Review: The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott

 

Title: The Wonder of All Things

Author: Jason Mott

Published: Harlequin MIRA September 2014

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Status: Read from September 29 to October 01, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In the Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott, thirteen year old Ava, trapped under a collapsed structure with her badly injured best friend, Wash, lays her hands on his wound, closes her eyes and wishes for him to be healed. To the astonishment of witnesses, including Ava’s police chief father, Wash’s injury vanishes, and Ava collapses. As word spreads of the ‘Miracle Child’, the small town in which Ava lives is inundated with people seeking her touch, and Ava and her family struggle under the weight of expectation, even as it becomes apparent that Ava’s gift comes at a grave cost to her own health.

The Wonder of All Things shares similar themes with Mott’s debut novel The Returned. Placing a young, innocent child at the center of the maelstrom of controversy, the author examines issues such as faith, morality, loss, love, duty, and sacrifice.

For Ava and her family, father Macon and pregnant stepmother, Carmen the conflict centers around ensuring their safety and well-being, and the demands the community is making to ‘share’ the miracle. Mott also explores the response of friends and strangers to the event and exposes the conflicting emotions of awe and suspicion, selflessness and greed that it provokes.

As with The Returned, Jason Mott offers no explanation for the occurrence of a miracle. I understand this is a source of frustration for many readers but it isn’t something I mind.

“And, sometimes in life, love and loving can still lead to an ending that we would otherwise choose. A fate with no blame to be taken. She understood that, in this world, there are unexplained wonders and faultless horrors both.”

Though ultimately there is nothing particularly original about its premise or in the way it plays out, I thought The Wonder of All Things was nevertheless a moving and thought provoking story.

 

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The Book of Days by K.A. Barker

 

Title: The Book of Days

Author: K.A. Barker

Published: PanMacmillan September 2014

Read an Extract

Most people believe the best way to forget someone is to throw them down a well. Or lock them in a room with eight keys, or bury them at a crossroad in the thirteenth hour. But they’re wrong. The best way to forget someone is for them never to have existed in the first place.

When sixteen-year-old Tuesday wakes from sleep for the first time, she opens her eyes to a world filled with wonder – and peril. Left only with a letter from the person she once was, Tuesday sets out to discover her past with the help of her charming and self-serving guide, Quintalion.

Along the way she runs into mercenaries, flying cities, airships, and a blind librarian. But what is her connection with the mysterious Book of Days – a book that holds untold power..

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Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

 

Title: Heir of Fire {Throne of Glass #3}

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Published: Bloomsbury September 2014

Status: Read from September 01 to 03, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Pushed into a corner by the tragic events that concluded Crown of Midnight Celaena Sardothien is forced to face her past and embrace her future as Queen Aelin Galathynius in Heir of Fire, the third exciting installment of the Throne of Glass series from Sarah J Maas.

At just over 550 pages, Heir of Fire is quite an epic with a stronger focus on character development and insight than story, though it still offers plenty of intrigue, danger, fast paced action and a touch of romance.

Though sent to Wendlyn by King Ardalan to assassinate the Ashryver royal family, Celaena, mourning the loss of Nehemia and the end of her relationship with Chaol, has her own agenda. She needs to confront Queen Maeve and convince her to help Celaena to destroy the King, or at the very least answer some of the many questions she has about the Wyrdkeys and her family. Maeve however will not entertain her niece until she has an idea of her worth and insists she proves her mettle by training at Mistwood, under the supervision of Maeve’s blood servant, fae warrior and prince, Rowan Whitethorn. And as Celaena works to control her magic at the remote demi-fae haven, King Ardalan makes his first move…

In confronting Queen Maeve, Caelaena earns herself a new ally in Rowan. It is not an easy relationship to begin with and later its boundaries are a little hard to define but I loved it. Rowan is exactly what Celaena needs to help her move past the self pity and stand up for all that has been lost.

While Celaena is absent from the Ardalan court, Dorian and Chaol struggle with what they have learned about the King. Chaol is faced with some difficult issues about trust, loyalty and friendship in his quest to protect Celaena. Meanwhile Dorian finally loses his heart, but in doing so risks losing everything.

The introduction of Manon Blackbeak, a fearsome witch readying herself and her kind for battle on the side of the King, was initially an unwelcome distraction, but I eventually found myself intrigued by her story. It is obvious Manon will play a crucial role in the battle to come and I look forward to witnessing it.

I have really been loving this series, I’ve become totally invested in the characters and lost in Maas’s world of magic and intrigue. I am assuming that the next book will be last in this series (though there is potential to drag it out) – I am both eagerly looking forward to its release and simultaneously dreading the approach of the series end.

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Read my reviews for the first two books in the series


Review: The Queen of Tearling by Erika Johansen

 

Title: The Queen of Tearling {The Queen of Tearling #1}

Author: Erika Johansen

Published:  Bantam Press: Random House July 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from July 18 to 20, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Erika Johansen’s debut novel, The Queen of the Tearling, attracted notice months before its publication date. The film rights have already been bought by Warner Bros and Harry Potter actress Emma Watson has signed on as both executive producer, and its star.

The Queen of the Tearling is the first book in a trilogy featuring nineteen year old Kelsea Glynn, the newly revealed heir to the throne of Tearling. After a lifetime in hiding she must claim her birthright and defend her rule against her debauched uncle, corrupt officials and The Red Queen, a depraved sorceress who reigns the neighbouring land of Mortmesme.

In terms of plot there isn’t really much to distinguish this fantasy novel from those with similar tropes, but there is plenty of action with a surprisingly dark and gritty edge. Kelsea’s fight for her throne results in a wealth of political intrigue, involving spies at court, assassination attempts and attempts to circumvent Kelsea’s orders, which leads to multiple sword clashing confrontations. Magic shimmers in the air, but affords only a few its privileges, and there are also seeds of romance for Kelsea with a handsome rogue named Fetch.

Tearling is a realm rife with corruption, heavy with bureaucracy which favours the rich and exploits the poor. Initially I was puzzled by the setting but eventually figured out that despite the medieval detail, it is set not in the past, or an alternate universe, but the distant post-apocalyptic future of our own world. This creates an unusual landscape that blends a feudal society with reminders of modern life, which also embraces magic, but exactly how, and why, it came about is only hinted at.

I liked Kelsea well enough, she is a mixture of teenage insecurity, often naive and headstrong, but also compassionate, determined and well intentioned. She faces a myriad of ethical challenges with both the idealism and pragmatism of youth. I was a little disappointed at the emphasis both the author, and her character, place on appearance though.

The Queen of Tearling is an entertaining read and though it is not without its flaws as a novel, I can see its cinematic potential, and I’ll be interested to read its sequel.

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Review: The Caller by Juliet Marillier

 

Title: The Caller {Shadowfell #3}

Author: Juliet Marillier

Published: Pan Macmillan Au June 2014

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Status: Read from June 02 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

The Caller is the rewarding conclusion to Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell trilogy, in which Neryn and her allies finally confront King Keldec in a battle to reclaim Alban from his despotic rule.

Picking up where Raven Flight left off, Neryn is continuing her quest to complete her training with the Guardians before the planned Midsummer rebellion. As winter approaches Neryn joins the the Guardian of the Air, but the White Lady is fading and when her haven is destroyed, Neryn is forced to move on. Though Neryn still needs to seek the wisdom of the Master of Shadows, time is running out and when she learns of the horrifying new threat to the rebellion, Neryn has no choice but to enter Keldec’s court.

One of the strengths of this series has been Marillier’s characterisation of the principles, Neryn and Flint and their struggle to reconcile their own conscience and behaviour with their need to serve the greater good. Never is the conflict more clear than when Neryn is forced to witness the King and Queen’s cruelty in Keldec’s stronghold, and remain silent. Despite the personal cost, Neryn has be hold strong, trust in herself and her allies, in order to defeat the King and his dark forces.
Flint is near his breaking point in The Caller, struggling with the deeds he has had to commit as an Enforcer in order to provide the rebellion with what they need. Marillier explores his conflict with authenticity and compassion.

Though there is never any doubt that Neryn and her allies will prevail, the final confrontation is as stirring as to be expected with impassioned speeches by Flint, Tali and Neryn, and a violent conflict that leaves several of the characters the reader has come to know and love dead on the battlefield. It is a rousing conclusion though if I have any criticism… ***minor spoiler*** it is the way in which Kedrec and his cronies escape any immediate punishment for their crimes – surely the Queen could have been snatched bald or something!

Overall, the Shadowfell Trilogy is an enjoyable young adult series and The Caller provides a fine conclusion to Juliet Marillier’s tale of fantasy and adventure.

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Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

 

 

Title: The Word Exchange

Author: Alena Graedon

Published: Hachette Au April 2014

Status: Read from April 13 to 15, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“The end of words would mean the end of memory and thought. In other words, our past and future.”

In Alena Graedon’s alternate history literary thriller, The Word Exchange, the printed word has all but disappeared in less than four short years. Set in New York in 2016,Just weeks before the publication of the third and final printed North American Dictionary of the English Language(NADEL), its curator, Doug disappears leaving behind a cryptic message for his daughter, Anana. Concerned and confused, Anana, with the support of a colleague, Bart, begins to search for her father, and stumbles upon a shocking conspiracy that threatens to destroy the very foundation of civilisation – language.

The population in The Word Exchange depends on ‘super’smart personal devices, known as Memes, for almost every want and need and to perpetuate that reliance, the company, Synchronic, responsible for the devices has recognised and exploited the profitability in owning not only the means of communication, (ie the Memes) but also language itself through the Word Exchange. Synchronic does this by essentially forcing the development of a new language, but one without any rules or context, thus forcing users to consult (and pay) the Exchange in order to communicate. Only a handful of people, including Anana’s father, Doug, object, and predict disaster but it is too late when meme users begin to develop ‘Word Flu’, essentially aphasia (the loss and the comprehension and formulation of language) that leads to more serious individual and societal complications.

The Word Exchange is, in part, a cautionary tale about society’s increasing reliance on digital communication and information, and its possible impact on language when paired with corporate greed. If you are appalled when the Oxford Dictionary updates with words like ‘vacay’ and ‘phablet’ and insist on spelling every word in full when you send a text message, The Word Exchange will leave you feeling horrified, yet vindicated.

I think The Word Exchange is both an ambitious, complex, and clever novel and a frustrating, vexatious, and pretentious read. The concept, while not unique, is intriguing and creative but for me the execution was largely alienating. The pace is almost glacial til halfway through and littered with incomplete info dumps, Anana is a weak and annoying heroine who uses disruptive footnotes in her ‘journal’, and the prose is wildly overwritten, even allowing for intentional irony.
But for all that there are moments of brilliance in the narrative, like when, for example, we begin to understand and relate to Graedon’s premise as Bart’s aphasia progresses and made up words proliferate, stripping his journal writing of context and meaning.

I am, in all honesty, torn. The Word Exchange is simultaneously too much, and not enough, an intelligent story but somehow lacking in common sense. If you are curious, I do think it is worth the attempt, but I wouldn’t judge anyone who gives up on it.

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***

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Review: Snowblind by Christopher Golden

Title: Snowblind

Author: Christopher Golden

Published: St Martin’s Press January 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from January 17 to 18, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In the midst of a raging blizzard, more than a dozen people in the small New England town of Coventry lose their lives. A young boy falls from a window, a teen is electrocuted while sledding and others simply wandered into the snow, their bodies discovered only after the storm passed, though some are never found at all. Twelve years later another blizzard approaches the town and with it comes the memories of that dark time..and something else.

Despite the heatwave my town is currently enduring, I experienced chills running down my spine as I read Snowblind. This supernatural horror is a slow building psychological thriller, that builds on feelings of unease and dread until it culminates in a fierce life or death battle. The book begins with the deaths in the first storm, hinting at a sinister force, before jumping ahead twelve years as another major storm descends on the town. Here Golden explores the consequences of the previous blizzard for the family and friends who survived before revealing their terrifying fates.

The cast is large and varied, though intrinsically connected by their experiences and losses in the first storm. I found it fairly easy to track them as Golden reveals each character, their fears, their flaws and their desires. They mostly typify small town residents, ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary event. In particular focus is Jake, a photographer, whose youngest brother died in the last storm, and Detective Keenan, who has since felt he failed his community. Both witnessed something during the storm that they have tried hard to forget and now are confronted with something they can’t hope to understand.

This came close to a five star read for me except that Golden fell into the trap of trying to explain the inexplicable which blunts the mystique, and quite frankly, once all is said and done, why would the characters not immediately be thinking of relocating to somewhere, anywhere, it doesn’t snow, ever?

Still, if your city is currently in the grip of a snowstorm I would recommend caution before reading Snowblind, you may never listen to the howl of the wind or watch the snow fall without apprehension again. This is a gripping chiller.

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Review: Resist by Sarah Crossan

Title: Resist {Breathe #2}

Author: Sarah Crossan

Published: Bloomsbury October 2013

Status: Read from October 09 to 10, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The conclusion to Crossan’s Breathe trilogy, Resist picks up where Breathe ended. If you don’t recall the details of the book, you might want to refresh your memory before beginning Resist as Crossan doesn’t look back.

After leaving the Pod, finding The Grove and having it destroyed by the Ministry’s forces, Alina, Quinn and Bea along with a handful of others are making their way to Sequoia, the last known haven outside of the dome. But for those that reach Sequoia, nothing is what they had hoped for and now they have no choice but to take a deep breath and fight for their future.

As in Breathe, the story unfolds through the multiple perspectives of Alina, Bea and Quinn with the additional point of view from Ronan, the son of the (former) Pod leader. The rapid shifts in perspective ensure the novel moves ahead at a quick pace but leaves little opportunity for character development and I thought the individuals and their relationships took a back seat to the plot.

The plot of Resist has an intensity Breathe lacked however, with Sequoia proving to be a scary disappointment, the Ministry closing in on the Resistance in the Pod and a revolution inevitable, though not in the manner you might expect. The conclusion is action packed and affecting with unexpected loss but in its final moments leaves the reader with hope for the future.

Resist is a solid finale for the Breathe duology. I recommend if all possible you read it immediately following Breathe which I think will lead to a more satisfying reading experience.

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Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

Title: The Returned

Author: Jason Mott

Published: Harlequin September 2013

Read an Extract or Listen to the first chapter from Audible narrated by Tom Stechsculte

Status: Read from August 30 to 31, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I first learned about The Returned when I attended the Harlequin Summit in February and I have been waiting impatiently for its release ever since. Jason Mott’s debut novel poses explores a compelling premise, what if the people you once loved, and lost, come back?

Nearly fifty years after Harold and Lucille’s son drowned tragically on his eighth birthday, Jacob is Returned to them having been found alongside a river bank in China. Their son is just one of many who have returned from the dead, as bewildered by their resurrection as are the ‘True Living’, with no memory of their passing or their absence.

The world is torn, are the Returned a miracle or a sign of ‘the end of days’? An infection or a blessing? People or monsters?  While some welcome the reunion with their loved ones, others shun them. Fear, jealousy, even resentment and regret amongst some of the ‘True Living’ engenders outbreaks of protests and violence. The American government, unable to explain the phenomena, eventually responds by segregating The Returned, housing them in increasingly overcrowded guarded camps.

The Hargraves’ story of Jacob’s Return is intertwined with tales from other Returned individuals including an artist whose fame came only posthumously, a cluster of Nazi soldiers, a family man and a girl murdered in war torn Sierra Leone. These snippets provide additional perspective and mystery.

For some readers the lack of explanation about the how’s and the why’s of the Returned may be a source of frustration but I was pleased that Mott didn’t attempt to make sense of it. There are more important questions to be asked and answered about ‘faith and morality, love and responsibility’, about humanity and the meaning of life. I was impressed by the way in which Mott navigated issues like religion and more prosaic concerns like the strain on resources resulting from a population explosion.

The Returned is a remarkable, captivating read and its questions will haunt you long after you have turned the last page. If your loved one was Returned to you, what would you do?

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Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

 

Title: The Bone Season

Author: Samantha Shannon

Published: Bloomsbury August 2013

Status: Read from August 17 to 19, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I wouldn’t advise beginning The Bone Season with the intention of reading just a few chapters before bedtime or you may find yourself still turning the pages at dawn as I did. With all the hype surrounding this novel written by twenty one year old debut author, Samantha Shannon I have to admit I was a little wary going in but The Bone Season, though not perfect, is an impressive and engrossing fantasy novel.

Set in future London following a timeline that splits from ours in the early 1900’s, The Bone Season introduces nineteen year old Paige Mahoney. Paige is a dreamwalker, fighting to survive in a world where possessing any clairvoyant ability is considered high treason. Forced underground, London’s clairvoyant’s have formed criminal enclaves and Paige has given her allegiance to Jaxon Hall, who collects those ‘voyants’ with the rarest and most useful talents.
During a rare journey to visit her father in London’s suburbs, the train Paige is traveling on is boarded by Scion Underguards searching for voyants and Paige is forced to flee but quickly caught, drugged and taken to the Tower. Paige expects to be executed, for no one that has been taken by the Scion has ever returned but is horrified to learn that captured voyants are handed over to a enigmatic otherworldly race that call themselves the Rephaite, to serve them as slaves or food or soldiers. Paige’s unique ability results in her being assigned to the Blood-Consort, Arcturus Warden, whom she is expected to obey unquestioningly. Paige though is not the type to meekly accept the strictures of her new life in Oxford, she wants to go home and she is determined to take as many other voyants as she can with her. TheBoneSeason_ReadingRoom_300x250

The plot of The Bone Season is actually quite straightforward and though there aren’t a lot of surprises, I still found it compelling. There is plenty of tension and a good mix of action and intrigue with just a touch of romance (thankfully left nearly to the end of the novel).

I liked Paige as the heroine – she is smart, resourceful, feisty and both her talent and her personality is interesting. Despite the inherent contradiction she has a core of incorruptible humanity, she cares even when it is in her best interest not to.
We learn only a little about her employer, Jax, and her colleagues given that she spends most of the book separated from them, but I am looking forward to getting to know more about them. Paige’s allies and enemies in Sheol I are reasonably well drawn but obviously temporary.
Warden is necessarily enigmatic, his allegiances unclear and his motives suspect. The issue of trust between Paige and Warden is a crucial element of the story and I think Shannon develops this very well.

The world building of The Bone Season is creative and interesting, though at times a little dense. I found it took a little while to get it all straight but I was intrigued by the variety of clairvoyant talents introduced ranging from Cartomancers to Binders and the ways in which the voyants are linked to the aether – the plane of existence where spirits dwell. The introduction of the enigmatic Rephaite, hidden in Oxford, adds another layer of interest especially as exactly what they are is shrouded in secrecy.

Despite it’s length, The Bone Season is well paced without much of the the forced compression most stories are hostage to. I think the writing is impressive, especially given Shannon’s age and experience. She is a natural storyteller and though a little more polish wouldn’t hurt, the flaws in the narrative are minor. I would think it would be harder for Americans than readers from the Commonwealth to understand some of the slang used in The Bone Season, though a glossary is available to be made use of.

The Bone Season is easily one of the most enjoyable paranormal/distopyian novels I have read, though admittedly I have read few – distopyia is not usually my thing. I’m excited about the development of the series and hope that Samantha Shannon can live up to its potential. I will definitely be picking up the next book.

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