Review: As I Descended

Review: As I DescendedAs I Descended by Robin Talley
Published by Mira Ink on September 6th 2016
Genres: Horror & Ghost Stories, LGBTQ, Paranormal, Retelling
Pages: 370
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.
Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.
Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.
But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.
Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.
But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.
From acclaimed author Robin Talley comes a Shakespeare-inspired story of revenge and redemption, where fair is foul, and foul is fair.

When I read it…

This was a one day read on August 25th!

What I’d heard before I read it:

I’d heard a lot of enthusiasm for the blurb but I hadn’t actually read any reviews before I picked this up.

What worked for me:

  • The creepiness: I don’t read a lot of spooky stories, but I was strangely in the mood for something a bit scary when I picked this up, and As I Descended definitely delivered – part of the reason I finished this in a day is because I stayed up until some crazy time in the morning because I was too freaked to comfortably go to bed!
  • The pacing: I was hooked on this pretty early on, and I read the whole thing in a day, because the fast pacing (combined with the creepiness) meant I just didn’t want to put it down.
  • The diversity: I’m always on the lookout for more F/F relationships (especially in speculative fiction since I’m not much of a contemporary fan), and Talley has given us a great diverse cast, which was one of the elements I liked most about As I Descended.

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • The ending: I don’t really know what I expected from the ending, but I just found it ultimately unsatisfying.
  • The characters: The characters just didn’t really work for me because their motivations and their actions just never seemed to match up very well.  Characters seemed to change their opinions a bit too rapidly for me to feel they were truly believable, and I wanted more depth, more substance, for each of the characters.

I enjoyed As I Descended, just not as much as I’d hoped to.  While the premise sounded amazing, I think I just had expectations that were too high.  A few months after reading, I’m left with sadly very little impression of As I Descended, just a vague impression of spookiness and a diverse set of characters. An enjoyable enough read, but definitely not the favourite I was hoping it’d become.

Other reviews of As I Descended: Pretty Deadly Reviews | The Young Folks | That’s What She Read

One StarOne Star

Review: Running with Rhinos

Review: Running with RhinosRunning with Rhinos: Stories from a Radical Conservationist by Ed Warner
Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press on March 1st 2016
Genres: Biography/Autobiography, Non Fiction, Science & Nature
Pages: 232
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

“Running with rhinos” is not a euphemism—not when you’re ground support for the International Rhino Foundation’s Rhino Conservancy Project.
Edward M. Warner, a self-proclaimed radical conservationist, presents his outrageous adventures from more than a decade of collaboration with the veterinarians and biologists who care for endangered rhinos in Africa. Few if any laymen like Warner have been invited to do what amounts to some of the most dangerous volunteer fieldwork around.
Fewer than five thousand black rhinos remain in the wilds of sub-Saharan Africa. About five hundred live on private conservancies in Zimbabwe. For Warner, working on the frontlines of rhino conservation not only allowed him to help rhinos, it gave him the opportunity to pursue and refine his emerging philosophy of radical conservationism, to cultivate partnerships between local communities and private landowners in Africa, and to export the lessons about land and wildlife management back home to the United States.
In Running with Rhinos: Stories from a Radical Conservationist, Warner takes readers along as he weasels his way into becoming volunteer ground support for the International Rhino Foundation’s Rhino Conservancy Project, or “Rhino Ops,” in Zimbabwe. It is gritty, sweaty, sometimes scary, and exhilarating work. Warner succeeds in telling a remarkable story of the extraordinary bonds between humans—and their dedication to protecting endangered animals—all while weaving eye-opening stories about the flora, fauna, geology, geography, and politics of sub-Saharan Africa.

When I read it…

I read this between April 1st and 10th 2016.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Nothing! This was an impulse request as soon as I saw it on NetGalley, because I love rhinos and I really genuinely love a good discussion about rhino conservation approaches.

What worked for me:

  • Warner’s genuine love of Africa: Warner obviously has genuine love for Africa, and I liked the snippets of fauna, flora and geological knowledge throughout the book.
  • Comments on differing conservation approaches: Although I’d have liked to see more, I liked that Warner talked about a few different conservation approaches, such as de-horning, arming anti-poaching patrols, private land conservancies and trophy hunting.  Private land conservancies is obviously the area he feels most strongly about, and his genuine belief in this type of conservation really came across.
  • The insight into logistical conservation problems: Conservation involves huge amounts of work that aren’t as exciting as darting rhinos, and we got to see a lot of the problems field conservation programmes struggle with, such as equipment difficulties, problems importing equipment and financial constraints.  These aren’t huge, dramatic stories, but nonetheless the genuine reality of field conservation, and I liked that these were reflected throughout the book.

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • The writing style: I felt like this book was just too focused on Warner.  That might seem an odd sentiment given that the book is effectively a memoir, but on at least two separate occasions he tells us about taking people out to dinner “at the most expensive restaurant in town” and he also casually mentions buying someone a new car.  The new car does contribute to field work at least, but none of these stories felt like they really added anything worthwhile to the story.
  • Dismissive comments: There were a few occasions where comments that I think were supposed to come across as funny, fell totally flat to me.  Warner says “The only reason I haven’t gone into politics is that I refuse to demean myself”, that he found it “intolerably boring to go on game drives with tourists” and uses the phrase “Bambi environmentalists” a few times to disparage conservationists who are against  trophy or sport hunting – as if to say there’s no scientific or economic arguments against trophy hunting for conservation.  While I think these were meant to be funny, these comments instead came across as judgemental and borderline-offensive at times.
  • Not enough “big-picture” conservation: Ed Warner describes himself as a “radical conservationist” and so I expected quite a lot of conservation debate or opinion, but there was no real mention of the bigger picture of rhino conservation – not once is the issue of demand discussed, which I found disappointing.

I think ultimately Running with Rhinos just wasn’t what I expected from the synopsis. I think I expected a lot more stories about the animals and conservation methods, whereas in reality there were a lot of stories about people and these really overwhelmed the stories about rhinos themselves for me.  Of course rhino conservation involves huge amounts of work that doesn’t involve contact with rhinos, but a lot of the stories weren’t really about work, they were about going to the bar, and so although we see rhinos being darted, having horns shaved, having snares removed and being relocated, I felt like I had to work to get to those stories.  Despite only being 232 pages, and the only book I was reading at the time, this took me 10 days to read, and on more than one occasion I have to admit, I nearly stopped altogether.

Warner’s heart is, I’m absolutely sure, in the right place, and I love the fact that the profits of the book go to rhino conservation, but the book and I just didn’t fit together unfortunately, no matter how desparately I wanted us to.  I would be more likely to shelve this in autobiography than natural history, which I think sums up exactly why the book didn’t work for me.  I do think with a rather critical edit, this book could be great, but as it stands now, I personally much preferred The Last Rhinos by Lawrence Anthony.

One Star

Review: Fool’s Quest

Review: Fool’s QuestFool's Quest by Robin Hobb
Series: Fitz & The Fool #2
Published by Harper Voyager on 13-08-2015
Pages: 740
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

'Fantasy as it ought to be written' George R.R. Martin
Robin Hobb returns to her best loved characters with the second volume in a brand new series.
Happy endings never last…
Years ago, they freed a dragon from the glaciers on Aslevjal. Then they parted ways, the Fool returning to far-off Clerres, while Fitz finally claimed a wife, a family, and a home of his own.
Now, betrayed by his own people and broken by torment, the Fool has made his way back to the Six Duchies. But as Fitz attempts to heal his old friend in Buckkeep Castle, his young daughter Bee is abducted from Withywoods by pale and mysterious raiders who leave ruin and confusion in their wake.
Fitz must find a way to rescue his beloved Bee. At the same time it is the Fool’s fiercest wish to return to Clerres with the best assassin he has ever known, to gain vengeance and justice.Can Fitz bear to take up the tools of his old trade again, even to avenge his dearest friend and save his child?

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

When I read it…

I started this on August 5th 2015 and finished it September 21st (worth noting that my final MSc dissertation deadline was early September which probably explains what took so long).

What I’d heard before I read it:

Nothing – I never really read feedback on the latest Robin Hobb book until after I’ve read it to be honest.  My Robin Hobb process is pretty simple: I see the book is up for request, I request it, I wait hopefully with fingers crossed, I eventually read the book (proof or purchased), and then once it’s over I breathe a sigh of sadness that it’s over but also relief that I read it and loved it without seeing spoilers!

Assassins take no pride in fighting fairly. We take pride in winning.

What worked for me:

  • The writing: Obviously, I couldn’t have ended up with this much love for Hobb’s books if I didn’t like the way she writes, but I felt like there was something particularly beautiful about Fool’s Quest.  When the end of year survey came around and it was time to think of favourite quotes Fool’s Quest instantly came to mind, because I felt like we really truly connected with Fitz, and the writing is just so memorable, so poetic, so quotable!
  • All the feels: There are a lot of relationships I feel strongly about, but Fitz and The Fool hold a special place in my heart.  These two have been through so much, and their relationship is a complex, ever-changing thing that takes me on a rollercoaster of emotions every. single. time.  There were so many moments between these two that I adored, despite the fact they’ve come so very far from their roles way back in Assassin’s Apprentice.
  • The character development: Hobb’s characters are always amazing, and it’s why I love her books, but I especially loved the characters in Fool’s Quest.  I connected more with the new characters in the series, and I also felt like we got to explore more the changes in the characters we already knew and loved – Fitz is undeniably different from his early days in the series, and I felt like we got to see a bit more both about how he (and other characters) had changed, but also about how they felt about those changes.
If I enter the room as you are fastening your shoe, I can say, “There will be a lovely moon tonight,” and then you will call it to mind. But before I call it forth for you, you have forgotten the moon. One can swiftly understand that for most moments of our lives, we have forgotten almost all of the world around us, except for what currently claims our interest.

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • The hook: It took me quite a while to get hooked on Fool’s Quest.  It definitely didn’t help that I tried to read this over dissertation time, when reading time is of course limited, but even once my dissertation was finished, it took me a little bit of time to get engrossed.  I really do feel that this book – like the original Farseer trilogy – needed a bigger time investment to get hooked on than say the Rain Wilds Chronicles or the Liveship series.  Once I was hooked, I loved the story but I think it’s a book that suffers if you try to read it in short segments, whenever you’ve got a spare fifteen minutes.

Overall thoughts:

I really really liked Fool’s Assassin but it didn’t quite leave me with the same awe I’d felt from some of Hobb’s other books, which is why it only got four stars despite being a truly brilliant book.  Fool’s Quest had that extra something – the quicker pacing, the character development, the writing – to make it one of my favourite reads of last year, and to get me truly invested in this new series.  Hobb remains a favourite author and with good reason:  I loved Fool’s Quest now as much as I loved Assassin’s Apprentice the first time I read it, probably ten years ago.  I’m gutted that the third book won’t be out until early 2017… but I’m excited that it gives me time to re-read the first two books before then.

Other Reviews of Fool’s Quest: The Dinglehopper | Silver Petticoat Review | Once Upon a Bookcase

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Night Study

Review: Night StudyNight Study by Maria V. Snyder
Series: Soulfinders #2
Published by Mira Ink on February 25th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads

Ever since being kidnapped from the Illiais Jungle as a child, Yelena Zaltana's life has been fraught with peril. But the recent loss of her Soulfinding abilities has endangered her more than ever before. As she desperately searches for a way to reclaim her magic, her enemies are closing in, and neither Ixia nor Sitia are safe for her anymore.

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

When I read it…

I read this over about a week, between January 6th and 12th 2016.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Pretty much nothing! I requested this one on NetGalley because I adore Maria V. Snyder, and didn’t read any reviews before I started it.

What worked for me:

  • The characters: One of the things I love most about Maria V. Snyder’s books is that her characters are so awesome.  We’ve been through a lot with these characters now, and reading each new book feels like catching up with old friends.  There’s a lot of character development – particularly for Valek – which is great, and we’re also learning a bit more about the intriguing Onora.
  • The relationships: Snyder doesn’t just write awesome characters, but characters that interact, that have complex, believable relationships.  From Yelena and Valek’s romance to Janco and Ari’s banter, it’s these relationships that really make the characters feel real.  The romance between Yelena and Valek is great, holding firm despite a lot of changes, and a lot of character development, particularly for Valek.

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • The POVs: Night Study switches between Yelena (in first person) and Lief, Valek & Janco (all in third person).  I kind of love multiple POV stories, so that didn’t bother me, but I wasn’t particularly convinced by the changes between first and third person – I didn’t dislike it, I just found it a little…unnecessary I guess.
  • The pacing: at times the story felt a little slow, and I felt like there was a bit of running-in-place, where setback after setback meant there wasn’t a huge amount of progress at times.

Overall thoughts:

Maria V. Snyder’s books never disappoint, and I’m pleased to say I enjoyed Night Study just as much as I expected to.  The characters we know and love, combined with a few newer ones, means reading the book feels like coming home, and despite the new storyline, the book feels nostalgic.  Despite the comfort of characters and world-building we’re used to, the story manages to also be addictive, making it difficult to put down.  I didn’t love it as much as some of the earlier books in the series, perhaps because this one felt a little safer, a little slower, a little less shocking than earlier books, but I still really really liked it, especially seeing the characters and their relationships grow.

Other Reviews of Night Study: Heart Full of Books | Two Chicks on Books | Dark Faerie Tales

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: This Is Where It Ends

Review: This Is Where It EndsThis Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on January 5th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 292
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads

10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 The auditorium doors won't open.

10:05 Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

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

When I read it…

I read this book from start to finish on January 5th 2016.

What I’d heard before I read it:

Mixed things: mostly I’d heard a lot of raving and positive reviews, but I had also heard a few negative reviews, mostly regarding the shooter’s motivations.

What worked for me:

  • The pace: I found this fast-moving, gripping and easy to get engrossed in
  • The links between characters: I’m a big fan of storylines that tie in with other characters, such as often appears in Liane Moriarty and Nora Roberts’ books, so I enjoyed seeing the way the characters interlinked.
  • The diversity: I loved that there was lots of diversity, and that I didn’t feel like the book was defined by it.  It’s a story that feels like it just happens to feature LGBT teens, teens from different backgrounds etc, because that’s what reflects real life.  It was diverse without making a big deal of it and that was something I really loved!

What didn’t quite work for me:

  • The depth/length: the fact that This Is Where It Ends is so short means it can keep up the constant fast pace, but for me, I wouldn’t have minded having a longer story if it meant we got to delve into some of the backstories a bit further.  I liked what we got to see but I definitely wouldn’t have minded seeing more.
  • The lack of grey: there were clear ‘bad’ guys and ‘good’ guys in this, which is something I didn’t like. With such a realistic and timely issue, with a cast that aims to reflect real world diversity, the fact that there wasn’t more ambiguity or blurring of the lines between good and bad disappointed me.  (“The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters”!)
  • The ‘issues’: while I loved that the diversity felt natural and not like marketing, some of the issues felt like they’d been squeezed in.  There were some serious issues, but I felt like they weren’t handled with the gravity they deserved.

Overall thoughts:

This Is Where It Ends is not actually the first story about school shootings I’ve read and it’s difficult not to compare.  While I really enjoyed This Is Where It Ends, it unfortunately didn’t live up to either Jodi Picoult’s 19 minutes – which I felt gave a much better portrayal of the shooter and motivations, or Heather Gudenkauf’s One Breath Away, which I felt brilliantly showed the impact outside the school as well as within.  For me, I’d have loved This Is Where it Ends to be longer – I’d have loved to see more of Fareed in particular, or more of the motivation behind the shooting, or more of the impact some of the issues the characters were facing.  All in all, it was gripping, but it didn’t have the emotional impact I was expecting.

Other Reviews of This Is Where It Ends: A World Between Folded Pages | Curiosity Killed the Bookworm | Death, Books & Tea

One StarOne StarOne Star