Reviews: Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told & How Not to Fall in Love by Deirdre Riordan Hall

love-hate-and-other-lies-we-toldPublisher: Self-published
Release date: January 17, 2017
Format: ebook
Source: Author
Pages: 364
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Let go from her job and feeling lost, Navy Carrington takes a position as coffee-girl at a publicity firm. Their newest client is Carrick Kennely, the former love of her life and her fiercest adversary. She thought she’d let go of the past by playing it safe with book boyfriends—and avoiding frustratingly sexy guys like Carrick.

When Navy’s roommate finds the Boyfriend Book, a silly relic leftover from Navy’s teens, it prompts a dare; Navy is to go on five dates and pick one to be her Valentine. Despite her reservations, she can’t say no, especially if it means proving to herself and Carrick that she can move on.

Navy chronicles her brief romantic entanglements with the Hottie in 7G, the Man-Bun-Barista, the Gym Stud, and the Book Boyfriend who turns out to be a toad—not the kind that when kissed turns into a prince—, on The Boyfriend Book Blog. She doesn’t want to let her readers or herself down, but as Valentine’s Day nears, none of the guys comes close to being her one true love.

Except Carrick. He’s infuriating, attractive, confusing, catnip…and it turns out he has a secret.

With a love letter and a plane ticket in hand, Navy leaves her baggage behind and must decide between love, hate, and the lies she told to protect her fragile heart.

Told with humor and heart, Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told may appeal to readers who enjoy Alice Clayton, Sally Thorne, and Emily Giffin’s work.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

I received a review copy of the book from the author. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

It’s been a while since I’ve read any women’s lit and Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told was just what I needed during my mini-reading slump. It was light and easy to read. If you’re looking for something fluffy and romantic that is perfect for Valentine’s Day, this is a great novel to pick up.

In this novel, the main character, Navy, is a young woman in her mid to late 20s who has never really had a proper relationship. She’s an introvert and tends to keep to herself, indulging in fictional worlds and characters. Her best friend and flatmate, Katya, is determined to help Navy get out of her shell and find love by Valentine’s Day. She dares Navy to go on dates with the first five men that she encounters and Navy decides to go through with it, and blog about her experiences. But in a strange turn of events, her fifth guy is an old flame from the past, who has played a huge part in Navy being a single pringle. I really, really loved the plot of this book and enjoyed how much fun it was and how light-hearted it was. I loved Navy and all of her dates and how disastrous some of them were. My only small criticism of the plot was that I felt that it was a little bit slow at times. I would have liked a little bit of a stronger story arc. There were times when I felt like things were jumping around a bit and it would have made a better reading experience for me if there was a more logical story arc.

I really liked the romance in this novel. It has one of my all-time favourite romance tropes, which is second chance romance. I liked the dynamic between Navy and Carrick and really liked their interactions. My main complaint about the romance is that I felt like I didn’t really get the full backstory and it wasn’t completely clear exactly what had happened between them in the past. I think I would have enjoyed the romance a little bit more if there was more Navy and Carrick in the story as well. Having said that, it was really sweet and I loved both Carrick and Navy a lot separately. I also really enjoyed some of the other guys in the story as well and had a really great time peeking in on Navy’s dates.

I absolutely loved Navy as a character. She reminded me of myself a lot because I’m a mid-20s single pringle and it was just nice to read about an experience that is or would be similar to mine. I found Navy super relatable and easy to connect with, and really enjoyed reading about her story.

Overall, I thought Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told was a really lighthearted and engaging story that is perfect for Valentine’s Day.


how-not-to-fall-in-lovePublisher: Self-published
Release date: February 14, 2017
Format: ebook
Source: Author
Pages: 146
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Katya’s middle name may be Aphrodite, but she has no interest in relationships. In fact, she has three rules she lives by:

1. Never spend the night.

2. Never sleep with the same guy twice.

3. Never fall in love.

Oh, and number 3.1 is never order the same coffee two days in a row.

That’s a lot of nevers, but when she breaks every single one of them, repeatedly (her undoing was a vanilla latte with a heart in the foam, BTW), she begins to wonder…

Actually, it was a batch of chocolate chip cookies that started her downward spiral. Never mind, scratch that, it was Spencer—her neighbor. He’s also a banker, a player, and seems to know just what Kat wants, which isn’t love.

Until they start to spend a lot of time together…

Until she finds one of his socks at her place…

Until they go to a ski resort for a long weekend…

Until he has a snowboarding injury…

As Kat struggles with the part of her that wants to be strong, single, and on the scene and the mushy, melty, romantic within, she tries desperately not to fall in love. But what’s wrong with falling if you have someone with dark tousled hair, refined yet ruggedly handsome features, and chiseled abs to catch you?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

How Not to Fall in Love is the companion novella to Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told, but can be read as a standalone romantic comedy.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

How Not to Fall in Love is a companion novella to Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told and it follows the story of Navy’s best friend, Katya. I actually loved Katya’s story more than Navy’s and I especially enjoyed the romance between Katya and Spencer.

Katya and Spencer are both commitment-phobes but when the two hook up and develop feelings for each other, they’re unable to escape the other because they’re neighbours in the same apartment building. I really loved how the two characters interacted and how their romance developed throughout the novella. It was really interesting to see the different qualities that they brought out in each other and I just loved Katya and Spencer so much! I especially enjoyed Spencer’s baking abilities and if I had a neighbour who baked chocolate chip cookies 24/7, I’d marry him on the spot haha.

The novella was short and sweet and I finished it in one sitting. My copy of the novella also included recipes for the chocolate chip cookies and dirty brownies and I’m definitely going to be trying them out soon, even though I’m not really much of a baker. I’d definitely recommend picking up this companion novella along with Love, Hate, and Other Lies We Told… or even just on its own because it was a super fun and romantic read.

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Review: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

the-hating-game

Publisher: Piatkus
Release date: August 9, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 363
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NEMESIS (n)

1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome
2) A person’s undoing
3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She prides herself on being loved by everyone at work – except for imposing, impeccably attired Joshua Templeman.

Trapped in a shared office, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, never-ending game of one-upmanship. There’s the Staring Game, The Mirror Game, The HR Game. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything – especially when a huge promotion is on offer.

If Lucy wins, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she questioning herself? Maybe she doesn’t hate him. And just maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game . . .

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

I have no words for how incredibly adorable and sweet this book was. It was exactly the kind of story that I needed to read after having a rough time these past few days. It definitely brightened up my day, put a huge smile on my face and melted my heart.

The Hating Game is an office romance with two of the most endearing characters. Ever since Lucy and Joshua’s respective publishing houses merged, they have shared an office working as executive assistants for the two co-CEOs. And they absolutely hate each other. They love engaging in different ‘games’ and trying to beat out the other person. When the position of chief operating officer is up for grabs, Lucy is determined not to let Joshua beat her. If she loses, she’ll resign and she makes Joshua promise the same thing. But in the days leading up to the interview and promotion decision, she finds that she doesn’t really hate Joshua as much as she thought she did. And he doesn’t seem to hate her as much as she thought either.

One of my favourite romance tropes in fiction is the hate-to-love trope and The Hating Game executes it perfectly. I could feel the tension between the two characters throughout the book, including a whole heap of unresolved sexual tension (HAHAHA). Their banter was fantastic and the way that they tried to one-up each other was absolutely perfect. The way that their romance unfolded was very realistic to me and I really enjoyed the way that it was developed very gradually. I thought the slow-burning romance suited the characters and the story brilliantly and added to the ‘will they or won’t they?’ aspect of the book. It kept me interested and I devoured this novel!

Lucy was a fantastic narrator. I loved her voice so much and I could never be tired of reading about her. She’s such a relatable character and I found myself connecting to her from the very first page. She’s quirky, she’s fun and she’s bite-sized, which makes for some wonderful banter between her and Josh about her height. Josh was also an amazing character. He was grumpy and broody and exactly the kind of guy I like to read about. Even though he was a bit prickly, he was also sensitive and romantic and I swooned hard, guys. I swooned hard.

This is a feel-good book that I can see myself rereading over and over when I need a pick-me-up. It’s a fantastic debut novel and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more by Sally Thorne.

Review: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

the-final-empire

Publisher: Gollancz
Release date: October 1, 2009 (originally July 17, 2006)
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 647
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In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with colour once more?

In Brandon Sanderson’s intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage— Allomancy, a magic of the metals.

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

After much coercion from every single person on this planet, I finally read The Final Empire, the first book in the Mistborn series. I had high expectations going into the series and, despite the novel going in a much different direction to what I had anticipated, I wasn’t disappointed at all by it.

The Final Empire has a very interesting world and a unique magic system. Being the first book in a series, much of this novel is actually spent on the world building and setting up the magic system, Allomancy. Allomancy was really intriguing and unlike any other magic system I’ve encountered before. The magic wielders ingest different types of metals and by ‘burning’ them, they’re able to acquire certain powers from these metals. However, once the store of metals inside your body has been used up, Allomancers are not unlike normal, non-magic wielding people. As much as I love the world and magic system, it took me a while to get into it, and it wasn’t until I’d reached maybe the 150 page mark that I was really immersed in the world. However, what I really did like was that we were introduced to the magic system by Kelsier, a charismatic and trouble-making Mistborn who is able to use all metals he ingests, teaching his apprentice Vin to use her Allomantic skills that she didn’t know she had. It gave the reader a very comprehensive look into Allomancy and what Allomancers and Mistborns can do.

“You ask why I smile, Goodman Mennis? Well, the Lord Ruler thinks he has claimed laughter and joy for himself. I’m disinclined to let him do so. This is one battle that doesn’t take very much effort to fight.”

As for the plot, I loved the concept of it. I’ve had this novel pitched to me as a heist story and I don’t really agree. For me, this is definitely a story about rebellion from the lower classes who are oppressed by the nobility, and mostly by the Lord Ruler, who is immortal and rules over the entire world. Sure, the operation is run by a bunch of thieves from the underground, but I’m not sure that that makes it a heist story. I was a little bit surprised by how little action there was in the book. I was expecting it to be super action-packed and fast-paced but it’s quite a slow-paced read that was a little bit draggy at times. I did listen to a small part of the novel via audiobook though, and that probably made it even more draggy. I just felt like there were big chunks of the book that was filled with intrigue and planning but not a lot of action. I also had a problem with some of the action scenes being a bit too descriptive, especially at the beginning of the novel. Almost every move that a character made during an action scene was written out and it was a bit hard to follow (ironically). But overall, I did really like the story. I just wanted a bit more out of it.

The characters in the book were wonderful though. My favourite had to be Kelsier. How could I not love this crazy, crazy man? He was very impulsive and quirky and I loved that about him so much. He had so many brilliant ideas and was a great leader to the crew. He was also a great mentor to Vin and omg I loved him. I’m a bit annoyed about the direction that the story took him and I’ll probably be annoyed for a long time to come. Another character who I absolutely loved was Elend. He reads books at parties so it was pretty much guaranteed that I’d love him. His character was a bit flat though so I’m keen to see how he develops further. Now, on to Vin, who’s arguably the main character in the book… it took me a long time to warm to Vin. She started off as a very cautious and mistrusting person who was a bit self-deprecating and shy. But I felt like she was also simultaneously really stubborn and had an inflated sense of self-importance that really annoyed me. Thankfully, I grew to like her a little bit more as the book progressed but it took probably 400 pages for me to start liking her. Luckily there were a whole cast of side characters who I could enjoy while I struggled to overcome my issues with Vin. I really liked most of the side characters and thought they were all extremely interesting. The characters all felt relatable and I enjoyed following their journey very much.

The Final Empire wasn’t what I thought it was going to be but I highly enjoyed it anyway. The pacing of the book is a bit slow and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to motivate myself to pick up the next books. I am definitely intrigued by where the story is going to go next and will be reading them at some point.

Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

all-the-birds-in-the-sky

Publisher: Titan Books
Release date: January 26, 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 432
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Patricia is a witch who can communicate with animals. Laurence is a mad scientist and inventor of the two-second time machine. As teenagers they gravitate towards one another, sharing in the horrors of growing up weird, but their lives take different paths.

When they meet again as adults, Laurence is an engineering genius trying to save the world – and live up to his reputation – in near-future San Francisco. Meanwhile, Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the magically gifted, working hard to prove herself to her fellow magicians and secretly repairing the earth’s ever growing ailments.

As they attempt to save our future, Laurence and Patricia’s shared past pulls them back together. And though they come from different worlds, when they collide, the witch and the scientist will discover that maybe they understand each other better than anyone.

MY THOUGHTS

4 stars

I don’t really know where to start with All the Birds in the Sky. It was strange and unique and I can’t neatly fit it into any one particular genre. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good because I thought it was incredibly quirky and unlike anything I’d read before.

This story is about magic and science and what happens when they interact. It’s set in the near future, in an apocalyptic setting where the world is about to self-destruct and our two main characters are on separate missions to save the future. But they have two very distinct ways of going about it. Laurence, a scientist and engineer is working to create a machine that will allow people to be transported to a different planet. His philosophy – and the philosophy of his fellow scientists – is that humanity doesn’t have to be tied to this particular rock in the universe. However, Patricia, a witch with a magical tie to nature, is determined to save the future by saving planet Earth and curing it of its ailments. As magic and science go to war, what will happen to the future?

But the story doesn’t begin there. The story begins more than a decade ago when Patricia was just a young girl discovering her magical abilities for the first time, and Laurence is a young boy who is obsessed with science and spaceships, and the inventor of a time machine that can propel him two seconds forward into the future. As they make their way through middle school as the misfits and are bullied by those who despise any kind of weirdness and unconformity, they gravitate towards each other and become the other’s only friend. The first half of All the Birds in the Sky is actually about Laurence and Patricia’s past. We spend a good amount of the book learning about their friendship as teenagers and how their connection and their story would later affect the future. This section of the book was probably my favourite (and this may partly be due to the fact that I read a lot of YA) because we really got to know the characters and what they represented… as well as what they meant to each other.

But that’s not to say that I didn’t love the rest of the book too. The second half of the book is about Laurence and Patricia reconnecting as adults, after having spent high school apart. In the first section of the book about their adulthood, we get to learn more about the upcoming apocalypse as well as who Laurence and Patricia are now as adults. I thought it set up the climax really well and I enjoyed the romance that was brewing between them. However, I did feel that there was a strange transition in the book where the romance and the plot of the book just kicked off without warning. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it because even though it felt really sudden, the whole book up until that point had been setting up for that moment. My main criticism of the plot would have to be that the last 50-70 pages of the book felt a little rushed and the ending slightly unresolved. But overall, I really enjoyed the entire story.

What I loved most about All the Birds in the Sky was the writing and the pacing of the book. I loved the third person omniscient narration in this book and I found the writing to be lyrical and beautiful. The book was quite slow-paced, especially in the first 3 parts of the book, and I thought that this added to the slightly magical feel of the story. I thought the format of the book worked really well and I enjoyed following Laurence and Patricia’s story from childhood into adulthood.

The writing and narration style also made it easy to connect with the characters. I absolutely loved Patricia and Laurence separately and together. They were both strange children who stood out too much for society’s liking. They’re bullied at school and are treated with almost no affection from their parents. But they were some of the most interesting and unique characters that I’ve read about and I really appreciated their quirkiness. Together, Patricia and Laurence were amazing. They became each other’s one and only friend in childhood and also had a wonderful connection in adulthood. ‘Friendship goals’ is all I can say.

This novel isn’t going to be for everyone. But I definitely enjoyed it. If you like slow-paced fantasy stories or magical realism stories, I think you might enjoy All the Birds in the Sky. I think it’s an adult fiction novel that would appeal to YA readers too.

Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

vicious

Publisher: Titan Books
Release date: January 10, 2014
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Pages: 340
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A masterful tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, and superpowers.

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates – brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find – aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge – but who will be left alive at the end?

MY THOUGHTS

45 stars

I love a good story about ambition and vengeance and Vicious definitely delivered. It’s an intense story about jealousy, ambition and heroism, from the perspectives of a group of antiheroes and misfits.

Despite having heard a million times what Vicious is about, I still managed to be surprised by the plot that unfolded. It was engaging and suspenseful and played out in the most seamlessly unpredictable way. We follow Victor Vale, a man who has just escaped from prison and is intent on getting revenge on his former close friend in college. Victor and Eli were intelligent and driven boys who were intrigued by the possibility of creating ExtraOrdinary people who have superpowers. The boys tested their hypothesis on themselves, and their relationship and their sense of morality deteriorates rapidly soon after. When Victor is locked up in jail, he spends his ten years in prison planning his escape and his revenge against Eli. And when, upon escaping, he realises that Eli is on a mission to ‘remove’ all ExtraOrdinaries from the world, he’s more determined than ever to get his revenge.

There were a couple of things that drew me in to the plot of Vicious. The book starts off with a very intriguing and mysterious first chapter that reminded me a lot of The Raven Boys. I was then immediately captivated by the science in the first couple of chapters and how the boys talked about variables and the scientific method. But all of that was quickly eclipsed by the chilling actions of the boys and how the idea of villainy and heroism was explored. I really liked how Vicious explores what it means to be a hero and whether possessing superpowers makes you a hero. It also explores whether eradicating powers that you think are evil, makes you a hero. I just enjoyed and appreciated how much the novel made me think.

This novel is split into two parts and for the first half of the book, we explore the events that have led up to the present day. We get to see the Victor and Eli from ten years ago, who are experimenting with their lives and going down a dangerous path. We get to see the events from a couple days ago when Victor escapes from prison with his cellmate, Mitch. And we get to see what happens when Victor finds a girl who’s been shot, as well as the things that have happened to her to get her in this predicament. There are lots of different timelines in this book and the chapters jump back and forth between them. I actually really liked this non-linear format because it added some suspense and allowed me to try to put the pieces together before they were revealed. The second part of this book also contains a non-linear timeline but is more focused on the present day. The last 50 pages of the book follows a much more linear timeline, as the book literally counts down to its climax. I really enjoyed the format of the book and that the chapters were short. It made the story very exciting to read.

I also enjoyed the writing of the book immensely. I thought the pacing was slow but it was just the right amount of slow for the tone and atmosphere of the story. It was slow in a dark and dangerous kind of way and I thought it worked really well. V.E. Schwab’s writing drew me in and I just sped through the book because it was so captivating.

Of course, the characters were spectacular in this book and I believe they are what makes this novel exceptional. They were complex and I love a book about villains and antiheroes. I love a book that focuses on morally grey characters and makes them simultaneously relatable and repulsive. There wasn’t a single character in this book who I didn’t like (though like may not be the right word here since we’re dealing with villains and dislikable people). I thought they all added something to the story and represented a different shade of morally grey. The characters were brilliantly conceptualised and I thought they were all developed and utilised to their potential.

I’m really excited about the sequel that’s in the works and I can’t wait to see how the story continues because I loved Vicious a lot as a standalone.

Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg

Magic-Bitter-Magic-Sweet

Publisher: 47North
Release date: June 28, 2016
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 306
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Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes.

During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is—as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences.

From the author of The Paper Magician series comes a haunting and otherworldly tale of folly and consequence, forgiveness and redemption.

MY THOUGHTS

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Where do I even begin with this review? I can’t really find the words to describe what this book was about. It was just so strange and bizarre and I liked it while not liking it at the same time. There’s magic, baking and Hansel and Gretel elements, which made it a very interesting and unique read but there were also many things that I really did not enjoy. This is technically an adult fantasy novel but it reads like young adult and would appeal to a lot of younger readers.

This book is about Maire, a talented baker who is able to infuse certain qualities into her baked goods by imagining events that inspire those emotions/qualities as she’s baking them. However, she wasn’t always a baker. In fact, Maire has no recollection of who she was before she woke up in her small town four years ago. When her town is invaded and she’s taken as a slave and used for her magical baking abilities, she starts to get closer to remembering who or what she was. On top of being worked to death by her mysterious master, Maire keeps running into a ghost/otherworldly being who seems to know who she is but isn’t very forthcoming with his knowledge.

My struggle with this book was that there was a little bit too much going on. For 75% of the book, I had no idea what the story was about or where the book was going. It had a really great beginning that hooked me with the unique ‘magical baking’ (as Cait from Paper Fury originally called it) and I felt a little bit cheated when I realised, after pushing and pushing through the book, that it wasn’t going to be about Maire’s magical abilities (well not really). Her magical abilities weren’t really explored or developed and I didn’t get a good sense of how it worked or why she had those abilities. These questions were cleared up to some extent at the end of the novel but it ultimately felt very unsatisfying because I expected a lot more from this magical baking concept. All that really happened was that Maire made a whole heap of cakes that were apparently different from each other but seemed completely the same to me. It just felt kind of flat. I also didn’t get a good sense of the world and felt that the world building was sorely lacking. There were some settings that were magical and some that weren’t and I had a hard time putting it all together and imagining what the world looked like.

I also really struggled with the pace of the book and the plot. There really isn’t a lot that happens in Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet. There’s action in the first 30% of the book but then it drags and drags until the 75% mark when the explanations start coming. The only reason why I pushed through and didn’t give up on the story was because I really wanted to know what was happening and my questions really weren’t answered until the last part of the book. It was just a really confusing reading experience that had me a bit bored for most of the middle section. The writing was simplistic and easy to read but it wasn’t a writing style that I connected with, so overall the reading experience wasn’t that great…

It also didn’t really help that the characters lost their initial appeal throughout the book. There was very little character development and I wasn’t a big fan of the characterisation. I didn’t get a good sense of who any of the characters were and I felt that the characterisation wasn’t always consistent. Maire’s captor and master is violent and aggressive until he’s not. He’s then passive and meek until he’s violent and volatile again. I just had no idea who he was as a character and it bothered me a lot. I also didn’t really know who Maire was and I felt like there were times when she did things that were a little bit out of character. She’s portrayed as a caring and loving, innocent young woman who loves to bake but when she was first captured she wanted to “scale the side [of a two storey building] and reach the roof” to escape. She’s not really a Celaena Sardothien, is she? And then we have Fyel, the ghostly visitor, who’s the typical useless ghost who knows everything but isn’t able to help and gives mixed messages throughout the novel. It was just incredibly frustrating and I couldn’t connect with any of the characters at all.

I do have to applaud the author on coming up with a really unique concept but I thought the execution was kind of subpar. The plot just wasn’t very engaging and I didn’t think the world building or the characters were very strong. I did like the concept of magical baking and I loved that there were elements of Hansel and Gretel incorporated into the story. There were also parts that reminded me of The Gingerbread Man, which I thought was pretty cool. All in all, it was a little bit of an average read but I recommend checking it out if you’re intrigued by the idea of magical baking or just want to read a book with lots of baked goodies in it.

Review: Yuki Chan in Bronte Country by Mick Jackson

yuki-chan-in-bronte-country

Publisher: Faber & Faber
Release date: January 21, 2016
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 272
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The new novel from Mick Jackson, Booker Prize-shortlisted author of The Underground Man and Ten Sorry Tales.

‘They both stop and stare for a moment. Yuki feels she’s spent about half her adult life thinking about snow, but when it starts, even now, it’s always arresting, bewildering. Each snowflake skating along some invisible plane. Always circuitous, as if looking for the best place to land…’

Yukiko tragically lost her mother ten years ago. After visiting her sister in London, she goes on the run, and heads for Haworth, West Yorkshire, the last place her mother visited before her death.

Against a cold, winter, Yorkshire landscape, Yuki has to tackle the mystery of her mother’s death, her burgeoning friendship with a local girl, the allure of the Brontes and her own sister’s wrath.

Both a pilgrimage and an investigation into family secrets, Yuki’s journey is the one she always knew she’d have to make, and one of the most charming and haunting in recent fiction.

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are mine.

Yuki Chan in Brontë Country was a little bit of a strange read for me. I had no idea what to expect going into this book but it surprised me and disappointed me at the same time. It was an incredibly insightful book with a lot of wonderful elements but it wasn’t as emotional as I would’ve liked it to be.

This book starts off with our main character Yukiko travelling to Haworth, which is a place that’s associated with the Brontë sisters. The story is ostensibly about a young Japanese tourist visiting notable Brontë landmarks, but we soon realise that Yuki is no avid Brontë fan. She quickly escapes from the tour she’s joined and sets off on her own journey around Haworth. We get to see Yuki’s true agenda as she walks around searching for places that her mother visited a decade ago, hoping for some clue or insight into her mother’s mysterious death. Along the way she meets some interesting characters, forms a new friendship and uncovers what really happened to her mother 10 years ago.

My favourite aspect of this book were definitely the characters. I can count the number of characters in this book on one hand, but I really appreciated that we got to see so much of Yuki. I could feel the loneliness yet wonder of travelling alone in a foreign country and I thought this book really captured the tone beautifully. Yuki is a very intelligent and independent character and I thoroughly enjoyed following her around on her quest to uncover the secrets of her mothers death. I liked her focus and her tenacity, and the fact that she wasn’t afraid to find ways to get what she wanted. Her character was complex and completely relatable, and I just wanted to be her friend because she was so smart and funny. She’s a character that is likeable from the very first chapter and I couldn’t help but be sucked into her story.

The pace of this book was slow for the most part, but I enjoyed how much the pace and the writing of the book added to the atmosphere of the story. The slow pace really complemented the mysterious and the slightly eerie paranormal elements in the book. The writing was extremely calming and soothing and had wonderful flow throughout the book. The mix of humour with melancholy worked beautifully in this book, and I felt like I was there with Yuki as she navigated the snowy winter days and nights in Haworth.

I have to admit that I didn’t always know what was going on in the book, but it almost didn’t matter because everything was wrapped up so nicely at the end of the book. The building sense of discomfort and melancholy ended with such a cathartic release that I felt very satisfied with what I read. Of course, I wished that the book could have been a little bit longer and more fleshed out, in order for me to connect even more with Yuki’s story and the emotion behind her loss, but overall I thought this was a wonderful and charming story.

Review: The Lake House by Kate Morton

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Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release date: October 21, 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN13: 9781742376516
Pages: 608
Goodreads || Book Depository || Booktopia (RRP: $AU32.99)

A missing child…

June 1933, and the Edevane family’s country house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much anticipated Midsummer Eve party. Alice Edevane, sixteen years old and a budding writer, is especially excited. Not only has she worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she’s also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn’t. But by the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night skies, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great that they leave Loeanneth forever.

An abandoned house…

Seventy years later, after a particularly troubling case, Sadie Sparrow is sent on an enforced break from her job with the Metropolitan Police. She retreats to her beloved grandfather’s cottage in Cornwall but soon finds herself at a loose end. Until one day, Sadie stumbles upon an abandoned house surrounded by overgrown gardens and dense woods, and learns the story of a baby boy who disappeared without a trace.

An unsolved mystery…

Meanwhile, in the attic writing room of her elegant Hampstead home, the formidable Alice Edevane, now an old lady, leads a life as neatly plotted as the bestselling detective novels she writes. Until a young police detective starts asking questions about her family’s past, seeking to resurrect the complex tangle of secrets Alice has spent her life trying to escape…

MY THOUGHTS

5 stars

I won a copy of The Lake House from Allen & Unwin in a Goodreads giveaway. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

This is the first Kate Morton book I’ve had the pleasure of reading and I’m now kicking myself that I’ve never picked up any of her earlier books, even though I’ve been walking past them at the bookstore for years and years! This book was mysterious, thrilling, endearing and just fantastic! I am also a big fan of historical fiction, and this book definitely doesn’t disappoint in that regard.

I very rarely read mysteries because I’m not very good with suspense – my heart just can’t handle these things – but The Lake House had me captivated. There is so much mystery in this novel, but there wasn’t anything that gave me a feeling of wrongness. Everything felt like it was in the right place. There are countless twists, turns and misunderstandings, and a constant sense of suspense and mystery, but everything fit together perfectly like a puzzle. I loved how clever the plot was, and every time I thought I’d figured it out, I would learn something new. The Lake House just never ceased to shock and amaze me.

The plot had me guessing the whole time. It was expertly created and it kept prompting me to think for myself. I did eventually guess what had happened, about 30 pages before the big reveal, but this wasn’t because the book was predictable. It was because the great plot and writing really made me try to solve the puzzle for myself, while the characters were doing the same thing. The reveal of what happened that night made complete sense and I thought the ending of the book was so heartwarming and I felt such a sense of closure that I couldn’t help tearing up a little. Everything was tied up neatly.

I thought the pace of the book was perfect. The mystery unravelled at just the right pace for me. It gave me enough time to digest what was happening without being too slow. I thought the pace of the book gave it a very historical and peaceful feel, which was perfect for the setting of the novel. I also thought the writing style really complemented the story and was just a joy to read. The flow of the writing is amazing and very comfortable to read. I’ve watched a couple of interviews with Kate Morton in the past, and as I was reading The Lake House, I could almost hear her voice narrating the book to me.

I was incredibly intrigued by all of the characters. I was fascinated by the story of the Edevanes and I wanted to know more and more about each of the characters and their stories. I loved all of the secrecy and the message that everybody has their own secrets to hide. I felt like I was there with each of the characters and I felt their sorrow, pain and anger along with them. It’s been a while since I’ve connected with the characters in a book as much as I did with the Edevanes.

There is romance in this book and there were so many scenes that made my heart flutter. There are many instances of insta-love but I didn’t really mind it. For me, historical fiction almost has this magical, unknown quality to it, and insta-love has the same magical feeling to it. Because of this, I didn’t mind the instant connections at all.

I highly recommend The Lake House to readers who enjoy historical fiction, mysteries and romance. But I think anybody who enjoys fantastic writing should pick this up, because The Lake House is 600 pages of the best writing.

Review: The Landing by Susan Johnson

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Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release date: August 26, 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760113933
Pages: 288
Goodreads || Booktopia (RRP: $AU 29.99)

In one swift, blindsiding move, Jonathan Lott’s wife leaves him. What he and his daughters find even more confusing is that she has left him for a woman. How is it possible that Jonathan saw no sign of her unhappiness?

Wondering what he will do now, and knowing a life lived alone is not for him, Jonathan retreats to his beach house at The Landing. Is it true that an about-to-be-divorced man in possession of a good fortune is in need of a new wife? Would Penny Collins do, divorced herself, a school teacher and frustrated artist? What about beautiful, wild Anna, blown in from who knows where, trailing broken marriages behind her?

With passion, family splits and secrets, everyone seems to be looking for something. And Jonathan’s about to find out how much love matters.

Susan Johnson’s stunning new novel, written with her trademark wit and insight, brilliantly observes what it is to be human and to love: the betrayals, the long and the short alliances, the disappointments and the joys. The Landing celebrates it all.

MY THOUGHTS

35 stars

I received a copy of The Landing from Allen & Unwin. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Landing is a wonderfully written book that explores the different sides of love and humanity, the idea of home and belonging, and appearances vs reality. It is a light and mostly happy novel that delves into some deep and heavy themes.

The book is set in a small coastal town called The Landing, near Brisbane in Australia. Our main character, Jonathan Lott, a 55 year old and almost-divorced construction lawyer, escapes to The Landing for the weekend to get away from his left-over feelings for his estranged wife. But The Landing is anything but relaxing. It’s a place full of gossipers and people who know everything about everybody who reside there. We soon come to realise though, that everybody has something to hide and that we only show a fraction of our true selves to the world.

She knew life was counterfeit and her new self was counterfeit, too. She sometimes felt breathless with an inner recklessness at what she, or anyone, could do. Why, everyone was fake; their public faces put on, every single day.

In this book, we see characters idealise and romanticise love, only to realise that reality is anything but ideal. We see characters dream about greatness and ambition, only to realise that they are no closer to their dreams than they were the day before. We see characters put on masks and acts of confidence in order to hide their own self-doubt. This book explores how each of us are trying to find our own place in the world where we can find a balance between reality and our dreams/appearances, a landing if you will.

There isn’t very much that happens in this novel. It’s an in depth exploration of the character’s lives and the different sides of human nature. There’s not much of a plot, which made me a little bit bored at times. I also had a little bit of a hard time getting into the book. The first 20 or so pages were very slow and I didn’t think I would enjoy the book at all. Thankfully, I really warmed up to the characters and started to enjoy all their stories and disappointments. This book also jumps back and forth in time, as we revisit past events, and I really enjoyed that it was written this way. There were scenes that felt very nostalgic and heartwarming.

The writing in this book was beautiful. Susan Johnson has such a way with words. I ate up every single word. The only problem I had with the writing were the lengthy paragraphs of descriptions of nature and the wind blowing and the flowers blooming and the birds calling. There were so many of these long-winded descriptions in the first 30 pages that I could not engage with the book. As we started to see more of the characters, these descriptions dropped off.

Despite what the blurb of the book may suggest, this is not a book about Jonathan Lott. While he’s one of the key characters in the novel, we see many other characters too. There’s Penny, who was once the most beautiful woman in The Landing, but now a divorced high school art teacher, whose daughter ran away (and then came back) with a man older than her own father. There’s Marie, Penny’s disagreeable mother, who was a refugee from France. There’s little Giselle, who’s neglected by her mother and has to take care of herself. The book is written from the perspectives of all of these characters and more. This was perhaps one of the biggest problems I had with the book. It jumped from one perspective to another too much for my liking. I would have much preferred to read from only two or three perspectives.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book but there were times when it felt a little bit draggy. I would probably have enjoyed it more if there was a little bit more action. I did love the pace and the tone of the book, and I really appreciated how much The Landing made me introspect and think about where I stand in the world.

Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Release date: September 24, 2015
Format: Paperback
ISBN13: 9781408867785
Pages: 306
Goodreads || Book Depository || Booktopia

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to keep afloat in the midst of economic and social collapse. Living in their car, surviving on tips from Charmaine’s job at a dive bar, they’re increasingly vulnerable to roving gangs, and in a desperate state.

So when they see an advertisement for the Positron Project in the town of Consilience – a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own – they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for this suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month, swapping their home for a prison cell.

At first, all is well. But slowly, unknown to the other, Stan and Charmaine develop a passionate obsession with their ‘Alternates’, the couple that occupy their home when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire take over, and Positron looks less like an answer to prayer and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

MY THOUGHTS

3 stars

I received an ARC of The Heart Goes Last from Bloomsbury Australia. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I don’t really know how I feel about this book. There were things that I really enjoyed but also some things that turned me off. I liked the concept of the book, and that was what made me want to read it in the first place, but I feel like the whole book was just about how people are obsessed with sex.

The Heart Goes Last takes place in the near-future after the economy has kind of collapsed. Our main characters, Charmaine and Stan, are living in their car and surviving on the very little money Charmaine makes. When they find out about the Positron Project, which seems very much like a utopia, they sign up immediately. This was the first thing that bothered me. They pretty much sign up for this utopian scheme without thinking about it and considering the pros and cons, even though this project is FOR LIFE. Once you enter Consilience, you’re not allowed to leave or have any contact with the outside world. Even though they’ve been warned by people not to enter the project, Charmaine and Stan sign up without any hesitation. That just didn’t seem very believable to me. They don’t even really believe in the ideals of the scheme after they’ve signed up FOR LIFE, though they want to I guess.

Stan has never heard so much bullshit in his life. On the other hand, he sort of wants to believe it.

I wasn’t really into the book until about 100 pages in. The first 70 or so pages felt a little bit boring and slow. I couldn’t really picture the real world they were in that was apparently so anarchic that they had to stay in their car almost 24/7 in case it was stolen. I could picture Consilience and the Positron a little bit better but I just didn’t feel like it was completely believable. I think the story really picked up when we got to about page 120, where there’s a twist. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting it at all and I started to enjoy the book more after that point. The book picks up in pace and we start to see a bit more humour, which I actually found to be quite humorous. I loved the whole scheme to take down Positron from within and how Stan and Charmaine get involved in this plan separately and unknowingly.

My problem with this book were the characters. They were all very dislikable and flawed. It seemed like they were all sex-crazed and it was the only thing they could think about. The book is filled with people obsessing about sex, having sex, watching others have sex. I just wanted a lot less of it. It was like sex as the only thing on their minds. And of course, this being a Margaret Atwood book, feminism is a big theme in the book. Men are portrayed as predators and women their victims. The men wanted to have sex with every woman they came across. A sex-bot business was formed so that men could have a sex doll customised to look and sound like the women they wanted. And men were having sex with chickens when they were separated from the women in the prison. I almost couldn’t deal with the book by this point, but luckily the plot twist came soon after…

I really did not like Charmaine in this book. She was very self-important and put down people who she thought were not as pretty or skilled as her. For most of the book she thinks only about herself and her own goals. When she first becomes obsessed with the ‘Alternates’, she comes up with a plan (in her imagination only) to brutally kill Stan so that she can be with Max, the Alternate. I don’t want to spoil, but there are other instances where she formulates selfish plans in her head to get her out of bad situations. I just thought she was despicable. I liked Stan a little bit more because he seemed to be more level-headed, though he was also obsessed with sex (and at times seemed very pushy with Charmaine about sex). In general, I just thought most of the characters were nasty.

Overall, I did end up enjoying the plot but there were some things that I didn’t find to be very believable. I didn’t connect with or like any of the characters and I wish they had some redeeming qualities. I found some parts of the book to be funny and I enjoyed those parts a lot. I just wish there had been less emphasis on sex because the main message of the story, about freedom and free-will, was lost.