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.

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Review: A Street Cat Named Bob

Review: A Street Cat Named BobA Street Cat Named Bob: How One Man and His Cat Found Hope on the Streets by James Bowen
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on March 1st 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Social Issues
Pages: 279
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed
Goodreads

The moving, uplifting true story of an unlikely friendship between a man on the streets and the ginger cat who adopts him and helps him heal his life.

In 2017, I joined a book club.  It’s a pretty tiny club, but just like all book clubs, the whole idea is that we take turns choosing books, read them and then discuss them.  A Street Cat Named Bob was our book club choice for January, and although not something I would normally pick up, I decided to give it a chance.

James Bowen is a recovering drug addict who is trying to get his life together when he comes across Bob, an injured and apparently stray cat.  He takes Bob in for a little while while his injuries heal, but to his surprise, Bob seems to have no desire to leave, and soon the two are pretty much inseparable.

To be honest, I don’t feel like there’s a huge amount I can say about A Street Cat Named Bob.  I got pretty much exactly what I expected.  The story is touching, and life-affirming, and if you’re an animal-lover, it’s impossible not to be charmed by Bob.  It’s great to see James’ perspective of life on the streets and trying to get things back on track, as well as the hurdles he has to overcome in order to do so.  The writing isn’t great, but it didn’t bother me to the same extent as a lot of other reviewers.  It’s a very quick, simple read that only took me a couple of hours, and while I enjoyed it, there were definitely moments that grated.  A lot of Ellie’s review resonated with me.  I felt like James was trying really hard throughout the book to break prejudices and assumptions about homeless people, Big Issue sellers and those recovering from drug problems, and that he made quite a few comments determined to prove his own good nature, but then had his own prejudices and judgements against others.  For example…

By far the most annoying people to work the streets around me, however, were the bucket rattlers: the charity workers who would turn up with large plastic buckets collecting for the latest cause.  Again, I sympathised with a lot of the things for which they were trying to raise money […] they were all great worthwhile charities. But if the stories I had heard about how much of the money disappeared into the pocket of some of these bucket shakers were true, I didn’t have much sympathy.

In all honesty, it’s a lovely, touching, uplifting story, and of course all the Bob moments are great, but I wonder if perhaps I would have enjoyed the film more.

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Review: Morning Star

Review: Morning StarMorning Star by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising #3
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on February 11th 2016
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopia, Science Fiction
Pages: 512
Format: ARC
Source: From the publisher
Goodreads

Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society's mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.
Finally, the time has come.
But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied - and too glorious to surrender.

Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Addictiveness: ★★★★★

When I read it…

I took just over a week to read this one, between February 5th and 14th 2016.

What I’d heard before I read it:

All good things! [Sidenote, anyone else incapable of hearing the phrase ‘All good things, all good things’ in a voice other than Olaf’s from Frozen? Just me?]  Morning Star was by far one of my most anticipated reads for 2016 so I couldn’t wait to read it, but I’d deliberately not gone looking for reviews in fear of spoilers. I had seen a few comments on twitter though, and they were all VERY favourable!

What worked for me:

  • The plot: Sometimes, a writer tries so hard to be unpredictable that it becomes predictable (Steven Moffat & Doctor Who for example), but that wasn’t at all the case with Morning Star. Given the ending of Golden Son, I didn’t think Morning Star could shock me – I was wrong.  There was at least one occasion where I wanted to update my GR progress and couldn’t think of a single update that didn’t involve swearing because I was so surprised by what had just happened.  Morning Star‘s plot is brilliant; full of epic drama and exciting plot twists that meant I just didn’t want to put it down.
  • The characters: There are so many characters to love, and love them I certainly do! Sevro, of course, remains the favourite, but I also adored Ragnar, had a total soft spot for Kavax au Telemanus and Sophocles, and loved how kickass Victra is.
  • The relationships: From Sevro and Darrow’s witty back and forths to Victra’s casual flirting to the Howler initiation, Morning Star is full of funny, teasing moments between characters that had really believable, satisfying relationships.  In a book that could otherwise be so dark, the humour is surprisingly frequent, and I loved that – while the drama is still heart-pounding (and at times heart-warming and heart-breaking) the book felt epic rather than grim.
  • The world-building: From the beginning of the series, Darrow’s world has fascinated me, and with each new book we get more details about the intricate, complex world that Brown has created.  I particularly loved seeing the Obsidians, meeting Alia Snowsparrow and Sefi and seeing a bit more of Ragnar’s world.

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • Mustang: I found Mustang a little less likeable in Morning Star than in the first two books – maybe just because we had so many other awesome female characters who were more readily accessible!  I didn’t dislike her, and I certainly still wanted her to get her happy ending, I just found her a little harder to connect with than the other characters.

Something worth mentioning…

  • I’m not sure why, but it took me a little longer than I expected to get truly engrossed in Morning Star.  I’m not sure how much of that was because I was reluctant for the series to end or due to nerves that the book wouldn’t live up to my hopes (which it did!) or even that I was too excited to concentrate 100% (this genuinely happened on the first day I tried to read it) but I didn’t feel as instantly addicted as I did with the two earlier books.  Once I did get hooked, I just didn’t want to put it down, and it was every bit as gripping as I’d expected it to be based on Red Rising and Golden Son.  The question of WHY it took me longer to get hooked (whether it was the pacing of the first section, or whether it was a matter of timing/my reluctance to finish the series) is one I’ll figure out when I re-read, but I thought it was worth mentioning.  If you’ve started Morning Star and aren’t instantly hooked, rest assured you will be soon!

Overall thoughts:

I had to think for a while on the ending of Morning Star and whether it was satisfying, but ultimately I’m very happy with it – it wasn’t what I expected, but the more I thought about it the more I realised I couldn’t think of anything I would have found more satisfying!  Now that it’s all over, I’m confident in saying Red Rising is one of the best trilogies I have ever read.  I adored Red Rising and Golden Son and have been pushing the books on friends and family even more than usual since reading this truly awesome finale.

If you’re looking for something light and fluffy, this is definitely not the book for you. If you’re looking for an awesome plot, kick-ass characters and a fantastically built world then this is absolutely the book for you – just be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster too!

Other Reviews of Morning Star: Stephanie’s Book Reviews | Rabid Reads | Star-Crossed Book Blog

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Red Rising (Pierce Brown)

Red Rising (Pierce Brown)Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising #1
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 28-01-2014
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Goodreads

The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity's last hope.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it's all a lie. That Mars has been habitable - and inhabited - for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield - and Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda.

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

 

The storyDarrow is one of the Reds burrowing deep into Mars to mine the elements needed to terraform the planet so that the other colours can one day join them.  Or so he believed.  Helped by a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow is disguised as a Gold, one of the ruling class, and manages to obtain entry into The Institute, where Golds learn and compete for apprenticeships.  Darrow hopes to work his way up from the inside, but the Institute may be more than he bargained for – and he soon finds out that not all Golds are created equal.

The story is dramatic, gripping and full of twists and turns – but it’s also dark and gritty.  If you’re expecting fluff, or romance, or anything of the like, put Red Rising down and step away!

 

The characters
Darrow is great.  I can definitely understand the comparisons between him and Ender (of Ender’s Game). Both are old beyond their years, occasionally ruthless and hrd, but also compassionate.  Darrow is, with good reason, driven by fury and hatred of the Golds, and it’s absolutely impossible not to sympathise with him.

Brown’s writing is evocative and emotional, and it will suck you into Darrow’s mind and world.  You feel Darrow’s heartbreak, his rage, his shock, as he does.  His love for Eo comes through so clearly which also makes him very easy to like.

There are a lot of characters in Red Rising but it’s hard to comment on many without spoiling elements of the story.  I will say I thought the women were great – Eo, Mustang and – to a lesser extent – Harmony are strong, fierce, opinionated and independent women you can’t help but like.

 

final thoughts

Red Rising was slightly darker than I expected – more adult than YA I would say – but I really liked it despite, or perhaps because of, that.  It’s refreshing to read a dystopian novel that stands out, both because of the unusual setting and the dark events that Darrow and the other characters are put through.

There were a few things I didn’t think were perfect about Red Rising.  For one thing, the language took me a little while to get used to, and the sheer number of Houses was a little confusing at first, but overall I really enjoyed Red Rising and I’ll definitely be getting my hands on book 2!

Buy it? This is one I think is worth buying.
In a nutshell: A hugely absorbing start to the series – I can’t wait for the next book!

Other Reviews of Red Rising: Not Yet Read | Popcorn reads | Fantasy Book Cafe

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