Friday, 28 October 2016

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Book Title: Prince of Thorns (Broken Empire #1)
Author: Mark Lawrence
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library
Goodreads, Amazon UK 
Goodreads summary: From being a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg has the ability to master the living and the dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father's castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.
Mark Lawrence's debut novel tells a tale of blood and treachery, magic and brotherhood and paints a compelling and brutal, and sometimes beautiful, picture of an exceptional boy on his journey toward manhood and the throne.
What did I think? I loved Prince of Thorns just like I thought I would.

However I will start with a warning. A warning that I think is necessary: this book isn't for everyone. There's rape. And it's possibly unnecessary rape, maybe just there to show how dark the protagonist really is. Right at the beginning. Right in your face.

Then again... maybe rape is just what happens in a male dominated group that is ransacking and pillaging. And not talking about it would be looking at the world with rose tinted glasses. In which case, maybe it's necessary and leaving it out just wouldn't be believable.

But it's still there. In your face. And I know many people don't appreciate reading about it. And I think that's fair.

The main character, Jorg, is an anti-hero, a broken child and I appreciate a protagonist that isn't all white knight in shining armor. In fact I'm a sucker for a good villain. One I can emphasize with. One I can root for. Jorg is definitely far away from being likable, but he is compelling. The story is told from his point of view and it's fascinating to follow the thoughts of such a dark, intelligent but also insane character, who has given up all hope and humanity.

It's a violent book. Disturbing. Gritty. But at the same time it's beautiful. At its heart it is a tale of revenge. 

Prince of Thorns is a quick read and Mark Lawrence's writing is enticing, almost poetic in places. He's excellent at bringing the story to life and does not waste time with pointless descriptions. The world he created is interesting and complex, though not much about it has been revealed yet, but I'm intrigued and hope we'll find out more about in the sequel.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Book Title: Shatter Me (#1 Trilogy)
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genre: Science Fiction, YA
My Rating: ♥ ♥
Source: Own it.
Goodreads, Amazon UK

Goodreads Summary: The last time she touched someone, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.
The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.
Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.
What did I think? I was looking for some light entertainment and that's exactly what Shatter Me offers. It's also a quick and easy read. So far so good.

The writing is too flowery (and filled with unnecessary similes and metaphors) but I didn't mind the stream of consciousness throughout the book.

Sadly, there's not much of a story to be found in this one though, and most of it is dull. It's the same old dystopia, and so far there's almost no world building and whatever we get to see isn't very believable. It's the same old romance, with the same old triangle.

The main character has unexplained powers, that (again unexplained) don't affect her love interest. She's just as flat and annoying as other YA heroines, though I did not dislike her.

The ending is wide open and the book doesn't stand on its own. I am however curious enough to pick up the other books in the series, because I've heard they get better.

Shatter Me isn't a disaster, but it's far from being good.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Red Winter by Annette Marie

Book Title: Red Winter
Author: Annette Marie
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Goodreads, Amazon UK 

The publisher's summary: Emi is the kamigakari. In a few short months, her life as a mortal will end and her new existence as the human host of a goddess will begin. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess—and not once has she doubted her chosen fate.
Shiro is a yokai, a spirit of the earth, an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command—whether she wants him or not.
On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate—but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope … and hope is all she has left.
What did I think?

Every now and then the YA genre offers a surprise. This is one of those surprises.

I chose this book because of the beautiful cover and because Annette Marie, the author, has based her new novel on Japanese mythology. She did her research thoroughly and explains each term she uses without boring the reader. In fact it was a great pleasure to dive into this world. Annette Marie is careful and provides a lot of details and depth, and at first that slows the plot a little, but I got used to it and lost myself in the fantastic world building, eager to discover more of this vibrant world.

The characters are exceptionally well written and compelling, the plot is fast paced and gripping, and the author has a way of making her scenes come to life that I really enjoyed. Especially the battle scenes are stunning. I was pleased to discover that this book has some art in it, especially since I enjoy both anime and manga.

There was only one thing I struggled with: the unfamiliar names. I have no knowledge of Japanese mythology and it took me quite a while to wrap my head around all the terms. But that didn't hinder my enjoyment!

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys mythology and fantasy and doesn't mind young protagonists.

I received an ARC copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

About the author: Annette Marie is the author of the Amazon best-selling YA urban fantasy series Steel & Stone, which includes the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award nominee Yield the Night. Her first love is fantasy, a limitless realm of creativity where she can break all the boring rules of real life, but fast-paced urban fantasy, bold heroines, and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She proudly admits she has a thing for dragons, and her editor has politely inquired as to whether she intends to include them in every book. Annette lives in the frozen winter wasteland of northern Alberta, Canada (okay, it’s not quite that bad). She shares her life with her remarkably patient, comparatively sensible husband and their furry minion of darkness—sorry, cat—Caesar. When not writing, she can be found elbow-deep in one art project or another while blissfully ignoring all adult responsibilities. To find out more about Annette and her books, visit her website at

Monday, 17 October 2016

Gardens of the Moon by Steven

Book Title: Gardens of the Moon (Malazan #1)
Author: Steven Erikson
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: My own copy
Goodreads, Amazon UK 
Goodreads Summary: The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting, and bloody confrontations. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen's rule remains absolute, enforced by her dread Claw assassins. For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, surviving cadre mage of the Second Legion, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities of Genabackis, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze. But it would appear that the Empire is not alone in this great game. Sinister, shadowbound forces are gathering as the gods themselves prepare to play their hand...
What did I think? This is a favorite among fantasy readers. Almost worshiped by many. However as a new reader you also get warned: it's complicated. It's dense. You get thrown into the middle of a story without any explanation whatsoever. Be prepared.

I was prepared. But (sadly) it still didn't work for me. This is hard for me to write, because I definitely see the depth of the world building and I can tell there's a lot to discover. It's a detailed world. And it's waiting for me to dive in and have fun.

But instead I felt...lost? I felt lost despite notes, despite chapter summaries, despite character portraits and maps, and towards the end I had the impression the book just turned into a bunch of chaotic events and none of it really mattered...

For me it almost came across as if I was punishing myself with this book. Back to school, and back to homework. I made notes and it felt like a chore. But most of all: Erikson did not manage to make me care. A lot of what happened just happened and I wondered, why? And why does it matter? And why should I care?

Maybe I should give up on the note taking and just read the second installment, see where it takes me and once I'm done (and if I liked it) revisit Gardens of the Moon. Or, maybe I should just give up on Malazan altogether, I haven't made up my mind just yet.

Gardens of the Moon is a complicated story. The writing is solid but not memorable (the first book was written years before the others, and apparently Erikson's writing improves a lot in later books). If you like epic and complicated fantasy, please do give this a try, I can see why so many readers absolutely love this series and if I read it again I'll make sure to review it again. Who knows.

If anyone is interested in some of the helpful websites that exist out there to help a first time reader:
  • The new Readers Zone of the Malazan Wikia (there are no spoilers on this page as long as you don't click on any links.) 
  • did a re-read with chapter summaries and discussions (careful there are spoilers) 
  • Chapter summaries (spoiler-free)

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Machine Society by Mike Brooks

Book Title: The Machine Society
Author: Mike Brooks
Genre: Sci-Fi
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Goodreads, Amazon UK 
I received this copy from Netgalley in return for an honest review. I chose it because I thought the blurb sounds very interesting. 
From the publisher: Mike Brooks’ debut novel is an adventure story set in a dystopian future in which our taste for branding, consumerism and artificial reality is boundless. In The Machine Society, he weaves together psychological insight, philosophical reflection and spiritual inquiry to give us a novel that is both a deep satire on modern life and a rich metaphor for our longing to find inner peace. Dean Rogers lives in the Perimeter of New London, holding down a soul-destroying job, surrounded by people who have lost the will to communicate. He is afraid his debts will spiral out of control, resulting in him being cast out of the city, outside of the Security Wall. Meanwhile, in the Better Life Complex, New London’s rich elite live in plastic luxury, unaware of the sinister secrets that underpin their world.
What did I think? The idea is quite clever and the premise is interesting. However I wasn't enamored with the execution. The writing is a bit clunky and the ending too abrupt.

It's a quick read though and a lot happens in those pages. I particularly enjoyed the vivid description of futuristic (and very realistic) video games. The book is filled with thoughtful philosophical concepts and a dose of healthy satire. Despite that it never comes across as pretentious and I can definitely see parts of the future Mike Brooks paints already happening.

I thought the ending is too abrupt and leaves too many questions unanswered, so hopefully there will be a second installment with a satisfactory resolution.

Friday, 7 October 2016

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison

Book Title: The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
Author: Meg Elison
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Goodreads, Amazon UK

The publisher's description on Netgalley: When she fell asleep, the world was doomed. When she awoke, it was dead. In the wake of a fever that decimated the earth’s population—killing women and children and making childbirth deadly for the mother and infant—the midwife must pick her way through the bones of the world she once knew to find her place in this dangerous new one. Gone are the pillars of civilization. All that remains is power—and the strong who possess it. A few women like her survived, though they are scarce. Even fewer are safe from the clans of men, who, driven by fear, seek to control those remaining. To preserve her freedom, she dons men’s clothing, goes by false names, and avoids as many people as possible. But as the world continues to grapple with its terrible circumstances, she’ll discover a role greater than chasing a pale imitation of independence. After all, if humanity is to be reborn, someone must be its guide.

I got an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Why did I request it? I thought the cover looks gorgeous. It won the Philip K. Dick Award in 2014 and the story sounded intriguing.

What did I think? It's definitely a gritty post-apocalyptic tale, filled with unsettling realism and quite a few triggering topics. Word of advice, if you can't cope with rape, don't pick this one up.

Imagine the flu kills 98% of humanity. Imagine it kills almost all women and we are now rare as... well, something that is very rare and everyone is basically willing to kill for it. Women become something men can own, trade, rape and possess. There's only a handful left and men are not happy about that. Pregnancy is a death sentence for the child, and usually for the mother as well.
The unnamed midwife keeps a diary so that others will remember and know what happened to the world. It's brutal. It's about survival. Birth control is essential.

There's a few things that made it hard for me to connect with the book.

I did not like any of the characters which made it difficult to care about the outcome. I especially disliked the midwife herself. It's a realistic character, flawed, with strengths and weaknesses. Well written actually. But I did not like her.

The diary entries are disjointed, written in choppy sentences and very casual English. I'm aware that I keep my diaries the same way, but I'm not aiming to ever publish them. For the sake of fiction, they could have been written better? But I seem to be in the minority, most reviews I've read so far aren't bothered by that aspect.

We also learn the fate of several characters that did not keep a diary. The author clearly thought the reader should know what happens to those characters, even though the book starts with a bunch of boys transcribing the diaries of the midwife and there's no way they'd ever learn what happened to the others. So why should the reader?

However, I guess now I'm nitpicking.

If you like post-apocalyptic stories and don't shy away from realistic stories that have no sugarcoating whatsoever, please go ahead, you will like this one.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Book Title: 1Q84
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magic Realism, 1001 Books
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: Library
Goodreads, Amazon UK
Goodreads Summary: A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.
What did I think? This is one of the 1001 books a bunch of people think I (and others) should read before the inevitable dying part of life. And it's one I've been meaning to read for quite a while.

Before 1Q84 I've only ever read one other Murakami novel and I clearly remember falling in love with the way he writes. It was a revelation. Compared to that experience 1Q84 is a disappointment and I can't quite explain why.

Possibly because I was only 18 years old and back then easily impressed by books? Or maybe because I read it in German and this one in English? Maybe it's the translation.

1Q84 is an intriguing book, but I neither enjoyed the way it all comes together, nor the length of it. In fact I almost gave up on it about halfway through. It's easy to be sucked into the story at first.

Each chapter alternates between the points of view of the two main characters and it takes a long time before the connection becomes clear. Aomame is full of surprises throughout the first half, whilst Tengo doesn't seem to have that many layers.

Murakami paints interesting characters, talks a lot about food and the sex scenes are incredibly awkward (but he sure knows how to describe breasts.) He also doesn't fully explain a lot of magical things that are happening throughout the plot, to the point where 1Q84 left me with too many questions and not enough answers.

Maybe this wasn't the right book to pick up for me at the moment. Maybe I need to go back and read his other works to find that feeling I had, when I read him for the first time.

I definitely wouldn't recommend this to someone who hasn't read Murakami before.