Review: Strange The Dreamer

Review: Strange The DreamerStrange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on March 28th 2017
Pages: 544
Goodreads

A brand new, heart-stopping novel and the first in a thrilling duology from the much-loved author of the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy, Laini Taylor.

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around - and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he's been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?
The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries - including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo's dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

In this sweeping and breathtaking new novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.

I was late to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, only picking up the first book at the beginning of 2016, despite having had it on my TBR for a long time.  I ended up loving it (as everyone had predicted) so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Strange The Dreamer – could it possibly live up to Taylor’s original trilogy?  In particular, where Daughter of Smoke and Bone was urban fantasy, Strange the Dreamer is true fantasy and while I much prefer new worlds, I have to admit that made me a little nervous – would Taylor’s world-building for a totally new world be as addictive?

Short answer: yes, and yes. I needn’t have worried!

Strange the Dreamer opens with a gripping mystery – the blue girl who died, and the people’s terror of her – and it had me hooked pretty much straight away.  After the intial drama of the opening, Lazlo’s life at the library is definitely a slightly slower pace, but I still loved getting to know Lazlo, the mysterious background of Weep, and to a lesser extent, Thyon Nero.  Taylor’s writing is beautiful, and between the way the writing flows so smoothly and the gripping story, I flew through this in a week – and I have to admit, I was savouring it, and could have finished more quickly but I just didn’t want it to end!

The characters in Strange The Dreamer are great, and although I can understand there maybe wasn’t space given how long the book is already, I’d have liked to see a bit more of some of the supporting cast.  Calixte is already a firm favourite, and Lazlo is a character I found very easy to connect with – his wishful dreaming of the mysterious city while everyone dismisses him, the way he doesn’t quite fit in, his love of books and of stories all made him so relatable.  I was seriously intrigued by Thyon Nero, Eril-Fane and Azareen, and I loved Sarai and the others.  This isn’t a black-and-white, good-and-bad kind of story (notice how my favourites never are?!) and I loved the depth of each of the characters, their flaws and shades of grey.

Strange the Dreamer has everything I hoped for and more; the romance is sweet, and tender, the story is addictive and full of twists, the writing is beautiful and the characters are just great fun.  All in all, I think I loved this even more than Daughter of Smoke and Bone – the fact it’s fantasy rather than urban fantasy, and the depth of the world-building and story made this feel more like a fantasy with a romance, than a paranormal romance, which Daughter of Smoke and Bone occasionally felt like.  If you’re new to Laini Taylor’s writing, or you didn’t quite love Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I’d definitely pick this up!  And if you’re already a fan, pick this up for more of what we’ve come to expect from Taylor: beautiful writing, wonderful characters and swoon-worthy romance.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: A Game of Thrones (20th Anniversary Illustrated Edition)

Review: A Game of Thrones (20th Anniversary Illustrated Edition)A Game of Thrones: The 20th Anniversary Illustrated Edition by George R.R. Martin
on 18/10/16
Genres: Fantasy
Format: Hardback
Source: From my shelves
Goodreads

Published in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of George R. R. Martin's landmark series, this lavishly illustrated special edition of A Game of Thrones-with gorgeous full-page illustrations in every chapter-revitalizes the fantasy masterpiece that became a cultural phenomenon. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the North of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective Wall. At the centre of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a region of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavours to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

I got given A Game of Thrones a few years ago as a present, and didn’t really get into it.  I didn’t get very far before I gave up and put it down, but when I eventually came back and gave it another try I got hooked pretty quickly, and it’s become one of my favourite series.  I’ve been thinking about re-reading for a while now, since it’s been so long since I first read the books, but I’ve been putting it off because I’m worried about finishing the re-read and then still having another year or more to to wait for Winds of Winter – in which case I’ll have forgotten everything again by the time it gets here!  I knew when I first saw the Illustrated edition that I wouldn’t be able to resist it, and when I got it for Christmas I decided it was time to finally start that re-read.

The text itself of course, is the same as that of the original edition, but I found I enjoyed it at least as much if not more on second reading.  The story takes a little while to really take off, and I think knowing that it does pick up, and it is awesome, and it is absolutely worth investing the time in, made all the difference to my enjoyment – I wasn’t reading it and wishing it would hurry up, or daunted by the prospect that maybe the whole book would be slow, so I didn’t mind the pacing, and I really enjoyed getting to focus on the background set-up and details without feeling impatient.  Martin’s characters are amazing, and it’s funny how on second reading my opinions have changed: the first time around of course I loved Tyrion, Jon Snow and Daenarys, but the second time around, knowing so much more about the characters, I’m also analysing so much more some of my new favourites (like Jaime Lannister and the Hound <3).  The story is addictive, and although I don’t truly love Martin’s writing style all the time, there are some amazing quotes too.

The illustrated edition is truly beautiful, and I definitely felt like the illustrations added to the overall reading experience.  The images are stunning, and it’s impossible not to get sucked into admiring and analysing them everytime you come across one.  The book itself is pretty heavy, and I was conscious of damaging it, so in terms of practicality, it’s definitely one I’d rather read at home than carry in my bag to read on my lunch break.  The other thing that’s worth bearing in mind is that the illustrations aren’t always in the perfect placing – if you haven’t read the book before, there’s at least one illustration I can think of which comes right before a significant chapter and plot twist that would spoil things for you if you didn’t know what was coming.  Personally, I’d only pick up an expensive gift edition like this if I was very confident I’d love the story (either because I’d already read it, seen the show, or because it was a favourite author).  That, plus the fact that Game of Thrones spoilers abound, I think it’s unlikely you’d end up reading this not knowing what was coming, but it’s worth bearing in mind the possible spoilers if you are (somehow!) coming at it totally fresh.  A worthy purchase for any fan!

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Orphan X

Review: Orphan XOrphan X by Gregg Hurwitz
Published by Penguin on September 1st 2016
Genres: Mystery, Thrillers
Pages: 427
Goodreads

'Do you need my help?' It was the first question he asked. They called him when they had nowhere else to turn.
As a boy Evan Smoak was taken from an orphanage. Raised and trained in a top secret programme, he was sent to bad places to do things the government denied ever happened.
Then he broke with the programme, using what he'd learned to vanish. Now he helps the desperate and deserving.
But someone's on his trail.
Someone who knows his past and believes that the boy once known as Orphan X must die . . .

I got Orphan X for Christmas, so it hadn’t been sitting on my shelves too long before I just had to pick it up. I don’t read many mysteries/thrillers, but I mix things up with one occasionally, and the person who bought me this knew (rightly) that “top secret government programme” are words absolutely guaranteed to get me to pick something up!

Orphan X picked up fairly slowly but then got addictive – over a few days I slowly got to 25%, but then I was totally hooked on the remaining 75%. The story is action-packed, with plenty of twists and turns as Evan tries to help his latest client while also being hunted by person(s) unknown.

Current day Evan Smoak has a kind of James Bond vibe going on, without quite so much charm. He’s wealthy, he kicks ass, and he approaches relationships with cold calculation. He’s likable enough, but at times a little too perfect for me: he thinks three steps ahead, is extremely efficient and (most of the time at least) is detached from life and people, because they just get in the way. I find that with the majority of thrillers I pick up, there just isn’t enough character depth for me, and while Orphan X definitely had more interesting, complex characters than I expected, I’d have still liked more. Hurwitz’s writing is detailed and engrossing, but I wouldn’t have minded a little less of the technical fighting and weapons details in exchange for a little more character time. I absolutely loved some of the supporting characters, the moments when Evan is thrown off his footing in a social situation, and seeing him try to blend in during day-to-day life.

I really enjoyed the flashbacks to young Evan – to his recruitment into the mysterious orphan programme, his training and his mistakes. I’d love to see more of this, but I can also understand that it slows the pacing down and so it makes sense to stick mostly in the current events. Orphan X was an interesting, gripping start to the series and I’ll definitely be picking up book two (but not so-secretly hoping for a little more secret government conspiracy).

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: A Taste Of You

A Taste of You: The Epicurean Series Book 1 by Sorcha Grace
Published by Everafter Romance on May 17th 2013
Genres: Erotica, Love & Romance
Pages: 374
Format: eARC
Source: Library
Goodreads

A young food photographer's appetites are awakened when she is swept off her feet by a handsome billionaire gourmand. Beautiful and talented Catherine Kelly is starting over as a food photographer in Chicago. With her painful past buried in California, she's focused on her career and is hungry for little else. Until she meets a wealthy bachelor with arresting blue-grey eyes filled with enough tragedy to match her own. William Lambourne is rich, powerful, and gorgeous--and as talented in the kitchen as he is in the bedroom. From the moment they meet, William is determined to discover the perfect recipe to unlock Cat's resolve, awaken her senses, and make her his own. Book 1 in The Epicurean series, A TASTE OF YOU will leave you hungry...for more!

Although I generally don’t like the idea of guilty pleasure books – from where I’m sitting, if you’re reading, who cares what it is?! – I can’t ever seem to stop myself from feeling a little guilty about the occasional erotic romance I pick up.  I feel about them the same way I do about ready meals – I feel like I should want to pick up something more nutritious, more healthy, less processed and yet some days, I just want to eat the ready meal (actually this isn’t a great analogy because I frequently want to eat the ready meal and only occasionally get drawn in by the erotic romance, but the idea is the same).

I pretty much knew when I decided to start A Taste of You that it would be very formulaic – insecure woman meets rich, mysterious, secretive man, and the two get involved in a controlling relationship which alternates between awesome sex and terrible communication.  I know the stories are often repetitve, but I just can’t help but pick one up every now and again, and although A Taste of You follows that basic formula, I think it’s one of the better ones.

It thrilled me to think that this man wanted me.  It made me feel sexy and powerful, even though I was completely at his mercy.

Cat Kelley is interesting: she has hobbies, passions, friends.  She has a history.  She’s had relationships – successful relationships – before she ever meets William Lambourne, so she sees the red flags just as we do, instead of being totally naive.  William Lambourne fits the same mould as Christian Grey etc, although we get to see a little bit of personality shine through towards the end of the book which I liked.  Their will-they-won’t-they relationship kept me engrossed, even though some of Cat’s moments of insecurity did make me want to shake her occasionally.  Their back stories are both interesting, the sex-scenes are steamy, and the food descriptions both in and out of the kitchen are evocative, adding an extra dimension to help A Taste of You stand out.

A Taste Of You delivers exactly what you expect and I flew through it in a couple of days.  It was enjoyable enough, but even with the cliffhanger ending (which sadly, I thought was very predictable!), I probably won’t be reading the sequel unless I can find it at the library.

Review: Armada

Review: ArmadaArmada by Ernest Cline
Published by Crown Publishing on July 14th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 349
Format: audio
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.
But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.
No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.
It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

At once gleefully embracing and brilliantly subverting science-fiction conventions as only Ernest Cline could, Armada is a rollicking, surprising thriller, a classic coming of age adventure, and an alien invasion tale like nothing you’ve ever read before—one whose every page is infused with the pop-culture savvy that has helped make Ready Player One a phenomenon.

After I adored Ready Player One I went into Armada with pretty high expectations, which unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to.  As with Ready Player One, I decided to listen to the audiobook, and as usual, Wil Wheaton’s narration was fantastic, but for some reason, I still found I just never got truly hooked on Armada like I did Ready Player One.

There’s plenty to like: the plot is fun, the characters are likable, it’s got the same love for geeks vibe as Ready Player One, but Armada just didn’t wow me like I expected it to.  I think actually what killed Armada for me, was one of the things I loved most about Ready Player One – the constant pop-culture references.  They were a fun addition that made me feel awesome whenever I got them in Ready Player One, but even without them, the story was addictive enough, and the characters relatable enough, that I’d have been hooked.  In Armada, I felt like a lot of the humour, and even plot points and emotional depth, were supposed to come through these references, and that meant wherever you didn’t get one, the story just felt a bit flat.

I’d spent my entire life overdosing on uncut escapism, willingly allowing fantasy to become my reality.

I loved the idea – Ender’s Game is a huge favourite of mine and it’s the same principle – and I loved the mystery of the video game that showed up in arcades, drove a few kids insane and then mysteriously vanished again. I loved Zack’s mother and their relationship, and I liked the constant banter between characters.  There’s a plot point which I can’t talk about without spoilers but which I thought was clever, and fun, and that I loved.

Ultimately, maybe I’m just the wrong kind of geek for this one to ever truly click for me, because I felt like there were a lot of game references that went over my head (I really want to love gaming but my skills are still hovering around about Crash Bandicoot and Pokemon so I tend to give up very early on…).  I wonder if I’d picked this up having not read Ready Player One I would have enjoyed it more, but to be honest I’m not sure that’s the case – I think if I hadn’t already trusted Cline because of Ready Player One, I’d have got fed up of the pop-culture references and eventually DNF’d the book.  There were moments very early on in the story when I couldn’t seem to get hooked and the only thing that kept me going was knowing that I’d LOVED Ready Player One and trusting that Cline would do something awesome with this book too.  Overall, Armada was a fun read and I enjoyed it – but I didn’t love it.  I’ll definitely be giving it a re-read later on though, because I think expectations really let this one down, and I think I may well like it a lot more going in with a better idea of what to expect.

One StarOne StarOne Star