romance

Review: The Scroll, K.B. Hoyle

The ScrollThe Scroll (Goodreads)
Author:   K.B. Hoyle (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Darcy Pennington may once have been an average teenager, but not anymore. Living each year twice, once in her world and once in Alitheia, has made her into someone who cares little for normal teenage activities. She’s got more important things to do, like save the mythical, magical world of Alitheia. But this time, Darcy can’t save Alitheia until she saves Tellius, the love of her life.

A window between the worlds allows Darcy to see Tellius from her home in Chicago. But, far from being reassured, she plunges into despair when she sees Tellius captured, imprisoned, and tortured. All her plans for her future life in Alitheia are put on hold as Darcy faces a singular goal: save Tellius, even if it means giving Tselloch something in return.

Details

Series: The Gateway Chronicles #5
Genre: Teen/YA Fantasy
Published: The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House, October 17, 2013
My copy: From the publisher via Netgalley

Paper copies: Writer’s Coffee Shop
E-copies: Writer’s Coffee Shop

Review

Please note: The Scroll is the fifth in this series so this review may contain spoilers for earlier books. You’re welcome to check out my reviews for The Six,  The Oracle, The White Thread and The Enchanted first, if you’re interested!


It has been almost a whole year since the last time I visited the world of Alitheia with Darcy and her friends, but I was very pleased to rejoin them in this, the penultimate book in the Gateway Chronicles series.

A while before Darcy and her friends are due to travel to summer camp and then back to the parallel world of Alitheia, Darcy is missing Tellius dreadfully. A magic mirror from Alitheia allows her to catch glimpses of her love from time to time, but when one day she looks in the mirror and sees Tellius captured and later tortured, she is desperate to get back to Alitheia as soon as possible. But there are more secrets, lies and adventures waiting for them in that other world than there ever have been before.

Some stories are told with events taking place over a few days. Not so in the Gateway Chronicles, where each instalment covers a whole year in Alitheia, as well as whatever portions of real-world events happen on either side of that. For this reason, great sections of the story (and in this book in particular) involve down-time – the six companions from our world spend a lot of time training or sitting around studying in the library, and the actual action parts are kind of spaced out. It was rather frustrating, for the characters as well as the reader – they know that Tellius is being tortured, why can’t they do something about it sooner?!

If there’s one thing that disappointed me slightly about this book in the series is that the characters are still repeating the same mistakes as they have previously. Secrets are being kept from Darcy and she doesn’t like it, so she takes things into her own hands and wanders off into trouble again. I don’t blame her, really, but I’d be more inclined (in my imagination, at least) to demand answers from someone before I went running off into danger. In any case, she manages to uncover some secrets on her own and eventually the reason for the lack of information is revealed.

Despite Darcy’s (and my) impatience, the interactions between characters in these books are really very well written and make the story really enjoyable. Darcy is essentially now an early-twenty-year-old living in a seventeen year old’s body, and her maturity shines through. It was really nice to see her come into her own as a mage, even if Rubidius wouldn’t help with training. The other characters have matured nicely as well, except for Percy, perhaps. I did want to slap him occasionally! Tellius, as usual, is adorable and wasn’t in this one enough.

The Scroll‘s cliffhanger ending really sets things up for the finale – I’m really looking forward to seeing what KB Hoyle could possibly have left to throw at her long-suffering characters!

Once again, I’d recommend the Gateway Chronicles series to those who enjoy fantasy aimed at a young-YA crowd.

Warnings: Violence

The Gateway Chronicles

The Scroll Book 6: ?2014

 

Review: The Burning Sky, Sherry Thomas

The Burning SkyThe Burning Sky (Goodreads)
Author:  Sherry Thomas (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he’s also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to avenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.

Details

Series: The Elemental Trilogy #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, in a historical setting
Published: Balzer & Bray, September 2013
Pages: 464
My copy: The publisher via Edelweiss

Paper copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (ePub)

Review

The Burning Sky is a story about Elemental Mages set partially in Victorian England. I couldn’t wait to get stuck into this one after hearing about it! I was even more delighted to discover that the English setting is none other than Eton College, just up the road from where I used to live in the UK. Any book that mentions Windsor Castle is a winner for me, and as it turns out, this is a very enjoyable story as well.

Iolanthe Seabourne is a gifted Elemental Mage. When trying to fix a light elixir, she calls down a bolt of lightning, which draws attention to her from a variety of directions. Suddenly she is The Realm’s most wanted person, hunted by the mages of Atlantis and nearly captured. Much to her surprise, she is instead whisked away to the non-mage realm of mid-1800s England with Prince Titus of Elberon, the rather attractive but cold and driven sixteen-year-old ruler of the Realm. Realising her potential from visions by his seer mother, Titus hides Iolanthe within his school disguised as Archer Fairfax – a fictional student who has supposedly been on a leave of sickness. Can Iolanthe pull off the public school boy masquerade, while training her magic abilities and avoiding the notice of the agents of Atlantis?

In preparing for this review I discovered that not only is Sherry Thomas an acclaimed Romance author, but she also writes in English as her second language. The romance part I can see in the way Titus and Iolanthe interact, but wow, she really writes in English like a native speaker. This is a beautifully written story, told in the slightly formal style of classical literature – a style that fits very well with the Victorian English setting.

The story is told from both Titus’ and Iolanthe’s points of view, sometimes switching after just a few paragraphs. At first, this jumping between heads was quite distracting and a little confusing at times, but it draws out the tension well and gradually becomes less annoying as the story goes on.

The world building here is amazing, although not everywhere. We don’t hear a lot about the Realm or Atlantis, but we do get a good sense of the interior of the magical construct of the Crucible, and also of the Eton School and surrounds (although perhaps that’s because I’ve been there!). What wasn’t made particularly clear was how the mage realms relate geographically to the non-mage world. Are they just integrated into each other as in Harry Potter, or are they actual separate countries? There was quite an information dump at the start that made the whole Atlantis situation unclear. I’m hoping that will be explained a little more as the story progresses.

My only real disappointment with the story was the magic system – magic performed by uttering a few words, with or without a wand and no energy expended. To make a spell more potent you just add “forte!” to the end of your command! As I’ve said before, magic without consequences or price is just not my cup of tea.

Despite my magical concerns, the story is action-packed and exciting all the way through. The romantic aspect was really quite predictable but ended up being subtle enough not to be annoying. Titus was a bit of a flirt all the way through which went against his aloof public persona a bit, but I loved Iolanthe’s rebuffs and the way she gradually warmed to him again.

I’d highly recommend this story to young adult fantasy readers – while perhaps not as gritty as Throne of Glass or Graceling, The Burning Sky has the same epic feeling about it. Bring on book two!

What did others think of The Burning Sky?

  • “With strong world-building, a rich magical infrastructure, consistent characters, and a touch of romance, The Burning Sky is exactly the sort of book that effortlessly pushes the rest of the world to one side.” – Realm of Fiction
  • “This beautiful story, and especially the romance, had me flailing around on my bed, seriously stifling sobs and squeals. It struck me in the heart like Cupid’s arrow.” – Snuggly Oranges
  • “Oh Titus, you adorable princeling. Let me love you.” – Writer of Wrongs

Review: Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo

siegeandstormSiege and Storm (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Leigh Bardugo (website)

Rating: ★★★★½

Darkness never dies.

Alina and Mal are on the run. Hunted and haunted, but together at last, they can’t outrun Alina’s past or her destiny forever. The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and he needs Alina to realise his dangerous plan. There are others who would like to use Alina’s gift too. And as her power grows, somehow, she must choose between her country, her power, and her love – or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

Details

Series: The Grisha #2
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Published: Indigo, June 2013
Pages: 381

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Please note: This is a review for the second book in the Grisha series, and so contains spoilers for the first in the series, Shadow and Bone (Published in Australia and the UK as The Gathering Dark). You may wish to read my review for that book instead!


Review

I really enjoyed reading The Gathering Dark at the start of this year so I was keen to get a copy of Siege and Storm as soon as it was released. Unfortunately, my original copy didn’t quite make it to me even after a month, but the lovely folks at The Book Depository sent me another copy! I was so happy that I had got a hard copy in the end, because this little blog is one of many mentioned as helping with the promotion of The Gathering Dark. Thanks, and you’re welcome!

Anyway, to the book. As second books go, this one delivered plenty of action right from the first page. Alina and Mal are heading off to make a life for themselves on the other side of the Unsea away from Ravka and the Darkling. Before they get far though, they meet up with a charming but eccentric privateer called Sturmhond, and are back in the Darkling’s clutches once again. Alina must come to terms with her powers if she is to unite the remaining Grisha and defeat the Darkling.

I have to say, I loved Sturmhond. It’s always fun when a new and lovable character is introduced in a sequel, and Sturmhond fits into the story perfectly. I’ll admit to thinking he was a little too Captain Jack Sparrow early on, but later… well, I loved him.

Alina and Mal’s relationship develops in interesting ways and while Alina struggles to be the leader she doesn’t want to be, Mal is also struggling to keep his place in her world. Their story is breaking my heart! I did want to give Alina a stern talking to when she starts thinking she’s losing her mind, but doesn’t actually tell anyone about it! Apart from that she is a very strong character, who I feel can only develop into a great leader in the next part of the story.

I can’t help wondering what has been going on with the Darkling all the way through this book – he was such a major part of The Gathering Dark but for most of Siege and Storm, he’s absent. I guess this is the price paid for having Alina’s as the sole point of view.

The pace slows a little through the middle as the group are journeying back to Os Alta, but once they’re there it’s all action. And yes, there is another huge cliff-hanger ending. Siege and Storm was an enjoyable middle instalment in this series with some very funny as well as some rather epic moments. Bring on Ruin and Rising!

 

The Grisha Trilogy

Shadow and Bone siegeandstorm ruinandrising Tbr: June 2014

 

What did others think of Siege and Storm?

  • “High fantasy.  High stakes.  Highly entertaining.” – The Starry-Eyed Revue
  • “The story and writing and characters all just feel so comfy in my brain and make me smile just thinking about them. ” – On Starships and Dragonwings
  • “It just felt the entire storyline focused on politics or romantic troubles, neither of which appeal to me.” – A Bookish Heart

 

Review: Crown of Midnight, Sarah J Maas

Crown of MidnightCrown of Midnight (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Sarah J Maas (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

Eighteen-year-old Celaena Sardothien is bold, daring and beautiful – the perfect seductress and the greatest assassin her world has ever known. But though she won the King’s contest and became his champion, Celaena has been granted neither her liberty nor the freedom to follow her heart. The slavery of the suffocating salt mines of Endovier that scarred her past is nothing compared to a life bound to her darkest enemy, a king whose rule is so dark and evil it is near impossible to defy. Celaena faces a choice that is tearing her heart to pieces: kill in cold blood for a man she hates, or risk sentencing those she loves to death.

Celaena must decide what she will fight for: survival, love or the future of a kingdom. Because an assassin cannot have it all . . . And trying to may just destroy her.

Details

Series: Throne of Glass #2
Genre: YA high fantasy
Published: Bloomsbury Childrens, August 15 2013
Pages: 417
My copy: the publisher for review

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Please note: This is my review for the second book in this series, and so contains spoilers for the first, Throne of Glass. You may wish to read my review for that book instead!


Review

I loved Throne of Glass when I read it last year, so I was desperate to get my hands on Crown of Midnight. I am so, so glad that it not only didn’t disappoint as the second book in the series, but in fact was even more awesome than the first!

Calaena Sardothien has won the contest and been named the King’s Champion. Her job is to carry out the King’s Justice, to kill those who displease him, but Calaena secretly refuses to kill at the King’s order. She must find out about a secret plot against the crown before time runs out. Meanwhile, strange things are happening at the glass castle of Rifthold – dark hooded strangers stalk the library and bronze doorknockers take on a life of their own. What new terror is lurking in the dark places of the castle?

This second book shows great polish with its perfectly constructed pacing – quiet yet steady in the creepy parts, building up to some fantastic action scenes later in the book.  There are the sort of swoony passages that make you want to re-read sections over and over. I loved Chaol in the first book and wow, do I love him even more in this one. Dorian also has interesting developments throughout this story and I’ll look forward to seeing how his story plays out from here, however for his father the King, I am beginning to have Joffrey-esque levels of dislike.

In some ways, there are two distinct sections to this book. The first half is almost like a continuation of Throne of Glass – plenty of gorgeous romantic scenes and mysterious intrigue, then BAM – right in the middle, murder, betrayal and chaos reign for pretty much the rest of the story. Without spoiling anything, I was really surprised and a little upset by the unexpected turns but I couldn’t put the book down until I’d got right to the end. Fantastic writing and such heartbreaking scenes, even if I did want to slap Calaena at times for keeping everything to herself and not sharing any of her burdens. And oh, my god, the twists right at the end – I had my suspicions but wow, what a set up for the next book!

There are currently six books planned in this series (according to Goodreads), not to mention the several novellas that have been released featuring Celaena’s adventures (which, I have just discovered, are now available in Australia – *yoink!*). It’s going to be a long, impatient wait for the book three.

I’d recommend these books to those (not just young adults) who love a slightly eccentric, kick-arse heroine, swoon-worthy romance and some fast-paced and occasionally rather creepy action. If you haven’t read Throne of Glass yet, I’d encourage you to give it a go!

Warnings: Sexual situations, torture and violence

What did others think of Crown of Midnight?

  • Crown of Midnight, for me, is exactly what a good sequel should be. It’s a clever continuation of the first instalment (yet a story in its own right), with higher stakes and an enhanced framework for character progression.” – Realm of Fiction
  • “Crown of Midnight is fast paced, action packed, with great characters and an entertaining story.” – Book’d Out
  • “This series continues to make me completely happy even as it is tearing me apart. I keep falling in love with these characters and even when they’re breaking my heart I still root for them.” – In The Best Worlds

 

Watch the Trailer

Review: Black Sun Light My Way, Jo Spurrier

blacksunlightmywayBlack Sun Light My Way (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Jo Spurrier (website)

Rating: ★★★★½

Sierra has always battled to control her powers, but now her life and Isidro′s depend on keeping her skills hidden from the Akharians as they draw closer to Demon′s Spire. In the relics left by Ricalan′s last great mage, Isidro hopes to find the knowledge Sierra needs to master her powers, but instead uncovers his own long-buried talent for magecraft.

When Sierra′s untrainable powers turn destructive, she has nowhere to turn for help but to the uncertain mercy of an old enemy. What will Rasten do when she returns to his hands at last?

When Isidro believes he has lost all he loves, he finds comfort in the arms of the Akharian mage Delphine. But soon he is called into battle once again to stand against the greatest evil the north has ever known.

Details

Series: Children of the Black Sun #2
Genre: High Fantasy
Published: Harper Voyager, June 1 2013
Pages: 480
My copy: library

Paper copies: Bookworld • Booktopia
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Bookworld (epub)

Please note: This review is for the second book in the Children of the Black Sun series and so contains spoilers for the first, Winter Be My Shield. You may wish to read my review for that book first!


Review

The second book in the Children of the Black Sun series delivers even more excitement, suffering and sparkly magic than the first book did, in rather unpredictable ways. I had a lot of trouble putting it down – certainly no second-book curse to be found here!

It was a full year ago that I read Winter Be My Shield, so the details of the story were a little hazy. Unfortunately there is no recap at the start of Black Sun Light My Way so I struggled for the first few chapters to remember what had just happened. I’ll try to summarise.

Isidro and Mira have been captured and are now slaves belonging to an Akharian mage scholar, Delphine. She knows Isidro is a “sensitive”, so is using him to help her to find the lost cache of lore left by the great mage Vasant. Sierra has agreed to help her former tormentor, Rasten – to train with him to use her corrupted powers properly and help him bring down their master, the great mage and general psychopath, Kell. She is about to allow herself to be captured by the Akharians to join Isidro and assist him to find the lost mage lore, to expand her powers and hopefully be able to use that over Rasten when next they meet.

This story is certainly not for the faint-hearted. There’s a LOT of torture and rape is frequently mentioned even if it’s not described in explicit terms. I can’t quite remember if the first book was quite as dark as this instalment, but wow, I certainly needed to read something a bit lighter once I got to the end of it all!

Despite the darkness, this is an absolutely enthralling world. The magic system is amazing, with corrupted sympaths drawing power drawn from pain or pleasure – usually through torture and humiliation of others. The system has painstakingly detailed rules and rapidly expanding lore – I hope we get to learn more about the Akharian mages, as well as the lost Ricalani magic.

The characters are what makes this story really come to life. Poor Sierra! With her power draining everyone around her, she is forced to leave her friends. I found it a little off-putting that she would immediately run into the arms of another, but even more strange to me was the path that Isidro took as soon as Sierra left – without spoiling anything, I suppose depression can make people do unexpected things, and Isidro does spend a fair amount of time down in the dumps. Rasten’s growth as a character is brilliant – I was really cheering for him there by the end! Delphine being part of this story lent an interesting cultural contrast between the Akharian and Ricalani cultures, with the Ricalani’s communal living and multiple wives baffling her.

There were so many unexpected turns in this story, I have no idea where it can all go next, but I can’t wait to read more in this cold and cruel world, although I am slightly worried about what more Jo Spurrier can put her characters (and readers) through! Highly recommended to high fantasy fans, but just be forewarned about the grisly nature of the story.

Warnings: Plenty of graphic violence, torture, sexual scenes (some abusive)

What did others think of Black Sun Light My Way?

  • “This series is also perfect for those looking for something outside of the usual sword-and-sorcery of high Fantasy, and it is a great entry point for newcomers to the genre.” – Speculating on SpecFic
  • “The numerous characters really shine in this book. They are full of personality and felt so real. Their bravery and loyality is unshakable, willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the people they love are safe.” – R. L. Sharpe

Tour and Review: Shudder, Samantha Durante

Shudder_BlogTourBanner_600x150

This review is part of the Shudder blog tour. Make sure to stop by the main tour page and see all the other blogs participating!


ShudderShudder (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Samantha Durante (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

It’s only been three days, and already everything is different.

Paragon is behind her, but somehow Alessa’s life may actually have gotten worse. In a wrenching twist of fate, she traded the safety and companionship of her sister for that of her true love, losing a vital partner she’d counted on for the ordeal ahead. Her comfortable university life is but a distant memory, as she faces the prospect of surviving a bleak winter on the meagre remains of a ravaged world. And if she’d thought she’d tasted fear upon seeing a ghost, she was wrong; now she’s discovering new depths of terror while being hunted by a deadly virus and a terrifying pack of superhuman creatures thirsting for blood.

And then there are the visions.

The memory-altering “stitch” unlocked something in Alessa’s mind, and now she can’t shake the constant flood of alien feelings ransacking her emotions. Haunting memories of an old flame are driving a deep and painful rift into her once-secure relationship. And a series of staggering revelations about the treacherous Engineers – and the bone-chilling deceit shrouding her world’s sorry history – will soon leave Alessa reeling…

Details

Series: Stitch trilogy #2
Genre: YA dystopian sci-fi
Published: Self published June 15, 2013
Pages: 348
My copy: from the author for the tour

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Smashwords

Please note: This is my review for the second book in this series, and so contains spoilers for the first, Stitch. You may wish to read my review for that book instead!


Excerpt

By the time the sun dipped toward the skyline, Alessa and Isaac had wandered through two more vacant neighborhoods, a derelict shopping center, and a downtown area that could only be described as a ghost town.
The pervasive quiet shrouding the once-vibrant village intensified the eerie feeling of being utterly alone. If Alessa hadn’t known what happened, she might have expected families and school kids and zipping cars around every corner. Besides the overgrown shrubbery and the occasional smashed storefront, everything seemed just in its place, waiting for its inhabitants to come home.
It was devastating.
Isaac kicked an empty can which went scuttling along the blacktop ahead, finally coming to rest at the base of a large sign marking the entrance to an expansive lot scattered with cars.
“Mall Parking,” he read aloud.
But what caught Alessa’s attention was the carefully lettered banner crumpled beneath, one corner still nailed to the bottom of the mall sign. She dug the other side out of the snow and held it up, the distinctive red cross painted across the tarp waving in the wind.
“Relief Center,” she added. Alessa gazed at Isaac intently. “Isaac, do you think we found another quarantine zone?”
“Only one way to know for sure – let’s go check it out.”

Review

Alyssa and Isaac have escaped from the Paragon facility on a mission in search of a base for the rebels, but with the threat of the virus still possibly live outside the fences, plus the strange creatures that seem to be stalking them along the way, their mission will not be easy. Meanwhile, inside Paragon a young woman wakes up after an ordeal with no memory of her identity or what happened to her. Newly christened “Phoenix”, she is told the story of the creation of Paragon by the creators themselves, the Developers. They hope she can carry a message to the rebel cause they know she is linked to – they want a truce.

Shudder is an enjoyable follow-up to Stitch, continuing the story of Alyssa and Isaac and their friends trying to resist a repressive society.

It did suffer a bit from the “middle book curse” in that there was a lot of story and character development and not a lot of action – perhaps worse than a normal second book in fact, due to Stitch being mostly set inside the “dramas” so that we don’t get to meet the “real” characters until close to the end. We end up hearing several people’s stories about how they came to be part of Paragon, not to mention the different versions of the actual creation of Paragon told by the Developers. At times I started to lose the thread of who knew what when, but I think by the end everyone was more or less on the same page, so to speak. I’m sure those Developers are up to something dodgy, though!

There are some action scenes through the book though, and they are very tense – sometimes scary! I think this has to be one of the most well-written Indie series I’ve read in a long time. While there is a lot of character development in this story (perhaps a bit too much, even), I did enjoy the further development of Alyssa and Isaac’s relationship. Alyssa’s strange ability to hear thoughts or memories is quite strange and rather baffling – I’ll look forward to hearing what it develops into and how it might be useful.

Overall, Shudder builds towards what I am hoping will be a blockbuster ending to the trilogy. Bring it on!

Warnings: Sexual situations

Review: Banish, Nicola Marsh

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


BanishBanish (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Nicola Marsh (website)

Rating: ★★★½☆

Alyssa has one week to destroy her enemy, save her spirit… and save her soul. 

After her ex-boyfriend commits suicide and her mum’s alcoholism sparks yet another psychotic episode, seventeen-year-old Alyssa Wood flees her small hometown of Broadwater and heads to New York City to stay with her bohemian aunt — a Wicca High Priestess.

Alyssa revels in the anonymity of a big city and her new life. Her grades climb, she has a new best friend, and a new guy: the sexy geek Ronan — a saxophone player who prefers jazz to pop.

But her newfound peace is soon shattered when she sees a dead body in one of Ronan’s music clips — and she’s the only one who can see it. Worse still, Alyssa recognises the body that has been murdered a week forward!

Alyssa doesn’t believe in the supernatural…despite her family’s Wicca background. So how will she overcome evil when it’s closer than she thinks?

Details

Series: Stand alone (so far)
Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy
Published: Harlequin Teen, August 1, 2013
Pages: 272
My copy: the publisher for review

Paper copies:  Book Depository (pre-order) • Bookworld • Booktopia
E-copies:  Amazon.com

Review

Alyssa’s boyfriend committed suicide just after she dumped him, and on top of her mum’s strange behaviour and alcoholism this is all just too much. She flees to New York City to live with her aunt, who is a Wicca High Priestess. She loves living in the city and she is settling in to her new school. She has even been asked out by the hot music tutor, Ronan. But something strange starts to happen to Alyssa – one of Ronan’s music clips contains footage of a murdered person at the end, and when things relating to her dead ex-boyfriend Noah start showing up, Alyssa is seriously freaked out. Is there someone out to get her, or is there something more supernatural at work?

Banish is a rather creepy paranormal thriller. The story takes a little while to get going, with Alyssa only gradually revealing what happened to her before coming to New York City, but once things get going the tension is high all the way through.

Sadly, the characters annoyed me. Ronan was too perfect and a rather creepy older guy – I kept thinking he would make a great psycho killer, even though it was rather obvious who the real baddie was going to be. Alyssa was just extremely selfish all the way through – she gets back home to find her mother feeling much better than she was before Alyssa left, and rather than be happy for her mum, she feels angry and upset that her mum is doing so much better without her. It’s not until the very end of the story that she matures slightly, enough to realise that the world doesn’t revolve around her and that she might have dealt with things differently. Also, she is a die-hard skeptic, even after paranormal events happen to her. As the child of a Wiccan, even as a supposed non-believer I thought that she might be slightly more open-minded than she was stubbornly being. I dunno, it’s probably just me being rubbed the wrong way!

Despite my character dislikes I did enjoy the overall storytelling style. I don’t know a lot about Wicca as a belief system but the elements of it within this book are well-written. It’s obvious that Nicola Marsh’s previous works are romances – the romantic scenes in Banish are rather swoony. The end of the story is left wide open for a sequel, so there’s a good chance I’ll pick up the next book in the series.

Warnings: Sexual references, violence

About the Author

nicolamarshUSA TODAY bestselling Aussie author Nicola worked as a physiotherapist for thirteen years before she tired of saying “I’m going to write a book one day” and actually did it. She started writing late 2001 and found once she started she couldn’t stop!

Nicola has published 40 books and sold over 4 million copies worldwide with Harlequin Mills & Boon, Entangled Publishing and indie. Her first mainstream contemporary romance, ‘Busted in Bollywood’, (‘Sex and the City’ meets ‘Eat, Pray, Love’) released from Entangled Publishing December 2011 to rave reviews and was a finalist for ROMANTIC BOOK of the YEAR 2012.

Nicola loves the hip, vibrant, cosmopolitan vibe of her home city, Melbourne, where she’s set the bulk of her novels, highlighting fabulous cultural and food havens like Acland Street (St. Kilda), Brunswick Street (Fitzroy) and Lygon Street (Carlton).

When she’s not writing she’s busy raising her two little heroes, sharing fine food with family and friends, cheering on her beloved North Melbourne Kangaroos footy team or her favourite past time, curling up with a good book.

(Bio and image from Goodreads)

Review: Shadows, Paula Weston

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


ShadowsShadows (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Paula Weston (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

It’s almost a year since Gaby Winters was in the car crash that killed her twin brother, Jude. Her body has healed in the sunshine of Pandanus Beach, but her grief is raw and constant. It doesn’t help that every night in her dreams she kills demons and other hell-spawn.

And then Rafa comes to town. Not only does he look exactly like the guy who’s been appearing in Gaby’s dreams—he claims a history with her brother that makes no sense. Gaby is forced to accept that what she thought she knew about herself and her life is only a shadow of the truth—and that the truth is more likely to be found in the shadows of her nightmares.

Who is Rafa? Who are the Rephaim? And most importantly, who can she trust?

Details

Series: The Rephaim #1
Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy
Published: Text Publishing in Australia, July 2012. In the UK was published January 2013 by Indigo. Will be published in the US and Canada by Tundra Books in September 2013.
Pages: 388
My copy: the publisher for review

Paper copies: Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository • Barnes & Noble (pre-order) • Bookworld
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Bookworld (epub)

Review

Gaby has been living in Pandanus Beach for eight months, seeking peace and quiet after the tragic accident that killed her twin brother Jude and almost her as well. She’s still trying to shut out the nightmares and the grief when the very attractive Rafa shows up, revealing a whole new world of fallen angels, demons and hellions that Gaby had literally only dreamed of – and to top it off, Rafa claims to have been friends with Jude.

Shadows is a roller-coaster ride of a read, very tense all the way through. The story is told in the present tense exclusively by Gaby, so we only get revelations about what’s going on as she does. I found it very difficult to put down!

Gorgeous UK cover

Gorgeous UK cover

The romance (yes, of course there’s some) is very subtle and slow-burning, even after a “whoa, hang on a minute” section right at the start of the story where I was a little worried insta-love was going to be rearing its ugly head. Early on I did feel like slapping all the male characters for various reasons, but they did start to grow on me (especially Rafa!). I loved Gaby and her friend Maggie and their relationship all the way through, though. Gaby is certainly what I’d call a kick-arse heroine, not really in the physical fighter sense (yet) but even after she’s hit with a bewildering variety of situations and information about what her life was really like before the accident, she never stops questioning what is actually going on.

I think the thing I loved most about reading this story is the “Aussie-ness” of the settings, the characters and the dialogue. How many books have baddies referred to as “arse-clowns” or that one’s injuries “sting like a bastard”? Pan Beach sounds like somewhere north of the Sunshine Coast I may have visited on holiday – just perfect for the story, and the whole atmosphere feels very familiar. I enjoyed every moment of reading it and I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book, Haze.

If you’re looking for a paranormal fantasy with an Aussie twist, I highly recommend Shadows. Certainly one of my favourite YA reads of this year!

Warnings: Sexual references, graphic violence

The Rephaim series

shadows_uk Haze Book 3: Shimmer Due 2014  Book 4: ??

About the Author

Paula WestonPaula Weston is an avid reader and blogger, a huge fan of Australian literature and fantasy/paranormal stories, a closet comic reader and TV addict…and she’s borderline obsessed with the Foo Fighters.

In her day job, she’s a writer-journalist-professional communicator with pH creative.

(Bio from Goodreads)

 

Review: Aurora: Darwin, Amanda Bridgeman

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


Aurora DarwinAurora: Darwin (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Amanda Bridgeman (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

When a distress signal is received from a black-ops space station on the edge of inhabited space, Captain Saul Harris of the UNF Aurora is called in from leave to respond. But the mission is not what it seems. Female members of the United National Forces have not been allowed to travel into the outer zones before, but Harris is ordered to take three new female recruits.

For Corporal Carrie Welles, one of the Aurora‘s new recruits, her first mission in space seems like a dream come true. Determined to achieve the success of her father before her, and suddenly thrust into a terrifying mission, she must work with her new captain and the strained Aurora crew to make it home alive.

When the Aurora arrives at the station Harris and Welles soon find themselves caught up in a desperate fight for survival. Station Darwin is not what they expected. The lights are off. But somebody is home.

Details

Series: Aurora #1
Genre: Science fiction Thriller
Published: Momentum Australia, May 1, 2013
Pages: 532
My copy: the publisher for review, thanks!

E-copies only:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Momentum books

You can read a sample of Aurora: Darwin on the Momentum books site!

Review

It’s been a while since I read a proper hard military sci-fi. Often they are cold, violent stories with few realistic characters, and while Aurora: Darwin doesn’t hold back with the violence, there are plenty of opportunities to connect with the crew of the Aurora before the action starts. I was even a bit disappointed when they arrived at the Darwin because I was quite enjoying reading about how the original crew were reacting to suddenly having three women in their previously all-male domain.

The story is told from two alternating points of view – Captain Saul Harris, who knows something is up with this mission even before he accepts it, and Corporal Carrie Welles, a young Aussie sharpshooter, new to Space Duty but desperate to fit in and prove her usefulness. The rest of the crew are various nationalities and backgrounds, including the two other women sent along with this mission as a supposed PR exercise.

There were a few things about this story that I didn’t really buy. Firstly, several of the crew members of the Aurora question orders, including Captain Harris. Now, I’m no military expert, but I’m fairly sure that orders aren’t there to be questioned and in the real Earthly armed forces you’d get your arse kicked pretty severely if you defied orders as much as Carrie does. Then there was the Darwin. If your crew had just been attacked by vicious hostiles of unknown abilities and you knew they were locked off your ship, why go back in after them? Especially when there’s backup on the way! I just couldn’t understand why they were so keen to get back into the Darwin and find the baddies, when they were pretty obviously out-gunned. I mean I realise it wouldn’t have been such a great story if they’d held back, but it just seemed like a really dumb decision to me. One last thing that I didn’t like so much was the ending – without giving anything away, the story peaks at about the 80% mark and I was rather underwhelmed by such an anticlimactic wrap-up after that.

Plot problems aside, I really enjoyed reading this story. The action scenes were great and although the character-building scenes slowed the pace a little at times, the tension was kept high throughout the story and it’s pretty nail-bitingly scary at times! The characters themselves are interesting and their relationships and banter are what made this story a really enjoyable read.

I’d recommend Aurora: Darwin to anyone who likes their sci-fi to be about realistic people, and not overly technical. There’s a sequel on it’s way later in 2013 – Aurora: Pegasus. I’ll be interested to hear what the Aurora‘s crew get up to next.

Warnings: Graphic violence, sexual situations

About the Author

amandabridgemanBorn and raised in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, Amanda hails from fishing and farming stock. The youngest of four children, her three brothers raised her on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC. Naturally, she grew up somewhat of a tomboy, preferring to watch action/sci-fi films over the standard rom-com, and liking her music rock hard. But that said, she can swoon with the best of them and is really not a fan of bugs.

She lived in ‘Gero’ for 17 years, before moving to Perth (WA) to pursue her dreams and study film & television/creative writing at Murdoch University (BA Communication Studies). Perth has been her home ever since, aside from a nineteen month stint in London (England).

She is a writer and a film buff. She loves most genres, but is particularly fond of the Spec-Fic realm. She likes action, epic adventures, and strong characters that draw you in, making you want to follow them on their wild, rollercoaster rides.

When she’s not writing, she loves to travel and partake in a little photography.

(Bio and image from Goodreads)

Review: The Brides of Rollrock Island, Margo Lanagan

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!


The Brides of Rollrock IslandThe Brides of Rollrock Island (Sea Hearts in Australia) (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Margo Lanagan (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Rollrock island is a lonely rock of gulls and waves, blunt fishermen and their homely wives. Life is hard for the families who must wring a poor living from the stormy seas. But Rollrock is also a place of magic – the scary, salty-real sort of magic that changes lives forever. Down on the windswept beach, where the seals lie in herds, the outcast sea witch Misskaella casts her spells – and brings forth girls from the sea – girls with long, pale limbs and faces of haunting innocence and loveliness – the most enchantingly lovely girls the fishermen of Rollrock have ever seen.

But magic always has its price. A fisherman may have and hold a sea bride, and tell himself that he is her master. But from his first look into those wide, questioning, liquid eyes, he will be just as transformed as she is. He will be equally ensnared. And in the end the witch will always have her payment.

Details

Note: This book was published by Allen and Unwin in Australia as Sea Hearts, but is named The Brides of Rollrock Island overseas. I’m not sure why my library had a UK edition but that’s the one I’m reviewing.

Series: Stand alone
Genre: YA Fantasy/Fairytale
Published: Sea Hearts published Allen and Unwin, February 2012. Published in the UK by David Fickling Books Feb 2012, in the US by Knopf Books September 2012.
Pages: 320
My copy: Library

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

Review

The Brides of Rollrock Island is a dark fairytale concerned with the consequences of dealing with witches. It’s a strange book – rather slow moving, but the writing itself is very beautiful with lyrical descriptions that put you right into an exposed seaside town.

The story is told from several points of view throughout the book. Firstly, the story of the childhood of the sea witch Miskaella is told, and of her discovery of her powers. She is treated terribly by the townsfolk on Rollrock Island and when she discovers a way to bewitch the men of the island, she is delighted. Thus follows the stories of various families of the island as the men-folk succumb to the lure of the beautiful sea wives Miskaella is able to summon. These are no run-of-the-mill mermaids, mind you – these are Selkies, beautiful and ethereal women called to human form from their seal-forms. The men cast aside their own wives, and hide away the seal-skins so that the seal-women cannot return to the sea.

Make no mistake, this is no happy story – just about everyone in the story is desperately sad most of the time, except perhaps for Miskaella and her apprentice Trudle who take an evil delight in everyone else’s misery. The menfolk of the town seem very easily enchanted. Is the magic that strong or is Margo Lanagan trying to show that all men are fickle and weak-willed? Either way, the treatment of the human women on the island did leave a bad taste in my mouth, but I suspect that was the intended reaction.

I first decided to read this after I learned it had won both the Best Young Adult and Best Fantasy categories in this year’s Aurealis Awards over a few other short listed books that I enjoyed. Margo Lanagan has also recently won the Ditmar Award for Best Novel and the Norma K. Hemming Award (for exploration of race, gender, sexuality, class or disability in science fiction or fantasy – wow, that’s a mouthful) for this book. I do believe the awards are well-deserved – the storytelling is exquisite, even if the subject material is rather dark. Here’s a small excerpt from Miskaella’s story:

Time and again I must force myself to see that no actual wind frayed or bent the air. I feared that at any moment I would be caught up bodily and thrown high away, or dissolved grain by grain up into this invisible wind. Surely my mind would break soon from seeing this, from seeing through the skin of things to the flesh and the bone, to the breath gusting through and the blood pouring about? I would die of it, or fall into some kind of terrible fit. For the first time I was seeing life truly, and the truth would overwhelm me; a person couldn’t bear this sight for long – a girl of nine should not be expected to bear it. Look at the power all but bursting from every cobblestone and grain of grit between! See how it was loosed in dribs and drabs so measuredly, moss crawling there in a corner, a schoolboy here running along his lane to join us, his greetings peeping within the roar-that-was-not-a-roar. Oh, the sky! I was glad of the clouds, the glowering light, for they seemed to my timid eyes to contain this ongoing event, though another, fresh-born, braver Misskaella behind those eyes knew that cloud of clearness was nothing to the purposeful flaring. It would leap regardless, pushed on outward by the forces from below.

If you’re looking for an unique and beautifully told fairytale, I do recommend The Brides of Rollrock Island, but perhaps steer clear if you’d rather not read a depressing story!

Warnings: Sexual references but otherwise very clean

About the Author

Margo LanaganMargo Lanagan, born in Waratah, New South Wales, is an Australian writer of short stories and young adult fiction.

Many of her books, including YA fiction, were only published in Australia. Recently, several of her books have attracted worldwide attention. Her short story collection Black Juice won two World Fantasy Awards. It was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and the United Kingdom by Gollancz in 2004, and in North America by HarperCollins in 2005. It includes the much-anthologized short story “Singing My Sister Down”.

Her other fantasy works for younger readers includes the award-winning Tender Morsels.

(Bio from Goodreads)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: