Review: Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry

 

Title: Church of Marvels

Author: Leslie Parry

Published: Hachette Australia May 2015

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Status: Read from May 18 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Church of Marvels is an atmospheric and haunting tale set in New York during the late 1800’s that unfolds from the perspectives of four compelling characters, whose lives eventually converge.

Leaving behind her twin sister, Isabelle Church fled to Manhattan in the wake of the Coney Island fire that killed her mother and destroyed the Church of Marvels, the carny show in which Isabelle starred. No one knows why she left, where she is, or what secrets she keeps.

“I haven’t been able to speak since I was seventeen years old. Some people believed that because of this I’d be able to keep a secret. They believed I could hear all manners of tales and confessions and repeat nothing. Perhaps they believe that if I cannot speak, I cannot listen or remember or even think for myself – that I am, in essence, invisible. That I will stay silent forever. I’m afraid they are mistaken.”

With her mother dead, and her twin sister gone, only Odile Church remains at Coney Island, the spinning girl on the Wheel of Death. When a letter from her sister finally arrives she heads to Manhattan, determined to find her.

“At first glance the twins looked alike – they were both freckled and hazel eyed, with thick blonde hair and the snub nose of a second-rate chorus girl. But that was where the similarities ended, Unlike Belle, with her lithe and pliant acrobat’s body, Odile had a permanent crook in her neck and a slight curve to her spine.”

Sylvan Threadgill is nineteen, abandoned as a young child, he makes his living as a night-soiler, and boxes for a few extra pennies. One night he finds a baby girl half drowned in the effluent and rescues her.

“Under their breaths they called him Dogboy. He’d been puzzled over and picked apart all of his life – the skin of a Gypsy, the hair of a Negro, the build of a German, the nose of a Jew. he didn’t belong to anyone. They started at him with a kind of terrified wonder, as though he was a curiosity in a dime museum. One of his eyes was brown, so dark it nearly swallowed the pupil, and the other pale, aqueous blue.”

When Alphie Leonetti, once a ‘penny rembrandt’, is first introduced she is waiting for her husband, Anthony, to rescue her from the notorious Blackwell’s Asylum in the East River, the last thing she remembers is an argument with her disapproving mother in law. Desperate to escape she befriends a mute inmate with startling skills.

“Alphie curled up and covered her face with her hair, then cried her voice away. She couldn’t bear it; she’d come so far from her days a s a girl on the street, a bony runaway with shoes made from paper, waiting there on the corner with her paint stand and jars. And here she was, through some cruel reversal, sent back to the anonymous hive, trapped in a room full of women who were not missed and not wanted, who would wear the same dress every day until it disintegrated on their hungry frames-a dress she too wore, formless and smelling of some previous disease…”

With evocative phrasing Parry creates memorable characters and vivid settings, from the seedy shores of Coney Island to the dark, narrow streets of inner Manhattan, and the bleak horror of the asylum marooned in the middle of the East River.

A novel that demands attention, the lyrical prose of Church of Marvels tells a complex, suspenseful mystery that sometimes appears scattered, but is eventually brought to a stunning resolution.

“We can be a weary, cynical lot – we grow old and see only what suits us, and what is marvelous can often pass us by. A kitchen knife. A bulb of glass. A human body. That something so common should be so surprising – why, we forget it. We take it for granted. We assume that our sight is reliable, that our deeds are straightforward, that our words have one meaning. But life is uncommon and strange; it is full of intricacies and odd, confounding turns.”

 

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Review: A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J Maas

 

Title: A Court of Thorn and Roses {A Court of Thor and Roses #1}

Author: Sarah J Maas

Published: Bloomsbury May 2015

Status: Read from May 14 to 16, 2015 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

As a huge fan of Sarah J Maas’s ‘Throne of Glass’ series, I’ve been excited about the release of A Court of Thorn and Roses, the first book in a new trilogy, blending fae lore with a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fable.

In the depths of winter, Fayre is fighting to keep her poverty stricken family alive when she kills a wolf, unaware he is a creature of the fae. Having unwittingly broken the centuries old treaty made between the humans and their kind, she willingly submits to the penalty to protect her family and is dragged to Prythia by the beast that demands it, expecting to be killed, enslaved or worse by the race that once slaughtered humans for sport.
Instead the beast, who is not exactly a monster at all but rather a High Fae with shape shifting abilities, offers her a life of ease in his court but can Fayre really trust the word of a Faerie, especially when something dark and wicked lurks close by?

I really liked the character of Fayre, she is a strong willed, fierce and passionate, though not without her vulnerabilities. She struggles to adjust to her new life in Prythia and is understandably slow to trust Tamlin but once she gives in to her fate she embraces it wholeheartedly.

It isn’t until Fayre is captive in Prythia that Tamlin reveals his true self, not just High Fae, he is the devastatingly handsome and powerful High Lord of the Spring Court. Tamlin though is also cursed, condemned to wear a masquerade mask with weakening powers, by what he explains to Fayre is a blight that has been poisoning the magic in the realm.

The nature and source of the ‘blight’ provides the major arc of conflict for the novel. I won’t give it away but I will say it surprised me. I enjoyed the action and drama of the story, particularly in the climatic final chapters, but I did feel that the story lagged somewhat in the middle. Fayre’s time in the Spring Court is largely uneventful, with most of the action happening ‘off the page’, while Fayre sort of wanders around with her easel.

And as to be expected, romance develops between Fayre and Tamlin. There are some intimate scenes between the couple, but nothing too explicit. There is also the potential for a love triangle of sorts with the introduction of the enigmatic High Lord of the Night Court, Rhysand.

While I wasn’t wholly enamored by A Court of Thorn and Roses I did enjoy the characters and the world Maas has built and I will be picking up the next book, as yet untitled, as soon as it is available.

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Also by Sarah J Maas reviewed on Book’d Out


Review: Resistance by John Birmingham

 

Title: Resistance {Dave Hooper #2}

Author: John Birmingham

Published: Pan Macmillan AU March 2015

Status: Read from March 12 to 15, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The second novel to feature rig engineer turned superhero monster slayer Dave Cooper, Resistance is another darkly funny, action packed fantasy adventure from Australian author John Birmingham.

Dave is enjoying his celebrity, in a typical Dave-like manner, after the defeat of the Hunn but the breach in New Orleans was just the start and now the Hunn are boiling up from the underworld realm all over the globe, eager to reclaim their dominion.

There is no getting away from the fact that Dave is a dick, and his basic nature is unchanged despite becoming a superhero. In Resistance he is confronted with his new responsibilities as the only man able to translate the intentions of the Hunn but he manages to alienate almost everyone when he makes the wrong choices.

Like Emergence, Resistance is a fast paced, entertaining read, hilarious, action – packed and unfailingly politically incorrect.

I’m looking forward to Dave’s final adventure in Ascendance

 

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Also available: Book 1

Review: Shadow Study by Maria V Snyder

Title: Shadow Study {Soulfinders #1; Study#4; The Chronicles of Ixia #7}

Author: Maria V Snyder

Published: HarlequinTeen Au March 2015

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Status: Read from February 26 to 28, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Shadow Study launches an exciting new fantasy adventure trilogy by Maria V Snyder featuring characters familiar from her Study and Glass series.

It opens as Yelena, on her way to meet Valek for a brief reunion, is attacked by a hidden assailant who shoots her with a poisoned arrow. Able to heal herself, Yelena enjoys a passionate reunion with Valek before he returns to Ixia, but twenty four hours later she realises her magic has disappeared. Returning to Sitia, Yelena is desperate to find out how she has been stripped of her powers, and how to get them back. Without them she is vulnerable, especially since an old enemy is bent on revenge, and a new one is determined to destroy her.

While Yelena sets out to find the answers she needs, Valek is busy in his role as the Commander’s second after being gone for almost a year. His point of view details life at the keep, as well as Valek’s recall of his past as a student of the The School of Night and Shadows, desperate to avenge the murders of his family, and sets up what I assume will be the main thrust of the plot for this trilogy – a brewing war between Sitia and Ixia.

I don’t think it is strictly necessary to have read the previous books set in this world to enjoy Shadow Study, but those that have will have the slight advantage of being privy to both the history of Snyder’s world, and the development of the characters and their relationships. Snyder does introduce a few new characters in Shadow Study, most notably Onora, a talented assassin with her eye on Valek’s job, and Gerik, a soldier, who are partnered with Janco and Ari.

For established and new fans alike, Shadow Study should prove to be a fast paced and entertaining fantasy adventure. Fair warning though, the book ends on a cliffhanger and the second book, Night Study, won’t be published until 2016.

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Poison Study Magic Study Fire Study

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YA Adventure

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

 

Title: Red Queen {Red Queen #1}

Author: Victoria Aveyard

Published: Hachette Au February 2015

Status: Read from February 11 to 12, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the author}

My Thoughts:

A fast-paced high fantasy adventure, Red Queen introduces Victoria Aveyard’s debut trilogy.

Perhaps the weakest aspect of Red Queen is its fairly formulaic concept. Aveyard pits an elite group – the Silvers – against an oppressed faction – the Reds. The Silvers, so called because of their silver blood, have a range of special abilities and hold all the wealth and power. The Reds, who bleed red blood, have no such gifts and are used as little more than slave labour or as fodder for the war with neighboring factions, subject to the whims of the ruling class. Enter the Scarlet Dawn, a band of Red rebels determined to overthrow the Silver’s.

“We will rise, red as the dawn.”

In terms of plot however, the author ably develops exciting conflict, intrigue, and betrayal. There is plenty of tension, high emotion and drama as Mare struggles to deal with the dangerous situation she finds herself trapped in. The story is fast paced with plenty of action and the obligatory romantic triangle, though with a surprising twist.

“I see a world on the edge of a blade. Without balance, it will fall.”

I liked Mare a lot, she is daring, feisty and loyal to those she loves. She has never simply accepted her lot in life as a Red, rebelling by becoming a petty thief in order to help support her family, and she jumps at the chance to become part of the revolution. Mare’s idealism is tempered with a hard earned streak of pragmatism but it proves to be not quite enough to protect her from intrigue of the Silver Court. She makes mistakes, tending to take things at face value, and as such is vulnerable to placing her trust in the wrong people with dramatic consequences.

“It is impossible. It is foolish. It is our best chance.”

The other main characters introduced in Red Queen also prove to be interesting, particularly the Silver Princes, Cal and Maven. Their complicated dynamic is integral to the plot development and Aveyard uses it well.

“He’s strong, he’s talented, he’s powerful – and I’m his shadow. The shadow of the flame.”

Entertaining and exciting I really enjoyed Red Queen and I am looking forward to the next book.

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Review: The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

 

Title: The Fire Sermon { The Fire Sermon #1}

Author: Francesca Haig

Published: Gallery Books February 2015

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Status: Read from February 05 to 07, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

A dystopian blend of fantasy, sci-fi and adventure with a touch of romance, The Fire Sermon is the first book in a planned trilogy from Australian author, and award winning poet, Francesca Haig.

In the world four hundred years after The Blast, every person is born with a twin. One is always healthy and whole, while the other suffers from some abnormality. Identified as the Alpha and Omega, the twins are separated in early childhood, the Alpha is given the privileges of education and power, while the Omega, whose life only has value because their fate is entwined with the Alphas, is branded and banished to a life of poverty.
Cass and Zach have been raised together much longer than most twins while waiting for the Omega trait to surface. They are thirteen when Zach, eager to embrace his birthright of entitlement, finally betrays Cass as a seer and she is cast out.
Seven years later, Zach has risen to a position of power on the Alpha Council and to protect himself from his rivals, imprisons Cass in an Alpha facility where she is confined to a cell, her only regular visitor The Confessor, an Alpha colleague of her brother, determined to exploit Cass’s ability as a seer. It’s another four years before Cass has an opportunity to escape and she sets out to find the Omega Resistance, hoping to change the world.

The idea of Alpha and Omega twins is interesting though the general concept of a society, where one faction is privileged and another oppressed in a post apocalyptic setting, isn’t a new one. Haig doesn’t offer any explanation for the ‘twinning’, but I like the way it allows her to exploit the ‘greys’ of the premise. The physical link between the twins raises some philosophical and ethical questions that relates to issues in our own society.

AU Cover

I’m in two minds about Cass. I admired her determination to escape and search for something better but she is more pious and naive than I was comfortable with, with her compassion, and her eagerness to find excuses for her brother’s behaviour, verging on being a weakness of character rather than a virtue of idealism. Neither did I find Cass particularly brave or heroic and overall I didn’t feel her character demonstrated much growth over the course of the novel.

The pacing is somewhat uneven, Cass and Kip’s road trip in particular drags on a bit and I felt that Haig waited a bit too long to introduce the Resistance, but the writing is strong enough to encourage momentum. The tension is there when needed and there are a couple of twists designed to surprise the reader.

Marketed at a crossover adult/YA audience I’m sure the Fire Sermon will find readers among fans of dystopian fiction. Though the Fire Sermon didn’t wow me, I do think the trilogy has potential and I’m interested to see how the story develops.

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Blog Tour Review: Avery by Charlotte McConaghy

Title: Avery {The Chronicles of Kaya #1}

Author: Charlotte McConaghy

Published: Random House Feb 2015

Status: Read from February 03 to 05, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Avery, the first book in Charlotte McConaghy’s romantic fantasy adventure trilogy, The Chronicles of Kaya, introduces a nation divided by war. For centuries the people of Kaya and Pirenti have fought bloody battles for dominance. The Pirenti, ruled by the sadistic Barbarian Queen, have the advantage of size and strength, the Kyan rely on the magic of the Warders and the bravery of their people to fight the tyranny.

During a mission to assassinate the queen in her castle, Avery is caught and savagely murdered much to the horror of his bond-mate, Ava. The people of Kyan die in pairs, and his passing should condemn Ava to death, but instead she is the first of her kind to survive. With her soul ripped in two, and cast out of Kayan society as ‘unnatural’, Ava assumes Avery’s identity and plots her revenge on the Queen but her plans are thwarted when she is captured by Ambrose, the Pirenti Prince.

Ambrose, like his elder brother Thorne, has been raised by his mother to hate the Kyan, scorning their physical weakness and soft emotions. A fierce and merciless warrior he is nevertheless beginning to question his mother’s cruelty and the endless bloodshed. Tasked to transport the Kayan boy he captured to the Pirenti prison isle, and then shipwrecked during the journey, he slowly comes to admire Avery’s courage and tenacity, challenging all he has been taught …and his barren heart.

Unusually, the narrative of Avery is carried by the first person perspectives of Ava and Ambrose, as well as Thorne, Ambrose’s elder brother, and Thorne’s wife, Roselyn. The focus of the tale is on the emotional journey of these four characters, struggling to reconcile their expectations and desires. The characters are quite complex and stir a mixture of admiration, pity, distaste and respect.

It wasn’t until I began to organise my thoughts to write this review that I realised there were elements of the romantic relationships that made me really uncomfortable. There is the idea that a man’s violent nature can be changed by love, that Roselyn’s patience with her abusive husband, and Ava’s endurance of Ambrose’s violence, are eventually rewarded by that change. That the Prince’s are excused because of their twisted upbringing, and eventually redeemed simply because these women love them. There is some attempt to mitigate the dysfunction with apologies, promises and redemption, but it is still a troublesome model of romance.

I did enjoy a number of other elements of the plot, particularly the twist that reveals the Barbarian Queen’s secrets. The action scenes, even those that are quite brutal, are well written, as are the more intimate and emotional scenes. Avery explores a number of facets of love – the love of country, and the bonds between siblings, parents and lovers. The world-building is fairly simplistic, I understood the Pirenti but didn’t feel I learned much about Kaya. I did find I could easily visualize the Pirenti castle, the hazards of the Prison isle and Ava soaring through the sky on the back of her Pegasi.

Avery is a tale of love, hate, revenge and redemption. Though I have my reservations about the romance I did enjoy the story in the moment and found it to be a quick read.

Follow the Avery Blog Tour

29 January 2015 – Booklover Book Reviews 31 January 2015 – Book Muster Down Under 5 February 2015 – Speculating on SpecFic 6 February 2015 – Book’d Out 9 February 2015 – An Adventure in Words 12 February 2015 – Inside my Words 13 February 2015 – Words Read and Written 16 February 2015 – Stephanie Gunn blog 17 February 2015 – A Word Shaker 19 February 2015 – Inside My Words 24 February 2015 – Thoughts by Joy 26 February 2015 – The Rest Is Still Unwritten

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Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

 

Title: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Published: Crown Publishing Jan 2014

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Status: Read from January 29 to 31, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

“So that’s the situation. I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days. If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.
So yeah. I’m fucked.”

I wasn’t expecting The Martian to be funny but I found myself chuckling surprisingly often. Watney’s logs are full of witty wisecracks and good humour, even if it is occasionally juvenile and crude. Mark Watney is an optimist – perhaps the ultimate optimist. No matter the challenges thrown at him – lack of food, an exploding tent, a smashed faceplate, disco music, he just keeps going, solving one problem at a time. Watney’s MacGyver-like skill may be a little hard to swallow but I was willing to go with it and believe in him.

“Also, I have duct tape. Ordinary duct tape, like you buy at a hardware store. Turns out even NASA can’t improve on duct tape.”

The amount of tension was also a surprise, with each setback on Mars, and back on Earth as the rescue effort gets underway, I found myself more and more anxious for Watney. I really wasn’t sure if he would or would not survive, but I desperately wanted him to find a way off of the planet and get back home.

“Mars and my stupidity keep trying to kill me.”

I have no idea if the science in The Martian is accurate, but I believed Weir anyway, plus this is science fiction so he is allowed plenty of leeway. While I admit that on occasion I found some of the technical detail tedious, I appreciated the sense of authenticity it lent to the story, and I feel like I learnt stuff – always a bonus.

“The chemistry is on my side. the question now is how do I actually make this reaction happen slowly, and how do I collect the hydrogen? The answer is: I don’t know.
I suppose I’ll think of something. Or die.”

Witty, clever and thrilling The Martian is a terrific read. Science fiction is far from my favourite genre but this book may well be one of my favourites of the year.

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SciFi set in space

Review: The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

 

Title: The Mime Order {Bone Season #2}

Author: Samantha Shannon

Published: Bloomsbury January 2015

Status: Read from January 22 to 24, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Bone Season introduced nineteen year old Paige Mahoney, a ‘dreamwalker’, fighting to survive in a world where possessing any clairvoyant ability is considered high treason. Caught and arrested by the governing body, Scion, Paige was sent to ‘The Tower’ where she was 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.

The Mime Order begins as Paige, along with a few dozen other voyants make their escape, with the help of a handful of sympathetic Rephaite, after a bloody rebellion. Though forced to lay low as the Scion, whom she now knows is controlled by the Rephaite, hunt for her, Paige is determined to alert the underground community to the truths she has learned, but no-one, including her Underworld boss Jaxon, seems to care. Paige is baffled and frustrated by the disinterest until she uncovers evidence that several of the Syndicate gang leaders are in league with the Rephaite, profiting by handing over their own people. To fight back, Paige has only one choice…to become the Underqueen of the Syndicate, and then convince the voyants to stand with her against the Rephaite.

I like Paige a lot, she is smart, resourceful, feisty and both her talent and her personality are interesting. She has a core of incorruptible humanity and cares even when it is in her best interest not to. She is faced with some difficult challenges and decisions in The Mime Order but handles them well.

Set in future London following a timeline that splits from ours in the early 1900’s, Shannon’s world building is intricate and vivid. The focus here is on the underbelly of the city, forced underground, London’s clairvoyant’s have formed criminal enclaves each led by a Mime boss and nominally lorded over by an Underking or Underqueen. Paige is a Mollisher (second in command) to Jaxon (also known as the White Binder) but after the events in The Bone Season their relationship is an uneasy one, and only worsens over the course of the novel.

At 528 pages, The Mime Order isn’t a quick read. The pacing can be a little uneven though Shannon tries to ensure crucial information and detail isn’t simply dumped in the reader’s lap. There is plenty of action, danger and suspense as the novel progresses, and the conclusion ends on another cliffhanger.

An action packed fantasy adventure, well conceived and well told, The Mime Order is a strong sequel to The Bone Season. This series is expected to be seven books long, at the moment I can’t quite see how Shannon will manage to sustain the story for that long but I am eager to find out what will happen next.

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Read my review of The Bone Season

 

Review: Emergence by John Birmingham

Title: Emergence {Dave Hooper #1}

Author: John Birmingham

Published: Pan Macmillan January 2015

Status: Read from January 17 to 19, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher)

My Thoughts:

Emergence is a darkly funny, action packed fantasy adventure from Australian author John Birmingham.

An oil rig off of the coast of New Orleans is under attack, not from terrorists, but from a group of terrifying monsters who have clawed their way up from the deep. Dave Hooper, the rig’s safety engineer, is hungover and pissed when he finds a hairless, scabrous ape like creature that calls itself a Hunn snacking on the ribcage of his best mate and in a fit of rage crushes its skull with a splitting maul. Hours later he wakes in hospital and discovers his battle with the monster has somehow triggered super hero like abilities… and now Dave must save the world.

Dave Hooper is an anti-hero, who works hard but plays even harder. He takes his job seriously but he spends his downtime partying with hookers and blow, dodging the IRS and calls from his wife’s divorce attorney. He is a lousy father with a crude vocabulary and politically incorrect opinions. Dave is not a man you could expect to count on, but the world it seems will have little choice.

The fast paced, explosive action sees the military struggling against the frenzied attack of an advance troop of Hunn as they storm their way through the tears in the veil and set upon New Orleans unprepared citizens. It has been centuries since the Hunn last roamed the earth and they don’t expect any resistance from mankind so they are dismissive of what they encounter, for though armed only with primitive weapons and basic armour, the Hunn possess enormous strength, speed and thick hides. As New Orleans threatens to become overrun by the man eating demons, Dave is forced to step up and vanquish the Hunn back to the Underworld.

Emergence won’t appeal to everyone but I found it richly imaginative, hugely entertaining and inappropriately hilarious. I’m looking forward to Dave Hooper’s next adventure in Resistance.

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