The Eternity Cure by Julie KagawaThe Immortal Rules. The premise of the series is: when a virus threatens to wipe out humanity, vampires come out of hiding to protect their food supply and more or less set up “safe” areas where humans won’t die of the plague (which causes rabid zombie-like creatures) and can provide uncontaminated blood for their vampire protectors.
I enjoyed The Immortal Rules a lot. I thought the writing was cinematic with just the right amount of action and tension. By contrast, when I first picked up The Eternity Cure I was very disappointed. The writing was much more pedestrian and lacklustre. After about 60 pages I put it down and read something else. When I came back to it, about six weeks later, with severely lowered expectations, I found I was ultimately still able to enjoy the book. There were some descriptive and action passages which I found myself skimming over to get to the dialogue which was more enjoyable to read.
The mundanely written action scenes were a particular let-down since there was so much action in the story. And a lot of twists. It was nice to be surprised by expected developments but by the end there had been so many twists and turns, it was wearying. It did keep me turning the pages because the tension rarely let up, but many of the developments had me groaning.
On to more positive things! The worldbuilding and plot were well thought out. Every time I though “hang on, that doesn’t make sense” it would soon be explained how that particular element fit seamlessly into the plot/world. Although the ending sets us up for an obvious showdown in the last book, it also left me keen to find out how the worldbuilding questions will be resolved. (Will there be a cure for rabidism? Will humans be able to live independently from vampires on a large scale? Will Allison and friends indeed save the world?)
The characterisation was also well done. Allison continues to be a believable character and her angst about pretty much everyone else is justified and not angst for its own sake. The character that got the biggest rise out of me was Stick. In the first book, he was Allison’s friend pre-vampirification, but then things change. When we encounter him in The Eternity Cure, his new situation makes him a massive prat and I really wanted to bash him over the head with something every time he appeared. He was so frustrating! But getting an emotional rise (on purpose) is a mark of good character writing.
Unfortunately, unlike in The Immortal Rules, there weren’t any female characters other than Allison which was disappointing. Hopefully that will be remedied in the sequel.
I recommend The Eternity Cure to readers who enjoyed The Immortal Rules, with the caveat of not having overly high expectations. I think the story is worth continuing with despite some of this volume’s shortcomings. I am looking forward to reading the last book and seeing how everything turns out. For readers who haven’t picked up The Immortal Rules yet, I highly recommend doing so, particularly fans of vampires or dystopias who might be sick of the usual stuff.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: May 2013, Harlequin Teen Australia
Series: Blood of Eden, book 2 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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The Holders by Julianna Scott
The Holders is Julianna Scott’s début YA novel. It’s a secret magical race living hidden in the modern world type of novel, set mostly in Ireland with an American main character. It wasn’t my favourite read of the year. This review contains spoilers. If you don’t want to be spoiled, I suggest not reading past the blurb. Blurb exerpt:
17-year-old Becca has spent her whole life protecting her brother - from their father leaving and from the people who say the voices in his head are unnatural. When two strangers appear with apparent answers to Ryland’s “problem” and details about a school in Ireland where Ryland will not only fit in, but prosper, Becca is up in arms.
She reluctantly agrees to join Ryland on his journey and what they find at St. Brigid’s is a world beyond their imagination.
Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black
Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black is a YA novel featuring the (imaginary) New York Ballet Academy and a demon.
Vanessa’s sister Margaret, three years older than her, went to aforementioned dance academy and, shortly before she was supposed to play the lead in the school’s production of The Firebird, she disappeared. The school told her parents she had run away or that she might be dead. Vanessa doesn’t believe Margaret would have run away, though, nor does she believe she’s dead. A ballerina like her sister, Vanessa applies to the same school Margaret disappeared from to try to find out what happened to her sister.
I had a few problems with this book. The first was that it moved a little slowly. From the start, it’s fairly clear to the reader that something supernatural and probably demonic is going on. And it takes Vanessa ages to see it. I get that it’s realistic to try to accept mundane explanations for what’s going on, but that doesn’t make for more exciting reading. I stress that it wasn’t boring, I enjoyed the peek into the world of dance (it reminded me a little bit of the girls in Bunheads crossed with <insert dance school movie here>), but the plot definitely moved slowly. There were some scenes which probably should have been compressed or cut because, even looking back, I can’t work out what their purpose was.
A bonus is there was no love triangle. The romantic elements were a bit confusing though. When she arrives, a freshman, Vanessa is immediately enamoured with the attractive senior lead dancer. That’s fine, it makes sense for her to crush on him, especially after he sprinkles a bit of attention her way and takes her out on a date (like, the day after he breaks up with his girlfriend). But later, when it’s blindingly obvious there’s something weird going on with him she STILL doesn’t see it and makes poor decisions which put everyone else in danger.
Vanessa isn’t a particularly active heroine. She is actively trying to find her sister and at times does take the initiative, but when it came to the crunch, she was a bit too passive for my liking (that and aforesaid poor decisions).
(Side note: the magic system/style in this is practised by necrodancers, lol.)
I enjoyed the journey the narrative took us on. I’m not an avid fan of dance or ballet, but I enjoyed reading about that aspect. I suspect fans of performance schools stories would enjoy that aspect, too. The prose was fairly competently written just, as I said earlier, a bit slow. The finally thing that bothered me was that the lead into book two (of a planned trilogy) felt really tacked on. Perhaps it was planned as a trilogy from the beginning, but I think it would have worked better and more powerfully as a standalone. (Also, as a stand alone some of the more baffling elements would have, by necessity, not been present.) Would that the YA spec fic industry didn’t suffer from trilogyitis.
I would recommend Dance of Shadows to YA fans interested in a slightly different setting. The speculative elements are most prominent towards the end, but when they come, you can’t pretend they’re not there. A warning for readers who don’t like that sort of thing. (But then, why are you reading this blog?) I enjoyed reading the book, but I’m not sure I’ll feel compelled to pick up the next book when it’s released. Maybe if it has a really exciting blurb.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: February 2012, Bloomsbury UK & ANZ
Series: Dance of Shadows, book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
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Hysteria by Megan Mirandaquite different) and the blurb, I was expecting something more along the lines of a psychological drama, perhaps with horror elements. The UK/Aus blurb:
Mallory’s life is falling apart.What Hysteria is really about, is a girl’s journey in dealing with a traumatic event and some mild trauma-induced amnesia. There’s nothing paranormal and while there were minor violent elements — we see her boyfriend’s death through flashbacks — I wouldn’t classify this as anything other than straight contemporary YA. (I mean, there’s one weird thing, which could have been played up to increase tension and creepiness, but it wasn’t. Instead Mallory just ignored it.) If I’d known to expect that up front, I probably would have enjoyed the beginning more. I kept expecting ghosts or demonic forces or something, but they didn’t come. The last third or quarter of the book had a decent pay-off, but it wasn’t the type of pay-off I’d expected going in. (I assumed from the start that things weren’t as they seemed, but, well, they turned out to be more as they seemed than I would have liked.)
Her boyfriend was stabbed. He bled to death in her kitchen. Mallory was the one who stabbed him. But she can’t remember what happened that night. She only remembers the fear…
When Mallory’s parents send her away to a boarding school, she thinks she can escape the gossip and the threats. But someone, or something, has followed her. There’s the hand that touches her shoulder when she’s drifting off to sleep. A voice whispering her name. And everyone knows what happened. So when a pupil is found dead, Mallory’s name is on their lips.
Her past can be forgotten but it’s never gone. Can Mallory live with that?
I felt the beginning was a bit dull and took a while to get to the point. I was a bit frustrated in the first half or so with Mallory spending so much time thinking about boys. I understand her dwelling on the dead boyfriend, but she also dwelt on his brother, who she’d had a crush on and on the new (ish) boy she meets after she’s sent to the boarding school. The only boy she’s not interested in, at some point, is the jerky one at school who is interested in her. And she doesn’t try very hard to make friends at the new school, which is sort of understandable because of the earlier traumatic events, but did mean that a large chunk of the book had her focussing on the love interest school boy, who is also her only proper friend at the school.
It did redeem itself towards the end, however, when Mallory’s best friend from back home shows up again (she featured in the opening also, pre-boarding school, but not as significantly) and we are treated to some nice girl bonding. It was that aspect which saved the book for me. That and the way the plot started moving forward more rapidly once the student died, although that happened sufficiently far into the book that putting it in the blurb feels strange. Then again, that also underscores how not very much happened in the first half of the book.
I wanted there to be more darkness, more ominousness, and more psychological uncertainty. On the other hand, once I realised it was about Mallory processing and coming to terms with her boyfriend’s death, the whole thing did fall into place a bit better.
Ultimately, Hysteria had so much potential in premise, but in execution it fell flat in several ways. It didn’t go far enough when it should have been pushing the envelope. It wasn’t a terrible book overall, but it definitely could have been more interesting. I recommend it to fans of non-speculative YA.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: February 2013, Bloomsbury UK/ANZ
Format read: eARC
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Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal, but The Reestablishment has plans for her. Plans to use her as a weapon. But Juliette has plans of her own. After a lifetime without freedom, she’s finally discovering a strength to fight back for the very first time—and to find a future with the one boy she thought she’d lost forever.The story opens with Juliette living in appallingly poor conditions in a mental hospital/prison where she’s been thrown thanks to her superpower of being able to hurt and kill people with the touch of her bare skin. Then the dystopian government (or one specific leader there of) decides to use her as a weapon. Adam, a childhood sort-of-friend of Juliette’s, works his way into the army so that he can be close to her with the hope of breaking her out.
Distopia is as dystopia does.
Shatter Me suffered from a touch of nonsensical-dystopian-worldbuilding-itis. The US has become a military dictatorship for no clear reason (climate change was mentioned but didn’t seem to be a severe contributing factor). As is usual in these situations, the rest of the world almost doesn’t seem to exist (other countries are mentioned in passing eventually, though not so we’d know what was happening there). And, of course, the people in power, especially the leader Juliette interacts directly with, seem to be evil. How original. Sorry, but I’m a bit sick of this sort of world building. It started more promisingly when Juliette was still locked in her cell.
What is more promising is the style in which the story is told. It’s in first person and Juliette constantly speaks in hyperbolic metaphors. She also second guesses herself a lot, particularly at the start, so that
Juliette’s attitude of disgust towards herself and her abilities was perfectly understandable. She never meant to hurt anyone and the fact that she can accidentally would be difficult to come to terms with. What did bother me a little bit was the instant feelings she had towards Adam when he showed up, but this was mitigated by the fact that she did in fact remember him from her childhood.
Warner, the local leader of the dystopian government, was a pretty good villain. He was appropriately power-hungry and creepily obsessed with Juliette. And good at hurting Juliette both intentionally and as a side-effect of being a power-hungry maniac.
Right up until the end I wasn’t sure if I would bother reading the sequel. I didn’t hate the reading experience overall, but neither did I love the story. However, it ended on a promising note, which is currently swaying me towards wanting to know more (when it comes out in paperback… if they keep the same pretty covers), pending friends’ reviews, perhaps. All in all, I’ve definitely read worse YA dystopian books. I think Mafi uses both the twist of Juliette’s abilities and the hyperbolic narrator’s voice well to distinguish her book from others in the genre.
I recommend Shatter Me to fans of YA dystopias. Particularly to those who might be looking for something a bit more interesting in terms of stylistic choices. I am interested to see where the series goes — apart from the obvious bringing down the government, I’m not entirely sure. Not a terrible read, but not one of my favourites.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2011, Harper Collins US (Allen & Unwin in Australia)
Series: The Juliette Chronicles, book 1 of 3
Format read: paperback, US edition (as pictured above — the Australian covers are pretty terrible, especially in comparison)
Source: Christmas present (requested)
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Venom by Fiona Paul
Venom is Fiona Paul’s debut novel. It’s historical YA and, in a slight departure from my usual reading, does not contain any fantasy of SF elements. It’s set in historical Venice and does involve a bit of a murder mystery, so I (correctly) presumed that it would not be entirely outside my usual reading comfort zone. A copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes by Harper Collins AU via NetGalley.
Cass — Cassandra — is a Venetian noble young woman who lives with her aging aunt and has been betrothed for many years to a boy she finds a bit dull. The story opens with her friend’s funeral and gets interesting when, that evening, Cass discovers her friend’s body in her family tomb has been replaced by another, obviously murdered, girl. In the course of making this discovery, she meets the mysterious and somewhat alluring Falco, a painter. Together they set out to try and learn who committed the murder and why. A quest that becomes somewhat more urgent when they discover a second body. And of course, betrothed Cass falls for the roguish Falco, even though he drags her through dangerous and eye-opening situations.
The opening of Venom annoyed me a little bit. It seemed that Cass fell into the cliché of feeling trapped in a noblewoman’s life and detesting sewing because it was an easy thing to complain about. I thought she ignored her fiancé’s existence too readily and, from comments that her other friend made, running off with Falco on a spur of the moment seemed somewhat out of character. She also complained about corsets a lot — and they do make a good metaphor for her supposed gilded cage — but in the end her corset proved to be rather useful. And the fact that she managed to sneak away several times without too much trouble does somewhat belie the caged part.
By the end, however, Cass was annoying me less. I felt that she ultimately made some sensible choices, even if she had to make some careless and selfish ones along the way. I also appreciated that her lesson learned was a bit subtle and didn’t attempt to bludgeon the reader over the head.
The other thing that bothered me was some of the modern American phrases that snuck in to the writing. The setting was pretty genuinely Venetian but there were some phrases which struck me as too modern — in the colloquial sense, rather than explicitly anachronistic — and clashed with the Italian words and phrases also thrown in.
Ultimately, I would recommend Venom to fans of YA or historical fiction. It’s the first in a series, but it’s quite self-contained. The only loose threads at the end are minor and I don’t have much idea which direction a sequel might take. I will be interested to see where it does go.
3.5 / 5 stars
The Corpse Rat King by Lee Battersby
The Corpse Rat King is the debut novel from the prolific Australian short story writer Lee Battersby. Released at the end of August by Angry Robot, a copy of this novel was provided for review by the publisher.
My first impression, when I started reading The Corpse Rat King, was that it wasn’t a book for me. It contains more toilet humour than I generally like (although I hasten to mention it’s not what I’d call a comedy) and I didn’t find the protagonist particularly sympathetic. And there weren’t any proper (more than a few scenes) female characters. However, I didn’t find it badly written either so I pressed on and it picked up.
Marius is a scoundrel. The novel opens with him robbing corpses on a battlefield (hence the title) and treating his apprentice like an idiot. But when he steals the fallen king’s crown then plays dead to avoid repercussions, the dead (in the more general sense than just of the battlefield) mistake him for the king and demand he rule over them. Panicked, he refuses and instead they charge him with the quest of finding them a replacement king. At first he tries to run away from this task but eventually he gets on with it.
I warmed to Marius when we learnt about his past. In the present, he starts out as a somewhat terrible person, but I gained sympathy for him when he started learning life lessons and coming to stark realisations. It was actually the introduction of his long-suffering sort-of-girlfriend which made me keep reading through to the end. She doesn’t feature much in person, but I like that she became a driving force for his motivations once he realised he might not ever get to win her back.
The world building was fairly detailed. The actual setting was quite broad in terms of the variety of places mentioned (sometimes in passing). It seemed like Battersby had thought up a complete world, even though the action only took place in small parts of it. There’s no map, but at times I found myself wanting one, not because it was integral to the main action, but because I was curious as to where the places mentioned in passing were. There was a tendency in Battersby’s writing to go off on descriptive tangents to set a new scene, which also added to the world building, although I found they were perhaps a bit too numerous overall.
As I said at the start, this isn’t a bad book, but it’s not for me for reasons of content rather than style. I don’t doubt that other people will enjoy it much more than I did and so I recommend it to anyone who thinks they might enjoy a book filled with walking corpses, excrement (in the most literal sense) and a quest.
3.5 / 5 stars
Beneath a Rising Moon
Beneath a Rising Moon by Keri Arthur is a werewolf-heavy paranormal romance. A copy of the book was provided to me by the US publisher for review purposes. I believe it was first published in 2008 (UK/Aus) and the edition I read was a US re-release.
This is the second book of Keri Arthur’s I’ve read, the first being Full Moon Rising, the first Riley Jensen Guardian book. Because I can’t help comparing, I’ll say I enjoyed Riley Jensen more, partly because she kicked more arse, partly because Full Moon Rising was set in Melbourne and partly for reasons I’ll get to shortly.
Beneath a Rising Moon follows Neva and Duncan as they investigate a series of murders in a small werewolf town in the vicinity of Aspen, and discover that they are soul mates.
Neva’s twin sister — to whom she is psychically linked — is head ranger and was attacked by the murderer but survived. While she’s in hospital, Neva decides to do some investigating of her own. As the full moon approaches, she goes to the Sinclair Mansion, renowned for its debauchery, and seduces the one Sinclair she knows can’t be the murderer, Duncan.
Duncan, meanwhile, has returned to Ripple Creek to investigate the murders that are somehow linked to his family (the dead girls were all sexual partners of his brothers). He quickly becomes suspicious of Neva’s motives in approaching him, believing her to be somehow linked with the murderer. So he decides to be an arsehole to her to get her to admit her motivations.
That was the point where the book lost a bit of appeal for me. While I understood what Duncan was trying to do, some of the ensuing sex scenes were a bit rapey (yes, I mean forcing her to have sex with him when she doesn’t want to and also while she’s asleep) and rather put me off. Then later, when everyone works out what’s going on, Duncan feels bad and tries to make amends but at no point does he sit down and apologise and explain to Neva. That she got over it anyway made me like her less as a character, although in general she was pretty good. Apparently they were destined to be together, but I would have liked to have more time spent on them overcoming their issues as a couple rather than just their personal issues (which were also plentiful).
Overall, Beneath a Rising Moon was well written and full of steamy sex scenes (except for those discussed above). If you enjoy paranormal romance and don’t think my qualms above would bother you, then give Beneath a Rising Moon a shot. Personally, I think other Keri Arthur books might be more my thing.
3.5 / 5 stars
The Ravenous Dead by Natasha Hoar
The Ravenous Dead by Natasha Hoar is a new ebook-only novella published by Carina Press. Continuing Carina Press’s trend of releasing series of related novellas, The Ravenous Dead follows on from The Stubborn Dead (link to publisher page). I haven’t read The Stubborn Dead and, while I could guess vaguely what it might have been about, I didn’t feel I needed to have read it before The Ravenous Dead nor that The Ravenous Dead was likely to have spoiled the earlier story for me (of course, I might be wrong on that second part, who knows).
Rachel is a rescue medium which means that it’s her job to help free souls which are stuck on Earth and deal with certain supernatural creatures. In this novella, a reaper, an undead soul-eater, is ravaging Vancouver and leaving a trail of bodies in it’s wake. Rachel sets out to stop it with her protege (with his own special powers) Kit.
It was a little bit gory at the start when the bodies were described but after that the story was mainly action and a little bit of detective work.
There were a few scenes from the reaper’s point of view which felt a bit odd. They seemed to make the reader sympathise a bit with the reaper (who didn’t end up as a particularly soul-thirsty reaper on purpose) but then ended with him being an emotionless killing machine. It turned out there was a reason for this, story-wise, but it confused me a bit.
There was a nice hook at the end for a possible future story which definitely made me want to read more.
Overall, this wasn’t a bad story but it didn’t elicit any particularly strong emotions in me. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy and is looking for a quick and action-heavy story to pass the time.
3.5 / 5 stars
Polymer by Sally Rogers-Davidson
Polymer by Sally Rogers-Davidson is a science fiction story which I would categorise as adventure. Apart from being in first person, it reminded me of pulpy SF adventure stories from way back when. Except with a female protagonist and more female issues than would ever have come up in those books.
The main story takes place within the pages of a long-lost journal written by Polly Meridian (aka Polymer). On the night of her graduation ceremony, her space station home is invaded by aliens. (Aliens, in this book, pretty much means “people not from the same place as me who might be human or could be blue aliens”.) She almost dies in the invasion but is “lucky” enough to be taken prisoner and enslaved instead.
Without spoiling any plot, a lot of things happen to her. Some of them are externally driven (like being taken prisoner) and some are on her own initiative. Either way, the book is full of action (although I thought there was a bit of a slump shortly after the invasion, it definitely picked up later on).
Unlike Spare Parts, the other Sally Rogers-Davidson book I’ve read, I wouldn’t call this one YA. Sometimes the writing felt like it could be and the main character is horribly naïve as isn’t uncommon in YA, but ultimately the book dealt with more grown-us issues. I wouldn’t stop a teenager reading it — it’s not very M rated (there’s sex and a bit of rape but it’s mostly off screen or not described in detail) — but I wouldn’t call it YA. Also, I think the main character is right on the cusp of the YA protagonist age range.
There were some problematic elements in the book. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I felt a bit uncomfortable by Polly’s shifting attitudes towards one of her captors. Given earlier events, it just didn’t sit well with me, even though I could understand it from her point of view.
I would recommend Polymer to anyone who enjoys a SF adventure story. I think Rogers-Davidson’s writing style improved in Spare Parts, but that’s understandable since Polymer was published four years earlier and I think it was her debut novel. If you enjoyed Spare Parts, give Polymer a go. It’s a very different setting, but there are some similarities in outlook (relatively cheery).
If you’re wondering about the different covers, the top is the recently released ebook cover (which is the version I have), the middle is the original paperback cover, now out of print, and the bottom is the re-released paperback. I think the bottom is my favourite.
3.5 / 5 stars