Sooz Book Reviews is on a break. Back later in the year.
In the meantime, feel free to check out my archives.
Bye for now,
Friday, 25 March 2016
**This book was included on
SBRs Top 10 Best Reads of 2015**
Publication date: 1st January 2012
A WHOLE NEW REASON TO MIND THE GAP
It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher—and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom—if it exists at all—is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and—as of now—deadliest subway system in the world.
At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah—that’s going to go well
This is the 3rd in the Peter Grant series of fantasy-crime novels by Aaronovitch. Although it is a new mystery, some of the old characters make an appearance and, as previously, a history of London is cleverly woven into the plot, this time focusing below ground (the tube and sewers). Also, this time you get more of a feel for police work - from the mundane aspects to the excitement. I also came to appreciate their unique way of thinking. which presumably is the result of their training. This is all done with a sense of humour making it both informative and fun.
This whodunnit left me guessing all the way to the end.
I am a huge fan of these books and the best thing about them for me is the character Peter. I like him because he is smart (so I learn a lot from him) and whitty (he makes me laugh out loud). Of course, this is down to Ben Aaronovitch's writing style, which is simply brilliant.
I don't have much more to say except that I would recommend it to anyone who loves crime/fantasy and/or has an interest in the City of London.
See Rivers of London for more detail about the Peter Grant series in general.
Friday, 11 March 2016
Published by: Amulet
Genre: YA Fantasy
Alyssa Gardner has been down the rabbit hole and faced the bandersnatch. She saved the life of Jeb, the guy she loves, and escaped the machinations of the disturbingly seductive Morpheus and the vindictive Queen Red. Now all she has to do is graduate high school and make it through prom so she can attend the prestigious art school in London she's always dreamed of.
That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn’t show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland—where she (partly) belongs.
As prom and graduation creep closer, Alyssa juggles Morpheus’s unsettling presence in her real world with trying to tell Jeb the truth about a past he’s forgotten. Glimpses of Wonderland start to bleed through her art and into her world in very disturbing ways, and Morpheus warns that Queen Red won’t be far behind.
If Alyssa stays in the human realm, she could endanger Jeb, her parents, and everyone she loves. But if she steps through the rabbit hole again, she'll face a deadly battle that could cost more than just her head.
This is the second book to the SPLINTERED series.
I was disappointed with SPLINTERED - it wasn't as good as I thought it would be - so I probably should have stopped there, but I didn't hate it and I wanted to give Unhinged a chance. Things can only get better, right? Wrong!
I'm really perplexed by how heavily focused the story is on the banal lives of these teenagers (Alyssa, her boyfriend Jeb and his sister, whatever her name is).
Alyssa's mother has been freed from an asylum. She is free at last to enjoy life. And what does she spend her time doing? Apparently being fixated with the lenghth of the hem of her daughter's skirts and keeping her as far away from the boyfriend as possible - at least not without a chaperone. She may have left the real prison but clearly not the one that exists inside her head (where a women's place in society is as it was back in the 19th century).
I feel misled by this book since it suggested that, at some point, it would develop and become a fantasy novel, all the while indulging itself in unashamed gratuitous romance for teenage girls. I persevered to about 40% and then gave up.
If I were to offer a suggestion as to what is fundamentally wrong with this series it would be that it is being drawn out longer than the central plot requires, so instead - at least in the case of Unhinged - is being filled with 'padding' to compensate for it's short comings.
Like Splintered it is easy to get taken in by the attractive cover, but you know what they say about judging a book by it's cover..
My verdict: all fluff and no substance.
Friday, 4 March 2016
**This book was included on
SBRs Top 10 Best Reads of 2015**
Published by: Penguin
Published in 1908, A Room with A View is one of E. M. Forster's most celebrated works. Forster explores love among a cast of eccentric characters gathered in an Italian pension and in a corner of Surrey, England. Caught up in a world of social snobbery, Lucy Honeychurch must make a decision that will decide the course of her future: She is forced to choose between convention and passion.
Caution: this review contains potential spoilers.
I first came to the story of A Room with a View via the film version (see cover). I was about the same age as Miss Honeychurch when I saw it for the first time. Having recently read the book, I have come to understand the story better and see it differently. As a girl in my late teens, I focused on the love story (which is at the heart of the novel), whereas now I focused on the issues surrounding the main characters. E.M. Forster often wrote about the social class divide and gender inequality. In the early 1900s the industrial revolution presented an opportunity for working class people to improve their situations and, as a result, raise their status in society. This is key to the plot.
Lucia Honeychurch has two romantic suitors to choose from. There is Cecile, who I would describe as a pompous and passionless aristocrat. He doesn't need to work and considers a life of leisure to be his occupation. Then there is George, a handsome young man she meets while on holiday in Florence. George's paternal roots are working class. His father, Mr Emerson, is a retired writer (a typical 'lower-middle class' profession of the period). His profession raised his social standing and allowed him to marry 'above his station'. George is a clerk working 'on the railways', which is a symbol of his upward-mobility. Mr Emerson rejects the need for restraint when expressing one's emotions (an alarmingly non-British characteristic). He openly expresses himself and has encouraged George to do the same. Their absence of stiff upper-lips result in them experiencing a fair amount of snobbery from the 'upper class' people they encounter, both at the Pension in Florence and in the tight-knit community of Lucia's village in Surrey, England.
Lucia is somewhat confused by her predicament and decides to do what she believes is expected of her when making her choice. I am not convinced however that social class or etiquette influenced her decision to accept Cecil's marriage proposal. It struck me that Lucia was in the unfortunate state of being in love without actually realising it. This was due to her youth, inexperience and because she was not the sort of girl who was interested in love, and so when it happened to her - while in Florence - it did not occur to her that being in love was what she was experiencing. Whereas George is fully aware and (incapable of showing restraint) responded accordingly. Lucia felt frustrated at both herself and the object of her desire - George - and responded negatively to his advances, while at the same time being charmed by them (which only fueled her frustration). This is why I think she made the choice to accept Cecile - a knee jerk reaction. It took a while for her head to come around to what was happening to her heart.
It seems to me that Lucia represents the way the British typically repress their emotions. Mr Beeb hints at this when he compares the way she plays Beethoven (with passion and emotion) to the way she conducts herself in company (holding back and not revealing her true self or her true feelings).
When Virgina Woolf's character, 'Mrs Dallaway', was Lucia's age she had a similar choice to make. It was interesting to compare these two characters and the subsequent outcome that resulted from their choices.
I also found myself comparing Lucia to Margot Roth Spiegelman, of John Green's 'Paper Towns,' as she demonstrated similar characteristics (i.e. youth, inexperience and zero interest in the pursuit of romantic love) and responded to her feelings for Q in a similar way.
A room with a View is a classic that has become one of my favourites. It is a sweet love story told with intelligence and humour. It is worth reading for the bathing scene alone.
The 1986 film is one of the best adaptations of a book I have seen but it glosses over some of the (above-mentioned) themes.
Friday, 26 February 2016
Published by: Crown Publishers
Genre: Science Fiction / Dystopia
Read in 2013. re-read in 2014 and 2016
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenager Wade Watts really feels alive is when he is jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade has devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade is going to survive, he will have to win — and confront the real world he has always been so desperate to escape.
The premise of Ready Player One is interesting and I found it to be a very compelling read. Like the OASIS, I found myself completely immersed in it. It is fabulous escapism.
Although I never experienced the anxiety or sense of dread that proper Dystopia provide, it does have subtle nods to this sci-fi sub-genre, demonstrated by the contrast between the (Dystopian) real world and the (Utopian) virtual one. I did reflect on how sad a situation the main characters were in, that is, only able to interact with others and enjoy life in the virtual world, while being completely isolated and alone in the real one. The platonic and romantic relationships they have formed are with people they have never met in real life, calling into question whether they really know their friends/loved-ones.
RP1 reads like a debut to me, in the sense that there is room for improvement in the writing. (Bearing in mind that I cannot read my own first novel without wincing at certain passages). The narrative is cluncky in places, and Wade spends too much time explaining stuff to we readers unnecessarily. I found the romantic plot in particular poorly executed - parts of it are a bit cringe-worthy. With regard to the main characters (that is, the high 5: Wade/Parzival, Ar3mis, Aech, Daito and Shoto), some effort was made on the part of the author to be inclusive (in terms of gender, race and nationality) - which was refreshing - but the execution is rather clumsy and wince-inducing in parts. I will refrain from providing examples as they are plot-spoilers.
Be warned: Wade and his companions become the 'High 5' because they are super geeks when it comes to gaming and all things related to JD Halliday (the creator of the OASIS). [One would have to be a super geek to stand a chance of winning the competition.] If you find the world of gaming and/or 1980s pop culture nauseating, you may have a problem with the relentless references and the 'attention to detail' of these topics throughout the novel. On the other hand, if you can appreciate the references, like me, you'll probably love it.
I have now read Ready Player One three times. Basically, it has become my go-to-novel when I want to escape. (For example, it is ideal for illness/post-operative recovery periods or if you have a fear of flying and have to take a long haul flight.)
As you may know, I don't issue ratings and this book is an example of why that is the case. It is by no means perfect, and yet, for me, it deserves more than the max 5 stars. Highly recommended.
Friday, 19 February 2016
**This book was included on
SBRs Top 10 Best Reads of 2015**
Published by: Corgi
Genre: Sci-Fi/Dystopia (YA)
Two young people are forced to make a stand in this thought-provoking look at racism and prejudice in an alternate society.
Sephy is a Cross -- a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought -- a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum -- a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?
This novel has been on my 'to read' pile for quite some time. It has won quite a few awards in the UK and the author, Malorie Blackman, has an OBE and is the current Children's Laureate (2013-2015) - all rightly deserved in my opinion.
What I liked about it
Noughts and Crosses is a very compelling read. I was absolutely hooked from start to finish. Although it reads like a book for teenagers, the subject matter is such that it transcends easily to adult readers.
It is proper dystopia and, as such, is a rather tough read in places. Without wishing to give anything crucial away, I would say that I am glad the central story played out the way it did and with the outcome it did because, although it may be fiction, it is known that similar events have occurred in reality, and not that long ago. Examples would be South Africa during the apatheid years, and the USA during the time of racial segregation - when the KKK actually had power and influence. Malorie Blackman has stayed true to what is real, rather than sugar coating the truth.
What I liked most was the way the very first scene of the book contrasts with the events that occur thereafter. It is extremely powerful.
Room for improvement?
I found that, with the exception of Callum and Sephy, the characters were either on one side of the fence or the other, whereas, I think there would have been value in demonstrating some balance. For example, having characters who were Crosses (the ruling class) who were sympathetic towards and supportive of the Noughts (the oppressed underclass). Sephy eludes to the existance of others at her boarding school (but their solution is to wait for the ruling generation to grow old and die before they step in and make changes!). I think there would have been value in having prominant sympathetic Crosses pushing for change - even if they failed to make progress. It is important because if this imbalance were a reality Hitler and the Nazis probably would have won WWII, racial segregation in the US and apatheid in SA would still be a thing of the present. We know that the wonderful thing about humanity is that there are good, honorable people present in all races - incredibly brave people willing to give their lives to stand against rascism or religous fanaticism, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. So why aren't they represented in this book?
What I took issue with
Some parts read like the literary equivalent of melodrama. By that I mean overly dramatic dialogue while you practically hear violins in the background; all because Malorie Blackman is determined to make you cry! I felt my emotions were being manipulated, something I dislike intensely. (e.g. Lynette's story). Sally Green's Half Bad covers a similar topic and is equally hard-hitting - but absent of emotional manipulation.
Despite what I consider to be it's flaws, I would say Noughts and Crosses is an essential read because it goes some way in demonstrating exactly why racism is bad and must not be tolerated. Right now around the globe there seems to be an escalation in hatred towards anyone 'different'. May this book be a cautionary tale for young adults.
I would be cautious about the reading age for this book. I don't think my 13-year old self would have coped very well with it, but I think my 15-year old self would have handled it just fine.
Friday, 12 February 2016
**This book was included on
SBRs Top 10 Best Reads of 2015**
Published By: Peguiun
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Dystopia (YA)
This is the second book to the Half Bad trilogy. If you haven't already done so, you can also read my review of the first book, Half Bad.
Half Bad Spoiler Alert! We know from book 1 that Nathan found Mercury and along with his new found friend, Gabriel, and Mercury's apprentice, Rose, is forced to steal the 'Fairborn' (a powerful dagger) from the hunters guarding it. In the attempt, Rose is killed, Nathan is badly injured and Gabriel has to distract the hunters, drawing them away from Nathan in order to save his life.
The second instalment begins with Nathan in woodlands, having recently woken. The sound of static noise is loud and constant. He feels disorientated and so it takes him some time to understand where the noise is coming from, where he is and what is going on around him. It takes him some ime to become himself and only by keeping himself calm and his thoughts positive. We discover that, now that he is a witch, his 'gift' has manifested and keeping calm and positive is his way of learing to control it.
Nathan is doubful that his best friend Gabriel managed to escape the hunters. It is more likely that he died trying to save him, but he goes to the place where they agreed to meet should they both survive and waits. Just when he is about to give up, he discovers that someone else has found the meeting place. But is it friend or foe?
In the first chapter of this book Nathan has experienced his magical gift for the first time and the readers are shown just how challenging it is for him to get a handle of it.
Sally Green is skilled at evoking the power of the emotions the characters experience in this book. This made the relationships intriguing, particularly the extreme love and hate that exists between different family members. Also, after so much cruelty it is hard not to tear up when Nathan begins to experience randam acts of kindness (such as the help he gets from Nikita/Ellen).
The romantic love is (almost) completely absent of fluff. Okay, yes, there is the 'obligatory' YA love triangle, but at least it's not a 'typical' one.
All the way along there is a hint that someone close to him may not be what they seem and that Nathan will be betrayed and I found myself speculating the outcome in that regard. Turns out I was wrong (the plot unfolds in an unpredictable way).
I would say that this story is not as dark as the previous one. Half Bad reads like proper dystopia (i.e, it is difficult not to feel a sense of anxiety for the protagonist and anticipate dread all the way through), whereas Half Wild has been softend to read more like most of the popular YA dystopian novels out there that are - quite frankly - dystopia light (and in some cases dystopia absent). Having said that, this did not take away my enjoyment.
I should confess that I did not read this but instead listened to the audio version. This is important to declare for 2 reasons. (1) Reading the reviews of others I noticed that some readers expressed irritation because of the format of the first part of the book. (The author has attempted to emphasise the importance of static noise for Nathan, which is difficult to achieve in text form.) The audio version provides the real thing instead. (2) For me, part of the enjoyment was down to the narration by Carl Prekopp, who has done an exceptional job, adding value to this series. Clich here to check out a sample.
For me, the Half Bad series is among the very best that is on offer in YA fantasy/dystopian fiction