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

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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

 

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

Not forgotten. And never forgiven…

Today’s review: The Stranger

Author: Camilla Lackberg

Cover of The Stranger by Camilla Lackberg

Publisher: Harper
Number of Pages: 381
Genre: Mystery/Crime/Thriller/Scandinavian Literature
Series: The Patrik Hedström Series

A series of tragic road accidents and the murder of a reality TV contestant mark the end to a quiet winter for Detective Patrik Hedström.

– Goodreads.com

The Stranger is the fourth instalment in the Patrik Hedström series by renowned Queen of Scandi-crime, Camilla Lackberg. After a predominantly quiet winter at Tanumshede police station, Detective Patrik Hedström and his colleagues are called to the scene of a car accident. The female driver reeks of alcohol and the case is destined to be written off as a tragic accident. After Patrik discovers a number of discrepancies around the case however, the team at Tanumshede are led to believe that there is more to this accident than meets the eye. On this same day, the station welcomes the newest member to their task force, Hanna Kruse, an officer with a wealth of experience and ambition who hopes to one day climb to a position of chief of police. Meanwhile, the small town of Tanumshede is alive with excitement; cameras are being set up all over town for the beginning of the filming of a new reality TV programme. When an unpopular cast member of the show is later found murdered, Patrik is forced to stretch his mind and his resources to the limit in order to tackle the two cases at once. In addition, his wedding is less than a month away…

If I could summarise this book in one word, it would probably be… comfortable. That’s a little odd for a crime novel, isn’t it? But that’s what it is, it’s comfortable. Which, admittedly, can be a little disappointing. I didn’t actually understand anything that was going on at the start of the novel, but I suppose that was my fault, because I hadn’t realised at first that this novel was part of a series, and so it probably would’ve made more sense at the beginning if I had read the first three books in the Patrik Hedström series. The story did, however, touch more on the background of each of the characters and previous events as the story progressed, so I was eventually able to understand where these people came from and what had happened previously.

I really liked the main characters in this novel, especially Patrik and his fiancee Erica. They are both warm-hearted, yet flawed people, each laden with their own emotional baggage. I loved Erica as the independent, smart, free-thinking woman who is almost like a best friend to Patrik, as well as a lover. What I find even better is that Patrik respects and admires her, and even though she is not a part of the police force, still values her opinions on the cases. I felt that this was a prime example of women treated as equals by their male counterparts in books, instead of just being add-on characters to complain about how their husband is never home, or to provide the cliche “troubled family life of a cop” scenario. Erica respects her husband’s work and understands that the weight of the cases require him to be at the station more often, and even though this is so, Erica is not just an object to be pushed aside when something big comes along. Erica is always a close thought in Patrik’s mind.

I did however find that this very focussed view on the lives and workings of each character took away the suspense and mysterious air of the plot. I mean, accidents that are more than they appear and reality TV-star murders sounds really intriguing, doesn’t it? Well, it never really came off that way in this book. There was so much focus on characters that at some points it’s almost as though Lackberg went “oh yeah, I forgot. I’m meant to be writing about a murder”. What I’m trying to say is that the main plot line of the story sometimes felt almost like an afterthought. I found it disheartening, because the outline of the plot in the blurb really got me interested. I also felt a bit disappointed because I managed to solve the case four chapters before Patrik did. At first I was pretty pleased with myself, then I was just sad, because for me, whatever mystery had been present had all but disappeared.

I also found the language and writing style of the book to be rather dry and bland. Perhaps this is because it has been translated from its original Swedish language, but at times it sounded like Lackberg was writing an informative essay instead of a novel. I think a bit more colour and variation in each of the characters’ speech would have been much more effective, as they all ended up sounding like the same person.

Overall, this book wasn’t incredibly exciting. It doesn’t venture too far out into the unknown, and the loose ends are tied up nicely, save a few to continue into the next book. Lackberg’s characters are enjoyable, and the story’s concept is interesting enough, but I felt that more appeal to senses would be needed in future novels to heighten the tension in scenes where it is necessary.

As I said previously, this is a comfortable novel, good for a bit of light reading, and perhaps for those new to the crime genre who aren’t quite ready for the heavier stuff yet (for those into that, I’d recommend the Kate Burkholder series by Linda Castillo), but I certainly wouldn’t class it as one of my favourite crime novels.

Rating- 6/10

We become the stories we tell ourselves

Today’s review: A Home at the End of the World

Cover of Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World

Author: Michael Cunningham

Publisher: Penguin
Number of Pages: 343
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Romance
Series: Standalone

From Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours, comes this widely praised novel of two boyhood friends: Jonathan, lonely, introspective, and unsure of himself; and Bobby, hip, dark, and inarticulate. In New York after college, Bobby moves in with Jonathan and his roommate, Clare, a veteran of the city’s erotic wars. Bobby and Clare fall in love, scuttling the plans of Jonathan, who is gay, to father Clare’s child. Then, when Clare and Bobby have a baby, the three move to a small house upstate to raise “their” child together and, with an odd friend, Alice, create a new kind of family. A Home at the End of the World masterfully depicts the charged, fragile relationships of urban life today.

-Goodreads.com

Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World follows the story of three friends, three lovers, and three non-conformers to the social boundaries of acceptance in 70s and 80s society. Jonathan is sheltered; doted upon by his possessive mother; isolated from the dangers and wonder of the outside world. He possesses habits that would not otherwise be considered “normal” in such an unforgiving society; he prefers playing with dolls and trying on his mother’s makeup to activities usually taken up by other boys of five. A few years later sees Jonathan starting seventh grade. It is there that he meets Bobby. Bobby is the poster boy for what Jonathan’s mother had been protecting him from; heavy with burden, high on drugs, not…. “all there”. And Jonathan finds himself falling in love. After graduation, Jonathan and Bobby grow distant. Jonathan moves to New York to attend college, and Bobby stays in Jonathan’s former home in Cleveland with Jonathan’s parents, who took him in after his father passed away.

New York city finds Jonathan writing a food column for a newspaper and sharing an apartment with the colourful-yet-haunted Clare. Although openly gay, Jonathan shares a deeply emotional and loving relationship with Clare, and the two plan to have and raise a baby together.
Re-united through fate, Bobby moves into Jonathan and Clare’s apartment, and soon finds himself to be Clare’s lover and later the father of her child. All three friends are in love with one another, but Jonathan, seeing himself as the third wheel in the relationship, decides to move on.
Jonathan, Bobby and Clare meet again, brought together over a series of tragic events and on impulse, decide to buy a house together and raise the child that all three of them claim to own. All in love with one another, Bobby, Clare and Jonathan form a new and unusual kind of family and create for themselves a home in which to live.

A Home at the End of the World was beautifully written. It was deep, intimate, and intensely real. But it was very, very slow.
You know how books are meant to have story arcs? Like, a build up to a climax, or a series of these? Well, in this book, they were more like speed bumps. The story was like travelling on a long, straight road, and every “major event” that happened in the book was really not very big; like small bumps in the road. Not very exciting, and didn’t have any huge impacts on the story.

But it was very real. The characters were exquisite and the most unique people I have ever read about. Michael Cunningham must have incredible insight into human psychology, because he could expertly enter the minds of each of his main characters and pick out their flaws, highlight their best qualities, accentuate their struggles, and avoid any generic stereotypes. Each character was totally individual, and none of them felt like the “same-old” characters that appear far too frequently in contemporary romance novels.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character. There were some characters, like Jonathan’s mother Alice, that I initially didn’t particularly like, mostly because of the way each of the other characters viewed her personality and nature. But this was because they were outsiders, and didn’t have an understanding of the workings of her mind and why she does things the way she does. But when Cunningham introduced chapters written from Alice’s perspective, I really grew to like her, now that I had been enlightened to her point of view of the world.

In this novel, there’s no defined “bad guy”. Each character feels as human and as real as the reader, and by giving each character such life, it’s really hard to view any of them as annoying or dislikable or evil. I personally shipped Bobby and Jonathan since their first meeting, and I thought that when Clare appeared, that I would hate her throughout the whole novel for intruding on their relationship. But I didn’t. I actually loved her so much. I loved her quirks, her humour, her patient understanding, and her diversity. I even related to her a little; we use some of the same words when addressing people, like “darling”, “dear”, and “sweetie”. Not in like, a patronising way, but in a “you are a lovely person and I will address you as such” way.

I did find this book very slow, and because it was basically just following the, well, slightly-less-than-ordinary lives of the characters, there wasn’t a lot in the way of gripping rising action or dramatic climaxes. I’ll admit that I mainly liked it for the diversity of the characters. Cunningham was very, very good at delving into the intimate and unusual lives of his characters, but there is definitely room for improvement in the gripping story department.

I’ll recommend it for patient readers, but for those who are a little tired of the run-of-the-mill romance characters, this one might also be for you.

Rating- 5/10

 

Fandom Friday: Armageddon Outta Here!

My copy of AOH *sobbing*

My copy of AOH *sobbing*

Guys guys guys guys guys!!! The new Skulduggery Pleasant book is out now!

I got it on Tuesday and I’ve already read through it twice hehe!

So this is Derek Landy’s second-to-last book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series and it’s a collection of short stories detailing events that occur in between the main stories. It contains 11 short stories, three of which were created in the wake of a series of competitions that Landy held on his blog wherein he asked for people to create their own Skulduggery Pleasant characters. The book also includes two novellas; a brand new one and the World Book Day novella, The End of the World, and an exclusive chapter from the final book.

The stories were absolutely amazing, and some had me in fits of laughter as I was reading. It was actually rather embarrassing. I was on the train and I started laughing during one of the stories and there were these two old ladies looking at me like I needed help. So yeah, moral of the story, don’t read Derek Landy’s books in public. You will frighten old ladies.

I am however, rather sad. Skulduggery Pleasant has been a part of my life for eight years now, and it saddens me knowing that it’s soon going to come to an end. But I am comforted however, by the thought that, as long as I keep coming back and reading each book again and again, the magic will never die.

Have any of you guys read the Skulduggery Pleasant series? What are your thoughts on the latest book? Let me know in the comments!

Christie xx 🙂

What is it like to lose everything?

Today’s review: The Book of Jonas

Author: Stephen Dau

Cover of The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau

Publisher: Plume (The Penguin Group)
Number of pages: 258
Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Coming of age/War
Series: Standalone


Jonas is fifteen when his family is killed during an errant U.S. military operation in an unnamed Muslim country. With the help of an international relief organization, he is sent to America, where he struggles to assimilate-foster family, school, a first love. Eventually, he tells a court-mandated counselor and therapist about a U.S. soldier, Christopher Henderson, responsible for saving his life on the tragic night in question. Christopher’s mother, Rose, has dedicated her life to finding out what really happened to her son, who disappeared after the raid in which Jonas’ village was destroyed. When Jonas meets Rose, a shocking and painful secret gradually surfaces from the past, and builds to a shattering conclusion that haunts long after the final page. Told in spare, evocative prose, The Book of Jonas is about memory, about the terrible choices made during war, and about what happens when foreign disaster appears at our own doorstep. It is a rare and virtuosic novel from an exciting new writer to watch.

-Goodreads.com

 

The Book of Jonas is the story of Middle-Eastern youth Jonas as he struggles to adjust to American life after being rescued from his ruined village that was destroyed after a U.S military operation went wrong. After it is discovered that Jonas suffers from lapses in his memory about what ensued at the time of the incident, he is sent to a therapist in an attempt to recover the memories he has lost. Aside from this, Jonas is sent to live with a host family, and attends high school with their children. Jonas, as it turns out, is a brilliant student, achieving the highest results in all of his classes with ease and minimal effort. He becomes fascinated with the workings of Christian religion, spending hours at a time researching everything he can about God and his Will. As is to be expected, Jonas is singled out by other students, and is targeted for the colour of his skin, his funny accent, and his quiet nature. When pushed over the edge however, Jonas is unafraid to fight back, and soon earns a reputation as someone to be admired and slightly intimidated by.

As his sessions with his therapist, Paul, ensue, Jonas is unsure as to whether he simply cannot recall anything that happened before he was sent to America, or whether something deep inside him is refusing to release his knowledge of what happened. Due to his continuing brilliance, Jonas receives a scholarship and attends the University of Pittsburgh, where he meets his first love, Shakri. Shakri urges him to delve into his past and make more of an effort to find out what happened to him, and Jonas discovers the existence of Christopher Henderson who, according to therapist Paul, was the soldier who saved Jonas’ life when his village was destroyed, but has now gone missing. In an attempt to find out more about his past and heal his emotional wounds, Jonas meets with Rose, Christopher’s mother, and it is this event that releases his memory. He starts to open up about what happened after his village was destroyed.
His new knowledge however, takes it’s toll, and Jonas soon finds himself resorting to comfort in alcohol, and ends up on the wrong side of the law. With the help of his therapist Paul and the information that Rose Henderson has shared with him, Jonas is able to piece together his life, his identity, and what really happened to him and Christopher Henderson the night his village was destroyed.

I enjoyed this book and I’m glad that this was the book that I randomly pulled of the shelf of my local library. I found it very interesting to read about not only war, but its after-effects, particularly from the point of view of a teenager. It was sad to witness how someone as brilliant and gifted as Jonas could be pulled down into the depths of his trauma, and to resort to drinking away his problems, but I suppose it’s understandable why someone would do that if they had lived through what Jonas had.

I did find Dau’s storytelling a little disconcerting at first. It would alternate between present-day Jonas, Jonas when he lived in the Middle East (this was before he changed his name and was known as Younis), the events of Jonas’ therapy sessions, Rose Henderson’s point of view, and Christopher Henderson’s journal entries. The amount of jumping around made the story hard to follow at some points and I became surprised by the amount of time that had passed, but it got easier the further I read.
I also felt that some of the supporting characters were a little underdeveloped, and could have contributed to the story a little better, like Jonas’ friend Hakma, and even Shakri, who we really don’t find out all that much about. The story did tend to drag at some points as well for example, there is a whole chapter (granted, it’s only two and a half pages) dedicated to Jonas filling out forms. It was things like this that I felt were rather unnecessary.

Aside from these little things, I ultimately found the story very enjoyable. Jonas’ very thoughtful, detailed observations were fascinating to read, and the contrast between his life in the Middle East and America made for interesting reading. The beginning of the story brings with it a lot of confusion about where it is going and what it is about, but by the mid-way through to end of the book, everything makes sense, and the reader finally discovers what happened to Jonas on that fateful night, although what you find out is not exactly pleasant.

I would definitely recommend this book for others. It sheds new light on the horrors of war and how it pushes humans outside of their boundaries to do extraordinary and unthinkable things.

Rating- 8/10

 

The blood of the victim leads to a monster

Today’s review: Unholy Awakening

Author: Michael Gregorio

Cover of Michael Gregorio’s Unholy Awakening

Publisher: Minotaur publishers
Number of Pages: 464
Genre: Fiction/Mystery & Thriller/ Historical
Series: The Hanno Stiffeniis Series

Blurb courtesy of Goodreads.com

A woman’s body has been found at the bottom of a well. The death wounds are startling: two small, round punctures to the jugular vein. . . .

Vampire fever is spreading throughout the countryside, and suspicions soon fall on the recently arrived Emma Rimmele. Investigator Hanno Stiffeniis must do everything he can to find the true culprit before the mob’s hysteria reaches its breaking point and turns violent.

Set in a nineteenth-century world where people truly believed in vampires, Unholy Awakening pits rational, scientific detection against unhindered, violent superstition

Woah guys, woah. What is this? Me? Posting again? This is positively groundbreaking.

But I’m not going to make excuses. I’m not going to whine about how the workload has gotten ridiculously high. I’m not going to talk about how learning leading instrumental parts for our school’s upcoming musical has added extra stresses. I’m not going to start screaming about how mid-year exams are in two weeks and teachers are becoming decisively irksome. I’m not going to do that.

You know what I am going to do?

Review this bloody book. It’s about time.

Unholy Awakening is the fourth installment of the Hanno Stiffeniis series, written by Michael G. Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio under the pen name Michael Gregorio. It follows the story of Prussian Magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis as he works to solve the latest murder plaguing the haunted town of Lotingen, a fictional town located in the Germanic kingdom of Prussia in the 18th Century.

I neither loved nor hated this book. I have both praise and criticism for it, and I will start by discussing the latter.
You know those dreams you have sometimes, where you are trying desperately to run as fast as you can, but you feel as though you aren’t going anywhere? That’s the kind of experience that I had with some parts of this book. A substantial amount of the text in this book is depicting Stiffeniis’ ongoing monologue as he relays his thoughts, feelings, and perceptions on the events unfolding in the story. Whilst this is helpful in formulating the audience’s opinions on characters, setting, and the time period in which this book is set, in some places it drew the plot to a grinding halt. I felt in some parts that the amount of inner dialogue was too much, dragging parts of the novel on and on, until I (shamefully) found myself actually skipping paragraphs. Some parts brought with them the potential for some rising tension, or engaging action, but I felt that these moments were rather ruined by Stiffeniis banging on about his feelings on the situation, rather than letting the scene play out.
Consequentially, the book had a very stop-start feel to it; every time there was an opportunity to pick up the pace of the story, this was always drawn back by the novel’s tendency to linger for too long on one detail.

On the other hand, I was very impressed with the quality of the language that Gregorio used in the book, and even found myself applauding some of the exceptionally beautiful passages of writing, particularly this one from the second chapter: “The water erupted in a splash as a sizeable, silver-blue pike leapt out of the shallows, chasing sprats, or cannibalising its pickerel in the gluttony of autumn“.
I adored how autumn was personified by the greed and desperation of animals as they frenziedly feed in the foreboding shadow of the oncoming winter. The imagery used to describe the locations in the book were pristine, and seemed to reflect the mood of the story. In the early “calm before the storm” scenes, the description of autumn almost emitted a mood of tense calm, as though the weather itself was waiting with bated breath for the events to unfold. As the story became progressively darker, so the weather became colder and less forgiving. It was this use of symbolism and precisely detailed imagery, coupled with the almost-poetic technique of writing that really helped me cling to the novel until the last pages… that and the desire to find out who really committed the murders.

I know that I have criticised the pace of the novel, but the plot itself is really very good. Throughout the whole novel, as Hanno Stiffeniis chases shady characters down dark alleys, as Emma Rimmelle radiates her dangerously seductive charm, and as French Colonel Lavedrine emits his enticing, yet sarcastic air, there is one underlying question: who is the ‘vampire’? I think my desire to know the answer to this question is what got me through this book, this of course meaning I had to read it all; skipping to the last page would be blasphemous. Despite my judgements, I was very satisfied with the book’s ending. It was twisted nicely, but was not all hugging and flowers and happiness; there are still obviously a few issues that, as hinted by the ending, may be resolved in another addition to this series.

As it is, I don’t feel the need to read any further into this series. This book did not generate enough interest in me to make me feel as though I need to read into the series further, so I am happy just to leave it at that.

As for recommendations, I would suggest this book for readers with a deal of patience. If readers could steel themselves in order to plod through the slow parts, the story is actually quite good, if a bit laborious at times. This book would also be ideal for readers with an interest in books similar to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as this emits a similar dark feel.

Rating: 5/10