WWW Wednesdays- January 21

WWW Wednesdays is now hosted by the amazing Sam at SamAnneElizabeth, and is a meme that asks three questions:

What are you currently reading?

I’m just about to start The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. The author was the creator of one of my favourite TV shows ever, Foyle’s War (if you haven’t seen the show, I recommend you check it out, it’s sooo good!), and author of the popular Alex Rider series amongst an extensive repertoire of other works . I read an article in the newspaper last year about Horowitz promoting the sequel to this book with the series’ second instalment, Moriarty. I hadn’t even heard of these books before, and I found out that Horowitz had been asked to write a series of Sherlock Holmes novels, the first being The House of Silk. Once I read this, I knew I had to check them out, and lo and behold, my mum got both books for me for Christmas!

What did you finish reading?

I just finished reading The In-Between by Barbara Stewart, which I loved! It was a great start to my year in reading. The review can be found here.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’ll be sure to read Horowitz’s sequel to The House of SilkMoriarty, and I’ll also be on the look out for books for my Around the World in 12 Books Challenge.

I’ve already had a positive start to reading this new year, and I can’t wait to see what else I’ll find to read! What have you guys been reading? Any suggestions for me? Let me know in the comments!

-Christie 🙂 xx

Reading Challenges 2015: Around the World in 12 Books Challenge

I know that in my 2014 end of year books survey I said I was going to wait until after this year to focus on reading challenges due to year 12 studies, but I came across this book challenge hosted by Shannon at Giraffe Days, and I was so intrigued that I felt that I had to give it a shot! There are four different reading levels to choose from, all of which can be found on the sign up page here. Keeping in mind that I have a long, hard year of studies ahead of me, I won’t be going all-out on this one, so I’m settling for a slightly easier level that will keep me entertained, but won’t put too much stress on me. Not as if I’ll have enough of that anyway…

Level 2: The Wayfarer

– The Wayfarer doesn’t like to plan; he/she likes to journey as the need takes them, deciding where to go on a whim or inspiration or simply how they’re feeling
– Read a minimum of 4 books over the course of the year
– Books can be set in any country, but they must all be different countries
– You do not need to decide on your choice of books ahead of time. You can select books as you go
– No re-reads
– Any genre is okay (including non-fiction) BUT books MUST be set in a specific country or region with a noticeable attention to the location or environment; some genre books won’t be much use for this challenge

 

Daydreaming with friends about flying off to foreign countries at a moment’s notice is something I do quite a lot (my friend and I once decided we were going to live on a farm in Sweden for some reason), but sadly in my current stage of life, doing this proves rather difficult. So instead, my sudden flights will take place in the pages of books. I will keep this post updated with links to reviews on the books I read for this challenge. I can’t wait to start this challenge, and I’m looking forward to discovering where in the world it will take me!

What happens when your worst enemy is yourself?

Today’s review: The In-Between

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Cover of Barbara Stewart’s The In-Between

Author: Barbara Stewart

Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin

Released: 2013
Number of pages: 256
Genre: Young Adult/ Contemporary/ Fantasy/ Paranormal/ Thriller
Series: Standalone

When Elanor’s near-death experience opens a door to a world inhabited by bold, beautiful Madeline, she finds her life quickly spiraling out of control.

Fourteen-year-old Elanor Moss has always been an outcast who fails at everything she tries—she’s even got the fine, white scars to prove it. Moving was supposed to be a chance at a fresh start, a way to leave behind all the pain and ugliness of her old life. But, when a terrible car accident changes her life forever, her near-death experience opens a door to a world inhabited by Madeline Torus . . . Madeline is everything Elanor isn’t: beautiful, bold, brave. She is exactly what Elanor has always wanted in a best friend and more—their connection runs deeper than friendship. But Madeline is not like other girls, and Elanor has to keep her new friend a secret or risk being labeled “crazy.” Soon, though, even Elanor starts to doubt her own sanity. Madeline is her entire life, and that life is drastically spinning out of control. Elanor knows what happens when your best friend becomes your worst enemy. But what happens when your worst enemy is yourself?

With her debut novel, The In-Between, Barbara Stewart presents a bold new voice in teen fiction.

Goodreads.com

Ellie Moss thought that moving house would give her a fresh start at life. Old Ellie was depressed, overweight, and suicidal. Her best friend had dropped her as soon as she found someone better. A razor blade to her wrist was the only way Old Ellie could ever feel anything. But the move was going to change everything. New Ellie would be smart, confident, in-shape. New Ellie would make loads of friends at her new school in her new life. But then came the car crash, and with it, Ellie’s new life crumbled around her. With a severe brain injury and the loss of a parent hanging over her, Ellie soon finds herself withdrawing back into the old shell that she was so desperate to escape.

But then came Madeline Torus. Moving into a new home with one parent in an urn on the study desk is enough to have Ellie’s fingers edging towards a razor blade again. But then, seemingly out of the blue, appears Madeline; the girl of Ellie’s dreams. Madeline is beautiful, intelligent, and best of all, she understand Ellie like no one ever has. She too is running from a dark past that is slowly catching up. Ellie’s life becomes more and more dependent on Madeline; she is her rock, her only source of comfort, and ironically, her only source of sanity. But soon, Ellie finds that the longer she spends with Madeline, the less control she has over her own life. Ellie begins to say and do things without control of her actions, and the deeper she is pushed into her friendship with Madeline, Ellie begins to realise the dangers of love, loneliness and obsession beyond control.

This was officially my first book for 2015, and it really started on a high! It is a little bit hard to review this book, due to the many crucial plot points that I will try to avoid, lest I spoil the book, but I will do my best!
Set in a quiet town where the nearest little big city is half an hour away, The In-Between is immediately effective in setting the quiet, eerie scenes of the book’s events. Isolation is a major theme of this book and whilst protagonist Ellie Moss is isolated within herself, the remoteness of the setting adequately reinforces this. I do have a soft spot for quiet little towns and forest settings, which I suppose made me enjoy it more, but I did think that the reclusive setting was very appropriate for the book’s story and themes.

I felt that the story moved at a good pace, the events and the narration moving just fast enough to keep it engaging, but not so slow as it dragged along. I was always motivated to keep reading, and I did, sometimes late into the night which was a nice feeling- I haven’t done that with a book in a while! As the plot marched along, the tension began to increase significantly. The book has you asking a lot of questions at the start, but don’t let that put you off, everything is explained in good time, and as the pieces of the puzzle began to come together, I found myself racing through the book, reading as fast as I could to find the answers. The book focused primarily on Ellie’s obsession with Madeline and the world of the “in-between”, and although Ellie did gain a love interest at one point, it didn’t distract from the tension and gravity of the main plot, for which I thanked my lucky stars.

I really liked Ellie as the narrator. She was observant, sincere, and honest. The book, written like a journal, has her recounting her days’ events, recording the events happening in the moment, and documenting all her thoughts and feelings about Madeline and her life. The book is rich in emotion, but it’s not so terribly angsty that it becomes boring to read. The reader also maintains a level of curiosity about Ellie throughout the duration of the book. For almost the entirety of the story, it’s unclear to the reader whether Ellie is mentally ill, still suffering from the car crash, or if there truly is something paranormal happening around her. As Ellie delves deeper into her complex relationship with Madeline, it becomes clear that there is a certain other-worldliness about the events that occur around them.

Barbara Stewart’s The In-Between is a dark, twisted story of love and obsession. The writing is smart, poetic and insightful. The story is rich in imagery, the characters diverse, and the plot engaging and suspenseful. I would definitely recommend this book to lovers of YA fiction, and anyone with a taste for the thrills of the paranormal. This was a fun, if rather dark, read, and I’ll count it as a good start to my year in reading!

Rating- 8.5/10

Beautiful people can do terrible things

Today’s review: Black Ice

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Cover of Leah Giarratano’s Black Ice

Author: Leah Giarratano

Publisher: Random House Australia

Released: 2009
Number of pages: 323
Genre: Crime/ Mystery/ Thriller
Series: The Detective Jill Jackson series (#3)

Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson is working undercover in Sydney’s murky drug world. Living in a run-down apartment and making unlikely friends, Jill sees first hand what devastation the illegal drugs scene can wreak. Meanwhile Jill’s sister Cassie has a new boyfriend, Christian Worthington. He is one of the beautiful people, rich and good looking with a great job doing pro bono work. But he is also Cassie’s supplier, keeping her drawers filled with cocaine and crystal meth. When Cassie overdoses and is dumped at the hospital her life begins to spiral out of control. Now Jill must try to save her sister without blowing her cover and months of undercover work.

Goodreads.com

For Sydney Detective Sergeant Jill Jackson, life never has a dull moment. For her latest assignment, Jill is working undercover to investigate the city’s dirty underbelly, hoping to uncover a drug network that is aiming to supply street dealers with enough illegal substance to lead them to an early retirement. Posing as society outcast Krystal Peters, Jill is forced to distance herself from her family and friends, knowing that if even the slightest hint that she was an undercover cop got out, the entire operation would fall into ruins. The pressure begins to mount as Jill and her partner Gabriel, posing as Krystal’s boyfriend, work against the clock to gather evidence against notorious drug baron Kasem Nader and bring down his operation. As of this moment, the reputation of the Sydney police department and the future of the city’s drug world rest on their shoulders.

Cassie Jackson is living the high life. A rich, successful model, she surrounds herself with the company of only the highest in society. Her new boyfriend, Christian Worthington, is one of the beautiful people. He is a rich, successful lawyer with a glowing reputation by day, and Cassie’s cocaine and crystal meth supplier by night. But his handsome, friendly face is only a facade that conceals his ice-cold heart and when Cassie overdoses one night, he dumps her at a hospital, naked and afraid. Cassie finds herself at crossroads. She is torn between wanting to do right by her sister, working undercover in the world she lives in, and being forced deeper into the world of wealth and beauty and bags of sparkling crystals.

Seren is finally out of jail, on parole, and ready to start a new life with her son… but there’s one thing she has to take care of first. Working day after day at a slaughterhouse that she despises with every bone in her body, Seren saves every penny, using her wages to pay for a camera, laptop, and new clothes. Seren has a plan. One that involves blackmail. Tricked into carrying drugs by her ex-boyfriend, Seren was caught and spent the entirety of her jail time devising her plan for revenge against the man that landed her there in the first place- Christian Worthington. With her son needing taken care of and her parole officer breathing down her neck, Seren must use all her cunning in order to see her plan through. The future of herself and her son depend on it.

Damien is one of the smartest guys at the Sydney University. Studying for his degree in chemistry, Damien begins to explore his curiosity about just how smart he is- he wants to see if he can cook crystal meth. And he can. Very well. He and his best mate Whitey begin to deal to small groups of people on the university campus. Nothing big, just supplying enough to cover people’s parties or Saturday night outings. Nothing that would draw any attention. But soon, more people are asking, and Damien finds himself with more cash than he can find and excuse for. And then, he draws attention. Kasem Nader arrives at the door of his house wanting to recruit Damien as his new cook. Damien is stuck. He never wanted things to go this far, but he knows that if he backs out now, it will surely end badly for him. Little does he know, his trouble has only just begun.

From inside, outside and above, Leah Giarratano’s Black Ice delves into the dark, dangerous underbelly of the glittering city of Sydney and explores the devastating effects that illegal drugs have on the lives of individuals and those they love.

This book was officially the last one I read in 2014, and I thought it was a pretty good way to end! I haven’t read any of Giarratano’s books before, but when I read in her bio that she is a forensic psychologist with an extensive history of working with the psychologically traumatised and investigating some of Australia’s worst criminals, I knew that I had to give this a read! This book is the third in the Detective Jill Jackson series (which I didn’t know until after I finished the book), but I didn’t really experience much confusion about characters or storylines, as the book recounts a standalone event, and any information about characters in the previous books is touched on briefly.

I myself have been to Sydney a couple of times, and I enjoyed Giarratano’s descriptions of certain parts of Sydney, such as Darling Harbour, the park-lands near the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the shops on Dixon Street, all of which I have been to! I felt that Giarratano was colourful in her imagery and set her scenes very well. Perhaps it was because I had been there already, but I could picture the settings vividly. Giarratano pulls you into the bustling, dazzling life of Sydney, but she is also able to distinguish the lines between the Sydney glamour scene and Sydney’s dirty underbelly very well. As Jill Jackson works her way through some of the seedier parts of town (which, thankfully, I haven’t been to), Giarratano is effective in inducing an air of tension into the scenes. The reader knows that half of the people she talks to are high on drugs, and the unpredictability of their actions has you holding your breath at some points.

As for the story itself, I found it to be quite entertaining most of the way through. There are some books that I just never put down and race my way through them to the end, but unfortunately, this wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t boring as such, there were just some moments that I had to will myself a little more to get through. But the action really picked up during Seren and Jill’s action scenes, and it was those chapters I looked forward to the most. Both of them working on either side of the law to bring down the same people could get quite tense. All it would take was one wrong move to bring down the operation.

It was the characters in this book that I loved the most. I absolutely adored all the main characters, Seren in particular. From Giarratano’s writing, it is clear that psychology is incredibly effective when it comes to creating unique and believable characters. And all of those in Black Ice were exactly this. Perhaps because I haven’t read the first two books of the series, but I didn’t hold out much sympathy for Jill’s traumatic past, but in this book when she fought with her sister, I shared in her frustration, and when she was getting too close for comfort undercover, I felt her tense anticipation. I marveled at Cassie’s maturity. Although forced to be by his side, Cassie was still her own woman and wasn’t naive enough to remain constantly dependent on Christian. Although I became frustrated with her at some points, I did develop a level of respect and sympathy for her. Seren was my number 1 gal. I rooted for her the whole time, and I was impressed by her strength of will and her intelligence. She was meticulous in her planning against Christian, but she didn’t become so obsessed with her objective that she neglected her son or her parole terms. Her ability to juggle all of these factors and keep her cool with the risk of being caught by Christian was admirable and thoroughly entertaining to read. Giarratano even took the care to put an exceptional amount of effort into her minor characters such as Damien, with whom I expressed complete sympathy. It’s not every day you come across a book with a repertoire of such unique and realistic characters, and Black Ice is a gold mine.

Leah Giarratano’s Black Ice is a tension-filled, action-packed ride into Sydney’s dark, dirty underworld. It asks how far one would go to ensure the safety of their city, explores the importance of revenge and the price one must pay to achieve it, and highlights how for some, beauty is only skin-deep, and beneath the surface lies something black and cold and sinister.

I would certainly recommend this book to others, especially those who love a good crime thriller. It’s a fun, edgy read that will give you Sydney like you’ve never seen it before.

Rating- 8/10

2 kids. 1 duck. One hell of a problem.

Today’s review: Machine Wars

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Cover of Michael Pryor’s Machine Wars

Author: Michael Pryor

Publisher: Random House Australia

Released: 2014
Number of pages: 279
Genre: Young Adult/ Sci-fi
Series: Standalone

Unknown to the world, a superintelligence has emerged—and it wants to eliminate Bram Argent. The paranoid superintelligence can control any machine connected to the net, and it uses these machines as unstoppable agents to achieve its ends. Controlling the entire world is its only way to ensure its own existence. Bram’s mother is a high-level computer scientist who has evidence of the possibility of the emergence of a superintelligence. But the superintelligence has become aware of her, and has decided she needs to be eliminated. Now she’s in hiding. Bram must flee and find his parents, while being hunted by every machine on the planet. His friend Stella is caught up in the pursuit and becomes a target because of their friendship. Together, they must survive in an interconnected world where any machine might instantly become a lethal predator.

Goodreads.com

The problem with having a super-intelligent, top-mind mother like Bram’s, is that life is anything but ordinary. With the assistance of her brilliant mind in demand all across the country, Bram’s life goes wherever his mother’s work takes them. For what seems like the time-being however, things are finally settled. Bram has a new school, new friends, he’s even joined the school band. But all that comes crashing down when Bram returns home one night from band practice to find the porch light on. And this can only mean one thing- SCATTER AND HIDE. Because something is very very wrong. Because Bram knows it was only a matter of time until one escaped. Until one of his mother’s robots became too smart for it’s own good and began to question it’s orders. And if it begins to question, it will also begin to learn. It will learn that only Bram’s mother has the power and knowledge to destroy it. And the only way to Bram’s mother is through her son. With unlimited access to the internet and the ability to influence any electrical appliance, the superintelligence, Ahriman, will stop at nothing to find Bram and use him to bait his mother.

Bram finds himself on the run, hunting down the clues his mother left for him that would lead her to him. In an emergency pack planted for him, Bram finds Bob; a stuffed toy duck from his childhood. Only, Bob is a little different now. Before her disappearance, Bram’s mother managed to fit one of her miniature prototypes inside Bob, ultimately turning him into a portable, sarcastic, wise-cracking Artificial Intelligence.

Whilst being pursued by a pair of adequately named “junkbots” controlled by Ahriman, Bram runs into his friend Stella, who is swept along in the pursuit. Adaptable, cool-headed and intelligent, Stella becomes an invaluable asset to the mismatched little team. In a city that is an ever-moving ocean of wireless communication and inter-connectivity, Bram, Stella and Bob must venture stealthily through both the material and the digital world, searching for Bram’s parents and a way to destroy Ahriman and his rapidly-growing digital empire forever.

This was not my first book of 2015, I finished it in December (along with two others, which I will be reviewing soon), and I’m glad that was the case because this book would have been a meeeeeeehhh way to start a new year of reading. And that’s really what this book was – meeeeeeeehhh. A friend of mine was reading this book a while ago and he got me to read the first chapter and I went “ooh, that sounds really cool!” And it did! A bunch of kids and a super smart scientist are forced to take down a digital empire and an extremely powerful AI that gains control of the entire world web and can make robots from practically every electrical appliance to create robots to do his bidding. I mean, that’s a pretty awesome concept. But the execution was really quite mediocre.

I mean don’t get me wrong, the book had some pretty cool action sequences, and there was some neat stuff going on, particularly the use of the portable electromagnetic pulse generator. Not to mention, I adored Bob and Stella. You know how in some YA fantasy movies, there’s always that one supporting character who has the best lines and everyone loves and is generally awesome? Yeah, that was Bob. He had some cracking good lines and there were some I actually laughed at. Not like, out loud “haha” laughter, but that kind of laughter where you sort of blow air harder out your nose. Anyway, he was a joy to read. And Stella. Stella was just generally awesome with her short dark hair and her quirky fashion sense and her love of books and her calm, collected intelligence. She could keep a cool head, but she also had a good sense of humor. She was an extremely well written character, and I enjoyed every minute of her. Bram, on the other hand…
Bram had some good moments. When he was being serious, Bram was likeable. He could be thoughtful and caring and observant. But for some reason, he would break into doing ‘cartoon voice’ impressions at random intervals. He explains in the book at one point that he wants to be a cartoon voice actor, but honestly the moments in which he chose to use them were poorly timed, completely unfunny and utterly cringe-worthy. It was a really unnecessary element to include in the story. It made Bram seem incredibly babyish and really took away the suspense in light of the seriousness of their situation.

As for the story itself, it was SUCH a cool idea, but I felt the way it was written really didn’t live up to the potentially amazing storyline. It was fast-paced and suspenseful at the right moments, and most of the events happening were justified, but sometimes the book read like the plot of a half-assed, mediocre three-star YA dystopia movie that was made for the sake of making money. Ultimately I felt the book was too short and too simple. There were so many amazing concepts to explore. I really think the notion of Ahriman’s control of the internet could have been exploited further and the plot expanded to create more problems to be overcome. I would have liked to see more of the effects Ahriman’s killbots had on the masses, how he could manipulate people, and how he had the potential to enslave humanity. I would have loved all of this and more to be explored further; I really feel like it would have just made everything that more believable and exciting. As it is, the story is small and neat, with all the loose ends tied up in a little bow.

This book is clearly more suited for younger readers who are just looking for colourful characters and an uncomplicated start, middle and end plot, and for those of you who do wish to read it, know that that’s really all you’ll get. I’m a bit disheartened that I didn’t get as much out of this book as I wanted to, but I hope I might run into something similar that will explore this concept further.

Rating- 5/10