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)?


Australian Women Writers Challenge – 2016 wrap up

AWW2016he Australian Women Writers’ Challenge is part of a world-wide movement to raise awareness of excellent writing by women. It helps readers to challenge the subconscious stereotypes that govern our choice of books to read. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female, Australian and non-Australian, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up. You can choose to read and review, or read only.

This is my third year doing the Australian Women Writers challenge — I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 15 books, the same as I achieved last year. Again, I managed to get there, but only by a hair’s breadth. Well, a day. Which could be construed as a hair in some circles, I suppose.

I also did the Goodreads challenge, which I completed a while back. I’ll do a post on that in the next day or two. (I don’t want too many posts in a row; given I’ve been AWOL lately, I don’t want to frighten you all!)

Here is a link to each review, as well as my star rating for each book. They are listed in chronological order.

You’ll note that the link to Undivided is to my review on Goodreads; I originally reviewed the book a couple of years ago when it had another name, but I re-read it before I read Shattered. I updated the Goodreads review, but not the one on the blog. You’ll also note that I couldn’t find a paperback cover anywhere for The Firebird (which I listened to as an audiobook, or I would’ve scanned it!). This fact still pains me… :S

It has been a good year. I can’t wait to see what awesome books I discover in 2017!


Review: ‘Darkness Unbound’ by Keri Arthur

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The fight against darkness rages on for the next generation—in New York Times bestselling author Keri Arthur’s exciting new series set in the world of the Guardians.

Being half werewolf and half Aedh, Risa Jones can enter the twilight realms between life and death and see the reapers, supernatural beings that collect the souls of the dead. But she soon makes a terrifying discovery: Some sinister force is stealing souls, preventing the dead from ever knowing the afterlife.

Reapers escort souls — not snatch them — but Risa is still unnerved when a reaper shadows her in search of someone Risa has never met: her own father, an Aedh priest, who is rumored to be tampering with the gates of hell for a dark purpose. With the help of her “aunt” — half-werewolf, half-vampire Riley Jenson — and an Aedh named Lucian who may have lost his wings but none of his sex appeal, Risa must pursue whatever shadowy practitioner of blood magic is seizing souls, and somehow stop her father . . . before all hell breaks loose.

I had a vague idea that this was the first book in a series set in a world already established by a previous series. But, because it was the first book, I figured I’d be safe not to read the other series first. I was only partially correct in that assumption.

Keri Arthur’s world is … complicated. By way of example, her main character, Risa, is the daughter of a woman who is a cloned werewolf psychic consultant to celebrities; her father is an Aedh (a spirit being roughly akin to an angel). Her housemates and business partners are a horse shapeshifter who is a powerful witch, and a half-werewolf with pyrokinetic powers.

I managed to wrap my head around that part, but then you have all of Risa’s “aunts” and “uncles” (who I thought were really her aunts and uncles until towards the end of the book, when I realised they were her mother’s friends, presumably from the first series). They include half vampires, werewolves, guardians and I don’t even know what else. There were so many names and supernatural backstories that they blurred together. But I found once we got past the cameos and associated info dumps and I decided it didn’t matter, Darkness Unbound was an easier read.

The other thing I had to put to one side was that Risa is a bit of a Mary Sue character: gorgeous, with a selection of awesome superpowers and scad-loads of money. She even describes herself as “obscenely wealthy” at one point, and she had her housemates co-run a successful restaurant. I found her a little hard to relate to, because she never seems to really struggle for anything in her day-to-day life (and her restaurant income doesn’t seem to explain her alleged wealth). Again, this might be a symptom of the second-generation nature of the story — maybe her mother and the aunts and uncles already did the struggling so that Risa could benefit? I don’t know.

All of that being said, I still gave Darkness Unbound three stars, which is “I liked it” on the Goodreads scale (which I use because I’m lazy!). There are redeeming features in the story itself: there are bad guys with dastardly plans that Risa gets drawn into investigating. There’s a fair amount of shirtless eye candy (although a baffling lack of regular humans given the story is set in Melbourne!). Risa does get her ass handed to her on occasion, but she is also competent and quick-thinking when she gets into a jam, and can kick a decent amount of butt in her own right. That’s my favourite kind of heroine, so she gets points for that too.

One thing I should point out that didn’t bother me but that may not be to everyone’s taste is that werewolves in this world have the morals and sexual drive of a cat on heat. It may be related to the moon being full? I wasn’t clear on the details, but the upshot is that Risa is part-werewolf and casual sex is a thing. (I gather she has also used male werewolf sex workers in the past to satisfy her lusts — I personally like that girl power angle!) There’s even an orgy at one point. We’re not talking “Anita Blake later in that series” numbers of sexual encounters, thank goodness — it’s not the point of the story by any means. But the sex scenes in Darkness Unbound are explicit to the point of being erotica.

The last quarter of the book is where things really pick up pace and get more interesting, and that’s what saved Darkness Unbound somewhat for me. But there is less closure than some might like. The plot involving the “gates of hell” mentioned in the blurb is obviously the meta-plot for the series, and — although some questions are answered and there’s a twist that I found motivating (if not that surprising as it was well foreshadowed) — there are a lot of threads left unresolved.

If you’re looking for a complex urban fantasy world with some steamy sex, then I’d recommend this series. Actually, no, I think I’d recommend the other series first. That way this one will be less of a shock to the system.

(Edited to add: Goodreads tells me the first book in the original series has a lot more sex than this one … if that influences your decision-making one way or the other! 😉 )

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Three stars


My top five(ish) Instagram posts of 2016

I was going to do a list of my favourite bookish Christmas Instagram posts by other people, because there are some corkers out there, but WordPress restrictions prevent me from properly embedding Instagram posts so that people can readily access the original. And I wasn’t comfortable copying the images off Instagram and uploading them separately, even with links, because that way lies madness and copyright infringement.

So. I decided instead to list my own top five most liked posts from 2016 — because that way they are my own photos and I can’t get in trouble from anyone but me. (I may have a stern word with myself later…) I’m still relatively small time in #bookstagram circles, but these posts did better than usual, and I’m rather proud of that.

You’ll notice that every single one of these images has something in common: a PopVinyl figure. I have a rather embarrassing collection of them and, while I do post a few images without them, those never seem to be as popular. I can understand that. I love my Pops too! ❤

Five — 99 likes

I chose five because that’s how I roll. Of course, the problem is that three of my images are tied at 99 likes each. And if you don’t think that the missing like to get them to 100 is driving me nuts, you’re kidding yourself. :p

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Four– 103 likes

This is such a simple photo — I noticed that my Katniss Pop went really well with the cover of Atlanta Burns, so I, um, popped the two together and snapped a pic. I didn’t predict how well it would do.

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Three– 105 likes

I posted this just after Fantastic Beasts came out (it’s a great movie, btw), so I guess it was always going to do reasonably well! The book was a Christmas present from my son, but (because he’s seven and I actually had to pay for it) I took the picture before we wrapped it up. Shh!

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Two — 109 likes

Another tie! The picture of Cinder is very recent; I only took and posted it this week. The other one is about a month old. Rose isn’t my favourite companion, but for reasons I don’t understand you can’t get Donna Nobel or Martha Jones as Pops. Gah!

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One — 133 likes

I’m tickled pink that my most liked picture so far is of my own books. I’d like to imagine that is the reason, but I suspect it has more to do with the Sarah PopVinyl (from Labyrinth), and the fact I had a Scentsy burner in there. Still, I’m going to call it a win!

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Three of my 2016 Australian Women Writer reads that you should definitely check out

Like I did in 2015, I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing fifteen books by Australian women writers. I’m currently at fourteen and on my last read now — hopefully I’ll be able to get it finished in the next couple of days, despite various holiday commitments. I’ll review it and then post a wrap-up post when I’m done.

Still, I’m confident in being able to recommend three reads from these fifteen books already. I was originally going to make this a top five for 2016, but that got too hard. I’ve already listed my top five YA reads over at Aussie Owned and Read; three of those were by Australian women writers — Gemina, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, and Every Word (as well as Every Move in the same series) — and I didn’t want to be repetitive. Consider all three of them already heartily endorsed.

I’ve also excluded the Aussie Owned and Read girls’ books because I am friends with them (though you should check out Fame, Pretend and Shattered).

So, with that in mind — and noting that I’m basically recommending nine books here, not three 🙂 — here are three you should definitely check out.

‘Heart of Brass’ by Felicity Banks

Regular readers of my blog will know that I only reviewed this one last month. It’s by a Canberra writer who I only just discovered, and is a steampunk set in gold rush Victoria. In the space of a couple-hundred words, we get to see the main character, Emmeline, go from proper society lady who conforms to (most) social expectations while chaffing at the restrictions they impose to convict and criminal rebelling against an unfair system.  The last 100 pages of the paperback are a Choose Your Own Adventure. Seriously!

‘Faking It’ by Gabrielle Tozer

Faking It is the sequel to The Intern, which I reviewed last year; however, it stands alone. It’s very light, fun and easy to read, with a fair number of cringe-worthy moments. But, for me, the shining treasure in this book is the dialogue, especially Josie’s. Her intermittent verbal filter meant that she often came out with lines that had me giggling, and at other times were raw in their honesty. The other thing I really enjoyed was catching a glimpse of Josie’s mother recovering from her shattered relationship and starting to date again. Even though Josie was quietly horrified, I was all, “You go, Josie’s mum!”

‘Their Fractured Light’ by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

This is the third and final book in the Starbound series; I also read the second book this year, but I enjoyed the third one more. However, unlike with Faking It, you really need to read the entire series to fully appreciate the conclusion to the meta-plot that flows through all three books. You won’t regret it, though. (By the way, I know that Meagan Spooner isn’t Australian, but Amie is — in the same way that I included Gemina as an AWW read despite the fact that Jay Kristoff is a dude. It totally counts!)

Now, since I’m planning on doing the AWW challenge again in 2017, this is your chance to recommend me some awesome books by Aussie women from your own reading lists. Please leave a comment! 🙂