“One look will steal your heart, but her touch will steal your soul…” // Review of “Votive” by Karen Brooks #aww2016

Title: Votive (Curse of the Bond Riders #2)
Author: Karen Brooks
Genre: YA/Historical fantasy
Audio book narrator: Eloise Oxer
Date Read: 17/08/2016 – 27/08/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book was good when it focused on the characters I cared about. Unfortunately, it spent significant portions of time with characters I wasn’t interested in at all, which made for a very long book.

Adopted by the Maleovelis, Tallow is now in training to become the city’s most celebrated courtesan. Believing Dante to be dead and everyone else she loved lost, Tallow hardens her heart and does as they  dictate. But various political factions are moving against one another, and all are on the hunt for an Estrattore, putting Tallow in more danger. Can she really continue to do what is asked of her?

A lot happens to Tallow in this book, and her character development followed a very good trajectory. There were a couple of events that took me by surprise at first, but actually made a lot of sense when I thought about it, and contributed to Tallow’s arc. I did feel that there wasn’t quite as much from Tallow’s first person POV as there might have been (Tallow often narrates the story, while the other POVs are in third person), and I was always glad when it finally did turn to this narration.

We also get to learn more about other characters such as Katina, and the politics of the Bond Riders’ community. Two other Bond Riders, Santo and Stephano, play a major role in this book, though unfortunately, they were two of the characters I really wasn’t interested in. Ditto Queen Zaralena and her emissary, Lord Waterford, who are plotting against Seranissima from afar.  The Queen actually made me quite uncomfortable in a couple of scenes, which didn’t help.

The plot becomes a lot darker in this book, and there is also a lot more political intrigue. This may once again be a case of the print book being better to read than the audio book, as I would have been able to flip back and remind myself who was invading whom and how they were betraying each other if I was reading the book. I’m really not good at keeping track of these sorts of intrigues, and to be honest, at some point I started skipping through the scenes with Queen Zaralena or Lord Waterford, as I just wasn’t interested anymore. However, wanting to know what happened to Tallow, Katina and a few others is what kept me going, and why I didn’t give a lower rating.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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Sunday Summary – August 14, 2016

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This week in writing

writingthumb Tuesday night was the only one of my five nights per week that I was unable to write, as my computer was, as I said in my word count spreadsheet, “being a poo”. At time of writing, the total word count on the second draft of Operation Sugarplum is 8865, and I should easily reach 10k by the end of the month.

This week in reading

readingthumbI finally finished the audio book of Votive by Karen Brooks, which was far too long and spent too much time from the POV of characters I wasn’t interested in. My new audio book is The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis, the first in the Marcus Didius Falco series of crime novels set in Ancient Rome. In print, I finished This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab and have started Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine.

This week in blogging

blogginthumbI decided to take a break from WIPpet Wednesday this week, and probably a few weeks more. I’m editing rather than writing, and since Operation Sugarplum is so short, I feel like I’ve already shared all the good parts in one form or another. Not only that, but the past couple of weeks, I made a pretty dismal effort to get round to fellow WIPpeteers, so I felt i t was better to not participate just now. I’ll do my best to participate over the next couple of months, but I’ve got quite a lot going on.  I do need to remember to get my review of Votive written up in time to go up tomorrow morning.

This week in study

studythumbI handed in my first assignment for the semester this week, and I was pretty happy with it. Now I need to get onto working out what I’m going to do for the hypothetical exhibition that I have to design. I have a few ideas, I’ve just got to see which will be the most feasible.

This week in health and fitness

fitnessthumbThis week was a bit of a mixed bag. I definitely reached 10k steps each day, but I was indulging in things  I shouldn’t have been more often than not. Having said that, in a rearrangement of my kitchen this evening, I found room for my fruit bowl on the bench, so I’ve filled it up with all my suppllies, so I won’t be able to forget to take a couple of pieces to work each day this week.

Other Highlights this week

I attended my first book launch! Actually, my first two. This weekend has been the inaugral Canberra Writer’s Festival, and while I wasn’t really planning on going to any of the events, I saw a Facebook event advertising the launch of Heart of Brass by Felicity Banks. As it’s a steampunk novel, there was Victorian dress, waltzing, and also tea duelling (you should Google that).  I ran into some people I knew who were also staying for the following launch, and I ended up buying that book and sticking around too. Here’s a photo, and there are some others at my Facebook (my author page, so the post is public):

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That’s it for today. See you later!

~ Emily

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“It doesn’t matter if you’re monster or human. Living hurts.” // Review of “This Savage Song” by V. E. Schwab

Title: This Savage Song
Author: V. E. Schwab
Genre: YA/fantasy/dystopian
Date Read: 18/08/2016 – 22/08/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I’m starting to think V. E. Schwab is a one-hit wonder for me. I loved A Darker Shade of Magic, but every other book I’ve read by her, including this one, has been a bit of a disappointment in comparison.

Verity City is split into two parts; in one, you pay for Callum Harker’s protection from the monsters. In the other, Henry Flynn’s task force protects the public. Kate Harker and August Flynn come from two very different worlds, but after an assassination attempt, are thrown together in an uneasy alliance and discover that the truce between two sides of the Seam is breaking, and not everything is as it seems.

One of my main issues with this novel was that I never warmed to the main characters. I think I was supposed to think Kate was really badass, but I can’t support a character who burns down school buildings simply because she doesn’t want to be there, and who pulls a knife on schoolmates just beacuse she was called a freak. I actually didn’t mind August too much at first, but once I realised he was one of those monster characters who just wants to be human, and will do everything to ignore his monster instincts, which puts a lot of people in very immient danger… then I rolled my eyes at him and wanted him to just suck it up.

I did like the premise of the novel, that people’s sins manifested into real monsters. The monsters came in three different types, all were well-established as creepy. What puzzled me, though, was that there seemed to be no additional effort to curtail people’s violence. If you knew that punching that guy would lead to a new monster on the streets, would you actually punch them? And where was the incredibly strict law enforcement? There wasn’t really much detail about how the USA had become the dystopia it is now, and thus it seemed strange that there would just be these two powerful families fighting monsters while everyone else just carried on.

It may be that the speed I was reading (because for all of this, dammit, Schwab keeps you reading) at made me miss details, but I did sometimes find the plot a bit confusing; the Truce between the two halves of the city was clearly breaking, but I kept getting confused about who was betraying who, and I thought the reveals towards the end got a bit far-fetched.

Having said all that, there is no denying the Schwab is a good writer. I read the book quite quickly, as her writing style is easy to follow and keeps you turning pages.I just wish I had been able to get a bit more involved.


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#WWW Wednesday – 24 August, 2016

It’s time for WWW Wednesday! This is a blog hop hosted by Sam over at A World Of Words. Link up with us by commenting on Sam’s post for today, and just answer the three questions.

wwwwednesday

What have you recently finished reading?

thissavagesongcoverI finished This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab and while I liked the plot, I never really warmed to either of the main characters, so that let it down for me. I’ll go into more detail in my review, which will go up on Friday.

My reviews of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling et al and Tallow by Karen Brooks both went up in the past week.

What are you currently reading?

birdmanswifecoverMy main focus at the moment is The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley, which I received from NetGalley. This is historical fiction based on the life of the illustrator Elizabeth Gould. I’m about a third of the way through and John Gould’s demands and taking for granted of his wife are making me frowny, but the fact that she was so overshadowed by her husband is partially why the author set out to the write the book, so I am glad this book exists.

I am still going on Votive by Karen Brooks and The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. I have about five hours left of Votive, so I’ll probably finish it in the next couple of days. I am still enjoying it but it’s way too long! I didn’t relaly feel like returning to the world of the Rook immediately after This Savage Song, hence checking out The Birdman’s Wife first.

What do you think you’ll read next?

paperandfirecoverPaper and Fire (The Great Library #2) by Rachel Caine is waiting for me at the library, so that will be next. The reviews have been mixed but I hope I like it as much as I liked the first one. After that, back to my extensive list of ebooks and physical books that I own and need to get through.

That’s all from me today. I’ve decided to take a bit of a hiatus from WIPpet Wednesday while I’m editing rather than writing. See you on your blogs!

~ Emily

Book Review: “Tallow” by Karen Brooks #aww2016

Title: Tallow (Curse of the Bond Riders #1)
Author: Karen Brooks
Genre: YA/Historical fantasy
Audio book narrator: Eloise Oxer
Date Read: 07/08/2016 – 16/08/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

tallowcoverWhile this book definitely felt like a series opener, and a set-up for bigger things to come later, the setting and characterisation were both fresh and original and drew me in completely.

Tallow has grown up as a candle maker’s apprentice in Serenissima, a place we now know as Venice. Her strange eyes have always bothered people, but it’s not until a stranger shows up at their door that she learns she is one of the last Estrattore, a race able to extract and distill the feelings of those around them, and who were exiled and killed by the Church hundreds of years before. Under  Katina’s tutelage, she begins to learn how to control her power, but she soon also learns that even using her powers for what she perceives to be good can have dire consequences.

The world-building is definitely the highlight of this book, and the books that follow. It is rich and sensual and makes the reader feel like they are really there, too. The descriptions of the various regions of Serenissima, the canals, Carnivale, etc, were all vivid. Italian language is peppered throughout the story, which also served to remind us where we were.

Tallow is a well-constructed character. She is eager to please, eager to help and horrified by the attention she begins receiving when people start attributing certain things to her (“his” – she is disguised as a boy for the majority of the book) candles. Her guardians, Pillar, the candle-maker, and his mother, Quinn, are also very thoroughly characterised, though I never especially warmed to any of them. Katina is really the only Bond Rider we meet in this book, and she makes a very good mentor for Tallow, and her world-weariness comes across well, too.

There is a bit of romance in the novel, and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I usually do in YA books. I think this is because it is actually realistic – Tallow and Dante meet by chance, and there is no “I laid eyes on him and immediately knew he was the One/special/whatever else”. Instead, they continue to spend time together and slowly fall in love, though neither acts on it until right at the end, because Tallow is worried about revealing her powers to Dante, and Dante thinks Tallow is a boy.

There are also several subplots, including one with some Venetian nobles who go on to play a larger part later on in the series, and also with a queen of Farrow Fair (somewhere in Albion; on the audio book, she’s read with a French accent so I’m not exactly sure where she’s supposed to be from), who is also on the lookout for an Estrattore. The problem was, these characters were visited so infrequently that I tended to forget their side plots even existed when I wasn’t following them. They also made the book a lot more drawn out than it needed to be, especially as they were both being set up to play larger parts in the later books, rather than actively having much of an effect on the events of this book.

In spite of all that, the world and main characters did win me over and I had the next book downloaded before I had even reached the ending of this one.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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“My geekness is a-quivering.” // Review of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2” by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2
Author: J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
Genre: YA/Play script
Date Read: 14/08/2016
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

Having not been involved at all in Harry Potter fandom since about 2008, I wasn’t really worried about whether I read this book or not. However, when my partner finally found an outlet in our city that wasn’t sold out and bought himself a copy, I decided to form my own thoughts regardless. To my surprise, I actually got caught up in the nostalgia, and the new characters, and ended up really enjoying it!

Harry Potter is now 40 years old, struggling with his relationship with his son, Albus, and on top of that, his scar has been hurting and he’s been having nightmares leading him to think that someone connected to the Dark Lord may be at large. Meanwhile, Albus and best friend Scorpius Malfoy, decide to try to right some of the wrongs wreaked by Lord Voldemort in the past, only to almost plunge the world back into darkness again.

I totally get why so many people were disappointed by this new addition to the Harry Potter ‘verse. For a start, the play format is not supposed to be read, and if you’re not used to reading plays (I am, I’ve been doing theatre for 15 years), I’m sure that would have tarnished the experience. A script is not written to be consumed en masse; it’s written to give the actors the necessary information to bring it to life on stage. I’ve seen complaints about some of the stage directions, but the thing is, stage directions aren’t meant to immerse you in the world. They’re the instructions for someone else who is going to do that immersing.

The structure of the story is also different to the novels. There is no starting off pre-school-year and then following the characters throughout the year towards a climax in June. It’s all rather more complicated than that and Hogwarts actually doesn’t play a huge role, so I totally appreciate that some readers did not feel that they were “back”.

As for the characters, I actually found myself sympathising far more with Harry in this story than I ever did in the novels (I always agreed with Hermione about his “saving people thing”). Draco Malfoy still has enough of teenage Draco in him to recognise, but he has matured as well, and tends to bring out the snark only when necessary, rather than every opportunity. There is still a lot of simmering tension between him and Harry, and I can see that playing out really well onstage.

I loved Albus and Scorpius’ friendship of epic proportions, though I did feel their motivations within their arc were a little over the top. Their character development through the course of the plot was well done, though, and their dialogue is great. Scorpius is such an unapologetic little geek, and I loved that.

There are some problems with some character development of other characters, but I was able to shrug it off a bit more. In most cases, it was either a side-character, or it was a development which was later addressed, so I was able to let it go.

There are some twists that are probably not a surprise to anyone anymore (unless you’ve been really, really careful to avoid spoilers). The big one is rather cliché and even a bit squicky, though I hope it would play out better onstage than in a dry script.

Overall, I think Cursed Child has the makings of a wonderful play, which I would love to see onstage. If this is the only preview I get for a while, though, I’ll be happy enough with that .


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#WWW and #WIPpet Wednesday – 17 August, 2016

It’s time for WWW Wednesday! This is a blog hop hosted by Sam over at A World Of Words. Link up with us by commenting on Sam’s post for today, and just answer the three questions.

wwwwednesday

  • What did you recently finish reading?

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My partner ended up buying Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and so I ended up reading it a lot sooner than I expected. It wasn’t perfect, but I actually really enjoyed it! It probably helps that I haven’t really been involved in Harry Potter fandom since 2008, so I was able to shrug off the more dubious parts more easily. And being a theatre person used to reading scripts also helped as well, I guess. I wish I could see the play now, I think it must be amazing! My review for this will go up on Friday.

tallowcover  I finished the audio of Tallow by Karen Brooks this morning. This was a good series opener, though it really was setting up for things to come. I do like the alternate-Venice setting though. It’s really fresh and original. And I got quite invested in the romance, which is unusual for me in a YA series!

Reviews of Eve and Adam by Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant, and Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss went up this week. Anita Heiss retweeted the link to my review, and it subsequently got retweeted by 24 other people, which then translated two days where my blog stats were off-the-charts (at least compared to my usual traffic). So that made me happy.

  • What are you currently reading?

therookcoverI am still going on The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. I’ve really only been squeezing in reading time on my lunch break this past week so this one is going slowly. Fortunately, it’s borrowed from a friend rather than the library, so I don’t need to worry about impending due dates (though it does make me paranoid about breaking the spine or doing it other such damage that has usually already happened to the library book).

votivecoverVotive by Karen Brooks is my new audio book, as I finished Tallow this morning. From the reviews, it sounds like this one gets a lot darker than the first book.  At 23 hours long, it is the longest audio book I’ve committed to by about 7 hours, but I’m trying not to pick anything else up at the library at the moment, so I’m rolling with it. (I know, I know, some of you are able to get through 40 hour ones quite easily, but if it’s faster to read the book than listen to it, I usually try to go with that option).

  • What do you think you’ll read next?

thissavagesongcoverI know I just said above that I was avoiding getting anything from the library, but This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab has come in for me after several weeks on hold, so I’ll be picking it up tomorrow. I’ll probably put The Rook on hold to read this as it is likely to be a popular title and therefore only have a two week loan period rather than four.

And now for WIPpet Wednesday. This is another blog hop in which writers share excerpts from their current WIP that somehow relate to the date. Clicking the blue guy on the right will take you to the linkup for this one.

I decided to share from Operation Sugarplum this week, since that is where my interest is at the moment. For those newer to these parts, this is my modern-day retelling of the Nutcracker. In  this scene, Max is battling an Evil Creature, and for context, the sword he has just produced is magic and can only be used in defence. That isn’t explained here, but does come up later when Clara tries to use it to attack someone. I have complicated maths this week! ((1+7)/16) x 8 = 4 paragraphs.

“Ah,” it said. “It has to be this way, then?”

“I guess it does,” Max replied.

“What if I don’t touch you? What then?”

“Well, then, you might as well turn around now because I won’t come with you willingly. If you’re going to make your King happy, there’s going to have to be some sort of confrontation here, and that means I’ll be able to use it. And then I’ll beat you.”

Max is awfully confident for someone whose magical abilities have been an abstract concept/training exercise up until now. Let’s just say it’s a good thing Clara is spectating.

I think this is the first time I’ve shared from this story this year. You can read more excerpts by clicking here. Bear in mind, I’m working on the second draft now, so things are liable to change a bit.

All right, better finish this up! See you all later!

~ Emily


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