[REVIEW] Faceless – Alyssa Sheinmel

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Characters – 5/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 5/5
Setting – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“No one will know that I used to be an athlete, that there used to be freckles on my nose, that I used to have a dimple in my left cheek. They might wonder how I got these scars, but they’ll be too polite to ask, and I won’t ever tell.”

Review
When Maisie wakes up from a medically induced coma after going for a run in a storm, she discovers that half of her body has been burnt beyond recognition. Constantly told how lucky she is to be alive, to be found in time, to be brought to this particular hospital, Maisie doesn’t feel very lucky at all. Given the option of a face transplant to repair the damage caused by her accident, Maisie grabs the chance to slip quietly back into normal life without considering how difficult her plan really is.

The plot of FACELESS is a relatively simple but moving one. Maisie is left to rebuild her life in the wake of her accident: going to school, applying for college and trying to keep up with her best friend, Serena, and her boyfriend, Chirag. It’s unfussy, and the simplicity of the story perfectly compliments the inner chaos Maisie experiences as she tries to make sense of what’s happened to her and learns how to look at herself in the mirror again. The book is punctuated with everyday challenges that she once took for granted – her first day back at school, finals, dates and getting up early to go for a run.

The majority of the characters surrounding Maisie are just as believable and honest as she is. Serena is unflinchingly supportive, loyal at cost to her own happiness, while her parents work together as a united front despite their years of fierce arguments. Each has their own problems and lives outside of Maisie’s recovery, and these strong facades start to crumble piece by piece as Maisie slowly begins to understand how her accident has touched the lives of those around her too.

Alyssa Sheinmel presents Maisie’s recovery in what feels like a very truthful and sensitive way. There are no miraculous cures which take the pain away, no great moments of realisation. Each discovery and progression is creeping and gentle, slowly catching up to Maisie as she works through her new appearance as well as the emotional consequences of her surgery. Seeing a stranger every time she looks in the mirror and tied to taking medication for the rest of her life, Maisie has a lot to come to terms with. The difficulties she faces can’t be swept under the carpet, no matter how much she tries to avoid herself.

Set against the typical, YA high school setting makes Maisie’s story a lot more digestible for that younger audience. Such a huge and unimaginable trauma, both mentally and physically, works really well with a relatable background to bring the story back to something understandable. There are many layers to FACELESS, with self-acceptance being one of the major underlying themes.

I received FACELESS from Chicken House in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

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[REVIEW] Idyll – James Derry

IDYLL_Cover2cSummary
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“Their loss was like the sea. When judged with distance, it seemed placid, something ethereal, something that could be abided. But to dwell on their loss, to give in to close scrutiny, led to turmoil. They might start to wallow; they might drown. Fixating on their grief, drawing it close and making it the dominant geological feature of their lives, would be a very bad thing. Then again, ignoring that absence entirely could be just as bad.”

Review
A bizarre plague named The Lullaby has Mother Earth’s second chance, Idyll, in its deadly grasp, and it seems that the only guaranteed way to survive is permanent quarantine. Three years after their father left in search of answers, Walt and Sam finally decide that they’ve had enough of hiding and move on from the family ranch to track him down. Travelling through decimated cities forgotten by everyone but faceless monsters, the brothers take their chances on a journey with their infected mother to find a cure and reunite their family.

Carefully and gradually terraformed over hundreds of years, Idyll has been shaped with the best parts of Earth in mind ready for colonisation. Rid of the unnecessary technology and life-extending pharmaceuticals we have come to rely upon, Idyll has been cultivated on the basis of earning your place, proving your worth and allowing natural selection to do her work. Beginning with the humble and tender care of earthworms and insects, generation after generation of the Starboard family has been trusted to farm creatures great and small. Now experienced ranchers, it is a large responsibility that Sam and Walt must leave behind, in the hope of a better life in the capital – Marathon.

The terror of falling into an endless sleep, infecting anyone close enough to hear the endless comatose mumbling of the trigger phrase, is exceptionally psychologically haunting. Destined to waste away and doom the people you love, The Lullaby is a brilliantly crafted motivator behind the narrative and poses much more than simple mortal threats. The details of the epidemic are well thought-out and small nods to its origins and purpose are intelligently woven into the story through short interludes. The reveal is intensely satisfying with every small piece of the puzzle falling logically into place in way that makes sense while still managing to catch you by surprise.

Our narrators’ opposing personalities make their interactions tense and intriguing, as while they have the same ultimate goals, Walt and Sam must juggle their differing methods and come to terms with their changing priorities. At times, Walt and Sam can be more alike than they realise, the dual narrative giving the reader an insight into how their time in quarantine has both wrenched them apart and solidified their shared morals and values.

Miriam and Virginia are fiery characters who push the brothers beyond their comfort zone and give them something tangible to fight for. With a mother wasting away on Walt’s basic medical training and a father they can only dream of finding, Miriam and Virginia keep them focussed on the road ahead. The sisters struck me in particular as, while they are manipulative and brave, they are still vulnerable and scared. They are neither damsels in distress nor one dimensional strong female characters, they are an honest blend of the two, characters that science fiction and YA needs right now more than ever.

From scientific discussions of the primordia teeming on the planet to the soft glow of the sister moons, it is apparent that a large amount of care and attention to detail has been paid in crafting the world of IDYLL. With a bittersweet ending that plays hope against despair, IDYLL is an exciting and heart-stopping race across a tragically beautiful new planet. Exploring both the physical and psychological effects of a sleeping curse-like plague, IDYLL challenges the reader to delve deeper into the story to discover what really caused the world to fall apart.

I received IDYLL from James Derry in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[REVIEW] Shadows of Self – Brandon Sanderson

Shadow-of-SelfSummary
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 5/5
Style – 4/5
World building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“To the eyes of a man burning steel, Elendel was alight and full of motion, even while shadowed by darkness and mist. Metal. In some ways, that was the true mark of mankind. Man tamed the stones, the bones of the earth below. Man tamed the fire, that ephemeral, consuming soul of life. And combining the two, he drew forth the marrow of the rocks themselves, then made molten tools.”

Review
SHADOWS OF SELF sees the return of Waxillium Ladrian, trying to balance his responsibilities as a lord and a lawman. When the Governor’s brother is murdered whilst hosting the cities corrupt noblemen and women, Wax is quickly drawn into the investigation. With the city falling apart and the killer always preternaturally one step ahead, Wax is forced to come uncomfortably close to accepting the possibility that this is one case he simply can’t handle.

In the same style as ALLOY OF LAW, Wax ends up once again drawn into a tangled mess of crimes, mysteries and thrilling experiences. There is a distinctly Wild West feel to these Era 2 novels that widens the genre and brings a completely new aspect to the fantasy landscape. I really enjoyed this crossover and as a reader who usually avoids crime and thrillers, this sideways introduction might encourage me to give some of the more traditional novels in this genre a try.

My absolute favourite features of the Wax and Wayne novels are the subtle nods to the original trilogy. While ALLOW OF LAW and SHADOWS OF SELF can both be appreciated without having read the Mistborn books, Wax’s thrill being at one with the mists is so beautifully aligned with my memories of the first novels. It’s incredibly nostalgic to read about the religions dedicated to serving Kelsier, Vin and Sazed as well as revisiting old places with new characters.

As what is essentially the fifth book of a series, at first SHADOWS OF SELF doesn’t seem to have much scope for building on an already well established world. But, of course, this is Brandon Sanderson we’re talking about. Taking on the industrial boom of Scadrial, where Kelsier and Vin once raced through Elendel’s streets in darkness, Wax now flies above motorcars and electric lights. It’s amazing to see such a familiar world through fresh eyes and I loved getting to know this newly developed Scadrial 300 years after the main events. Even since ALLOY OF LAW there has been rapid development in weapons and transport; this world is vibrant and free from the ashes that plagued Vin’s era.

The new characters continue to develop and I’ve really grown to like the determined Marasi more and more throughout these novels. She has just the right amount of impatience and tempestuousness thrown in with her intelligent and determined demeanour. Wax continues to be brilliant and terrible in equal measure, making reckless decisions that both serve his pride and protect his people.

We see the return of some huge characters and creatures from the Mistborn trilogy to shake the plot up and I’m very excited to see where Brandon takes the future books. The twists were just that little bit more sophisticated, complete with a truly unpredictable and devious villain, and the pace is pitched perfectly, keeping the narrative steaming ahead straight into a shattering conclusion. Dropping some serious bombshells towards the end, it’s clear that Wax, Wayne and Marasi definitely have a lot of story left to tell.

I received SHADOWS OF SELF from Orion in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[REVIEW] The Human Script – Johnny Rich

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Characters – 4/5
Plot – 3/5
Style – 5/5
Science – 5/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“Inhumanity is part of humanity as much as suffering is a part of stories. Cruelty is written in the human script.”

Review
More science than science fiction, THE HUMAN SCRIPT: A NOVEL IN 23 CHROMOSOMES is an incredibly intelligent, literary exploration of what humanity means in a world so obsessed with hard facts and scientific proof. I truly felt like I was learning whilst reading THE HUMAN SCRIPT, but most importantly, it gave me a new appreciation and understanding of a variety of topics that I’d never even considered venturing into before.

I find it difficult to discuss the plot of THE HUMAN SCRIPT in complete isolation to its characters, ideas and settings, as the interplay between all of these factors is really what drives the story forward. To try to talk about the plot in any depth would be to ruin the experience of the entire book and to pinpoint Chris’ narrative down to just a few defining moments is practically impossible.

With a mind that is constantly churning over possibilities, connections and events, Chris explores everyday life with an eye that searches for meaning in every single detail he can comprehend. If you like your novels to have very clear-cut conflict/resolution from chapter to chapter, I would suggest that this isn’t the novel for you.

THE HUMAN SCRIPT is fairly heavy on a wide range of thought-provoking topics. We are taken on a whirlwind tour of complex ideologies in philosophy, biology, art, anthropology and religion from the very first page to the very last. Ultimately, this novel is the bemused consideration of human nature – a study on the space inside our protagonist’s head and the circumstances that happen to him and because of him.

The parallels between Chris and his brother are both fascinating and enlightening – the more I read the more I began to understand the context of Chris’ musings on nature vs nurture and cause vs effect. The twins are genetically identical, but born on different days under different signs, they have lived lives that are both the same and entirely different. The development of Chris’ character is integral to the storyline and his arc is executed to perfection. He has a sharp mind and enjoys dissecting his experiences to internalise and justify his feelings, changing ever so imperceptively but dramatically as his life takes the usual twists and turns.

Our second narrator is an omnipotent and manipulative unknown third person. He interjects occasionally, describing how the moments Chris finds himself in were constructed and came into being, pushing his thoughts into the story and even directly challenging the reader with his twisted philosophy (“So who is cruel? You, cruel reader, you are. You.”). This narrator adds a dimension of detachment to the story that becomes increasingly significant as it progresses.

I feel that talking specifics would spoil such a painstakingly crafted narrative and I’ve deliberately tried to keep my review short on details for this reason. A literary/non-fiction hybrid, I would urge you to give this one a go even if it doesn’t sound like your usual reads.

THE HUMAN SCRIPT is a novel that absolutely begs to be shared and discussed and argued over endlessly so please let me know if you’ve already read this book! I would love to talk to people about the themes and philosophical theories considered throughout the novel and learn even more.

[REVIEW] Lorali – Laura Dockrill

24910026Summary
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 4/5
World building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

In a Tweet
Mermaid-turned-human, Lorali washes up on an English beach. Found by a sweet natured boy and hunted by everyone, can they survive the storm?

Review
I picked up LORALI expecting it to be a harmless summer read to pass the time, not sure on whether I would actually enjoy it. The tagline doesn’t inspire much confidence (“An extraordinary mermaid in an ordinary town”) but I thought I’d give it a chance. Needless to say, it completely blew my expectations out of the water.

In the grim seaside town of Hastings, young Rory celebrates his birthday the way he always has. Standing out to sea with a bag of chips, wondering if this year his dad might remember a card or even make an appearance, and planning his evening trying to get served in the local.

Lorali is a princess that has always been unusually fascinated by the world above. When her Resolution, a mermaid rite of passage, doesn’t turn out as she’d hoped, she decides to seek solace in the human world. Washing up on the shore, alone, afraid and suddenly with legs, she soon discovers both the kindness and horrors of the human nature.

Punchy, exciting and gripping, LORALI is fantastically original and told with a melodic style. I would say that it’s only very loosely based on The Little Mermaid, definitely not a straightforward retelling. The plot is full of surprises and I don’t want to give too much away with my review; it definitely kept me on my toes. Splitting the narrative into three perspectives (plus the occasional newspaper clipping and blog post) kept the story moving, flowing quickly from chapter to chapter.

Rory’s voice is incredibly fresh and real, portraying the true nature of a 16 year old stuck in a dead town. I was surprised at how funny he was and how realistic his words and actions were – it’s been a long time since I’ve really believed in a character in this way. He could very easily walk off the page and straight into any high school in Britain without anyone so much as raising an eyebrow.

Lorali is just as wonderfully complex, her background and motives are dripped throughout the story to draw you in and fascinate you. She brings with her the mystery of the mermaid culture and the wonder of learning a new one. Her early moments are bright and funny, and when her true personality begins to be unearthed we find she’s feisty, brave but still quite vulnerable.

The Sea as a narrator was an absolutely brilliant choice. Able to give insights on the goings-on both below and above, The Sea became the wise and sassy omnipotent perspective, although that doesn’t make her any more reliable. Tripping the reader up in her own quirky voice, The Sea drops the hints and lets the reader do the work.

The mermaid kingdom is vivid and imaginative, full of fun little details. Laura has given the merpeople their own heritage, culture and secrets with side characters that are much more than just backdrop. The Sea takes care to fully introduce our pirates and people, meaning every character feels valuable to the story.

I feel like the ending is set up for a sequel, but honestly I would be happy to leave the world how it is. There’s the hint of what’s to come in the future and I would prefer to just connect the dots myself. The conclusion is exciting and vicious, with a good measure of hope thrown in at the end.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with LORALI and would absolutely recommend it to lovers of YA contemporary and fantasy alike. With elements of romance, action, adventure and mystery, it’s not only a tale of finding yourself but also learning what’s important and what to let go.

[REVIEW] My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises – Fredrik Backman

downloadSummary
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 4/5
World building – 5/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“All the best people are different – look at superheroes. After all, if superpowers were normal, everyone would have them.”

Review
Endearing and heartwarming, MY GRANDMOTHER SENDS HER REGARDS AND APOLOGISES is the tale of precocious seven (almost eight) year old Elsa coming to terms with her superhero and best friend’s death. Sent on an epic quest to deliver letters to the various characters living in her block of flats, the real world begins to mingle with Elsa’s fairytale land of monsters, knights and angels.

Fredrik’s style is really pleasant to read with lovely, image-rich writing that flows nicely from page to page. The plot is simple but effectively executed, keeping a reasonable pace as Elsa finds and delivers each letter. The Kingdom of Miamas is beautifully constructed and delicately woven into the storyline of Elsa’s reality – even the setting of her average Swedish hometown was stunning.

Drawing on Elsa’s memories and adventures with her outrageous grandmother, we have the opportunity to explore all sorts of stories in the Land of Almost-Awake. The tales are sewn into the plot in an incredibly intelligent way and I just couldn’t get enough of Miamas. I loved this feature and felt it added a whole other facet to what would otherwise have been a more traditional literary novel. For those not used to the fantastic, it may be difficult to get really stuck into the story, but for me it worked perfectly.

Elsa was a delight to read. She is bright, funny and very much a fan of quality literature such as Harry Potter and Spiderman. She’s a touch eccentric, just like her granny, and has an exceptional imagination. Even though she’s wise before her years, her voice feels very true to a curious and intelligent young girl and she has an inquisitive nature that really becomes her.

We see the whole story through Elsa’s eyes but we learn much about her friends, family and neighbours as she muddles through her grandmother’s quest. All the side characters we encounter initially seem rather one dimensional, but as Elsa delivers her letters and gets to know each and every person on a more personal level, layers of complexity are revealed. The stereotypes, amusing though they might be, slowly become real, rounded people.

Through her life Granny shows us that it’s okay to be different and through her letters she reminds us of an incredibly important lesson – don’t judge a book by its cover. The people Elsa encounters all have stories to tell and by the end of the book my initial opinions had been completely reversed on all of them.

MY GRANDMOTHER SENDS HER REGARDS doesn’t fit into one distinct genre and has a little bit of everything for everyone (just like Granny); fantasy adventure colliding with contemporary life. A creative world and complicated characters, Fredrik has brought an utterly charming, uplifting and original story to life.

I received MY GRANDMOTHER SENDS HER REGARDS AND APOLOGISES from Sceptre in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[REVIEW] The 5th Wave – Rick Yancey

16101128Summary
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 4/5
World building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“But if I’m it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I’m going to let the story end this way. I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running but facing. Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity. And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.”

Review
They arrived on an average day without warning or fanfare, the Mothership hanging over Manhattan like it belonged there. Aeroplanes dropped from the sky, tsunamis and earthquakes destroyed entire coastlines, and the Pestilence took four billion humans with it. Isolated and terrified, the survivors are ripe for hand-picking. Now they are with us, walking in our skins and killing us with our own hands. Nobody can be trusted.

Cassie is on her own. She has survived the 3rd Wave and is managing to eke out on existence in the 4th. She knows the 5th Wave is coming, not when or what or how, but she knows it will come, because the Silencers won’t stop until every last human is silenced. Searching for her little brother after their separation at Camp Ashpit, she refuses to break the promise she made him. Zombie is training to become an alien-killing machine and Evan is just trying to follow his heart.

One of my favourite features of THE 5TH WAVE was the way each character’s storyline began separately and eventually became woven together. Rather than chapter-by-chapter changes, their stories are told in segments, ending each time on perfect, tension-building cliffhangers. This method certainly made for a more dynamic and intricate story-telling experience.

There are some truly thought-provoking and moving moments in THE 5TH WAVE, considering what it really means to be human in a world stripped back to its most basic nature. With just the right amount of humour and teenage dreams, the plot is fast-paced and full of energy. The threat of capture and death is tangible and hangs over the characters constantly, making for an exciting and powerful story.

The story of Cassie and her family takes place against the classic apocalypse backdrop: not quite deserted forests, conflicted survivor camps, lonely highways and the looming watchers above.. Uncomfortably realistic and set firmly in the modern-day, the many scenes of Cassie’s travels feel like an eerie reflection of what our world could be if aliens really didn’t want us around.

The few protagonists and their friends appear to be quite well-rounded and come complete with one fully realised, heartbreaking back story or another. Some characters, such as Ringer, remain charmingly enigmatic, keeping enough secrets to make her interesting. Evan in particular is complex and intriguing, with motives and a history I enjoyed puzzling out. There’s a lot of development in Zombie in particular as he learns the art of war and what it truly is to be brave, while Cassie’s evolution creeps up on her and takes her cold-hearted distrust by surprise.

My only real disappointment with THE 5TH WAVE was that each character didn’t have a completely unique or distinct voice. The style in general was excellent across the board regardless of which character was in charge, but without context I found it difficult to distinguish between Cassie and Zombie. They each had subtle quirks and I especially enjoyed Cassie’s internal conversations with herself, but stylistically there was little to make each one instantly recognisable.

THE 5TH WAVE has the makings to be a brilliant young adult scifi series, with THE INFINITE SEA already available and a third installment on the way. Frantic and believable, every page is completely absorbing with the perfect combination of an unearthly atmosphere and the human condition.