City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare is the fourth in The Mortal Instruments series of books. The Mortal Instruments is a series of six books, of which five have been already published and divides into two trilogies. City of Fallen Angels kicks off the second half with new threats and new challenges for our protagonists. We start off in a good place – things have been quiet and settled since the events of City of Glass. Clary’s main preoccupation is preparing for her mother’s wedding to long time love Luke and enjoying her relationship with Jace. Naturally, that peace doesn’t last for too long…
It has been some time since I finished the first half of The Mortal Instruments, but Clare’s writing style and wonderful characters immediately drew me back into the world of Shadowhunters, demons, vampires and warlocks. I adore this world and loved reading more of it – I don’t know why it took me so long to get back to it!
What I liked
The worldbuilding – Clare clearly has an excellent grasp of her world. Everything fits together and holds well to its own internal logic.
The characters. While I still retain a slight preference for the characters in Clare’s other series, The Infernal Devices, I still love reading about Clary, Jace, Simon and the Lightwoods. I particularly enjoyed Simon’s journey in this book and his relationships with Maia and Isabelle. Isabelle’s journey, too became more interesting to me in this book.
What I didn’t like
The pacing. I’ve noted slow pacing as an issue for me in several of Clare’s books, and unfortunately City of Fallen Angels is no exception. As I mentioned, it starts off a whole new arc for our characters, and takes a long time to really get moving.
The narration. I really didn’t enjoy the narration for this book at all – I personally found it rather flat. You may of course feel differently.
Here is a sample:
Added to my library this week
There have been a few great deals I’ve picked up this week, all under $5 each.
I picked up London Belles on both Kindle and Audible. This sounded like a good read: London Belles is a tale of four very different young women thrown together by war. Finding freedom and independence – as well as love, passion and heartbreak – for the very first time, a unique bond is formed as the hostilities take their toll on Britain.
Shannon Delaney’s Weather Witch sounded intriguing: Some fled the Old World to avoid war, and some fled to leave behind magick. Yet even the fiercely regulated New World–with its ranks and emphasis on decorum–cannot staunch the power that wells up in certain people, influencing the weather and calling down storms. Hunted, the Weather Witches are forced to power the rest of the population’s ships, as well as their every necessity, and luxury, in a time when steam power is repressed. I picked this up in Kindle format.
I’m really enjoying Audible dramatised productions and when Star Wars (not the Shakespeare version!) was on special offer, I picked it up. It’s narrated by Anthony Daniels and Mark Hamill, so I’m really looking forward to that.
For those of you having a long weekend this weekend, enjoy – I’ll see you next week.
Codex Angelicus by the Quebecoise author Anne Robillard is the fifth entry in her A.N.G.E. series. This contains 10 books of which five are currently available in ebook format. For those of you unfamiliar with this series, A.N.G.E. stands for Agence Nationale de Gestion de l’Étrange (National Agency for the Management of the Bizarre) and refers to the top secret agency which investigates paranormal phenomena. We are introduced to the Agency in book 1 through new recruit Cindy Bloom. Cindy is only one of the many fascinating characters in the series. Sadly it is only available in French right now. I have read books 1-5 and here are my thoughts on the series up til now.
What I liked
Steady plot developments and twists. Throughout the series Robillard has built up the plot. We start off with Cindy being assigned to the False Prophets department under the tutelage of Oceane Chevalier – False Prophets is referred to as the new agents’ kindergarten as it’s normally a very safe and boring field where nothing much happens. Of course, what they learn there drives the whole plot for the rest of the series. Each subsequent book picks up on what has gone before and adds to it with new little twists.
Wonderful characters. As you will see from Robillard’s previous work The Knights of Emerald, writing strong, relatable characters is one of Robillard’s strengths as a writer. This is equally true in A.N.G.E. The reader becomes invested in Cindy, Oceane, Cedric, Yannick and Vincent.
Pacing. One of my complaints about The Knights of Emerald was the slower pacing – at times Robillard seemed to lose the thread of where she was going. That cannot be said about A.N.G.E. The story keeps moving along at a good clip each volume building on the previous. I really look forward to seeing where she Robillard goes with it.
What I didn’t like
Les relatable situations. One of the things I loved most about Knights was that these fantastical characters were placed in very human situations. While readers may not have fought supernatural beetles they can still relate to a character who, for example, has to deal with the fact that the woman he loves is in love with his best friend. This relatability is not so apparent in A.N.G.E. The situations faced by our characters are less something that a reader can relate to in his/her own life.
All in all I love Robillard’s writing and would recommend it. I gave Codex Angelicus four stars out of five.
I was recently given a review copy by the publisher of Swamped by Andrea Hertach. It tells the story of young Marley Aaron who, along with local wildlife, campaigns to save a swamp along with its delicate ecosystem from destruction by urban developers. Like The Monster Mob, which I reviewed recently, Swamped is very much aimed at a younger readership, probably around the 8-11 year range.
What I liked
Concept. Swamped is clearly intended to increase environmental awareness in young people and it does that very well. It explains about the delicate ecosystem in the swamp and the damage that humans could do. I’m not certain though that the developer and mayor would be as sympathetic to Marley’s concerns in real life as they are in the book!
Entertaining style. I enjoyed that interaction amongst the local creature inhabitants of the swamp and also their working together with Marley and her pet dogs.
What I didn’t like
As with The Monster Mob, it is clearly aimed at a younger audience and more mature readers may find it rather simplistic and too easily tied off.
All in all I think Swamped sets out what it intends to – increase environmental awareness – and I gave it three stars out of five.
I was recently given a free copy by the publisher to review The Monster Mob by Andrea Hertach. It tells the story of a group of kids, Alex, Charlie, Leanna and Pete who share a love of creative writing and form the “Monster Mob” to share their (creepy) stories with each other. The novel is structured around the kids’ stories and their attempt to find the storyworthy in real life.
From my reading I would guess this is aimed at middle graders, particularly those who already have a love of reading and writing. I don’t think older readers would appreciate as much – the themes and concepts are kept pretty simple and there might be little to hold their attention. However, there are a fair number of classical literary references – to Poe, Shelley, Shakespeare and Dickens and the author makes these pretty explicit in order for younger readers to appreciate them.
What I liked
The Monster Mob is a very light, quick read and passes a pleasant couple of hours. The writing style was clear and engaging. I did enjoy the ending with Mr Hawthorn – I thought it was rather sweet.
What I didn’t like
This book is clearly aimed at a younger audience so more mature readers will probably find little depth to the book.
All in all I gave The Monster Mob three stars out of five
Added to my library this week
This week I’ve gone on a bit of an Audible spending spree. There were some interesting daily deals as well as some I bought with the extra three credits I bought.
The first of the daily deals I bought was Cragbridge Hall by Chad Morris. The synopsis for this seems intriguing: Imagine a school in the year 2074 where students don’t read history, but watch it happen around them; where running in gym class isn’t around a track, but up a virtual mountain; and where learning about animals means becoming one through an avatar. Welcome to Cragbridge Hall, the most advanced and prestigious school in the world. It sounded a fun listen so I didn’t mind spending a couple of dollars on it.
The second daily deal I bought was C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. I remember reading Lewis’s work about a devil when I was very young and I seem to remember it was very cleverly written. Again I didn’t mind spending a couple of dollars on that.
As I mentioned earlier this week I really enjoyed Eva Strachiak’s The Winter Palace, so I picked up the sequel The Empress of the Night also from Audible.
I’ve been hearing some good things about Half Bad by Sally Green – this is a contemporary supernatural novel about a young man who is half good witch and half bad witch. I listened to the sample and was immediately hooked.
The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak is a historical fiction novel based on the early life of Russian Empress Catherine the Great. Through the eyes of bookbinder’s daughter turned lady-in-waiting Varvara it tells the story of Catherine’s arrival at court and of her navigation through Court politics to the Imperial Throne itself.
Now, historical fiction is not a genre of which I read a lot; however I was intrigued by this one and it turned out to be the perfect antidote to my waiting-for-Dorothy-Must-Die reading slump. I don’t know a great deal about Russian history and I found myself checking Wikipedia from time to time to learn more and to help me separate fact from fiction.
What I liked
Engaging protagonist. Although the novel is about the rise to power of Catherine the Great, we follow her story through Varvara’s eyes as Varvara herself goes through her own journey. Varvara is intelligent, resourceful and has a keen eye for observation. Although she starts off relatively powerless, by the end of the book, she has amassed considerable wealth and influence, making hard choices along the way. In that respect her journey mirrors Catherine’s.
The vivid picture Stachniak paints of court glamour and intrigue. It’s always fun to read of grand ballrooms glittering with chandeliers and jewels and of lords and ladies wearing elaborate costumes. It’s equally interesting to read about the power plays between the players and Stachniak describes this beautifully.
What I didn’t like
There was nothing I didn’t enjoy about The Winter Palace. Indeed, I’ve already picked up the sequel, The Empress of the Night from Audible.
Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige was one of my most anticipated reads of the season. I read and loved the prequel – No Place Like Oz – and indeed my desire to read Dorothy Must Die sent me into a reading slump for a while as nothing else hit the spot. Having read it, I can say that, while there was a lot to enjoy about Dorothy Must Die it didn’t quite live up to my anticipation.
What I liked
The protagonist. I really liked our protagonist, Amy Gumm, and enjoyed following her journey. She is a strong, kick-ass heroine, yet is dealing with her own internal demons and has her own buttons that can be pressed. Coming from Kansas as she does, she is the reader’s inroad to Dorothy’s Oz. Many parallels are drawn between Amy and Dorothy; both are originally from Kansas, both were feeling trapped in their mundane lives with little escape from their farm/small town before their arrival in Oz. Both are sensitive to the magic that is all around in Oz.
The worldbuilding. While it’s fair to say that L. Frank Baum did a lot of the heavy lifting in his creation of the world of Oz, Paige has added her own twist to the world. Baum’s Oz is clearly identifiable in the book, but there is a much darker twist to it with Dorothy’s influence. It’s based on the children’s novels rather than the 1939 Judy Garland film in that there are characters mentioned who are in the books not in the movie, and also that the original slippers are silver not red. I would suggest you read No Place Like Oz first before coming to Dorothy Must Die to get an idea of the background.
Good vs Wicked and Trust. The question of trust and whom to trust and whom not to trust comes up too many times for it not to be a major theme in the series. Amy is working for the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked and is repeatedly advised by the operatives not to trust anyone. It’s clear that they don’t trust Amy either, keeping her in the dark until the last possible moment. It’s a common trope in good vs evil fantasy that the good guys always win because they trust their colleagues to have their backs and are willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good whereas the bad guys are too busy looking out for themselves to implement any cohesive plans or trust their colleagues to work with them. Although the so-called wicked have come together in Dorothy Must Die they don’t have that trust that good guys have. It’s an interesting twist and I look forward to seeing how it plays out in subsequent books.
Writing style. I did enjoy Paige’s writing style. It came across as fresh and immediate and really brought me into the story.
What I didn’t like
Pacing. Here we come to the main problem I had with Dorothy Must Die; the pacing was off. For a significant chunk of the first half of the book Amy is training with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked yet, due to trust issues mentioned above, has not been given a goal to work towards except the vague Dorothy Must Die. This section drags on far too long and really slows the book down. I would encourage you to work past this section though – it improves a lot once Amy is working on a more specific goal.
Misleading marketing. HarperCollins’ blurb for Dorothy Must Die contains the following:
“My name is Amy Gumm—and I’m the other girl from Kansas.I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked.I’ve been trained to fight.And I have a mission: Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart.Steal the Scarecrow’s brain.Take the Lion’s courage.Then and only then—Dorothy must die!”
If that is the blurb you’re using to hook readers into the book, it might be a good idea to have your protagonist actually work towards that goal in that book and not have it be a supposed finale twist that Dorothy can’t die until the Tin Woodman, Scarecrow and Lion have been neutralised. Clearly, it’s a blurb for the series as a whole not just Dorothy Must Die. When reading the book please bear this in mind so that you are not frustrated at the end.
The audio narration. In general I really liked Devon Sorvari’s narration. She really brought out Amy’s strength of character and kick-ass attitude. However there were long pauses left at the end of each paragraph – long enough to be very noticeable and very irritating. I kept wondering if I’d reached the end of a chapter. Of course, it may not bother you at all. Here’s a sample.
In general though I really enjoyed Dorothy Must Die and will definitely continue with the rest of the series. Amy is a really great character and I love the world of Oz. I look forward to seeing more.
Altered by Gennifer Albin is the second in the Crewel World series of YA novels which tells the story of Adelice, a young woman of Arras with the skill to manipulate the weave of life itself. At the end of Crewel we were left with a real cliffhanger – Adelice had just broken out of the control of the Guild and escaped to Earth where a whole new set of challenges await her.
While there was a lot I liked about Altered I didn’t find it as gripping a read as Crewel. I didn’t feel it lived up to the promise of that punch of a climax to book one. I found I really missed Arras and Earth wasn’t as interesting a setting. This is the second book in a trilogy and like many, it suffers from middle book syndrome. A lot of time is devoted to setup for the finale of the series with the discussion of the skill of altering, the flip side of the coin to what Adelice can do, and yet for me it was still not exactly clear what the difference is between altering and weaving. The end goal for the series is setup and naturally, our protagonist is the only one with the skillset to be able to accomplish it.
The obligatory love triangle really annoyed me in this book. Adelice was far too ready to flit from one to the other. At this point I don’t really care who Adelice ends up with, just stop boring me with her romantic angst.
On the positive side, other than that, I did continue to like Adelice as a character – she’s certainly grown from the timid, frightened girl we met in Crewel, and I was pleased to see that she kept a level head through the book. Albin’s world is fascinating and I look forward to getting back to Arras in book three to see Adelice kick some butt.
I gave Altered three stars out of five, but I will certainly read Unraveled, the third book in the series when it is released in October.
I was recently provided with a copy of Creedor by Gail Morgan McRae free to review. This novel – or novella, really – is an uneasy blend of fantasy and space opera. It starts off with what presumably is the series’ antagonist usurping power and has references to wizards and magic. Then we switch viewpoints to that of a would-be medic bereft of purpose within the new society. We then turn to a space opera in which unknown spaceships are infiltrating Creedor’s space and stealing valuable resources. It has a large cast of characters – too large for the novel’s length really – and switches viewpoints too regularly to really get to know the characters well.
Creedor is clearly book one of a series. Within the book itself there is little or no story arc to follow – presumably it feeds into the larger series. The ending is very weak and comes very abruptly.
Despite all of this, there are some strong points to the novel. The world McRae has created holds much promise – if it could decide what it actually is. The Riders are intriguing – I look forward to hearing more of them. The characters are interesting – Mara in particular looks as if she could be a strong, determined female character. I was also really interested in the idea of the disease-free society being a perfect target for biowarfare and the challenges the society could face.
All in all, despite its failings, I felt there was a decent story and characters struggling to get out in Creedor and I will likely pick up the sequel. I gave Creedor three stars out of five.
Added to my library this week
Dorothy Must Die. Danielle Paige’s follow on to L Frank Baum’s Oz books in which Dorothy is evil and must die. This is one of my most anticipated books of the spring and I picked it up in both Audible and Kindle formats.
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid is the second in The Austen Project series of novels which are modern retellings by contemporary authors of Jane Austen’s classics. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have the baggage of my knowledge and love of the original as I had with the first, I much preferred this second outing to Joanna Trollope’s updating of Sense and Sensibility. Austen’s original story of Northanger Abbey tells the story of a sheltered young girl whose love of gothic novels leads her to make some very strange assumptions about the family of the young man she meets while visiting Bath. During the novel she learns to separate fiction from reality and to develop a better understanding of human motivations.
What I liked
The updating. I felt McDermid did a much better job than Trollope of bringing Austen’s characters into the 21st century. They felt modern and fresh and their motivations seemed in line with a modern teenager or young person. I could easily imagine sitting down to coffee with Cat and Ellie to discuss the latest novel. And as evidenced by John Thorpe and Frederick Tilney, men who are too full of self-importance to consider the wishes of the women they are with are obnoxious in any century.
As well as the characters, McDermid has done sterling work in updating the setting. Transforming Bath into Edinburgh mid Festival worked incredibly well. In their respective eras, both cities represent a cultural hotspot and a chance for our sheltered heroine to move into a wider world and social circle. The Festival also allows McDermid to bring in events like dance lessons and a ball without their seeming too much out of place.
Cultural and social media integration. This was something that was also better done in Northanger Abbey than in Sense and Sensibility. Social media such as Facebook, email, texts and Twitter are an integral part of our characters’ lives and are used to drive the plot on in many cases. The updating of the gothic novels much beloved by Austen’s heroine to Twilight and other contemporary vampire novels also works very well.
The narration. Narration for Northanger Abbey is done by Jane Collingwood and was excellent. Being a Scot I did appreciate her attempt at a Scots accent for the Scottish characters in the novel. In particular she brings across Cat’s good nature and John Thorpe’s horribleness perfectly. Here’s a sample:
What I didn’t like
Bella’s “voice”. The way this character spoke really irritated me. I’m referring to her word choice “totes,” “BFF”, not the narration. On the other hand, the character is supposed to be superficial so maybe McDermid’s done her job too well.
Motivations. In Austen’s original I assume money was a strong motivating factor in the relationship choices made by the characters. In McDermid’s updating, at some points it seems finances are a contributing factor, and at other times not. it just didn’t seem clear.
All in all I really enjoyed Northanger Abbey and gave it four stars out of five.
This week I suffered every bookworm’s worst nightmare; I have a TBR list of over 100 books (some of which I have been offered free to review) and I could not interest myself in any of them. This is because the book I really, REALLY wanted to read – AKA Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige – has not been released yet. I’m sure you avid readers can empathise with my dilemma. I flicked through several different books and just couldn’t get into any of them. In the end I managed to break out of my reading slump by picking up a book that is completely out of my normal genre – I’m currently reading The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak, a historical fiction set in Russia in the time of Catherine the Great. So far I’m really enjoying it. A full review will come soon.
One book I did manage to read this week was Attack the Geek by Michael R Underwood, which I received free to review from Netgalley. This is a novella in the Geekomancy series which had been on my radar for some time. I was intrigued by the magic system which, like Jim C. Hines’ Magic ex Libris books, is based on popular culture. However, whereas Hines’ magic is book based, Geekomancy is more gamer/comic book based. I’m glad I read it. It made me realise that the series is not quite for me. I have been known to play the odd game of Dungeons and Dragons and I enjoy a Marvel movie as much as the next girl, but the overload of geek references was just too much for me. Personally I was also put off by the amount of needless profanity. The characters were possibly interesting, but in a novella length book character development is very limited. With less geek references and less swearing I might have been interested in reading more about them but as it stands, this series is not for me.
I gave Attack the Geek two stars out of five. Having said that, if D&D gaming is your thing you might love this series. Other than that I would steer you in the direction of Magic ex Libris.
Added to my library this week
As I may have mentioned before, I am a big fan of the Quebecoise author Anne Robillard and her Chevaliers d’Emeraude and A.N.G.E. series. These have slowly been converted into ebooks and book five in A.N.G.E. – Codex Angelicus – was released this week! Excellent! I’ve been waiting months to find out the next chapter in the saga of the Agence Nationale pour la Gestion de l’Etrange. (National Agency for the Management of the Strange.) I picked this one up in Kobo format as I have the rest of them there.
To get through my reading slump I also picked up The Winter Palace by Eva Strachniak, also in Kobo format. In case you’re wondering, no I’m not abandoning my Kindle. I happened to have my Kobo with me as that’s what I use to read my Netgalley books.
From Amazon I did pick up The Wife of John the Baptist, a historical fiction novel set in Biblical times. I was asked to review this by the author, so expect a review soon.
This morning I received a lovely package from Tor-Forge which contained two gorgeous hardbacks:
The Pilgrims is described as “ordinary alternate-world fantasy; with this first volume in The Pendulum Trilogy, Will Elliott’s brilliantly subversive imagination twists the conventions of the alternate-world fantasy genre, providing an unforgettable visionary experience.” I look forward to reading this.
Lockstep: “When seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still—that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years.” Space opera is not my usual genre, but this sounds intriguing.
Thank you Tor!
Upcoming releases this month
On 1st April 2014 we have my most anticipated book of the month – Dorothy Must Die. This is the book that sent me into a reading slump because it wasn’t released yet and I didn’t want to read anything else because I wanted to read it so much. Check out my review of There’s No Place Like Oz to see why I’m so excited about this book. In short, it’s what happens in Oz when Dorothy goes bad. I’ve preordered this in both Kindle and Audible formats.
The following week, on the 8th of April, Dreams of Gods and Monsters is released. This is the third in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. It’s difficult to summarise this series, so I’ll direct you to my review. I loved the first book, and haven’t been able to get into the second. However, I still have Dreams of Gods and Monsters on Kindle preorder. It’s not yet available to preorder on Audible, which would be my preferred format – Khristine Hvam’s narration is excellent.
The next book in the Austen Project, Val McDermid’s reimagining of Northanger Abbey is available in Kindle format on the 15th of April. Interestingly the Audible pre-order is available this week. I’m actually not familiar with Austen’s original work, so perhaps my expectations aren’t as high (and ready for disappointment as I was with the Sense and Sensibility updating) I see this version is set in Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders which is my old home, so I’m interested to see how it pans out.
Alienated by Melissa Landers tells the story of Cara Sweeney, teenage high school student and Aelyx a young L’eihr visiting Earth. The concept is pretty straightforward. Some years prior to the story, the people of Earth had made contact with an alien civilisation the L’eihr. The two peoples have an amicable if distant relationship and in order to foster a greater understanding of their respective cultures a student exchange program has been initiated. Cara and Aelyx are chosen as two of the six young ambassadors for the program. I have to say I really loved this book and thought it was beautifully written.
What I liked
Character development. Both Cara and Aelyx undergo a great deal of character development throughout the book. Interestingly, Cara’s arc is almost the opposite of many young adult protagonists. She starts the book confident and sure of her path but as she goes through the challenges of the exchange, her self assurance is given quite a beating. However she still remains true to her word despite significant pressure. Aelyx’s journey is more of overcoming prejudice – he starts off determined to hate his human hosts and has an ulterior motive for joining the program. As he gets to know his hosts – especially Cara – his attitude changes.
Grounded in realism. OK, we are talking aliens here, but the basic concept and the reaction of the locals to Aelyx is all too familiar. We may be in 21st century small town America with the townspeople protesting angrily at the presence of a L’eihr in their school, but we could just as easily be in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 with the first black students attending the high school. The supernatural element is pretty low key in the book; much more emphasis is put on how Cara deals with the reaction of those against the program and of her growing relationship with Aelyx.
What i wasn’t so fond of
The romance. I wasn’t really sold on this – I felt it moved too quickly from culture clash and prejudice to swapping saliva. But then again, I’ve never been fond of teenage love at first sight romances.
I will certainly be checking out the sequel whenever it’s available – I look forward to reading more of these characters. I gave Alienated four and a half stars out of five.