Review: The Hawkweed Prophecy – Irena Brignull

the hawkweed prophetThe babies were born as the clock struck twelve. A bat fell from the air mid-flight. A silver salmon floated dead to the surface of the river. Snails withered in their shells, moths turned to dust on the night breeze and an owl ate its young. The spell had been cast.

Poppy Hooper has managed to deceive her father into believing that there is nothing mysterious or unnatural about her. He ignores the cats that find her wherever she goes, the spiders that weave beautiful lacy patterns for her, even her eyes – one blue, one green with an extra black dot orbiting the pupil.

Ember Hawkweed is a pitiful excuse for a witch. When the other girls in her coven brew vile potions, Ember makes soap and perfume. Fair and pretty, Ember is more like a chaff than a witch. One of the Hawkweeds will be queen of the witches – but everyone knows it won’t be Ember.

When the two girls meet, Poppy discovers her powers, and finds out the truth. Bound by their unlikely friendship and the boy they both love, the girls try and find their place in the world. But the time of the prophecy draws nearer – and the witches won’t give up the throne without a fight.

Rating: 1/5

DNF @ 30%.

Unfortunately, this was one of those YA books with little cross-over appeal for adults, at least in my opinion. The synopsis intrigued me, and the prologue had me hopeful that this would an edgy, creepy read, but sadly I found it riddled with cliches and very much aimed at a teenage audience. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course – it’s the risk you take as an adult who enjoys a large amount of YA – but in this case, it didn’t work for me.

We have a girl who always knew she was different. We have another girl whose traditionally attractive traits make her “ugly”, a device which annoys me no end.

To fit in with her clan, you had to be strong and coarse like rope – but Ember’s curves were plump and soft as pillows. And if you wanted to fit in with the night, your hair had to be dark. Ember’s was like a lamp, lighting up her inadequacies for all to see.

There’s a sadistic, over-the-top villainous teacher:

Mrs Walters smirked at her, enjoying Poppy’s discomfort….Poppy shrugged. She stared at Mrs Walters, perched on the table so condescendingly…Mrs Walters rolled her eyes at the class in an exaggerated expression of exasperation…The teacher gestured to the heavens despairingly, an actress on her classroom stage.

And the writing is incredibly frustrating. Eye-rolling is a known gesture of exasperation. You don’t need to tell me that!

I was also unimpressed with the amount of naivety displayed by the characters, despite their age. Ember, who is supposed to keep the existence of her clan a secret, spills her guts at the first opportunity. Poppy meets a strange dude in the street, he appears outside her house the next day, and she’s completely cool with it, and invites him in. Self-preservation is lacking here. And then there’s the typical instal-connection, with sparks and electricity and the whole shebang. There’s a cringeworthy scene over the pizza:

They both went for the same piece and their skin touched accidentally, and he could swear he felt a charge of electricity and she felt it too as she sprang back. He took the pizza slice and gave it to her, then grabbed her wrist and held on. Her eyes fixed on his but she didn’t pull away. Slowly she put the pizza down so their hands could entwine. 

Honestly, I felt more chemistry with the pizza than anything else.

Finally, there’s a love triangle, but at that point I had neither the energy nor the inclination to read further. Definitely not a book for me.

ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication.

Review: Once Broken Faith (October Daye #10) – Seanan McGuire

once broken faithPolitics have never been October “Toby” Daye’s strong suit. When she traveled to the Kingdom of Silences to prevent them from going to war with her home, the Kingdom of the Mists, she wasn’t expecting to return with a cure for elf-shot and a whole new set of political headaches. 

Now the events she unwittingly set in motion could change the balance of modern Faerie forever, and she has been ordered to appear before a historic convocation of monarchs, hosted by Queen Windermere in the Mists and overseen by the High King and Queen themselves. 

Naturally, things have barely gotten underway when the first dead body shows up. As the only changeling in attendance, Toby is already the target of suspicion and hostility. Now she needs to find a killer before they can strike again—and with the doors locked to keep the guilty from escaping, no one is safe. 

As danger draws ever closer to her allies and the people she loves best, Toby will have to race against time to prevent the total political destabilization of the West Coast and to get the convocation back on track…and if she fails, the cure for elf-shot may be buried forever, along with the victims she was too slow to save. 

Because there are worse fates than sleeping for a hundred years.

Rating: 4/5

I think it’s fairly obvious to long-time readers of my blog that I’m a giant fan of Seanan McGuire. I adore the sheer scope of her crazy wonderful imagination. She’s given me one of my favourite urban fantasy series (and couples!) of all time. She’s a writing machine, with an extensive list of titles and series behind her. I appreciate the diversity that she incorporates into her books. I highly respect, and applaud, this blog post of hers, where she outlines exactly why her female characters won’t be raped to meet some people’s warped ideas of “realism”. (If you haven’t read that post yet, do it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

Furthermore, once you get so far in a series, and invested in the characters and the world that you inhabit, it gets to the point where you’d be happy to read 300 pages of your faves sitting around eating breakfast, or something equally as mundane. So I fully declare myself a biased reviewer at this point. Of course, this is the world of Toby Daye: changeling, hero of the realm, affianced to a shape-changing cat, secretly squired to by the heir of the kingdom, living with her death omen… things are never destined to be quiet for too long.

But the tenth book in this series starts out with one of this delightful mundane slices-of-life that we fans covet so much – Toby arranging a slumber party for her teenage squire and acquaintances, a chance for them all to be normal and forget the responsibilities of life for a few short hours. And then, of course, Things Get Real, and Toby is forced into the world of pureblood protocol and politics, a direct result of the discovery during the events of the previous book. But alas! There is murder! Mayhem! Mystery! And some unfortunate near-death experiences, as is par for the course.

“What happened?” she asked.
“The same thing that always happens,” I said. “We were having a perfectly nice evening until it got ruined by a corpse.”

What I like about Toby’s character is that even as she’s become pretty much indestructible over the course of the series – it comes with a price – pain. Not that I’m a sadist, or anything, but it makes a refreshing change from the heroines who can instantly shake off some kind of injury that would fell the rest of us mere mortals and continue on as if nothing has happened.

Without giving away too much of the plot of this instalment, fans can rest assured the series is continuing on strong. We get more insight into some of our regular favourite characters, along with the appearance of some new players. Toby and Tybalt continue to make my heart flutter without becoming boring. While this book wasn’t a game-changer, the Luidaeg certainly hints at a major role that Toby will be playing in the grand scheme of things, a role that will directly affect our favourite snarky fearsome sea witch.

“When you decide it’s time to make enemies, you don’t fuck around,” said the Luidaeg. “I’ve always respected that about you.”

Finally, I must mention that I adore the Shakespeare-inspired titles. Long live the Bard! If you haven’t checked out this series, and you enjoy urban fantasy, do give it a chance. There’s tons of snark, creative world building, and fallible but lovable characters.

ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication. 

Review: Black-Eyed Susans – Julia Heaberlin

black-eyed susansI am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories.
I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans.
The lucky one.

As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row.
 
Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution. But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.
 
What they don’t know is that Tessa and the scared, fragile girl she was have built a  fortress of secrets. As the clock ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity, but even more for the safety of her teenaged daughter. Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night.
 
Shocking, intense, and utterly original, Black-Eyed Susans is a dazzling psychological thriller, seamlessly weaving past and present in a searing tale of a young woman whose harrowing memories remain in a field of flowers—as a killer makes a chilling return to his garden.

Rating: 3.5

And so my crime (reading) spree continues with Black-Eyed Susans, which was all over my Goodreads feed at earlier this year. It was an entertaining read, and there’s no doubt the author has a very easy, approachable style. However, I found the back and forth from the past to present in alternate chapters quite jarring, because you’d be in the middle of the action or a cliffhanger and then suddenly have to put on the brakes – incredibly frustrating!

The forensic angle of the book is fascinating. Biology and, more specifically, genetics, were a great interest of mine at school, and the book explains the technical aspects in a simple way for the reader to understand. If you loved the science stuff in Bones, then you’ll enjoy the forensic process incorporated here.

There were a few things that bothered me, however. Firstly, you don’t get any insight into the motivations or personality of the perpetrator, which is generally a staple of the crime genre. Same with our narrator’s mysterious best friend – we never find out why certain characters do what they do. Which leaves everything feeling rather abrupt and unfinished.

The book also doesn’t go in-depth enough into any of the issues it includes – for example, the false accusation of a black man for the crime due to racial bias in  he system. To be honest, it doesn’t even say that much about the death penalty, which is what one would consider to be a hot topic. Or even a commentary on the notions of good therapists versus bad ones. All these meaty topics are brought up, but left unexplored.

We never find out what actually happened to the narrator when she was abducted – for me, while I have a voyeuristic interest in the details, I don’t think we need to know them. Indeed, I think it’s an interesting stylistic choice to leave them out.

All narrators are unreliable, to a certain extent, but Black-Eyed Susans continues the latest trend of extremely unreliable narrators, in this case, due to traumatic amnesia. While she makes some mistakes in her past, overall our MC, Tess, is a sympathetic character, one who has worked hard to overcome the notoriety of her past.

The Blogger Behind the Books

So I don’t often post about myself on here (read: never), although I do slip some personal anecdotes into my reviews from time to time.

Nevertheless, I thought it was high time I shared a little more about your esteemed blogger. So welcome aboard, it’s time to talk about me, me, me!

My name is Hannah. I’m twenty-something. (Practically over the hill, in blogosphere terms.) Cape Town born and bred. (Such an odd saying. Really, I don’t ever plan on breeding.)

It’s a city of contrasts. Lavish homes a stone’s throw away from shacks made out of pieces of corrugated iron. Hipsters and edgy coffee shops and uber existing in the same space as poverty and racism and crime. The American embassy is next door to one of the country’s most notorious prisons, which is really representative of the irony.

cape town

Things I like: dark chocolate. peanut butter M&Ms. feminism. pilates. driving fast. golden retrievers and labradors. documentaries. Jack Daniels. things shaped like other things. nautical décor. witty facebook statuses. karma. stuff from Lush and Typo. war poetry. basil pesto. current affairs. good books with happy endings. good books with sad endings. good books. good people.

Things I’m interested in: issues of social justice. sustainability. politics. environment. the literary world. languages. mental health. gender issues.

Places I have been: London. Amsterdam. Paris. Lucerne. Verona. Venice. Graz. Zell-am-see. Rothenberg. Prague. Marseille. Nice. Cannes. Avignon. Johannesburg.

Favourite movies: The History Boys. The Hunger Games. Paris Je t’aime. Little Miss Sunshine. Inception.

Favourite tv series: Boston Legal. My Family. Brooklyn 99. Fresh Off the Boat. The West Wing. QI. Mr Robot.

Music: Of Monsters and Men. Jack Johnson. The Lumineers. Seafret. Halsey. George Ezra. And when I’m at the gym, I love ALL THE TRASHY POP SONGS.

Lactose intolerant. Introvert. Eco-warrior. Anxious. Chronic fatigue. Permanent existential crisis.

Untitled design-7

Things I struggle with: bad skin. being more sensitive to other people’s feelings. avoiding speeding fines. reigning in the snark. eating healthily. holding a plank. the imperfect tense in french. updating this blog regularly. figuring out what to do with my life.

Book stuff: I like romance in my books, but I don’t like romance-genre books. I don’t read as much literary fiction as I probably should. I can handle psychological thrillers, but physical violence, gore, horror and creepy supernatural stuff is not for me. I find the more I read classics, the easier they become to read and enjoy. I’ve fallen a bit out of love with YA at the moment. I generally prefer urban fantasy to epic high fantasy. I’ve had a bit of a crime novel binge this year. I really enjoy transnational fiction, i.e. not Western, and really want to get back to reading more of it. In short, my tastes are all over the place.

I have neither the time nor the energy to work on this blog as much as I would like, but I treasure the discussions that I get to have with you all, and have discovered so many new favourites from your reviews and recommendations.

Review: Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo

six of crowsKetterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. 

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Rating: 4/5

I’ve got rather behind on reading some of the big hitters in the bookosphere, and Six of Crows was just one of the hyped titles that I’ve put off until now – for no particular reason; I just never got around to it. I’m pleased to say, however, that the book does indeed live up to the high praise heaped upon it.

“You’ll get what’s coming to you some day, Brekker.”
“I will,” said Kaz, “if there’s any justice in the world. And we all know how likely that is.”

Reasons to love Six of Crows:

  1. The premise. An impossible heist, with impossible odds? Amidst politicking and backstabbing and uncertain alliances? Hell yes!
  2. The mood. It’s dark and fairly edgy, but I like that Bardugo doesn’t get gratuitous about it. Yes, we have a character that was sold to a brothel, for instance, but we don’t have every filthy moment detailed for us to get the gist of her despair and distaste.
  3. The cast. People of colour (and not “ambiguously tanned” either), a plus-sized woman, gay and bisexual characters, a chronic physical ailment, what I read as the equivalent of PTSD… the six outcasts are a diverse bunch, but authentically portrayed, as opposed to feeling like they’ve been checked off a Diversity 101 list.
  4. The humour. There are some glorious bantery moments, as well as some hilarious understatements that provide comic relief amidst the tension.
  5. The worldbuilding. It can almost feel a bit dense at times, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. The world is richly woven and thought-out, much more so than the author’s previous series.

They blew up the lab, he’d thought as debris rained down around him. I definitely did not tell them to blow up the lab.

Things that didn’t quite work for me:

  1. I found the character of Jesper rubbed me the wrong way. I suppose it’s because I find it hard to feel sorry for self-destructive characters. His gambling addiction sets him apart from the others – they seek to rise above their circumstances and strive for better, while he just goes around in circles.
  2. The ages. I know this is YA, but they felt much older. And to be honest, even for a fantasy book, it stretches the limits of the imagination to have 17-year-olds this capable and cunning.
  3. The pacing seemed to slow down for me once the heist began. Which was frustrating. That might just have been my reading mood, though.

They’re in trouble, Kaz had thought. Or you were dead wrong about Matthias, and you’re about to pay for all of those talking tree jokes.

Some great ships have set sail, some characters are in dire straits – and I’m so ready to see how everything gets resolved in Crooked Kingdom.

“They fear you as I once feared you,” he said. “As you once feared me. We are all someone’s monster, Nina.”

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – JK Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

harry potter and the cursed childBased on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Rating: 3.5/5

VAGUELY SPOILERY SPOILERS AHEAD

***

I think if I was new to the world of Harry Potter, I would have rated this lower, but as I am such a fan of the series, my rating is more for enjoyment and nostalgia than anything else. Let’s be honest, I felt like a lot of this was pure fan service. The next generation, seeing what our old favourites are up to, the threat of Voldy coming back to haunt the wizarding world, old enemies forced to work together…

I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited about the news of the new book and the forthcoming Fantastic Beasts movie. I had my closure when the series ended, and felt everything that needed to be said had been done so. But despite my lack of enthusiasm, I found myself trundling to the book store come Sunday 31 July, and finished my copy of the book that very day.

I think we lose a lot with the script format, for obvious reasons – you have to try deduce everything from the dialogue, which can leave a lot of emotional development lacking. The book also relies heavily on knowledge from the fourth book – so again, if I was a stranger watching the play for the first time, I’d be completely lost.

But enough of my complaints. After all, I rated this 3.5 stars, did I not? For me, two aspects really stood out: firstly, the character of Scorpius, who is an absolutely dork and an awkward sweetheart who brings moments of comedic delight as well as those of heartbreak. I was less impressed with the unfortunately named Albus, who is fairly self-centered and gives no thought to the consequences of his actions, which is incredibly frustrating to witness.

I also though the father-son issues were intriguing, particularly in the parallels between Scorpius/Draco and Albus/Harry.  I mean, it has to suck growing up as the kid of a famous, or infamous parent, and in the Cursed Child, there are daddy issues galore.

But that revelation of that child’s parentage? As another reviewer said, it’s just completely out of character for what we know of the father, who didn’t seem the type to lower themselves to such a human, bodily act. And it felt like a cheap plot point, to be honest.

So yes, I’m about to utter something sacrilegious here, but while I enjoyed the book/play, I could also have done without it. I think for me, at least, the magic is over.

 

Review: In the Woods – Tana French

in the woodsA gripping thriller and New York Times bestseller from the acclaimed author of Broken Harbor and The Secret Place 

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.
Richly atmospheric and stunning in its complexity, In the Woods is utterly convincing and surprising to the end.

Rating: 3.5/5

I think if I hadn’t read so much hype about this book, I would have been more impressed. As it was, I was expecting something mindblowing. That isn’t to say the novel wasn’t good, because it was, but I wouldn’t mark it down as a top ten favourite, for example.

I do like how the author focuses heavily on the psychological aspect of the novel, and in fact places emphasis more on the emotional lives of the detectives than the victims, which is quite rare in the crime genre, as far as I know. Indeed, I recall a quote in the novel (wish I had bookmarked it, alas!) about how the victim only comes into prominence once they’re dead (obviously) – all the stories about them come from second hand sources, but you never really get to know them as a whole person.

The premise is also incredibly intriguing, and things are not dragged out – we are launched very quickly into the case and its possible link to something which happened to one of the detectives about twenty years’ prior. And while you immediately pick up that there’s something really dodgy in the victim’s family, things certainly aren’t clear at first, and proving anything in the case takes even longer. Despite that, you don’t get bored, which is testament to the author’s writing.

Indeed, you are kept hooked on the mystery of Detective Rob Ryan’s link to everything, and it is so damn frustrating not to get any answers in terms of his case, and the missing kids. On the other hand, I complain many a time about how some crime novels are just too convenient, with everything falling perfectly into place – so here I got what I wanted, a more realistic ending, but then was left unsatisfied. I guess I’m just a very picky customer.

I did, however, have the satisfaction of calling one of the perpetrators – it’s always a point of achievement when you can do this! But not everyone got what they deserved – again, unfair, frustrating, but all-too-real.

Finally, it would be remiss if I didn’t mention the complicated lives of the investigating detectives – the aforementioned Rob Ryan and his partner Cassie. ‘Frustrating’ seems to be a word thrown around a lot in this review, but that’s because it holds true for so many elements –Rob is a damaged character, somewhat easily manipulated, and tends to treat other people rather badly. You just want to shake him when he pretty much implodes his working and personal relationship with Cassie, when she’s done nothing wrong and was in his corner all along.

Despite my criticisms, Tana French definitely has an interesting, entertaining style, and she certainly knows how to weave elements of a crime plot into a rather elegant end piece.