Just Finished…The Testing Trilogy

Maybe an odd few spoilers in here, so tread carefully, just as you might if you were going through The Testing yourself!:)

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read the three books that make up ‘The Testing’ trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau. I think I downloaded the first book in the series a year or so ago, when it was on a free Amazon download day… I picked it up because it was pegged as being for ‘fans of the Hunger Games…’ and with a blurb like this, you can see why:

Testing

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one and the same? 

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career. 

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies–trust no one. 

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

See? Handsome boy from your home sector – check. Students chosen from outer colonies to come to the capital city for ‘Testing’ – check. Deadly competition and questionable morals amongst the candidates, check and check!

I think it was the reported similarities to The Hunger Games that made me avoid reading this for so long. I loved The Hunger Games: the competition, the rebellion, Katniss and Peeta (yep, Team Peeta, not the other guy – Katniss is the narrator and you never got the romance vibe from her in relation to him, did you?) The relationships between the characters as well, from Rue and Haymitch, through to Finnick and Mags – they all had good depth and realism, which I loved throughout that series and for me made it very strong.

Anyway, I’d not read any YA dystopian for a while and so I picked this up in the end and gave it a whirl – and it was worth it! Book one was good, book two was even better I thought – it moved further away from the Hunger Games-esque arena and built out it’s own world and plot.

After blasting through the first two books in this trilogy, I did stall a bit when it came to ‘Graduation Day’. I really liked the world built up in the first two books and in a way, keeping Cia’s world more compact (either controlled as part of the Testing, or built around her place at University) made her actions and the scale of the story realistic.

When we move to the final installment Cia doesn’t seem as ‘changed’ as she continually tells you that she is – this was something that started to grate on me a little in this final book. It felt like there was a lot more tell over show in this part and the characters that you were familiar with from books one and two began to feel a little more like cardboard cut-outs, despite the fact that you knew them already and could have seen their behaviours come out, rather than Cia telling you how she was interpreting things.

Overall, after two good books with plenty of pace and action, bounded nicely within the areas they were set inside, the third one fell flat. The various climactic elements left me a bit cold if I’m honest, which is a shame as the set up was good. I think for me – as some other reviewers pick up – things became quite unrealistic in the third book: the scope of what Cia got tasked with seemed inconsistent with the scale of everything else happening around her and her ever-present bag of magic tricks became a crutch. How could they be advance enough to manipulate genetics and do complex chemical engineering to revitalise their world, but not have anything more than basic communications, which a university student can apparently knock together in a workshop pretty quickly.

This is a good series and some comparisons to The Hunger Games are fair, particularly in the first book. But by the second it does stride out in its own direction, which I really enjoyed – the third book delivers many of the answers following the set up in the other books, it just didn’t grip me to the end as I hoped it might.

Overall I’d rate the series 4* – it is very readable and enticed me enough to buy the next two books in the series, having read the first one for free. I would have just liked something more, something different from the ending that was delivered.

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Just Finished…The All Souls Trilogy…

A Discovery of WitchesIt’s taken a while to get to reviewing this series, as once I’d started the trilogy with A Discovery of Witches back in September 2015, I then bought the other two books and thought I would do a review for the trilogy as a whole.

In fact, this first book had been on my kindle since March 2012 waiting for me to get around to reading it! There’s nothing like trawling your old purchases to find something new to read, when you’re looking for inspiration – I think this may be the theme for most of my reading this year, as I started off in January reading the first in Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones series and am currently partway through the first Beautiful Creatures book by Garcia and Stohl. I’m only about six years behind the reading curve on those then! 🙂 I added a lot of books in 2012 and as quite a few of them are still there, bouncing around in digi-book purgatory in my kindle, I began to feel bad getting anything new before I released them.

Anyway, back to the book…

A Discovery of Witches lands you right in the middle of academic and book lover nirvana: it’s set in the beautiful libraries and colleges of Oxford, as American Professor Diana Bishop attempts to ignore the fact that she’s a witch to get on with her research without magic. When a strange book lands on her desk during her work, one filled with magic and questions, she deliberately dismisses it – sending it back to the archives, so that she can continue to ignore her magical abilities.

What I loved about this first book, which I would rate 4*, was the world-building and background premise to the magical world of ‘creatures’ that Harkness describes. The first few hundred pages flew by as I learned about daemons, vampires and witches in this world – what made them different, their characteristics and behaviours, and how all this came together in a meeting between genetic science and mythology. It was great. The characters introduced were also intriguing and drew me in to the story and mystery that was obviously being laid out.

There was a lull in the middle of the book for me – something that I found in each of the books in the series if I’m honest – where I was reading and reading and it didn’t really feel like there was much happening, significant character development or action. There was quite a lot of tea making, wandering around buildings described in lots of detail, and day-to-day happenings I wasn’t too fussed to be reading about. I love a good cup of tea, but when your protagonist is making them every few pages in considerable detail, you’re really not that bothered. All three of the books are long-ish (579 pages for this one) and I would have said a good 100 pages or so of exposition could have been lost without detriment to the overall story. After the lull in the middle, it finished with a bang – which had me heading to Amazon to grab the next two books, so that I could find out more about the characters and world I’d invested in.

Shadow of Night So, book two lands: Shadow of Night. Funnily enough, the lull for me in this one came at the very beginning – perhaps because I’d closed one book and opened the other immediately. Here the main characters have used Diana’s powers to ‘time-walk’ into the past to Elizabethan England, to the home – and former life – of her vampire partner Matthew. After a slightly slow start, the world-building picks up, as does the action and Diana – a historian – throws herself into this interesting world. Sixteenth century London is described in fantastic detail, with historical features mingling with the world of creatures set up in book one. We learn more about magic and the issues of the present, as we journey with Diana in the past. Spellbound as a child, to protect herself from her powers, she has always thought she was a poor excuse for a witch and thus focused on academia as her strength and not witchcraft. Now that she has found what was done to her as a child, she has to learn about herself and witches from the beginning, in an unfamiliar world. This was my favourite book in the series – the mixture of worlds and travels through history, living and breathing the places Diana and Matthew pass through, as they continue to unravel the mystery started in A Discovery of Witches. After the initial lull, the rest of the book flew by and I read it in a few days.

The Book of LifeThe Book of Life, brings us back to the present and the huge cast of characters assembled during the first two books now converge in the present day as Diana and Matthew continue their search for answers.

The book started well, but maybe 200 pages in it began to drag. I know loose ends had to be tied up, but just as in book one, there were long chapters of exposition that weren’t adding to the story for me. Also, after the majority of the first two books being written from Diana’s POV (first person) this book moved around a lot more – jumping into other characters heads, re-telling scenes in the third person. I didn’t find the jumps confusing, but just felt that if first person was good enough for the majority of the book, surely there were ways of conveying what was done here, without a quick and easy 3-4 paragraph jump out, to jump back. It felt lazy somehow, and with the detail and story-telling of this series, Harkness is not a lazy writer.

Anyway, there was a long lull and so I found it hard to keep reading in the sporadic moments I’d get. It felt like something I had to get through in order to finish the story and get my answers. In the end, you do get the answers – some are quite satisfying and delivered well; others, particularly action elements, could have been much more exciting. I started the book in September and have just finished it this morning.

So, overall – I’d probably be around 3.5* for this series. There are some great elements to the story and the complexity of the ‘creature’ world-building is excellent. There are characters that you buy into and want to know how their stories develop. But, the pace in several areas is just too slow – you shouldn’t be feeling that you need to ‘power through’ to the good bits. I’ve read several reviews for the books that compare them to Twilight – an adults version, if you like – and I can appreciate that. If Bella had gone off to uni and met her vampire around the age of 34, instead of 17, it probably would have been a very similar tale. My feelings about the drag in the books are very similar to the drag I experienced reading Breaking Dawn, with random characters appearing in an endless stream, leading up to the most anti-climatic battle ever. Action scenes and pace are not Harkness’s strong points either, but she can write depth and history and weave a huge tapestry of a new world that you can absolutely believe is realistic. Maybe just a bit less tea making, wandering in gardens and being coddled by other creatures in rooms described in minute detail; and when you get the violent climax of a three book series, don’t skip over it in a page or two. It was all a bit Finnick: *reading, reading, reading – turn page* “Wait a second!” *turns back a page* “Did Finnick just die?”

Just Finished…City of Bones

imageSo, this is my first book of 2016… I realise that I am about eight years late in giving this series a try, but it has been sat on my bookshelf for ages now and I just randomly plucked it off and started it over Christmas.

Overall, my rating for this would be 4* – up until about two-thirds of the way through, it was probably more of a 3*, but the writing style and ideas behind the world created in The Mortal Instruments held things together for me, when perhaps I wasn’t as invested in the characters or their actual adventure. That might sound like an odd thing to say, but I’ve found that happening with a few books I’ve read lately (including a very long trilogy that I’m just coming to the end of and will review soon).

In terms of the world created, it has a lot of typical YA supernatural elements: wolves, vampires, angels, demons… But, in here they are all in the same ‘world’ for once, rather than split into an angels book, or a vampire-wolf combo, which is interesting. I liked the idea of the city setting as well; seeing the action unravel around various parts of New York was a nice twist for me, with demon clubs and vampire hotels around every corner.

The action/pacing wasn’t amazing for me though – I never felt ‘gripped’ by the story and could easily put it down and walk away. I enjoyed the characters and the witty banter was great, but I never really bonded with them. As it stands, I’d read more in the series if the opportunity came up, but as a completed series, ready and waiting for me, I don’t feel the urge or that invested to pick up book two. In honesty, I like the sound of Clare’s second series more and so may give the Infernal Devices a go before I venture further along the paths of shadowhunters and demons…

And for anyone interested, Tony reviewed one of the ‘Infernal Devices’ novels a while ago, you can see his thoughts here:

https://asidefromwriting.com/2014/01/15/tonys-review-clockwork-angel-by-cassandra-clare/

 

Just Finished…On a Foreign Field

This my first historical YA book in about a year, and this was a nice refresher.

Hazel writes about war and brotherhood really well, letting the dialogue and actions of her characters show the camaraderie and affection that exists between them. Reeve is interesting in his development, from being somewhat naive and idealistic as an English knight, to being more idealistic and honourable as a Scottish rebel, but more realistically so.

I liked the presentation of true brothers and loyalty between soldiers in this book – it felt quite realistic, and I do believe that people fighting for a cause they believe in, over and above a paycheck or lofty ideal, will be the stronger of the two. This definitely came through in this novel.

Wallace was an interesting character – I often found myself lost in the ‘domestic’ level of the story, watching the men going about their daily lives, that I forgot that some of the characters were significant historical figures. They were accessible and admirable at the most basic human level; they supported one another and valued brotherhood and security for their families above all else.

The historic backdrop is well presented: from the battles and lengthy breaks between them, to the villages and people they encounter. Hazel is very descriptive in her writing and I felt she built a strong world around her characters that I could visualise and relate to.

Overall rating: 4* This was an interesting read, with strong characters and for me, was a new take on seeing Wallace from an Englishman’s perspective. The historical notes and ‘add in’ scenes at the end of the novel are interesting for readers and writers alike, for understanding how historical research and facts became fiction.

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Join us on Thursday for an interview with author of On a Foreign Field, Hazel B West, to find out more about this book and her other writing!

Emily Read…Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris

 Emily is our Goodreads pal and all-round lovely lady! 🙂 And, as you’ll know from our side-bar, her blog Confessions of a Bookaholic is one of our favourites. Now and again we feature her book reviews on Aside from Writing so you can get to know her too… ‘now’ is one of those days! 🙂 

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Series: Unraveling #1
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Mystery
Release Date: April 24th 2012
Source: Bought
Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
Cover Rating: 3/5 Stars


Synopsis: Leaving the beach, seventeen-year-old Janelle Tenner is hit head on by a pickup truck. And killed. Then Ben Michaels, resident stoner, is leaning over her. And even though it isn’t possible, she knows Ben somehow brought her back to life…
Meanwhile, Janelle’s father, a special agent for the FBI, starts working on a case that seems strangely connected to Ben. Digging in his files, Janelle finds a mysterious device – one that seems to be counting down to something that will happen in 23 days and 10 hours time. That something? It might just be the end of the world. And if Janelle wants to stop it, she’s going to need to uncover Ben’s secrets – and keep from falling in love with him in the process…

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I lent Unravelling to a friend before I read it, she loved it and then insisted that I read it. So I did. It wasn’t what I expected at all though I haven’t decided whether that’s a good thing or not yet. The whole concept of a countdown till the end of the world seemed a bit cliché but this was actually very interesting. The story centers around Janelle who is hit by a car and killed. But then she’s alive again with a guy leaning over her. She is positive that he brought her back to life, no one believes her of course. When Janelle sees one of her FBI agent dad’s files she finds out about a countdown that can’t be deactivated. She has less than 24 hours to stop it and she’s sure the boy who brought her back to life has something to do with it.

I actually really liked most of the characters in this book. Janelle was an awesome heroine! There were points where she got on my nerves but overall she was a strong, independent character. I love how even when she’s falling in love with someone she doesn’t let it interfere with stopping the countdown. Ben, the main love interest, was quite sweet and nice but his personality didn’t go further than that. But what he lacked in personality he made up for in his romantic behavior. I really did like him but I liked his best friend more. Elijah was very entertaining and the misunderstood vibe worked for him which is a rare occurrence. My absolute favorite character was Alex. He was Janelle’s best friend and a very good one at that. He was always there for her and risked everything to help her, he even took care of her little brother. At first I was rooting for them to get together but as the book goes on you see it’s purely friendship.

The book started off pretty slow but after a while the pace quickened. Usually I am very good at predicting what is going to happen in books but in this one I just couldn’t, the twists and turns are completely unpredictable. Even though it went very quick I enjoyed the romance and the authors world building was almost flawless. One thing I wasn’t keen on was the swearing. I’m used to it in adult books but this was way more than most adult books I’ve read plus it was supposed to be YA. This book is advertised as 24 meets the X-Files, neither of which I’ve watched but after this I may check it out. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy sci-fi or a good mystery.

My Favorite Quote:
“I mean, contrary to popular belief, I’m actually not harboring a secret desire to grow up and become a bioterrorist.”

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Want to know more? Check out the links!

Read Emily’s interview with us here!

Goodread Group: Books, Blogs, Authors and More

 http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/62777.Books_Blogs_Authors_and_More

My blog: http://emily-confessionsofabookaholic.blogspot.com/

Just Finished…The First by Sara Zaske

   What a great and unexpected book!

I’d read – I think – that The First was a dystopian and so I’d left it in my Kindle dwindling having had a good dose of dystopia recently. And then I began reading it (after pressing the wrong button on my Kindle) and mistakenly thought I was reading a book about vampires and at around 15% in was wondering how the hell the people with power over nature were going to have anything to do with vampires…what can I say – I don’t always pay attention!

So – back to the book. There are dystopian elements to The First, but it would only be a dystopian book if you are one of the First People – if you’re a human, like me, then the environmental indiciators in the book are a nice nod in the direction of dystopia, but it’s not the end of the world, but a little journey down that path0. The environmental message is handled really well in the book, so it isn’t overbearing, but there are lots of good pieces of information to get you thinking.

The characters, dialogue and writing are great – very engaging, perfect pitch for a YA (I would also suggest this as being suitable for MG audience as it is clean, quirky and fun on the whole). The character voices feel authentically teenaged and the pitch, pace and action are all perfectly balanced with the motivations of the individuals. For me it felt a little like a fantasy cross-over in parts – the powers of the First People and their approach to life certainly had those elements, but it worked very well in the contemporary setting. I also liked the family/military references, which are outside the main plot, but I felt were very ‘real’ to life for anyone who has been in those situations.

Overall Thoughts: 4* – I think this was a great read. It is a nice length and paced so well to keep you reading – I got through it in four days, which is quick for me as I don’t always get too much time to read. I think the story was also very original and quality of writing was good. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an adventure story with interesting characters.

Thanks very much to Sara for releasing this free at Amazon on Earth Day, as that’s where I got my copy.

Just Finished…Dreamless by Josephine Angelini

   I really enjoyed the first book in this series when I read it earlier this year and in many ways Dreamless delivered just as well as Starcrossed did. I do like the way Angelini uses the traditional mythology: some very famous and obvious, such as Helen and Paris, the Oracle, etc. with others less common.

Certainly, I read the book quickly and found it difficult to put down (although the chapters are quite long, so that could explain it!) But I didn’t enjoy the dynamics between the characters as much as I did in the first book – I missed Helen and Lucas’s intensity and was quite put off by how their relationship developed/dwindled in Dreamless – I understand why this was necessary for the plot, but I still missed them.

There’s lots of romantic developments for other characters, which if you’ve read Starcrossed I’m sure you can guess at – they were fine, but I wasn’t overly fussed. The baddies are good though and I thought the overall plot was interesting. Angelini’s skirting around the idea of a love triangle towards the end of the book – I hope she doesn’t opt for this ‘go to’ plot device in Book 3 as it’s been done too much recently and I’ll probably switch right off.

Overall Verdict: 4* People who liked Starcrossed will enjoy this I’m sure – doesn’t suffer too badly from ‘second book syndrome’. For a mythology YA it’s one of the better series around.