Outcast by Adrienne Kress
After six years of “angels” coming out of the sky and taking people from her town, 16-year-old Riley Carver has just about had it living with the constant fear. When one decides to terrorize her in her own backyard, it’s the final straw. She takes her mother’s shotgun and shoots the thing. So it’s dead. Or … not? In place of the creature she shot, is a guy. A really hot guy. A really hot alive and breathing guy. Oh, and he’s totally naked.
Not sure what to do, she drags his unconscious body to the tool shed and ties him up. After all, he’s an angel and they have tricks. When he regains consciousness she’s all set to interrogate him about why the angels come to her town, and how to get back her best friend (and almost boyfriend) Chris, who was taken the year before. But it turns out the naked guy in her shed is just as confused about everything as she is.
He thinks it’s 1956.
Set in the deep south, OUTCAST is a story of love, trust, and coming of age. It’s also a story about the supernatural, a girl with a strange sense of humor who’s got wicked aim, a greaser from the 50’s, and an army of misfits coming together for one purpose: To kick some serious angel ass.
Outcast was severely overwritten. I felt that, with the possible exception of the dialogue, just about every second sentence could have been cut. Reilly’s inner monologue is very repetitive, driving home statements far more than necessary. A direct consequence of this was an abundance of telling rather than showing (which isn’t automatically a bad thing, but was in this case). It was very frustrating to read.
I mostly kept going because I was hoping for the big reveal regarding the angels and world building to be interesting. It was distinctly underwhelming. (But by the time it came around I was too close to the end to stop reading and sacrifice writing this review.) And the romantic resolution at the end was a bit odd <spoiler redacted>.
The one upside is that this is another book about angels (along with Rise of the Fallen) that did not annoy me because of the way the angels were treated (I get the feeling that without direct evidence of weird shit going on Riley might have been an atheist). Yay, “only” bad writing! Oh and most of the supporting characters were pretty good, especially the non-cookie-cutter cheerleader and the Catholic priest disenfranchised by the angels. Although I also thought that some of their interactions, notably at critical moments, could have been more complex in terms of motivation.
If you’re the kind of person that notices when a book is poorly written, definitely give this one a miss (unless you’re into that kind of thing). If you’re not usually one to notice poor writing and the plot has got you interested, then by all means, give it a go, just don’t set your expectations too high.
2.5 / 5 stars
First published: June 2013, Diversion Books
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher, via NetGalley
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Any Other Name by Emma Newmanreviewed earlier this year. Any Other Name picks up very soon after Between Two Thorns left off and depends very heavily on the first book. This review contains spoilers for Between Two Thorns but not for Any Other Name. I recommend not reading on if you haven’t read book one.
You were warned.
Any Other Name opens on the day of Cathy’s wedding to Will. She has been drugged by her family to prevent her doing anything crazy, like trying to run away and have a say in her own life. A lot of terrible things happen to Cathy throughout the book (but at least most of them aren’t violent!) and I deeply sympathised with her predicament. Although I had hoped at the end of book one that Cathy and Will might realise they have more in common than each saw on the surface of the other, any desire I had to ship them quickly evaporated with Will’s behaviour. Made worse, I think, because he often meant well and then utterly failed to do the “right” thing (scare quotes because of generalised moral ambiguity). Really, Cathy was the only Netherworld character in more than two or three scenes that I didn’t end up hating for one reason or another. I enjoyed Cathy as a character and there were some promising things set up with her which I look forward to reading about in the next book.
The other major set of characters included Sam, the human who accidentally got caught up in the action in book one, Max, the arbiter, and the sorcerer. Mostly they plod along trying to solve the mass murders and associated issues from book one. There were some interesting revelations, particularly with Sam
The last quarter or so of the book was a bit of an exercise in frustration for me. The reader knows what various factions are up to and then gets to watch as the wrong ones communicate and characters are manipulated into making matters worse. I’m not sure I was entirely in the mood for that kind of heckling-at-the-page-inducing writing, but that was for external reasons. Whether or not that’s the sort of thing you like (I generally do) will mean your mileage will vary. (And if you’re the kind to exclaim aloud or shake your fist at a book, maybe don’t read it on public transport.)
On a non-literary note, I really love the covers for this series. Not only are they attractive (incidentally, it’s the same artist as Cassandra Rose Clarke’s Assassin’s Curse books), but if you look closely you can see a lot of elements that pop up in the books. There’s the more obvious things like the flowers and London, but if you look closely, every detail makes sense once you’ve read the book.
On the whole, this was a solid continuation of the series that brought more or less what I expected (after the slight shock of the opening), and not in a bad way. If you enjoyed Between Two Thorns, I definitely suggest reading Any Other Name. If you didn’t, probably give this one a miss. It’s also not the kind of sequel that can be read out of order. If you read this whole review without reading the first book, and you’re a fantasy fan looking for something a little off the beaten track, I recommend giving this series a go.
4 / 5 stars
First published: June 2013, Angry Robot
Series: yes. Split Worlds, book 2 of 3
Format read: eARC on Kobo
Source: the publisher via NetGalley
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The Pirate’s Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarkea book I loved when I read it last August. The Pirate’s Wish does not disappoint on the pay-off that was set up in the first book.
The Pirate’s Wish picks up not long after The Assassin’s Curse ended. Given that these were originally one volume, the second book can’t really be read without reading the first beforehand. This review contains some spoilers for the first book. Blurb:
After setting out to break the curse that binds them together, the pirate Ananna and the assassin Naji find themselves stranded on an enchanted island in the north with nothing but a sword, their wits, and the secret to breaking the curse: complete three impossible tasks. With the help of their friend Marjani and a rather unusual ally, Ananna and Naji make their way south again, seeking what seems to be beyond their reach.
Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must still face the repercussions of going up against the Pirate Confederation. Together, Naji and Ananna must break the curse, escape their enemies — and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction.
At the end of book one, we learnt what Naji must do to break the curse that binds him to Ananna. Now the two of them, plus Marjani and a new character I don’t want to spoil, need to complete Naji’s three impossible tasks. The story is full of action and adventure and Ananna kicking arse. Quite frankly, it’s a fun read.
My biggest qualm with book one was Ananna’s voice — first person pirate speak — which took me a while to get used to. I had a similar issue in The Pirate’s Wish but I got used to it much more quickly. I enjoyed the dialogue, however, between all the characters. And the new characters, most notably the one that features somewhere on the cover. Ahem. The other semi-issue I had with it was that one of the impossible tasks Naji must complete had a possible unsavoury resolution and I spent some time worrying about how it was going to come to pass. It didn’t go that way, but ultimately I didn’t like that it could have. (Although for some reason this didn’t occur to me when the tasks were given out at the end of the first book.)
Awesome female characters continue to be a strong point of the story. We learn more about Marjani and see Naji learn more leadership skills which I enjoyed. There is also a bit about the realities of piracy, which I thought was nice, instead of romanticising it too much. Not that it’s really gritty or particularly dark, but the reader does confront the fact that piracy involves stealing things and killing people.
Overall, The Pirate’s Wish (and The Assassin’s Curse) is an enjoyable, quick read. I recommend the series to any fantasy fans that like adventure and great female protagonists. And if you haven’t already, read my review of The Assassin’s Curse, in which I wax lyrical about navigation. And then go read the book.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: June 2013, Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
Series: The Assassin’s Curse, book 2 or 2
Format read: eARC on my Kobo
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
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Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near
There’s a dead girl in a birdcage in the woods. That’s not unusual. Isola Wilde sees a lot of things other people don’t. But when the girl appears at Isola’s window, her every word a threat, Isola needs help.Isola can see ghosts and fairies and other magical beings and often roams the woods by her house. At first she reminded me a little bit of Luna Lovegood sans Hogwarts, but as we learn more about her we see that there is more to her character than meets the eye. Magical creatures aside, in the real world Isola has to deal with a severely depressed mother and an increasingly distant father. She goes to a nun-run school and has a few ordinary human friends but her struggles to cope with her aggressive haunting make her withdraw further into herself and away from her human friends.
Her real-life friends – Grape, James and new boy Edgar – make her forget for a while. And her brother-princes – the mermaids, faeries and magical creatures seemingly lifted from the pages of the French fairytales Isola idolises – will protect her with all the fierce love they possess.
It may not be enough.
Isola needs to uncover the truth behind the dead girl’s demise and appease her enraged spirit, before the ghost steals Isola’s last breath.
Fairytales for Wilde Girls is not a book to read quickly. Although it’s not that long, I found it took me longer to read than another book of comparable length might have because there is so much in it I had to pay careful attention to try to catch all the nuances. Isola has a particular attachment to a book of fairytales her mother used to read from when she was younger — darker fairytales than the usual Grimm and Andersen — and throughout the text we’re treated to several of the stories from that book. I’ve found those sorts of interludes jarring in other books, but in Fairytales for Wilde Girls they flowed and tied in with the overall story nicely. The transitions between contemporary teenage life (parties, mobile phones) and the magical world provided a change of pace that kept things fresh. This is a book I want to re-read at some point because I’m sure I’ll pick up on things I missed the first time through.
Near weaves some interesting social commentary through her story. Isola’s magical friends are brother-princes, including the female ones, because princes in stories are the ones who protect the princess. Quote:
Isola had never learnt to call them sisters — a sister was a wicked nun who smacked Mother’s hands, and a sister in a fairytale was almost always evil. And so, Ruslana, Christobelle and Rosekin had remained brother-princes to Isola.The fairytales Isola cherishes most tend not to be the kind where the princess needs rescuing, instead they are the kind of stories about girls who kill, and girls who are killed. They are more empowering to Isola than Disney-fied fairytales. Her Rapunzel isn’t rescued, but hangs herself with her hair. Those kinds of stories. Perhaps not a book for someone looking for a happy fluffy read.
Honestly my only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen a bit more resolution between Isola and her friend Grape. Things are sorted out between them, but the denouement focussed more on Edgar rather than Grape. Not that I had a problem with Edgar, but I sort of wanted to be reassured about Grape as well. Definitely not something which marred my overall enjoyment.
Allyse Near is an author to watch. I will not be surprised if Fairytales for Wilde Girls makes next year’s Aurealis shortlist. I look forward to seeing what Near writes in the future. I highly recommend Fairytales for Wilde Girls to all fans of dark fairytales and gothic fantasy. It’s not a terrifying read, but it is dark and there are definitely elements of horror throughout. Readers of YA and adult fantasy alike will find much to enjoy in this book.
5 / 5 stars
First published: June 2013, Random House Australia
Format read: eARC
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Aussie Horror Reading Challenge
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School Spirits by Rachel HawkinsHex Hall, Demonglass / Raising Demons and Spellbound). You definitely don’t have to have read the Hex Hall books to enjoy this new series, however. The blurb:
Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy’s mom decides they need to take a break.I enjoyed this book a great deal. Izzy’s inner monologue had me laughing out loud many times, particularly as she tries to work out how to be normal (often comparing the situations she finds herself in with a teen soap opera she bought as “research”). It had me from the first chapter, in which Izzy fights a vampire pretentious enough to wear body glitter (best Twilight jab I’ve read so far).
Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who’s always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.
Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt?
School Spirits has shades of typical new girl and new school YA, but with the twist that Izzy has never actually gone to a school before. And before moving to Ideal, Mississippi she didn’t even own a TV. So fitting in and pretending to be normal is slightly more of a (hilarious) challenge for her. And although Izzy doesn’t have any magic powers (other than an ability to sense magic/magical creatures) she does have a lot of skills that normal teenagers don’t. Like vampire fighting and a knowledge of ghosts.
On a side note, I liked the way the love interest plot line played out. There was mercifully no love triangle and while there wasn’t much mystery about which boy was in fact the love interest, it was enjoyable to watch it play out.
While most of School Spirits was light and fun reading, it took an unexpected serious turn at one point which added some depth and, dare I say, reality to the story. I can’t elaborate further without spoilers but for me it was that moment that took the novel from pure fun to something a bit more serious. Also, the ending was a bit unusual and I’m dying to see how that plays out in the sequels.
All in all, I found School Spirits quite an unputdownable read. It was fun, hilarious and over too soon. I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an enjoyable quick read and, of course, to fans of paranormal YA.
5 / 5 stars
First published: May 2013, Disney Book Group (US edition — no word yet on UK/Aus release dates)
Series: Yes. Book 1 of ? (3?). Same world as the Hex Hall trilogy, but does not have to be read after Hex Hall.
Format read: eARC
Source: the publisher, via NetGalley
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Hunting by Andrea K HöstAnd All the Stars, The Touchstone Trilogy), Hunting is definitely fantasy, not science fiction. The blurb was what really got me keen to read this one:
Ash Lenthard doesn’t call herself a vigilante. She’s merely prone to random acts of derring-do, and occasional exhibitions of tomfoolery. Her friends, the Huntsmen, have never stepped over the line while patrolling the streets of Luinhall.
That was before the murder of Ash’s beloved guardian, Genevieve.
Now, Ash Lenthard is out for blood and even when the hunt sends her to the palace, on a collision course with a past identity she would do anything to forget, Ash cannot, will not, back down.
I have to say, when I first started reading, I was a little bit disappointed. Not because it was bad, but because it wasn’t as funny as the blurb sounded like it would be. Mostly, this is because things start on a sombre note, with Ash’s aunt dying and Ash’s circumstances being turned on their head. It wasn’t boring, it just wasn’t what I expected. But then! From about the halfway point it really picked up and I found myself laughing out loud several times. I enjoyed the second half a lot more. (If I rated them separately, I’d give the first half 4 stars and the second half 5 stars.)
Ash is a runaway who dresses as a boy. Before the opening of Hunting she was living with Genevieve, a herbalist who took her in when she was younger (she’s now 20 but dresses as a 17 year old boy). When Genevieve is killed, Ash swears vengeance but isn’t allowed to go at it alone, partly because others think she’s an underage boy. She is taken in by a foreign noble, Thornaster, who is investigating a spate of herbalist murders, and becomes his page-like servant. A lot of the humour comes from the banter and interactions between Ash and Thornaster, and there were some very amusing moments. I also liked that Höst didn’t make Thornaster a strict or cruel person, because that would have changed the overall tone of Hunting significantly.
The world Höst has built is detailed and not limited to the one city most of the action takes place in. It was a little tricky at first to keep all the places and titles straight in my head and I think the earlier parts of the book could have been improved with more backstory/descriptions. On the other hand, the full details of Ash’s past don’t come to light for a while, and I quite liked the circumstances in which the full story was revealed (and of course I had some idea of what was coming from hints earlier on).
An aspect I particularly liked was the way in which so many little threads all came together in the end. There were some things which I took in stride as “just” being part of the set-up or backstory which turned out to be relevant to the main story. Hard to say more on this without spoilers. Also, a small thing but the fact that the main character’s mentor was female not male was gratifying. And even though Ash was a girl dressed as a boy in a male-dominated society, there were actual other good female characters in the story (and only one of them was a laundry maid) who showed us other roles women could play in the society without having to dress as a man.
There was one particular aspect of worldbuilding that I found quite fascinating and that was the matter of religion. The gods in the world of Hunting are associated with the sun and moon (the two main gods) and planets (the minor gods which aren’t important). When people die, one of three things happens: their soul goes straight to heaven carried by the sun god’s butterflies, their soul is taken by the moon god’s moths for cleansing before later going on to heaven or the gods decide the person’s soul is beyond redemption and they’re damned — trapped on the mortal coil indefinitely, before eventually deteriorating into nothing. Somewhat painfully. What this means is that after you die, assuming you don’t die alone where no one finds you quickly enough, everyone knows what the gods ultimately thought of you. There was one character who was a horrible person and, as part of the backstory, was damned when he died. The repercussions on the family members that survived him, who generally weren’t terrible people, were not insignificant. This aspect made me think a lot about how people might change or police their behaviour if they knew there were real afterlife consequences for them. Food for thought.
Finally, there was a romantic storyline but it didn’t start until a good chunk of the way in. I liked that there were several possible love-interests and that it wasn’t until Ash realised she had a crush on someone that I knew which way it would go.
I ended up enjoying Hunting a lot and, as the length of this review may suggest, getting more out of it than I necessarily expected. I recommend it to fans of fantasy, particularly the kind of fantasy that is confined to one city. I’m tempted to call it “ye olde urban fantasy”. I think readers of Tamora Pierce’s earlier books (I haven’t read her later stuff) will also enjoy it, although I admit my reasoning may start and end with the “girl dressed as a boy” element.
4.5 / 5 stars
Series: No. Although there would be scope for another book in the same world.
Format read: ePub on iPad
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge
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Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha WellsEmilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells is the latest offering out from Strange Chemistry, the YA branch of Angry Robot. Those of you who have been paying attention will be aware that I’ve loved almost everything Strange Chemistry have put out, and Emilie and the Hollow World is no exception. A blurb excerpt:
While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.This is a first and foremost an adventure novel with a large dose of exploration thrown in. It’s maybe the sort of thing Jules Verne would have written if he’d written YA in modern language and had a tendency to include subtle feminist commentary (so, OK, not that similar to Jules Verne except for the exploration and adventure part). It’s also a more steampunkish setting, with magic and aether currents powering the vessels which travel to the inner world — the one on the inside surface of the planet’s sphere.
Emilie was a great character. She constantly compares her current situation with books (always nice to have something in common with the main character) and she takes the dangerous and outlandish situations in which she finds herself in stride. I also appreciated that she didn’t have a particularly morbid and depressing reason for running away from her aunt and uncle, but also that her reason wasn’t too trivial. She had a proper plan when she set out that could have worked if things hadn’t gone awry.
This is above all a fun read. If tales of adventure and exploration of exotic and completely unknown lands appeal to you, give it a shot. Equally, if you’re looking for lady adventuresses and some of the opposition they might face (mild sexism, nothing too hideous although a few of the male characters said and did punch-worthy things, in my opinion), definitely give this a shot. As well as Emilie, there’s also Miss Marlende, the adult daughter of a scientist-explorer who takes Emilie under her wing, and Rani one of the inner-world people, who seem to have different ideas about women and their place (whereas the outer-world people’s opinions are similar to real-world Victorian times, more or less).
I’m rather excited to discover that there’s another Emilie book in the works, Emilie and the Sky World, due out next year. I did feel the first book set things up nicely for an indefinitely long series of adventures with Emilie. That said, it stands alone perfectly well if series aren’t your thing (but I’m usually a fan of getting more of a good thing).
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: April 2013, Strange Chemistry
Series: Yes! Book 1 with more to come, but reads as a standalone.
Format read: eARC on my iThings
Source: The publisher via NetGalley
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