Review: ‘Eye of the Storm’ by Emmie Mears

Eye of the Storm cover

Earth teeters on the edge of a razor sharp blade.

With the Summit on barely-unified tenterhooks and hellkin bubbling into Earth with no sun to stop them, Ayala Storme has her hard-won family, an uncertain new love, and a team of allies — half of whom have betrayed her in the past.

When the cities of North America begin to fall to demon hordes, Ayala has to fight her way back into Nashville in a desperate hope to save her city. With the witches trying to find the original source of the imbalance that allows hellkin a tie to Earth and the Mediators ready to draw their swords every time they see a shade, time is ticking away.

The witches are working as fast as they can, but what they find may shake the foundations of everything Ayala has ever known — and the answers needed to salvage what’s left of Earth may only lie beyond Earth itself, in the sixth hell.

The battles are over. It’s time for the war.

Eye of the Storm is the fourth and last book in the Ayala Storme series, which is now one of my favourite urban fantasy/alternate Earth series out there. You can find my reviews of the first three books here, but if you need further convincing, I’ll give you some reasons why you should read the series. (Note: You really do need to read the series — don’t jump in at book four and expect to be able to keep track of all the characters!)

Some minor spoilers for earlier books follow.

Eye of the Storm is, as the blurb makes clear, about the arrival of the demon-induced apocalypse. The beginning felt a little awkward to me, in that I didn’t quite follow the reasons for Ayala and her crew leaving Nashville to go back to their cabin in the woods. (That might have just been because I stayed up past my bedtime several nights in a row and missed some crucial piece of detail.) However, once the action gets going, it really gets going.

I enjoy apocalypse fiction, and Eye of the Storm definitely delivered. There is a lot of emphasis on getting back into the city, on bunkering down and surviving, on attempts to work together even though the Summit is divided on how to deal with Ayala’s allies, the shades.

The witches, led by Gryfflet Ashberry, are trying to work out a spell to help them figure out what it is that allows the demons to create portals to Earth. Ayala isn’t big on the research — like I said in a previous review, she’s more like Buffy than Willow (except that both Ayala and Willow are bisexual, of course). Still, she’s involved enough that we get a sense for how his research is progressing — and once it gets to a certain point, she has to take finding answers into her own hands. By that point I’d already guessed what the big reveal/information would be, but I found what she got up to interesting reading nonetheless!

One big point of difference between this and most end-of-the-world stories is that, although we get a lot of monster-splatting action along the way, the book doesn’t end in a big smack-down fight but with more of a “witches’ ritual and epic speech” vibe. I was actually glad of the difference; it wasn’t that the big fight didn’t happen, just that we only got to see parts of it. And since there wasn’t some giant uber-bad to fight — a dragon to slay or whatever — if we’d seen more of it, it would’ve felt a little … samey?

This entire series is fast paced and full of action, sass, tender romance (though barely any sex), strong friendships and splattery fights. There are some swears if that sort of thing bothers you. If it doesn’t, read Ayala Storme. You won’t regret it.

Four-and-a-half stars


My name is Cassandra, and I’m a Pokemon GO addict…

Vaporeon Pokemon GoI was on holidays when Pokemon GO came out. But I still had my smart phone, so I saw the flood of posts on social media. At first I was bemused by the idea, because I never really got into Pokemon as I was growing up. But my son is seven and a mad Pokemon fan; he got about 15 Pokemon plushies for his birthday (including the Vaporeon pictured above). He’s seen a lot of the TV show — like, a lot — and has some of the old games, though he hasn’t played them much due to the amount of fast reading required.

Anyway, I didn’t think much of the idea of Pokemon. How is going out and capturing wild animals and then using them in battles for sport a good idea? (Where is the RSPCA in this universe? Not to mention all the ten year old kids leaving home to go on adventures to catch said wild animals! And do the Pokeballs have toilets? So many questions!) Still, Pikachu was cute, and my boy enjoyed it and absorbed the various names and evolutions like a sponge.

On the other hand, once I learned more about Pokemon GO, I was fascinated. I found the idea of augmented reality games, something I hadn’t really encountered before, strangely compelling. So when my son came home after our holiday (via Sydney, where he stayed with his dad for a few days), I wasn’t exactly upset that he had a Pokemon GO account and was already level 14.

Of course, he doesn’t have a phone, so I have to play it with him. Right?

Seriously, this game is so much fun — and, more than that, I love how easy it is to get my couch potato of a child out of the house. On Friday I got a tip-off from someone at work of a good place to catch Pikachu. Normally my boy would prefer to sit at home and watch Pokemon on TV, especially after school, but instead we scooted down to the local lake and spent an hour stomping around, playing at the park and making friends with people’s dogs.

There is a spectrum of people who play Pokemon GO, as there is in any other endeavour, but for the most part I’ve found them to be friendly and open. Sure, we’ve come across the occasional pack of swearing teenage boys (something I wouldn’t have an issue with if my boy weren’t listening), and after we captured a gym the look on one young man’s face as he stormed up gave me pause. Boy, was he pissed!

But there have been a lot of people like me, taking their kids out for a stroll and catching Eevees. We’ve seen a lady taking her parrot out for some air, randomly met some kids my boy knew from school, and commiserated with strangers when their Squirtle ran away. We’ve also been out to a lot of local tourist attractions, hunting for Pokemon. (If you’re visiting Canberra, get a friend to drive you around all the Poke-stops in the arboretum. Wow!)

I’m not a Pokemon expert yet, by any stretch of the imagination, but luckily I have a small consultant to hand. I’ve finally figured out how to throw a decent curveball, and we’ve evolved a Raichu. I’m still not 100% sure about the “wild animals battling” thing, but it bothers me less in game form, where they are impersonal elemental forces, rather than in the TV show, where they can emote, and snuggle their owners. (I am suspicious of what the professor needs all those spare Pokemon for. Is he feeding them into a compactor to make candy? Building a Pokemon army?! Again, so many questions!)

Do you play Pokemon GO? Have you found it a positive experience overall?

Pokemon


Reviews: ‘Every Word’ and ‘Every Move’ by Ellie Marney

Every Word_cover

James Mycroft has just left for London to investigate a car accident similar to the one that killed his parents seven years ago…without saying goodbye to Rachel Watts, his ‘partner in crime’.

Rachel is furious and worried about his strange behaviour — not that Mycroft’s ever exactly normal, but London is the scene of so many of his nightmares. So Rachel jumps on a plane to follow him…and lands straight in a whole storm of trouble.

The theft of a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the possible murder of a rare books conservator, and the deaths of Mycroft’s parents…Can Watts help Mycroft make sense of the three events – or will she lose him forever?

Sparks fly when Watts and Mycroft reunite in this second sophisticated thriller about the teen sleuthing duo.

Every_Movie_cover

Rachel Watts is suffering from recurring nightmares about her near-death experience in London. She just wants to forget the whole ordeal, but her boyfriend, James Mycroft, is obsessed with piecing the puzzle together and anticipating the next move of the mysterious Mr Wild — his own personal Moriarty.

So when Rachel’s brother, Mike, suggests a trip back to their old home in Five Mile, Rachel can’t wait to get away. Unfortunately it’s not the quiet weekend she was hoping for with the unexpected company of Mike’s old school buddy, the wildly unreliable Harris Derwent.

Things get worse for Rachel when Harris returns to Melbourne with them – but could Harris be the only person who can help her move forward? Then a series of murders suggests that Mr Wild is still hot on their tails and that Mycroft has something Wild wants — something Wild is prepared to kill for.

Can Watts and Mycroft stay one step ahead of the smartest of all criminal masterminds? The stage is set for a showdown of legendary proportions…

I read the first book in the Every trilogy last year — although I didn’t actually realise it was a trilogy till partway through the second book, Every Word. That was a little bit devastating, knowing that the amount of Rachel and Mycroft I had left to go was finite …  I was hoping it’d go on forever.😦

I devoured Every Word and Every Move in the space of a week, which is really fast for me given I also had work and general adulting to do as well. As a result, this is a combined review, which works here but I have no idea how I’ll get it into Goodreads. (Eh, that’s future Cass’s problem!)

All three books in the series are fast-paced, with a murder mystery, some forensic science (Mycroft’s hobby and, later, part-time job), some heated kissing and some moments that left me reeling. As far as the mysteries go, I guessed where the Folio was hidden in the second book (yay) but not who Moriarty actually was (boo). Despite the second book being slightly more transparent, the climax of that was so much more nail-biting to me. For some stupid, naive reason, I expected Ellie Marney to pull her punches a little. She definitely disabused me of that notion in Every Word. (At least by Every Move I was expecting it…)

The second and third books have the same overarching plot, events arising from the death of Mycroft’s parents seven years before, which is why it was great to read them back-to-back. There is closure of the smaller mystery at the end of the second book, but the Moriarty-like villain lingers on.

I should say, for those that haven’t read any of these books or the review that I linked, that these books are inspired by Sherlock Holmes. The characters are aware of the similarities in their names to the famous crime-solving duo, making little in-jokes about it, and the villain actually refers to himself as Moriarty at one point as a nod to that as well.

Of course, as far as I can recall, there isn’t a budding romance between Holmes and Watson. The same can’t be said of Mycroft and Watts, who are one of my new favourite young adult couples. I love how realistic and awkward they are with one another. I love that the obstacles they face in their relationship as time goes on include Rachel’s overprotective parents, something I expect a lot of teenage girls (and many boys) can relate to.

What there isn’t in these two books is a lot of school time. In fact, other than a school dance at one point, there’s not a single scene in either of these books set at school. I can’t think of the last time I read a young adult series that did that!

Every Word is set in London, while Every Move is back in Australia, and the sense of setting in each book is real enough to touch. You can tell that Ellie Marney went to London as part of her research (or maybe on a holiday) — there are details in there that you can’t get from Google street view. Likewise, her descriptions of Australia, of Melbourne and the bush around Five Mile, Rachel’s childhood home, are so real I could close my eyes and not only see but smell and feel the setting. It was wonderful!

The other thing I adored was how Aussie the characters are. Rachel is a farm girl at heart, and her and Mike, her older brother, have the best dialogue, so rich with slang and familiar to me. It warmed my heart. (Though I did raise an eyebrow when Rachel said crikey once — does anyone actually say that?)

Other good things about this book include a realistic depiction of PTSD that doesn’t leave the character hiding in cupboards (I’m looking at you, Katniss Everdeen!); a heart-rending depiction of dealing with grief; an awesome, complex family relationship (Mike! Rachel’s mum!); and a girl being friends with another guy than the one she loves without it turning into a love triangle (it can happen!). Oh, and Mai. I adored Mai.

Have I convinced you yet? Seriously, go read this series.

EllieMarney

Five stars


Review: ‘Under Rose-Tainted Skies’ by Louise Gornall

Under Rose-Tainted Skies_cover

I’m Norah, and my life happens within the walls of my house, where I live with my mom and this evil overlord called agoraphobia.

Everything’s under control. It’s not rosy — I’m not going to win any prizes for Most Exciting Life or anything, but at least I’m safe from the outside world, right?

Wrong. This new boy, Luke, just moved in next door, and suddenly staying safe isn’t enough. If I don’t take risks, how will I ever get out — or let anyone in?

This book, you guys. It’s the sort of Own Voices diverse book that I often hear about but don’t often seem to read, probably because of my obsession with urban fantasy novels. It is unflinching and in-your-face, told in the first person present tense — the style that gets the reader closest to the thoughts and actions of the protagonist.

Our protagonist is Norah. She has agoraphobia and OCD, suffering debilitating anxiety attacks when she has to leave the house or when things in her environment are out of order. She’s terrified of germs and overthinks things. Like, really overthinks them — and not just the things that most people worry about, but things that might seem tiny in the grand scheme of things but to Norah’s brain are critical. For example, there’s almost an entire page of dialogue where all of Norah’s increasingly anxious thoughts are about how the other person has a piece of hair stuck to their lip.

Norah’s conditions mean pretty much this entire book is set inside her house, and for a lot of that she is alone — but her mind is so busy all the time, and Gornall’s style is so engaging, that I didn’t really notice the lack of variety in the scenery. Occasionally we get glimpses of Norah’s sass, which made me laugh, but my favourite thing was Gornall’s cleverly descriptive use of comparisons, and the way she interweaves Norah’s symptoms (such as picking at scabs or chewing her nails) into the action seamlessly.

Take this example:

A vocal tic rolls up my chest, pushed by pressure, until it flops out of my mouth and I moan like Frankenstein’s monster.

Or this:

His smile sets my kitchen on fire.

I could go on for days with examples (I chose those two by opening the book random), but I want to talk about the “he” in question. Luke is Norah’s new neighbour, and he’s basically the sweetest thing. He decides Norah’s cute when he glimpses her through her bedroom window and soon realises she’s not what he expected — but curiosity, a good heart and an understanding of mental illness due to a family member having it mean that he persists in trying to get to know Norah when she’d probably prefer he didn’t.

Although Luke is possibly slightly too good to be true, I was pleased to see that he wasn’t your typical magic bullet trope. I won’t go into details of what I mean here, because I don’t want to get too spoiler-y, but Hollywood definitely has certain stereotypes about women being “saved”, shown the error of their ways by a man, and let’s just say that’s not what happens here. Yes, Luke does broaden Norah’s horizons (before she met him she really only had in-depth conversations with her mother and doctor). But she isn’t magically cured by virtue of his presence.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough, you guys — and also, before I finish up, take a moment to admire the pretty cover. There are three different-coloured versions of this cover, all in different shades of pink; I got the palest pink one and I love it!

Under Rose-Tainted Skies_2

Five stars


Review: ‘Their Fractured Light’ by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Their Fractured Light

A year ago, Flynn Cormac and Jubilee Chase made the now infamous Avon Broadcast, calling on the galaxy to witness for their planet, and protect them from destruction. Some say Flynn’s a madman, others whisper about conspiracies. Nobody knows the truth. A year before that, Tarver Merendsen and Lilac LaRoux were rescued from a terrible shipwreck—now, they live a public life in front of the cameras, and a secret life away from the world’s gaze.

Now, in the center of the universe on the planet of Corinth, all four are about to collide with two new players, who will bring the fight against LaRoux Industries to a head. Gideon Marchant is an eighteen-year-old computer hacker—a whiz kid and an urban warrior. He’ll climb, abseil and worm his way past the best security measures to pull off onsite hacks that others don’t dare touch.

Sofia Quinn has a killer smile, and by the time you’re done noticing it, she’s got you offering up your wallet, your car, and anything else she desires. She holds LaRoux Industries responsible for the mysterious death of her father and is out for revenge at any cost.

When a LaRoux Industries security breach interrupts Gideon and Sofia’s separate attempts to infiltrate their headquarters, they’re forced to work together to escape. Each of them has their own reason for wanting to take down LaRoux Industries, and neither trusts the other. But working together might be the best chance they have to expose the secrets LRI is so desperate to hide.

I only recently reviewed book two in this series, This Shattered World, so I feel like I’m repeating myself a bit here. However, unlike This Shattered World, which more-or-less stood alone, I think Their Fractured Light is one that would strongly benefit from the backstory in the first two books. That’s because it continues with the meta-plot that was introduced in These Broken Stars and continued in This Shattered World, and brings it to a (imo) satisfying conclusion. Also, the pre-chapter snippets that are a hallmark of this series relate in this book’s case to events in all three.

So, do yourself a favour and read the first two books. I’ll wait.🙂

Not convinced yet? Ok, I’ll try and keep the rest of this spoiler-light!

In this story we get to see more of two minor characters from the second book, Sofia (Flynn’s friend) and the hacker known as the Knave of Hearts. Again, they are bizarrely young for their skill sets, though I found them both more believable than Tarver and Jubilee, the super-soldiers. I’m not sure why that is, except that I guess social manipulation and hacking are things more easily picked up from a younger age than military combat. (Maybe I’m just being naive?)

I really liked how the two of them complemented one another, despite their huge (and somewhat warranted) mutual distrust. Both are driven by their hatred of Monsieur LaRoux, Lilac’s father and the series villain, and both are very good at manipulating the world around them: people in Sofia’s case and data/computers in Gideon’s. As a couple, I thought they had more chemistry than Flynn and Jubilee did (but possibly not as much as Lilac and Tarver, though it’s been a while since I read the first book now).

Once the other four characters are introduced, the story takes quite a different turn. I found the scenes where all six of them were together a little chaotic — I’d often have to pause and consider which character was doing the talking. That wasn’t a fault of the writing, mind you, just the fact that huge ensemble casts of characters are trickier — especially when they are all so homogeneous in many ways. (Because this is a young adult series, all of the characters are young; I think the oldest, Tarver, would be 20 by this point. Both Tarver and Jubilee are soldiers, and Lilac, Sofia and Flynn are all socially adept — though they apply their skills differently, as a socialite, con artist and diplomat respectively.)

On the subject of con artists, I liked that side of Sofia, and Gideon’s illegal hacking. The fact they weren’t squeaky clean but are still on the side of good (in the sense that they are fighting the greater evil) gave them more depth.

Finally, without going into spoilery details, I can say that I mentioned on my review of the previous book that it didn’t have the same sort of epic, soul-shattering plot twist that These Broken Stars did. Let’s just say that Their Fractured Light makes up for it. In spades.

TheirFracturedLight

Four-and-a-half stars


Cass Goes Walkabout

Cass at Uluru

You may have noticed that — prior to the review of Cinnamon Girl that I posted on the weekend — I vanished off the radar for a week or so there. Or maybe you didn’t, given my posts on this blog can be sporadic at times. Either way, the absence was because my son and I went north (where the warmer weather is in Australia) for the winter.

Okay, for nine days.

Good friends of ours moved to central Australia at the start of the year, so we went to stay with them and do local touristy things — the biggest of which was a two-night stay at Yulara, the resort near Uluru.

You’ll probably guess from the above photo that it wasn’t as warm as I might have hoped. The weather was interesting, I don’t know, maybe it’s typical for a desert, but it seemed to change from day to day without much sense to it. One day it’d be cold — coats and scarves weather — and the next it’d be shorts and T-shirts weather. We got fewer of the latter kind of day than I might have liked, and two of them were the day we arrived and the day we left again. Typical!

That being said, the lowest maximum temperature we got while on holidays was still higher than the highest maximum in Canberra during the same period, so I shouldn’t complain. And it was wonderful to catch up with our friends. They have two girls, the younger of whom is close to my boy, so he had a lot of fun having a playmate in his pocket. Of course, I also got an insight into what it might have been like if I’d had two kids. So. Much. Bickering. Gah!

And Uluru was … well, it was everything I could have imagined, and several things I hadn’t. There’s something about seeing a cultural icon, a popular landmark, in the flesh for the first time. You’re so used to it being on postcards or the TV that, when you see it with your own eyes, it’s both unfamiliar and so familiar that you feel like it’s the landscape equivalent of an old friend. I’m positive at least part of my awe of the place was that feeling.

Another significant part was the overwhelming sense of the Aboriginal history. Cave art, sacred spaces where photography was discouraged, rock formations that looked like snakes or spear holes and so became them in dreamtime stories. I could easily imagine young hunters stalking across the dunes, spears in hand as they hunted for prey.

The rest of my awe was at Uluru itself. Not only is it one of the world’s biggest rocks, it stands out in the middle of a sandy plain — the terrain makes it even more striking. There were a few things that really struck me about it. Because central Australia has had a fair amount of rain recently (relatively speaking), there was a lot more greenery than I’d imagined, the rust red sand dunes covered in clumps of grass and low shrubs. We also visited a couple of waterholes at the base of the rock during our day there — they weren’t lakes by any stretch of the imagination, but there was more water than I’d imagined in a desert. One of them was swarming with tadpoles, and the other had water trickling down into it from the top of the rock, probably the remnants of overnight dew, despite it being mid-afternoon.

Finally, despite Uluru from a distance looking exactly as I’d dreamed it would, when I got up closer I was surprised at how many crevices, caves and protrusions there were. Later I discovered that, from the air, it looks sort of like a fat, wrinkly, reversed comma. (Someone make a font for that!)

Now, as much as I’m sure you’re loving hearing me ramble about my holiday, there is a point to all this. Research is great. I’m a huge fan of Google street view and Wikipedia. Huge. But, where you can swing it, there is no substitute for actually going to the place you’re writing about. I’m not writing a book set in central Australia — not yet. But visiting there sure made me want to try.


Review: ‘The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl’ by Melissa Keil

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery, and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends. 

The only problem is she’s overlooked a few teeny details:

Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared.
And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails.
And even her latest comic-book creation is misbehaving.

Also, the world might be ending — which is proving to be awkward.

As Doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba’s life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it’s the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems.

When I grow up, I want to be Melissa Keil.

Cinnamon Girl is her second young adult novel, and I’ve adored both of them. She has this knack for capturing the issues that your typical teenager goes through (what will I do when I grow up, how do I handle this new relationship) while adding a touch of geekery that appeals to my nerdy heart.❤

I gobbled this book up while I was on holidays, and I adored it. At just shy of 300 pages, it’s a shorter book, making it the perfect holiday read — and it left me with a goofy smile on my face afterwards.

As is obvious from the blurb, Alba’s primary form of geekery is comic books. She’s a talented artist and wants to go to university to do a fine arts degree, but is in that end-of-year limbo where she’s finished high school but doesn’t yet know whether she made it into the course she’s after. This, combined with her friends’ different plans for what they want to do, leaves her with a panicked “live in the now” mindset that is echoed in the world around her, with its whole pending apocalypse vibe. That last part aside, the rest is something I could really relate to.

The relationship she has with her best friend, Grady, is basically the cutest. It’s pretty obvious from the start that he has a crush on her, but although she is attracted to him she also has a massive blind spot as far as he is concerned — probably because they have been friends since they were toddlers. Although I was cheering for them to get together, I didn’t find the delay as frustrating as I have in other books, I suspect because there were a lot of other interesting things going on.

As far as the apocalypse itself goes, Cinnamon Girl is a young adult contemporary, not a dystopian — it’s clear from the start of the book that the person forecasting the end of the world is a TV hack. But it’s really interesting to see the kaleidoscope that is the doomsday enthusiasts through Alba’s eyes.

Also, a special mention needs to go to all the food in this book. Alba lives and works in a bakery, and I spent the entire time I was reading this hankering for an apple danish or chocolate croissant. Mmm.

Cinnamon Girl is suitable for any age group from maybe mid-teens. There isn’t actual swearing or anything beyond kissing, though there is mention of sex and drug use. It’s the end of the world; of course stoners show up for a party!😉

Seriously, you guys, read this book.

CinnamonGirl2

Five stars


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