Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire)

Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire)Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1) by Seanan McGuire
Published by Tor.com on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 173
Format: audio
Source: Scribd
Goodreads

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward ChildrenNo SolicitationsNo VisitorsNo Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

 

It’s no secret by now that I’m a big fan of Mira Grant’s books, but having pretty much exhausted all of her works recently, I decided to start on the series she’s written under the name Seanan McGuire instead.  One of the first I’ve picked up is Every Heart a Doorway, which I chose for a couple of reasons – I saw Ellie’s review of Down Among the Sticks & Bones (another book in the series), I loved the sound of the premise, and it happened to be available as an audiobook on Scribd at the moment I went looking.  Seemed a bit like fate really!  Every Heart a Doorway tells the story of Nancy, who travelled to another world but has ended up stuck back in ours, desperately wishing she could go back.  Driven to desperation, her parents send her to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, where she meets other kids just like her, who’ve been to other places but now find themselves stuck where they started.  All of the students at Miss Eleanor West’s home want to travel back through their doors more than anything, but when a student is killed they get drawn into the mystery and wondering if they might be next.

“Her parents loved her, there was no question of that, but their love was the sort that filled her suitcase with colors and kept trying to set her up in dates with local boys. Their love wanted to fix her, and refused to see that she wasn’t broken.”

Students have travelled to worlds that are so unlike our own, but also so unlike each other’s, and each of them is changed by the experience.  They’ve also been affected by OUR world too though – for whatever reason, most of them felt they just didn’t fit until they found their door and what lay on the other side.  The cast of characters is great; each feels unique, and well-developed, and as is often the case with Grant/McGuire books, they’re wonderfully diverse.  For some characters, their diversity is crucial to their plot and story, and for others it’s just an incidental background fact, which is great.  I liked the characters, and I especially loved Jack and Jill, so I knew I’d definitely want to follow this up with Down Among the Sticks and Bones, which explores their backstory.

 “Nobody gets to tell me how my story ends but me.”

The story is quite dark and twisted, and if you’re a fan of Christina Henry, I imagine you’ll like this.  The premise is great, the cast are great, and the murder mystery is intriguing, but I didn’t love it quite as much as I wanted to, or as I felt like I should.  There’s a lot crammed in, and the reflection on our world gives you plenty to think about and dwell on all on it’s own – but it’s a very short story.  I would have happily spent a lot longer with these characters and their world, so I do wish this was a full-length novel.  It’s definitely worth a read though, and you can bet I’ll be picking up every additional story McGuire gives us in this world.

“Real’ is a four-letter word, and I’ll thank you to use it as little as possible while you live under my roof.”

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

[Series Snapshot] The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan

by Rick Riordan
Published by Disney-Hyperion, Hyperion Books, Hyperion Books for Children Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Format: audio
Source: Scribd

[Series Snapshot] The Kane Chronicles by Rick RiordanThe Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
Published by Disney-Hyperion on May 4th 2010
Pages: 516
Goodreads

Since their mother's death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane.

One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives.

Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them —Set— has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe - a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.



Series stats

Author: Rick Riordan
Number of books: 3
Total number of pages: 1404


Opening line:

We only have a few hours, so listen carefully.


Status on my shelves:

I borrowed all three from Scribd as audiobooks.


Why I picked this series up:

I’ve been catching up with Rick Riordan’s books, because I have several friends who are fans.  Having finished Percy Jackson & The Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series, the Kane Chronicles seemed like the next logical step! I was nervous about new characters and new mythology, but I decided to give it a go anyway.


Overall thoughts:

The first thing to say is that these work excellently as audiobooks.  The books are written as if they’re typed transcripts of an audio recording which has been left by Sadie and Carter, so they’re the ideal format for audio.  I listened to the unabridged BrillianceAudio editions, narrated by Katherine Kellgren (for Sadie’s chapters) and Kevin R. Free (for Carter’s chapters) and I thought both did a great job!  The story begins when Sadie and Carter watch their Egyptologist father summon something in the British Museum before disappearing.  Sadie and Carter have been raised separately – Carter by his father, travelling the world and homeschooling, and Sadie by her grandparents in London.  These two relative strangers are forced to work together as they get caught up in a world they never knew existed.

One of Riordan’s strengths is his character cast, and while I didn’t find anyone to top Leo (my favourite character so far!) or Nico, Riordan’s characters are as always well-rounded and relatable.  As I’ve come to expect from Riordan now, we also get characters who are diverse but who’s diversity isn’t a driving plot point: it’s just a reflection of the world, and I love that.  Sadie and Carter are both likeable, relatable characters.  Sadie is witty, and sarcastic and generally made me laugh the whole way through. She’s also very believable: she has both friends and people she doesn’t get along with, she isn’t a character who’s astoundingly smart and perfect and does no wrong, or sounds like she’s much more mature than she truly is.  While I didn’t love Carter as much, he too has a convincing, authentic voice throughout the series; older, feeling burdened with responsibility for his younger sister, but still ultimately a teen at heart.  The supporting characters – Anubis, Walt, Bes, Bast and the others – are also interesting and likeable.

The first book picks up quickly, and this series doesn’t suffer from middle-book-syndrome: it keeps up the pace from book 1 right through to the end of book 3.   I won’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but I really enjoyed the way Riordan worked the Gods into this series – it feels fresh and interesting, and it makes for some really interesting twists and the occasional ethical dilemma.  Having said that, the mythology feels shallower in this series than the Greek mythology in the Olympians/Heroes of Olympus.  That’s obviously to be expected when there are only three books to play with here, compared to 10 for the Greeks, but this series does somehow feel a little less in-depth generally, a little less mature, certainly in comparison to the Heroes of Olympus series.  The series is quick and enjoyable though – I finished all three books within about two weeks, which doesn’t sound fast but is pretty much unprecedented pace for me and audiobooks.  All in all, I didn’t love it as much as his other series so far, but if you’re a fan of the other series, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this one too.

One StarOne StarOne Star

Lady Midnight (Cassandra Clare)

Lady Midnight (Cassandra Clare)Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on March 8th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 698
Format: audio
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

In a kingdom by the sea…

In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word.

A parabatai is your partner in battle. A parabatai is your best friend. Parabatai can be everything to each other—but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles, where vampires party on the Sunset Strip, and faeries—the most powerful of supernatural creatures—teeter on the edge of open war with Shadowhunters. When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge—and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks…and before the murderer targets them.

Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets. What has Julian been hiding from her all these years? Why does Shadowhunter Law forbid parabatai to fall in love? Who really killed her parents—and can she bear to know the truth?

The darkly magical world of Shadowhunters has captured the imaginations of millions of readers across the globe. Join the adventure in Lady Midnight, the long-awaited first volume of a new trilogy from Cassandra Clare.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★

I have a somewhat rocky track history with Cassandra Clare’s books… I loved books 1-3 of The Mortal Instruments but I thought 4 was pretty poor, and then ended up enjoying 5 & 6.  I’ve tried multiple times to get into The Infernal Devices, but despite having read Clockwork Angel I remember almost nothing about it and felt decidedly underwhelmed by it.  I put off picking up Lady Midnight because I assumed I’d need to have read The Infernal Devices first, but since I had an audible credit to spend I thought I’d just give it a try and look up a wikipedia summary for if I really needed to.

Lady Midnight follows Emma Carstairs and the Blackthorns, five years after City of Heavenly Fire. Based mostly at the LA Institute, this is a shadowhunter world that’s both familiar and still a little new to us as readers.  We’ve got characters that we know, sort of – we met Emma and the Blackthorns in City of Heavenly Fire – as well as new characters, like Kit Rook and Kieran.  We’ve got a few plot threads to follow throughout Lady Midnight: the return of Mark, who’s both changed and unchanged by his time in faerie, Emma’s search for evidence of what happened to her parents, and her desperate desire for revenge, and Emma and Julian’s potentially-veering-into-dangerous-territory feelings.

I have to say, I actually love most of the characters. Julian, like Jace, is a little too perfect-seeming for me at times, but I loved his siblings.  I instantly liked Kit and both Emma and Christina are very easy to like. The family dynamics between the Blackthorns are great, and the intense feelings stirred up by Mark’s return led to some moments that tugged on the heartstrings!  The romance definitely wasn’t my favourite aspect – one of my least favourite things in YA, especially when there’s a big cast, is when everyone gets paired off so neatly, with their forever partners (I don’t love all of Maas’ pairings for the same reason!) – but I didn’t dislike it. It felt plausible enough, and I could see why each would like the other, even if I thought everyone’s feelings were a little over the top!

Listening to audiobooks always takes me longer than reading a book of the same length because I only listen while walking to work (which I don’t do every day) and briefly to fall asleep.  Having said that, I listened to nearly 20 hours of audiobook in just under a month, which is a little higher than usual probably, because I was enjoying it!  While Morena Baccarin probably won’t be making it onto my list of all-time favourite narrators – which are all men so far, weirdly – I did find her very pleasant to listen to, and I’d happily listen to another audiobook she narrated.

I enjoyed Lady Midnight a lot more than I expected to, and as soon as I got another audible credit, I bought Lord of Shadows, and listened to it pretty much straight away.  You can bet I’ll be getting book 3 when it’s out too!

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Wolf Brother

Review: Wolf BrotherWolf Brother (Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, #1) by Michelle Paver
Published by Orion Children's Books on May 27th 2005
Genres: Action & Adventure, Family, Hard Science Fiction
Length: 6 hours 25 minutes
Format: audio
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Thousands of years ago the land is one dark forest. Its people are hunter-gatherers. They know every tree and herb and they know how to survive in a time of enchantment and powerful magic. Until an ambitious and malevolent force conjures a demon: a demon so evil that it can be contained only in the body of a ferocious bear that will slay everything it sees, a demon determined to destroy the world.
Only one boy can stop it—12 year old Torak, who has seen his father murdered by the bear. With his dying breath, Torak’s father tells his son of the burden that is his. He must lead the bear to the mountain of the World Spirit and beg that spirit’s help to overcome it.
Torak is an unwilling hero. He is scared and trusts no one. His only companion is a wolf cub only three moons old, whom he seems to understand better than any human.
Theirs is a terrifying quest in a world of wolves, tree spirits and Hidden People, a world in which trusting a friend means risking your life.

Wolf Brother is one of those books that’s been on my radar for as long as I can remember, but only in the vaguest sense: I could picture the cover, I could tell you it was a children’s book, and that’s pretty much it.  Recently, having finished The Dresden Files audiobooks, I wasn’t sure what to spend my next audible credit on, but somehow ended up on the page for Wolf Brother.  The plot sounded intriguing enough – historical fiction, fantasy elements, a wolf! – but what really sold me was the fact that Sir Ian McKellen narrated it. I mean, let’s be honest, he has a voice just made for storytelling and I assume he must have been asked to read a lot of audiobooks by now, but for some reason this is the one he decided to go ahead with.  It’s quite short by audiobook standards – only 6.5 hours – which is good because it means you get through it quickly, but slightly less good in terms of value per credit 😉

Torak is likeable, Renn is pretty great, but the character who makes the book is of course, Wolf. The way he thinks – calling the humans ‘tailless’es, and an arrow the Long-Claw-That-Flies – is great, and he’s certainly the character I got most attached to.  As expected, McKellen’s narration is great, and the plot moves on quickly throughout the story; what could easily have been multiple books is instead just under 300 action-packed pages.  The downside to the quick pacing is that everything is pretty quick: relationships, plot development, character growth, are all pretty instantaneous.  I felt Torak found everything just a little bit too easy; he doesn’t have much in the way of strategy, or a plan, or if I’m totally honest, much of anything that particularly suggests he should be the hero of the story, apart from his ability to talk to Wolf.  The writing style is also pretty simple, and while it touches on a few darker themes, there’s no forgetting it’s a kids book.  Obviously kids are the target audience, but I think it’s a little disappointing that the pacing and writing could put off adults for whom the setting and storyline had crossover appeal.

Despite my issues with the book, I loved the setting, the survival skills elements were really cool, and the obvious research Paver has done really shines through.  I’m probably intrigued enough to get around to the rest on audio, if only because McKellen’s narration was so great.  Sadly though, I definitely think I’d have enjoyed this alot more if I’d discovered it as a kid.

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