Monday, 25 August 2014

Review: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

The Whispering Skull (Lockwood & Co. #2) by Jonathan Stroud
Publisher: Doubleday Children's
Released: September 25th 2014
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads

Life is never exactly peaceful for Lockwood & Co. Lucy and George are trying to solve the mystery of the talking skull trapped in their ghost jar, while Lockwood is desperate for an exciting new case.

Things seem to be looking up when the team is called to Kensal Green Cemetery to investigate the grave of a sinister Victorian doctor. Strange apparitions have been seen there, and the site must be made safe. As usual, Lockwood is confident; as usual, everything goes wrong – a terrible phantom is unleashed, and a dangerous object is stolen from the coffin.

Lockwood & Co must recover the relic before its power is unleashed, but it’s a race against time. Their obnoxious rivals from the Fittes agency are also on the hunt. And if that’s not bad enough, the skull in the ghost-jar is stirring again…
(from Goodreads)

The Whispering Skull was a fab addition to the Lockwood & Co. series, which I am really loving at the moment. Very excited to see where things are headed next!

Lucy was even awesomer than she was in book one, and I really liked her in book one. Her Talent was getting stronger, to the point where she was able to communicate with a Type Three Visitor - the first person to do so since the famed Marissa Fittes. Of course, she couldn't tell anyone (besides Lockwood and George) because of the lack of evidence and all the commotion it would cause (especially if Inspector Barnes found out the spirit she was communicating with was the skull they were supposed to have gotten rid of), but her potential was growing and growing. I really liked the way her Talent worked and how she didn't let people like Kipps get to her. And she really did have a great sense of humour. I'm glad the book was from her point of view, because I definitely think she was the best at describing things in a hilarious way.

Lockwood was as mysterious as ever, except in this book, I was starting to get a bit suspicious. As much as I loved Lockwood's adventurous personality and charm, I could understand why Lucy was concerned about his secretiveness, and why she was so curious to find out what was in the room neither she nor George were allowed to go in. And after that ending, now I'm even MORE intrigued about Lockwood's past. But I did really like Lockwood and the way he cared about his colleagues, and his business. I also loved the witty retorts he came up with when talking to Kipps! I am wondering if a romance will appear in the future between Lucy and Lockwood. Lucy seemed to like him (as George liked to point out at awkward times), even if she didn't perhaps realise it herself, but Lockwood was very cryptic and I couldn't tell how he felt about Lucy. I do think they would be very cute together should a romance happen, but I'm also happy with the way things are now.

George went through a lot in this book, and perhaps learnt some important things about himself and the people around him. While his questionable hygiene and manners didn't improve much, he and Lucy were getting along better than they had been in book one, and it was interesting to see them agree on stuff while Lockwood disagreed. It was also interesting to see how George's mind worked and the way he viewed the cases differently to both Lucy and George.

Funnily enough, I think one of my favourite characters in this book was the evil, whispering skull - the Type Three Visitor. Even though he was undoubtedly evil and trying to mess with everyone's heads, he was really funny and knew how to talk, and I really enjoyed the scenes the skull was in. I'm very intrigued to find out more about him when he was alive and how he ended up as a skull in a jar.

Plot-wise, I really enjoyed the mystery in this book. While certain parts dragged a little bit, I was really interested in Bickerstaff's story and the creepy mirror that seemed to kill everyone who looked into it. Some things were a bit obvious - I did guess a little of what happened at the end, but the story was enjoyable all the same. The contest between Lockwood & Co. and Fittes also added a bit of light-heartedness and it was fun to try and guess who would win and how (obviously I was rooting for Lockwood & Co. - the Fittes agents were just too arrogant!). Penelope Fittes turned out to be an interesting character and I really want to know what that covert meeting she had in the Black Library was all about! The ending though, what a way to end the book. I have so many questions! And I really can't wait to read the next one now. The one thing I wish we found out more about, which is the same thing I said about the first book, is how Visitors became so prevalent in the world. Why did they suddenly appear, and how did the ghost fighting technology develop? Hopefully more will be explained in future books!

Overall, The Whispering Skull was a great sequel to The Screaming Staircase, and Jonathan Stroud has impressed me once again. Series is definitely recommended.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Waiting on Wednesday #62

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Shadow Scale (Seraphina #2) by Rachel Hartman
Released: March 10th 2015
Find it on Goodreads

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?
(from Goodreads)

How long have I wanted this book? So long. So long. I remember when it was still called Drachomachia. But honestly, I am so excited for Shadow Scale. And after the end of the last book, I neeeeed to know what happens. I mean, Phina and Kiggs. What are they going to do?! And now there's a war and some creepy mind take-over person? Ahh I'm so looking forward to this book, I don't even know what to say. I just want to see all the characters again, and go with Phina on her new quest (and find the rest of the people from her visions). If you haven't read Seraphina yet, read it! And I will sit here impatiently until March waiting for the next book.

What are you waiting on this week?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Review: Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston

Frozen (Heart of Dread #1) by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston
Publisher: Orchard Books
Released: October 2nd 2014
My Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads

Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice. Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature—freezing. But some things never change. The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.

At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestal, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out. Like many, she's heard of a mythical land simply called “the Blue.” They say it’s a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise. More importantly, it’s a place where Nat won’t be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.

But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson to take her there. Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other. But can true love survive the lies? Fiery hearts collide in this fantastic tale of the evil men do and the awesome power within us all.
(from Goodreads)

Frozen was another book that was fairly engaging while I was reading it, but actually had quite a few problems which I realised upon finishing it.

There was dual POV between the characters Nat and Wes. They were both kind of strange. Nat was Marked, which meant she had unique coloured eyes that marked her as someone who had a certain power (though she wore contact lenses to hide this from everyone). She also had a voice in her head, which she just assumed was somehow associated with being Marked, but she didn't know for sure and I was kind of confused why she didn't try to find out more about it and ask questions. She couldn't tell anyone about it because of the way Marked people were treated but she could have at least done more than what she did. It was always telling her what to do and she never really questioned it. I know it wouldn't serve the plot to find out what the voice was right from the beginning, but I found it unrealistic that she would undertake this dangerous journey without knowing why. It was also really convenient that Joe just happened to have some weird map jewel thing (I don't even get it how it worked) that led to the exact place Nat needed to go, and that he just handed it over to her when she asked! And that he then got arrested/killed (?) for possessing it the very next day, even though he'd had it for weeks - why would they come after him for the stone that day when he'd had it for ages before that? Too coincidental and convenient.

Wes was an ex-General (at sixteen?!) and was very flirty but half the time I found it kind of awkward. He trusted people he really should not have trusted at all and the thing about his sister was so obvious, the reveal at the end really had no impact at all. Plus his relationship with Nat... I'm starting to think I'm the problem here. Maybe I'm just too cynical for this "I love you" crap, but I found the romance once again a bit insta-lovey and cheesy. I mean, they had gone through a lot together but I just thought it was too soon for the whole "I'll do anything for you" stuff and eh, it felt a bit sappy at times. I preferred the beginning when they weren't too sure of each other yet to the end where it was a bit cheesy. One positive, though, was that his voice was pretty different from Nat's so it was easy to distinguish between POVs.

Plot-wise...ehh. I did like some things, like the fact that Wes and Nat met quite early on so we didn't get dragged out scenes from their points of view. I don't like it when there are multiple POVs but the characters don't meet until 3/4 of the way through the book, so this was a nice change. But there were a lot of problems too. I mean there was so much potential but the world-building was a bit shaky. Like, why were some people Marked and why did they rot if they were away from the Blue? (Also, the Blue so reminded me of All Blue from One Piece.) How did the protection spell work? And if they were living in some frozen land why was there a water shortage? Why was salt such a valuable commodity when you can artificially synthesise it? People were willing to pay that much for a slight difference in taste? There were a lot of unanswered questions. In addition to that, some things just weren't believable. The whole needing to get a "day pass" marriage licence thingy just so you could kiss/sleep with someone was so weird. Why would that happen? Did society go back to some weird "no sex before marriage ah but it's okay even if it's only for one day" mentality? And like anyone could really enforce it, which was evidenced by the fact that Nat and Wes did stuff with no problems. Concerning Nat's power, how did she just know exactly how to do what was necessary without any training? After years of never being able to control it, she just knew what to do! Plus the twist at the end to do with Nat's power just came out of nowhere and while it was kind of cool, I was just left thinking "...what." Plus, I felt the Blue was a bit of a letdown, though maybe it will be explored more in the next book. One of the most ridiculous things though was "textlish". The language used in text messages (which no-one actually uses because seriously I swear most people just type out everything properly these days and most phones have predictive text) became the standard language for written signs and stuff (because there were no books anymore?) except some people actually SPOKE it too and it was so stupid. Why would "textlish" become the standard language? It made no sense! And then there was this weird scene where you thought Wes maybe never learnt to read but then later he read something out loud and I was so confused as to why the first scene was included.

Overall, Frozen was interesting enough to make me want to finish it and see what happened, but it had a lot of problems that are difficult to overlook. I might give the next book a go however as I am still quite intrigued to see where the story is heading.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3) by Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Released: September 2nd 2014
My Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads

Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy.

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?
(from Goodreads)

Wow. So many things happened in this book. It took a completely different direction to anything I expected. It may be my favourite in the series yet.

I honestly don't even know where to begin. With Celaena? She was not the same person she was in book one, and she was still changing even more throughout the course of Heir of Fire. She was more broken, and less arrogant, though she still had a fierce spark in her that said she was not to be trifled with. She was a little lost and it took her most of the book to realise what it was that she really wanted. She had been through so much. So much. We got to find out more of her past and I honestly don't know how she managed to survive after everything that happened. But she did, and forced herself to become stronger, and in this book she was becoming stronger still. She was training to control her magic, to control her Fae form, so she could finally get some answers from her aunt Maeve. But she was so broken and empty by what happened to Nehemiah and all she wanted was one person to trust, one person she could call a friend. And boy, did she find one.

Chaol...we had a good run. But I am officially renouncing my Team Chaol membership. Trust me, I'm as shocked as you are. Don't get me wrong, I still liked him, still loved how he was basically ruining his life to try and protect Celaena and Dorian (even if he was having a hard time accepting them), still think the romance in book one/two was great. But he is no longer the guy I'm rooting for. I did enjoy most of his chapters though, and the strange bond he'd built up with Aedion. He was loyal and true to his word, that can be said, and I am looking forward to seeing what happens with him in the next book.

Rowan. Rowan, Rowan, Rowan. What can I say? I didn't expect to like a new character so much. But he has stolen Chaol's title and I am now firmly Team Rowan, even though I have no clue what's going to happen (seriously though, Sarah J Maas, if you make me switch teams again in the next book, I am going to look so fickle). He was just exactly the friend Celaena needed. The person she could trust, the person who had suffered as she had, who accepted her for who she was. I mean, they started off kiiiind of hating each other. But once they got to know more about one another, a true and real friendship was formed (no matter how much Rowan tried to deny it at first). They trained together, hunted together, had each other's backs, and told each other things they didn't trust to tell anyone else. I loved it. I also hated it because I wanted them to get together so badly. Celaena kept saying stuff like "there was nothing romantic about the way..." and there was me, wishing there WERE something romantic, and damn their stupid, glorious friendship. But after that ending (mini spoiler, highlight to read: I don't like blood oaths), you can't tell me nothing more will happen. You can't. I deny it. And it will be awesome, because they will have built up trust and friendship first. THE ROMANCE WILL HAPPEN AND THESE TWO WILL BE HAPPY FOR ONCE AND NO-ONE CAN CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE.

Dorian. Poor, poor Dorian. Will he recover from this? I don't know. Will he and Chaol ever be friends again? I don't know that either. I hope so. He wasn't in this book much but I am predicting he will have a larger role in book four and I have no idea what to expect but I just hope he's okay.

The other new characters were all pretty interesting too. Aedion really grew on me. His loyalty was a bit crazy but he had a good heart and was willing to make sacrifices. Emrys and Luca were two other characters I really liked because they tried their best to help Celaena even when she was taking her anger out on them. Sorscha had me torn because she was lovely and I'm glad she was someone (the ONLY one) Dorian could talk to (though he should have tried to fix his relationship with Chaol) but I really found it hard to believe she could love someone she had never spoken to. Manon was a very intriguing character too, and reading about her bond with Abraxas was my favourite part of her chapters. I do admit I found the rest of her chapters were kind of boring and I skimmed an awful lot of them. She just didn't seem as relevant to the plot (yet) and I was more interested in what was happening to everyone else. I'm probably in the minority though as everyone else seemed to love her. I did think she was very different to any of the characters we'd seen so far, and maybe I'll enjoy her chapters more in the next book, when more is explained.

Plot-wise, you're just going to have to read the book, because if I even hint at half the things that happen, it will ruin it. Some stuff is predictable, but even so, the writing... That ending. I mean, not as cliffhangery as book two, but somehow I am still desperate for book 4 and I need it NOW.

Overally, great addition to the series. I'm thinking the best so far. Read it.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #1) by Erika Johansen
Publisher: Bantam Press
Released: 17th July 2014
My Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads

Kelsea Glynn is the sole heir to the throne of Tearling but has been raised in secret by foster parents after her mother - Queen Elyssa, as vain as she was stupid - was murdered for ruining her kingdom. For 18 years, the Tearling has been ruled by Kelsea's uncle in the role of Regent however he is but the debauched puppet of the Red Queen, the sorceress-tyrant of neighbouring realm of Mortmesme. On Kelsea's 19th birthday, the tattered remnants of her mother's guard - each pledged to defend the queen to the death - arrive to bring this most un-regal young woman out of hiding...

And so begins her journey back to her kingdom's heart, to claim the throne, earn the loyalty of her people, overturn her mother's legacy and redeem the Tearling from the forces of corruption and dark magic that are threatening to destroy it. But Kelsea's story is not just about her learning the true nature of her inheritance - it's about a heroine who must learn to acknowledge and live with the realities of coming of age in all its insecurities and attractions, alongside the ethical dilemmas of ruling justly and fairly while simply trying to stay alive...
(from Goodreads)

The Queen of the Tearling was an odd book. There were a lot of conflicting things going on and some world-building that didn't quite make sense, but I enjoyed a fair few parts of it and will probably read the next book in the series.

Kelsea was a character that had to grow on me. At first she was very naive, and it was frustrating that she hadn't been told anything about the kingdom and what was happening, because it meant that she was stuck being a bit useless. And she was SO obsessed with appearance. Every other chapter was her commenting on people's looks; she seemed to value beauty above everything else and judged people who weren't beautiful, and it really just got on my nerves. And this is unrelated to the book, really, but Kelsea was described as being plain looking and a little bit chubby (which was emphasised a LOT throughout the book) and yet who has been cast to play Kelsea in the film version? Emma Watson. EMMA WATSON. One of the most beautiful people ever. Can you imagine anyone ever saying "you're too plain for me" to EMMA WATSON? How are they going to portray this in the film? Poor casting choice. But back on topic, I did start to like Kelsea more when she was settling into her role as Queen of the Tearling. I mean, you sort of had to respect her after she went through her whole crowning ceremony with a knife literally in her shoulder blade the entire time. She absolutely refused to halt the ceremony, she was determined to carry on and show her dedication. Props to her for not passing out. And she did seem to want to make a real change to the kingdom and genuinely cared about her people. She was definitely not like her mother at all, and wasn't afraid to take action. It made me really curious about who her father was, but that was one of the biggest secrets in the book so I'm guessing we won't find out for a while.

Mace was one of Kelsea's guards, and he was a very mysterious man. At first, he didn't think Kelsea would amount to much, but you could tell that she had surpassed his expectations and in the end he was very loyal to her. He offered a lot of good advice but was oddly silent on certain matters as well. Kelsea clearly trusted him with her life but I do wish we could have found out more about him. I'm sure more will be revealed in future books, but until then, he secrets will remain hidden.

The Fetch was a notorious thief and in my opinion, very creepy. Kelsea however seemed smitten with him for reasons unknown because he wasn't particularly nice to her. I guess this was the beauty trumps everything card being played again. He wasn't in the book much, but something big was always happening when he showed up. He was intriguing, if I'm honest, and I probably would enjoy learning more about him in the next book.

The world-building had me very confused. I had no idea this was a post-apocalyptic/dystopian (?) novel until about a third of the way in. It seemed like a fantasy from days of old, but nope, apparently this was set hundreds of years into the future. I have no idea why on earth everything would revert to such a disgustingly unequal and corrupt society, or how all technology was lost. There was no explanation, and while I get this was the first book in a series, it has to at least be believable. This book reminded me a bit of The Selection; why would advanced democratic societies suddenly go back to absolute monarchies? It didn't make sense. What was the aim? How did the people accept such a thing? How was the monarchy even chosen? Surely not the old "divine right of kings"? The world they all lived in was just awful with terrible things happening all the time and while I was happy that Kelsea wanted to change things, I don't really get how she expected to produce an equal society when she was the absolute ruler of everything and the people were her "subjects", completely under her power, and subsequently the power of the next monarch. It was just weird.

Plot-wise, the beginning started off slow, but once Kelsea became Queen, things got more interesting. Kelsea's actions meant a war was brewing with the Red Queen of Mortmesne and this books was mainly about making preparations for future battles, though there was some fighting towards the end which marked the beginning of it. I liked quite a few of Kelsea's chapters, and how she dealt with her horrible excuse for a human being uncle, but I did find a few other points of view, such as Javel's, boring. He was a flat side character that I didn't really care about because he wasn't very well fleshed out, and therefore his "sad" back story didn't really invoke any sympathy from me. I kind of just skimmed his chapters and I wasn't really concerned about his role in things.

Overall, I had a lot of issues with The Queen of the Tearling, but I'd say it was worth reading. The overall story was engaging and I'm hoping future books will offer more explanation on the world and the characters.

(Side note: don't you just love the cover and how awesome and fitting it is?)