Posts Tagged With: book reviews

Replica by Lexi Revellian

Title: Replica
Author: Lexi Revellian
ISBN: 978-0956642240
Publisher: Hoxton Press
First Published: June 2011
No .of pages: 290

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
Beth Chandler, bright, attractive but unassertive, is accidentally replicated in a flawed experiment at the government research institute where she works. A second Beth comes into being, complete with all her memories. To Sir Peter Ellis, MI5 chief, the replica is an embarrassment that must be hushed up and disposed of. Overhearing him, Beth Two goes on the run. With no official existence, homeless, penniless and pursued by Sir Peter’s agents, she has to find the inner strength and aggression to survive on icy London streets. Meanwhile the original Beth, unaware of what has happened, becomes romantically involved with Nick Cavanagh, the spec op she believes is there to protect her. In fact, he’s hunting her double. Nick refuses to face his moral doubts about Beth Two – as far as he’s concerned, it’s not his problem. As events unfold, and the situation grows more complicated, he has to decide whose side he is on.

Review:
Two years ago, I read and reviewed an earlier novel by Lexi Revellian called Remix. I loved it, so when I was offered the chance to review a second novel, Replica, I jumped at it.

I wasn’t disappointed!

Plunging straight into the action seems to be something of a Revellian trait, as Replica doesn’t hang around. By page 8, major events have already occurred and we’re having to deal with the aftermath of some pretty earth-shattering revelations very soon afterwards. Suspension of disbelief can be a major hang-up of mine if the subject matter isn’t handled well, but Lexi is a real pro – with everyone aware of science’s progress with cloning the notion of replication is an unnervingly real prospect, and the lack of overly scientific jargon to explain everything away (which might have hampered proceedings, making them seem contrived and unrealistic while bogging the reader down in “facts” they do not need) adds to that sense of realism – we just accept it as a matter of fact and run with it.

The writing is ludicrously easy to read – honestly, I have very rarely come across a writer whose words seem so effortless to read and it’s a real joy to get into the story and characters so quickly it feels like one has known them for years. Even with two Beths who start out essentially the same person, but through their very different experiences after the replication, rapidly become completely separate and instantly recognisable, it never becomes even remotely confusing – one is always acutely aware of who is who.

In the hands of a lesser writer, this could have been a real mess, but Revellian takes a nifty idea and writes it so neatly that when we reach the shocking conclusion, there are aspects which one honestly didn’t see coming, but afterwards one realises it couldn’t have happened any other way.

On the back of enjoying this novel (and the previous one) so much, I can hardly wait to read Ice Diaries!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Changeling by Philippa Gregory

Title: Changeling (Order of Darkness #1)
Author: Philippa Gregory
ISBN: 978-0857077301
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Childrens Books
First Published: May 2012 (hardback/audio/Kindle) / January 2013 (paperback)
No .of pages: 272

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
The year is 1453, and all signs point to it being the end of the world. Accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, handsome seventeen-year-old, Luca Vero, is recruited by a mysterious stranger to record the end of times across Europe. Commanded by sealed orders, Luca is sent to map the fears of Christendom, and travel to the very frontier of good and evil. Seventeen-year-old Isolde, a Lady Abbess, is trapped in a nunnery to prevent her claiming her rich inheritance. As the nuns in her care are driven mad by strange visions, walking in their sleep, and showing bleeding wounds, Luca is sent to investigate and all the evidence points to Isolde’s criminal guilt. Outside in the yard they are building a pyre to burn her for witchcraft. Forced to face the greatest fears of the medieval world – dark magic, werewolves, madness – Luca and Isolde embark on a search for truth, their own destinies, and even love as they take the unknown ways to the real historical figure who defends the boundaries of Christendom and holds the secrets of the Order of Darkness.

Review:
I’ve been a huge fan of Philippa Gregory since I read The Other Boleyn Girl ten years ago, and she rarely disappoints. I’ve only ever read her historical fiction (yes, she writes contemporary novels too!), but her research is impeccable and her style unmistakable.

This is the first time Gregory has woven a tale with the young adult market in mind, and it shows a little, but I get the feeling that subsequent books in this series will showcase her talents as she gets used to writing for a slightly younger audience. This first novel in the new series feels  a little more like two connected short stories than one full-length novel, but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment.

There’s more happening more quickly than in her regular historical novels, in which Gregory usually takes the time to introduce her characters and let them develop fully, while weaving them into an intricately intriguing web of intersecting stories. Here we are presented with our young hero and heroine and they pretty much get straight to work. I get the feeling that the characters will become fuller as the series progresses and I will look forward to reading their adventures.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Fall of Charlie Dixon by David Couldrey

Title: The Fall of Charlie Dixon
Author: David Couldrey
ISBN: 978-1780883120
Publisher: Matador
First Published: September 2012
No .of pages: 208

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
The Fall of Charlie Dixon follows the eponymous Charlie and his friends as they react to the turbulent events of the Noughties. From 9/11, via the War on Terror and the 7/7 bombings in London, history looms large in their lives. As terrorist attacks overshadow the decade, more and more of Britain’s youth are pulled into the murky world of anger, violence and Islamophobia. When Charlie falls for the girlfriend of the leader of The Defence of The Realm League, he is inexorably drawn into the chaos that ensues. As the League becomes ever more violent, it becomes clear that some won’t survive the decade. Exploring the various trials of adolescent friendship, betrayal and love against the backdrop of the time, The Fall of Charlie Dixon is both a cautionary tale and a black comedy.

Review:
This novel is billed as a black comedy and it’s rare to see it pulled off this well when the subject matter involves real-life incidences that are still incredibly raw in the minds and hearts of the entire world. That’s not to say this book is hilarious – far from it – it’s more a sardonic smile at how weak the human spirit can be and how cowardice can lead to the downfall not only of the coward, but those around him.

There’s no getting away from the fact that much of the story is pretty grim. There’s a childhood marred by being easily led and too selfish to stand up for right; a youth wasted by boredom; and tragedies on all sides when the world is apparently falling apart in the wake of terrorist attacks, both in America, and here on British soil.

It’s hard read without thinking back to how one felt during the attacks and the aftermath, and each reader is forced to examine how he or she would have reacted in each situation. I can promise you will shake your head at many of the decisions made by Charlie Dixon, but you will keep reading anyway, because, coward as he is, he is still a likable character, and you will probably find, like I did, that you desperately will him to make good before you reach the final pages.

It’s dark. It’s very dark. But Couldrey manages to ensure it’s never depressing, instead making one appreciate what is good in life and resolving to make things better. And that can only be a good thing.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Huntress by Malinda Lo

Title: Huntress
Author: Malinda Lo
ISBN: 978-1907411090
Publisher: Atom
First Published: April 2011
No .of pages: 384

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

Review:
Last year I read Ash and was pretty much blown away by the daring retelling of Cinderella. When I came to the end, I could hardly wait to get my hands on the prequel, but it took till now to get round to reading it. The action takes place in the same world as Ash but is set centuries earlier.

To be honest, although I enjoyed Huntress, I was still a little disappointed, because it fell short of living up to the previous novel. I’m not sure if it’s because Ash had a familiar story and this didn’t, but I just didn’t feel I engaged with the characters or plot quite as well this time round. It felt a bit drawn out and meandering, and didn’t seem to have any real purpose unless to set the scene for another novel. Nothing felt resolved.

That’s not to say Huntress is not an entertaining read – on the contrary, the concept is interesting and the characters neatly packaged – it’s just not as good as the novel that came before. to be fair, though, those were big shoes to fill.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Hunger Games (Hunger Games 1)
Author: Suzanne Collins
ISBN: 978-1407109084
Publisher: Scholastic
First Published: January 2009
No .of pages: 464

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games.” The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat’s sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.

Review:
Oh. My. Gods!

How on earth did I manage to wait so long before picking up the first in this trilogy? I mean, the hype was all over the place, and then the film came out (which I rather enjoyed), but perhaps it was the hype that kept me away. Anyway, I finally succumbed and I am SO glad I did!

From the very first page, I was absolutely hooked. Katniss is such a wonderfully flawed character that we can all see a little of ourselves in her, both good and bad; the situation, which is almost like a teenaged version of  The Running Man, is edge-of-the-seat stuff; and the writing is so good it’s incredibly difficult to put the book down. Although there is some quite horrific violence and death involved, the descriptions are not so graphic that it would make it inappropriate for  younger ten readers – it really is handled superbly so that readers of almost any age can enjoy it.

I got so into it that even though I’m enjoying my current book, I find myself wishing I was was still reading The Hunger Games and I look forward to getting hold of the sequels so I can continue following Katniss – I’m just dying to find out what happens next. My favourite character, however, has to be Peeta – I think I fell in love with him just a little bit. Although Katniss is obviously very close to Gale, I just couldn’t warm to him in quite the same way, but that’s possibly because we don’t get to spend as much tie with him. Perhaps that will change as I get further into the trilogy. Either way, I’ll be reading them very soon!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Heat Rises by Richard Castle

Title: Heat Rises (Nikki Heat 3)
Author: Richard Castle
ISBN: 978-1401324438
Publisher: Hyperion
First Published: October 2011 (hardback) / October 2012 (paperback/Kindle)
No .of pages: 240

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
The bizarre murder of a parish priest at a New York bondage club is just thetip of an iceberg that leads Nikki Heat to a dark conspiracy that reachesall the way to the highest level of the NYPD. But when she gets too closeto the truth, Nikki finds herself disgraced, stripped of her badge, and outon her own as a target for killers with nobody she can trust. Except maybethe one man in her life who’s not a cop. Reporter Jameson Rook.

In the midst of New York’s coldest winter in a hundred years, there’s onething Nikki is determined to prove. Heat Rises.

Review:
If you are a fan of the ABC show, Castle, then you will most likely already have picked up on the books that tie in – apparently written by the fictional character of Richard Castle (the author picture on the back cover is of Nathan Fillion, who plays him). Fans will most definitely enjoy the in-jokes and recognise the “real” situations and characters from the show that have inspired the “fictional” counterparts in the novels. They will laugh their socks off when Jameson Rook says things like, “I really am ruggedly handsome, aren’t I?” and get a real kick out of every Castle-ish turn of phrase.

However, even if they’ve never tuned into the programme (currently in its fifth season), crime fans will still be able to enjoy these books. Yes, they use every corny crime trope going, but it’s part of the fun.

Because that’s what these books are all about – having fun with the whole crime genre.

There’s no point in reading Heat Rises unless you have first read Heat Wave and Naked Heat, but once you have finished those, you’ll be champing at the bit to get hold of the next installment.

First and foremost, it’s another very clever tie-in with an increasingly popular crime drama, but Heat Rises (along with the prior novels) holds up in its own right. There’s very real suspense – you’ll be kept guessing till the “big reveal” and will enjoy every twist and turn along the way.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny

Title: The Book of Madness and Cures
Author: Regina O’Melveny
ISBN: 978-1780330464
Publisher: John Murray
First Published: 12 April 2012 (HB) / 11 October 2012 (PB)
No .of pages: 384

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Gabriella Mondini is a rarity in 16th century Venice, she’s a woman who practices medicine. Her father, a renowned physician, has provided her entrée to this all-male profession, and inspired in her a shared mission to understand the secrets of the human body. Then her father disappears and Gabriella faces a crisis: without her father’s patronage, she is no longer permitted to treat her patients.

So she sets out across Europe to find her father. Following clues from his occasional enigmatic letters, Gabriella crosses Switzerland, Germany and France, entering strange and forbidding cities. She travels to Scotland, the Netherlands, and finally to Morocco. In each new land, she uncovers details of her father’s unexplained flight, and opens new mysteries of her own. Not just the mysteries of ailments and treatments, but the ultimate mysteries of mortality, love, and the timeless human spirit.

Review:
In recent months, I seem to have read several novels which have very similar features – 16th Century Venice; female doctors struggling to practice medicine under the bigoted rules of the time; traveling far from home – as a result, large parts of this debut novel felt familiar. There were aspects that set it apart, but it was, overall, much of a muchness with the others and although I enjoyed it, I got slightly less out of it than I might have done had I not read others first.

If anything, The Book of Madness and Cures felt a tad long-winded at times, and despite the excerpts of the titular book (actually The Book of Diseases) being part of the plot, I found their inclusion to be intrusive and disruptive to the flow of the story around them, so much so that I eventually found myself skimming over them to get back to the proper narrative.

It is a meandering tale that takes its time to unfold, so that it feels like the reader is keeping pace with the travelers as they spend months journeying through strange lands, facing hardship and persecution, on a voyage of self discovery and reunion that often feels like it will never come to a conclusion. When it finally does, it feels a little rushed. I felt that I cared for very few of the characters, least of all the absent father descending into madness as he tries to escape his own failings in foreign lands. Gabriella seemed emotionally stunted, and the only ones I really felt for were her companions, Olmina and Lorenzo, who were kind, loyal and understanding as Gabriella persisted in her quest.

The redeeming feature is the writing itself, which is warm and rich – O’Melveny has many a beautiful turn of phrase and her skill with words is to be commended. I will look forward to seeing what she next brings to the page.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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A Brief Guide to Jane Austen: The Life and Times of the World’s Favourite Author by Charles Jennings

Title: A Brief Guide to Jane Austen: The Life and Times of the World’s Favourite Author
Author: Charles Jennings
ISBN: 978-1780330464
Publisher: Robinson
First Published: 5 February 2013 (paperback) / 15 November 2012 (Kindle)
No .of pages: 288

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Jane Austen is a mystery. The first incontrovertibly great woman novelist, she is, among other things, one of the finest prose stylists in literature; the first truly modern writer, the Godmother of chick lit. She is also the greatest enigma (next to Shakespeare) in English literature. Soldiers in the First World War sat in the trenches and read them for the civilising comforts they provided. Hard-nut literary critics such as F. R. Leavis lauded their austere complexity. World Book Day, 2007, found that Pride and Prejudice was the one book ‘The nation can’t live without’. In this witty, accessible guide, Charles Jennings goes in search of this enigma through her words as well as her times, including a short biography, an overview of the novels, as well as the world that she inhabited. Finally, the book contains Jane’s very own words of advice for the modern life.

Review:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a reader with a complete lack of shelf space must still be in want of yet more books! It is also universally acknowledged that Jane Austen, after 200 years, still features on the top ten favourites lists of readers all around the world. She is an enduring icon, a woman whose writing has stood the test of time despite being very much of its time, and this brief guide examines some of the reasons behind that.

Set out in four distinct sections, the guide covers Jane’s life, her novels (in order of publication), the Regency period that her novels have come to so beautifully represent, and the after effects of her work on the world of literature.

Never before have I had so many people interested in the book I am reading – I read this in various public places and could barely finish a page without someone asking which Austen novel I was reading or if I was enjoying the book – even those who professed not to like her novels asked what it was I so loved.

I’ll confess, I’m only partially a Janeite – I find Persuasion slow, Sense and Sensibility dull and Emma infuriating. However, I grew to love Mansfield Park, delight in Pride and Prejudice, and hold Northanger Abbey among my all time favourites. Her Juvenilia, I find, is hit and miss, underdeveloped and very much a product of a writer still trying to develop her craft, but all this is beside the point. The fact remains that people couldn’t resist quizzing me the moment they saw me holding a book bearing the name of Jane Austen – she truly is the world’s favourite author.

This brief guide to Austen and the world around her is absolutely fascinating. Janeites will devour it, but even those of us who have mixed reactions to her work will find themselves pulled into the genteel world of the lady who left us six of the best-loved books the world has ever known.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Zombie Apocalypse! Fightback by Stephen Jones

Title: Zombie Apocalypse! Fightback
Author: Stephen Jones
ISBN: 978-1780334653
Publisher: Robinson
First Published: 4 October 2012
No .of pages: 528

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
Set in the near-future, this sequel to the innovative “mosaic novel’ Zombie Apocalypse weaves together various “voices’ in the form of essays, reports, letters, official documents, and transcripts relating to the fightback against the New Zombie Order.

Review:
Let me start by making it clear that I have not read the first book (Zombie Apocalypse!). Let me also state that this did not impact on my enjoyment of this highly unusual novel.

The inventive use of emails, letters, articles, reports and transcripts, rather than a traditional narrative, taps into the modern multi-media age to superb effect. The reader is presented with a fate accompli in the form of eye-witness accounts during an outbreak on an apocalyptic scale the likes of which the world has never before experienced, and one is plunged right into the heart of things as events unfold. This makes for an incredibly eerie read and you find yourself peeking through the curtains at an unusual noise outside, and checking all the doors are locked… just in case!

It’s a totally immersive experience and fans of the zombie genre will lap this up. It is also sure to attract new fans as word spreads (hopefully with the same speed at which the zombie plague does!) because this truly is a fantastic read. Exciting, scary and poignant by turn, we get to see things from multiple points of view, which often changes out own opinion of events and those involved in them.

I can highly recommend picking this up. Just don’t pick up HRV (Human Reanimation Virus) when you do!

I will certainly be going back to pick up the first book as soon as possible!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Royal Street (Sentinels #1) by Suzanne Johnson

Title: Royal Street (Sentinels #1)
Author: Suzanne Johnson
ISBN: 978-0755397655
Publisher: Headline
First Published: 27 September 2012
No .of pages: 432

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco’s job involves a lot more potion-mixing than sniffing out supernatural bad guys. DJ’s mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that slips over from the preternatural beyond. Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans’ fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters. Now the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering soldiers sent to help the city recover. To make it worse, Gerry has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ’s new partner, and an undead pirate wants to make her walk his plank. DJ will learn the hard way that loyalty requires sacrifice… and duty mixed with love creates one bitter gumbo.

Review:
I tend to enjoy fiction with a paranormal / supernatural slant, but in recent years there seems to have been something of a glut of them, all of a very similar ilk.

This one’s different.

Royal Street, the first in the new Sentinels series, is set in New Orleans and focuses on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The big “What if?” here is “What if a natural disaster happens in a place where the veil between the worlds is already very thin and rips open the borders, leaving our world open to those from the Other Side?” In such a disaster, there is a tragic loss of life, but when you add a supernatural element to some of the deaths, you need someone who is trained in dealing with those from The Beyond and make sure the death toll doesn’t continue to rise.

Dru Jaco is a feisty character and her will they / wont they working relationship with her Enforcer partner and his cousin is a lot of fun. There’s also an unusual mix of the usual preternatural creatures (vampires, werewolves, wizards, fairies, etc) with the wonderful addition of the “Historic Dead” which can include anyone of note who has passed on. Let me lay it out for you. We get pirates! How cool is that? Never did I think I’d ever see the day when pirates, wizards and voodoo Gods would all be included in the same plot line.

It’s an exciting start to what promises to be a series that can proudly stand up beside the likes of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampires series and still stand out form the crowd.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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