Shadow of Night (Deborah Harkness)

Shadow of Night (Deborah Harkness)Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
Series: All Souls Trilogy #2
Published by Headline Book Publishing on 01-02-2013
Genres: Fantasy, Love & Romance, Paranormal
Pages: 634
Format: Paperback
Source: BookBridgr
Amazon
Goodreads

IT BEGAN WITH A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

Historian Diana Bishop, descended from a line of powerful witches, and long-lived vampire Matthew Clairmont have broken the laws dividing creatures. When Diana discovered a significant alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library,she sparked a struggle in which she became bound to Matthew. Now the fragile coexistence of witches, daemons, vampires and humans is dangerously threatened.

Seeking safety, Diana and Matthew travel back in time to London, 1590. But they soon realise that the past may not provide a haven. Reclaiming his former identity as poet and spy for Queen Elizabeth, the vampire falls back in with a group of radicals known as the School of Night. Many are unruly daemons, the creative minds of the age, including playwright Christopher Marlowe and mathematician Thomas Harriot.

Together Matthew and Diana scour Tudor London for the elusive manuscript Ashmole 782, and search for the witch who will teach Diana how to control her remarkable powers...

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

 

The storyDiana and Matthew are being hunted by witches, daemons and vampires all trying to get their hands on Ashmole 782.   Diana and Matthew travel back in time to avoid them, to try and find Ashmole 782 before it was cursed, and to find a witch capable of teaching Diana to use her powers.

If that sounds like a lot of story – well, it is!  There are a lot of plot threads to the story, but they keep you guessing the whole way through, and the joy of so many elements is that you’re bound to love at least one!

My only issue with the plot of Shadow of Night was the time-travel element – not that I didn’t enjoy it, just that it made my brain hurt.  I’ll admit I’m not the best with time travel at the best of times, but I didn’t feel like the logistics of the time travel in Shadow of Night were explained as well as they could have been. I have no idea how things were supposed to work – the original Matthew from the time period apparently disappeared? And everyone who’d met the ‘new’ Matthew (and Diana!) were just expected to pretend nothing happened when the original Matthew came back? This bit didn’t really make much sense to me, and in some ways I couldn’t understand why this time period was chosen. Surely it would have made more sense to go to a time and place the original Matthew hadn’t been? To just become two random newcomers?

The characters

Diana is still a great character, but I found her a little more relatable in Shadow of Night.  Despite her studies and her masses of historical knowledge, even Diana has a hard time fitting into the past, and I found the loss of a little of her sure-footedness made her seem more human.

Shadow of Night is absolutely stuffed full of supporting characters.  From the supporting characters we already know and love from A Discovery of Witches, to the famous historical faces introduced in Shadow of Night, yet again I feel like Harkness makes the story with her fantastic secondary characters.  The sheer number of characters can be a little overwhelming at times, and I’m not a history buff at all, but I really liked the personalities Harkness has introduced. Matthew’s father was particularly brilliant, and the scenes between he, Diana and Matthew are poignant and bitter-sweet.

final thoughts

Shadow of Night has a very different feel to it to A Discovery of Witches.  The time travel element makes Shadow of Night feel more like a historical fantasy novel, which I was really unsure about at first, but I really enjoyed it.  I loved finding out more about Diana’s powers, and the magic in general.

All in all, I felt the time travel element could have used some work, so I ended up just trying not to think about it.  Despite that, the plot was great, and the supporting characters were absolutely what made the story for me.

Buy it? This is one worth buying for me.
In a nutshell: A very different, but fantastically enjoyable, follow up to A Discovery of Witches

Other Reviews of Shadow of Night: Girls in the stacks | An Unexpected Book Blog | Caffeinated Book Reviewer

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)

Fangirl (Rainbow Rowell)Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Macmillan on 10-09-2013
Genres: Contemporary, Girls & Women, New Adult, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads

A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love.

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?  Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

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

Cath and Wren are twin sisters, who until now have done everything together, including write hugely successful Simon Snow fanfiction.  Now that they’re going off to college though, Wren wants them to be a little more independent.  She’s slowly become less of a Simon Snow fangirl and she wants to go and have the college experience – and that doesn’t mean sharing a room with her twin.

While Wren bonds with her new roomate Courtney, settles in to the party lifestyle, and generally loves college so far, Cath is finding it a little harder to adjust.  She’s always been the quieter twin, and she’d really rather stay in her room and write than try to figure out the chaos that is the dining hall.  Not to mention that her roomate sort of seems to think she’s a freak, and that Cath is worried about her father, who’s alone for the first time and hasn’t always had the most stable mental health.

“There are other people on the Internet. It’s awesome. You get all the benefits of ‘other people’ without the body odor and the eye contact.”

Do you know how sometimes, a book just clicks with you, and you aren’t quite 100% sure why?  When you love a book, but can’t decide on the exact thing that takes it from a four or five star read to “Keep, recommend, re-read a thousand times” status?

When I first finished Fangirl, it was one of those books, but I think I’ve decided what it is that makes Fangirl a new favourite.  It’s not the plot, the characters, the romance or the writing (all of which I loved) – it’s the combination of those things, and the way that Rowell makes everything so easy to relate to.  I texted countless quotes from this to my partner and friends.  I want to buy everyone close to me a copy and say “THIS. THIS IS HOW MY BRAIN WORKS!”. 

Rainbow Rowell has managed to capture the fears of starting college perfectly.  She manages to include the little things like worrying about proper dining room protocol and the endless train of what ifs – like what if my roomate wants her boyfriend to stay here overnight?  On top of the little things, there are the bigger concerns, like her relationship with her sister, worrying about her father, and keeping up with both her work load and her Simon Snow stories.  And of course, there’s the romance!  Rowell has perfectly encapsulated Cath’s fears, and I think they’re something everyone (even those not as anxious as Cath) can understand.

“I’d rather pour myself into a world I love and understand than try to make something up out of nothing.”

The plot line is basically a coming-of-age story, with Cath adjusting to college, worrying that Wren is maybe adjusting a bit too enthusiastically, the twins’ relationship, their new love interests, and their’ father’s instability.  What really makes the story, is the characters.  Cath and Wren are very relatable, in totally different ways.  Although there will be times when one or the other baffles you (as their behaviour is sometimes pretty opposite, logic says you won’t always love both!), there will also be moments you can completely relate to.  Whether it’s hitting the party lifestyle or holing up in your bedroom, Rowell has captured the sometimes slightly skewed adjustment of first year students.

I freely admit, not only did I love Fangirl, but it also reminded me how much I love fanfiction, and being a crazy fangirl about the things that are important to me.  You know those quotes people always pin about being a geek? (You know the ones, the John Green and the Will Wheaton quotes and so on).  Fangirl is like an entire book that says the same things: that being enthusiastic is okay.  Not just okay in fact, but fun.  That being a geek makes you you, and the important people will understand if you absolutely need to go to a midnight release or spend hours reading every Game of Thrones conspiracy theory or whatever else it is you want to do to celebrate whatever you’re passionate about.

 

“What’s that thing you wrote about Simon once, that his eyes followed Baz ‘like he was the brightest thing in the room, like he cast everything else into shadow’? That’s you. You can’t look away from him.”

While I liked Eleanor and Park, I loved Fangirl. I loved the characters, the slow-building romance, the snippets of Simon Snow stories that made it feel like a real fandom.  I loved that Rowell had included sex, and partying hard, and plagiarism concerns, that the girls didn’t always get along perfectly and that Cath was anxious and geeky without being a pushover.   It’s never explicit, and yet it doesn’t shy away from those real concerns, those things that happen at college.  I think the reason Fangirl stands out, to me, is because it doesn’t feel like a cookie cutter version of something else; it’s unique, and it’s relatable.  It reads like it could literally be a story about one of the bloggers you follow.

Buy it? Definitely one worth buying – a new favourite.
In a nutshell: Fantastically relatable characters, a perfect reflection into starting college and the mind of a fangirl.

Other Reviews of Fangirl: Wondrous Reads | Daisy Chain Book Reviews | Recovering Potter Addict

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Crewel (Gennifer Albin)

Crewel (Gennifer Albin)Crewel by Gennifer Albin
Series: Crewel World #1
Published by Faber & Faber on 16-10-2012
Genres: General, Love & Romance, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Incapable. Awkward. Artless.
That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: She wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen to work the looms is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to manipulate the very fabric of reality. But if controlling what people eat, where they live, and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and used her hidden talent for a moment. Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her dad’s jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because tonight, they’ll come for her.

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

I absolutely loved Crewel, and I’m still trying to get my hands on a copy of Altered. I did actually pre-order a copy but after a series of disasters it didn’t end up showing up, and so far not one bookshop I’ve been into has had a copy!

Adelice is naturally gifted with the ability to visualise matter and time and weave them into something different. The Spinsters are the chosen women who do this for their jobs, manipulating food, the seasons and more – taking the fabric of reality and altering it to keep Arras running smoothly. Adelice doesn’t want to be chosen though, because being a Spinster means moving away and never seeing her family. It means controlling people’s lives. Adelice has been hiding her talent, but when she slips up during testing, she knows it’s just a matter of time before they come for her.

Crewel has a wonderfully unique premise, and I really enjoyed the world-building; it was what made this book for me. It’s hard to say too much about the world-building, because I honestly think it’s better if you know as little as possible before the book, but I will say it’s incredibly creative. With elements of fantasy, sci-fi and dystopian, Crewel truly blurs the lines between genres.

There is a love triangle, which I didn’t love, but I was far too drawn in by the world-building and the story to give it up because of that! I liked Adelice as a character, despite the fact she got caught up in a love triangle, partially because she is flawed. She isn’t perfect, and although she can be feisty and strong, she can also be confused and naive, and that made her easy to relate to. Albin’s writing is very easy to get caught up in, and the further I got into the book the more the story hooked me, and I’ve since gone on to recommend it to various people! Crewel also has an amazing cliffhanger ending that left me questioning things I’d assumed throughout the story.

Buy it? This is definitely one I’d like to buy.
In a nutshell: Unique, fascinating and genre-bending – a new favourite.

Other Reviews of Crewel: Daisy Chain Book Reviews | A Bookworm’s Haven | Gone With The Words

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Early Review: The Martian (Andy Weir)

Early Review: The Martian (Andy Weir)The Martian by Andy Weir
on 13-02-2014
Pages: 369
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

Apollo 13 meets Castaway in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller-set on the surface of Mars.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him-and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he's stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive-and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills-and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit-he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

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

When I requested The Martian on NetGalley it was mostly just because my inner geek loves sci-fi.  I was both fascinated and haunted by the blurb and from that alone I was already dying to know what would happen to Mark.  While I got the gripping survival adventure I expected, I also got something unexpected: a truly funny, immensely likeable main character.

Mark is stranded on Mars after a series of disasters forces his crew to abort, convinced he is dead.  With very little equipment, limited food supplies, no contact with Earth and an injury, things don’t look good for Mark Watney.  Mark has to try and contend with freezing temperatures, a lack of water, oxygen and food, cramped conditions, and of course the fact that no one knows he’s alive, so even if he can survive, his chances of ever making it off Mars are pretty slim.

The story is predominantly all about Mark.  We flick between Mark’s logs and Earth, so there are some secondary characters, but Mark is definitely the key here.  He faces loneliness that is impossible to comprehend, and odds that would probably make (many many) individuals give it all up.  But Mark is a scientist and a fighter, and he desperately tries to work through problem after problem, in the hopes of perhaps somehow surviving four years until the next Mars expedition and catch a ride home.

I feel like often scientists are the cliche anxious geek with no social skills (and yes, as a science student I may be a tiny bit biased against that opinion!) and I absolutely loved that Mark didn’t fit those stereotypes.  Yes, he’s a scientist, and a bit of a geek, and he’s insanely good with maths and problem solving…but he’s also got a good relationship with the rest of his crew, he’s tough, he’s likeable and he’s genuinely funny.  He’s a very believable character, and I loved following his thought processes.  At times, he can come across as a little silly or overly pleased about small things, but I think that’s believable and real: Mark is living, as much as possible, minute by minute, trying not to allow himself to consider the horror of his situation, but focusing on every positive, no matter how small.  He is resilient, and sometimes a little too well-adjusted, but stranded on a foreign planet completely alone with no one to talk to but himself, Mark can either laugh or cry – and crying won’t help his resolve at all.  My only real complaint for the characters is that I would have liked to see a little more about Mark, and to a lesser extent, the rest of his crew outside of the mission; their relationships and so on.

There is a lot of science in The Martian, which may put some people off.  There are calculations and lots of mulling over different solutions to problems, and so it can feel quite science heavy.  I’ve talked before about how I like a bit of science in my sci-fi (shockingly) and so I personally quite liked that.  I didn’t feel it made the story dry or slow, but at the same time, Weir isn’t happy to give you vague statements like ‘Mars is cold’; he assumes you can keep up!  It not only highlights just how clever Mark is, but more crucially, it shows just how bad his situation is.

Despite the humour, and the science, The Martian is absolutely full of tension, from Mark’s dire situation to NASA’s stress and the fact that his crew think he died.  Despite the fact there aren’t really too many ways the story can end (either he’ll make it home, or he’ll die, he can’t survive on Mars indefinitely), Weir manages to keep you guessing the whole way through.

 Buy it? This is one that I would be happy to buy.
In a nutshell: A gripping, unexpectedly funny survival story with a hero you can’t help but root for.

Other Reviews of The Martian: Literary ExplorationThat’s What She Read | A Musing Reviews

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Review: Parasite (Mira Grant)

Review: Parasite (Mira Grant)Parasite by Mira Grant
Series: Parasitology #1
Published by Orbit on 29-10-2013
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, Hard Science Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction
Pages: 512
Format: eARC
Amazon
Goodreads

A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite - a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system - even secretes designer drugs. It's been successful beyond the scientists' wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives...and will do anything to get them.

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

After a car accident that leaves her legally brain-dead, Sally Mitchell becomes the first person ever to be saved by a SymboGen implant. The SymboGen implant (known as the Intestinal Bodyguard) is a modified tapeworm which pulls toxins from the bloodstream, fights off infections and generally keeps everyone healthy without any effort on the part of the human who’s had one implanted. With no memory of the girl she was before her accident, Sal has had to relearn everything – how to walk, talk, and most of all, who she is. Six years later, she’s still guarded by overprotective parents, and occasionally has to submit for testing at SymboGen, but generally life is good.

Then the ‘sleepwalking’ starts – perfectly normal people seem to hollow out, becoming mindless shells of their former selves. With no explanation as to why the disease occurred, how it’s spreading, or who will be next, life just became scary and confusing.

I really enjoyed the format and writing style of Parasite. Each chapter begins with a quote or an excerpt from a book or interview about SymboGen. This is a great touch, as it makes the whole world feel more believable, whilst also helping you form opinions of characters who begin to feel three-dimensional even before you meet them.

One of my favourite things about Parasite is that there was some actual science behind the plot. I’m by no means an expert on tapeworms, but we had to study them as part of my degree, and I’m really glad Mira Grant seemed to have done her research! There was just enough science to keep my brain ticking over, and to make the plot seem believable, without feeling either patronising or dry.

Sal is an interesting character. There were times when she was frustrating, but most of the time I liked her. Curious and intelligent, Sal slowly becomes more feisty throughout the novel, and she’s both protective and loyal to those important to her. She already has a boyfriend, so there isn’t a huge romance in this (or a love triangle!), which is refreshing. I also loved the supporting cast, including Sal’s boyfriend Nathan, a truly loveable dog named Beverly, and the unhinged seeming Tansy.

The plot is gripping and full of twists. There was one twist that I personally thought was quite predictable, but there were plenty of other ups and downs to keep me hooked. I’ve recommended Parasite a lot since finishing it, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. This was my first Mira Grant book, and it led to a binging of her other books!

Buy it? I definitely think this is one worth buying and adding to your shelves.
In a nutshell: A fantastically gripping, wonderfully written novel.

Other Reviews of Parasite: Caffeinated Book Reviewer | Nyx Book Reviews | King of the Nerds

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star