Monday, October 13, 2014

WEATHERBOY by Theo Fenraven; A Release Day Review



WEATHERBOY by Theo Fenraven

Pages: 154
Date: 13/10/2014
Grade: 4.5
Details: Young Adult
Kindle

The blurb:

After fifteen-year-old Tuck finds a Maya artifact while on vacation in Guatemala, his whole life changes. To his surprise, he discovers he can make it rain and snow. A local weatherman happens to be around when Tuck creates a waterspout near his home in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and the next thing he knows, someone from the Department of Homeland Security is picking him up at school and taking him to their offices in Orlando. From there, things only get weirder and more dangerous when he’s escorted to Washington, D.C.

With help from friends and family, Tuck tries to outwit government agents while staying one step ahead of the mysterious Rafe Castillo, the man assigned to ride herd on him. Tuck has an amazing opportunity to reverse the effects of climate change… but only if he stays alive long enough to do it.

My thoughts:

People following my reviews may have noticed I’m a fan of Theo Fenraven. He hasn’t written a book yet that didn’t take my breath away. And, as a quick glance at those reviews will show, he is a versatile writer; unlikely to approach the same subject or exact same genre twice in a row. Up until now this author’s books were firmly aimed at an adult audience. As of today teenagers have the opportunity to enjoy his gift for storytelling and masterful way with words too. Having said that, this book is by no means a teenage exclusive; adults will enjoy ‘Weatherboy’ as much as their younger peers.

To say ‘Weatherboy’ throws you straight into the action would be an understatement. This is a fast paced story without a single boring paragraph. Tuck literally finds his whole world has turned upside down over the course of twenty four hours and it doesn’t take much longer for him to be torn away from everything he knows and loves and thrown into a world in which he’s nothing more than a pawn in the hands of those in power.

Theo Fenraven does not paint a kind picture of those who are in charge of running our world. Unfortunately it is an all too accurate one. We might like to think our governments want to do what is best for us, but when we really think about it we know that’s rarely if ever the case. Tuck and the reader are on a journey into adulthood and it is not always an easy ride. There are two sides to this coin. Tuck may have to face the realities of power-politics; he also discovers the beauty of friendship and loyalty, even where he isn’t sure he will find it.

Weatherboy’ tells a good and gripping story. We’re given fascinating characters, a recognisable world, some fantastical powers and high tension suspense. But there is more. This book also brings the subject of climate change and the way the world (doesn’t) deal with this issue to the forefront. Teenagers these days are often more aware of what exactly is going on around them than their elders are. ‘Weatherboy’ gives them an opportunity to better understand what all of us are up against when it comes to the future of our planet. The librarian and book-club organiser in me would love to read and discuss this story with a group of teenagers; I suspect it would be a lively and enlightening experience.

If I’m perfectly honest I have to admit I was mildly disappointed ‘Weatherboy’ wasn’t longer. I would have liked to spend more time with Tuck, his family and Rafe. Taking into account the way this book ends I think it is not unlikely my wish for more will come true in the future. While this book tells a full story and ends without leaving the reader guessing, there is room for more and I really hope we’ll be allowed to find out what’s next for Tuck.


Buy links:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

COUNTERPUNCH



COUNTERPUNCH by Aleksandr Voinov

Pages: 200
Date: 28/09/2014
Grade: 4.5
Details: no. 2 Belonging
           Received from Riptide Publishing
           Through NetGalley
Kindle

The blurb:

“Brooklyn Marshall used to be a policeman in London, with a wife and a promising future ahead of him. Then he accidentally killed a rioter whose father was a Member of Parliament and had him convicted of murder. To ease the burden on the overcrowded prison system, Brooklyn was sold into slavery rather than incarcerated. Now, he's the "Mean Machine", a boxer on the slave prizefighting circuit, pummelling other slaves for the entertainment of freemen and being rented out for the sexual service of his wealthier fans.

When Nathaniel Bishop purchases Brooklyn's services for a night, it seems like any other assignation. But the pair form an unexpected bond that grows into something more. Brooklyn hesitates to call it "love"—such things do not exist between freemen and slaves—but when Nathaniel reveals that he wants to help get Brooklyn's conviction overturned, he dares to hope. Then, an accident in the ring sends Brooklyn on the run, jeopardizing everything he has worked so hard to achieve and sending him into the most important fight of all—the fight for freedom.”

My thoughts:

Anybody keeping an eye on my reviews may have noticed that I’m a fan of Aleksandr Voinov. He’s on that list of authors whose books I buy without second thought, even without reading the blurb in too much detail, secure in the knowledge that I’m going to love what I’ll find between the covers.

Counterpunch was no exception to that rule. And, up to a point, that’s surprising. I’m not a fan of boxing, to put it mildly. I actively avoid having to watch it and would, under most circumstances, stay away from it in my reading as well. But, just as Aleksandr could make me read about World War II when I’d sworn I’d leave that subject alone, he could make me read about boxing and enjoy the story.

Counterpoint contains a very nice mix between alternate universe circumstances and celebrities and situations we recognise from our own reality. Being able to recognise so much of the world Brooklyn and Nathaniel live in, made this story real and therefore more heart wrenching than it would have been in a outright fantastical setting. It didn’t take a huge imaginary leap to believe the slavery premise of the story. In fact, slavery is only taking community service combined with a security bracelet one step further, isn’t it? I mean we’ve all seen the protests where police forces are attacked by those marching. Accidents happen. A policeman killing one of the protesters has happened and is bound to happen again. In our world the guilty cop might not end up in slavery, boxing to stay alive, but he might well be ostracised and end up living a life he’d never imagined in his worst nightmares.

Because it was all too easy to read this story as if it were taking place in the world I live in, because it stayed close enough to reality to make me forget it was fiction on one or two occasions, Brooklyn’s story took a hold of my heart. I completely got the constant battle between anger and frustration. I understood how dangerous it was for him to hope or to trust his emotions when the merest slip could bring him face to face with torturous punishment.

The story is told from Brooklyn’s perspective which means that the reader is as much in the dark about Nathaniel’s motives and feelings as Brooklyn is. As readers we might be a bit more inclined to be optimistic about the eventual outcome than Brooklyn is, but Nathaniel’s actions were mysterious enough to keep me on my toes and racing through the words towards what I hoped would be a happy ending.

Aleksandr Voinov’s writing voice is one that appeals to me. I can’t put my finger on what exactly it is that works so well for me but every single book I’ve read by this author has drawn me in and captured me, regardless of the setting or subject matter. The books almost read themselves. All I have to do is show up and the stories take over, the characters come alive and I can hear their dialogue in my head. Aleksandr is one of a few authors I’ll be forever grateful I’ve found as well as one I’ll continue reading as long as there are new (to me) stories to be found.

Monday, September 15, 2014

IF YOU WERE ME



IF YOU WERE ME by Sheila O’Flanagan
 
Pages: 389
Date: 15/09/2014
Grade: 3.5
Details: Reading Group Read
            Book received from Headline Review
            Through New Books Magazine
Library

The blurb:

“Carlotta O'Keefe is happily engaged, and the wedding plans are coming together. She's clear about her future path, both personally and in her busy career. Maybe Chris doesn't make her heart race every time she sees him, but you can't have that feeling for ever. Can you?

Then, on a trip to Seville, Carlotta runs into Luke Evans. Luke broke her heart so long ago she'd almost convinced herself she'd forgotten him. Now, he's not that boy any more, but an attractive and intriguing man. And he can explain everything that happened way back when. Suddenly Carlotta's not so sure of anything any more.”

My thoughts:

This probably wasn’t the book for me. I liked the idea behind the story – two people who’d fallen in love as teenagers before being ruthlessly torn apart, reconnecting almost two decades later – but wasn’t overly impressed with the execution.

While I understand this is the story of Carlotta’s journey I still felt we saw too little of Luke Evans to make the premise believable. I know that first loves leave a lasting impression. I had no issue buying into Carlotta staying mildly obsessed with Luke over the years given the abrupt and unexpected separation years ago and the revelations afterwards. I didn’t even have a problem with her wanting to cancel her marriage because meeting Luke again made her doubt her feelings for her fianc├ę, Chris. In fact, that made sense. If it takes as little as one accidental meeting with an old flame and one passionate kiss to doubt whether or not you want to marry the man you’re engaged to, you are better off cancelling the whole affair. The only thing I did have a major issue with, was the ease with which she also allows her precious career to fall by the wayside after she meets Luke in Spain for the second time. She doesn’t know anymore about the man he’s become than she did at the start of the book and yet she throws her whole life upside down on the gamble he still resembles the boy she fell in love with as a teenager. It didn’t make sense and didn’t appear to fit the Carlotta I had gotten to know while reading the book.

I thought it was a shame the reader wasn’t given the opportunity to get to know Luke better. It might have been easier to suspend disbelieve and buy Carlotta’s change of heart and life if we’d been given a better idea of who and what exactly Luke was.

The story dragged for me at times. While I get what the author was doing; giving us a blow by blow account of a woman in her thirties reassessing her life and everything she’s held to be true up until then, I got a big bogged down by all the detail at times. In fact, the first 270 or so pages of this book all appear to be an introduction to a dramatic escalation of events. Suddenly everything happens at once, and while Carlotta’s break up with Chris was credible, the sudden implosion of her relationship with her best friend Sive seemed over the top and unrealistic. I guess it made perfect sense from a dramatic – turn the story on its head sort of – point of view, but it didn’t seem to fit the friendship they had until that moment and appeared to come out of nowhere. Just as what Sive did next, didn’t sit right with me and didn’t appear to add anything to the story either.

Anybody reading this review would be forgiven for thinking I didn’t like the book at all. And yet, that isn’t quite right either. As I said, I liked the idea behind the story. I enjoyed watching Carlotta slowly but carefully working out the priorities in her life. If You Were Me is a well written book and very easy to read (although it was equally easy to put down at times). Maybe it is just that I want more interaction between the two characters who will be the happy couple by the end of the book, while I’m reading the story. Or maybe it was just because I didn’t really warm to Carlotta.

Don’t allow my review to put you off. If you’ve read and enjoyed Sheila O’Flanagan books before, you will probably love this one too. If you’re a fan of Irish ‘women’s fiction’ this book will be right up your street. It just wasn’t quite up mine.

Friday, August 8, 2014

THE BOOK OF LIFE

THE BOOK OF LIFE by Deborah Harkness

Pages: 592
Date: 06/08/20114
Grade: 5
Details: No. 3 All Souls Trilogy
            Received from Headline Publishing
            Through Nudge
Own: ARC

The blurb:

“After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies.

At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency.

In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.”

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My thoughts:

“Even the darkest places need to be brought into the light of day, or else they’ll grow until they swallow a man whole.”


I’m always slightly apprehensive when I pick up the much anticipated final instalment to, what has been up until then, a fantastic trilogy. There is always the fear the finale won’t live up to expectations, that the author won’t be able to pull all the threads together. And those fears were busy niggling at me before I picked up ‘The Book of Life’. I loved both ‘A Discovery of Witches’ and‘Shadow of Night’ when I read them. I had fallen for Diana Bishop, the witch, and Matthew Clairmont, her vampire. In the first two books the author had woven a mesmerising web filled with mystery, suspense, danger, magic and love. I needed ‘The Book of Life’ to be at least as good as its two prequels had been.

The wonderful news is that it is. This book is the crowning glory of this trilogy. It more than lives up to expectations, answered all my questions and kept me enthralled from the first chapter.

The story picks up more or less where ‘Shadow of Night’ ended and drops the reader right back into the story. There are enough small reminders to refresh the reader’s memory although I would strongly advice against reading this book unless you’ve read the prequels.  

I really don’t want to say a whole lot more about the story. I know part of my enjoyment while reading the book was that I was never completely sure what might happen next, or who would show up and why. I will say that I loved reconnecting with characters I’d come to love while reading the first two books.

The love between Matthew and Diana is as beautiful as always and yet stops short of being overly idyllic. The author has her characters say things you wish someone would say to you; things you would have loved to have said to a loved one.

“My heart no longer knows where I end and you begin.” – Matthew

And,

“If you truly love someone, you will cherish what they despise most about themselves.” – Fernando

I loved the following quote about social media. Since blue is a relaxing colour for me too, I completely get this line of thought. In fact it was one of  those ‘that’s so blindingly obvious I can’t believe it hasn’t occurred to me before’ moments.

“She could not imagine why these companies all chose shades of blue for their logos. Blue had always struck her as such a serene, soothing color, yet all social media offered was endless agitation and posturing.” – Ysabeau

Or the moment when Matthew declares that he does not and has never ‘sparkled’.

One of the strengths of this book is that it doesn’t provide all the answers. We’re not given a fairytale ending. There are no miracle cures (not even for vampires) and problems don’t just evaporate. In fact, one or two problems continue to form a threat. I wouldn’t mind if that meant we might get to visit with Diana and Matthew again in the future but I won’t be upset if it doesn’t. The author leaves us at a point where things have slotted into place for this couple. Yes, they will face obstacles in the future, but we know they’ve reached a place where, together, they can face pretty much anything.

This was very close to a perfect reading experience. I lost myself in the story on the first page and didn’t resurface until I had read every single word. It is the sort of book you want to race through because you need to find out what will happen next and how they are going to solve their problems. It is also the sort of book you want to drag out for as long as you can because you know this is the last of it and you don’t want the story to end. I can’t wait to see what Deborah Harkness is going to come up with next.


“To every question I have ever had, or ever will have, you are the answer.” – Matthew