Everyone is a potential murderer…

Today’s review: Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case

Cover of Agatha Christie’s Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case

Author: Agatha Christie

Publisher: HarperCollins

Released: 1975 (originally written in the 1940s during the Blitz)
Number of pages: 224
Genre: Crime/ Mystery/ Thriller/ Classic
Series: Hercule Poirot (#39)

The house guests at Styles seemed perfectly pleasant to Captain Hastings; there was his own daughter Judith, an inoffensive ornithologist called Norton, dashing Mr Allerton, brittle Miss Cole, Doctor Franklin and his fragile wife Barbara , Nurse Craven, Colonel Luttrell and his charming wife, Daisy, and the charismatic Boyd Carrington. So Hastings was shocked to learn from Hercule Poirot’s declaration that one of them was a five-times murderer. True, the aging detective was crippled with arthritis, but had his deductive instincts finally deserted him?

The novel features Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings in their final appearances in Christie’s works. It is a country house novel, with all the characters and the murder set in one house. Not only does the novel return the characters to the setting of her first, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but it reunites Poirot and Hastings, who last appeared together in Dumb Witness in 1937. It was adapted for television in 2013.

Goodreads

It seems that age and a life of crime and thrills has finally caught up with the great Hercule Poirot. Reduced to a wheelchair and grievously ill, Poirot returns to the guest house at Styles, wherein he solved his first murder with Captain Arthur Hastings, apparently in order to rejuvenate his health. Hastings arrives to visit Poirot upon his request, and would for the next few weeks share accommodation with his daughter Judith Hastings, her boss Doctor Franklin and his unwell wife Barbara, the wealthy Sir William Boyd Carrington, the reserved and secretive Elizabeth Cole, the quiet and observant Norton, the intelligent Nurse Craven, the handsome and dangerous Mr Allerton, and the meek Colonel Luttrell and his overbearing wife Daisy.

It soon becomes obvious to Hastings, however, that Poirot’s visit to Styles is more than a mere health retreat. Once alone, Poirot tells Hastings that one of the guests is a five-times murderer… and they are planning to kill again. With very little clue as to who it could be, Hastings begins to observe all of the guests at Styles, acquainting himself with each of them and learning what he can about their connections to the other guests. Tensions begin to arise when Judith begins to become overly familiar with Allerton, a man to whom Hastings took an instant disliking. Boyd Carrington’s unrequited feelings for Barbara Franklin and her fluctuating moods and state of health begin to create a rift between her and her husband. Daisy Luttrell’s command over her meek and submissive husband makes for an uncomfortable experience for all parties. All the guests tiptoe around each other and interact with carefully-selected words and all the while from his wheelchair or his bed, Hercule Poirot’s “little grey cells” are hard at work, making connections, doing everything he can to stay on-par with X, Styles’ mystery murderer.

It is here, during his final days, that Poirot is faced with the greatest challenge of his career as he uses all of his power and experience to bring down, in his mind, the perfect murderer. His only hope is that he can do so before another body drops…

If I were to say that I absolutely loved Agatha Christie more than anything else, that would be an understatement. As an avid reader of her Poirot and Marple series’ for years (Poirot being my favourite), Curtain was both brilliant and heart-wrenching. The story was wrought with memories, with frequent references to The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first murder that Poirot and Hastings ever solved together. It was clear that memories of the past is a major theme of this novel, as reflected in the story’s solemn conclusion.

This book was also great for Hastings’ character development. In almost all of the previous Poirot novels, there is particular focus, of course, on Poirot’s methods and actions, with Hastings being a mere observer and re-counter of events as they occur. Seeing as Poirot is essentially out of the picture for much of this book due to his inability to move, Hastings is given a chance to grow and develop as a character. We are given much more insight into his own thoughts and feelings, and his own thought-out observations of certain situations. We get much more information about his relationship with his daughter, who,  the reader discovers, is almost nothing like her father in nature. That said, it is sweet to learn of his protective nature of his youngest daughter, even if his love for her clouds his judgement (quite significantly) at times.

Agatha Christie’s Curtain is a compelling and rather saddening trip down memory lane as we follow the great Belgian Detective Hercule Poirot on one last riveting, edge-of-your-seat, whodunnit mystery. Rich in high class, scandals, and tense undertones, it makes for a perfect lazy weekend read, but fair warning, Poirot fans may want to get the tissues ready.

Rating- 9/10

Let angels guide you on your lofty quest

Today’s review: Angels and Demons

Cover of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons

Author: Dan Brown Cover of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons

Publisher: Pocket Books

Released: 2006
Number of pages: 713
Genre: Mystery/ Thriller/ Crime/ Historical
Series: Robert Langdon (#1)

When world-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to a Swiss research facility to analyse a mysterious symbol—seared into the chest of a murdered physicist—he discovers evidence of the unimaginable: the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati … the most powerful underground organization ever to walk the earth. The Illuminati has now surfaced to carry out the final phase of its legendary vendetta against its most hated enemy—the Catholic Church.

Langdon’s worst fears are confirmed on the eve of the holy conclave, when a messenger of the Illuminati announces they have hidden an unstoppable time bomb at the very heart of Vatican City. With the countdown under way, Langdon jets to Rome to join forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and mysterious Italian scientist, to assist the Vatican in a desperate bid for survival.

Embarking on a frantic hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and even the most secretive vault on earth, Langdon and Vetra follow a 400-year-old trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome toward the long-forgotten Illuminati lair … a clandestine location that contains the only hope for Vatican salvation.

Goodreads.com

For hundreds of years, the Illuminati disappeared from the face of the Earth; little more than a distant memory to a world that has since advanced beyond a fear of science and become one that embraces it. Leading the crusade towards a secular, technology-savvy future is the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) who have been secretly experimenting with a new, all-powerful form of pure dark energy- antimatter. If used in the right hands, one drop of antimatter is said to be powerful enough to supply the entire earth with power for a month and contains the energy equivalent to a 20-kiloton nuclear bomb. The Catholic Church, as they have done with all areas of science since the times of Galileo, has spoken out against the research that CERN has been carrying out for years, determined to halt the inevitable march of progress and brand science as an evil practice that will eventually lead to the destruction of the human race.

Tensions continued to rise between CERN and the Church until one night, one side reached breaking point. One night, Harvard symbologist Professor Robert Langdon received a fax containing information on the Illuminati that he had been searching for his whole life. The fax contained only one disturbing image: the murdered body of one of CERN’s top physicists, Leonardo Vetra, and on his chest was branded the infamous and long-forgotten symbol for a brotherhood thought long extinct: the Illuminati. Langdon is whisked to CERN’s headquarters in Geneva where he meets the director of CERN, Maximilan Koehler, and bio-entanglement physicist Vittoria Vetra, the adopted daughter of the dead physicist. Vittoria suspects that Vetra was killed for his work on antimatter technology, and her fears are rendered true when they discover in Vetra’s secret lab that a canister containing one of his samples of antimatter has been stolen. Before panic even begins to settle in however, Langdon and Vittoria are summoned to the Vatican City in Rome where the Swiss Guard await with news of four cardinals kidnapped by an ancient brotherhood on the eve of the Papal Conclave. The ominous video of the hostages could only have been sent by the Illuminati, and this becomes clear when the brotherhood display their weapon of choice: the antimatter canister.

Soon, Langdon and Vittoria find themselves thrust deep into a long and bloody battle between religion and science, chasing clues left through history down the Path of Illumination and towards the infamous Illuminati lair. Time is working against them to deduce the various locations of the kidnapped cardinals before they are murdered and branded in the name of science, and to track down the antimatter canister before it is set to explode at midnight, aiming to have Vatican City “consumed by light”. 

It’s universally accepted that a book will always be better than its movie adaptation, but I’m afraid to say, Angels and Demons might be one of the few exceptions to this rule. I haven’t read may Dan Brown novels. Hell, I haven’t even read The Da Vinci Code. The first book of his I read was Inferno, which I have to say was, although a little over-dramatic at some points, overall pretty good. I suppose the same could be said for this book for the most part but unfortunately, I watched the movie first and whilst I was made aware that the movie made A LOT of changes, I’ve gotta say that those changes might have been for the better.

Don’t get me wrong though, no matter how cheesy or far-fetched some of the events get in Brown’s books, I still really love me a good puzzle-solving story. The thrill of the chase is always so exhilarating and this is something I definitely felt in Angels and Demons. The imagery Brown creates of the various sites around Rome and the Vatican is rich in historical context and makes for a very authentic feel; I loved learning the history behind the artwork and architecture at the same time as I enjoyed the action. For the most part, the novel was pretty fast-paced, considering that it’s written in “real time”, basically taking place over the course of a day. The action was tense and exciting, and the speed at which Langdon could make historical connections with the clues he uncovered made for a very engaging read for the most part. There were some parts that slowed down the action however, and in hindsight didn’t really seem all that necessary, for example the discussion about the reasons for Vetra’s work could have been achieved with less words and could have lost some the unnecessary questions that were only there to break up the huge slabs of speech.

I enjoyed Langdon’s humour and the information he was able to provide from his own experience, and overall he was a fairly engaging narrator, but there were some points where he came off as a bit of an idiot. He was unable to read and calculate some situations properly and I got a little bit annoyed at him sometimes because he would seem to ask questions he already knew the answers to. I really liked Vittoria Vetra’s character though. I liked her independence and intelligence, and her ability to read and take control of a situation with a level head came in handy throughout most of the novel. I didn’t, however, like the unnecessary amount of focus diverted towards her “mysterious eyes” or her “perfect breasts” or her “toned legs”. Like yes, those details are good for Langdon’s first perception of her character, but the recurring focus on her physical features wasn’t needed. This didn’t happen with any of the male characters. The sexual chemistry between the characters implicated later in the book also never felt authentic. In the context of the story, and keeping in mind that they’d only known each other for A DAY, it never felt right. Their relationship could have been kept purely platonic and the story would not have been affected in any way. The apparent “romance” was slap-dash at best and given no time to develop.

For the most part, many of the decisions made and the directions taken within the novel were well-justified, but near the end, some of the action sequences were pretty far-fetched to the point where some parts were just silly. I found this to be the same case with Inferno; it goes from a very clever puzzle-solving mystery to something similar to an over-the-top action movie. One part had me going “oh come on, really?” I think the film adaptation’s producers realised that these parts were just a bit too silly as well, because they certainly toned down the climax near the end and turned it into something a bit closer to believable. I just think it’s funny, thinking of the producers sitting there reading the book like “Dan please… calm down…”

Overall, I found the book quite enjoyable, and it was when the mystery began to get more complex and the tension began to build that Brown’s eye for the finer details of mystery really came alive. For the most part, it’s a very fast-paced book with stabs of witty humour here and there to keep the reader entertained. I’m glad I’ve read this before Da Vinci Code, because I feel that I would have been more critical in comparing the two, but as it is, it’s a great novel for those looking for a nice little mystery to get the mind working.

PS This post is Illuminati confirmed 😉

Rating- 7/10

100 FOLLOWERS!!!

Hi guys!!! Sorry I haven’t updated in so long, school’s been really hectic right now, but I’ve just come back to thank you all so much because, you guessed it…

A STUDY IN DAYDREAMS HAS HIT 100 FOLLOWERS!!!

Now I wonder what gave that away…

Thank you all so much for supporting me by following me. My blog has been a great medium for me to improve my writing skills, and I hope that it’s served as some entertainment for you. I hope to be back in the habit of updating regularly soon, and I apologise for this semi-hiatus.

Thank you all so much again, and I hope to be back with you all soon!

Christie 🙂 xx

The Game’s Afoot…

Today’s review: The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes novel

Author: Anthony Horowitz

Cover of The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

Publisher: Orion Books

Released: 2011
Number of pages: 389
Genre: Crime/ Mystery/ Thriller/ Historical
Series: Sherlock Holmes by Anthony Horowitz

In freezing London, November 1890, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson receive a man unnerved by a scarred-face stalker with piercing eyes. A conspiracy reaches to the Boston criminal underworld. The whispered phrase ‘the House of Silk’ hints at a deadly foe. Authorized by Doyle’s estate.

Goodreads.com

Years after Sherlock Holmes’ death, Doctor John Watson once again puts his pen to paper and begins to write; one final story about his adventures with the great Sherlock Holmes. In November of 1890, London is gripped by a winter colder than any before. Through the snow and the bitter winds, a man hurries to the threshold of 221B Baker Street. Art dealer Edmund Carstairs with him a tale of stolen art and a stalker with a scarred face. In essence, this case seems to be no different to many of the others that Holmes and Watson have worked on together. But when one of Carstairs’ clients is found murdered and one of the Baker Street Irregulars disappears, the case takes a turn for the mysterious and extraordinary.

Suddenly, it seems as though Holmes and Watson are working on two different cases, each as deadly and intriguing as the other. As Holmes and Watson unravel the clues of each case, they find themselves delving deeper into London’s dirty underbelly, where the opium trade has ensnared some of London’s most influential figures and the enigmatic House of Silk is a name mentioned in whispers and cautious glances. As the mystery unfolds, Holmes and Watson must tread lightly, for they find themselves becoming entangled with some of the most dangerous characters in England, and the only way to successfully solve the cases is to proceed with utmost caution and utilise all of the deductive powers available to them… otherwise, they may find their own lives to be in terrible danger.

I have never read Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series and, unlike so many of my friends apparently, I hadn’t actually head of it before (whoops). But I did recognise, with great delight, that Horowitz was the creator of two of my favourite murder mystery shows, Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War. So when I read in the newspaper that Horowitz was releasing a series of new Sherlock Holmes novels, my reaction was a little mixed. Part of me was delighted. After over 125 years, we’re getting more Sherlock Holmes! And Horowitz’s murder mystery shows are genius, so his books must be awesome!!
But another part of me had it’s trepidations. But… this is Arthur Conan Doyle’s series. This was his legacy. Perhaps it isn’t wise for someone else to touch it…
But despite my conflicting emotions, I knew that I just had to read it and luckily enough, my mum had bought me it for Christmas. Unfortunately, I’ve only gotten round to writing the review now, due to many other school commitments, but I knew I had to get this out before I moved on completely. The next month is going to be especially hectic for me, so I’m going to try and do my best.

I enjoyed Horowitz’s use of imagery and descriptions of the settings within the story. Horowitz was true to the original landscape of the Holmes novels, with plenty of mist-shrouded streets and long dark alleys. There was a good contrast between the class of wealthy Victorian society, and the grimy, dirty lifestyle led by the Irregulars and the poverty of those living in the rougher parts of the city. Horowitz was also successful in displaying how one class was no more better off than the other, a point indicated by the conflict that unfolds within the novel. It was a good, diverse, realistic approach to life in Victorian London.

I felt that the characters were quite well-written, and I could detect a hint of the old Doyle Holmes within Horowitz’s version of the great detective. Watson, I also felt, was given a bit more life than I had felt even in the original series. When separated from Holmes, Watson did not appear completely helpless, as I sometimes felt he was in Doyle’s series. He displayed significantly more independence and initiative, with the ability to think quickly in desperate situations, instead of just being there to observe and occasionally throw in a “but Holmes, however did you deduce that!” where it was due. I was glad for this representation of Watson, as I always knew that his character had much more potential in the original series, and Horowitz reworked him to prove that my belief was true. It was also nice to see some cameos from other characters from the original series, such as Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard. He too seemed to display much more smarts and initiative than in the original series. Compared to Holmes, there was no chance that Watson and Lestrade could compete intellectually, but Horowitz recognised that this did not mean that they possessed no intelligence whatsoever. Lestrade was still subject to a few below-the-belt jibes from Holmes which were quite amusing, but he was able to prove himself as a capable and strong-willed detective.

In terms of the story, this was where I felt a little more let down. For a start, the book was far too long to be considered a reflection of Doyle’s writing, and there were parts where the pace was a bit slow and my interest would wane. As Doyle’s narrator, Watson was always sharp and to the point, more focused on narrating the events as they unfolded, whereas Horowitz’s Watson was more inclined to express his own thoughts and opinions on certain matters. There were also times when I felt that Watson’s monologues and reflections were a bit long-winded and robbed the story of its suspense in some places. Horowitz was however, quite successful in delivering what could be considered a classic whodunit story, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged for the most part and a conclusion that, as well as surprising the reader, ties up the story nicely.

Overall Anthony Horowitz has presented us with, in my mind, a rather satisfactory reboot of a series with a legacy so great that everyone still knows about it over a century after its conclusion. Doyle’s shoes are massive ones to fill, and although the novel doesn’t quite carry the essence of the original series, Horowitz has made a commendable effort to remain true to the the character of the great detective. The result is an enjoyable, mostly engaging story that salutes the legend that Doyle created, but to which Horowitz has added his own creative flair. If anyone were to write another Sherlock Holmes novel, I’m glad it was him.

Rating- 7/10

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

 

With all my crooked heart

Today’s review: Eyrie

Author: Tim Winton

Cover of Tim Winton's Eyrie

Cover of Tim Winton’s Eyrie

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton – Penguin Australia

Released: 2013
Number of pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary/ Drama
Series: Standalone

Eyrie tells the story of Tom Keely, a man who’s lost his bearings in middle age and is now holed up in a flat at the top of a grim highrise, looking down on the world he’s fallen out of love with.

He’s cut himself off, until one day he runs into some neighbours: a woman he used to know when they were kids, and her introverted young boy. The encounter shakes him up in a way he doesn’t understand. Despite himself, Keely lets them in.

What follows is a heart-stopping, groundbreaking novel for our times – funny, confronting, exhilarating and haunting – populated by unforgettable characters. It asks how, in an impossibly compromised world, we can ever hope to do the right thing..

Goodreads.com

Tom Keely’s life is far from ideal. He’s divorced and detached, his career as an active environmentalist has crumbled around him, and he’s utterly broke. Far from the comfort of the home he left, Keely isolates himself from the cruelty of the outside world in his tenth-floor flat in the seedy, rundown Mirador in Fremantle, Western Australia. He drinks, pops pills and broods the day away, and the next day he does it all over again. He keeps his head down, he doesn’t draw attention to himself. Then suddenly one day, everything changes.

Returning to his flat on a particularly scorching day, Keely sees for the first time his neighbor from two doors down. Gemma Buck; a memory from a childhood long forgotten. She is weathered and hardened by the years and the hardships life has thrown at her, and here she stands before him again, as beautiful as she ever was, and with a grandson in tow. Little Kai is like nothing Keely has ever seen before. He knows far too much of the harshness of the world for someone so young, and the weight of burden he carries on his shoulders makes him even smaller, lost and afraid in a world overrun by corruption and crime. What starts off as mere passing encounters soon becomes something more. Soon, Keely finds himself with two more people in his life to worry about, whether he likes it or not.

Over time, Keely ever so slowly draws closer to Gemma and Kai. However, Gemma’s dark past begins to creep up on all of them, and they soon find themselves glancing over their shoulders wherever they go. Kai is also afraid. Afraid that his unsettled and traumatic childhood will repeat itself all over again, and he withdraws within himself, desperate to find comfort in his own mind. For the first time, it is up to Keely to pull himself together to keep this small, mismatched family from falling apart.

As the dangers of Fremantle’s dirty underbelly lurk nearer, Keely finds small measures of his old idealism beginning to seep through from under his grimy layers of depression and self-loathing. With the added responsibility of keeping two broken people from shattering completely, Keely decides to take it upon himself to initiate action, putting his own safety on the line for those he loves.

I found Tim Winton’s Eyrie to be a beautiful read. The whole book was rich in colourful imagery and each scene were was enriched with the most exquisite language. Tom Keely was a very observant, if very cynical, narrator, and to see the hot, dirty, shabby side of Western Australian life was an experience in itself. Winton breathes life into Keely through inner dialogue rich in Australian slang. For those outside of the country, you might need to consult an urban dictionary now and then, but for those who know a little of Australian life, it makes the story and it’s characters all the more loveable and relatable. Gemma Buck is also a character the reader grows to love. The victim of a lifetime of abuse and hardship, Gemma is a tough nut who works her hardest every day to provide for herself and her grandson Kai. She has been driven to the point of giving up hope that life will ever be better for them, and Keely is on the outside looking in. Through her, Keely finds his own strength and sense of purpose, for he comes to realise that it’s up to him to hold this broken little family together. The only character I couldn’t seem to find much connection to was Kai. He has grown up in a world of fear and dysfunction, and as a result he has retreated within himself, closing up like a clam to all affection. He is a mysterious child who knows far too much of the world for his age, even with his experience, and it was the level of intelligence that he possessed that didn’t really sell it for me.

Although rather slow at times, the book was enjoyable to read. There isn’t much in terms of action, so one should not enter this expecting high levels of drama and suspense. To look at it from a different perspective would be to see it as portraying an almost realistic type of life story; nothing overly dramatic, but enough events happening in the protagonist’s life to keep the story moving and deliver an effective message. There were some tense moments that kept me turning the pages, and I never found myself nearing boredom whilst I was reading. Winton takes on a very critical view of Western Australian life, and he expresses his frustrations and observations through Keely and his views on the world around him. The novel does become quite dark at times, and it sometimes left me feeling a little down after reading- it’s not exactly sunshine and rainbows, but it is beautiful, thoughtful and observant nonetheless.

I would certainly recommend giving this a read. It’s an enlightening perspective on a world run by corruption and materialism and provides an insight into the mind of Tim Winton and his views on society.

Tim Winton’s Eyrie is a dark, haunting story. It tests the boundaries and limits of the human spirit when confronted with the peril of a world lacking hope, and questions the integrity of humanity and what drives us to do right by others, even if it puts us in the firing line.

Rating- 7/10

Your body. Rented out. Used to murder.

Today’s review: Starters

Author: Lissa Price

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Cover of Starters by Lissa Price

Released: 2012
Number of pages: 352
Genre: Young Adult/ Dystopia/ Sci-fi/ Thriller
Series: Starters series (book 1)

HER WORLD IS CHANGED FOREVER

Callie lost her parents when the Spore Wars wiped out everyone between the ages of twenty and sixty. She and her little brother, Tyler, go on the run, living as squatters with their friend Michael and fighting off renegades who would kill them for a cookie. Callie’s only hope is Prime Destinations, a disturbing place in Beverly Hills run by a mysterious figure known as the Old Man.

He hires teens to rent their bodies to Enders—seniors who want to be young again. Callie, desperate for the money that will keep her, Tyler, and Michael alive, agrees to be a donor. But the neurochip they place in Callie’s head malfunctions and she wakes up in the life of her renter, living in her mansion, driving her cars, and going out with a senator’s grandson. It feels almost like a fairy tale, until Callie discovers that her renter intends to do more than party—and that Prime Destinations’ plans are more evil than Callie could ever have imagined…

-Goodreads.com

Callie is young, orphaned, and desperate. Her younger brother Tyler is gravely ill, and Callie risks her life every day to keep them safe. A few years previously, a global Spore War eradicated the population of the world aged between twenty and sixty- only the adolescents and elderly who were immunized against the attacks first were spared. Since then, the elderly population, known as Enders, have assumed authority over those who remain and the adolescent population, known as Starters, are left to fend for themselves. Some fortunate Starters are able to live in the luxury provided by their surviving grandparents. Callie is not one of these. Instead, she and Tyler are forced to squat in abandoned buildings, fighting off renegades and running from the police in order to survive.

Callie has heard tell of an underground organisation called Prime Destinations that lets Starters rent out their bodies to Enders who are willing to pay volumes of money for the chance to feel young again. To do this, a neurochip is placed in the brains of each the Starter and the Ender, connecting their thoughts and allowing the Ender to inhabit the mind of the Starter for a period of time- be it hours or months. Desperate for the money to help improve her and her brother’s lives, Callie decides to go through with the operation and donate her body. At first, everything goes well; Callie is fed, given a proper place to sleep, and the employees at Prime Destinations give her a full body makeover in order for her to fit into the glamorous lifestyle of her renter. Then, during her third rental, Callie wakes up in the middle of her renter’s life. Callie is forced to improvise, masquerading as her renter and trying to find out what the hell is going on and why other renters are telling her ‘not to go through’ with something. As Callie bluffs her way through her renter’s life, she uncovers a disturbing secret and soon finds herself on the run from both Prime Destinations and the Ender police with huge gaps in her memory and the constant fear of once again losing control of her mind.

I was recommended this book by a friend and my god, I am so glad I read this (also, the cover is beauuuuuuuuutiful!). This book was a proper edge-of-your-seat, reading-until-three-in-the-morning-every-night kind of book and I relished every minute of it. The story was fast-paced, edgy and incredibly entertaining, and it touched on some really disturbing issues. The whole concept of these teenagers renting their bodies out to be used by old people for money was a really unsettling notion and, as the story explains, one that would lead to dire consequences. Admittedly, I did find the story a bit hard to follow at first. The story doesn’t go into much detail of the events prior to the present, and all we know is that a Spore War wiped out all of Earth’s middle-aged population and all those left were adolescents and pensioners who were immunised against the attacks first. It doesn’t specify the year in which the book is set either, but it can be deduced as in the near future, as technology is advanced somewhat (with hologram projectors replacing TVs, MagLites substituting as watches/alarm clocks/photo albums/torches, and DogBots apparently being a popular kind of toy). I would have found a bit more history about the Spore War to be helpful, and some of the new-age slang (such as referring to people as Starters or Enders or renegades) was a bit hard to follow in the beginning, and there were some moments wherein I found myself thinking, “what is going on?” This didn’t matter too much once the plot got underway though, because focussing on the present events proved to be more entertaining as the story picked up pace.

I really liked Callie as the protagonist of this novel. She was courageous, headstrong, incredibly smart and deeply caring. Her relationship with her younger brother Tyler was very sweet and quite believable, and her seeing him as her first priority for everything she did really emphasised their strong sibling bond. During the story however, Callie finds herself in a relationship with Blake, the grandson of an influential senator, and no matter what passed between them over the course of the novel, I just couldn’t find their relationship believable. There was no feeling involved and it felt forced and unnecessary, and really, I would have rather known more about Callie and Tyler’s past than read about her Blake woes.
I found myself quickly falling in love with the book’s minor characters such as Madison, another Elder renter, and I was captivated and entertained by her charm and her efforts to try and fit in with normal teenage society. Every so often, she would let a few words slip that reminded the reader that she was, in fact, an old lady in a young body, which was a rather amusing notion. I did, however, have issues with the convenience of some of the character traits. Some of the characters that Callie meets just happen to have certain skills, or just happen to know specific information, or just happen to be in the right place at the right time and all of these aspects just happen to be vital to the plot. I don’t know, sometimes it felt a bit too convenient to be realistic.

Lissa Price brings a whole new concept to the dystopian YA genre and presents a fresh, unexplored world to dive into. Its conceivable protagonist and twisty, intriguing plot make for a fast-moving, utterly entertaining story from start to finish. Aside from a few issues with the relationships and interactions between characters, Starters is well written, thought-provoking and completely compelling. I would definitely recommend this for fans of the dystopian and sci-fi genres, and for Young Adult readers in general. This story really presents something new and original, and I will definitely be reading the sequel to this book, Enders.

Rating- 8.5/10

Imagine what she could do with 100%

Today’s review: Lucy
Rating certificate: MA 15+ (Australia), R (USA), 15 (UK)
Director: Luc Besson

Movie poster for Lucy

Released: July 31, 2014 (Aus)

After being tricked into becoming a drug mule in place of her boyfriend, 25-year-old Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is forced to face her captors, who have surgically placed a bag of drugs in her stomach to be carted overseas for reception in various countries. Lucy is assaulted by her detainers and the bag breaks, the contents spilling out and entering her bloodstream. As it turns out, the drug, CPH4, was synthesised to provide its users with the ability to enhance their brain capacity for a period of time and was only intended to be taken in very small, carefully measured doses. And Lucy now has a whole bag of the stuff coursing through her veins. Lucy succumbs to the overwhelming power of the drug and her body begins to react violently, twisting and writhing, her veins burning blue. She takes on a super-enhanced strength. Her mind becomes sharper. She can feel her whole body; the blood and drugs coursing through her veins, each particle of air in the breaths she takes, the very weight of her skin. She uses her new-found super strength to escape from her captors and heads for the nearest hospital and, she hopes, answers to the problem she now faces.

The longer the drugs are in her system, the capacity of her brain that she can consciously utilise increases and she begins to unlock knowledge about the brain and the universe around her that no human has ever been able to before. Lucy’s escape has triggered a manhunt for her organised by the drug traders that captured her and she spends her days on the run, searching for answers about her condition and slowly losing control of her own body. Lucy tracks down Professor Samuel Norman, a neurologist conducting his own research into the capacity of the human brain. Norman reveals to her that the CPH4 has enabled her to exceed the 10% capacity use of normal humans and the capacity available to her is increasing every day. Lucy and Norman must find out how to contain or harness her power before she is captured or before the power of her own mind kills her.

I was so glad to have seen this movie. The issue discussed, what would happen if a human was able to use 100% of their brain power, was a question that has been pressing on my own mind for a while, and I was happy to see a movie that explored this question. Director Luc Besson presents just one of many possible theories as to the outcome of achieving full mental capacity, and he maintains an almost reasonable approach to the concept throughout the movie. There are, of course, many holes in the story and so much left unanswered and unexplained, but for a 90 minute action movie, it’s a commendable effort. Besson approached the subject rather tentatively and it seemed as though he was very aware that to become too in-depth with the concept of the movie would result in a product that would be both messy and unsatisfying, so in this case, simplicity was key.

The cinematography and visual effects of this movie were just AMAZINGGGG!!! With her enhanced mind power, Lucy is able to see each individual strand of DNA within each person, can visualise the electrical currents produced by every phone, computer and tv, and she can travel to the furthest reaches of time and space within her mind. The effects used to bring these aspects to life were absolutely stunning, and I was completely mesmerized during the scene wherein Lucy ‘travels’ across the universe. I have a thing for spacey-wacey things…

Scarlett Johansson was incredible as Lucy, and her portrayal of the altering of Lucy’s personality as a consequence of absorbing the CPH4 was pristine. You really became captivated by her acting, and it really made me love and respect her even more as an actress. To play such a difficult role wherein background research on her character would be minimal (due to, y’know, the lack of people being able to use more than 10% of her brain), so Johansson’s efforts are to be praised.

It is important to keep in mind before seeing this film that the issues it addresses are very grey, and with the information on the brain currently available to us, there is only so much we can explore by means of enhancement and only so far we can take it. As a result, I don’t believe Besson meant for this movie to be taken too seriously or in a literal sense. Even if it doesn’t present groundbreaking theories or provoke heated debate, it can still be enjoyed as a great action/thriller with a kick-ass main character and a load of stunning visuals.

Rating- 7/10