Review: ‘Untamed’ by A. G. Howard

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A post-Ensnared collection of three stories—available in both print and e-versions.

Alyssa Gardner went down the rabbit hole and took control of her destiny. She survived the battle for Wonderland and the battle for her heart. In this collection of three novellas, join Alyssa and her family as they look back at their memories of Wonderland.

In Six Impossible Things, Alyssa recalls the most precious moments of her life after Ensnared, and the role magic plays in preserving the happiness of those she loves. Alyssa’s mother reminisces about her own time in Wonderland and rescuing the man who would become her husband in The Boy in the Web. And Morpheus delves into Jeb’s memories of the events of Splintered in The Moth in the Mirror, available in print for the first time.

This collection expands upon Ensnared‘s epilogue, and includes some deleted scenes to provide a “director’s cut” glimpse into the past and futures of our favorite Splintered characters.

This book is set after the end of the Splintered trilogy, and contains three stories that reveal more about the world — about events that come after the end of Ensnared. As a result, it’s super-spoiler-y, and really won’t make sense if you don’t read the trilogy first. You can find my review of the first book in the series here, if you want to see whether it’s something you might be interested in.

Please note that the rest of my review does contain mild spoilers for the end of the trilogy; it’s more aimed at people who are familiar with the books and are deciding whether to pick up this compilation. Read on at your own peril.

The first story, The Boy in the Web, contains backstory about Alyssa’s parents and was sweet enough, though I really wanted more to happen.

The second, The Moth in the Mirrror, is a bit of a non-entity in that it’s some of Jeb’s story from the trilogy told through Morpheus’s eyes — and, yeah, I didn’t really like Jeb that much, so I could have lived without it.

The third one, Six Impossible Things, is the story that I was really keen to read: the transition from Alyssa’s life with Jeb to her life with Morpheus. I liked it best of the three stories, although all the reminiscing by the characters towards the front end of the story dragged a little.

A. G. Howard can write. Her prose is glorious. But this book felt a little bit like fanfiction, a “what comes after the happily ever after” story. I could live without it in the same way that I wasn’t a fan of the end of the Harry Potter series — I didn’t need to know what Harry named his kids, or what Alyssa and Jeb did. The original trilogy had action and tension, and there was almost none of the former and not as much of the latter as I would have liked.  What there was was a lot of “look how perfect their lives are”.

Also — bigger spoiler here — the way that Alyssa is made a virgin again after having three kids during her mortal life made me twitch. The way she seemed to forget how childbirth worked after having three kids made me roll my eyes. Morpheus loved her when she was frail and old, so why was it necessary that she have her “innocence” restored along with her youth? It erased her family and her womanhood in a very literal sense. Blah.

Untamed was nice enough. It was an easy read. But it didn’t wow me the way the original books did. While I’d still highly recommend the original trilogy, you can give this one a miss.

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Three stars

 


Review: ‘A Corner of White’ by Jaclyn Moriarty

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The first in a rousing, funny, genre-busting trilogy from bestseller Jaclyn Moriarty!

This is a tale of missing persons. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in a rainy corner of Cambridge (in our world).

Elliot, on the other hand, is in search of his father, who disappeared on the night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town of Bonfire (in the Kingdom of Cello) is that Elliot’s dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. And he is determined to find both his dad and the truth.

As Madeleine and Elliot move closer to unraveling their mysteries, they begin to exchange messages across worlds — through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries. But even greater mysteries are unfolding on both sides of the gap: dangerous weather phenomena called “color storms;” a strange fascination with Isaac Newton; the myth of the “Butterfly Child,” whose appearance could end the droughts of Cello; and some unexpected kisses…

At the end of last year, fabulous teen blogger Emily Mead did a huge post with a mini-review of the 100+ books that she read in 2016. I added a bunch of books to my TBR pile as a result (curse you, Emily), and the first of these was A Corner of White.

This is actually quite a difficult book to review. It’s a parallel world story  (partly set in our world and partly in a fantastical other world — think Alice in Wonderland or, well, a bunch of other books). But it’s even more of a parallel world story than usual, in that the main characters, Madeline and Elliot, live very similar lives. Both live away from their fathers and are missing them. Both come to see what they believe are problematic elements of their fathers in their own personalities. Both of them are dissatisfied with their situation and want to leave it for one reason or another. Both are charming and loved by those around them.

But in some other ways, this book is quite baffling. I spent maybe the first third of it being dissatisfied and somewhat unengaged by Madeline’s real-world antics and her life, which was so quirky that it seemed, well, unrealistic. By comparison, Elliot’s life — in the magical kingdom of Cello — actually seemed more normal. Certainly he had more things going on than strange “homeschooling” classes and slightly deranged (albeit generally well-meaning) friends. His world and story were kept me guessing, whereas Madeline’s, well, didn’t.

If you’d asked me at 100 pages how I thought I’d be rating A Corner of White, it would have been three-star at best, despite the lovely prose and the unique world of Cello. Which made me sad, because I wanted to love it. Luckily for me, it turns out that once Moriarty got the bit in her teeth and got going, the story picked up and I raced through the rest of it. I didn’t see the plot twists coming, and I loved the way that Moriarty wove them all together at the end. I loved how Madeline’s introspective rambling about science and history drove Elliot nuts, but also taught him something valuable about his own world.

The way that the book ended, while not exactly cliff-hanger-y, definitely left me wanting more. Happily books two and three have already been released! Yay! (Now, hurry up, Mr Postman!)

Overall, this was a four-star read for me, based  on simple maths: three for the start, five for the end. I feel like Madeline would approve of that approach.

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Four stars


Bookstagramming Aussie books

Today on Instagram I decided (on a bit of a whim) to post pics of Aussie books. Because Aussie books are the prettiest — and they look even better when placed beside Funko PopVinyl figures (of which I have, err, rather a lot).

So, on a similar whim, I decided to share some of them here too. Taking bookstagram pics is one of my new favourite hobbies! I could post a ton more, but these are some of my most-recent photos. I decided to stick to those, primarily because I’m really digging this style of pic. Angles! Origami stars! Pops! Yay!

… and yes, I snuck a pic of some of my own books in there. I couldn’t resist. And it is a pretty picture! (In case you weren’t already aware, the first ebook in my Isla’s Inheritance trilogy is available for freeeee! The links are up there, at the top of the screen. *points*)

For my Australian friends, have an awesome public holiday … especially if you’re working. For everyone else, HAPPY THURSDAY!

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AussieOwned_ContributorToday over at Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking why we love being an Aussie writer, and why we set our books where we do. Check it out!


Review: ‘Poison Fruit’ by Jacqueline Carey

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The Pemkowet Visitors Bureau has always promoted paranormal tourism — even if it has downplayed the risks (hobgoblins are unpredictable). It helps that the town is presided over by Daisy Johanssen, who as Hel’s liaison is authorized by the Norse goddess of the dead to keep Pemkowet under control. Normally, that’s easier to do in the winter, when bracing temperatures keep folks indoors.

But a new predator is on the prowl, and this one thrives on nightmares. Daisy is on her trail and working intimately with her partner and sometime lover from the Pemkowet PD, sexy yet unavailable werewolf Cody Fairfax. But even as the creature is racking up innocent victims, a greater danger looms on Pewkowet’s horizon.

As a result of a recent ghost uprising, an unknown adversary — represented by a hell-spawn lawyer with fiery powers of persuasion — has instigated a lawsuit against the town. If Pemkowet loses, Hel’s sovereignty will be jeopardized, and the fate of the eldritch community will be at stake. The only one who can prevent it is Daisy — but she’s going to have to confront her own worst nightmare to do it.

Poison Fruit is the third and apparently final book in the Agents of Hel series by unfairly talented speculative fiction writer Jacqueline Carey. You can read it as a stand-alone novel, but you’ll get more out of it if you read at least the previous book, if not the entire series.

Of course, I just reviewed the second book earlier this month, and a lot of what I said then is still true here. The love square has thinned down to a love triangle (and boy, what a triangle!), but we still have the chatty, cranky, awesome Daisy and her Scooby Gang friends.

Reading about them was like coming home.

For something different, here’s a handy list of different reasons I loved this book (and the series).

Things I loved about Poison Fruit

  • Daisy and her mother are so sweet with each other. Also, Daisy’s surrogate aunt, Lurine, is seriously badass but calls Daisy the most adorable pet names. I have a bit of a crush on Lurine, tbh.
  • Jen, Daisy’s best friend, makes with the best friend realtalk. And sends embarrassing texts on Daisy’s phone when they are drunk. So real.
  • There’s Cody and Stefan, who are the two other points of the love triangle. I had my personal favourite, however — and it wasn’t the one I’d usually go for. #TeamCody
  • When one of the love triangle points broke it off with Daisy and then got jealous, she told him not to be a jackass. Jealousy is not a sexy character trait, people!
  • Daisy screws up, sometimes in a very big way, but she owns it.
  • The supernatural community of Pemkowet is a big old jumble. I was going to say a melting pot, but there’s definitely no melting together here. There’s Hel, the Norse deity; a hell-spawn lawyer who works for the Greek diety, Hades; various cranky seelie fairies; a surprisingly chill unseelie bogle; a wonderfully diverse witch’s coven; and a ton more. It’s chaotic and nonsensical and I loved it!

Things I didn’t like as much

  • The book meanders and explores a few sub-plots while the big plot plays out sooooooo slooowly. About three-quarters of the way through I was, like, LET’S GET TO THE SHOWDOWN, PEOPLE! But then we did and it was glorious.

Read these books.

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Four stars


Review: ‘Atlanta Burns’ by Chuck Wendig

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You don’t mess with Atlanta Burns.

Everyone knows that. And that’s kinda how she likes it — until the day Atlanta is drawn into a battle against two groups of bullies and saves a pair of new, unexpected friends. But actions have consequences, and when another teen turns up dead — by an apparent suicide — Atlanta knows foul play is involved. And worse: she knows it’s her fault.

You go poking rattlesnakes, maybe you get bit.

Afraid of stirring up the snakes further by investigating, Atlanta turns her focus to the killing of a neighborhood dog. All paths lead to a rural dogfighting ring, and once more Atlanta finds herself face-to-face with bullies of the worst sort. Atlanta cannot abide letting bad men do awful things to those who don’t deserve it. So she sets out to unleash her own brand of teenage justice.

Will Atlanta triumph? Or is fighting back just asking for a face full of bad news?

Atlanta Burns is a kind of YA contemporary that is dark — so dark that the world in which the titular character exists is almost a caricature of itself. I’ve seen the book described as noir, which is something I usually associate with detectives in oversized coats, but that works here in the sense that Atlanta’s world is bleak. Almost everyone is corrupt, incompetent, or outright evil. The handful of characters that aren’t evil are damaged as a result of being the victims of those who are. These include Atlanta (mostly) and the two boys she befriends at school, Shane and Chris.

It’s a tough read. One I enjoyed, but at the same time — oof.

Firstly, if you are triggered by any of the following, this isn’t the book for you: rape, child abuse, torture, suicide, animal harm, homophobia and violent racism. 

Also, if swearing and drug use bother you, again, maybe don’t go here.

(I told you it was dark.)

Atlanta is the survivor of childhood sexual abuse — a situation she extricated herself from by buying herself a secondhand gun and shooting the perpetrator. She was then sent away to therapy for either six months or a year (my copy of the book says both — oops). The story opens up two weeks after she comes home to a mother that seems to be terrified of her and former best friends who don’t even want to make eye contact.

Atlanta suffers PTSD and panic attacks, but her particular coping mechanism whenever she’s bullied, or sees anyone else being bullied, is to confront the bully with extreme prejudice, cans of mace and her trusty shotgun — generally without thinking anything through in advance. She’s quite fragile beneath the bluster, and afterwards she suffers, but in a crisis she is as hard as nails. Maybe this reaction is a result of the same personality trait that made her buy the gun in the first place, or maybe it’s a result of therapy gone awry. It’s unclear.

Of course, given the world Atlanta lives in, there’s no shortage of opportunities for her to leap in and make things worse. Which, given her fire and lack of planning, she generally does.

In many ways, Atlanta Burns was a satisfying read. As a reader, nothing frustrates me more than when I see a character that is sufficiently evil get away with their evilness. And I’ve learned I’m kinda sorta bloodthirsty (as a reader, honest!), in that I love to see the bad guy get comeuppance at the hands of the good guy. Atlanta’s lack of impulse control and readiness to resort to violence meant I saw all sorts of bad guys get hurt. It was very satisfying!

Where it got a little unrealistic was when the bad guys didn’t seem to strike back as hard as I thought they would or should given their other behaviour. Atlanta does quite a few things to goad people without actually killing them, and their reactions don’t seem to match up to their apparent level of evilness.

The other thing that bothered me was that I kept trying to apply my understanding of the real world to the situation, and Atlanta’s world clearly wasn’t like mine. In the world of this story, the police can’t be trusted and the only adult in her life is her useless, timid mother. The teachers are largely non-entities. I realise that Atlanta going all vigilante defender of the weak does require a corrupt setting (in the same way that Batman needs his Gotham City) but at times I did raise an eyebrow at her thinking she had no other alternative but violence.

At least, I sincerely hope that there aren’t really places like the town where Atlanta lives in the world. 😦

Atlanta Burns is a hard read, but I loved Atlanta as a character. I’m sure I’ll go back for the next book, but I couldn’t read the sequel back-to-back. I need something a bit lighter to cleanse my psyche first!

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Four stars


Review: ‘Autumn Bones’ by Jacqueline Carey

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Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism, and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel.

Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer, she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one.

He’s descended from Obeah sorcerers and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything…

Anyone with a very long memory will recall that I was looking forward to Autumn Bones releasing in 2014. More than two years later, I finally read the thing — though I don’t know why I didn’t read it sooner. I’m easily distracted by shiny things, I guess!

Autumn Bones is the second in the Agent of Hel series by brilliant fantasy writer Jacqueline Carey. I read the first, Dark Currents, back in 2012 and loved it (but that was before I was regularly reviewing books so I can’t link you a review, sadly). Of course, before starting Autumn Bones I couldn’t remember much about the series except for the fact it had a main character named Daisy who was half demon.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that you can read Autumn Bones as a standalone book if you get the opportunity; you’ll be able to follow the story just fine. Daisy’s voice is such that she has a way of reminding you about things in a chatty way that makes you feel like she’s catching you up on her story over a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. It’s one of my favourite things about the book, honestly. (Also, she and her friends compare themselves the Buffy and the Scooby Gang, so you know they’re speaking my language!)

The other is the fact Daisy has a tail. Which is apparently very sensitive; she likes it when it’s scratched.

On that note, Autumn Bones is adult urban fantasy, but — despite Carey’s other books being quite, erm, intense — goes pretty light on the sex scenes. They do happen, but they are either glossed over or are described but in a very general way. We’re not talking erotica here. (Honestly, I was a tiny bit disappointed … but that says more about me than it does about the book.)

I’m not a usual fan of the love triangle story device. In this instance the book has something closer to a … love square? But Daisy is an old-fashioned and relatively wholesome girl, despite her ancestry, so it’s mostly that she notices other guys — we’re not talking orgies* or affairs or anything. It’s more that there’s the man she’s had a crush on since she was in school, who likes her but can’t hook up with her for family reasons. There’s the hot biker ghoul that she is attracted to but generally keeps it professional with. And there’s her actual boyfriend, who is fun, albeit related to some rather unsavoury types.

(*Except that one time, in the opening chapter of the book. But she’s there to break the orgy up, not take part. And she’s mortified by the experience; there’s a lot of “ew” from her, which made me giggle.)

You might be wondering about the clash between Daisy being the daughter of a demon and the fact she’s named Daisy and says “ew” at orgies. It’s because her mother didn’t set out to summon a demon; it was an accident, and once she got pregnant she set out to raise her daughter to be a good person. As well as the tail, Daisy wrestles with strong emotions — strong enough that things tend to get creepy around her if she gets mad enough — but she has been taught that to give in to the demon side of herself would fracture the wall between earth and hell, which is a lot of incentive to stay on (or at least adjacent to) the path of righteousness.

As a reader, part of me really wants to see Daisy embrace her inner demon, though. I’m imagining it’d be like Elsa in Frozen, except with fire. I’ll bring the marshmallows!

Ahem. Anyway. The story in Autumn Bones is a little meandering, and is sometimes slow-paced, especially towards the start. There weren’t any earth-shattering plot twists, but I enjoyed the story and was entertained nevertheless. I’ve already ordered the sequel, which I gather is the last book in the series. (Noooo!)

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Four-and-a-half stars


In case you missed it, last Thursday I was over at Aussie Owned and Read, talking about starting a story right.

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Goodreads reading challenge – 2016 wrap-up

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Actual figure: 48. See note below.

I’m a huge fan of the Goodreads reading challenge, as it’s something that keeps me motivated to read, even when life gets crazy busy and sometimes I’d rather just sleep. (What? I like sleep!) So, once again, here are the books I read in 2016, with some handy statistics. (I also like statistics. I did up an Excel spreadsheet with formulas and everything!)

I haven’t included any of my own books that I’ve read in the editing process, because then Goodreads asks me to rate them and I personally don’t want to go there.

  • 77% were one stripe or another of speculative fiction, with 27% being fantasy, 21% being urban fantasy and 17% being sci-fi. Interestingly, 10% were superhero fiction, which is something I hadn’t really read at all before 2016.
  • 63% of the books I read were by women writers (or had a women co-author in the case of Gemina). I am very happy with this stat. In 2015, I over-corrected from my male-dominated reading habits to get to 87% women. I prefer it to be closer to balanced, but — given that I do the Australian Women Writers challenge every year too — the numbers are always going to favour women writers a little.
  • Two new-to-me authors featured very heavily this year: Brandon Sanderson (21%) and Emmie Mears (13%). I hadn’t read either of them before 2016 and they are now big favourites. (They are also responsible for all the superhero books I read, and the bulk of the fantasy!) Sanderson also made up the majority of the books by men that I read in 2016. I am nothing if not consistent.
  • Format-wise, 48% of my reads were paperback or hardcover books; 16% were audiobooks; and 9% were on my Kindle.

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One thing I noticed after I got the screen grabs from Goodreads is that it didn’t record me having re-read Divided, even though I changed the date completed. Grr. I did include it in the stats above, but here is a picture of the cover, so the book doesn’t feel left out:

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How did you go with your reading this year? What was your favourite book (or your favourite top five if you’re like me and can’t commit to one)?