Category Archives: Book review

Book review – 11.22.63 by Stephen King

Blurb

11.22.63 by Stephen KingOn November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas. President Kennedy died, and the world changed.

If you had the chance to change history, would you? Would the consequences be worth it?

Jake Epping is an English teacher from Lisbon Falls who discovers an extraordinary secret: the storeroom in the local diner is a portal to 1958. Leaving behind a world of iPods and mobile phones for a world of Elvis, big American cars and Lindy Hopping, Jake sets out on an insane – and insanely possible – mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

It is a haunting world of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life – a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

My thoughts 

This is the first Stephen King book I’ve read in more than a decade, and I picked it up because it has some similar themes to my current novel-in-progress. I’m not a huge fan of horror, so haven’t enjoyed the books of King’s I’ve read previously (It and Kujo), but while 11.22.63 contains some horrific scenes, I definitely wouldn’t call it a horror. It’s more alternate history/time travel/dramatic fiction.

I found some of the passages about Lee Oswald a little boring, but that may be because I’m Australian and not really interested in the true historical aspect of the novel, more the concept of changing a major historical event and the impact that would have on the present. I was disappointed that the book didn’t spend more time on the consequences of changing the past.  I’d expected a reasonable amount of time to be spent back in 2011, showing us how JFK’s continued presidency changed the world (especially considering the blurb played up this angle), but of a 735 page book, only 35 pages covered the consequences of Jake’s changes.

However, I really enjoyed Jake’s narration and found him to be a very relatable character, despite the unique circumstances he found himself in. I was totally engaged by his and Sadie’s love story, and the scenes of Jake as a teacher (particularly the effect he had on his students) stood out as highlights for me. I thought Sadie was brilliantly crafted. Out of all the characters in the novel, she was the most three dimensional, and I really rooted for her and Jake to have a Happy Ever After (what can I say, I’m a romantic at heart).

Although I didn’t quite get what I was looking for with this read, I still thoroughly enjoyed it overall.

My rating: four stars

How about you?

Have you read 11.22.63? If not, do you plan to? What’s your favourite time travel book?

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Book reviews – The Faerie Guardian and The Faerie Prince by Rachel Morgan

The Faerie Guardian

My rating: five stars

THE FAERIE GUARDIAN (Creepy Hollow 1)

Rachel Morgan is one of my favourite self-published authors. Actually, she is probably my number one favourite – or ties with Tammara Webber. I just finished re-reading The Faerie Guardian (referred to as ‘Guardian’ from now on) so that the story was fresh in my mind before reading The Faerie Prince, and I think I dug Guardian even more the second time around. Violet has got to be one of the most awesome female protagonists currently gracing the pages of young-adult fiction. She’s as kick-ass as Katniss (from The Hunger Games) but much funnier. Her inability to deal with complex emotions is portrayed really well through humour.

I tilt my head back and let out a groan. Counseling. That thing where I have to discuss my feelings about killing someone. Great. The list of things I’m not good at is pretty short, but discussing feelings is probably at the top.

Whlie I’m on the topic of humour, my favourite element of Guardian would have to be the verbal sparring between Violet and her nemesis, Ryn. Their banter made me laugh so many times.

Ryn: “You’re not the kind of person to just randomly fall in love. You’re way too…”
My eyes shoot to his. “Too what?”
“Well, you know, emotionally closed off.”
“I will emotionally close off every orifice in your face if you don’t shut up about this right now.”
He laughs. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

I also enjoyed the creative descriptions of elements of the Fae realm, which are interspersed throughout the story. Here’s one of my favourites:

I stomp around the edge of a clearing where giant mushrooms are swelling as they soak up the silvery glow of the moon. “Do 
not stand on the mushrooms,” I tell him. “They don’t like it.” And the last thing I need is for him to show up at the Guild covered in poisonous goop.
An eerie howl vibrates through the air, rustling the leaves above us and causing a nest of tiny airhorses to take flight and disappear into the night.

I want to talk more about Nate and Ryn but I’m afraid of unintentional spoilers. Let’s just say they’re both fascinating, and as their characters develop throughout the story, I found myself feeling completely differently about both of them in different ways – there’s more to them than meets the eye.

The pace of Guardian never lets up, so if you’re like me, you’ll tear through the pages of this sizeable novel quite quickly. A word of warning – don’t expect a resolution at the end. No, all plot lines are left wide open. Thankfully, the next book, The Faerie Prince, has just been released so we can move on straight away and find out what happens next – I’m going to start it tonight!

The Faerie Prince

*NOTE: This review contains spoilers of Guardian.*

My rating: 4.5 stars

THE FAERIE PRINCE (Creepy Hollow 2) To borrow an expression from Violet… Oh. My. Freak.

I’ve always had a lot of respect for Rachel Morgan as a fellow self-published author, but after reading The Faerie Prince (referred to as ‘Prince’ from now on), I’ve officially become a crazy fan. I LOVED this book. When I finished Guardian, I thought I had a reasonable idea about where this series was heading, but I was so wrong. I literally gasped on a number of occasions while reading Prince, but all of the twists were totally believable. The characters and their relationships change a lot throughout the book, but the developments feel natural and organic, rather than forced.

And that ending. Wow. I’m stunned. It doesn’t leave you on a cliffhanger, it destroys the entire cliff! I’m desperate to know what happens next and will be hounding Rachel Morgan to hurry up and finish the next book. But then again, I don’t want her to finish it too quickly, because she needs to maintain the standard she’s set, and that standard is very, very high!

My favourite scene, hands down, was Violet and Ryn’s graduation. I had a huge smile on my face the whole way through it, and the smile returned to my face just now as I re-read the scene to refresh my memory of why I enjoyed it so much.

Despite revealing several vulnerabilities, Violet remains as awesome as ever. Here are a couple of my favourite Violet quotes from Prince:

It’s not as though I want him back. I mean, the guy handed me over to a prince of the Unseelie Court-I’m not exactly hoping for a happily ever after here. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what I’m hoping for. Maybe I want to look into his eyes and ask him why he did it. Or maybe I just want to kick his ass.

I look around and notice one of the male graduates watching me. Another one flashes a smile in my direction. I look away quickly, clasping my hands behind my back. Weirdos.

There were just a few things that stopped me from giving this novel a full five stars. Early on, there was a bit of obvious info dumping masked as conversation, which always irks me. And there were two separate occasions where characters’ behaviour or choices struck me as inconsistent or false. (I’ve left out the details because they’re too spoilery, but you can read them in my Goodreads review, if you’re interested).

Apart from those few points, I absolutely adored The Faerie Prince. I can’t wait to read the next book to see what happens after that show-stopper of an ending. And Rachel, if you’re reading this, I promise I’ll try not to go all fan girl on you! 😉

How about you?

Have you read the Creepy Hollow series? If not, do you plan to?

Note: I received free e-copies of these books in exchange for honest reviews.

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Book reviews – Delirium, Pandemonium and Requiem by Lauren Oliver

Delirium 

Delirium coverI just re-read this book to refresh my memory now that the third in the series has come out, and I think I enjoyed this one even more the second time round. Lena is an exceptional main character. Her transformation throughout the book is executed brilliantly. Oliver has real skill in this area – Before I Fall‘s main character changes so much throughout the story, and Oliver shows that brilliance wasn’t a fluke by repeating it here in Delirium, with an entirely different character and plot. In less adept hands, many of Lena’s decisions would seem unrealistic, especially given her rule-follower personality, but Oliver provides rationalisations that make Lena’s choices totally believable.

The main male character, Alex, would melt any girl’s heart. Poor Lena didn’t stand a chance. He may even be slightly too perfect to be realistic, but I can’t say that bothered me when reading.

The world building of this dystopian society is also enthralling. We learn about the world through Lena’s eyes, who completely believes that love is a disease and can’t wait to be cured – at least in the beginning. As the story unfolds and her entire belief system is challenged, some thought-provoking concepts are raised, such as: what is more dangerous, anger or apathy? What is more important, love or duty? An added touch that I really liked was excerpts from the rewritten bible, for example:

The devil stole into the Garden of Eden. He carried with him the disease – amor delirium nervosa – in the form of a seed. It grew and flowered into a magnificent apple tree, which bore apples as bright as blood.

I only had two qualms with this story, one close to the beginning and one close to the end. [Spoiler removed. To read, see my review on Goodreads.]

Despite these two issues, I still loved the story overall, which is why I give it 4.5 stars. The ending left me stunned and breathless (both times I read it!), and I had to get my hands on Pandemonium to find out what happened for Lena next.

Favourite quotes:

Sometimes I feel as though there are two me’s, one coasting directly on top of the other: the superficial me, who nods when she’s supposed to nod and says what she’s supposed to say, and some other, deeper part, the part that worries and dreams and says ‘Grey.’ Most of the time they move along in sync and I hardly notice the split, but sometimes it feels as though I’m two whole different people and I could rip apart at any second.

In that second it really hits me how deep and complex the lies are, how they run through Portland like sewers, backing up into everything, filling the city with stench: the whole city built and constructed within a perimeter of lies.

They say the cure is about happiness, but I understand now that it isn’t, and it never was. It’s about fear: fear of pain, fear of hurt, fear, fear, fear – a blind animal existence, bumping between walls, shuffling between ever-narrowing hallways, terrified and dull and stupid. … life isn’t life if you just float through it. I know that the whole point – the only point – is to find the things that matter, and hold on to them, and refuse to let them go.

Pandemonium

Pandemonium cover*NOTE: This review contains spoilers of the first book in the series. Any spoilers for THIS book have been removed. If you’d like to read the spoilers, go to my review on Goodreads.*

I enjoyed Pandemonium but not as much as Delirium, possibly because there was no Alex. I missed Alex greatly.

I thought Lauren Oliver did a brilliant job of extending Lena’s character arc, showing us how life in the Wilds – not to mention Alex’s death – hardened and changed her. If you compare Lena at the start of Delirium to Lena at the end of Pandemonium, you’ll see plenty of changes, which all develop organically throughout the two books. I hope this growth continues in Requiem.

Now onto Julian, the youth leader of Deliria-Free America. I really liked Julian and how he changed throughout the story but I never quite bought his and Lena’s love story. Actually, it’s not that I didn’t buy it, it’s that I didn’t want to buy it.. [spoiler removed]

The best parts of this book, for me, were when Julian shared his experiences about the forbidden study (All You Need is Love) and his brother’s rebellion. I also thought Oliver made some interesting statements about the place of the disfigured in a ‘perfect’ society. I’m hoping to see Coin and co. play a part in bringing down the establishment in Requiem – which I’m off to start reading straight away now that it’s been released!

Requiem

Requiem cover*NOTE:  This review contains spoilers of the first two books in the series. Any spoilers for THIS book have been removed. If you’d like to read the spoilers, go to my review on Goodreads.*

I just finished this novel, and I feel… disappointed. I wanted more. The whole way through, the story  didn’t grab me as much as the first two in the series. The emotion rarely jumped off the page and into my heart. Perhaps my expectations were too high.

Don’t get me wrong, I did like it. But I expected to love it and I didn’t. To me, the story just didn’t feel finished. I would have liked to see Lena have some stillness, some time to reflect and move on from the survival mode she was in for most of this book and Pandemonium.

There was so much grief and fight and grind, and not enough pay off. Interestingly, I felt the same way about The Hunger Games conclusion. Perhaps I do expect too much.

I’ll be interested to read other reviews and see if others have felt the same way or whether I’m just being a grouch!

How about you?

Have you read the Delirium series? If so, did you feel the same way I did about the ending?

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Book review: Easy by Tamara Webber

Book blurb

I'm glad I had an e-book without a cover because my version of Lucas is so much hotter!

I’m glad I had an e-book without a cover because the Lucas my mind created is so much hotter than the one depicted here!

When Jacqueline follows her long-term boyfriend to college, the last thing she expects is a breakup. After two weeks in shock she wakes up to her new reality: she’s single, ignored by former friends, and failing a class for the first time in her life.

Leaving a party alone, she is assaulted. Rescued by a stranger in the right place at the right time, she just wants to forget that night. But when her attacker turns stalker she has to make a choice: crumple in defeat or learn to fight back. Her savior proves protective and intriguing, but he’s hiding secrets of his own. Suddenly, knowing who to trust is anything but easy.

My thoughts

I literally just finished this book, which could be a bad thing because my emotions might get the better of me and I might gush. Quite simply, I loved this story. I kept reading it when I should have been catching up on much-needed shut-eye (with an eight-week-old baby, sleep is an elusive commodity), but I just had to read on. The story was that addictive.

Jacqueline and Lucas are beautifully crafted characters. I felt like I got to know them both intimately throughout the book, and my heart ached as their stories unfolded. I’m sure the author would be thrilled to know that I now want to take self defence classes because she’s shown me how empowering (and necessary) they can be.

Jacqueline is a brilliant main character, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her grow and learn. There were times when I was disappointed with her decisions, but they just made her all-the-more real.

And Lucas. Wow. What can I say? There are so many layers to Lucas that I never tired in reading about him. The connections that developed between him and Jacqueline felt so real and organic – I really admire Webber’s ability to develop authentic connections and not just rely on superficial interests as some books do.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys realistic, gritty stories in a college/university setting. The plot deals with some pretty heavy topics so if you’re up for a light read, this may not be the book for you. But if you’d like to read a novel that introduces you to flawed, vulnerable-but-beautiful individuals, get your hands on a copy of Easy!

PS If you’ve read Easy and would like to read another gritty novel set at college/university, try my novel, The Big Smoke! 😀 (couldn’t help adding that plug in there!)

My rating: 5 stars

 My 1-5 scale (updated)

1: Terrible.
2: It was okay.
3: I liked it.
4: I really liked it.
5: I loved it. 

Your turn

Have you read Easy? If so, what did you think? If not, is it on your to-read list?

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Goodreads review competition – it’s happening!

As my regular readers know, I’ve been toying with the idea of running a competition where people who review The Big Smoke go into a draw to win a $5o book voucher. Well, I recently received an email response from Goodreads saying they were happy for me to run the competition, so I figured what the heck?! Let’s do this! Competition details are below and on the dedicated competition page.

If there’s anything that doesn’t make sense or that puts up a red flag for you in the info below, please let me know. I’ll also draw your attention to the fact that people who have already posted reviews about The Big Smoke on Goodreads are eligible to enter – that some of you guys, so don’t miss out! 🙂

Without further ado, here’s the info!

COMPETITION DETAILS

The Big Smoke by Cally Jackson

Would you like to go into the draw to win a $50 book voucher? Of course you would!

All you have to do is read my novel, The Big Smoke, and write an honest review of 100 words or more about it on Goodreads. Yep, it’s that simple!

How do I enter? 

Once you’ve written your review on Goodreads, you can register your competition entry via the competition rafflecopter.

There will be a simple question about the novel as part of the registration process to ensure all entrants have actually read the book.

You can earn bonus points for telling people about the competition via Facebook, Twitter or your blog and/or by posting your review in other places such as Amazon or Smashwords.

Sounds great! What else do I need to know?

  • Reviews must be posted on Goodreads.
  • Reviews do NOT have to be positive. Any considered review of 100 words or more is eligible to win, provided it doesn’t contravene Goodreads’ review guidelines.
  • The winner can choose which book seller they would like to receive their $50 gift voucher from (as long as I can buy it from Australia).
  • The competition will close on Monday 11 March 2013. If less than 50 reviews are received before the closing date, the competition will be cancelled.
  • The winner will be contacted via email.
  • People who have already posted reviews on Goodreads are eligible to enter into the competition.
  • Goodreads has given permission for me to run this competition.
  • Relatives of the author are not permitted to enter (sorry, Mum).
  • The Big Smoke is available to buy in e-copy from AmazonSmashwords, iBooks, KoboDiesel Books, and hard copy from this blog (Australia and New Zealand) and Amazon.

Any questions? 

If you have any questions about the competition, please comment below or contact me.

ENTER HERE

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Book review – Build a Man by Talli Roland

Blurb (from Good Reads)

The perfect man is out there . . . he just needs a little work.

Slave to the rich, rude and deluded, cosmetic surgery receptionist Serenity Holland longs for the day she’s a high-flying tabloid reporter. Unfortunately, every pitch she sends out disappears like her clients’ liposuctioned fat, never to be seen again. Then she meets Jeremy Ritchie — the hang-dog man determined to be Britain’s Most Eligible Bachelor by making himself over from head to toe and everything in between — giving Serenity a story no editor could resist.

With London’s biggest tabloid on board and her very own column tracking Jeremy’s progress from dud to dude, Serenity is determined to be a success, even going undercover to gain intimate access to Jeremy’s life. But when Jeremy’s surgery goes drastically wrong and Serenity is ordered to cover all the car-crash goriness, she must decide how far she really will go for her dream job.

My thoughts

I’ve been a follower of Talli Roland’s blog since I joined the blogosphere, and her books have been on my to-read list for quite some time. I expected Build a Man to be a light read with liberal doses of romance and humour throughout, and my expectations were pretty much on the money.

However, I wasn’t expecting to be quite so irritated by the main character, Serenity. She makes so many selfish decisions and her justifications are more transparent than glass. Honestly, I just wanted to reach inside the book, shake her and say, ‘Wake up to yourself, woman!’ Thankfully, the plot did that for me. I won’t say any more so I don’t spoil the story, but I was pleased to see Serenity being forced to wake up to herself. In saying that, I thought Serenity’s character growth was a little too easy, kind of like flipping a switch.

But, overall, I still enjoyed Build a Man.  There’s great variety in the personalities of the support cast, and some of the scenes at the cosmetic surgery clinic had me giggling and raising my (non-botoxed) eyebrows. The descriptions of London were really well crafted and made me feel like I was right there on the street or in the pub beside Serenity.˜ I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Construct a Couple, and hopefully seeing some of my favourite plot lines from Build a Man develop further.

(On the subject of reviews, Andrew Leon of Strange Pegs has written some thought-provoking posts on the importance of honest reviews – including negative ones – for self published books, called “Is It Better To Be “Nice” Or Honest?”. Have a read and let me know what you think. I agree with him, to a point…)

My rating of Build a Man

3.5-stars

3.5 stars

What’s your opinion?

Have you read Build a Man? If so, what did you think? If not, do you plan to?

My 1-5 scale
1: Terrible. I couldn’t finish it.
2: Dissatisfying.
3: Good but not great.
3.5: A solid, enjoyable read but still some elements not working for me.
4: Really enjoyable with very few flaws OR flawed, but I loved it anyway.
4.5: Unputdownable. Close to perfect. I’ll rave about it to anyone who listens.
5: Perfection (i.e. pretty much unattainable).

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Filed under Book review, Reading, YA fiction

Book review – two self publishing how-to guides

Now that I’ve made my decision to indie publish, I figured I’d better do some research. So I jumped onto Amazon and, after reading countless reviews, bought myself two how-two guides on indie/self publishing.

Let’s Get Digital: How to Self Publish, And Why You Should by David Gaughran

I really enjoyed this book. It got me quite excited about the indie publishing scene and fuelled some wow-this-could-really-take me-places fantasies. Throughout the book, Gaughran explains why he decided to self publish and dispels what he believes are common misconceptions about the traditional publishing and digital self publishing industries. He then guides the reader through the process of digital self publishing, encouraging writers to invest in quality editing and cover design.

The third section of the book is dedicated to success stories of self publishers. It steers clear of the well known stars like Amanda Hocking, John Locke and Joe Konrath, and instead lets thirty-three relatively unknown self publishers tell their individual stories in their own words. As you read story after story, the over-arching message of this book is driven home: “Self-publishing takes work, patience and a lot of luck to succeed, but the rewards are tremendous.” 

And another cool quote: “People love discovering new writers and new stories, and they love sharing their discoveries. As long as you tell people your book is there, as long as you promote it beyond your family and friends, you have a chance. Readers will hear about your book, either from a friend, or a review, or one of your promotions on a forum, or on Facebook, or on Goodreads, or on Twitter and they will check it out. 

If they like the cover, they will read the blurb. If they like that, they will read the sample. If they like the sample they may purchase the book. If they enjoy the read, they will tell more people. This is word-of-mouth, and it’s the only thing that has ever really sold books.”

What didn’t I like?

I was disappointed that the book only focused on digital publishing because, unlike Gaughran, I don’t believe that ‘print is doomed’. Perhaps it will be one day (I hope not), but we’re a long way from there at the moment. Also, I was hoping for some more nitty gritty detail on the self publishing process itself. Overall though, this book offered some fantastic insights and I’m definitely glad I read it!

Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self Publishing by Catherine Ryan Howard

If Gaughran’s book had me gazing up at the stars, Howard’s brought me back to earth with a crash. According to her, sane self publishers are a rare breed. ‘I ventured into their [self publishers’] forums, where the decorative scheme was five shades of Crazy, the distinct scent of eau de delusional hung in the air and everyone seemed to be complaining, confused, or both.’ 

You can imagine how many people’s hackles might rise when reading that! My hackles, however, remained stable. I loved this book. It gives you the self publishing facts with no holds barred, but softens any potential blows with witty, dry humour.

The nitty gritty that I would’ve liked from Gaughran, I found in Howard’s book. I also found some fantastic information on the in’s and out’s of print-on-demand publishing. Howard takes you through each step of: building an online platform (fairly happy with my ability in that area), publishing your paperback (using Createspace), publishing your e-book (using Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords), selling your book, launching your book and ‘everything else’.

Gaughran’s and Howard’s books probably sound poles apart – and in style and tone, they are. But they actually have a lot in common. They both stress the importance of editing, cover design, blurbs and reviews, and they both agree that with a lot of hard work, success in self publishing is possible.

What didn’t I like? 

Not much, to be honest. Occasionally, Howard’s blunt style was a little off-putting, and sometimes, I wish she’d stop with the witty banter and just get to the point, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to any self-publishing hopeful. If readers take offence, it could be because they’ve breathed in too much of the scent of eau de delusional! 

Some of my favourite quotes

‘Do you have any idea how many people are self publishing books right now? There was probably a couple born in the time it took you to read that sentence and chances are neither of them are very good. Yes, there are a number of very successful self-publishers self-publishing very good books that lots of people like, but they are the exceptions to the rule.’

‘Before we go any further I want you to read these next three sentences aloud: I cannot expect each individual reader to compensate me for the years of blood, sweat and tears that went into writing this book. The price tag on my book is not a reflection of how much work went into it. I have to look at the big picture and acknowledge that if I insist on being a greedy b—–d and overcharging people, then I won’t sell any copies at all.’

‘Covers are important to books, but they are the most important thing about self published books…. even if you’re the next Jonathan Franzen and your book is better than The Corrections and Freedom combined, no one is going to buy it if your cover looks like a pile of (water-coloured?) poo.’

How about you?

Have you read any good books on self publishing? Do either of these books appeal to you? Or is self publishing totally not your thing?

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Filed under Book review, Self publishing