Monday, September 23, 2019

Book Review: The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had been told by many, many people (in particular my 'buddy' Mary S.R. comes to mind!) that I needed to read this series. They were all so very right! Let me start this review by saying if you like fun, clever fantasy novels that feel a little like a Doctor Who episode then go read this immediately! Don't even read the rest of this review; just go get The Invisible Library.

Like Doctor Who
I don't know if it's because the opening description of the Library made me think of the Doctor Who episode in which we first encounter River Song (my favourite character ever on this series) or that there are multiple dimensions that feel like time travel in their own way? Whatever the reason I had immense Doctor Who vibes within the first couple chapters.

Humour and Sarcasm
There is a humour that Genevieve Cogman has injected into each of her characters that reminds me of the banter on any good sci-fi show (ie: Firefly, Doctor Who, etc.) that helps to relieve some of the intense moments that are liable to happen. Much of the comedy included in The Invisible Library is sarcastic (my fave kind!) and requires you to appreciate how complex this world of multiple 'worlds' is. Whether it's Irene, Kai or (yummy, yummy) Vale keeping the reader on their toes with quick witty comments it doesn't even matter. The overall feel is just wonderful!

Don't let the laughs you may have at moments dispel from the fact that this is an action-packed, psychopathic starring story. Our villain(s) are complex and hard to anticipate. A nice change from the usual black and white you might get from others in a similar story format. There is nothing simple or easy about The Invisible Library's characters, plot or set-up. Yet it's a quick and enjoyable read. I know it sounds like this isn't possible; but truly Cogman conjures magic unlike most other authors and makes her novel one that is good to pick-up no matter mood you're in.

I'm sure everything has been said about this series already as it's been around (and beloved by many) for a few years now. So if you don't believe me then believe the thousands of others who've read and loved The Invisible Library. This book was so good I immediately (literally the next day) went out of my way to stop in at a bookstore and pick-up the next two books. I've since acquired the whole series.
Which leads me to my last point about The Invisible Library. It's a series that is COMPLETE! (woohoo!) Which makes it a great choice if you're fearful of never ending narratives or tired of waiting for the next book in a series to be published. These are my two biggest exhaustions about reading today and I'm so glad to start a new series that is fun, exciting, inventive, sexy (did I mention yummy Vale?) and at the same time smart.

I did previous have a note in here about how exciting it was the series was complete as well. But I’ve since found out there is a 7th book planned (thank you Leonore for pointing this out!) . I will say that based on this first books format (and my reading into the second book) each one seems to have its own plot and it’s just some character arcs that carry forward. So I’m hopeful that means no major cliffhangers that create issues with waiting for the next book to be released. 

Follow me on Goodreads

Monday, September 16, 2019

Book Review: The Lines We Leave Behind

The Lines We Leave Behind
by Eliza Graham

My rating: 4 of 5 stars (3.5)

There are a number of things to know about The Lines We Leave Behind in advance of reading it that might help you determine if it's for you:

1) Flashbacks.
Most of the book is told in a series of flashbacks. Our narrator can only tell the parts of the story she knows (and so it may not be fulsome at times)

2) Action then nothing.
The first 60% of this book is very quick, action-packed excitement. The last 40% is poignant, about relationships and our characters. It mellows right out. If you want a fast paced book for the whole time this is likely not for you.

3) Historical Context Lacking.
I was really hoping for some good insight into WWII and how it played out in the complex and politically unstable country of Yugoslavia at the time. Unfortunately Eliza Graham barely scratches the surface of what could have been a very informative book. While we learn about some of the rival groups and how many families were divided on either side of the conflict; the reality is that reading a Wiki page would give you more context and facts than we receive here. I was very disappointed by the lack of depth to this part of the story (and that in the afterward Graham even admits to the story being almost 100% fictional).

Still Pretty Good
Now all that to say this is actually a well written book. It wasn't necessarily what I was hoping for; but that didn't stop me from loving our characters and feeling for them by the bittersweet ending. I was very invested with our leading lady, her combat friends and spy handler (for lack of a better description).
Graham handles the idea of going from a covert high-adrenaline mission to average everyday life where no one knows how amazing you might have been at one moment in your life. This is a common experience for military, police, firefighters and EMS. Plus you also add in the PTSD aspects that invade at random times and it makes "normal" life feel very unsatisfying.

The biggest disappointment I have with The Lines We Leave Behind has nothing to do with writing, characters, plot, etc. I hate that publishers today (ahem, Amazon) have 'exclusive' agreements to only have some books on their devices. I know many indie authors say that Amazon makes them the most money; but for those outside of the USA (the only country where Kindle is the top e-reader) it limits our options. I read this entirely on my iPhone because I have a Kobo, not a Kindle. But I did want to read it badly enough to suck it up. I do however worry that this limits the audience significantly.
If I can give one piece of advice to indie authors; if you must start with Amazon for your first 6 months or a year do so. But then open up your book to all platforms and stores! There's (literally) hundreds of millions of people who may want to read your book but don't have Kindle capability.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Follow me on Goodreads

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Book Review: The Astral Traveler's Daughter

The Astral Traveler's Daughter
by K.C. Archer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This feels and reads like a typical middle or second book to a series. Nothing really happens; except that our lead gal learns more about her magical powers and time trudges on.

I'm not necessarily opposed to cliche moments or writing; after all that is how we got genres. That said there is only so much that I can take and in the introduction to Astral Traveler's Daughter there is an overdose of cliche comments that K.C. Archer has written in. Luckily it gets better.
Again there's nothing special about this series; but it's a decent read. It's neither the best, nor the worst.

Astral Travel
It always amuses me (and slightly frustrates me) when a leading character is given HUGE amounts of warning about something (in this case astral travel) and then immediately goes and does it. Archer has made this silly moment even worse by having the person who is helping our gal get into the astral realm give the speech of warning and then say to her "ready?" Um... why would she say yes now? It's ridiculous and bugs me. At least make the person who gives the warning NOT the same person that leads her into temptation (if you will).

Defense of Friends
There is one theme that is really well done in Astral Traveler's Daughter and that is the immediate instinct we all have to defend both our friends and family. It's as though none of us want to believe that we could be friends or related to someone that is 'evil' or just does awful things. I liked the treatment Archer used to show the disbelief (even in light of a mountain of evidence) that strikes our leading lady. While it (of course) doesn't necessarily add up as expected (because what book with a mystery does); it also doesn't turn entirely innocent either.
It's a good reminder that we must all step back sometimes and consider the facts and evidence of a situation (regardless of whom is the accused) instead of acting on instinct. This goes both ways of course. It's an excellent reminder not be too hasty to condemn (Professor Snape anyone?); but also think before defending too fervently.

I didn't expect much from this second book and so my expectations were more or less met. I hope that the third book is stronger and can bring in some better plot points. While astral travel is interesting and all it makes many things much too convenient in the end. And I hate convenient only-happened-because-of-magic endings. I also did have the ending pegged somewhat early on (around page 150 of 300); but again wasn't really expecting to be surprised and so the fact that I wasn't isn't a let down so much as a nod at Archer providing us with a solidly written cliche fantasy story.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Follow me on Goodreads

Monday, September 9, 2019

Book Review: Riwenne & the Mechanical Beasts

Riwenne & the Mechanical BeastsRiwenne & the Mechanical Beasts by Kristen S. Walker

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF @ 30%

I always get so excited about steampunk books and I'm always (seemingly) disappointed these days. You'd think I would learn. Is it because so many steampunk books are YA? Or because they are often written by new/debut authors? What is it about steampunk that the big three publishers are so afraid of?

In a nutshell it seems to me that there are three major problems that steampunk books have (and Riwenne & the Mechanical Beasts was no exception):
1) Believability. I'm not sure why it's so hard to make a steampunk book feel realistic. Airships work out fine but as soon as a "monster" is mechanical it seems to lose something or become awkward.
2) Intelligence. Truly smart characters seem to be a huge problem in steampunk books. It's like we need a creative author to pair up with a real engineer so that they can together write a great steampunk book. A lack of research about how things function is always lacking (and YA or not I would like machines that could in theory work please). Plus poor descriptions of mechanics makes for a very unsatisfying experience. Just like I would expect law, medicine and space to exist within our worldly parameters; I also expect machinery and engineering to be realistic and plausible at least.
3) World building. Just because you have chosen a stereotypical genre (steampunk) to set your book in doesn't mean I don't want just as much intelligent (and shown) world building as I do from fantasy. This also again goes for YA or not I expect the world building to be concise, shown (not told) and intricate but decipherable.

Edit, edit, edit
If you've ever heard the phrase "measure twice, cut once" then you may understand what I mean when I say that a book needs to be edited AT MINIMUM two major times. Once by the author themselves and once by a third party who is not worried about the author's feelings being hurt. Unfortunately Kristen S. Walker's story feels like it wasn't even edited the first time. In the opening chapter alone I couldn't numerous issues from undefined words (what is 'ordinary' in a fantasy world?), contradictory phrases ('burned with heat', say what now?), poor descriptions and explanations.

A few stand-out examples include:
"Most of the priestesses turned and glided out again. The elite in the front rows out, except for the few leaders who stayed behind."
-Yet one page before this quote we are told there are only 8 elite priestesses? So what exactly is a few and how many front rows were there? Nevermind that sentence fragment.

"When I stepped inside, lights flickered on in the ceiling. Sunstones gave off a warm glow almost as bright as natural sunlight."
- So are the sunstones the light, or is there another source of light? Would a stone flicker on? And how exactly? This entire two sentences makes my head hurt. Unfortunately the following paragraph that attempts to explain the sunstones fails miserably.

I really, really wanted to like this book. After all it does have a sassy girl (love that purple hair!) on the cover who appears to have intelligent and spunk. The blurb sounds very interesting, the world building is similar to many we've seen before but seemed like it might have its own twists later on. And yet I could barely get past the opening chapters. Yes I could have powered through a couple hundred pages of awful grammar and writing; but why?
Honestly I would love to see Walker go back to the editing room with this one. In fact at one point before I gave up I wanted to start editing and commenting at length on Riwenne & the Mechanical Beasts myself (and then realized that I do not have spare time for this unless it was a paid gig). This story has a potential future; but a lot more work needs to be done to edit, rework and reorganize it before I'd say Riwenne and her story is publication ready.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via BookSirens. This is an honest and unbiased review.

View all my reviews

Book Review: The Snakes

The SnakesThe Snakes by Sadie Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't actually expecting any real snakes to be featured in this book (regardless of its title). However I was pleasantly surprised to leave that the use of snake in the title wasn't just metaphorical when a few slithering friends showed up (for those not aware I own 3 snake buddies that I love a lot!). Broken into four parts, The Snakes is a character study that has little plot besides that which everyday life would gives us all; family problems, marriage troubles, insecurity, financial woes, etc. There is nothing particularly special about Sadie Jones novel; and yet I didn't want to put it down!

All of the characters feel like real-life people. From the remorse, anger, and grief they each feel; through to their actual actions and words to one another we see that each of them is trying to do 'the right thing' in their own way.
We see a marriage begin to fall apart, a rich family that is in shambles that no amount of money can fix, and our leading lady whom is struggling to be true to herself, loyal to her husband, and bonded with her family.

One thing that Jones does a wonderful job of in The Snakes is talks about motivation for living. The actual act of existing requires some sort of desire. What is your motivation for living? Is it just to live each day and enjoy it? Is it to garner enough money (and when have you achieved 'enough')? Is it to have a certain lifestyle or acquire a certain number of things or even family members (ie: children)? Each of us has some sort of motivation that keeps us going. Jones challenges the reader to determine what their motivation is as she reveals that which drives our individual characters.
I loved Bea's motivation in the end; to exist. It seems so simple and yet it's probably the most complex of all the characters driving forces. It's also certainly the hardest for those around her to understand.

Harsh Topics
While this is largely a book in which the emotions and feelings of the characters are most important; those emotions are inspired by some awful events. It's worth noting that themes of rape, child molestation, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence are all seen at some point in The Snakes. It may not be for long, and some are not key plot points for the characters (while others are) but there are a couple pages that I could see many people having trouble reading. In no way are they overly gruesome or any more graphic than necessary to give you the feeling Jones intends. But for those sensitive readers that struggle to have certain events described for them, I would caution you prior to picking this up.

This is a very emotional book. Not necessarily in that it will make you cry (although it absolutely could!) but that it describes very intense feelings on so many different spectrums and from many viewpoints. At the end of the day The Snakes is all about people and their relationships with others. In particular their relationships with the truth as it relates to others. Near the end of the book it occurred to me that so much would be less messy in the story if our characters were more honest with one another. Especially between the married couples. Jones made me appreciate that I can say almost anything to my own husband and know that he will not jump to conclusions; but will instead try to see my viewpoint (as I will his). That's not to say it's easy; but The Snakes is a good example of how much worse it can be to hide the truth.
Overall a very well written and compelling contemporary character study.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Follow me on Goodreads

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Book Review: Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein

Mary, Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While this is a picture book (for children presumably) I am desperate to get a copy for my own shelf. Not only are the illustrations dreary, yet gorgeous but they are just perfect given the subject matter. Illustrator Julia Sarda (yes the famous illustrator from many other children’s books) has captured the Victorian age and Mary’s melancholy so well in her dark and moody art.

In the opening pages I wasn’t sure that Linda Bailey’s (a Canadian!) story of Mary Shelley was kid appropriate. Also knowing of her life myself I was struggling to imagine children caring about a literary competition on a dark and stormy night. Let’s face it, few children will know (or care) who Lord Byron or the others at the table are. And yet by the end of Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, not only did I want to pin pages from the book on my wall, but I realized it’s the perfect story for a flighty child with a strong imagination. Then I also realized I already know a 7-year-old boy who would love this story. He thinks Pennywise the clown (though he’s never seen the movies) is the best and has recently started to pick the villains to win against his beloved superhero’s.

So I chastise myself for not giving children enough credit. While the story of writing Frankenstein is very moody and dark; so too is the monster himself. And given that most 3-year-olds know who/what “Frankenstein” is (forgiving them for not understanding it’s the scientists name); then why not tell them that an 18-year-old wrote the story on a dark and stormy night.

Besides sending a wonderful story for children, this book also feels perfect for the struggling author. It speaks of Mary’s inability to write her story immediately and that she needed inspiration to do so (the twitching frog). It also reminds us that no one writes a brilliant story overnight (Mary took 9 months). What better things to remind a new or struggling author?

Bailey and Sarda have created a masterpiece from a masterpiece. Unique in a way I’m not used to with picture books; and yet perfect in every aspect. This book will be added to my children’s box of toys for visiting children. I can foresee myself being overjoyed when the children want me to read, or them to me, the story of when science fiction (and many elements of horror) were first founded in literature.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley; but took out a physical copy when my library ordered it. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Follow me on Goodreads

Book Review: Where the Forest Meets the Stars

Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The beauty of this book is that you want to believe Ursa’s alien story; and at times start to think maybe it is true. Glendy Vanderah gives our little girl, Ursa, such a strong, passionate and intelligent voice that it’s impossible not to fall in love with her. As I thought might happen by the end of the novel I was bawling my eyes out. For so many reasons and at so many levels; none of which felt cheap or convenient.

Each character we encounter is unique and each has their own challenges. Individually these people felt like real people; who all have complex issues. From Gabe, a reclusive depressive 20 something who can’t get away as he cares for his ailing mother; to Jo, our strong lead female who has undergone a full mastectomy (before she reached 25 years of age), a recent orphan and full-time PhD student; to Tabby who is the kind of bubbly crazy friend that always knows how to do something seemingly insane to get a smile. Even out periphery characters are given enough life to feel like I could relate them back to real people I know.

This is a character drive story at its core. While the plot is very interesting (and gives us some tense and terrifying moments); the reality is that it’s less about a little girl who just shows up one day with no parents (and no one reporting her missing), and more about the love that grows between the child, our lead Jo and Jo’s possible love interest Gabe. Each of them struggles with their current life and each of them transforms through the book.

I love how adorable Ursa’s ‘miracles’ are. I won’t spoil them for you; but it’s so heart warming and an important reminder that what may seem a miracle to one feels commonplace to another. And that we all experience miracles on a semi-regular basis; we’ve just lost the ability to see them as the miracles they are. This is a perfect book for someone who might be struggling to overcome a tough time or incident in their life. As all three characters are also doing so; but more importantly the reminder that miracles happen everyday; you just have to look for them.

Right from the opening line I was intrigued and ready to jump into this story. How can you not be curious when the first sentence is:
                                                       "The girl could be a changeling."
It reminded me of the straightforward, to the point opening lines of Dickens. “The Marleys were dead to begin with”; the line is both enchanting, setting a mood and letting you know right away that something might be a bit off in this novel you’re about to encounter.
A couple months ago I thought Miracle Creek would be the best debut novel of 2019. Where the Forest meets the Stars has blown Miracle Creek out of the water and solidly affirmed itself as one of the best debut novels I have ever read (never mind for just 2019). I hope to see a lot more from Vanderah. Although I wouldn’t mind if the next story was a little less teary near the end (it’s just so embarrassing to tear-up on the bus).

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.

Follow me on Goodreads

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Book Review: Vessel

VesselVessel by Lisa A. Nichols

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is The Martian for readers who don’t want all the science and technical jargon. Largely character driven; and fairly predictable if you’ve read a good chunk of sci-fi books (which I have); and yet I really loved how fast, suspenseful and well written it is. The average science fiction reader will likely dislike this; but anyone who likes a bestselling thriller and likes an astronaut being the lead character is probably going to love this.

For a debut novel Lisa A. Nichols has done a wonderful job writing a gripping, page turning story. I read this in no time flat and didn’t want to put it down. But, besides there being some space travel and astronauts; nothing about Vessel feels like science fiction. It lacks the core explanations that would satisfy someone who wants to know the ‘real’ science behind the idea. There is no science here beyond what the average person is likely to already know (lighter gravity effects, space travel needing fuel, etc). Very simple basic concepts.

Does the Audience Matter?
If I had gone into Vessel expecting a gritty sci-fi book (like The Martian or anything by Arthur C. Clarke or Blake Crouch) I would likely have been very disappointed. As I didn’t go in with really any expectations I didn’t mind that this was more of a character driven thriller with space, astronauts and habitable planets.
If marketed to say, readers who love Dan Brown books, it would be a smashing success. Does that mean it’s not a good book? Of course not. It just means that getting the right demographic of reader is important (and difficult for a book whose entire plot revolves around an astronaut and space travel).

Story Chronology
There is also the narrative order/format to consider here. Both timelines we read from are from the POV of our leading lady, a highly regarded astronaut who left behind a husband and child to go on a 6 year mission. The main timeline starts upon her sudden (and unexpected) return to Earth after her mission had been out of contact. With years of no comma it was assumed the ship and crew were lost and dead. The second timeline we get is the good ol’ (ugh) flashback. Thankfully the snippets of what happened on the ship and planet, that our leading gal can’t remember, are also told from her POV and are not her narrating the events to anyone. This worked for me as while we are experiencing the amnesia frustration in our main story, the flashbacks are giving us the beginning nuggets to what might have happened during the mission. And yes, eventually all is revealed. Most will be able to predict the large “reveal” to some degree. It’s actually so obvious I can’t even say there’s a twist here. But because the book is more about the people, their emotions and reactions to extreme situations it didn’t matter to me that I knew what was the likely outcome. There was enough suspense and excitement to placate me and enjoy the ride. Vessel was more about the characters and their fate for me, than my need to reveal the plot points of the core story.

So Is It Good?
This is a fun, quick read. For me it would make a great beach read as it keeps the pages turning and isn’t too emotional or elaborate. The ending being what it is May be frustrating for those that like things all tied-up. I had a moment of being annoyed at the end; and then realized that it actually made perfect sense given the flow of the writing and story, right up to the last sentence.
So for me I think it’s a very good read, for what it is. It’s exciting, suspenseful (even if a bit obvious at times), characters that felt genuine and a frustrating non-ending ending (lol). All the characters are flawed in realistic ways and even the way the plot plays out is a very realistic outcome given the situation. These are all really good things and so I have rated Vessel based on its merit as a book meant for general entertainment and not as a typical science fiction novel. And let’s face it, 2001: A Space Odyssey is boring in places largely because of the hard science (brilliant book, but not fast-paced). In contrast, I found nothing dull about Vessel. Even when it was a seemingly boring travelling scene, where two characters share silly life stories (and where we see their emotional bond maturing), the narrative was funny enough to be amusing.

This is a fun, quick read. For me it’s a great beach read as it keeps the pages turning and isn’t too emotional or elaborate. The ending being what it is May be frustrating for those that like things all tied-up. I had a moment of being annoyed at the end; and then realized that it actually made perfect sense given the flow of the writing and story, right up to the last sentence.
I will definitely look to read Nichols next book regardless of the topic or genre as her writing and characters kept me entertained. Like The Martian the characters cope with extreme circumstances via sarcasm and humour that is clever enough. One of my favourite lines of the book is an astronaut letting off steam after being annoyed that machinery is not working as tested and says they want to write a letter to NASA:
"Dear Sirs; why were you not able to replicate working conditions precisely in a location no human had ever seen before?"
How can you not chuckle at the obvious irony that Earth conditions couldn’t replicate a planet no one from Earth has ever been to?

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review

Follow me on Goodreads