Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

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Oooh, this is a pretty book. Look at the oh-so-Instagrammable cover! The dust jacket alone was enough to make me want to read it. Luckily enough, the story was pretty good too. Bonus points for looking great on a bookshelf.

Rebel of the Sands is written like a western but set in alternative universe that feels like a magical version of the middle east. The desert setting, real life spirits and mercenary characters add to the Arabian Nights feel to make the premise of the novel totally unique. The story involves Amani, a young girl living in the backwater desert town of Dustwalk. Unaware of her father and with a mother who was killed by the authorities, Amani is a rebellious tomboy whose lightning fast reflexes make her handy with a gun. Her main aim in life is to leave her repressed existence behind by saving enough to get on the first train to the big city – and never look back. When she dresses up as a man to enter the town shooting competition she encounters a mysterious stranger and their unlikely friendship leads to a magical, terrifying and life changing adventure.

I really enjoyed the magical realism in this book. The desert is depicted as a mysterious place where spirits roam free and magic can be practiced by a lucky few. Sometimes I find that in certain books the ratio of magic to realism is too unbalanced and the storyline descends into the ridiculous but in Rebel of the Sands the magical elements were cohesive and weren’t used to simply get characters out of otherwise impossible situations (a pet hate of mine). These supernatural elements were seamlessly woven into the storyline and helped to create a truly evocative story. If you’re old enough to remember the Fry’s Turkish Delight advert then that’s exactly the kind of feel that is created (if you don’t know what I’m on about – Google it).

The storyline was very fast paced and had so many twists and turns that it was hard to guess what was going to happen next. The main character, Amani, had a number of difficult decisions to make, some of which were really heart wrenching. I loved her braveness and ability to beat the men at their own game and I really enjoyed her relationship with Jin, as there was just the right amount of will-they-won’t-they romance to add another interesting angle to the story. There was plenty of action, drama and suspense as Amani and Jim become embroiled in a political war and although it was sometimes hard to keep track of who was on which side their constant ability to evade the authorities kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

The book ended with very little resolved so I’m guessing it’s part of a wider storyline. However, it still had a clearly defined start, middle and end so it could be satisfactorily read as a stand alone – although I definitely want to find out what happens next!

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys suspenseful fantasy, particularly if they find the idea of a fantasy western an intriguing idea.

Overall rating: 7/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Review: Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

This is becoming a bit of a theme recently, but THIS BOOK IS GREAT! Dear Amy absolutely had me gripped from the start and I found it really difficult to put down. The story really drew me in and it was so fast paced I whipped through it in a few days.

In other news, I also finished reading an absolute shocker of a story this week – review on Friday – so this unexpected run of positivity will be short lived. Anyway, I digress…

Dear Amy is the story of a teacher, Margot Lewis, who also freelances as an agony aunt (Amy – hence the title). One of her pupils goes missing, and despite the police thinking that she ran away from home, Margot has her suspicions. At the same time, letters start turning up addressed to the Dear Amy column from Bethan Avery, a local girl who disappeared some years before who had never been found, suggesting that she had been kidnapped and asking for help. At this point, about a million questions are thrown up. Are the letters really from Bethan? How can a girl who has been kidnapped be posting letters? Why doesn’t she just say where she is? Are the two cases linked? Is Margot really as sane as she appears to be? There are so many layers, plot twists and unexpected events that take place in the novel that it really did have me guessing until the very end (if you’re sick of hearing me trot this phrase out, wait until my review on Friday. That book definitely didn’t have me guessing anything for ONE SECOND).

I was completely hooked by the storyline in this novel from the very beginning. I really liked the fact that the main character, Margot, was an unreliable narrator. Her mental health issues and the fact that she had stopped taking her medication made me question everything that she said had happened. I wasn’t sure if she was imagining whole chunks of the story, entire events/characters or if her viewpoint was so altered that the ending would be along the lines of ‘so I imagined the whole thing?’ I subsequently spent a lot of time trying to cross-reference people, situations and timelines to try to ascertain where the truth might lie. This might sound tiresome but I liked the added complexity and depth that this gave the main storyline. 

However, I did find that when it came to sub-plots, especially the quite frankly weird and totally inappropriate love interest, the unreliability of Margot’s story made me second guess everything a bit too much. Was the character a complete figment of Margot’s imagination? Was his interest in her real? Was he who Margot thought he was? I think the story would have been just as interesting without this detail (it wasn’t the most scintillating romance ever) and overall I didn’t feel that it added anything to the book.

I liked the fact that the story wasn’t overly gore laden or too graphic. A lot is left to the imagination when the author describes the kidnappers actions and I think that this allows the reader to either brush over the repulsive events as too awful to think about or fully immerse themselves in their brutality, depending on their own personal preferences. I think that there’s often a fine line between too much and too little detail, but in this instance I think Helen Callaghan got it just right.

I don’t usually read so called kitchen sink thrillers so I approached the story with fairly low expectations, but I really enjoyed the book – it was a total page turner from start to finish. It was a fairly original idea (I think – like I said, I’m not a afficianado of the genre) so I guess fans of something like The Girl on the Train would really like it. I’m not saying that Dear Amy is as good, but it is close. The writing style is quite easy, pacey and isn’t overly descriptive, making it a good beach read if you want something darker than the usual chick lit. Lucinda recommends!

Rating: 8/10.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #12 Read a bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read.

Review: Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Things I Should Have Known is a sweet, unique and funny YA novel set within the slightly dysfunctional Mitchell family. There’s a controlling, no-idea-how-to-deal-with-teenage-girls stepdad, a pushover Mum who has previously been clinically depressed (so JUST WANTS TO MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY), an older teenage daughter with autism called Ivy and a slightly spoilt, typically stroppy younger daughter called Chloe (the main protagonist). Chloe is one of the popular girls at school, with the jock boyfriend and one dimensional friends. She realises that Ivy has never had a boyfriend and so sets about finding a suitable candidate to date her. Enter Ethan, the adorable, wouldn’t hurt a fly classmate of Ivy’s who Chloe thinks is perfect for her. Unfortunately, Ethan’s brother David goes to the same school as Chloe and is known for being an annoying weirdo. Thrown together by Chloe’s desire to make her sister happy, the unlikely foursome end up coming to some pretty startling realisations about themselves, and each other.

I thought Things I Should Have Known was a great read. I felt that it was such an honest portrayal of what it was like to live with an autistic person, warts and all. It’s unusual to have a story with an autistic character as the sibling of the narrator – everything else that I’ve read in this category is either from the point of view of the parents or the autistic person themselves, which I thought made it unique. It was also nice to see that although the impact of autism features heavily, the book also had another strong storyline (the relationship between Chloe and David) which gave it a bit more variety.

I really liked that there was a bit of everything in this book – LGBTQ+ issues, disability, teenage angst, family problems…all dealt with in a believable and sensitive way. Each character is flawed and to see how they all adapted to a challenging situation was really interesting as a huge range of reactions and emotions were conveyed. I became really invested in the storyline – at one point the main character Chloe makes a huge mistake and I really felt for her.

Unfortunately, some of the comments that Chloe makes about her boyfriend are truly cringeworthy and their relationship seems a little too perfect for two teenagers at high school. Chloe goes from being a bit of a vacuous cheerleader type to a sensitive young woman, who doesn’t care about her boyfriend being the picked on, unattractive weirdo that her friends don’t like. Similarly, David goes from being the weird, bullied, outspoken nerd to the politically correct, feminist, adorkable love interest. Even so, their relationship was very cute and I will forgive the fact that some of the things they said would never come out of the mouths of fifteen year olds because they were just such a sweet couple.

Despite the fact that this was a YA novel it was good to see some difficult issues like full time residential care for autistic adults being discussed. I thought that the issue was dealt with very sensitively, although I expect that in the real world far more problems would have occurred. It also would have been nice for the author to have considered some of the real world implications of long term care, not least the financial element. I guess you can’t have everything, eh?

Despite this, I found myself really enjoying the novel. It’s a nice twist on the standard YA plotline of boy meets girl and it dealt with some difficult issues with sensitivity, even though things turned out to be a little too perfect in the end.

Rating: 7.5/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge #13 Read a book by or about a person with a disability.

Review: The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

The Lonely Hearts Hotel is the story of two children who grow up together in an orphanage in Montreal during the Great Depression. The book covers both of their lives after the leave the children’s home and how they make their way in the world. Both dreamers, with extraordinary imaginations and talents that border the magical, the now-grown-up children have the most wonderful adventures despite living in the poorest of circumstances.

I honestly think that this book is one of the most beautifully written tales that I’ve ever read. It really is unlike anything I’ve ever come across before. It invokes a whole string of emotions from heartwarming to heartbreaking, as the circumstances that the two main characters find themselves in are often dire. The book doesn’t shy away from the realism of two young adults leaving an orphanage during Depression era Montreal and covers a whole range of hard hitting elements, from prostitution, heroin addiction, poverty, child abuse, miscarriages, violence and murder. Despite being really tragic in places, the quality of the writing and the strength of the main characters kept the story from getting swallowed up into the darkness that was portrayed. Instead, Rose and Pierrot use these situations to motivate themselves to keep aiming for bigger and better things.

Bizarrely, the word that springs to mind when trying to describe the story is “magical” – but there’s no magic actually involved. There are bizzare circumstances, huge coincidences and plenty of circus tricks but the novel is firmly based in reality. It’s really hard to categorise the book – I guess it’s a romance – but it covers such a wide range of topics that it manages to completely stand alone. It’s like a combination of Requiem for a Dream and the Night Circus. I don’t even know how it works, but it just does.

I really loved the two main characters. In particular, I liked what a strong character Rose was and I loved her relationship with Pierrot – they really complemented each other well and showed how a strong woman can be married to a man without him being weak. Their marriage was imperfect and they are both portrayed as flawed characters but they made it work entirely through their love for each other and the courage of their convictions.

I really enjoyed how Rose and Pierrot made their dreams into reality despite being so poor and having such a difficult start in life. I think that the strong presence of clowns in the novel were a metaphor for using their knowledge of tragedy to create something beautiful and positive. I also loved how the names of the hotels that the couple stayed in were all based around the theme of love and seemed to be metaphors for their guests. I suspect that there are lots of layers and hidden meanings to this book that have completely passed me by but the story was so exciting that I didn’t fully digest what had happened before moving on to the next chapter!

The novel also had a fabulous ending – it’s one of those books where everything is tied up neatly and you’re left feeling really satisfied as a reader. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still heaps of tragedy but this just makes the ending all the more realistic.

Overall, I found this book incredibly engaging as despite being fairly long I finished it in a few days. I loved it’s pace – it spans 27 years and always keep you wanting to know what happens next. I thought that it was beautifully written, magical but woefully tragic and because of this completely stands alone as its own uncategorisable self. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge #35 Read a book set in a hotel.

Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

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Photo courtesy of http://www.goodreads.com

Monstress is one of the most beautifully illustrated graphic novels that I’ve ever seen. It’s the story of a young girl who is captured into slavery. As she breaks out, she discovers not only a dark secret hidden within her but also that a number of different groups desire her knowledge and abilities…at any cost. Can she trust anyone – including herself?

I think it’s goes without saying that I really loved this graphic novel. It’s absolutely stunning to look at and has a really captivating narrative. I loved the mixture of dark, DC, western style comics with a manga style twist. The level of detail is astounding and adds so much to the overall narrative. I do find that sometimes comics are easy to skip through but with Monstress I found myself spending hours pouring over the graphics.

I really enjoyed the way that the comic was very much female centric, with lots of strong women from various different factions. I also loved the way that the broader themes of friendship, betrayal, desire, hunger, bravery and greed were defined. The story manages to encompass all positive and negative traits of what it is to be human – even when dealing with characters who are anything but. 

Some of the old tropes are there – dreams, monsters, a mask, a journey with a forbidden object, a hapless friend whose bravery saves the day etc. However, it’s done really well, as its quite a complicated story with lots of different groups all fighting it out, deceiving each other and crossing sides to fulfil their own ends.

Also, as Neil Gaiman points out – some of the best cats in comics.

I really want to know what happens next. I will definitely continue to read this series, if only for the exceptional artwork. Stunning.

Rating: 9/10

I read this book as part of the Popsugar reading challenge 2017 #22 read a steampunk novel.

Review: Resistance – Divided Elements (Book One) by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Resistance is the story of Ani, a young female working in the post apocalyptic city of Otpor. The population is split by their personality type into the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water), which also denotes the type of job each citizen does, their interests and behaviour, where they live etc. Ani is a high ranking Fire element, doing the job of “Peacekeeper” – basically policing the population in order to maintain the status quo. In her eyes, Ani is helping to uphold the law for the benefit of society although the methods used are brutal and often far outweigh the crime. When it becomes apparent that a group of individuals are trying to orchestrate a revolution, Ani is chosen for a secret undercover mission. Through this, she begins to see the world from a different point of view – but whose side will she choose?

I have to say that I enjoyed reading this YA/post apocalyptic fantasy book. It was an interesting premise as its quite rare that you get to read about a dystopian future from the point of view of the “bad guys” and even rarer to find stories where the lines between good and bad are so blurred.

I thought that the book provided a fascinating glimpse into the psychology of the main character, Ani. It raised lots of questions about how we see the world when we surround ourselves with only likeminded individuals as she seemed to be able to rationalise her actions (and those of other Fire elements) simply because she had never encountered anyone who directly challenged their behaviour. When she was forced to view the situation from a different perspective, we were shown how her feelings were deeply conflicted, despite the fact that when Ani was asked if she felt changed by her experiences she replied no, she was still the same person. As a reader, this gave me an awful lot to think about.

In terms of the story, I really enjoyed reading about Ani and her internal struggle, as well as all the action that was taking place. I wanted to know more about the “love interest” character Seth (this is YA, after all) as I thought the book was a little heavily focused on the main character and it would have been good to get a bit of variety.

Weirdly, it felt like this novel was a sequel as the story takes place nine years after the first instance of resistance takes place. Will there be a prequel? I would be excited to see what happens next/previously.

Overall, I did enjoy this book although I found that some parts were a little overwritten and as a result the book was correspondingly overly long. However, I did think that the author has set up an exciting premise for the subsequent novels.

Overall rating: 7/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #39 Read the first book in a series that you haven’t read before.

Review: The Book of Mirrors by E. O. Chirovici

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The Book of Mirrors is the story of a murder of a university professor which took place in the 1980s. The crime is unsolved and the case closed, until one of the professor’s students writes a manuscript containing their recollections of the situation. The student dies before they can get the manuscript published, but their initial draft of the first few chapters ends up in the hands of a literary agent. Tasked with completing the story, the agent attempts to decipher the many deceptions and complex relationships between the subjects involved in order to uncover the truth.

I’m aware that this book has been tipped to be one to look out for but honestly, I really didn’t enjoy reading it. I found it to be incredibly badly written. The authors first language isn’t English and I think this is the reason that the sentence structure is clumsy, confusing and sometimes downright pointless. As a random example:

“So on that morning (I hate sentences that start with so, such bad grammar) when his wife had been killed, Derek rang the professor whose home number he’d found previously rummaging through Anne’s stuff.”

See what I mean? You can understand what is meant but it doesn’t exactly flow. I found this very off-putting. There’s also an intensely annoying girlfriend character with an amazing ability to turn off her emotions:

“‘you know, a colleague told me today that she’s just found out she’s  pregnant. She was so happy! I went to the restroom and cried for 10 minutes, I just couldn’t stop…(her boyfriend pats her hair)…Maybe now you ought to tell me that I’m not alone and that you love me, at least a little bit,’ she said. ‘At least that’s what would have happened in a chick lit book.’ ‘Sure, you’re not alone and I love you a little bit Hon’…(she doesn’t believe him)…’All right, I’ve pulled myself back together, I’m sorry. You know, you seem really caught up in this story.”

Because that’s how women react when they talk about longing for a baby with a partner who admits that he doesn’t love her.

There’s only a few female characters but they’re often described in terms of their attractiveness to men. Annoying! As most of the characters are older men (the literary agent turned sleuth, a retired police officer, his still serving friends, the professor etc.) it’s hard to work out who is who and in which timeframe they’re currently in. All the jumping backwards and forwards got quite confusing (however, this does get better as the book progresses).

I thought the story was incredibly slow to get moving. At almost halfway through the murder investigation was just starting to get going. Coupled with not knowing who was who I started to get quite bored.

The main issue that I had with this book was the outcome of the murder enquiry. As always, there’s no spoilers in my reviews but suddenly, a random piece of information is dropped in to the story which leaves no doubt as to what happened. There is literally no way that the reader can predict a major factor in the outcome of the investigation. What is the point of writing a whodunnit if you’re not given all of the necessary information? Surely these books should give the reader several options for the murderer, then a few red herrings, then slowly reveal what’s happened based on clues that the reader could have picked up on?

In conclusion, I found this book quite dull, quite confusing, a bit annoying and difficult to read. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Overall rating: 4/10.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #33 Read a book set in two different time periods.