Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Loop by Karen Akins

Rating 4 out of 5
Reading Age 15 and above
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (October 21, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B00J6U7K1C
ISBN: 1250030986

Summary

At a school where Quantum Paradox 101 is a required course and history field trips are literal, sixteen year-old time traveler Bree Bennis excels…at screwing up. After Bree botches a solo midterm to the 21st century by accidentally taking a boy hostage (a teensy snafu), she stands to lose her scholarship. But when Bree sneaks back to talk the kid into keeping his yap shut, she doesn’t go back far enough. The boy, Finn, now three years older and hot as a solar flare, is convinced he’s in love with Bree, or rather, a future version of her that doesn’t think he’s a complete pain in the arse. To make matters worse, she inadvertently transports him back to the 23rd century with her. Once home, Bree discovers that a recent rash of accidents at her school are anything but accidental. Someone is attacking time travelers. As Bree and her temporal tag along uncover seemingly unconnected clues—a broken bracelet, a missing data file, the art heist of the millennium—that lead to the person responsible, she alone has the knowledge to piece the puzzle together. Knowledge only one other person has. Her future self. But when those closest to her become the next victims, Bree realizes the attacker is willing to do anything to stop her. In the past, present, or future.

This was such a fun book. It was exactly what I needed to kick of the New Year. It had a little bit of everything; sci-fi, time travel, romance, action, and humour. I enjoyed it immensely. This will be a short review as it is hard to say much without giving the plot line away. 



Most of the hilarity comes from Bree and Finn. Her snarky sassyness and his wonder at time travel. There were so many laugh-out-loud moments it is hard to pick just one to show case. I enjoyed Bree always commenting about kicking future Bree's ass. As the story is told from Bree's point of view her internal voice is hilarious. 

It is an intricate storyline and a mystery as well as a sci-fi time travel book (what did you expect with a time travel story), this is also why I am struggling to review this book as everything that happens is linked or interwoven with a bigger picture which all comes together at the end. Unlike some sci-fi stories that seem to beat you down into unconsciousness with big science words and explanations, Akins keeps the science stuff pretty easy to understand and I can only think of one long winded explanation (which kind of had to happen). Also the sciencey stuff was easily understandable especially with Finn "dumbing" it down for the reader. Some parts of the story did seem odd (hair scanners as way of ID verification) but hey what would I know.

My only quibble is the story Bree had been fed about the microchip. It seemed incredibly flimsy yet no one seemed to question it till Finn comes along?



This was a hugely entertaining book for me and I read it virtually in one night (and paid the price the next day with a reading hang over, not so fun when you have to go to work and function) and I would recommend this book to anyone really as there is so much going on in the book. But if you really dislike time travel stories then this is probably not for you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

Rating 3.5 out of 5
Publisher: Ebury Digital (August 14, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0091956463
ISBN-13: 978-0091956462
ASIN: B00JRD3YJA

Summary

 What begins as a clever, gothic ghost story soon evolves into a wickedly twisted treasure hunt in The Supernatural Enhancements, Edgar Cantero's wholly original, modern-day adventure. When twentysomething A., the unexpected European relative of the Wells family, and his companion, Niamh, a mute teenage girl with shockingly dyed hair, inherit the beautiful but eerie estate of Axton House, deep in the woods of Point Bless, Virginia, it comes as a surprise to everyone—including A. himself. After all, he never even knew he had a "second cousin, twice removed" in America, much less that the eccentric gentleman had recently committed suicide by jumping out of the third floor bedroom window—at the same age and in the same way as his father had before him . . . Together, A. and Niamh quickly come to feel as if they have inherited much more than just a rambling home and a cushy lifestyle. Axton House is haunted, they know it, but that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the secrets they slowly but surely uncover. Why all the suicides? What became of the Axton House butler who fled shortly after his master died? What lurks in the garden maze and what does the basement vault keep? And what of the rumors in town about a mysterious gathering at Axton House on the night of the winter solstice? Told vividly through a series of journal entries, scrawled notes, recovered security footage, letters to Aunt Liza, audio recordings, complicated ciphers, and even advertisements, Edgar Cantero has written a dazzling and original supernatural adventure featuring classic horror elements with a Neil Gaiman-ish twist.

 I have been trying to finalise this review for awhile and I still don't know what to write. I did enjoy the story and was fascinated by it, but at the same time it irked me. I don't like horror so the only reason I picked this book up is because a few book blogger friends highly recommended it. But the fact that I don't even like the genre yet kept reading and ultimately enjoyed the book should be an indicator of how interesting this book is.

The different points of view really bugged me. This however was slightly different as it is told from various "sources" diary extracts, official records, transcripts of videos and quotes from books. I admit to skimming through the text book quotes. They bored me and I didn't see the point (fickle I know). Sometimes the jumps didn't make sense either. It did frustrate me a little especially at the start. It does all tie together eventually but the sudden change of view/genre just made it hard for me to really get into the flow.

It was also a slow read. Plodding and scattered. The momentum built up towards the end but it is in no way shape or form  an action adventure type book. It also isn't a horror book like you would imagine. It is a lot more complicated then that. I won't say more in case it ruins the story.

Yet despite the annoyances, as I reached the end of the book I was hooked. I didn't even guess the mystery but I did guess the reveal at the very end (but only a page or two before it was revealed). I liked that the story wasn't predictable and was a unique take on the supernatural/ghostie genre. The story was interesting and once I got over my irritation of the different points of view and the pacing I did enjoy it.

I enjoyed reading from A (his name is never fully revealed) and Nimhs points of view which is probably why I disliked it when the view changed. I wanted to read more of their point of view. The setting was mid 90's so I enjoyed the pop culture references through out the book.

Ultimately it was a fascinating story and it kept the reader guessing. It wasn't predictable at all (well for me anyway) and was an interesting way to present a suspenseful horror mystery type book. I gave this book a 3.5 because I didn't love it but would recommend to others to read. I would even read a sequel if there was one.

Recommended for people who like clever quirky mysteries (with a touch of horror).

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Rating: 4 out of 5

A series that twists the fairy tales we know so well into an amazing sci-fi young adult novel full of action, suspense and interesting characters.

Cinder
Age Range: 12 - 18 years
Publisher: Puffin (January 5, 2012)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0141340134
ISBN-13: 978-0141340135
ASIN: B0065GC0PG

Summary:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . . Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. This is the tale of Cinderella. Only not like you have heard it before. For starters Cinder is a cyborg and it's the future where there are people living on the moon and hover cars.

I had seen this book around for awhile and to be honest I am generally weary of "buzz" books because more often then not I don't like them. I am happy to say this time I was proved wrong, dead wrong. This book was just a wow book for me, I couldn't put i down, thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. Easily one of my best reads for 2014 (even though it was released a few years back, never mind).

Meyer's has done a wonderful job retelling the Cinderella story but kept it fresh and interesting. I liked the twist of Cinder being a Cyborg and that the Prince was actually more then a bit of beautiful fluff just hanging around waiting for some twit to leave her shoe on his stair case.

Cinder's step (adoptive guardian) and sister are suitable horrible. But I really cant say any more on the characters with out giving the story away.

Don't assume that because you know the Cinderella story that you know what will happen!

There was action, excitement, romance, and witty banter and one liners. While this book is a "light" book it did deal with some heavy topics like discrimination, plague, and moral dilemmas. I found it interesting that Cinder being cyborg showed way more humanity then some of the humans.

Definitely read this if it is on your to be read pile!
Series Post Updated - 11/1/2015

Scarlett
Age Range: 14 - 18 years
Publisher: Puffin (January 5, 2012)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250007216
ISBN-13: 978-1250007216
ASIN: B00ADNPAOK

Summary:

SCARLET BENOIT'S grandmother is missing. The police have closed her case. The only person Scarlet can turn to is Wolf, a street fighter she does not trust, but they are drawn to each other. Meanwhile, in New Beijing, Cinder will become the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive - when she breaks out of prison to stay one step ahead of vicious Queen Levana. As Scarlet and Wolf expose one mystery, they encounter Cinder and a new one unravels. Together they must challenge the evil queen, who will stop at nothing to make Prince Kai her husband, her king, her prisoner . . .

So book one Cinder left me hanging for the next book, I HAD to know what happened next. Book two didn't disappoint.

It introduced three new characters and a new fairy tale. We saw the continuation of Cinder's story and her meeting Captain Thorne; who reminded me of Hans Solo in that he was a lovable rogue with a very lose view on laws, quick wit. We are also introduced to Scarlet and Wolf, who are trying to find Scarlett's kidnapped Grandmother.

This book for me was a little darker then Cinder, in that the author shows and describes a few murders and we meet some pretty nasty characters. The action is pretty good and I would be super surprised if this series hasn't been picked up to be turned into a movie.  But let me be clear it doesn't read like a movie script (and some books do) There is still depth there and character development.

We got to see some of Queen Levana's point of view which to me felt a little odd but I can only assume book three will now show some of her "side of the story". Could it be she isn't quite the evil meglomaniac with super powers she has been made out to be? Would be a smidgeon of a shame as she has made a fantastic super villain so far.

I can't wait to start book three!


Cress
Publisher: Puffin (February 6, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B00G2SJQAO
ISBN: 0312642970

Summary:
In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army. Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who's only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice. When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

I can see why some people felt this book was a bit of a let down compared to the first two books. It is slower paced as there is a lot of information being revealed (with out it feeling like to much information in a short period of time) and story arcs being told. There was also some big story developments happening and reveals. Finally it is being told from at least 5 different points of view (I think it may have even been more). To me this slowed the story down a little.

However I still enjoyed this book thoroughly and thought the author did a good job of blending all the points of views, expanding on the story and action. Because there was still action.

Cress is not as sassy as Cinder and Scarlet were, however she will make a good addition to the team going forward through the series.

So I am now hanging out for book 4!

Overall Series thoughts to date
I love the clever blend of fairy tale and sci-fi which to me is so interesting. Also I like that the female characters are really strong role models for young girls (ah cliched I know). But they are. They aren't silly screaming girly heroines who do ridiculously stupid things (like follow a criminal down a dark ally all alone without telling anyone and have no self defence skills or a gun), but they are not ridiculously super powerful beyond their means. They are smart and capable girls who get stuff done. Even the evil Queen who has been shown as a power hungry psycho (well what evil leader trying to take over the world wouldn't be?) has been shown to be very calculating, intelligent and even logical. Even when things went a bit topsy turvey she still managed to manoeuvre a bad situation to her own advantage.

Also I love the cover art for these books. So simple but colourful.


Series Overall Recommendation
Read it! if this is your type of thing you wont be disappointed.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Panda's and Their Chopsticks: And Other Animal Stories by Demi

Rating 3 out of 5
Age Range: 4 - 8 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten - 2
Hardcover: 28 pages
Publisher: Wisdom Tales (August 1, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1937786161
ISBN-13: 978-1937786168
Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 0.4 x 10.4 inches

Summary:

Eating bamboo shoots with chopsticks three feet long? Impossible, you say. Not if you are a playful panda and learn to share and work together with your friends! In her beautifully illustrated new book, award-winning author, Demi, presents ten classic animal stories, each containing important moral lessons for little hearts and minds to absorb. Cunning kitties, helpful hummingbirds, talkative turtles, and hasty hedgehogs, all bring these meaningful fables to life. Through her magical illustrations and whimsical storytelling, Demi teaches the importance of being humble, the dangers of being too proud, the importance of generosity and sharing, and how everyone, no matter how small, has a part to play in life.

This is a cute book with simple illustrations that bring to life old fables with moral endings.  Even though the pictures are basic they convey the story well.

It was fun to read these tales to my son, especially the talking tortoise one. I remember this particular story (from India I believe) from when I young. My son enjoyed the Panda story and thought it was cute (and funny that Panda's would try to eat with huge chopsticks).

This is a good collection for people wanting to introduce their children to traditional fables.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

Rating 4 out of 5 stars
Format: Kindle Edition
Print Length: 515 pages
Publisher: Random House Australia (13 March 2013)
Sold by: Amazon Australia Services, Inc.
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0749015578
ISBN-13: 978-0749015572
ASIN: B00ANG3WZQ

Summary:
One of the great untold love stories - how the Grimm brothers discovered their famous fairy tales - filled with drama and passion, and taking place during the Napoleonic Wars.Growing up next door to the Grimm brothers in Hesse-Cassel, a small German kingdom, Dortchen Wild told Wilhelm some of the most powerful and compelling stories in the famous fairy tale collection. Dortchen first met the Grimm brothers in 1805, when she was twelve. One of six sisters, Dortchen lived in the medieval quarter of Cassel, a town famous for its grand royal palace, its colossal statue of Herkules, and a fairytale castle of turrets and spires built as a love nest for the Prince-Elector's mistress. Dortchen was the same age as Lotte Grimm and the two became best friends.In 1806, Hesse-Cassel was invaded by the French. Napoleon created a new Kingdom of Westphalia, under the rule of his dissolute young brother Jérôme. The Grimm brothers began collecting fairy tales that year, wanting to save the old stories told in spinning-circles and by the fire from the domination of French culture. Dortchen's father was cruel and autocratic, and he beat and abused her. He frowned on the friendship between his daughters and the poverty-stricken Grimm Brothers. Dortchen had to meet Wilhelm in secret to tell him her stories. All the other sisters married and moved away, but Dortchen had to stay home and care for her sick parents. Even after the death of her father, Dortchen and Wilhelm could not marry - the Grimm brothers were so poor they were surviving on a single meal a day. After the overthrow of Napoleon and the eventual success of the fairy tale collection, Dortchen and Wilhelm were at last able to marry. They lived happily ever after with Wilhelm's elder brother Jakob for the rest of their lives.

What a powerful book. Even now after some time reading this book I do not know how to review this book. It was an incredibly dark, and sometimes horrifying book but at the same time fascinating read into a woman who had so much influence over one of the most famous children writers ever. At the end it is a story about good triumphing over evil.

This was not a happy story or a story that glosses over the realities of living in that time. The author does make some assumptions however they are well researched and explained assumptions.

I thought I should say a warning  about this book that it does describe some child abuse. This could be very difficult for some readers.

I still cant put all my thoughts into a concise review. On the one hand the writing and narrative is beautiful. Forsyth is able to build and describe beautiful worlds that are rich and believable. You could almost believe you had been there. The reader got to learn so much about living in this tiny hamlet of Germany during the reign of Bonaparte. We also learn the story behind the brothers Grimm.

On the other hand Forsyth does not gloss over anything or make Dortchen some but kicking heroine. It was hard to understand why Dortchen did not leave (especially when her sister did) but we forget that in those times leaving your home while unmarried would have been incredibly difficult. I can logically understand why the character did what she did but at the same time I wanted her to escape and get her happy ending.

Even though this was quite a dark and slow book (it does span most of her life) I still enjoyed it. It was a powerful story and an interesting story. I did want to see what happened and how her life turned out.

Recommendation: 
Would recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

PC Peter Grant Series by Ben Aaronovitch

Rating 3 out of 5

Overall: A fun interesting start to a new series.


Rivers of London (Book 1)
Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 1345 KB
Publisher: Gollancz (20 January 2011)
Sold by: Hachette Book Group (AU)
Language: English
ASIN: B004K1EC1S
ISBN: 0575097566

Summary

My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (and as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit - we do paperwork so real coppers don't have to - and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluable, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I'm a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden . . . and there's something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair. The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it's falling to me to bring order out of chaos - or die trying.

Well the book didn't blow me away. I didn't have a "can't put this book down even though it's 2am and I have to be up at 6am for work" kind of moment or upon finishing a "let's do that again!" moment. Having said that I did enjoy the book. It was fun reading about PC Grant becoming a trainee wizard in an x-files-esq section of the police department in London.

The story was interesting and the was a good balance of action, story development and witty banter. I loved the pop culture references and the subtle nods (and jokes) to modern fantasy/supernatural books, shows and movies.

The main character Peter Grant was interesting character and even though I shouldn't have to comment on it, he is an ethnic character. The only reason I raise it is because it does get raised in the book several times when characters try to stereotype PC Grant. For instance there is a scene where his boss makes a comment about rap music and Grant replies "I don't like rap music". I also like that the author also knocks over a lot of other stereotypes and brings in lots of different ethnic characters.

My main quibble was what seemed like an unnecessary part of the story at the end. It sort of seemed there as a shock but the point to the story arc just wasn't really obvious to me. The information could have been revealed differently and certainly not needed at the end of this story.

Overall this was a good start to the series but a little clunky for me. Keen to read the second book.

Moon over Soho (Book 2)
Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 1554 KB
Publisher: Gollancz (21 April 2011)
Sold by: Hachette Book Group (AU)
Language: English
ASIN: B004VF624S
ISBN: 0575097604

Summary
I was my dad's vinyl-wallah: I changed his records while he lounged around drinking tea, and that's how I know my Argo from my Tempo. And it's why, when Dr Walid called me to the morgue to listen to a corpse, I recognised the tune it was playing. Something violently supernatural had happened to the victim, strong enough to leave its imprint like a wax cylinder recording. Cyrus Wilkinson, part-time jazz saxophonist and full-time accountant, had apparently dropped dead of a heart attack just after finishing a gig in a Soho jazz club. He wasn't the first. No one was going to let me exhume corpses to see if they were playing my tune, so it was back to old-fashioned legwork, starting in Soho, the heart of the scene. I didn't trust the lovely Simone, Cyrus' ex-lover, professional jazz kitten and as inviting as a Rubens' portrait, but I needed her help: there were monsters stalking Soho, creatures feeding off that special gift that separates the great musician from someone who can raise a decent tune. What they take is beauty. What they leave behind is sickness, failure and broken lives. And as I hunted them, my investigation got tangled up in another story: a brilliant trumpet player, Richard 'Lord' Grant - my father - who managed to destroy his own career, twice. That's the thing about policing: most of the time you're doing it to maintain public order. Occasionally you're doing it for justice.And maybe once in a career, you're doing it for revenge.

This book continues on from the events of 'Rivers of London'. We see PC Grant return and on the case of a supernatural being killing Jazz musicians. We also get to see PC Grant grow in his knowledge and role as a supernatural police officer.

The author continues his trend of introducing interesting ethnic characters who are not stereotypical. I enjoyed the ninja muslim girl. I so hope she comes back in other books.

I preferred this book to the first book actually. The first book seemed a smidgeon clunky at times but mostly the odd story tacked on the end irked me. The odd story was continued into this story so in my mind didn't need to be introduced in the first book at all. Anyway what is done is done. This book had a better flow to it even with the sex scenes which sometimes didn't seem necessary.

Overall I enjoyed this much more then the first book and I will be reading the next book for sure.

Final Recommendation: If you like urban fantasy and detective novels then this might be worth a try.


Friday, December 19, 2014

The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas by Heath McKenzie

Rating 3.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 0 up
Publisher: BLACK DOG BOOKS
Release Date: September 1, 2008
ISBN:9781742031118

This is the song Twelve Days of Christmas that we know and love except with an Australian twist. However what starts of as a simple count down of gifts given turns into a wild hullabaloo with emus kicking, crocodiles weeping, and Tassie Devils fighting. There really isn't much more to say about this book other then the illustrations are cute, quirky and brightly coloured.

My kids really enjoy this book, particularly the end where all the animals are on the one page running riot.

This book really is a no brainer, it is fun and easy to read aloud or sing if you wish. A good book to read around this time of year for something a bit different.