Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

 

Title: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Published: Crown Publishing Jan 2014

Read an Excerpt

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.

 Emergence is available to purchase from

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AWW Feature: Fairytales with Fiona Price

Price_Fiona2

I’m welcoming Fiona Price to Book’d Out today to share with you her debut  Let Down Your Hair, a novel with a very modern spin on the Rapunzel fairytale.

Fiona Price has a lifelong passion for words. She has studied multiple languages, talks too much, and spent her teens exchanging long letters with penfriends all over the world. After declaring she was going to be a writer, aged six, she began work on her first masterpieces: a novel about a wild pony and an incisive satirical song called ‘Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep’. Since then, she has attempted just about every form of writing, from bush verse and screenplays to elegies and academic articles. When not writing, Fiona uses her storytelling skills as a cross-cultural trainer and public speaker. She runs workshops on cultural diversity issues, is a member of Toastmasters, and was MC at the 2014 Chinese New Year Dinner for the Museum of Chinese-Australian History. Her non-fiction book Success with Asian Names was published in 2007, and she was a co-author for the HarperCollins International Student Survival Guide in 2014. Fiona is plotting further novels based on fairy tales, and is currently working on a fantasy trilogy for young adults. She has an Australian father and a Chinese mother, and she lives in Melbourne by the sea.

About Let Down Your Hair

 At 22, Sage Rampion has led a strange and cloistered life. She’s been homeschooled, and she’s never owned a cell phone, watched TV or spoken to a man on her own. Everything she’s seen, read and watched has been vetted by her grandmother Andrea, Professor of Women’s Studies and hardline old school feminist.
When Sage and Andrea see Ryan modelling naked below their office window, Andrea marches out to charge him with indecent exposure. But he waves up at Sage, and his grin is the warmest thing she’s seen in her lonely existence. She rushes down to warn him, and as they grow close her sheltered world begins to unravel. Sage starts asking questions about the way she was brought up, and the beautiful teenage mother who abandoned her.
But answering those questions means confronting Andrea, and she’s not a good enemy to make. Taking her on brings Ryan and Sage more trouble than either of them could have imagined.
A timely re-telling of the Rapunzel fairytale in the era of selfies and smartphones.

My review of Let Down Your Hair can be seen HERE, in the meantime please enjoy this guest post from Fiona Price.

Re-imagining Rapunzel

My first encounter with fairytale retelling was “Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes”. I was seven, and I thought Dahl’s rhyming twists on well-known tales were the funniest things I’d ever heard. Inspired by his gun-toting Little Red Riding Hood, I wrote a story called “Petrolella” for my next primary school assignment. I’m happy to say my teacher gave me a star for it!

The idea of retelling Rapunzel came to me many years later. My plan was to find crafty ways of adapting the tower and the hair for a modern-day setting. I toyed with a few ideas, but the one that grabbed me most came when I fell pregnant with my first child. For the first time, I found myself looking at the world as the place where I planned to raise a child. And the more I looked, the more scared I got about the prospect of having a daughter. How could I protect a girl from the message that Looking Hot is a girl’s most important duty? I figured there was no way to stop that message reaching her; I’d just have to arm her against it.

Then I got to thinking. If I did want to protect her from crippling sexist messages, what would I have to do? I’d have to home-school her, and vet everything from what she saw and read to the company she kept. No TV. No unsupervised internet. No commercial music. No contact with anyone who might leak that message through to her. I’d pretty much have to lock her away from the world… rather like the Witch in Rapunzel.

What sort of modern-day woman might bring up a child in so extreme a way? A feminist, obviously, but not an ordinary, sane feminist. A zealot. A purist. An unhinged hardliner with separatist leanings and a powerful need for control. A woman, in short, like Andrea Rampion, Professor of Womyn’s Studies.

Making my Wicked Witch a feminist professor was a risk, but it worked on so many levels. Not only could I milk the term “ivory tower”, I also got a strong link to hair. Because, of course, a woman like Andrea would emphatically reject the pressure on women to keep their bodies bald, brows groomed and head hair long and luscious. All I had to do was figure out how Rapunzel managed to grow hers so long while living under Andrea’s hairy thumb.

Turning a short fairytale into a novel means you have to take some liberties. In Let Down Your Hair, I added a second tower, and expanded the cast of five quite a bit. All the same, I tried to keep all of the key symbols and plot twists, including the gritty ones cut out by the Brothers Grimm. To my mind, if you’re retelling a fairytale, you need to do it properly!

The other thing I did was update the archetypes in the tale to familiar ones we see in the media today. The Humourless Man-Hating Feminist. The Blonde Alpha Girl. The Rich Guy Who Dates Blondes. The Ugly Duckling Who’s Really A Gorgeous Actress In Glasses. I wanted to take these tropes and turn them into real people with histories and inner worlds of their own.

‘Let Down Your Hair’ is my debut novel, and I’m really excited that it’s out. If all goes well, I’d like to tackle another fairytale soon, and I’ve already got my eye on Snow White…

Let Down Your Hair is available for purchase from

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Review: Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

 

Title: Horrorstör

Author: Grady Hendrix

Published: Quirk Books September 2014

Read an Excerpt

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

My Thoughts:

I first discovered Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix on Leeswammes Blog where the quirky cover, designed to imitate a IKEA catalogue, caught my eye. I was further intrigued when I learned she had given it five stars and I immediately added it to my wishlist based on her recommendation.

After the staff of IKEA ORSK repeatedly find soiled furniture, broken glass ware and other damaged products each morning with no evidence of an intruder, store manager Basil recruits two of his employees, Amy, a reluctant floor leader, and Ruth-Ann, an ORSK lifer, to work an overnight shift. His plan calls for hourly sweeps of each floor and when they stumble across a homeless man hiding under a bed, and two colleagues making out on a couch, they believe they have solved the mystery. But the man vehemently denies he is responsible and Amy’s colleagues, aspiring ghost busters, Trinity and Matt persuade them to take part in a seance, and suddenly the ‘Bright and Shining Way’ is a dark path to an unimagined hell.

Really I am surprised it has taken so long for someone to set a horror novel in a big box store like IKEA which, with its funneled walkways, empty staged rooms, and horse-meat meatballs, has a creep factor even on an ordinary day. It is easy to imagine the magnified eeriness of the echoing spaces at night, especially if you believe someone, or something, is out on the floor stalking you.

The format of Horrorstör includes chapters prefaced by the familiar innocuous blueprints and product descriptions of furniture with names like Müskk (a bed) and Liripip (a wardrobe) which grow increasingly bizarre however as the story progresses. These add a humourous touch which offsets the dawning horror. Also included is an order form, a map and even staff evaluation forms.

Horrorstör is a quick, entertaining read designed to elicit a chill or two in the same way that the store is designed to encourage you to purchase a bookshelf or two. A horror novel with a touch of the absurd, you will never look at IKEA in quite the same way again.

PS. If you need more convincing that IKEA is the perfect setting for a horror novel, check out IKEA Singapore’s TV ad to promote its late night opening hours – a tribute to The Shining.

Horrorstör is available to purchase from

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Review: Talon by Julie Kagawa

 

Title: Talon { Talon #1}

Author: Julie Kagawa

Published: HarlequinTeen November 2014

Status: Read from November 04 to 05, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Ut omnes segimus. As one, we rise.

Talon is the first in a new contemporary fantasy young adult series from author Julie Kagawa.

Centuries ago, dragons were forced into hiding, hunted near to extinction by the legendary dragonslayers, The Order of St George. Shifting into human form allowed dragonkind to survive and even thrive in secret, building a network which has successfully infiltrated human society, biding their time until the day Talon will rise up and reclaim the world.
Ember and Dante Hill are hatchlings who have lived their whole lives hidden within a Talon facility learning the skills they will need to survive as operatives within the organisation. Their last training task requires them to seamlessly assimilate into human society and so for one summer they will live as human teenagers on the sunny coast of LA. Ember is delighted with her new found freedom, but her experiences living among humans, as well as a chance meeting with a rogue dragon, causes her to begin to question the dictates of Talon and when she learns of the organisations plans for her, she is forced to make a difficult choice.

Talon unfolds through the perspectives of Ember, the teenage St George soldier, Garret Xavier Sebastian, tasked with discovering the human identity of the dragon known to have been seeded into the locale, and later, Riley aka Cobalt, a rogue dragon on the run from both Talon and the dragonslayers.

The pace is a little slow to begin with, allowing Kagawa to establish character and back story. There are elements of suspense, intrigue and drama as Ember defies Talon, her scary trainer, Lilith, and her brother, Dante, in search of the truth, while the Order of St George grows ever closer to exposing her. I enjoyed the action as it develops and the last few scenes are tense and fast paced.

Though the love triangle has a bit of a twist in that both Garrett and Riley – one a St George soldier, the other a rogue dragon – are ‘bad’ boys, it is still, well, a love triangle, not my favourite trope. That said, I liked both of them and there is chemistry between each boy and Ember.

Talon isn’t as strong as I perhaps hoped, the plot lacks some originality, but there is potential for Kagawa to create something more unique as the series develops. Talon is a light, quick and entertaining read, but be warned, there is a cliffhanger ending and the second book, Rogue, won’t be published for another six months or so.

 

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Review: The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott

 

Title: The Wonder of All Things

Author: Jason Mott

Published: Harlequin MIRA September 2014

Read and Excerpt

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.

 

The Wonder of All Things is available to purchase at

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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.

Heir of Fire is available to purchase from

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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.

The Queen of Tearling is available to purchase from

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