Review: Troublemakers by Catherine Barter

TroublemakersTroublemakers by Catherine Barter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A book with more diversity than action which ultimately makes it a slow and quiet read a far cry from what the blurb seems to promise.

Pros:
– The diversity and liberal thinking in Troublemakers was wonderful to read and it kept my interest up throughout as I was curious about how Barter was going to continue to present these characters in a complex way without going to stereotypes; she did it brilliantly! This makes Troublemakers easily one of my favourite books for how it displayed a variety of lifestyles in a normalised way without shouting about them
– In a climate where there’s a desperate push to engage young people in politics, I enjoyed the maturity of the protagonist’s political dilemmas, although, that same maturity didn’t make her feel like a very realistic teenager. Her depth of thought about politics clashes with her naivete about relationships and I feel that being very perceptive in one area would imply you are in the other. She didn’t feel realistic or all that interesting.

Cons:
– I wanted this book to be written by Danny. Danny was the most interesting character and I was bored by a fairly easy-going coming-of-age story when we could have been given something with so much more depth from Danny’s viewpoint. If that was made into a prequel I’d buy it in a heartbeat!
– There were a few scenes in this that completely took me out of the book and ruined it for me; they were entirely unrealistic and took away from the story
– The entire book felt as though it was building to something that doesn’t happen, the climax is ultimately anti-climatic and it all gets solved very neatly and they live happily ever after. The blurb had me expecting a novel with a bit more of a punch, I would’ve been far happier with the book had it been marketed differently to suit its style

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Review: The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1)The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A highly immersive fantasy read that gives a hopeful strong start to the daunting (in terms of how much of my life will be spent reading it!) yet exciting series ahead.

This series was recommended to me by my boyfriend and on agreeing to give it a go, I was nervous for four reasons:
1) We enjoy very different books and rarely think too much about each other’s reading choices so our recommendations to each other are fairly few and far between but he loves the series so much I was convinced I had to give it a go.
2) Jack’s now on his second reading of the series within the space of a year so I already feel as though my head has been battered with the peripheral information I’ve picked up about the WoT universe and a lot of that information sounds bizarre out of context.
3) This series is huge! Weighing in at a mammoth 11,000 odd pages, it’s a daunting undertaking to say the least.
4) I’m not a great lover of fantasy fiction. Most of the time I find it too dry and overly full of complex lore and history that I just don’t want to understand. Hear me out here before you judge me! I’m a history student. Reading fantasy fiction feels too much like work and I get irritated that its work that I can’t actually do much with except grapple to understand it while thinking I should be spending that time learning actual history instead. So I’m not charmed by any fantasy other than LOTR and even that feels like a lyrical textbook I want to study rather than get absorbed in.

So I braced myself to hate the world of WoT and to have to read my golden rule of at least 56% of this first book (which would come to around 450 pages) before casting it as a DNF. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I fell in love with the world and pored over the new discoveries about its history, cultures and wonderfully thoughtful details. I was enchanted by the characters and the brilliant pacing of their developments and relationships with each other and their discovery of the world around them. The female characters are also like a breath of fresh air, I didn’t expect much given that the book was written in the early 90s and of my vaguely misogynistic impressions of the fantasy genre so it came as a huge relief when they weren’t just portrayed as damsel-in-distress love/sex objects but actually carried a huge punch of personality and independence.

The considerable downside was the plot; for me, it was meh. I didn’t care much for how it progressed and there were so many times where I wanted the pacing to be different. Sometimes the actions of the characters felt out of sync with their personalities just so it could move the plot and that bothered me. On top of that, it just felt like the plot was a vehicle to build the world rather than actually serving any other purpose. I didn’t care what happened, I cared about the characters and the world. Perhaps, for so early on in this huge series, that is enough for now.

Above all, I loved the readability of the writing and that is what makes me excited for the books ahead. Unlike a lot of fantasy fiction, all of the immense detail didn’t make the fantasy feel like work; it made it come alive. This could be because of how many ideas Jordan borrows from what I know of medieval and early modern Britain; the world feels familiar enough to make me believe in the fantastical. If this book is any indication of what the series as a whole will be like then I’m looking forward to seeing how the Wheel turns!

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Review: One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting twist on coming-of-age character arcs and on The Breakfast Club story that most (older) readers will be familiar with; One of Us Is Lying adds depths to characters that transforms stereotypes without development feeling shoehorned into a plot.

To address and avoid the spoilers that some people have taken issue with; I’d like to throw in my opinion that McManus handled the sensitive issues brilliantly in the context they were in. Had she written about them in another way (as some people have recommended), they would stick out like a sore thumb in a book that beautifully depicts the trials and tribulations of adolescence. As for the secrets of the characters, they were all developed throughout the story and in keeping with the way the mystery unfolded to keep up the suspense and to show that teenagers, just like anyone, have their secrets. Certain issues were not thrown in there for effect or for plot drama, they were well handled and very relevant to how these issues present themselves in the lives of young adults.

Now that’s over with…
This book was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The author’s skill lies in how she adds depths to all the characters and smashes through the stereotypes that feel exhaustively shitty to begin with. Persevere through the first couple of chapters and be aware that they frame the book, they’re not by any means what the author sticks to. Instead, with great subtlety and care, the author takes us along the individuals’ own paths of self-discovery and it feels as painful, dramatic and emotional as teenagers’ lives often are in reality.

The plot is fairly meh and has its clumsy aspects hence 4 stars instead of 5 but it is interesting enough to keep the reader plotting along – you can tell pretty early on that the advertised plot isn’t the book’s main focus but the glue to piece together the more interesting elements.

I’d definitely read this again to get pointers for character development in my own writing and I’d highly recommend it for teenagers facing issues with identity or who are having difficulty in imagining the complexity in the lives of others. The range of characters means there is a good chance one (or many) will resonate with you and the people you encountered growing up; their different viewpoints bring the story to life.

This book can be summed up neatly in just three words: Individuals Contain Multitudes.

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Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

World War Z is as difficult to forget as it is to read, but by no means does that make it a book to avoid. Its unique structure brings life (haha) to an overdone genre by giving it the credibility it drastically needs without withholding the horror that appeals to so many zombie enthusiasts.

Pros:
– It’s easily the most convincing horror book I’ve read, which, for a zombie apocalypse-esque book, is really saying something.
– The interview structure of World War Z means it isn’t your typical gore-fest but is instead all the more chilling because it feels far too realistic.

Cons:
– It’s a dry book. Since there aren’t any continuing characters, plots, overarching storyline etc. the fictional accounts in the book have to work really hard to keep up the reader’s interest and for me, quite a few of them failed.
– Most of the accounts are far too short. Though this leaves you with nicely creepy question marks hanging over each account, it’s also pretty frustrating as, just when you begin to warm to an interviewee, their story is over. Some of these accounts didn’t even amount to a full page on my e-reader and this itty-bitty nature of the book becomes tiresome.

I went into World War Z knowing as little about the book as I could other than the often-repeated phrase, ‘it’s completely different to the film’. The oral history structure took me by surprise as I’ve never seen it orchestrated as convincingly and as comprehensively as Brooks has managed to in this book. This credibility is the main appeal of the book for me as I get bored of all the gore in the zombie genre which usually comes at the cost of believability so it was something special to find a book this disturbing in its realism.

That being said, the realism had the double-edged sword of also making for quite dull reading in some parts. A few times I had to force myself to keep on going because I was bored stiff of a particular account but didn’t want to miss any of the story we’re tasked to piece together from fictional interviews. This is often the case with non-fiction oral history – it’s incredibly difficult to weave different accounts together to build-up a bigger picture without being too selective and distorting the picture altogether. So again, its occasional dullness was bearable and gave greater weight to the book. Just bear in mind that it’s not something you’ll likely want to read for long periods of time without a break, nor is it something you’ll want to read before you sleep (it led to some pretty convincing and disturbing nightmares for me!).

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Review: Marly’s Ghost by David Levithan

Marly's GhostMarly’s Ghost by David Levithan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A generous 3 stars.

I didn’t know this was A Christmas Carol retelling when I picked it up (otherwise I would have quickly put it down – studying ACC for my GCSEs in-depth took away a lot of the joy from the story), I just remembered Levithan having a refreshingly different take on relationships from when I read Will Grayson, Will Grayson (co-written by the amazing human that is John Green). This book wasn’t refreshing however, it was cute but the fun ended there. After the ghost of Valentine’s Day ‘present’ the story car crashes into a cheese-fest.

Pros:
– The relationship between Tiny and Tim really warmed my heart and was the best part of the book by miles. There was a beautiful picture of affection in those characters and it was wonderful to imagine. It’s just a shame I can’t figure out how (other than the obvious name reference) they relate to the rest of the book.
– Ben, the protagonist, was a very relatable character and this gave the beginning of the book some much-needed depth.

Cons:
– Victorian dialogue in a book about contemporary teenagers. Oh dear.
I hated having Dickens’ references so crudely forced into present-day culture, it could have been far better if it was done with a bucket load more subtlety. Have you ever heard a teenager say the word ‘beseech’…?
– For a book with serious themes (death, loss, love, hope, depression plus others that I can’t mention without adding spoilers but trust me when I say they’re on the more mature end of YA fiction), this story was written in an incredibly simple, child-like style. I’m pretty confused at who the target audience is. The story is aimed at 14+ years old (by my humble estimation) but the text reads like it’s meant for older children (around 10 years old) rather than teens.
– After the second ghost, the rest of the book is so disjointed and cheesy that it makes for painful reading. It’s a downright shame because the majority of it until that point is building up to an inspiring and heart-warming story. It felt rushed and awkward in the last 40 or so pages and that broke the intention of the whole story (as explained in the author’s note at the end) for me.

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Review: Stranger Child (DCI Tom Douglas, #4) by Rachel Abbott

Stranger Child
Stranger Child by Rachel Abbott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For an ambitious plot, this book succeeded in having a brilliantly realistic human feel to it that carried the suspense wonderfully throughout the novel.

Pros:
– I was genuinely moved by how compassionate Emma was and how the author showed how this heightened compassion faced some tough decisions with the arrival of Tasha. My favourite part of the whole book was seeing how this character coped with impossible situations and how real her love for others felt.
– This book is advertised as a gripping thriller and it certainly delivers, the plot keeps you intrigued the whole time and its fast-paced action keeps you on tenterhooks as Abbott pulls no punches in dishing out twists and turns.
– Stranger Child is immensely absorbing – seriously. It should come with a warning that reading it will result in you detaching from everyday life for a few hours as you end up thumbing through the pages.
– The ending truly brought tears to my eyes, it was wonderful.

Cons:
– A small criticism but Tasha herself could have done with being a more developed character. In comparison to how well-written Emma’s characterisation is, most of the other characters paled in my mind when reading.

I picked up this book from Amazon’s new Prime Reading service that allows people with Amazon Prime memberships to ‘borrow’ 10 books from a small selection for free. Because this book was one of the few options to borrow for free, I really wasn’t expecting very much from it at all – I hadn’t heard of the author before and I didn’t even realise the book was meant to be part of a series. I just saw the cover and wanted an easy read to take my mind off real life for a few hours.
Boy, did this book go above and beyond my expectations!

Instead of it being a lazy read to relax with, I found myself fighting off tiredness to finish the whole book in one sitting. The plot is entirely absorbing and the characters, especially Emma, feel so life-like that you’re drawn to them. In fact, Emma is pretty much the whole reason I was in love with the book, she felt incredibly real and her compassion for all the characters around her brought the whole story to life, particularly her love for Ollie, it almost felt too tender to intrude on.

Do yourself a favour – don’t read anything else about this book. Pick it up, clear your schedule and dive right into the story, if you like suspense thrillers, you will love this book!

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Review: The Devil’s Prayer by Luke Gracias

The Devil's Prayer
The Devil’s Prayer by Luke Gracias

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. Thank you to the author, Luke Gracias, and the publisher for this opportunity.

The first half of this book was a solid 4 stars full of suspense, twists and intrigue. The second half, however, was a shaky 1.5 stars and completely pulled the book down.

Pros:
– Its fast pace and constant twists and turns will keep you hooked for the majority of the book
– The story is intensely creative and has a great shock impact – you won’t want to read any spoilers for this book, its surprises in the first third are the best part!
– It’s super easy to get emotionally involved in this book, the sheer suspense alone leaves you feeling like a nervous wreck desperate to know more.

Cons:
– The book should have ended in the middle with the latter part condensed into an epilogue or a companion book perhaps. There is a huge disconnect between the first part of the novel and the second part, it’s the biggest gap I’ve seen in a fiction book and it just completely derails the whole novel by giving a racy thriller a rather information-dense, bland ending.
– I found it really hard to care about any of the characters, making them more likeable would give this book a lot more impact, particularly when it comes to Denise’s friends and her daughters.

This book is a struggle to review. The majority of the book is fantastic, it has everything you could ever wish for in a fast-paced thriller and then some. It took me a little time to get into it but once I got past the initial story-building (which seems disjointed from the rest of the novel until you can make more sense of it), I couldn’t put the book down…until the second part.

The second part of the book is where things get a bit woolly – we’re given a lot of information. Seriously, a lot . It begins to read like a dry academic history textbook and as a university student studying history, I’ve endured a fair few of these. It’s clear that Gracias is incredibly passionate about the authenticity of the history presented in the book and that it is well-researched but shoehorning this into the main narrative just pulls the rest of the book down. It’s not that the latter part is particularly badly written (which it isn’t), it’s that it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book and it’s as though the author decided to add another book on the end of the original one. It puts a complete spanner in the pace of the reading as instead of racing through the pages on tenterhooks with suspense at every turn, you’re suddenly given a lot of dense historical information that is completely out of tone with the first part of the book.
I think this is done to try and add some realism to some of the more far-fetched elements of the main story but it just doesn’t mesh well and instead of adding to it by showing the reader that the story is grounded in historical research, it gives the effect of bombarding the reader with information that is tenuously linked to the story and doesn’t belong in the main book. As I said earlier, if this information was condensed and made more accessible so it was as easily read and understood as the first part of the book, it would make a solid epilogue or even a companion book for readers who want to find out more.

All in all, it’s a good book so long as you don’t mind skipping large chunks of the latter part or battling through it. The first part is a brilliant read and I sincerely hope the author seriously considers reshaping the novel so the first part can be read on its on merit because it’s a gripping thriller that’ll keep you up reading into the early hours of the morning. Its clever twists and the care taken to reveal the story in bitesize amounts to keep you guessing throughout are well-worth giving this book a chance and popping it on your TBR list.

I probably wouldn’t read it again unless it was reformatted in some way, I bet knowing the plot points will make it significantly less interesting the second time around too. I’d recommend this book to anyone who reads the likes of Dan Brown for its history/mystery/religion and/or Martina Cole’s books for their suspense/grittiness but with the advice that, unless the book has sparked an interest in the history of religion, they could skim most of the book’s latter part.

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