Book Reviews :: First 10 of 2014

BookShelfI had intended to do this 3-monthly, but the months got away from me and I got behind in my reading (as usual) , so settled on a half-way update instead.

So here are my reviews of the first 12 books (6-months-worth) I read this year – with the exception of Planes Shifter, since I’m not reviewing my own novel… (okay, I give it 3.5 stars, just only it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be and is still in edits)  and ‘SOS’ as it’s another author’s Beta-Read and thus also still in the process of edits.

If you click on my Goodreads widget, you’ll notice that in order to get the books to match up I’ve included two children’s books which I have read, but wouldn’t count, to keep the numbers the same.

– – –

January :: Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Maas

4 Stars

Although it was a little slow in the beginning, around half-way through the book I became drawn in fully, and then I finished it within a few hours. The story had some intriguing twists and turns, the characters generally had distinct aspects of personality, and I generally cared enough about each character.

However, there were times when it felt “out of character”, when Celaena wasn’t having this gradual change – she was jumping back and forth between two types of personality. This wasn’t as noticeable, but did happen also with Captain Westfall too; moments where what could have been a gradual change appeared to be a jarring jump between two personalities; sometimes even within the same scene.

Overall, I’d recommend the book, and give it four stars.

  ~

February :: The Agency: Part IV – Dianne Sylvan

5 Stars

As with the previous three installments, the characters were believable, the plot twists exciting and I always seem to read these in a single sitting. Without giving away spoilers, I think this had the most plot-twists, and builds on the more mythical turn that part III brought to light. It feels like we’re getting to see how things will actually fit into place, to see how all these separate sections will weave together, although I thought that in a previous part, and was then presented with a new twist I hadn’t expected.

I can’t wait to read the next part and this gets five stars from me.

  ~

February :: Beautiful Demons – Sarra Cannon

3 Stars

I actually chose this book as a free download on kindle to expand my reading experience and because it was fairly short. not the best reason to begin a book, but not the worst either.

I found this book confusing in places; with some stagnant dialogue. However, the plot was clear, and characters were fairly well-defined. The pacing was a little slow in places, and there were some aspects of Harper’s character (or other characters, come to think of it) that didn’t feel authentic to me –odd things happened and yet people didn’t question them. There were also some good options for a romance plot but instead it was just.. hinted at from the beginning and then totally thrown together. I felt this could have been made more natural with a softer transition.

It had a promising beginning, but did seem to get a bit muddled and slow in the middle, which then continued until the end, when the twist came through.

I don’t think I’ll be reading the second book in the series, and give it three stars.

  ~

February :: The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

5 Stars

Once I got past the beginning (which i had tried to 3-4 times before and just didn’t interest me), I read this book within 24 hours: sneakily reading it at work during any tea or lunch break on my phone. Although I found the style of writing wasn’t really for me, and actually didn’t really like Katniss that much, there was enough to draw me in. The pacing was pretty good, the characters were different from each other, and there was a clear path for characters to follow, with a few twists here and there. It did make me second-guess my thoughts on first-person narrative, which is not my favourite point of view, but is now something I will give another chance to in the future.

On occasion, I did find the emotions of characters and their actions didn’t always match up, and that left me questioning them and their motives. Although that could have been a positive, for me it made me wonder how well-rounded they were, and if I had missed something to explain what they did.

Overall though, I really liked the storyline and did find some characters to care about as the book progressed. I plan to read the second book at some point in the future, and will go ahead and give this…(must choose either 4 or 5…) five stars.

  ~

March :: Mistborn: The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson

5 Stars

Having watched/listened to/stalked Brandon’s writing lectures/podcast/website for three years, and met his agent at WFC13 who said even more about Brandon’s writing/editing style, I decided that, although put off by comments about the lengths of his books (I don’t have as much time to read anymore), I’d try the Mistborn series, as it sounded less like an epic fantasy and also was a book he talked about in his lectures.

I’m glad I started reading it on a Friday – I read the book until 2am, and then woke at 7am on Saturday morning desperate to continue. This went on until Sunday evening, when I finished it and realised I needed to eat dinner.

I then spent three days telling my mother she HAD to read it. She’s now on book 2 and I haven’t started it because I haven’t got a whole weekend free for a while; but it’s definitely a 5.5 star book.

The characters are realistic, the plot twists are unpredictable (or at least one big one was for me) yet made sense in hindsight and Brandon’s description didn’t make me shy away like some fantasy books have. It’s definitely a good example of a book that “works” and I will definitely re-read it at some point (once I’ve read the others in the series, perhaps).

Recommended and five stars all round.

  ~

April :: Write Your Novel From The Middle – James Scott Bell

5 Stars

When I began seriously writing novels after my first NaNoWriMo I had two books on writing: Beginnings, Middles and Ends by Nancy Kress and Plot & Structure (Write Great Fiction) by James Scott Bell.

Thus when I saw this was a little ebook, focusing on one aspect of writing I’d not seen before, I trusted in his previous writing and bought it. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t a “how to structure” book, but more about particular points in the middle of a story that you can use to help you understand the arcs form beginning to ending.

I really like that, instead of being a whole new format to get my head around and try out, his ‘midpoint’ is something you can use as part of a larger structure; such as the seven point story or three-act formats.

Short and sweet, covering something I hadn’t really considered (or seen in other writing books) before. Five stars.

  ~

May :: Warbreaker  – Brandon Sanderson

5 Stars

I didn’t mean to read this book. I haven’t even started on the second Mistborn story yet.

I found Warbreaker on Brandon’s website as a few WIP drafts and then the final version. As a writer myself, I opened it very much with the knowledge that I loved The Final Empire (Mistborn #1), and that I wanted to learn how he writes. So I began reading very much as an experiment to see where I noticed things. As it was, I got sucked right into the story, and despite its size, finished it in a few days.  I’m now reading through the annotations and finding I love it even more — begin able to understand things in more detail, and to know how much actual depth was behind things he only briefly included.

The characters were wonderfully deep and separate from each other; the descriptions of T’Telir were vibrant and clear, and as for the twists and turns, much like in Mistborn, I felt surprise and then that “oh, of course!” moment; which I think is how every author hopes a plot twist will go.

I also found it intriguing on a personal level that my favourite character is Nightblood — who I guess may not technically be classed as a character. The mix of naivety, just wanting to be praised and liked and used for their skills…. mixed with, essentially, a killer.

I’ve already begun recommending this book to everyone I know, and I’m awarding it five stars.

  ~

June :: Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey – Chuck Wendig

5 Stars

Considering how long I’ve followed him on twitter and read his blog, I’m surprised it took me this long to read one of his books.

Either way, this was an enjoyable read; a collection of essays from his website, complete with postscript commentary and note son how the posts link together. I took my time with it, reading a couple of sections every few days and trying to bear the thoughts in mind when it came to my own writing.

Very motivational if you like being yelled at continually, and very funny even if you don’t. Chuck comments on the luxuries and misconceptions of being a writer; including things that anyone but a writer/creative may think is a joke, but those of us who have had a go at writing know to be accurate summations of the life we lead.

Definitely worth the money to have the essays to hand and updated/revised following more experience. The sequel is on my to-read list. Five stars for the penmonkey.

  ~

June :: Summoned – Rainy Kaye

5 Stars

I began reading this book, mostly because I read the author’s blog. I just had a ‘look inside’ on the website and suddenly I finished the preview. I bought it without thinking twice, but then it just sat on my list of “currently reading” books. Yesterday I picked it back up again, and was drawn back in to the story. I read it until gone 4am.

I really enjoyed the blend of characters, particularly the way Dimitri began to change as he realised he wanted freedom, even if just a little bit. There were some interesting plot twists, and Rainy managed to surprise me even on a few I thought I’d figured it out (which is how I want to feel as a reader, at least sometimes). The characters were clearly-defined, and we were left with that just-not-quite-enough information throughout, mixed with great pacing.

There were moments  (not very often, but still there) where some of the character’s personalities maybe switched up/down without warning. Mostly this was a mood change due to an event, but some (particularly Silvia’s) seemed a bit too extreme and that pulled me out of the story. I also did find myself having to skip back and re-read a few sections, especially where certain aspects are explained (like the mythos behind genies) because they were a little long and I found myself skimming — then not quite following the story because of it.

Overall though, this is a fantastic premise, well-written, in the voice of a compelling character and with some puzzle solving thrown in. For that, i’ll rate it five stars and tell you to go grab a copy.

  ~

June :: The Queen of the Tearling – Erika Johansen

3 Stars

I really don’t know how to review this book. I began it with a note of surprise at how easily I was drawn in. I read the first half in a matter of hours. Despite some very conflicting comments and odd remarks made by the protagonist that left me unsure of the world she lives in, it the story was good and pacing well set out. The main character’s situation intrigued me, even if she wasn’t overly appealing. I would say I enjoyed it.

And then three new points of view (with little-to-set-up-so-who-cares) were added within pages of each other, and I put the book down. For five months.

I’ve slowly been forcing myself through those new points of view, desperate to get back to the characters I know and care about. Today, I managed to break through the final block and was back to Kelsea’s viewpoint. Once more, I was sucked into the plot; with fairly distinct-from-each-other characters (although all the guards felt fairly similar in general) and a fairly fleshed-out world.

And then suddenly, in the midst of 300 pages of fantasy-land names and terminology; America is mentioned. I read the paragraph three of four times, wondering, since I have an uncorrected proof copy, if there had been a mistake. Then Harry Potter is mentioned. Finally, there is mention of genetics.

All my immersion within this medieval landscape and  the realities of it’s odd, strange world (a hero who doesn’t help people / a girl who criticises things despite supposedly knowing nothing about them ) was shot following all the random attempts to shove modern aspects into a other-than-these-five-mentions pre-technological times (for lack of a better word.)  This world-building, suddenly being forced into a time that is following a modern time (i.e. one could argue with knowledge of human rights and a history already laced with slave trade and how much that sucked) I then completely failed to understand this world and the people in it.

It’s common knowledge I don’t do walls of description, and to some extent, this book wasn’t as bad as some at this. However, they travel the same fields and woods and villages about 6 times, and each time the grass and bricks are described in such detail I began to skim-read.

Her character flaw is also pretty big; to the point that I rolled my eyes through most of the scenes in her point of view. Especially if there’s another human being present. She is so concerned about being vain, so inherently sure she is not pretty, so jealous of raped women’s beauty and every time a male so much as walks past she thinks they are both too-old/not-for-her and blushes at how attractive they are or how much they must be thinking about her looks.

So I’m not really sure what I liked about it, but I want to see the Fetch again and I’m interested in Pen. So I’ll try to find the sequel at some point. Three to four stars. But mostly because of all potential. Hell; just renaming America/Europe/New London would bring this up to four stars for me.  Because that would be the world I began this story in.

The first half was a four-five star book. Because of the middle and ending — I’m settling for three stars.

  ~

What books have you enjoyed recently? 

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