Monday, 29 July 2013

The Prince's Man

The Princes Man (The Five Kingdoms #1)

By Deborah Jay


5 out of 5

Synopsis
Think James Bond meets Lord of the Rings. Award-winning fantasy, THE PRINCE'S MAN, is a sweeping tale of spies and deadly politics, inter-species mistrust and magic phobia, with a touch of romance. 
Rustam Chalice, hedonist, dance tutor and spy, loves his life, never better than when he's bedding a gorgeous woman. So when the kingdom he serves is threatened from within, he leaps into action. 
Only trouble is, the spy master, Prince Halnashead, teams him up with an untouchable aristocratic assassin who despises him. 
And to make matters worse, she's the most beautiful woman in the Five Kingdoms. 
Plunged into a desperate journey through the mountains, the mismatched pair struggle to survive deadly wildlife, the machinations of a spiteful god - and each other. 
They must also keep alive a sickly elf they need as a political pawn. But when the elf reveals that Rustam has magic of his own, he is forced to question his identity, his sanity, and worse, his loyalty to his prince. 
For in Tyr-en, all magic users are put to death.

Review
Tyr-en is one of the Five Kingdoms, and prides itself on being the most educated and civilised.  But even in a country run by noble Families (all ranked by land and wealth), not everybody is acting honestly.
The closest relative to King Marten, Prince Halnashead, is in charge of security and recruits those best at playing the game of subterfuge.  Two of his best agents are Charmer and Dart must work together to discover who is behind a plot to usurp the throne.
Rustam, also known as Charmer (no further explanation needed) is a talented dancer, who is confident in himself and in his unswerving loyalty to Halnashead and Marten.  He never feels out of his depth, and his only real worry is making sure his appearance remains perfect.
Risada, our assassin Dart, is on the surface a respectable lady of the Second house.  She keeps herself distant from the rest of the nobles, hardened by a constant fear and worry for her younger brother, and a desire to finally find her parents' killer.

The story initially revolves around the splendour of the noble houses, where the game is much more subtle, while they hone in on their suspects.  But when they find things are on a bigger scale than they could have imagined, they suddenly finding themselves in the wilderness as they try to both escape their enemy and find new allies.
Jay paints a vivid world, that we are treated to in this dangerous adventure that tests our heroes to every limit.  Including having them question everything they had ever taken for granted.
Rustam's trials and changes are most clearly portrayed.  He was a very effective spy, but he develops some very useful extra skills, as well as throwing off the shallow persona and actually taking time to think about the world around him.
Risada stays true to herself, and to her friends the whole way through, but it is clear that the adventure has also opened her mind to possibilities she never considered.

I loved all the extra characters that were around, either in the background, or just coming forward for a chapter or two.  They were all convincingly strong and well-written.
Princess Annasala; Betha; Leith - Jay has a knack for writing strong female characters.
And of course, we can't forget Nightstalker!

There were a couple of niggles I had with reading this story that stopped the flow a little.  I found the section in the mountains, and the repeated troll problem a little long; I just wanted them to get to Kishtan.
Also I found it unclear how old Lord Melcard was, he kept being described as a handsome man, with dark features, always very reserved etc.  I got the feeling that he was slightly older than Rustam and Marten etc.  But then there was the reveal that the elf had been captive for possibly 30 years or more, which would make him twice that if he had been the one to do the capturing.
There was also a small issue with the format of the text.  Whenever an Italic thought was used, the font of the whole paragraph was larger.  I thought my eyes were playing tricks at first.

But overall, a bloody good read, with adventure and plenty of amusing turns.  I can't wait for the next in the series!

Goodreads link
Amazon.co.uk

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicle #2)

By Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl


2 out of 5

Synopsis

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen. She struggles to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. Ethan Wate finally meets the girl who haunts his dreams. On her birthday, she must choose good or evil. In a town with no surprises, this secret could change everything.

Review
A part of me wishes I hadn't read any reviews before reading this book. There are a few constant themes in the reviews - that it's very long-winded; Ethan acts like a bitchy high school girl; and he spends so much time slating the clearly less intelligent people around them.
And it's all true. But I kinda think that if I hadn't known these faults before opening the book, they wouldn't have annoyed me as much as they did.

It is a very long book (nearly 600 pages), and I found it hard to keep going, and did put it down several times, wondering if it was worth picking up again. The first half of the book is a blur, in the 300 pages, I couldn't tell you anything that happened. Oh, apart from a broken window, there was a broken window.
The second half was better, things started to pick up. There were interesting revelations, and some action. But with the repetitive denials from Lena, and the equally repetitive half-optimism from Ethan; I kinda wanted Lena to actually turn Dark, an apocalypse looked appealing.

Over the course of the book, there was no point where I felt anything for the young couple that were in love before first sight. Strangely enough, my favourite part was when Link had his dreams come true and became a rock star, with a hot girl/Siren on his arm.

I don't think I'd recommend this book to my friends, but I definitely wouldn't dissuade anyone from reading it.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Stitch

Stitch (Stitch Trilogy #1)

By Samantha Durante


4 out of 5

Synopsis
Her heart races, her muscles coil, and every impulse in Alessa's body screams at her to run... but yet she's powerless to move.

Still struggling to find her footing after the sudden death of her parents, the last thing college freshman Alessa has the strength to deal with is the inexplicable visceral pull drawing her to a handsome ghostly presence. In between grappling with exams and sorority soirees - and disturbing recurring dreams of being captive in a futuristic prison hell - Alessa is determined to unravel the mystery of the apparition who leaves her breathless. But the terrifying secret she uncovers will find her groping desperately through her nightmares for answers.

Because what Alessa hasn't figured out yet is that she's not really a student, the object of her obsession is no ghost, and her sneaking suspicions that something sinister is lurking behind the walls of her university's idyllic campus are only just scratching the surface...

The opening installment in a twist-laden trilogy, Stitch spans the genres of paranormal romance and dystopian sci-fi to explore the challenges of a society in transition, where morality, vision, and pragmatism collide leaving the average citizen to suffer the results.


Review
The story starts with torture and solitary confinement.

Then we suddenly wake up with Alessa, a perfectly normal young woman that is in her first year of college.  She might be a bit of a loner, withdrawn from the social hub that is her sorority house.  She spends her time revising and working on papers, and generally does well in all her tests.  Perhaps a little more unusual, is the fact that she keeps seeing a ghost of a boy.  These ghostly visits become an obsession as she digs into the history of this town to find out who he is.  Then the question arises - can Alessa save this boy and his family from his fate.
The story starts as a teen drama/paranormal romance, then it suddenly swings into the future dystopian genre as it is revealed that nothing is as it seems - Alessa is not who she seems, and even she does not know.  Her enemies have installed a "Stitch" in her mind, which cuts off certain memories, leaving them to be replaced with whatever her captors have designed.

I downloaded this for free from Amazon a while ago, and it sat on my kindle while I worked through my reading list.  When I got to this book, I had completely forgotten what it was about.  I had forgotten that it was supposed to be a dystopian story, and I enjoyed what I thought was a college story about a ghost and a mystery that needed solving.  So the twist of the story, that Alessa wasn't really a student, and the college is rigged with cameras and the setting for something much more sinister.

When Alessa starts to remember, and reality breaks through it was a bit of a scrabble to catch up and try and learn about the world that Durante has created.  It felt a little like two separate stories that were snapped together.  Both were good, but I'm looking forward to book 2, where I'm hoping we get to concentrate on the rebel movement in Paragon.

Goodreads link
Amazon.co.uk

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Humans

The Humans

by Matt Haig


4 out of 5

Synopsis
The critically acclaimed author of The Radleys shares a clever, heartwarming, and darkly insightful novel about an alien who comes to Earth to save humans from themselves.

“I was not Professor Andrew Martin. That is the first thing I should say. He was just a role. A disguise. Someone I needed to be in order to complete a task.”

The narrator of this tale is no ordinary human—in fact, he’s not human at all. Before he was sent away from the distant planet he calls home, precision and perfection governed his life. He lived in a utopian society where mathematics transformed a people, creating limitless knowledge and immortality.

But all of this is suddenly threatened when an earthly being opens the doorway to the same technology that the alien planet possesses. Cambridge University professor Andrew Martin cracks the Reimann Hypothesis and unknowingly puts himself and his family in grave danger when the narrator is sent to Earth to erase all evidence of the solution and kill anyone who has seen the proof. The only catch: the alien has no idea what he’s up against.

Disgusted by the excess of disease, violence, and family strife he encounters, the narrator struggles to pass undetected long enough to gain access to Andrew’s research. But in picking up the pieces of the professor’s shattered personal life, the narrator sees hope and redemption in the humans’ imperfections and begins to question the very mission that brought him there.

Review
This is the story of a superior race interfering with a mathematical discovery on Earth to halt human progress.  Because humans should remain shackled to their own little planet and leave the rest of space in peace.
So they infiltrate the human world by sending one of their own in the disguise of a Cambridge professor.  He has a simple task - to destroy all information of the discovery, whether it lies in the files of a computer, the pages of a notebook, or the brains of the professor's loved ones.
But another mission raises it's head unexpectedly - it is the perfect opportunity to observe these un-evolved humans, to learn there patterns and was, and why they cluster together in families.  Why there is beauty in music, and why peanut butter tastes good.

This is a very sweet story at heart.  Oh, it is surrounded by plots and murder, lies and betrayal.  But at the centre of it is an outsider that considers himself superior to humans, discovering that the value of human life is not always in the mathematical and scientific discoveries that are news-worthy on a galactic scale.  It is love, compassion and connection.  It is helping overcome bullies; it is taking the time to enjoy life, and notice the smaller things.

"The Humans" is a very easy book to read, a little too easy sometimes - I did often wonder if the numerous chapter breaks and page-long chapters were there to bulk out the book.  It often felt like there was filler and spaces, where the book could have been condensed down to a much thinner copy.
Which was evidenced in a very long list: "Advice for a human" that our main character writes to his son.  And all 97 points are written down.  But you know what, at least 95 of them made me smile.

Definitely a feel-good book.

Goodreads link
Amazon.co.uk

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Hetaera: Daughter of the Gods

Hetaera: Daughter of the Gods

J.A. Coffey


3 out of 5

Synopsis
*Mature Content*
She was the original Cinderella....Doricha is twelve when her father is murdered by a roving band of Greeks. Betrayed by a jealous priestess and sold into slavery, headstrong Dori loses her most valuable possession-her freedom. She hopes that one day she can truly be free, but not even Aesop, her mentor, can protect her. The harsh world of classical Greece has little use for the minds of women, and she finds her body traded to another owner, who transports her to a new life of luxury and political turmoil in the faraway deserts of Egypt. All she has to do is be beautiful, all she has to do is love him, and she will be kept safe. The problem is, Dori doesn't want to be kept--by any man. Not even the god-king Amasis, Pharaoh of Egypt. 

From the ancient Thracian temple of the Bacchae to the exotic lands of Egypt where political intrigue coils like a nest of asps, Dori learns that fulfilling her father's dying wish is not about bands around her wrists so much as it is bands around her heart. Based on persons and historical events of 26th dynasty Egypt, HETAERA fictionalizes the life of Doricha/Rhodopis--a most extraordinary woman who changed the world. 


Review
Doricha is a young girl, destined to join the priestesses that honour Dionysus - the Bacchae.  But her world is thrown into torment as her Thracian village is attacked by Greeks, the young girl watches her father killed, and kills a man to escape.
The story follows her life from then on, shifting from one place to another, never feeling like home.

Hetaera is a story that sweeps across the ancient world of Greece, Thrace, Egypt, and all the countries that surround them.  It honours and respects each of these places and their customs, Coffey has painted a very real scene through which our heroine moves.
The Cinderella reference is a mild one, used to good effect.  It does not feel like Doricha's tale was forced to fit the bones of the fairytale; but when similarities crop up, it is enough to make you smile.

But not quite five stars for me.  It is very well told, but it was very hard to get into.  I know that the life of a girl whose father is murdered, followed by the betrayal of her priest and priestess tutors, followed by years in slavery isn't going to be a "nice" story.  But I felt that it was all dark, without light; and without that contrast, it took on a monotony that was hard to push past.  It is definitely one of those books that you need to be in the right mood to read.
The strength of the book hung on the shoulders of Doricha.  Unfortunately, I did not like the lead character for the most part.  I found her unyielding and selfish.  She was incapable of accepting her position, and unwilling to change it.  For years.
It was only when she hit her lowest point and arose as Rhodopis that I began to like her.  She suddenly had purpose, and saw those beyond herself.  The second half of the book flew by, because all of a sudden I couldn't put it down, just to see what happened to Rhodopis.
Luckily the first half of the book featured my favourite character, Aesop.  He was smart, and strong, and willing to stand for what he believed right, in a way he knew would make men listen, not rebel.


Even though the Pharaoh of Egypt is mentioned in the synopsis, and does play an important role in the story; he does not actually feature until the very end.  I felt that the anticipation of waiting for him to appear in the story did overshadow what went before.

Goodreads link
Amazon.co.uk