Category: eBook reviews

The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Back – Review

The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Back – ReviewThe Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare, Holly Black
Series: Magisterium #1
Also in this series: The Copper Gauntlet
Format: eBook
Pages: 304 pages
Genres: Children's, Contemporary Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

In my recent reading roundup I mentioned that I felt The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black is a poor man’s Harry Potter.  I stand by that opinion.  It is almost impossible to read The Iron Trial without comparing it to Rowling’s masterpiece.

Let us review;  a young infant born towards the end of a magical war is the sole survivor of a massacre which leaves him motherless and with a physical mark of the attack.  There may or may not be some shenanigans involving souls.  This massacre is the prelude to a decade of truce.  Eleven or twelve years later, the young boy starts to attend magic school where he becomes best friends with a boy and girl, and makes an enemy of another rich and arrogant student.  He is taught by a kindly if eccentric Master and they have lots of adventures.  The one with the power to defeat the enemy has been revealed to the wizarding world.  There is a confrontation at the end, and it seems the enemy may not be as dormant as he seemed.  Heck, the story even closes with the protagonist in the infirmary having a heart to heart with said eccentric professor and being showered with goodies by his grateful classmates.

Does that sound familiar?  It could apply to both Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and The Iron Trial.  The parallels are too obvious not be deliberate.  What is interesting though are the differences.  First of all, the protagonist in the Iron Trial, Callum Hunt, is aware of magic before his entry into the school and, unlike Harry, has to be dragged there kicking and screaming.  This means that we lose the sense of wonder and excitement that Harry feels on his discovery of the wizarding world which is a significant part of the charm of Philosopher’s Stone.  

Secondly, the two protagonists are very, very different.  Harry Potter is decency and courage personified (a true Gryffindor).  One of his first acts on entering school is to defend a fellow student from bullying.  He is direct and open hearted.  He typifies the theme of the series which is about doing what is right as opposed to doing what is easy.  Callum, on the other hand, is a little more complex.  He is less open and trusting and far less inclined to act.  He seems to consider the consequences before acting and frequently has to be prodded into doing so. On the other hand, he is less impetuous than Harry and is more likely to look at the bigger picture.  He is also much more capable of focusing on the task at hand without being distracted.

These changes obviously impact on the way the protagonists relate to their friends and mentors.  Callum is less of a leader in his trio than Harry is in his.  There is a significant power shift in his relationship with Master Rufus compared to Harry’s with Dumbledore.  Dumbledore is the archetype of the wise old mentor and Harry is often left frustrated that he has not been given the answers he was seeking.  In comparison, Callum is the one in possession of information which he must choose to share with his mentor, or not as the case may be.

What I liked

Complex protagonist.  I found Callum as a protagonist interesting.  I appreciated that, unlike Harry, he doesn’t just see things as black or white, there are shades of grey involved.  The same is true of other characters, too.  I enjoyed the way this impacted their relationships.  It was interesting to see what Ron Weasley might have become in different circumstances though the Aaron character.

Pacing.  I thought Clare and Black kept the story moving along briskly and kept me reading.

Chapter art.  Each chapter is headed by an image encapsulating what is going on in the chapter.  These were gorgeous.

What I didn’t like

Harry Potter comparison.  This book is no Harry Potter.  It’s missing Rowling’s warmth, humour and imagination.  

Despite suffering in comparison to Harry Potter, I did actually enjoy this book.  I was interested in Callum’s story and will probably continue to follow it in future books.

I gave The Iron Trial four stars out of five. 

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four-stars

Reading challenge – Realm of the Elderlings Update 7

Realm of the Elderlings: 5/5

100%
Reading challenge – Realm of the Elderlings Update 7Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb
Series: Liveship Traders #3
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Anne Flosnik
Length: 33 hrs and 38 mins
Genres: Epic Fantasy
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Evelynne's rating: five-stars

Progress: Ship of Destiny 100% complete.
Progress: Fool’s Errand 4% complete. 

Woohoo, two books down, three to go!  I finished Ship of Destiny today, the second longest of the five books I’m reading for the Realm of the Elderlings reading challenge.  I also started on Fool’s Errand, the first in the Tawny Man Trilogy.  Darn, I miss Whispersync for Voice already :o(

The Liveship Traders series is quite differently structured to the Farseer Trilogy.  It contains multiple story strands and multiple points of view, whereas Farseer is purely from Fitz’ point of view.  The joy of the Farseer trilogy is getting to know Fitz and those he loves in great depth.  With the Liveship Traders, the characters didn’t speak to me nearly as much (Amber excepted) but I loved watching how all the disparate plots came together in a really satisfying ending.  I am looking forward to getting back to Fitz and the Fool though!

Back with more tomorrow!

The Shadow’s Curse by Amy McCulloch – Review

The Shadow’s Curse by Amy McCulloch – ReviewThe Shadow's Curse by Amy McCulloch
Series: The Knots Sequence #2
Also in this series: Oathbreaker's Shadow
Format: ARC
Pages: 480 pages
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Young Adult
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

The Shadow’s Curse by Amy McCulloch is the second and final book in her Knots Sequence duology and follows on from Oathbreaker’s Shadow.  I received a free copy from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.  I have previously reviewed the first in the series – check out my review here.  

The novel takes up where we left off in the earlier book with Raim seeking to learn the history of his mysterious broken vow as well as to rescue his friend Wadi.  It has been a while since I read Oathbreaker’s Shadow and for a couple of pages I was a little confused.  However, McCulloch quickly and skillfully recapped the main points so that I was soon up to speed.

What I liked

Tight narrative structure.  The Shadow’s Curse switches between two points of view, Raim’s and Wadi’s, following two converging main storylines.  Wadi’s storyline also serves to present the main antagonist’s, Kareh’s, story.  This works well to create tension for the inevitable confrontation when these paths come together.  Both Raim and Wadi are working towards specific goals.  In Raim’s case, this aim is explicitly stated early on – to rid himself of his oathbreaker stigma – whereas Wadi’s purpose is not revealed until later.  This structure keeps the novel’s pace moving along briskly and creates good narrative tension,

Payoff from book one. Oathbreaker’s Shadow had left me a little frustrated that there had been so little payoff for the setup.  This is remedied in The Shadow’s Curse in which the central premise of Raim’s broken vow is explored in much more satisfying depth.  For this reason I would suggest that you read both as one long story.

The worldbuilding.  I really enjoyed the world that McCulloch created with the taboo around oathbreaking and the haunts.  In The Shadow’s Curse this is explored in greater depth as Raim and Draikh learn to work together.  We also explore new parts of this world which was interesting too.  The contrast between the nomadic North and the more settled South was intriguing.  

What I didn’t like

Bland characters.  I continued to be far more invested in the world in which the characters find themselves rather than in the characters themselves. For me though, the interesting world more than balanced this out.

I thought The Shadow’s Curse was a solid end to the Knots Sequence duology and I gave it four stars out of five.

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four-stars

Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau – Review

Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau – ReviewGraduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau
Series: The Testing #3
Also in this series: Independent Study
Format: eBook
Pages: 296 pages
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
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Evelynne's rating: four-stars

Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau is the third and final book in The Testing trilogy.  It continues the story of Cia Vale, survivor of the brutal University entrance exam known as TheTesting, University student and rebel as she attempts to end The Testing.  i have enjoyed both previous books and enjoyed reading the ending of the story.

What I liked

The protagonist.  I really liked Cia as a YA protagonist.  She has her head on her shoulders and gives great consideration to the consequences of her actions.  She’s very much of the watch and wait mould.  That doesn’t mean she doesn’t take action, but she doesn’t act without thinking.  These character traits are what lead to her central position in the drama.  The story would have played very differently with a Katniss Everdeen or a Tris Prior as the protagonist.

The themes.  The theme of Testing is continued throughout the series.  This is continued in Graduation Day when Cia must test the loyalty of those she wishes to have as allies, and she herself continues to be tested in more ways that one as she seeks to end the horrific University entrance exam.  Trust is also a major theme in Graduation Day as Cia must decide whom to place her trust.

The pacing.  The pacing kept moving along briskly and kept me turning the pages.

What I didn’t like

Mockingjay.  Two leaders, one rebel, one elected, both telling two different stories.  Teen heroine must work out which of them is telling the truth and the future of her society rests on her decision.  Sound familiar?  In my review of The Testing I commented that it had similar themes and plot points to The Hunger Games, and I’m seeing the same in the final book of the series.  In all fairness, given that the characters involved are very different – and indeed Cia’s personality is of key importance – things play out in quite another way,  I suspect this was partly deliberate by Charbonneau to bring the characterisation of her protagonist to the fore.  

Questions not answered.  One of my biggest issues with the series was that, in a society where a reduced population is a serious issue, the government would ruthlessly cull a significant number of its brightest young citizens.  I’m not certain that the answer given in Graduation Day really explains things to my satisfaction.

Despite these minor quibbles, I did really enjoy Graduation Day and The Testing trilogy.  It’s definitely a thought provoking series.  I gave Graduation Day four stars out of five.

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    four-stars

    Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly – Review

    Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly – ReviewDeep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly
    Series: Waterfire Saga #1
    Format: eBook
    Pages: 373 pages
    Genres: Epic Fantasy, Young Adult
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    Evelynne's rating: three-half-stars

    Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly is the first in the Waterfire Saga and tells the story of mermaid princess Serafina, who, along with several of her friends, is called to fulfil an ancient prophecy and prevent an untold evil from rising.  

    What i liked

    The worldbuilding.  There are not that many mermaid books around that I’m aware of – Anna Banks’ Syrena Legacy series excepted – so I found this a fresh change.  I loved the world Donnelly created, complete with languages and histories and mythologies.  The little fishy reference such as merlfriend instead of girlfriend were rather amusing.  

    The pacing.  Donnelly keeps the plot moving along briskly with something always happening and a new danger to escape.

    What I didn’t like

    Bland characters.  While the characters were OK, and their mermaidness added some interest, other than that they were cookie-cutter YA heroines with little depth to them.

    Generic plot.  The plot is your generic teens have to bind together to track down the McGuffin to prevent the Big Bad from doing what he or she wants to do.  So far there were no interesting twists to this.

    The narration.  I started listening to the audiobook, but within a short time Bea Miller’s narration had irritated me to the point that I chose to continue in ebook format.  I don’t think she was a bad narrator – she did well in distinguishing the voices for the characters – however the voice she chose for the protagonist just grated on my ears.

    Despite these gripes, the charm of the worldbuilding and the smart pacing was enough to keep me interested in the story.  I will certainly continue with the series.

    I gave Deep Blue three and a half stars out of five.

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    three-half-stars

    Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris – Review

    Midnight Crossroad is the first in a new supernatural mystery series from Sookie Stackhouse writer Charlaine Harris.  it has a very similar feel to Sookie and if you enjoyed that series you will likely get a lot of pleasure from Midnight Crossroad, too.  This new series is set in Texas rather than Louisiana, but keeps that small-town feel.  It centres on the inhabitants of a small town, Midnight, and the secrets they hide.  
     
    I’m not certain if this is intended to be set in the same world as Sookie.  It’s perhaps a little early to tell – it could go either way.  There is nothing to say one way or the other.  In any case, it is very enjoyable.
     
    What I liked

    Ensemble cast.  Unlike The Southern Vampire Mystery series, which concentrates mainly on Sookie, and is told from her point of view, Midnight Crossroad has multiple points of view from interesting characters.  I enjoyed hearing from all of them, and it was interesting hearing the story from different sides.  Each of the characters had his or her own secret and reason for moving to this small town.  Sometimes I did struggle to remember which characters know what secrets.
     
    Mr Snuggly the cat.  Adorable!  I loved his point of view.  Let’s just say, he’s not Tara the Hero cat. It gives a good measure of the kind of town Midnight is, that upon learning that Fiji’s cat can talk, after a few seconds of surprise, the inhabitants merely shrug their shoulders and put it down to just one more strange thing in the town.  More, please.
     
    The mystery.  While I wouldn’t say the mystery was gripping, I did very much enjoy the way that the focus was put on the effect it had on the inhabitants of Midnight.  The story was quite slow to start, but Harris uses this time well to introduce her characters and the town.  
     
    Community feel.  I liked the way the characters came together, supported each other and generally had each others’ backs.  We are introduced to the people of Midnight through new resident Manfred and he, too, quickly becomes part of the community.
     
    What I didn’t like

    There was nothing I didn’t enjoy about the book.  Perhaps the mystery could have been a little more complex, but in a way this allowed the focus to be on getting to know the residents of Midnight.  
     
    I gave Midnight Crossroad a solid four stars out of five and will certainly be following the rest of the series.
     
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      Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris – Review

      Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris – ReviewMidnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
      Series: ,
      Format: eBook
      Pages: 315 pages
      Genres: Contemporary, Supernatural
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      Evelynne's rating: four-stars

      Midnight Crossroad is the first in a new supernatural mystery series from Sookie Stackhouse writer Charlaine Harris.  it has a very similar feel to Sookie and if you enjoyed that series you will likely get a lot of pleasure from Midnight Crossroad, too.  This new series is set in Texas rather than Louisiana, but keeps that small-town feel.  It centres on the inhabitants of a small town, Midnight, and the secrets they hide.  
       
      I’m not certain if this is intended to be set in the same world as Sookie.  It’s perhaps a little early to tell – it could go either way.  There is nothing to say one way or the other.  In any case, it is very enjoyable.
       
      What I liked

      Ensemble cast.  Unlike The Southern Vampire Mystery series, which concentrates mainly on Sookie, and is told from her point of view, Midnight Crossroad has multiple points of view from interesting characters.  I enjoyed hearing from all of them, and it was interesting hearing the story from different sides.  Each of the characters had his or her own secret and reason for moving to this small town.  Sometimes I did struggle to remember which characters know what secrets.
       
      Mr Snuggly the cat.  Adorable!  I loved his point of view.  Let’s just say, he’s not Tara the Hero cat. It gives a good measure of the kind of town Midnight is, that upon learning that Fiji’s cat can talk, after a few seconds of surprise, the inhabitants merely shrug their shoulders and put it down to just one more strange thing in the town.  More, please.
       
      The mystery.  While I wouldn’t say the mystery was gripping, I did very much enjoy the way that the focus was put on the effect it had on the inhabitants of Midnight.  The story was quite slow to start, but Harris uses this time well to introduce her characters and the town.  
       
      Community feel.  I liked the way the characters came together, supported each other and generally had each others’ backs.  We are introduced to the people of Midnight through new resident Manfred and he, too, quickly becomes part of the community.
       
      What I didn’t like

      There was nothing I didn’t enjoy about the book.  Perhaps the mystery could have been a little more complex, but in a way this allowed the focus to be on getting to know the residents of Midnight.  
       
      I gave Midnight Crossroad a solid four stars out of five and will certainly be following the rest of the series.
       
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        four-stars

        Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – Review SPOILERS

        Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – Review SPOILERSLife After Life by Kate Atkinson
        Format: eBook
        Pages: 480 pages
        Genres: Contemporary Fantasy
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        Evelynne's rating: three-half-stars

        Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is the story of Ursula Todd who has the ability to rewind mistakes in her life.  I actually found this quite a difficult book to review.  There was a lot I liked about it, but a lot that really irritated me, too.  I was really torn about what rating to give it.

        There are minor spoilers in here, so I will hide them after the cut.

        (more…)

        three-half-stars

        Lockstep by Karl Schroeder – Review

        Lockstep by Karl Schroeder is a space opera sci-fi novel which tells the story of Toby McGonigal who wakes up after a drift into cold sleep to be confronted with a new and confusing world.  He must learn about the lockstep and his place within this new society.  I was given a free copy by Tor/McMillan to review. I should point out straight off the bat that sci-fi/space opera is not a genre with which I am very familiar.  In some ways that is a good thing; I am not so clued in to the standard tropes of the genre, as I am with contemporary fantasy, which means I can approach the story with perhaps fresher eyes.  On the other hand, I freely admit some of Schroeder’s subtleties may have been lost on me.
         
        What I liked

        The lockstep concept.  Because I am not so familiar with the genre, it took me a little time to get my head around the lockstep concept, but once I did get the general picture I could really appreciate what Schroeder did.  I’m not going to try to explain it – go read the book.  What I did like about it was the narrative tension it introduced for the characters.  Being a part of the lockstep or not is a decision that you cannot go back on.  I also felt that the concepts behind lockstep were very interesting; resource management and technological advancement.  
         
        The denners.  Orpheus, Toby’s pet/plot device, is just so darned cute, especially when Toby gets the glasses and app allowing Orpheus to communicate with him in emoticons.  I really want one of those apps for my cat.  Mind you, I’m pretty sure Isis’s emoticon would be a pretty constant “feed me.”
         
        The ending.  Perhaps it was a little cheesy and too easy, but I loved it.  I finished the book with a smile on my face.  In all fairness, though, I do believe the way Peter’s and Evayne’s characters were developed that it was earned.
         
        What I didn’t like

        The love interest angle.  I really didn’t buy the Toby/Corva relationship.  It felt rather forced to me, given that both of them were dealing with a whole lot of other urgent issues during the book.
         
        Other than that, I would recommend Lockstep and gave it four stars out of five.
         
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