Being brutally honest about books

Showing posts with label four stars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label four stars. Show all posts

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Review: Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Jamaica? No, she wanted to.

This is possibly the grittiest and most "literary" book I'll read this year. I mean it. It's the kind of book you study in high school and hate, but read on your own and love. It's one powerful piece of writing, and it reminded me of The Color Purple but even bleaker.

Here Comes the Sun is set in Jamaica in 1994. The basic plot is a queer, black woman (Margot) trying to build a better life for herself and her loved ones. This involves working for a posh, white hotel owner and prostituting herself.

It's a character-based novel written in the third person, present tense (my favourite) and switches POVs between Margot, her secret lover (Verdene), her sister (Thandi), and her mother (Delores). All four are very flawed and complex, and they feel real. I thought Thandi and Delores were interesting, but I was much more invested in Margot and Verdene's lives. They're opposites in some ways but similar in others, and their relationship is pretty complicated.

One interesting feature of this book is the dialogue, which is written phonetically/in the Jamaican dialect. This gives the setting and characters authenticity, but I struggled to understand a few of the words and phrases. I got the gist of what they were saying, though.

I enjoyed the writing style. The non-dialogue parts are quite sophisticated and flow well, and I could picture the setting in my head. It made me want to go to Jamaica and see what it's like for myself, the good and the bad.

I liked the idea that this island we think of as paradise is really not. The book deals with some horrible themes: poverty, racism, rape, homophobia, forced prostitution... It's not for the faint-hearted. But, as I said, it makes an interesting contrast with the island setting.

Remember I said this book is bleak? Yep. It doesn't have a happy ending. Margot achieves her goal of having money and owning her own big house, but she loses everyone. It's a warning to be careful what you wish for. I don't blame Margot for her ambition - she just wants to exit the cycle of poverty - but the way she goes about it is unethical and she betrays her family and her lover. The book ends on a bitter note.

Overall, I really enjoyed Here Comes the Sun. (Well, "enjoyed" is a bit strong for such a dark book...) If you're interested in reading about Jamaica or just want to read something that's not set in the UK/US/Australia, this might be worth a try. If you're looking for something gritty with queer women of colour as two of the main characters, I definitely recommend this one.


Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis-Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas.

At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Margot hustles to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. When plans for a new hotel threaten their village, Margot sees not only an opportunity for her own financial independence but also perhaps a chance to admit a shocking secret: her forbidden love for another woman. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman—fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves—must confront long-hidden scars.

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Saturday, 29 April 2017

Review: The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium #4) by David Lagercrantz

The girl with the dragon tattoo still has it.


She is the girl with the dragon tattoo—a genius hacker and uncompromising misfit. He is a crusading journalist whose championing of the truth often brings him to the brink of prosecution.

Late one night, Blomkvist receives a phone call from a source claiming to have information vital to the United States. The source has been in contact with a young female superhacker—a hacker resembling someone Blomkvist knows all too well. The implications are staggering. Blomkvist, in desperate need of a scoop for Millennium, turns to Salander for help. She, as usual, has her own agenda. The secret they are both chasing is at the center of a tangled web of spies, cybercriminals, and governments around the world, and someone is prepared to kill to protect it . . . 
Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are back to kick arse in this book, a continuation of the Millennium trilogy that's written by a different author. Lisbeth is back to her usual tricks, but in this book we see that she kind of has a caring side as well. It's really nice to see her protective streak for another human being.

This book is fast-paced, probably more so than the original series. Almost all the action happens over 5 days. That's not even a week! And the book is 430 pages! That's a lot of action in not much time. It's exciting, it kept me hooked.

We meet some new antagonists, victims, and other supporting characters in this one, but we also revisit old characters from the original trilogy, such as the people at Millennium magazine and Officer Bublanski's team. I thought this was well done as we get to see Lagercrantz's take on Larsson's characters as well as some original characters. I guess you could liken it to fanfiction.

Speaking of which, you can tell it's a different author and translator, but it imitates the style of original trilogy pretty well. It's similar enough that the writing style doesn't jump out and say, "Hey, I don't fit in with the other books!" but at the same time it's also not quite as dry as Larsson's style.

The book explores themes such as surveillance, artificial intelligence, and how journalism has changed. None of it made me comfortable, and it's not meant to. If this book taught me anything, it's to question everything. It also makes you wonder how ethical is surveillance? AI? (I'd say not at all. It's terrifying stuff.)

There's a tiny bit of LGBTQ representation in this novel. Lisbeth's bisexuality, established in the original trilogy, is mentioned again. There's also a flirtation between two supporting female characters. But neither of these things are important to the plot, which is fantastic. They're queer women just because. They get on with their jobs and their lives and their sexuality doesn't define them. I want more of this in books, please.
There's also an autistic child in this book. I don't know enough about autism to know if it's a respectful portrayal or not, so I'll leave that for others to analyse. But there's autistic representation either way.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Girl in the Spider's Web. It isn't a necessary addition to the Millennium series, but it's an entertaining and exciting one. While it has a cute ending, there are definitely loose threads to be tied up in the next book, The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. I'll be reading that one for sure. What should I do while I wait for its publication later this year?

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Thursday, 6 April 2017

The good, the bad, and the ugly: Gladiatrix (Gladiatrix #1) by Russell Whitfield

Genderbent Spartacus with lesbians.

The good

  • It's about female gladiators! Hell to the yeah!
  • Scheming Romans 
  • The book assumes the reader knows stuff about ancient Rome, because you'd hardly read it if you didn't (thank you, author, for treating us as the knowledgeable people we are)
  • LGBTQ representation! There are: lesbian characters and F/F relationships (but they're gladiatrices, so don't expect happy endings) and a very very minor M/M relationship with a hopeful ending
  • The protagonist, Lysandra, is Spartan and looks like Xena (just putting it out there)
  • Her character growth is subtle but it's there
  • Her gladiator name is Achillia, the feminine form of Achilles (how cool is that?!)
  • Friendship, sisterhood, and kinship are very important to the characters in this book
  • Lots of gruesome action (this could be a negative, depending on your POV, but I found it was fun and provided more realism)
  • Gladiators that actually die
  • One of the side characters is a prostitute, and her male lover doesn't judge
  • The ending is happyish (the main characters don't get what they want, but it's not all bad) and sets things up for a sequel.

The bad

  • Typos and strange paragraph formatting, but that might just be because it's an ebook
  • No Roman matrons (c'mon, where are the Roman daughters, wives, and mothers?)
  • No descriptions of the classical architecture (what do the arena and temple look like?) (I love my columns)
  • It's quite long, so there's heaps in it, but it's not a quick read (which could be a positive, depending on your POV).

The ugly

  • The one black male character is a creepy and violent rapist drug addict and his name is similar to the word "nasty" (need I spell out RACISM?)
  • Rape. Not only that, but it's a violent gang-rape. Gross.


If it weren't for the rape and racism, I would've loved this book. In addition to that, if there were no typos and we saw some Roman women as well as the gladiatrices and slave girls, I'd definitely give this five stars. I'm definitely reading the sequel though.

I felt a bit strange that this was written by a man, but he did a pretty good job at writing a vaguely feminist novel whose main characters are lesbians. I'm impressed.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to fans of women warriors and Spartacus: Blood and Sand. There's explicit violence and sex, so avoid if you're not into that.

    The summary

    Under the Flavian Emperors the Roman public’s hunger for gladiatorial combat has never been greater. The Emperor Domitian’s passion for novelty and variety in the arena has given rise to a very different kind of warrior: the Gladiatrix.

    Sole survivor of a shipwreck off the coast of Asia Minor, Lysandra finds herself the property of Lucius Balbus, owner of the foremost Ludus for female gladiators in the Eastern Empire. Lysandra, a member of an ancient Spartan sect of warrior priestesses, refuses to accept her new status as a slave. Forced to fight for survival, her deadly combat skills win the adoration of the crowds, the respect of her Lanista, Balbus, and the admiration of Sextus Julius Frontinus, the provincial governor.

    But Lysandra’s Spartan pride also earns her powerful enemies: the Dacian warrior, Sorina, Gladiatrix Prima and leader of the Barbarian faction, and the sadistic Nubian trainer Nastasen.
    When plans are laid for the ultimate combat spectacle to honour the visit of the new Consul, Lysandra must face her greatest and deadliest trial.

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    Sunday, 12 March 2017

    The good, the bad, and the ugly: New Pompeii (New Pompeii #1) by Daniel Godfrey

    Capitalising on time travel never ends well.

    The good

    • Time travel (they transport people from the past into the present, but it's actually quite complicated and gets confusing later)
    • Romans (always a plus)
    • But no romance! (even better)
    • Mother of all plot twists (I did not see that coming!)
    • Nice concise writing that's not too descriptive
    • Historical facts incorporated into the story (the author knows his stuff)

    The bad

    • Very confusing plot because of all the timeywimeyness (don't ask me to explain the plot)
    • I also got confused because there are too many characters

    The ugly

    • Not enough female characters (*spoiler*: there are 3, compared to a whole lot of male characters (that actually is a spoiler, because two characters are actually the same person))
    • No LGBTQ representation (you've got Romans and you've got people in the future, and none of them are queer? Really?)
    • The book shows that some people's  moral codes today (or in the near future) are no better than the Romans', which is quite sad.

    The summary

    In the near future, energy giant Novus Particles develops the technology to transport objects and people from the deep past to the present. Their biggest secret: New Pompeii. A replica of the city hidden deep in central Asia, filled with Romans pulled through time a split second before the volcano erupted.

    Historian Nick Houghton doesn't know why he's been chosen to be the company's historical advisor. He's just excited to be there. Until he starts to wonder what happened to his predecessor. Until he realizes that NovusPart have more secrets than even the conspiracy theorists suspect.

    Until he realizes that NovusPart have underestimated their captives...

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    Tuesday, 26 July 2016

    Mini review: Love in the Land of Midas by Kapka Kassabova

    Clickbait summary: Not as corny or romantic as the blurb makes it appear.

    Actual summary

    A love story that crosses generations and continents, from post-war Europe to the present day. The legends of the Greek myths are diffused with the complicated history of the Balkans in a story that takes the reader into the lives of an unforgettable cast of characters.
    This book was excellent, almost a five-star read. It's got lots of characters, which gets confusing because some have more than one name and remembering how they were connected is a pain. The characterisations are, however, strong and interesting. 

    The main problem I had with this book was the flashback structure, which was very confusing at first - it started in 1998 and switched to 1949 to 1997 to 1998 to 1997 to 1998 and so on until it switched to 1947. Thankfully, each chapter has a date and location, and after a while I got the hang of it.

    The central issue/event in Love in the Land of Midas is something completely new to me - the Greek Civil War. I didn't even know there was one! But yes, after World War 2, Greece had a three-year civil war. This is explained in the author's note at the start of the novel, and it's fascinating in the story. The politics and the war were new to me, and very intriguing.

    Being published in 2000, and the latest date in the book being 1998, it's a little dated now in terms of communication. Now, the characters could use the internet and mobile phones to research or keep in contact. However, the themes and ideas (eg. love, passion, war, family) are still relevant and always will be.

    Another issue I had was knowing that the author (at the time it was written) lived in New Zealand. To me, the book has a definite NZ flavour to it, especially in the dialogue, but the characters were European and Australian - no Kiwis at all. But if I hadn't known about the author, I might not have been distracted by this.

    So much for a mini review! I will finish by recommending this book to adult readers/readers of adult books who have an interest in Ancient Greece and post-war Europe. It's well-written and so worth your while.

    Add it on Goodreads

    Wednesday, 20 April 2016

    The good, the bad, and the ugly: Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers

    Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)
    Finished reading on: 20 April 2016
    Clickbait summary: Misandrist in Medieval Brittany joins cult that kills men, falls in love with man.

    The Good

    • The red dress on the cover 
    • The weapons (main character Ismae is an assassin, so she's got a couple)
    • Medieval setting and all it entails (dresses, castles, mistresses, court politics, etc etc)
    • Believable worldbuilding 
    • Realistic and sympathetic portrayal of women for the setting
    • Interesting, or rather, intriguing politics! I never used to care for the political aspects in fiction, but recently I've found myself getting into it.
    • Theme of loyalty  
    • Decent characters (not brilliant, but better than average, I think)
    • Good writing  
    • A real page-turner 
    • Language slightly old-fashioned to match setting

    The Bad

    • Is this a feminist story or not? I don't know! In some ways, yes; in others, no.
    • Would've liked to see more of Ismae's gal pals Annith and Sybella (apparently the next two books in the series are about them, which is great, but I can't cope with more assassins falling in love)
    • A bit long at 550 pages 
    • Misleading summary - Ismae doesn't fall in love with a man she's meant to kill, she gets orders to kill the man she loves, and it's not as big a plot point as it sounds. 
    • [Spoiler] Healing by sex?! Soooo convenient.

    The Ugly

    • Low-born girl falls in love with nobleman. Really? AGAIN?!
    • Why the romance? Why? They could've just been friends or allies! (I need my romances to grow over a couple of books, if they have to exist at all, because I find it super boring once the characters are properly together. That's just me, though.)
    • I thought the protagonist had been set up as a man-hating lesbian assassin... and then she fell in love with a guy. (Where are all the medieval wlw? Not in this book, apparently. I'm going to have to write the wlw assassin historical fiction myself.)
    • Okay, clearly my main problems with this book are the romance and the lack of diversity. The rest was pretty good.

    The Summary

    Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

    Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

    Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

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    Tuesday, 22 December 2015

    A Reread of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

    Pride and Prejudice  

    Date finished: 28 November 2015

    I first read Pride and Prejudice five years ago (not as long ago as I thought, actually, when I checked Goodreads) and gave it a 3-star rating. 13-year-old me didn't understand the language, but 18-year-old me found it much easier and more enjoyable to read the second time around.

    I enjoyed the plot about as much as I did the first time, but as most of you will know, there isn't much to it. The story is very simple, though it is slightly more interesting than some of the other Austen novels (I say this as someone who had read all her works at 16). It's entertaining enough, but it lacks the complexity that I would expect from a classic.

    What I got more out of by reading this five years later was the humour. Jane Austen wrote comedy and said herself that she couldn't sit down to write a serious novel if she tried. I didn't understand the wit as a 13-year-old as I found the archaic/formal/euphemistic language very difficult, but I appreciated it a lot more as an 18-year-old and even laughed out loud once or twice. I'm not sure whether it's due to Austen's style or characterisation that makes it so, or a mixture of both, but some of the dialogue is hilarious. While some of the ideas may not be relevant for 21st Century readers, the humour is timeless.

    Something I found worth reconsidering while rereading was the characters. Elizabeth Bennet is supposed to be intelligent, while I think she is a very average woman who makes some quick remarks. That's not to say there's anything wrong with her or that I can't sympathise with her as a character, just that in this day and age she would be ordinary, not the special snowflake she appears to be in her society. Mrs Bennet and her three youngest daughters are unbearable, and Mr Bennet, who is meant to be sensible and intelligent as a contrast to his wife, is not much better. In today's society he would be a horrible sexist, and Mrs Bennet even comments on the unfairness and strangeness of his will that prohibits any of his female descendants from inheriting his property. However, while Mr Darcy's rudeness makes it hard to engage with him, his unconventionality and sense of family honour make him one of very few likeable characters in the novel.

    The setting of the novel is so well-known I won't go much into it. Suffice to say, it is interesting to analyse from a feminist perspective: the women of the Regency era have very little options and decisions to make on their own, and are expected to marry as soon and as well as possible. This seems very unfair. But when you think about their society, the men have similar restrictions placed upon them, along with other expectations such as serving King and Country. So I won't make a final statement on whether this is a sexist setting or not. Also, we can't force our ideas on a society from 200 years ago as they just didn't have concepts like sexism in the same way we do.

    Pride and Prejudice lacks the depth to be great literature but is instead chick lit. However, it's funny and light and has entertained readers for two centuries. Most importantly, it improves on the second reading.

    Sunday, 11 October 2015

    The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (Millennium Trilogy #3) by Stieg Larsson

    The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (Millenium, #3)
     Date finished: 11 October 2015

    I just finished the last book of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, and I'm worried that I'll never be able to enjoy anything I read ever again. I feel that no other book will compare in complexity and intrigue. It's by no means a perfect book but it is one of the most fascinating and gripping reads I've had in a long time. 

    The story picks up right from where The Girl Who Played with Fire ends, which is a good thing, because the previous book ends on a cliffhanger. The plot is complex, even more so than in the prequels, and takes you on a real journey of ups and downs - just when you think it's going one way, a single piece of information discovered by a character turns it around. The result of Lisbeth's trial (what I consider the first of two climaxes of the novel) is more or less what I expected, although the chapters from the trial are still necessary for us to see the extent of the deception inside the Swedish Security Police.

    As with the rest of the series, the writing is very dry. I won't go too much into that because I'll just be repeating what I've already said in my reviews of the first two books, but we are spoon-fed a lot of information. I felt exhausted after reading an almost 20-page explanation about one character and the Section, only for him to be virtually killed off a couple of chapters later. We don't even see the characters working that out on their own, we are just given the dump of information, which interrupts the flow of the story.

    The ending is nice. The plot is resolved in the epilogue and the last chapter, but in the last page and a half of the epilogue the relationship between Lisbeth and Blomkvist, the two protagonists, is finally resolved as well. The characters themselves don't change much, if at all, but because the series focuses more on an amazing plot than character development, that doesn't matter. In any case, Lisbeth remains amazingly resourceful and Blomkvist just as clever and confident to the point of cockiness as she does. It's only while writing this that I'm realising how similar they are.

    Since this is the last book in the series, I didn't like that there new characters introduced, adding to the long long list of minor characters. One of them is a blonde police officer whose role seems mostly to fall in love with Blomkvist and show up his one flaw: his inability to commit to a woman. Although she does get some cool police action.

    This book and the series in general includes very cool use of technology, most of which goes over my head, but it's impressive. However, the series is dated, confined to its early to mid 2000s setting because past events are always given a specific date, and it's possible that in ten years it won't be relevant anymore.

    The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest is a great conclusion to the memorable Millennium trilogy. The series is not for the faint-hearted, the common theme being violence towards women and violation of their rights, but it's like nothing I've ever read before, and I would recommend it to readers over 16 who enjoy the crime genre. Now, another author has written a sequel, , and while reading the reviews I considered not bothering with it, partly out of respect and partly because of other things people have mentioned, but I decided that I will read it, if only for the purpose of reviewing. So my adventures with this series are not over yet!

    Thursday, 13 August 2015

    Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

    Date finished: 12 August 2015

    Where do I even start? This is a novel based on a true story about the last person to be executed in Iceland in 1830, Agnes Magnúsdóttir, sentenced to death for her part in the murders of two men. It’s dark and grim, definitely not what you’d want to read on a summer holiday. But it’s so well-done that despite its bleakness it’s a beautiful book.

    As it’s based on a true story, it’s not as if the plot can be full of improbable adventure. Instead, we see how Agnes lives out her last few months before her execution, and through flashbacks and her stories to the reverend and her host family we find out about her past. There are also documents from the case that give an idea of how criminals were treated at the time, which made me uneasy. The author does a great job at retelling Agnes’s story and, as she says in the author’s note, provide a “more ambiguous portrayal of this woman” so that we sympathise with the protagonist. Without flashbacks the plot would have no substance and it would be very boring to read, but the backstory and the eventual recounting of the events leading up to and during the double murder make it interesting and even gripping.

    The most obvious thing to comment on is the writing. Even the blurb calls the prose beautiful and cut-glass, and that’s correct. So is the comment from author Madeline Miller (whose book The Song of Achilles is one of my new favourites – check out my review here), which definitely convinced me to give Burial Rites a go. The language is stunning. The words and sentence structures themselves aren’t too complicated, but the use of imagery is amazing – I’m in awe of the author’s ability to string together such wonderful similes. Even if the story doesn’t excite you, the book is worth reading for the writing alone.

    Agnes is a believable character, and I liked that she is strong but not invincible – she gets on with her life, facing terrible hardships and losses, but her response to the reality that she is about to be executed is very human – she is terrified, and this moved me. Agnes is in her mid-thirties at the time of her execution, but her age is not too important and even though I’m half her age I still felt for her, which is no mean feat for the writer. The reverend, Tóti, is likeable too, as is Steina (not so much her sister Lauga), and Margrét becomes more accepting and forgiving towards Agnes, even though she is very against Agnes coming to live with her family at the beginning. Most of the characters are not very nice, however, but they are still portrayed realistically and are important to the plot to be written that way, so I think the overall characterisation is excellent.

    This is the fourth book I’ve read this year with a Scandinavian setting, but Iceland in 1828-1830 is a new one for me. We see the poverty and hardships the ordinary people faced just to survive, as well as the public opinion towards criminals, which is all very interesting and serves to develop the characters. The Icelandic character and place names are distracting in terms of pronunciation, but at the start of the book is a guide for some vowels and diphthongs, which helps a bit. The map is also useful in figuring out where the locations mentioned are in relation to each other.

    This is an adult book, which I’ve been finding myself reading more of lately, but despite the mature themes (unhealthy relationships is not the only one) and occasional graphic imagery, I think it would be fine for anyone over sixteen to read. If you’re a fan of historical fiction with a bit of crime thrown in, Burial Rites is definitely worth picking up.

    Sunday, 31 May 2015

    The Girl Who Played With Fire (Millennium #2) by Stieg Larsson

    The Girl Who Played With Fire (Millennium, #2) 
    Date finished: 31 May 2015
    I just finished reading this, and wow! This is a great sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and does not disappoint at all. The only reason it took me two weeks to read is because I'm spending less and less time reading books these days. If I'd spent time reading it last weekend, I probably would have ended up finishing it then because it is one of those books that once you get past a certain point you don't want to put it down.

    As with the first book in the series, I wasn't a big fan of the writing style. Larsson definitely tells instead of shows, and as a result the writing is very dry. It's not so terrible that it prevented me from enjoying the book, but if the style were different I would give it five stars, as the writing is the main issue I have with these books.

    The plot in this novel is even more exciting than the first book. Without giving too much away, someone who was... dealt with in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes back for a short time, and has a connection with certain new antagonists in this book, but it's okay because someone else deals with him more permanently. The uncertainty for the reader of whether Lisbeth Salander committed the murders is thrilling, making you want to keep reading because you just have to know whether she's innocent or guilty. (Although your gut instinct is probably correct. Mine was, but there were moments of doubt.) What's also exciting is not knowing who Zala is and dying to find out. ("Dying to find out." Heh. Watch me laugh at my own joke. You'll get it when you read the book.)

    The first part of the book is mostly set in the Caribbean, which is refreshing. It's interesting for Lisbeth's character development, but actually redundant and not necessary to the plot as a whole since all the action happens after she returns to Sweden. Maybe Lisbeth's time in Grenada will come up in the next book, but it is largely a waste of words in this book.
    While the first book focuses on Blomkvist, Lisbeth is the central character in The Girl who Played with Fire. I liked her in the first book, but I really loved her in this one. A strong independent woman who hates men who hate women? You've got my interest. By the end we learn much more about her past, so her motives for anything now make sense and it's easier to sympathise with her. She's one of those vulnerable-strong characters who deserves nothing that people have done to her, but you don't feel the need to wrap her in a blanket and tell her it's okay because you know she can deal with it. (And her ability to do that is actually addressed just before the end.) I would love to read a character analysis of Lisbeth Salander, because she's so original and awesome.

    One problem I did have with the characters is that there are too many. When you have the suspect (Lisbeth), the journalist and his magazine (Blomkvist and everyone at Millennium), the police, the security firm that the suspect used to work at, and the bad guys, it's hard to keep track of everyone. It's also hard to remember who's who when most of the time the characters are referred to by their last names, but sometimes their first names are used so you're not sure who you're reading about. There are also a couple of characters who make lots of homophobic and misogynistic remarks, which makes you hate them, but that's the point. And they get called out on it, if I remember correctly, which makes it bearable to read.
    The Girl who Played with Fire is just as dark as the first book in the series, and just as thrilling. While it includes some of the same themes of misogyny and rape, it's also about prostitution rings and the media's tendency make a huge story out of little information. It's definitely worth reading if you liked the prequel. I just have one word of warning: this book ends with one hell of a cliffhanger. Enough to give me, who usually keeps her emotions on the inside, a physical reaction. So if you hate cliffhangers as much as I do, it's probably best to have the next book nearby, ready for when you finish this one. I know I'll be getting my hands on The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest as soon as I can.

    Saturday, 11 April 2015

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium #1) by Stieg Larsson

    Date finished: 7 April 2015

    Swedish crime novels are not something I have much experience with, but I very much enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I didn’t intend to read it when I did, I just happened to see it in my school library and decide to give it a go. I thought it might be a bit violent and have more adult themes than I’d be comfortable with, but that isn’t the case. Clearly this is not for a younger audience and I wouldn’t want to know about kids under 16 reading it, but I didn’t find it as gruesome as I’d expected.

    The writing style is quite difficult to read, enough that I struggled to get into the book at first, but after a while I got used to it. The writing is complicated and confusing to begin with, but after a few chapters I got the hang of it and found myself captivated. Even if the style is heavy and makes this book hard to read – it took me a week to get through, and not only because the book is 533 pages long – the story itself is so gripping that it’s unputdownable.

    The plot is unlike anything I’ve read before. There are lots of twists and turns; just when one thing gets solved, something else happens to complicate it even more. The storyline is very original, even though from the blurb it sounds like just another unwilling-male-ends-up-solving-crime-with-female-sidekick plot. The crime the protagonist, Mikael Blomkvist is hired to solve, the disappearance/murder of Harriet Vanger forty years ago, ends up much bigger than the characters or you as the reader expect, and solving it is an epic adventure in itself. Then there’s the other storyline about his rival and how Blomkvist triumphs in the end (I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it is a great victory).

    The characters are fascinating, especially Lisbeth Salander, who is a very flawed and unusual character. At first I only liked her because she’s one of the main female characters, but she grew on me, especially since she gets wicked revenge on Bjurman, her rapist, but also because she gets just as involved in investigating the crime as Blomkvist. I think she’s the most original part of the book, she’s just that interesting. I especially like her character growth – she warms to Blomkvist during the novel, especially at the end (but that would be spoilers!) without losing her edge. She’s not your usual heroine, which is what I love about her.

    I also liked Blomkvist, the protagonist. He’s a fleshed out, realistic character whose past is not that of your usual hero – it’s neither overly shadowed nor ridiculously innocent – but he’s still likeable because he has his own reasons for doing things but also has a moral code. Even though he’s a forty-something financial journalist, I was able to relate to him more than Salander, the young hacker who hates and distrusts everyone.

    The main setting, Sweden, was new to me, and therefore refreshing. However, some cultural things got in the way of my reading, such as the currency – I had no idea how much a million kronor is, for example – and place names I couldn’t pronounce. Normal things like this took away from my enjoyment of the novel, as they were just too foreign.

    There are some mature and/or disturbing themes in this book, such as misogyny, polyamory, rape, and sadism. These things aren’t generally all included in the same book, but they provide the basis of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and give it depth and darkness. I feel that the school library should probably have put a stamp inside the cover, warning that it’s suitable for a more mature audience. Just because I was fine with reading about these things, doesn’t mean other people my age or younger would be.

    Although this book didn’t immediately hook me, after persevering I just had to finish it, and I appreciated the rollercoaster it took me on. If you want something dark and original to read, I would recommend The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’ve never read anything like it, but I enjoyed it enough to want to read the next book in the series now.

    Thursday, 19 March 2015

    Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende

    Maya's Notebook
    Date finished: 19 March 2015

    Although she's a bestselling author, the only reason I've heard about Isabel Allende is because she was mentioned in Spanish class a couple of times last year and the year before. About a month ago I was looking for Hispanic writers to read, and remembered her name and looked up her books. This one sounded alright, so I picked it up from the school library and gave it a go. I found myself liking it more than I expected.

    Maya's Notebook is a beautiful story about grief and healing, but also a dark tale about addiction and crime. The contrast between Maya in Las Vegas and Maya in Chiloé at the end of the novel shows amazing character development as well as healing, and seeing her get better throughout the novel fills you with hope that while life can get bad, with time and effort and the love of others, it will improve.

    There are lots of fantastic quotes about life and love, such as

    Life is a tapestry we weave day by day with threads of different colours, some heavy and dark, others thin and bright, all the threads having their uses.


    It doesn’t matter who we love, nor does it matter whether our love is reciprocated or not or if the relationship lasts. Just the experience of loving is enough, that’s what transforms us.

    This novel is very slow-paced and I struggled to get through it at first. I very nearly gave up on it, exhausted by the long paragraphs and lack of variation in sentence length, but I persevered. Once I got through the first 30 or 40 pages, it got easier to read and even became enjoyable. Even though there is little in the way of action, Maya's Notebook is still a good read and I ended up really liking it.

    I thought the structure was quite effective. Usually I'm not a fan of flashbacks, but because there are two stories being told linearly, one in the past and one in the present, it worked and I liked slowly uncovering the story of Maya's past, how her life gets worse and worse, while in the present she makes progress towards getting better.

    The setting is what initially interested me. I've always wanted to go to Chile, and learning about Chilean/Chilote culture was fascinating. I had no idea what Chilean life was like, so this book opened my eyes to the reality of it. I grew up in a tiny, isolated place too, but it was nothing like Chiloé, so seeing how the community in this novel works together was lovely.

    The first person point of view made me sympathise with Maya, which was good because I don't think I would have, otherwise. I cannot relate to Maya in any way, but I cared about her, feeling sorry for her when she was at her lowest in Las Vegas and wanting her to heal and be safe in Chiloé.

    While it is slow-paced and long, this book is not at all boring, and the characters and relationships, rather than gripping plot, are what plays an important part in the story. I highly recommend Maya's Notebook to anyone wanting to read about Chile and what it takes to move on from the past. I know I'll be picking up other Isabel Allende books, after reading this one.

    Sunday, 14 December 2014

    Panic (Panic #1) by Lauren Oliver


    Date finished: 14 December 2014

    When I first read the blurb of this book I was a little wary of the "new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them" line, but I was pleasantly surprised when the book turned out to be original and unclichéd, and found myself liking it more than I'd expected.

    I loved how the book took me on a rollercoaster with its twists and turns, leaving me guessing as to what would happen next. I knew from the moment the tigers were introduced that they would have something to do with the climax of the novel, but I had no idea what. I also felt anxiety when Nat told Heather to drive Dodge's car for the final challenge at the end, knowing just how that would endanger Heather. I didn't expect the winner (I won't spoil it for you) to win, so that was a nice surprise. The feeling of suspense you get throughout the novel makes it hard to put down once you start reading, and that is the first sign that any book is a good one.

    The whole concept of this game, "Panic", where these teenagers risk their lives in a series of challenges over the whole summer in order to win a huge amount of money is a creative one. It's not like The Hunger Games, where the tributes have no choice but to participate, and have to kill their opponents to win. In Panic, the players have all decided to play for their own reasons - usually the money - and they all know each other. It's just as ruthless, but there are legal issues and it's not publicised. So no, Panic is not just another Hunger Games, and I think it is actually better. The fact that this book only came out this year and the film rights have already been sold to Universal just goes to show how great it is. And it will make a fantastic movie - you'll feel for the characters, despise the antagonists, and be kept in suspense.

    The writing itself is pretty good, too. It's nothing special, but it's clear and descriptive enough that you can picture what's going on, and it gets the message across. Lauren Oliver doesn't show off by using fancy language features when the story itself is interesting enough and doesn't need to be embellished.

    The characters all had their distinct personalities and goals, which was a bonus. I sympathised with Heather, wishing she could leave Carp behind, and Dodge, wanting to get revenge for his sister, was also believable. Heather and Dodge had surprisingly similar problems with their families, and from the blurb I first thought that they would get together. Thankfully, that was not the case, and it was made clear early on that they wouldn't happen. They both get their happy ending, though - that's what matters.

    Overall, Panic is a great new YA novel and I enjoyed it a lot. I would recommend it to anyone who likes YA fiction but is sick of the dystopian genre and the usual trope of the two leading characters ending up as a couple. Take it from me, and pick it up!

    Thursday, 22 May 2014

    Sense & Sensibility (The Austen Project) by Joanna Trollope

    Sense & Sensibility 
     Date finished: 21 May 2014

    Sense & Sensibility is my favourite of the Jane Austen novels. (I've read all of her works and I'm only sixteen. Just putting it out there.) I just love the contrast between Elinor and Marianne, and the bitch that is Lucy Steele, and the awkwardness when Elinor thinks Edward has married Lucy. I read the original three years ago - 200 years after it was published! - and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also enjoyed Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (which is a hilarious adaption) and this modern version, which I read in two days.

    What I love about this version is that the plot and the characters are more or less the same as the original, but it takes place in the modern world. Only it's a different world to the one I live in, as there are still aristocrats, and the rich have nothing better to do than marry, have children, and renovate huge houses. Even though this setting was foreign to me, I was still able to grasp how Elinor felt, as she is definitely the character the most like me (apart from Mags, of course).

    Even though I already knew the plot, I still wanted to know how things would turn out, which is a very difficult thing for an author to do. I knew what was coming, most of the time, but where it mattered I was left guessing as to how that plot point would happen. I don't know if that makes sense, but even though I knew the story, this novel still had me hooked.

    As for characters, Elinor and Margaret were the only ones I could relate to (although the others were fantastic too!). They're more sensible and realistic and down-to-earth. I absolutely adore them. It's funny that although my interests are more similar to Marianne's, personality-wise, I'm much more like Elinor. Marianne is a bit too theatrical, but I guess that's the point - she's sensibility, while Elinor is sense. Fanny and John Dashwood, Mrs Ferrars, the Steeles, and Mary Middleton were the characters you love to hate. They're meant to be selfish snobs, and you really feel for the Dashwood sisters when they have to deal with them. Sometimes I wish I were a character in a book, but I wouldn't want to have to have anything to do with those rich bitches.

    The main thing that annoyed me about this book was the editing. There are lots of commas that are place after the quotation mark when they should go before it, which really pissed me off. Because it kept happening throughout the whole book. This is a published book - you'd think someone would check for correct punctuation! (Sorry, I'm a grammar nazi. Rant over.)
    The writing was, for the most part, excellent. Although there were too many adverbs in places (hint: instead of writing "she held the guitar embracingly", try "she embraced the guitar"), and too many adverbs does annoy me and distract me from the story. If you can write the sentence without using an adverb, do so.

    I would recommend this book to any Jane Austen fan, and anyone who likes a bit of drama. It's definitely worth the two days it took to read it.

    Sunday, 27 April 2014

    The Elites by Natasha Ngan

    The Elites 
    Date finished: 27 April 2014
    Original review, ie. not posted on Goodreads
    While I was reading this I thought that I'd only give it three stars, but then I finished it and decided that hey, it's original and unique, so why not give it four? Because, hello, it's a dystopian novel set outside America! And how many of those have you read? Okay, that little fact there might be the main reason that I liked it so much. Oops. But honestly, it is so refreshing to read something that isn't American, something that's written in proper English. 

    I love the cover, which is usually what makes me pick up a book in the first place. Cover, title, author. (But not always in that order.) Anyway, yes, I like the background image and the girl dressed in awesome action-movie-type-clothes. And the font of the title. I'm a sucker for cool fonts. 

    One of the best things about this book is that everything was resolved. There's no need for a sequel, because the author is good enough to get the conflict solved in one book. Most dystopian novels are in trilogies (Hunger Games, Delirium, Divergent, etc...) but the narrative in this one was fast enough to not need two more books afterwards.

    One thing I didn't like so much was the lack of explanation of the setting. We don't find out much about what caused the other countries and cities to fall, and why Neo-Babel was the only one to survive. I would have liked to know, and I'm sure that one paragraph would have been enough to tell us.

    I liked having a heroine who isn't white European. So many books have non-white supporting characters, but in how many is the actual protagonist a different ethnicity? So I enjoyed having the Chinese ("Red") Silver go through her struggles.

    I thought the romance was sweet, although I kind of wish it had happened just a little bit later on. I guess I just love angst, and the thought of Silver and Butterfly shouting "I love you"s in the middle of an action sequence is me being a romantic.

    I absolutely adored the ending. It was so powerful. Those three lines: Something bright. Something strong. Something precious. They're just perfect to end a book with. They highlight Silver's character and applaud her journey.

    In conclusion, this book is definitely worth reading! I recommend it to all readers who love dystopian YA novels. It's fast-paced, thrilling, and there is rebellion and romance. Go ahead and read it.

    Sunday, 20 April 2014

    Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine

    Prince of Shadows 
    Date finished: 19 April 2014
    Original review, ie. not posted on Goodreads

    This is one of those books that isn't actually that good, but I enjoyed nonetheless. It had its flaws, but for some reason I liked it anyway. I absolutely loathe Romeo and Juliet (I studied it in Year 10 - we read the play and watched both the 1968 and 1996 films), but I've read another book about Benvolio and Rosaline, so I was intrigued to read this author's take on the background characters.

    It was refreshing to read something in the point of view of a male character, because most YA books I read have the usual strong female character. So it was nice to have a hero instead of a heroine for a change. (And before you ask, yes, I am a feminist.) I don't know, I just feel like girl protagonists are taking over the YA genre, and boy protagonists shouldn't be neglected. I loved reading the notes and diary entries of the other characters though, and I worked out the curse before Benvolio did (not sure if I'm smart, or if that was the author's intention). It was nice to have a short break from him every fifty pages or so.

    I didn't like the pace of the novel, though. It was very long (I read it nonstop for two days before I got to the end) and it took ages and ages to get to the Capulets' ball, which is where Romeo and Juliet really starts. And I felt like the end scene was a bit rushed, but that could just be me.

    I loved that Mercutio had his secret lover, and that Romeo and Juliet had a curse on them. I've always found their romance ridiculous, so it was good to know that the author (and the protagonist) feel the same, and gave a new and exciting reason for their relationship. I remain of the opinion that what Romeo and Juliet had was not love.

    Having a thief as the protagonist was an interesting choice, and I think it was a good decision. It added suspense to a not-so-suspenseful story, and made a lot of plot points possible. You don't generally read about thieves, and I quite liked that Benvolio didn't steal to keep other people's jewels, as he was a good character.

    One thing that I will complain about, however, is Rosaline. Don't get me wrong, she's fascinating (to think that she actually managed to turn down Romeo! Smart girl.) but it got boring the way that she was referred to throughout the whole book, but didn't appear in all that many scenes. It annoyed me a little. The title may as well have been Rosaline Capulet.

    But all in all, I did enjoy this book, and I would recommend it to teenage readers who like romance and historical novels.

    Sunday, 9 March 2014

    Northern Lights (His Dark Materials, #1) by Philip Pullman

    Northern Lights by Philip Pullman 
    Date finished: 19 September 2012
    Review originally posted on Goodreads

    I read Northern Nights by Philip Pullman in September. I really enjoyed the book, and continued to read the rest of the series. The story starts when the main character, Lyra, and her daemon, Pantalaimon,  accidentally see an attempt to kill her uncle, Lord Asriel. They stay hidden and overhear what her uncle says to some of the men at the college about Dust and his expedition to the North. Later she meets the wonderful Mrs Coulter, and it is arranged that Lyra will go to live with her. Before she leaves she is given a mystical device called a alethieometer, and told to keep it a secret from Mrs Coulter. For a while Lyra lives in the city with Mrs Coulter, and everything is great, until she discovers that her wonderful guardian is really evil. Lyra runs away, and is caught up in an adventure involving armoured bears, witches, gyptians, Gobblers, and the North in an attempt to rescue her best friend, Roger.

    Lyra is a strong character, and changes throughout not only this novel, but the whole series. She becomes braver, and more accepting of what happens to her. She is a very good liar, and while usually this would be a bad thing, she manages to save her  and her daemon's skin by doing so.

    Later on in the series you are told that the Church is evil, and what they call God is not really the Creator, but a being who wants to manipulate the human race.  I found this very entertaining, and accepted it as an even more brilliant part of the story.

    What I most enjoyed was the magic/fantasy part of the story. Lyra's alethiometer tells her stuff she wouldn't normally know, and reading about the witches was very enjoyable. Also in Northern Lights there are different worlds, but it isn't until the sequel, The Subtle Knife, that we read about them, and the story moves in three different worlds.

    The language was good - the story was well-written, although there were a few too many adverbs (which I dislike with a passion), and I didn't like that  some of the words were written in American spelling, even though the author is English.

    All in all, I recommend this book to anyone who likes a strong female heroine, and doesn't mind negative views on religion.
    I'm Alexandria, a 19-year-old reader/writer/blogger from New Zealand. I love language, history, and sci-fi. Hi! I'm always around if you want to talk, which you can do via comments, the contact form, or Facebook.

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