Review: Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2) – Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman

geminaMoving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminaecontinues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

Rating: 4/5

I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one, and the day it finally arrived, I dropped everything else when I got home from work and delved in. Then resurfaced a few hours later, having completed this thing in one sitting. So that should really tell you all you need to know.

But it would be a terrible review if I left it at that, so I suppose some extra detail is necessary, yes?

-I will admit that the novelty of the format has worn off a bit, as novelty does with the second in a line of shiny new things. However, I still really admire the way they make it work, how it all integrates to tell a story that is fairly easy to follow. The illustrations were a particularly cute touch.

-Illustrations and diagrams are also handy when trying to explain concepts such as wormholes and parallel universes. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I still don’t understand them. I didn’t say the diagrams worked, just that they were handy. 😛

-As I mentioned in my previous review, this sci-fi definitely fits squarely in the YA category. I don’t think it has wide crossover appeal. But that’s not a criticism. It’s a book written for teens and aimed at teens. Just a warning for adults (like me) who might read it, the teenagers and their lingo and txtspk might grate on you a little.

-The story picks up right after the events of Illuminae, and we leap straight back into the action. Indeed, the action sequences are definitely the strength of this novel. It’s an adrenaline-fuelled, pulse-pounding adventure from start to finish. You’ll need to go read something relaxing afterwards.

-They don’t hesitate to kill off people. And somehow, they still manage to make you feel it, even if you haven’t known them for very long. And there’s no prevaricating around it – death isn’t just used as a threat – it really happens.

-The entire story takes place over two days or so. Which means that upon reflection, the dissolving and development of the relationships seems rather rushed.

-The character of Hanna is hard to like, initially. She comes across as a fairly spoiled socialite. She is revealed to have more depth, of course, but I did prefer the protagonists of the first book to the ones in Gemina. Also, I probably have an unrealistic grudge against her because people always spell my name without an ‘H’ on the end and it annoys me.

Overall, a worthy sequel despite my complaints. I’m already chomping at the bit for the next one, and wondering who the next set of featured characters is going to be.

 

Mini Reviews #3

Happy Tuesday, everyone! I hope you are all fabulous.

northern lightsThe town of Lunacy, Alaska, was Nate Burke’s last chance. As a Baltimore cop, he’d watched his partner die on the street – and the guilt still haunts him. With nowhere else to go, he accepts the job as chief of police in this tiny, remote Alaskan town. Aside from sorting out a run-in between a couple of motor vehicles and a moose, he finds his first few weeks on the job are relatively quiet. But just as he wonders whether this has been all a big mistake, an unexpected kiss on New Year’s Eve under the brilliant Northern Lights of the Alaskan sky lifts his spirits and convinces him to stay just a little longer.

Meg Galloway, born and raised in Lunacy, is used to being alone. She was a young girl when her father disappeared, and she has learned to be independent, flying her small plane, living on the outskirts of town with just her huskies for company. After her New Year’s kiss with the chief of police, she allows herself to give in to passion – while remaining determined to keep things as simple as possible. But there’s something about Nate’s sad eyes that gets under her skin and warms her frozen heart.

And now, things in Lunacy are heating up. Years ago, on one of the majestic mountains shadowing the town, a crime occurred that is unsolved to this day – and Nate suspects that a killer still walks the snowy streets. His investigation will unearth the secrets and suspicions that lurk beneath the placid surface, as well as bring out the big-city survival instincts that made him a cop in the first place. And his discovery will threaten the new life – and the new love – that he has finally found for himself.

Rating: 3/5

I only read my first Nora Roberts earlier this year, but I can see why she has such a cult following. It’s not highbrow literature by any means, but its highly entertaining and certainly has some substance to it. I also enjoy how she takes time to set the scene, instead of delving straight into the action like many other mystery novels. I particularly liked the atmospheric setting in this one – the icy Alaskan weather and the coziness of the small town were almost tangible.

eats shoots & leavesNow, we all know the basics of punctuation. Or do we? A look at most neighborhood signage tells a different story. Through sloppy usage and low standards on the internet, in e-mail, and now text messages, we have made proper punctuation an endangered species.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, former editor Truss dares to say, in her delightfully urbane, witty, and very English way, that it is time to look at our commas and semicolons and see them as the wonderful and necessary things they are. This is a book for people who love punctuation and get upset when it is mishandled. From the invention of the question mark in the time of Charlemagne to George Orwell shunning the semicolon, this lively history makes a powerful case for the preservation of a system of printing conventions that is much too subtle to be mucked about with.

Rating: 3/5

Who knew a book about punctuation could be interesting? Quite a timely read as well, since I’m currently doing a copy-editing course. There were a number of amusing anecdotes, rule explanations and historical accounts, but the humour was a tad overdone, and some sentiments were repeated a little too often for my liking. The apostrophe stickers at the back though, I’m going to have fun with those!

the foreshadowingIt is 1915 and the First World War has only just begun.

17 year old Sasha is a well-to-do, sheltered-English girl. Just as her brother Thomas longs to be a doctor, she wants to nurse, yet girls of her class don’t do that kind of work. But as the war begins and the hospitals fill with young soldiers, she gets a chance to help. But working in the hospital confirms what Sasha has suspected–she can see when someone is going to die. Her premonitions show her the brutal horrors on the battlefields of the Somme, and the faces of the soldiers who will die. And one of them is her brother Thomas.

Pretending to be a real nurse, Sasha goes behind the front lines searching for Thomas, risking her own life as she races to find him, and somehow prevent his death. 

Rating: 3/5

This book should have been a hit for me – I love WW1/WW2 fiction, along with plucky female protagonists. Unfortunately, it just felt all too bland for me. I think my biggest issue was suspension of disbelief – a teenage girl lying her way to the front in WW1 just doesn’t fly with me, no matter how realistically the author wrangled it. The quiet horrors of war were well depicted though, in the changed personalities of those who returned. I especially respect the sheer fortitude of the nurses, who had to deal with so much death and human destruction and still keep on, day after day, sometimes in horrendous conditions.

alice hoffmanPeople tend to stay in their place in the town of Haddan. The students at the prestigious prep school don’t mix with locals; even within the school, hierarchy rules, as freshman and faculty members find out where they fit in and what is expected of them. But when a body is found in the river behind the school, a local policeman will walk into this enclosed world and upset it entirely. A story of surface appearances and the truths submerged below.

Rating: 1.5/5

I am usually so intrigued by Hoffman’s work, but this was an anomaly of note. It’s by far one of the author’s poorer novels, and I found it a slog to get through. Nothing really happens, to be honest. One of the things that grated on my nerves was that the perspective switches within same chapter and I sometimes wasn’t aware of this, which made for a frustrating reading experience. Also, I could have done without the annoying instalove.