Book Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Hi all,

Laini Taylor is masterful at weaving worlds, conjuring characters, and creating conflict, making her one of my favourite authors. Her talent at writing compelling descriptions of scenes and emotions, using words I would never consider stringing together in a sentence, leaves me in awe.

Laini’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is one of my favorite series, even though it took me the best part of fifty pages to get into the story in the initial book. Strange the DreamerAnd that’s my main issue with Strange the Dreamer, Laini’s latest offering. This one took half the book: it’s so slooow.

Now don’t get me wrong, Laini is such a gifted writer. It’s just that the aspect of her writing that I applaud the most, the one I struggle with most in my own writing, began to grate on my nerves while reading this novel: descriptions, pages and pages of them. Add loads of internal exposition which felt, at times, repetitive and unnecessary, and the plot dragged, bogged down by the length and weight of it all.

Maybe it’s my fault. After all, I’ve read a lot of fast-paced action-fuelled books recently, some of which, I admit, could’ve used a little more description. But Strange the Dreamer is so laden with poetic prose and flowery words that I struggled to read too much of this novel in one sitting, needing to take a break more often than usual. It took me three weeks to read this book, a lot longer than for most. The descriptions came close to overpowering the fascinating plot.

So speaking of plot, Strange the Dreamer starts with the death of a character (it was like, Wow! What a start! when I read it) before falling back in time to the story of Lazlo Strange. Lazlo’s a bookworm obsessed with an “unseen city”, a place whose name disappears in an instant and which becomes known as Weep. Without giving away too much of the narrative, Lazlo’s character eventually becomes intertwined with Sarai, a godspawn brimming with conflict, conflict, conflict!

The characterization of Lazlo, Sarai, and others is fantastic – I especially love Eril-Fane, with his cursed nickname of Godslayer, and Azareen, his long-suffering wife. Saying that, there are an awful lot of secondary characters whose relevance I failed to see. Maybe their relevance will be revealed in the upcoming sequel, The Muse of Nightmares.

Strange the Dreamer’s backstory teems with magic, science, love, and war – such a powerful mix – and the world-building is extraordinary, to say the least.

This novel is a love story unlike any other; the ending pulled at my heart strings. I was hoping against hope that my suspicions would not be confirmed but, alas, they were. I’d guessed how the story ended, or rather, the dilemma to tempt us to read the sequel. Damn, I hate it when that happens…

So will I read it, The Muse of Nightmares? Yes, I’d like to know how the story continues.

It may just take me a while to get through it 🙂

Until next time,

Rebecca

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Book Review: New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey

I’ve always found the idea of time travel to be quite scary. So much can go wrong. The same can be said for writing time travel novels. When I came across Daniel Godfrey’s novel, New Pompeii, with its “Gladiator meets Jurassic Park” concept, I was intrigued.
In this novel, a company called NovusPart has worked out how to transport people from past to present and uses this technology to yank citizens of Pompeii through time (right as Vesuvius is erupting in AD 79, I might add). It brings them to a replica city in modern time, New Pompeii, where the citizens believe they have been saved from the eruption by the deity emperor, Augustus Caesar.

After exploring the dungeons of Rome’s Colosseum in June, and having visited Pompeii itself on a previous trip to Italy, I was fascinated with where this story would travel (so to speak).

The protagonist, Nick Houghton, a history graduate brought in by NovusPart as an advisor, soon learns that the company has not thought through every implication of its actions. For instance, NovusPart gives New Pompeii’s citizens fairly limited rights and freedoms, and seems to overlook that these citizens come from a society responsible for many of the advances we utilise today:

“So, Nick,” said Whelan. The NovusPart operations chief took a step forward. “What do you think the most important thing is, in making all of this work?”

Nick’s mind cycled quickly, trying to find an answer that wouldn’t make him look stupid. The buildings? The logistics? The technology?

No.

The people.

New Pompeii’s residents have been told by NovusPart men (assumed to have been sent by Augustus) that it is too dangerous to travel outside the city as the Italian peninsula has been severely damaged by the eruption and is in turmoil. However, these people are intelligent and questioning, which is especially apparent in the small details, read, anomalies, they observe (for example, carrots in AD 79 did not have the added colour of carrots grown today). Their increasing doubts and concerns serve to build tension between the two cultures.

I enjoyed reading about the political and cultural aspects of Roman life – what a fascinating period in human history – but found a few errors in depiction. For example, those of relative importance such as our protagonist would usually travel with an attendant in tow. Yet Nick took off on more than one occasion to explore New Pompeii on his own, without a thought as to what the citizens would think of this and how they might judge him. And with limited regard for his own safety in a community becoming more and more on edge.

And then there’s the second story running through the narrative concerning a dead girl in a bath, which I found more distracting. Although it ties in with the main plot near its conclusion, I thought it added little to the novel and could easily have been left out.

For the most part, New Pompeii was a decent read, with action-packed scenes, and articulate characterization and dialogue. However with such an intriguing concept, the author could have done so much more in terms of the clash of eras and its potential ramifications. Instead, the narrative fell short and the conclusion was less than satisfying. Saying that, I am interested to read Empire of Time, the sequel released a couple of months ago. I’d still like to see where things “travel” 🙂

Hope your own travels are great!

Rebecca

What time travel novels have you read that you liked, or didn’t like, and why?

Book Review: On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Hi all,

“Damn, I wish I wrote this”, is the thought that usually comes to mind while reading books by one of my favourite Aussie authors, Melina Marchetta. On the Jellicoe Road (published in the US as Jellicoe Road) is no exception.

Why has it taken me so long to read this book (first published more than a decade ago), when I absolutely loved Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, Melina’s two previous YA books?

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At least now I have read it.

When I headed off to Europe a couple of months ago, I wanted to take something with me that oozed distinct #LoveOzYa flavour. On the Jellicoe Road fell into my lap a few days before I left, so I stuffed it in my bag and read it while cruising Welsh canals.

And…it…was…wonderful.

So what’s it all about?

Taylor Markham, a seventeen-year-old boarding school student at Jellicoe School in country New South Wales, was abandoned by her mother in a 7-Eleven restroom when she was eleven. At that time, a woman named Hannah began caring for her, but Taylor grows to suspect that Hannah hides knowledge about Taylor’s mother.

When Taylor was fourteen, a hermit whispered something in her ear (which she can’t remember – along with other pockets of her life) before he committed suicide in front of her. Taylor ran away to search for her mother and, on the way, met Jonah Griggs, a military school cadet who, she’s been told, killed his own father.

I love the dialogue when they met:

“Do you know when the next train to Yass is coming?” I had asked.

“Go to hell,” he said, but there was a desolate fear in his eyes and I couldn’t look away.

“Been there. Trust me. It’s so overrated.”

So Taylor opened up to him, but felt betrayed when he called an adult to come and collect them.

Now seventeen, Taylor has put up a wall to the world and is no longer willing to trust. By a weird political process, she finds herself chosen to lead the Jellicoe School kids in the next round of territorial wars between them and the cadets (with Jonah as their leader) and the townies, a group of students who live in town and whose leader has history with one of Taylor’s few true supporters.

Taylor must face Jonah again as enemies. To make things worse, Hannah, the constant in Taylor’s life and the one person she trusts, disappears.

While most of the story is told in Taylor’s first-person point of view, there are also snippets of another tale, told in third-person and concerning a group of kids brought together following a car accident which claimed the lives of some of their parents. The connection between the two stories is beautiful, but heart-breaking.

I won’t say any more – there is so much more I could – except that, after a surprisingly slow start, this story gathers momentum until, by the end, I nearly wept. So many small, seemingly insignificant, details connect in a beautiful tale of the power of family, love, and forgiveness. The characters are memorable, the writing fantastic, and the story completely moving, which only serves to reaffirm Melina’s place as one of Australia’s best YA authors in my eyes.

On Melina, I’ve referred to her in a previous post, when she wrote a great piece on the implications of the Productivity Commission’s proposed changes to intellectual property on the Australian publishing industry, Australian writers and readers. You can read it here:

Alibrandi, Francesca, You and the Productivity Commission

For more about Melina and her books, visit her website.

Now back to my own writing,

Rebecca

 

 

Book Review: Red Queen Series (so far) by Victoria Aveyard

Hi all,

I have a hard time not reading a book in its entirety. Once I start, I feel like I’ve failed if I don’t read to the end. Or maybe the book has failed me?

I suppose this is why, after four failed attempts at getting beyond the fifty-page mark of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, I gritted my teeth and persevered. After all, I had been given the three books in the series so far, as well as the companion book, Cruel Crown, which includes two short back stories from the point of view of supporting characters.

Am I happy I persevered enough to read all four?

No. And, yes.

Let me explain.

This series consists of a hierarchical dystopian society complete with a girl who finds out she has a special power, a potential love triangle (or quadrangle, depending on how you look at it), and a growing rebellion. Those with extraordinary powers (the Silvers) wield these powers to maintain control over those without (the Reds). Trouble is, the main character, a Red girl named Mare, develops a special power of her own. The Silvers are not pleased, to say the least, and try to pass Mare off as a long-lost Silver (yeah, right) until they can figure out what to do with her. With no choice but to live this new life, Mare tries from within royal circles to help the Red rebellion.

I don’t want to say much more about the actual story – I hate posts brimming with spoiler alerts – so instead…

First of all, I found Mare a little annoying, probably due to the fact that much of her dialogue was followed up with internal monologue and/or explanation (loads of Tell over Show here, guys). I was seldom allowed, as the reader, to come up with my own interpretation on how she was feeling and what she was thinking. I also found many of the characters quite stereotypical – evil queen, loyal best friend, wise older teacher, mean girl gang, and traditional older prince. A bit ho-hum.

The plot twists as a whole came across rather weak and poorly conceived. For instance, on her first day on the job and with no training, Mare was put to work at the most important event on the calendar. Really? Was this the best way to introduce her special skill? And the main villain was too easy to identify. If someone’s too good to be true, they usually are, right? Too cliché.

But my biggest peeve was the use of point of view. Take the first book, Red Queen, written in Mare’s first-person point of view. This girl sure has an amazing way of hopping into another’s head. Another special power, perhaps? For example:

“Maven is more desperate, surprising himself as much as me. He knows I’m sinking fast, a stone dropped through the river. And he wants to drown with me.”

This continues in Glass Sword, the second book:

“Grateful for the change in conversation, he pulls himself together.”

And King’s Cage, the third book:

“He walks forward, fighting the deep instinct to fear this place.”

How does Mare know what these characters are feeling??? In each of these examples, there is no indication through their actions or words that would lead her to these conclusions. She may suspect, especially in the later books once she knows these characters better, but they are all still assumptions on her part. Is she some sort of all-knowing deity?

So why did I continue? Why did I read them all? Because once I finished the first book, there was no going back. For all of its simplicity, and as long as I could take note of flaws and move on, I came to enjoy the story Victoria Aveyard had created and the world it inhabited. I grew fond of the characters, under-developed though they may be, especially some of those supporting. Going forward, the stories surrounding characters such as Evangeline and Cameron actually interest me more than Mare’s. Something to do with their internal conflict, I suspect.

So if you want standard run-of-the-mill escapism, and don’t dissect the plot/characters/style too much, this series could be for you. But if you’re looking for something totally unexpected and fresh, with writing that leaves you breathless, hmmm, maybe not so much.

Will I buy the next book? Maybe…yes, unless I’m given that one as well 🙂

I’ve come too far.

Until next time,

Happy writing (and reading),

Rebecca

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Hi all,

I’ve just finished a YA contemporary fantasy book I really want to tell you about. It’s “The Rest of Us Just Live Here” by Patrick Ness, and the reason I want to speak about it is that it is so different to a lot that I’ve read lately in this genre.

The Rest Of Us 2

By different, I mean it turns the “chosen one” concept on its head. Big time. The blurb on the back of the book starts with, “Not everyone has to be the chosen one”, and how right Ness is.

The chosen ones (called the Indie kids) deal with supernatural attacks in the background (previously from vampire and soul-eating ghosts, and now from some group known as the Immortals). The real story of this novel is how the regular guys deal with everyday life, every bit as interesting and important, while these attacks occur in the peripheral. Ness successfully flips the priority by only allowing a short outline at the start of each chapter to explain what is going on in paranormal battle. The body of each chapter is about the main character, seventeen-year-old Mikey, and his family and friends. Only the occasional peep into the happenings of the Indie kids is allowed during the main narrative, and only when it threatens to, and eventually does, cross over into Mikey’s life.

Mikey, himself, suffers from major anxiety, his sister nearly died from an eating disorder, his mother is obsessed with entering politics, and his father’s a drunk. Add to this the fact that Mikey’s confused about his feelings for his best friend, Jared, and a pretty childhood friend, Henna, and he’s got a lot on his mind – and his mind doesn’t deal well with it all.

My favourite chapter is when Mikey returns to see his therapist. The dialogue between the two is insightful, and highlights the pressures teenagers can feel about who they are and how they fit into their peer group and the wider world. However, I didn’t find it preachy, as it plays a part in a decision Mikey makes at the end. There’s no action in the traditional sense in this chapter (not like when Mikey’s group flee from approaching pairs of mysterious blue eyes…) but it had my eyes riveted to the pages just the same.

“The Rest of Us Just Live Here” is funny in parts, slightly satirical in others, and downright touching in most. It highlights that real life is here and now, and can be just as hard and scary as anything superheroes must contend with. I could tell you more but that would give too much away. Let’s just say you should read it to find out…

Now I’d like to read the Indie kids’ version of this story, even though I know how it ends. Please, Mr. Ness?

Until next time, happy writing (and reading),

Rebecca