“Freedom is something you have to take for yourself.” // Review of “Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow

Title: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Audio book narrator:
Kirby Heyborne
Genre:
YA/dystopian
Date Read: 18/08/2016 – 22/08/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This is another book that’s tricky to rate, due to some parts being really awesome, and some parts being really… not. However, it is a truly relevant book for today’s society, to the point where there were certain scenes where I was nearly blocking my ears and whispering “Too real, too real!”

In the near-future, Marcus Yallow aka W1n5t0n online, and his friends are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, and are imprisoned by the Department of Homeland Security and treated inhumanely for a week. When they are released, they discover that San Francisco has been turned into a police state, where the population  are forced to give up their privacy in exchange for “security”. But Marcus and his friends are tech-savvy enough to go underground in cyber-space, and pretty soon, a movement is beginning.

I really liked Marcus as a lead character. He is unapologetically geeky. He’s into computers and crytopgraphy and old books and passionate about fighting for his rights. There were some interesting side characters, though so much of the plot unfolds through Marcus’ interactions with people online that it was a little hard to get to know everyone else. I did feel that the development of the female characters left a bit to be desired. The book is written in first person and Marcus would describe every girl or woman he met in terms of attractiveness, and only afterwards perhaps discuss other aspects of them. Overall, though, characterisation worked for the story that Doctorow was clearly trying to tell.

The thing that put me off the book was how info-dumpy it was at times. My partner and I have an arrangement where I drive to the shops then read or listen to a book while he goes in and gets the groceries. I listened to a ten or fifteen-minute diatribe about LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) during one of these shopping trips. There were similar ones about crytography, security systems, gaming, San Francisco geography and other things that I can’t remember right now because I started zoning out. These took me completely out of the story and screwed with the pacing; they killed all momentum the story was building.

As I said above, there were aspects of this book that rang really true in today’s society where we are all supposedly in danger of terrorist attacks. The panic, the additional “security” measures, the blind acceptance of government control by so many members of the public… while the exact technologies described in the book might be a little way off (or they might not; I get the impression they all exist in some form or another already), the methods of using them was incredibly realistic.

While it certainly wasn’t a five-star read for me due to the reasons above, I definitely recommend this book for everyone. It is a good eye-opener in a lot of ways.


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“Every line has a new start.” // Review of “The Life Assistance Agency” by Thomas Hocknell

Title: The Life Assistance Agency
Author: Thomas Hocknell
Genre: Mystery/fantasy
Date Read: 16/09/2016 – 23/09/2016
Rating: ★★

Review:

Ah man. I am going to have to live with this being another case of really enjoying the author’s blogs and Twitter, but the published work just not doing it for me. It had its moments, but I ended up having to really trudge through the majority.

Ben Furguson-Cripps is a struggling writer who gets caught up in a friend’s new venture, the Life Assistance Agency, which vaguely seeks to assist people in whichever way possible. When their first client brings them a missing persons case, they end up a trek around Europe, following in the footsteps of Dr John Dee and Edward Kelley, two Elizabethan occultists who sought to communicate with angels, and Ben finds his cynicism regarding all forms of magic and the supernatural severely challenged.

My first issue with this book was that I really struggled to relate to Ben in any meaningful way. He had a fairly standard backstory (drunk mother, father who ran out on them…) and was, well… this sounds mean, but he was kind of a loser, and I didn’t really sympathise with his struggles. The other characters also didn’t really ellicit any kind of emotional response from me. It was also quite a male-dominated story, which can be okay, but the few female characters that were there didn’t have much agency. Jane Dee, excerpts from whose diary are peppered throughout the book, went from being really bothered about Edward Kelley’s obvious leering and lusting after her  to being attracted to him. I know that does happen, but Kelley was set up as really gross, and so her change of heart bugged me.

The other main issue was the pacing. The mystery isn’t very compelling, and really relies on the reader getting to the point where it all comes together at the end, because the actions of some characters don’t make sense until you finally find out their motivation at that point. The aforementioned diary excerpts really slowed the plot down, too, and there was a lot of traveling around and “Oh no, we’re being followed” without very much else going on to hold my interest. The last 10-15% did improve quite a bit, but by then I had already been skimming for a fair while and was ready to be finished.

This does have the makings of a fun story and I think with some work it could have got there. Unfortunately, I think maybe this one went to print a little too early, and really suffers for it.


(Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

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#WWW Wednesday – 21 September, 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.

(I have to apologise for being fairly useless at returning comments and visiting other blogs last week. I’ll do better this week! :D)

wwwwednesday

What have you recently finished reading?

dragoninthegardencoverI finished The Dragon in the Garden by Erika Gardner, and it managed to not become a complete mess! I enjoyed it in and of itself, but I don’t feel compelled to read the sequel whenever it comes out. I posted my review here, along with my review of The Mysterious Adventures of Becca Carlisle by Cate Morgan, which also went up this week.

What are you currently reading?

lifesassistanceagencycoverI started reading The Life Assistance Agency by Thomas Hocknell. This is the one I requested on NetGalley last week, and since it has just been released, I thought I should try to get it reviewed soonest. I’m also listening to Little Brother by Cory Doctorow on audio. I’m enjoying them both, though in both cases I am finding the lead characters are both really standard male characters (one’s that goofball, kind of loser stereotype and the other is a “hot-blooded” 17-year-old) and there aren’t very many women around in either one. The stories are both good, though, so I’m trying to let that slide.

What do you think you’ll read next?

nameofthewindcoverOn October 1, I am going on a cruise for a week and I plan on taking The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss with me. I am not taking any devices other than my phone (for camera purposes, I’m not getting international roaming), but this should keep me going for eight days. Depending how quickly I finish the other stuff, I might read The Ill-Kept Oath by C. C. Aune before then.

Let me know if you’ve any thoughts on any of these!🙂

See you all later!

~ Emily

Book Review: The Dragon in the Garden by Erika Gardner

Title: The Dragon in the Garden (The Watcher Rising Series #1)
Author: Erika Gardner
Genre: NA/Fantasy
Date Read: 10/09/2016 – 16/09/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book had the potential to get very messy, as it had a lot going on. Fortunately, it managed to never fall off the rails.

Siobhan has been able to see through lies and illusions all her life. When she was five, she had a conversation with a dragon statue in her grandmother’s garnde. When she inherits the house after her grandmother’s death, she discovers the reason for these powers, that she has been chosen to decide the fate of the world in a battle between good and ultimate evil.

The main battle that is going on in this book is between dragons and Lucifer and his band of fallen angels. There is also another group of angels, the Two Hundred, who have fallen for different reasons but fight on the side of good. On top of that, the Fey are also involved, and in the big battle at the climax of the book, many other supernatural creatures also converge to take sides in the battle for Earth. However, it kind of made sense, as many of these creatures were part of myths that pre-date Christianity, and it was Those Who Came Before against the Angels of Hell.

Siobhan was a well-drawn character, though sometimes she did go on a bit about her fate as the Chosen One (I know, I’d probably go on about it, too, but it gets repetitive for a reader). Apart from her, there were four central characters that featured: Turiel, one of the Two Hundred, who acted as both mentor and love interest, Nefta, a Valkyrie, Alex, Siobhan’s brother (I liked him, he was a lot of fun but with a typical brotherly protective streak), and Tim, Siobhan’s exboyfriend, who was a bit entitled at times, but grew on me by the end.

The plot was well-paced for the most part, but it did take a little while to get going. With so many parties involved in the conflict, there was a fair bit of explaining to be done, but mostly this was explained through dialogue with Turiel, and managed to avoid info-dumping for the most part.  Speaking of Turiel, I also thought his relationship with Siobhan progressed a bit too quickly; they had only known each other for a few days. This is fine, I guess, but I prefer a slow-burn romance myself.

While there is still story to be told, I have to admit that when I got to the end, I didn’t feel especially compelled to add any follow-up books to my TBR. This was an enjoyable read, but it was enough on its own.


(Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

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Book Review: The Mysterious Adventures of Becca Carlisle by Cate Morgan

Title: The Mysterious Adventures of Becca Carlisle (Blood & Steam #2)
Author: Cate Morgan
Genre: Steampunk/YA
Date Read: 09/09/2016 – 11/09/2016
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

I read this book almost exactly a year to the day after I read the first Blood & Steam novella, and while this one had less of the exciting exotic locations, it still had all the bright, vibrant characters that I enjoyed in the first one.

Becca Carlisle receives a letter from her family lawyers in London, claiming that her brother is going to be charged with desertion from the army. She soon learns from a junior partner in the firm, however, that her lawyer is in league with Baron Lindsey, the same man responsible for her father’s alleged death in an airship accident.  As she and Avery begin to build a case to prove their senior’s connection to the Lindseys, they find there are a few people determined to stop them investigating.

Becca and Avery were both fun characters. Becca is the slightly more “normal” Carlisle sister, compared with adventurous Acacia and inventor Lucia. Still, she sticks up for what she believes in and isn’t afraid to join with Avery in building a case against Avery’s former employer and the Lindseys. Avery is very sweet, a bit dorky, but also determined to have revenge for his father, who came to grief when he crossed the Lindseys some years before. There was also some entertaining side characters in the Ladies’ Adventurers Club, in particular three ofo these ladies who were too old to give much of a damn what other people thought of them.

As this book was set in London, it did lack the exciting description of faraway lands that the first book did, and there was even less of a steampunk vibe than in the first. Apart from a few telescopes and a fancy telegraph system, there was little to distinguish the setting from regular Victorian England. Even so, it was a quick, fun read and I certainly look forward to reading book three and concluding the story.


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#WWW Wednesday – 14 September, 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?

I finished Thbeccacarlislecovere Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley and posted my review here. I ended up quite enjoying it for the most part. I also read The Mysterious Adventures of Becca Carlisle by Cate Morgan, which is the second in a series of steampunk novellas. This one was less steampunky as it dealt more with the Carlisle family’s legal matters and building a case against their enemy, but as with the first one, the characters were vibrant and fun and it was a quick read. In related news, my review of Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine also went up this week.

What are you currently reading?

dragoninthegardencoverThe Dragon in the Garden by Erika Gardner, which I also got from NetGalley. I’m almost halfway through it. Not  much has happened so far, but the world-building and characters are interesting. I’m a bit worried it might get messy, though, as we already have fallen angels and dragons, and the fey are apparently going to start showing up, too.

Still going with Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis on audio. I haven’t had as many opportunities to listen to it but luckily I was able to renew it so I should be able to finish it before it gets returned.

What do you think you’ll read next?

illkeptoathcoverI want to try to read The Ill-Kept Oath by C. C. Aune in time to get a review up around its release on September 27. This is the one I accidentally-on-purpose requested from NetGalley last week. I have another one I that I requested in the same manner this week. Still waiting on approval for that one, but fingers crossed! After finishing the Birdman’s Wife and getting through Dragon in the Garden quite quickly, I feel a bit better about having a few ARCs sitting around.

I’m going to love you and leave you on that note, and try to do something that involves moving about. I thought I would try a new class at the gym yesterday, but it turned out to be well beyond my abilities, and  unlike the one I normally go to, didn’t really have different levels for those of us who are beginners. As a result, 36 hours and a massage later, I am still stiff and sore, but it wears off a bit when I move around.

See you all later!

~ Emily

“Anyhow, I couldn’t do it without you.” // Review of “The Birdman’s Wife” by Melissa Ashley #aww2016

Title: The Birdman’s Wife
Author: Melissa Ashley
Genre: Historical fiction
Date Read: 23/08/2016 – 08/09/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Based on a real life and meticulouusly researched, this book conveys information about the life of illustrator Elizabeth Gould, as well as the natural history craze sweeping Europe in the mid-nineteenth century.

Elizabeth Coxen married zoologist John Gould in 1829. Not only did she give birth to eight of his children, but she was also the illustrator for many of his publications on wildlife, particularly birds, around the world. In 1838 she accompanied him on a trip to Australia, where she provided the illustrations for his monograph, The Birds of Australia. Sadly, Elizabeth died at the age of 38 and her husband’s career significanly eclipsed that of her own. This book seeks to give her her own much deserved place in history.

Melissa Ashley manages to cram so much into this book about life in London in the 1820s and 30s and travel in Australia in the late 30s, as well as details about ornithography, zoology and the specimens John and Elizabeth Gould collected and described. And yet, it never really felt like the author was info-dumping. It was more like someone really passionate about their subject getting excited and wanting to share everything they can with you.

The novel is in first person, not something I am generally a fan of, but I did like Elizabeth’s narrative voice. It felt very appropriate to the time period, and I think it worked because it did allow for the glimpse into her innermost thoughts that we don’t really get a sense of by just reading the history books. The character of John Gould got a bit overbearing at times; while it was great to see a character so passionate about his calling, he certainly did let that overpower his devotion to his wife a lot, and that made me frown.

The novel is littered with other enjoyable side characters, such as the Gould children and extended family, Lady Franklin in Tasmania, and fellow illustrator Edward Lear (I had to google him to check it was the same Edward Lear who wrote the Owl and the Pussy Cat, and what do you know, it was! He was also a scientific illustrator).

The main reason this didn’t get a higher rating than 3.5 from me is more of a preference thing than anything actually “wrong” with the book. As this is based on someone’s life, it is more of a chronicle of things they did, rather than having a “plot” so to speak, with interesting twists and turns. I do find this sort of story a bit harder to get into to, and so it meant that it was a bit of a slower read for me. However, I am sure that people who read more historical fiction than I do will not have such a problem with this.

I was reading an ARC, so there were only a few examples of the illustrations, but I believe their are quite a few more was able to find some examples online of Elizabeth’s work, and I think having those in the final product will enhance the reading experience.

(Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Shuster Australia for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)


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

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