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Book Review: Rebel Song

First of all, thanks so much to the Hidden Gems ARC programme for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this book!

Rogan Elwood is a teenage orphan who owns a vineyard in Arelanda. He’s pretty normal – his most noteworthy trait is being the son of a rebel martyr, who he is inevitably following in the footsteps of. The Cause, as they call themselves, are deeply unsettled. They want change, and were not disheartened by failed previous attempts at uprising.

And then along comes El. She’s beautiful, and definitely from a family with power (and money). Rogan meets her by chance, but the pair agree to meet again, and again, and again… The couple soon become close, and El decides it’s time for Rogan to know who she really is.

The heir to the throne. Princess Elyra Ballantyne.

They know that continuing their affair is dangerous – almost a certain death sentence – but they can’t stay away. And when things don’t seem like they could get any worse, Elyra discovers Rogan’s link with the rebels working against her family.

There’s a lot of politics and strategy, and no shortage of corrupt individuals in powerful positions. Sometimes there were a few too many characters and details to keep track of, but overall it was a thoroughly intriguing story. I felt genuine hatred for some of the characters, and sadness at the loss of others. I was even quite invested in El and Rogan’s relationship, which is rare for me as I don’t tend to like romance.

Elyra was perhaps a bit too naive and headstrong, but she exhibited fantastic character growth. Rogan was probably my favourite character, though he definitely had his flaws.

My main criticism is the grammar and punctuation throughout this novel. There are a lot of mistakes, and it was a bit frustrating at times. Other than that, I really enjoyed this. The writing was good, and I felt real emotion for the characters. 3.5 stars.

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Book Review: The Dollmaker

I’ve read pretty mixed reviews on this, and I must admit that it certainly wasn’t the kind of book I’d normally read. It had a very strange atmosphere to it, almost creepy at times.

Andrew recalls some of his childhood and youth, and his instant love for a doll he saw in a window. I actually felt that there was no sense of time even from the start – it took me a while to figure out how old Andrew was in particular parts of his story, let alone how old he is now. This was probably the root of my main issues with this book; I just couldn’t make sense of the timescale.

The introduction of Bramber’s letters was an interesting aspect, though I soon found similar troubles here: I did not feel the passing of time. I also had trouble keeping up with the characters. Still, the story being outlined was intriguing and quite exciting where Bramber’s past was concerned.

Bramber’s letters are included in-between Andrew’s own story, where he narrates his journey to surprise Bramber with a visit. They had never seen pictures of each other, or even spoken on the phone. It was a risk, but one Andrew felt was worth taking. Throughout this journey, Andrew tells more stories from his youth – several of which are quite – almost disturbingly – sexual.

It is also interspersed with Ewa Chaplin’s Nine Modern Fairytales, which all include a dwarf in some way. These stories were all rather creepy on their own, and Allan regularly refers to aspects from them in her writing.

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I do not want to go into detail recapping the plot. My three main points to convey in this review are: it had a very distinct, strange aura; there seemed to be a distinct lack of time passing; I personally felt no real connection to or interest in any character. I felt very detached from this book when I read it. There were no faults with the writing that I could identify, I just simply didn’t click with it. That being said, I do appreciate the writing itself, and so am giving this book 3 stars.

Book Review: Station Zero (Railhead Trilogy #3)

I did it again. I requested a book that concludes a trilogy I haven’t read. Oops.

Because I didn’t read the previous books in this series I’m afraid my review is probably going to be a bit more critical than if I had read them. The first thing I’m going to say is that I had problems immersing myself in the world set by Reeve, and a lot of the concepts, characters and terms used took a bit of getting used to. For wanting of a better phrase, I “had trouble getting into it”.

I do believe that the best books, whether part of a series or not, can be read as standalone novels. There should be enough detail in a book for any reader to follow and enjoy it without having read the previous books. This was not particularly easy to follow at first, but I did begin to enjoy it after a short while.

As this is a conclusion to a trilogy, I really don’t want to give too much away. It begins with Zen Starling sneaking onto an alien train – as this is set in a universe with intergalactic railways. He’s sent a mysterious message, which he believes to be from an entity called Nova. I eventually learned that this was a “Motorik” that Zen fell in love with. She was trapped in the Black Light Zone (which I’m afraid I can’t really explain at all). Anyway, Zen wants to find her. But it turns out that there’s more to the story than just her.

As I can’t give the plot away too much I’m going to have to be really vague with my review. The most notable thing may be how Reeve portrays technology. For example, the trains in this book seem to be conscious. All phenomenons are carefully explained through science, and there is even a theme of discussion over whether Motoriks are people or not. I thought this was really interesting, and definitely a relevant topic to include in a sci-fi novel. There is also the theme of aliens being people, too, rather than being seen as lesser beings.

My favourite characters (if they can be called that) may actually have been the trains. I won’t give anything away, but I seriously admired them!

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The bigger themes in this novel were a bit confusing to me. For example, the Railmaker. I understood what it was (kind of) but I didn’t really get why it was quite so important. And Raven. I had no idea who he was at first – he was obviously introduced in an earlier book, and so the reader was expected to be familiar with him by now.

There were a lot of really interesting, well-developed concepts in this, and I really admired how most things were explained through science and not left to ‘magic’ or some unknown force. I am aware that I would probably have a different opinion if I had read the rest of the series first, so I am very sorry I was unable to do that. As a standalone novel I’d give this 3 stars, but as it is not actually a standalone, I will give it 3.5.

Book Review: The Secret of the Silver Mines (Dylan Maples Adventures #2)

I didn’t know that this was part of a series when I first requested it but luckily it was perfectly fine as a standalone read. It’s a young adult adventure novel, but I definitely got the feeling that it was aimed at younger young adults than myself. The main character is 12-year-old Dylan Maples, so I assume the target audience is around that pre-teen age, too.

Dylan’s father often moves around for his work, which is as a lawyer. They’re now moving to Cobalt, in north Canada. “Hicksville”, as Dylan calls it. It’s only for a few months, but Dylan is dreading leaving his friends behind. Cobalt is bound to be so boring. How will he ever survive?

But of course, Dylan finds adventure in this seemingly sleepy town. As usual, I won’t tell too much of the plot, but I will say that Dylan finds himself in the middle of the law suit his dad is working on.

Dylan makes a friend in Cobalt, too – Wynona. He meets her almost immediately, though they don’t become acquainted until a little later on. Their relationship remains platonic, though it is fairly obvious that there are some deeper emotions.

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Personally, I found this to be quite a young book. It included a huge amount of similes and metaphors and what I’d consider ‘simplistic’ writing. It wasn’t bad, it just felt like it was a bit too young for me to enjoy.

For a younger audience I could see this as being quite interesting, though I found it a little slow at times. 3 stars.

Graphic Novel/Illustrated Memoir Review: A Fire Story

This is similar to The Best We Could Do in that it is both a series of comics and a memoir. It’s the story of the Californian fire, and how it affected Brian Fies and his wife’s lives.

Fies begins by illustrating how the couple awoke on the night of the fire, and how they began to frantically yet methodically pack up their belongings. He details the escape, the bewilderment they felt and the huge sense of loss. Later, he really emphasises how much a person grieves for the loss of their home and belongings. It’s not the value that’s important, it’s the memories.

Throughout the book there are also several other people’s experiences. Some were also in their home at the time of the fire, while others were on holiday abroad, watching the events unfold through social media. All of these accounts had one particular thing in common: they all mention how they did not expect to be gone from their homes forever. They thought they would be able to return soon, and did not plan on leaving everything behind for the final time.

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This was a fantastic book. Fies included little comics illustrating “a day in the life” after the fire, where the little, seemingly insignificant things reminded them of their loss. He also follows up with the process of reconstructing their house – and outlines some of the difficulties they never expected to face.

The art was lovely, with enough detail to clearly illustrate the events. The dialogue was perfect and sounded completely authentic, and expressed the emotions well. 5 stars.

Book Review: Finding Grace

Yesterday I finished Finding Grace, a short historical fiction book I was given the chance to read thanks to NetGalley. It follows Grace, a thirteen-year-old girl living in a Belgian convent in 1975. She was left on the steps as a baby, along with her disabled sister, Dotty. But Dotty recently died, and everything is changing.

Grace is moved to the girls’ boarding school dorm. She soon becomes close with Fran, but also has a few run-ins with the stuck up Deirdra. While helping Fran with a history project Grace discovers an old journal kept by one of the nuns at the convent during the war. It tells her horrific story of abandonment, rape and loss.

All the while, the girls are trying to find out more about Grace’s past, and avoid the wrath of the horrible Sister Francis. Eventually Grace does get some anwswers, but they were certainly not the ones she was looking for.

I’m not usually very interested in historical fiction but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Even though it was short, the characters were well developed and the plot was exciting and intriguing. I felt immersed in the setting, and felt empathetic for Grace. I actually felt quite invested in her and her search for knowledge.

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There were a few typos and such, but as this is only a review copy I can’t be sure whether the final publication will include them. It was a quick, interesting read, a good introduction to historical fiction. 4 stars!

Book Review: McDowell

Thanks to OnlineBookClub.org for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this.

This was, in my opinion, a very strange book. I shall attempt to summarise the plot briefly, but I’m afraid I am going to find it quite difficult. The plot was very… all over the place, for lack of a better term.

As the title suggests, this novel follows the life of Hiram McDowell, a wealthy surgeon and father. He has been married several times, and is currently with his wife Carole, who has two daughters of her own. One of the first noteworthy happenings involves one of these daughters, Tasha, and Hiram’s son, Billie. Tasha falls pregnant with Billie’s child. Hiram refuses to accept this, denying Billie’s involvement with Tasha or his responsibility with the child. A restraining order is placed against Billie, and he falls into a depression of sorts. The next major event involves Hiram’s eleven-year-old grandson, Jeremy. His mother has known something was different about him for a while, but her husband refused to listen. Eventually, Jeremy goes on a killing spree, shooting classmates, teachers, his sister and his mother, before then shooting himself. But he is not dead – severely brain-damaged and unconscious, but alive nonetheless. Hiram’s second daughter, Sophie, tries to encourage Jeremy to communicate with them, to show that he can hear them. But McDowell does not believe he will ever recover.

Soon, Jeremy passes away. Evidence suggests McDowell’s involvement in the death; murder? Euthanasia? He is convicted and sentenced to several decades imprisonment. But before long, McDowell decides he doesn’t deserve this, and so he escapes. His past experience in hiking and mountain-climbing enables him to survive without proper human contact for weeks, months, at a time, until he believes it is safe enough for him to migrate back into society. He begins a new life, developing different identities and beginning to earn a living again. He meets a lot of people, many of which become quite attached to him. But the law soon comes after him, and he is forced to move on.

In the end, McDowell is betrayed by a woman who’s life he saved. He is shot dead, accused of resisting the arrest despite no evidence of any weapons or fighting.

Of course, there are a lot of subplots that I haven’t included. There are also a lot of characters that have gone unnamed; too many, I believe. I couldn’t keep track of all the different characters and stories in the end. I got a bit lost, and felt no emotional connection to any of them whatsoever. This was probably my biggest criticism; there was a distinct lack of emotion. At the end of the novel, it was suggested that McDowell had grown as a person since his arrest, but I didn’t see any of this character growth myself. I didn’t feel anything.

Another issue I had with this book was the repetitive nature of the writing. Several details were repeated within close proximity, removing any subtlety to the writing. I also found that the inner dialogue of characters was not particularly convincing, sounding clunky and awkward.

Throughout the book there were paragraphs in italics, supposedly a separate narrative/summary of the events. But these paragraphs sounded exactly the same as the rest of the writing, and I failed to understand why they were separated from the rest of the text by being in italics.

I know there are a lot of negatives in this review, but I didn’t actually hate the book. I can’t say I enjoyed it, either, though. There was definite room for improvement, and very little that was noteworthy in a positive way. I’m giving this book 1 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

I’m a bit late to this party, but I finally read it! It was released a while ago now, and I’ve been trying to get it finished for some time, but life got in the way. Anyway, here is my review at last.

Throughout a decent chunk of the novel, I felt like there actually was no plot. Not in a bad way, but it was almost just a narration of Eleanor’s life. The writing was so interesting and Eleanor so unique as a character that I liked that, though. And then a plot did start to develop, albeit not a particularly active one. As in, it was mostly about the past, not something that actually happened during the story. Like usual, I won’t say too much about it.

Eleanor is a very strange individual, with absolutely no social skills whatsoever. It’s rather comical at first, her attempts at everyday life quite laughable. But it’s later revealed why she has such difficulty, and I found myself feeling incredibly bad for her. Her story is sad, and although I had guessed at what had happened, her personal revelation was huge. After a failed attempt at ‘fixing’ her life, Eleanor finds herself at rock bottom. But miraculously, she has someone to help her, who cares about her well-being. With his help, Eleanor learns some new coping mechanisms, and begins to rebuild her life.

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I really liked this book, and the writing was great. Eleanor’s personality was conveyed through the writing perfectly. 4.5 stars.

Book Review: The Sisters of the Winter Wood

I’m going to avoid discussing the plot too much so I don’t spoil any potential readers (and I do recommend you read this!).

This book is set in Dubossary, narrated alternately by Liba and Laya. Liba is the older of the two, the only children in their family. They are Jews, and while this book was hugely about their faith and discrimination against them, it is not only about that. This book was like a new fairytale. It had magic in every page, and was genuinely exciting to read. There were tragic elements, tons of romance, and even a sense of suspense.

The girls are left in their home alone when their parents rush off to Kupel in a family emergency. But just as they plan to leave, the girls’ Mami decides it’s time to tell her daughters who they really are: a bear and a swan.

As I said, I will not delve into the story too much. But I really loved the story involving Laya and the Hovlin brothers, as well as Liba’s own internal struggles. Laya’s romance at the end of the book was, in my opinion, a little rushed and unexpected, but that’s the only real downside I have.

The writing was lovely – it included Yiddish and Hebrew dialect, which was translated in the Author’s Note at the end. (A quick side note; I actually read the entire Note, which is

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really quite rare for me.) And Laya’s account, in particular, felt so poetic. She was definitely my favourite character, as much as I love Liba, too. And the relationship between the girls is so, so lovely. No matter how much they try to push each other away, they are always there for each other in the end.

As I enjoyed this book so much, I tried to talk about it with my boyfriend. However, I soon discovered that describing this story is really quite a feat. It was full of little details and twists that just made the story.

I really liked this book. As I only received an ARC and not a final edition, I didn’t have the official layout, which I can imagine may add to it also. Even so, I’m easily giving this 4.5 to 5 stars.

Book Review: Rosewater

After I signed up to review this book, I started seeing it everywhere. But sadly I did not really understand the hype.

This book takes a whole new perspective on ‘sensitives’ and mind-reading abilities, with the cause being an alien fungus. I liked this – I especially liked the amount of detail included, the scientific terms and explanations.

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But as far as the actual plot is concerned… I was completely lost. I was bored, and I had no idea who was who by the end of it. I just got too confused by it all. There were emotional moments, but I never really connected with the characters. This may all just be my own personal preference – I’m sure other people will enjoy it far more than I did. But I did not particularly enjoy it, sadly, and am giving it 2.5 – 3 stars.