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review 2018-03-15 18:06
Forest Born - Shannon Hale

The best character in the series comes at the end - Rinna adds fascinating struggles and a whole new power to the mix, but I may have reached the end of my capacity to marathon Hale's books, as I found this one a bit more of a struggle to get through. Alternately, that could be down to the structure; there's a lot of running around in the woods with less of a traditional story arc and fewer clear stakes. Still, very worth the effort for Hale's trademark insight and nuanced character explorations. It looks like she's focused more on MG/early readers books in recent years, but it would be great to have more classic fairytale-style fantasies!

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url 2018-03-14 18:33
Blind the Eyes is competing in Kindle Scout - Please Vote :)
Blind the Eyes - K.A. Wiggins

I have a YA dark fantasy debut coming out this summer and it's currently competing in Kindle Scout. If you go to https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/E9IM6GHX3YIJ and nominate it and it wins, Amazon will send you a free preview copy before it releases to the general public!

 

So if you're at all interested in the book (or just want to help a newbie out!) please vote. :)

 

A little more on Kindle Scout:

 

  • Kindle Scout is the American Idol of publishing
  • Readers vote on pre-published books during a 30 day period
  • Editors read the manuscripts at the end of voting
  • Amazon publishes the best of the combined editor- and fan-approved books in ebook format
  • Amazon sends a free ebook to everyone who voted for (“nominated”) a book that gets published!

 

So if you want a chance to get a free copy of BTE, head on over to the Kindle Scout website, nominate it and hope it wins! And hey, why not vote for some other faves while you’re at it? You get up to three nominations at a time.

 

A little more about Blind the Eyes:

 

In a world where hope kills and dreams are deadly, obedience is the only way to survive. But when one girl learns her society's absolute control and guarantee of safety are both illusions, she risks her hard-won status, her home and her life to rebel and expose its lies.

A YA dark fantasy about identity, trauma & taking back your choices. Ghosts and world monsters in post-eco-disaster Vancouver.

From the back cover:

In the Towers of Refuge, regulation dictates every aspect of life.

Haunted 17-year-old Cole would do anything to shake her reputation as a failure. The only way to survive the nightmarish Mara is absolute obedience, and she's down to her last chance.

But when a charismatic stranger shows up claiming to know her and Cole discovers Refuge's absolute control and guarantee of safety are both illusions, she realizes hers isn't the only life at stake and goes on the run.

In the underground club Freedom, nothing's forbidden.

Cole needs allies to help her expose Refuge's lies and escape execution by nightmare. Too bad the only candidates are a hedonistic rebel, a childish ghost, a stylist with a secret and an imaginary friend with a talent for monster-hunting.

With enforcers in pursuit and the dead invading her dreams, Cole must figure out who to trust and stop the dying before the nightmares eat her alive.

Trusted authorities lie, allies have their own agendas, and even the monsters wear masks in this YA dark fantasy suitable for ages 14 and up. Ebook, audiobook and print editions coming in late spring 2018. Subscribe at https://kaie.space/newsletter for exclusive previews and extended content.

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review 2018-03-13 18:42
Classic fantasy feels like coming home
River Secrets - Shannon Hale

Another excellent fantasy by Hale. This third book pivots to a male POV with great success, and delves into political drama and learning to value your own uniqueness. Which, yes that's the heart of nearly every YA book, but Hale has a shockingly deft touch at it; she's a master of showing through meaningful character interactions rather than navel-gazing angsty ruminations. Sad that there's only one more entry in the series.

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review 2018-03-11 18:28
A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
A Princess in Theory: Reluctant Royals - Alyssa Cole

Naledi (Ledi) Smith has been on her own for most of her life, bounced around in foster care after her parents were killed in a car crash. Now she's a grad student with multiple jobs and a supposedly upcoming epidemiology internship that she still hasn't been contacted about. The spam emails she keeps getting that say she's betrothed to a Prince Thabiso from some country called Thesolo do not amuse her.

As it turns out, the emails aren't spam. Prince Thabiso has been looking for his betrothed for years. He hopes to find her and either bring her back to Thesolo or finally convince himself that they aren't soulmates the way he'd been told as a child they were. His assistant, Likotsi, tracks her down, but their first meeting doesn't go anything like Thabiso expected it would. Ledi mistakes him for a new waiter named Jamal, and rather than clear up the misunderstanding, Thabiso decides to just go with it. He'll get to see how Ledi behaves around him when she's unaware that he's royalty, and being a waiter can't be that hard, right? (Ha!)

I pre-ordered this because both the cover and publisher's description made it look cute and fun. A contemporary romance in which an ordinary woman learns she's actually a princess sounded like it'd be right up my alley.

The setup was excellent, and the sample "spam" emails made me laugh. I loved Ledi, who was afraid to let her guard down and who worked so hard and was still worried that none of it would be enough. She relaxed her guard around Thabiso a bit more quickly than I would have expected, although that could have been due to the way he subconsciously reminded her of things from her childhood.

Plus, Thabiso had some great moments. He listened to and remembered the things she said. Because he knew she was always taking care of herself and everyone else, he tried to set up times that were solely about her and taking care of her. The bit with the grilled cheese sandwiches was cute (although the way the next chapter started made me think he'd accidentally burned the apartment down).

I winced every time he put off telling Ledi the truth, although I could usually understand his reasons for doing so. There was one scene that really bothered me, though. He arrived at Ledi's apartment, fully intending to tell her the truth, only to have her start kissing him. He wasn't so overwhelmed by her kisses that he couldn't think - he actually did slow things down enough that he could have stopped everything and told her right then. Instead, they had sex, he worried that she'd call him Jamal, and he figured he'd tell her sometime after they were done. It made it seem like he cared more about having sex than he did about Ledi.

This part upset me so much that I spent the rest of the book mentally rewriting it. I came up with a couple alternatives that would have still led to Ledi being hurt and angry enough for the rest of the book to happen, but would have made Thabiso a little less horrible. Unfortunately, the scene happened the way it happened. Cole dealt with it by having Thabiso make Ledi an offer she couldn't refuse, something that would force her to spend enough time with him that she'd eventually soften towards him and forgive him. She did, of course, and I could understand why, for the most part. Unfortunately, I never quite forgave him.

Although I was upset with Thabiso in the second half of the book, I still really loved the "royal life" scenes. Ledi's trip to the airport, in particular, was great. I loved her meetings with family members - I wonder if Nya will ever get her own book? - and I was glad that Thabiso defended Ledi whenever his mother started to act horrible.

For the most part, this was a really good book. It would have been an excellent one if it hadn't been for the last "trying (but not really) to tell her the truth" scene, which unfortunately slightly soured the rest of the book. Oh, and one little slightly spoiler-y complaint: why did Ledi, who should have known better,

keep taking pills without ever once asking (or even wondering) what was in them?

(spoiler show)


I'm going to wait and see what reviews say about the next book before deciding whether to get it. I'm iffy about Portia, Ledi's friend and the next book's heroine. Almost every time Portia was mentioned, Ledi worried about the amount she drank and whether spending time with her would mean more work and anxiety than relaxation. A Princess in Theory ended with her in therapy and hopefully drinking less, but I'm still wary. Meanwhile, I'm crossing my fingers for a future book starring Likotsi, Thabiso's well-dressed lesbian assistant.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-02-19 23:36
A solid domestic-noir thriller with a familiar plot, unlikely to surprise those who love Hitchcock movies and habitual readers of thrillers
The Woman in the Window: A Novel - A. J. Finn

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely decided to review.

I have been reading a lot of thrillers recently and kept coming across this book and, eventually, I thought I would read it. The description and the accolades mention Hitchcock and noir film and that convinced me I should read it.

Many of the reviews compare it to The Girl on the Train. Although I have watched the movie adaptation of that book, I haven’t read the novel, so I cannot compare the style, although yes, I agree that the story is very similar. This is more Rear Window (because the protagonist, Anna Fox, a psychologist, suffers from agoraphobia following a traumatic incident, and she is stuck at home, in New York) with touches of Body Double (I agree with the reviewer who mentioned that). It also brought to mind, for me, apart from the many Hitchcock and noir movies the character herself is so fond of (Shadow of a Doubt, The Lady Vanishes, Rope), some newer movies, like Copycat (the main protagonist is also a psychologist suffering from agoraphobia, in that case after being assaulted by a serial killer) and Murder by Numbers (that is a new treatment of Rope).

Anna is an unreliable narrator, and she tells us the story in the first-person (I know some readers don’t like that). I do like unreliable narrators, but I did not feel there was much new or particularly insightful here. She is a psychologist who seems to be able to help others with their problems (she joins an online chat and helps others suffering from agoraphobia) but is not capable of fully accepting or recognising her own (she sees a psychiatrist once a week but lies to him, does not take the medication as prescribed, keeps drinking alcohol despite being fully aware of its depressant effects and knowing that it should not be mixed with her medication), and lies to others, and what is worse, to herself. The fog produced by the alcohol and her erratic use of medication make her unreliable (and yes, some of her medication can cause hallucinations, so there’s that too), and although her predicament and her agoraphobia are well portrayed, because a big twist (that if you’ve read enough books will probably suspect from very early on) needs to remain hidden, for plot reasons, it is difficult to fully empathise with her. She is intelligent, she loves old movies, and she’s articulate (although her intelligence and her insight are dulled by her own behaviour and her state of mind), but we only get a sense of who she really is (or was, before all this) quite late in the book, and yes, perhaps she is not that likeable even then (in fact, she might become even less likeable after the great reveal). Don’t get me wrong. I’ve loved books where the main protagonist is truly dislikeable, but I am not sure that is intentional here, and I felt that the character follows the plot and accommodates to its needs, rather than the other way round.

The rest of the characters… well, we don’t know. As we see them from Anna’s perspective, and this is impaired, there is not much to guide us. She is paranoid at times and can change from totally depending on somebody and thinking they are the only person who can help her, to dismissing them completely (that detail is well portrayed), but although some of the characters are potentially intriguing, we don’t know enough about any of them to get truly interested. This is a novel about Anna, her disintegrating mind, the lies she tells herself, and how her being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or rather, looking at the wrong place at the wrong time) almost ends her life. For me, the needs of the plot and of making it an interesting page-turner end up overpowering some of the other elements that I think are truly well achieved (like her mental health difficulties).

The writing style is fluid and competent, and it is evident that the writer knows what readers of the genre will expect (yes, from his biography is easy to see he knows the knots and bolts of the profession), although, personally, I think people who don’t read thrillers regularly will find it more interesting than those who read them often, as avid thriller readers are likely to spot the twists and expect what is coming next early on. The agoraphobia aspects of the story are well written (and from his biography it is clear that the author has a first-hand knowledge of the condition), although I agree with some comments that the many mentions of the wine spilling down the carpet or on the character’s clothes, of opening another bottle, and abandoning a glass of wine somewhere could have been reduced, and we would still have got the message.

Lovers of film-noir and Hitchcock movies will enjoy the references to the films, some very open, and others more subtle, although the general level of the character’s awareness and her wit reduces as the book moves on due to the stress and pressure Anna is under. The ending… Well, I’m trying not to write any spoilers so I’ll keep my peace, although, let’s say you might enjoy the details, but there are not that many possible suspects, so you might guess correctly. (Yes, it does follow the standard rules).

In my opinion, this is a well-written book, that perhaps tries too hard to pack all the elements that seem required nowadays to make it big in the thriller genre: a female unreliable narrator, domestic problems (domestic noir), meta-fictional references to other books and films, twists and turns galore, witty dialogue (not so much, but yes, especially early on Anna can quote with the best of them), an action filled ending with a positive/hopeful message. I enjoyed the descriptions of Anna’s agoraphobia and, particularly, the way the house becomes another character (that is what I felt gave it most of its noir feel).  People who don’t read many thrillers or watch many movies in the genre are more likely to be surprised and thrilled than those who do, as the storyline will be very familiar to many. I am intrigued to see what the writer will produce next, and I am not surprised to hear that the book’s film adaptation rights have been already bought. That figures.

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