Friday 30 January 2015

Poison Promise by Jennifer Estep

Why is it someone so clever, strong and streetwise always manages to end up being captured by the local psycho?

You would think by now she would spend a lot more time listening to her inner alarms, then again maybe Gin just doesn't have any. this time the torture flips a switch inside of her.

The torture or rather the effects of BURN seem to facilitate the opening of a door in Gin's psyche.

The flow of emotional baggage seems hard to ebb now it has started rolling over Gin like an avalanche down a mountain. She is confronted with her inner Pandora's box of secrets and emotions she would rather not think about, hence locking them up deep inside.

Gin goes all omnipotent in her battle against the drug-lord, perhaps a wee bit over the top. Her reputation and her ego are placing her at the same level as her opponents. She is going to have to watch those boundaries from this moment forward, because if not it will eventually become very hard to differentiate between her and the bad guys.

I also think that Gin was and is surprised by the similarities between herself  and her younger sister. Not in a good way either. Bria acting as if everyone is expendable to achieve a means to an end, despite the fact Gin often does the same I do believe it came as a bit of a shock to her.

Meanwhile in the midst of this new conflict it becomes clear how Gin is stepping into the footsteps of Fletcher. She is building a team, quite a large and very highly skilled team, without even fully acknowledging that fact. Her family and friends have always been around her and willing to support, save or rescue her, but this is starting to feel different.

At the end of the book we get to meet the new muscle in town. Literally the new and next generation of villains. I think Estep will try to bring back some of the Mab/Gin mortal combat magic, which always worked well for the characters and the series.

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.

Read more about Gin in Estep's Elemental Assassin series here: Spider's TrapThe Cold Burn of MagicThe SpiderThe Black Widow and Heart of Venom.

The Spider by Jennifer Estep

The relationship that made Gin the person she is today…

Estep has taken us back to the roots.A sort of prequel or story in between.
The beginning of what makes Gin who she is as a person. Not the traumatic childhood, but rather the defining moments as a young adult, especially the emotional ones.

The Gin the readers have come to know is the wary, cynical and colder Gin, as opposed to the spontaneous emotion driven girl she was. This book explains just how Gin got so jaded.

I really liked this tenth book in the series, because the author not only wrote Gin with the passion she had in the beginning, she also used the story-line to make a point. A very important one about abuse.

We tend to hear the stories about the victims who are weaker physically or emotionally. The stronger personas who fall into the trap of abuse tend not to speak about it.

In that sense I think Estep has done a brilliant job of presenting the scenario of the indestructible, dominant and strong persona falling prey to the behaviour of a controlling, manipulative, dangerous and abusive person. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for all the trees.

There is also a subtle introduction of Owen, Bria and the mysterious M.Monroe, albeit it very short.
It was a really great read with plenty of Ginesque moments, as only she can have and a healthy dose of Finn the Charmer.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Edelweiss and the publisher.

Read more about Gin in Estep's Elemental Assassin series here: Spider's TrapPoison PromiseThe Cold Burn of MagicThe Black Widow, Deadly Sting and Heart of Venom.

Black Widow by Jennifer Estep

Mab Monroe's daughter has set her sights on the annihilation of Gin Blanco. The goal is to become the new top dog in town and to do that she has to rid herself of her biggest threat.

What event is most likely to convince all the thugs, drug barons and criminals of her strength? Madeline is ruthless and well-connected, but is that enough to destroy Gin and her friends?

Estep has tried to replace Gin's nemesis, which is fair enough seeing as there has been a bit of vacancy for the position. However I don't think replacing her with a pseudo Mab was the right way to go.

It would be hard to replicate that special brand of hatred that existed between Mab and Gin. It was personal and fed from the core of their souls.

Madeline and her sidekick don't quite meet the standard, although her elemental power and strength are quite impressive. It just feels as if the series is taking a step back instead of forward. Personally I enjoyed The Spider (#10) quite a lot.

In Poison Promise (#11) Estep made a large step towards becoming a shoe-in for the overseer for the underworld. Perhaps that needs exploring a little more.

All in all this was a wee bit tepid for an Estep. Hardly any bloodshed, violence, heartbreak or pain and Gin was a watered down version of herself. Let's hope she gets a bit of her bite back in Spider's Trap (#13).
I received a copy of this book via Edelweiss, courtesy of the publisher.
More of the Estep's Elemental Assassin series here: Spider's TrapPoison PromiseThe Cold Burn of MagicThe Spider, Deadly Sting and Heart of Venom.

Thursday 29 January 2015

Ostland by David Thomas

This is quite an exceptional read. One might think that is due to the nature and content, which is only part of the reason way.

Books about the Holocaust tend to be full of emotional triggers and are heavily laden with distressing images and graphic details.

What makes this one slightly different is the fact David Thomas has chosen to approach the subject from the flip side of the coin. The life of one of the perpetrators, and the view of the Nazi era and his crimes.

Thomas has constructed his story around facts, historical evidence, eyewitness statements and then added small elements of fiction to it. The end product leaves the reader pondering quite a few things.

Let me be clear on one thing though, the author in no way attempts to diminish the deeds or question the guilt of those involved in the Holocaust.

The main character is Heuser, and this actually is his story. We follow his progression and rise in the ranks to an officer of the murder squad in the German police. As most Germans during that era he was also affiliated with and had risen in the ranks of the SS.  He actually helped to apprehend a serial killer, who raped and killed many women during the Nazi era.

The obvious comparison is then how Heuser becomes exactly the type of murdering monster he helped to catch as a policeman.

How does the normal law abiding ambitious civil servant turn into a man who shoots children in the back of head, a man who rapes women and then turns them over to the highest bidder, and a man who is responsible for the deaths of over 30000 innocent people.

That is of course one of the most compelling discussions in the aftermath of the Holocaust. How did a nation of normal citizens become notorious for the planning, execution  and extermination of millions of people?

The reader steps forward in time to 1958 when Heuser was arrested for his part in the atrocities during the war. By that time he had risen to a high ranking police officer in the newly divided West Germany. Thomas goes on to make two very important points.

Proving the  crimes committed during the Holocaust was difficult. The Germans and their many collaborators had destroyed most of the evidence, which includes eradicating the many living witnesses during the last months of war. In Heuser's case they actually had special troops come in to dig up the mass graves, so they could burn all the bodies, ergo getting rid of forensic evidence against them. Throughout the last months of war the focus was on destroying documents, gas chambers and survivors.

The trials of Nuremberg and all other subsequent Nazi war trials were often found to be lacking when it came to justice. They lacked physical evidence and eyewitness statements to convict. So despite knowing that those on trial were guilty, it was hard or impossible to convict them legally. It is important to say at this point that the legality of the procedure didn't sway into the same vigilantism or illegal criminology seen and experienced in the Nazi regime.

Unfortunately this also means that the majority of the war criminals were never brought to justice or convicted of their crimes. Heuser received 15 years for his part in the Holocaust, however he only served an unsatisfactory number of years.

In the years after the war the opinion of the German population was 'that they had no desire to take over the ashes of the past or face the truth of what lies beneath the ashes', which explains the complacent attitude towards the Nazi criminals living amongst them.

I highly recommend this fascinating read, which offers an insight into the mind of a criminal of circumstance, as they are often called. It is also a harsh and necessary reminder that we should never let this history repeat itself, especially when you consider the rise of the far-right political parties, fascism, Nazi's and anti-semitism in the 21st century.
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.
Memorial to the Jews of  Minsk 

Wednesday 21 January 2015

When I met You by Jemma Forte

Oh holiday romances, the bane of  an over-active imagination, too much sun, alcohol and lack of judgement.

I can understand how Marianne mistakenly thinks her holiday hot stuff will work in her home setting, because she is simply deluded and blinded by the romantic memories she clings to.

Hot stuff turns out to be all fluffy flab with the attitude of a squatter. Unfortunately he comes to stay and much like a bad smell, he lingers in the background throughout the entire dramatic story.

This story is about leaving the mistakes of the past behind and forgiveness. It is also about believing in yourself and having the courage to take a step towards new ventures.

Marianne lives within the huge shadow of her beautiful sister Hayley, despite a lack of musical talent their mother thinks Hayley is the next star upon the horizon. Marianne has gotten used to being the plan one, the boring one, the one who is expected to play it safe.

All that changes when her father turns up out of the blue, after many years of being absent. Having to deal with his terminal illness and the lies her mother constructed around his disappearance, is the last drop of water in an already overfilled barrel. Things start to unravel and certain family relationships are in danger of being destroyed forever.

Forte takes a close look at the complex inner workings of a patchwork family and the complicated relationships that go with it.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of Harlequin UK & Harlequin MIRA.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Talon by Julie Kagawa

This is the first in Julie Kagawa's dragon-shifter Urban Fantasy.

Ember and Dante are dragons,who can assume a human form, which they need to do to stay hidden within the human society. The two of them come from the same nest, which is highly unusual in dragon society.

Note that although the assumption is that they are considered by all and themselves to be twins, however the phrasing Kagawa uses may indicate a second origin for either Dante or Ember. Just speculation on my part, mainly due to the way their egg nesting or hatching is described.

The two teens couldn't be more different. Ember is outgoing, free-spirited, rebellious and Dante is determined to abide by the rules, regimented and happy to stay within the boundaries laid out for him. Ember is torn between her two souls.

Her human soul and body wants Garret the human, and her dragon body and soul really want Riley. Ember and Riley's dragons speak to each other on such an intimate level it is as if they were destined to find each other.Little does Ember know that both her hunky heartthrobs have hidden agendas, one of them is planning to kill her and the other save her from Talon. Apparently Talon isn't exactly what they are pretending to be. Are they really protecting the hatchlings?

Kagawa has once again created an exciting venture into Urban Fantasy. I can see this story appealing to younger readers, especially those in the midst of the their first experiences with love. Is it as intricate as Kagawa's Iron Fey series,? No. Or as dark and mesmerizing as her dystopian Blood of Eden series? No.

It is a little more mellow when it comes to complexity and focuses a lot more on matters of the heart and gut emotions. Perhaps time will tell if this romantic ménage à trois will develop into a series with more grit. At the moment it does tick all the boxes for a compelling Urban Fantasy read, but knowing Kagawa this is only the beginning and there is much more to come.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Harlequin UK & Harlequin Teen.

Monday 12 January 2015

Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts

A tale of hope and despair in equal measures.
Zac is trapped in his bubble of medical loneliness, his day-to-day tedious routine and his constant deliberation of statistics. What are the odds, what are his odds?

The only connection he has to the outside world are nurses, doctors, his family and other patients in similar situations. All on the same treatment ward, some with hope and others holding on to a smidgen of hope.

This is where he meets Mia, a young girl trying to come to terms with her own diagnosis. She is in complete denial and is coping by pretending it isn't really happening. This, and the medical decisions  her parent has to make, has caused a breach between Mia and her mother.

Mia places the blame firmly on the shoulders of her mother, because of the drastic decisions she has had to make in the course of the treatment. She follows the path of least resistance and runs away from her problems, her family and her medical problems.
Zac and Mia become close, mainly because they share a bond, a connection or perhaps just an understanding between two young people in the same dire situation.

When Mia does finally accept the reality of her illness she turns away from Zac. Unfortunately the bond between them becomes strained and threatens to tear. This pushes Zac further into a black cloud of despair, which is always hanging over him since he became ill, but this time it's different.

This is a sweet little story about love and friendship blossoming in the middle of a difficult time for two very young people. Although I felt at first that the ending was a little insipid, after some thought I appreciate the fact the author didn't opt for a dramatic ending, but rather for an open and realistic one.
I received a copy Zac & Mia via NetGalley.

Thursday 8 January 2015

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

I think it is fair to say that this book was one of the hits of 2014  and the sequel Golden Son is probably set to be one in 2015.

I know there have been comparisons made to a fairly recent popular YA book but I disagree with that comparison.

The only thing possibly similar is the Lord of the Flies mentality amongst the young people forced to fight for their lives.

This is so much more and far more complex. It has intrinsic layers of socio-economic status and structures in a dystopian setting. Society and the people within it are structured via colour. The colour you are born into determines your job, life expectancy, amount of food and water you receive and the path you will travel.

Brown has delved deeply into Roman history, their hierarchical pyramids and mixed it with mythology in a dystopian world tinged with the odd Fae element. The author has obviously spent a long time creating each level of society and the impact each colour has upon their own lives and upon other colours.

Darrow is the main character, he is also a Red, the colour responsible for the hard labour. As the story evolves he discovers a betrayal of such an immense size that it is hard to take on board. Everything he believed to be true is turned upside down. Unfortunately that truth is revealed to him after the death of someone he holds close to his heart. In fact she is the one that sets all the events of the book in motion. She becomes the martyr to the cause.

The way Brown chose to have the Reds killed in their work/living environment is one of the most significant and poignant moments in the book. It is very intricately detailed to create maximum emotional effect both in regards to the plot and the reader. Would you kill a loved one to shorten their pain, although it would make you guilty of their death? Such a small subtle detail, and yet so important in the long run, and that is only the first few chapters of the book.

What follows is the integration of one colour into the highest of ranks to seek revenge, to reveal the truth, to initiate change in the world as Darrow knows it. Those goals change during the plot or become secondary to his survival in his new surroundings. I actually think at one point he begins to understand that to change the thought process of old he must become part of the thought process. He must lose part of himself to understand how to be a Gold.

Is that a betrayal of his colour and people or is that just the true nature of the human beast? When it comes to nature of the beast the young competitors are conditioned to be as ruthless as possible, to disregard any inkling of conscience and to survive using any means possible.

The combat, interactions and struggle for power that ensues is an interesting insight into the psyche and personality of the participants. I enjoyed the read and look forward to see where Brown is going to take this tale, on every level.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Golden Son is the sequel to Red Rising, it is an eclectic mixture of dystopian worlds, sci-fi, mythology, sociology and anthropology.

Brown has made such an excellent job of creating his main character and the fake story that Darrow lives with and in. The pretence is so convincing that I had actually forgotten he is a Red pretending to be a Gold. I am sure even Darrow forgets now and again.

Red Rising was such a refreshing , energetic and brutally dystopian book. It is hard to top a bestseller and yet that is exactly what Brown has done. Golden Son smacks you up the face with a fist of iron. Gone are the days of youth, of hope and friendship.

What remains is the violent hardship of the Institute and the battle that commenced between the students. They are now spread to all corners of the galaxy, and Darrow finds his risen star starting to fall really fast and hard.

Even in this dystopian setting you can see the similarities between the structure of the colours and the class structures in our own societies. The Golds are reminiscent of our very own power players, wealthy pullers of pivotal strings and the political elite. They control every single element of each colour below Gold and everyone is taught not to rock the boat, regardless of level or colour. Don't mess with the status quo, ever. Do not question or try to change the carefully built ladder of society.

The lower colours are to remain oblivious to the truth, the manipulations both of a physical and mental nature, applied to the lower colours to keep them from trying to rise above their stations. This means that even if a Gold were to query the validity of the structure, they would become instant outcasts to other Golds.

So Darrow travels a very thin line. No longer really belonging to his own colour and never really belonging to his fake one. The real question is whether the friendships and bonds he has made will actually be strong enough to withstand the truth when it comes out.

I am going to try really hard not to give away any spoilers about the ending, which is spectacular by the way. Betrayal and treachery seem to go hand in hand with any kind of human interaction between the Golds.

All I'm going to say is, it is time for Darrow to rise up and become not only a Son of Ares, perhaps it is time to lead them himself. In this book loyalty becomes merely a pretty word to toss around like a ball. You just never know who's going to drop it next.

I highly recommend this fast paced, intriguing and complex dystopian tale.
I received a copy of this book via Netgalley.

Sunday 4 January 2015

Left Turn at Paradise by Thomas Shawver

What flows through quite clearly is the knowledge, love and interest Shawver has for old and rare books, and/or manuscripts. That includes his interest in New Zealand.

The culture, customs and history of New Zealand, which gives quite an insight into the country and its native people the Maori. As if that wasn't enough the author also fills the mind's eye full of luscious scenery and exotic landscapes.

When I found out the reasoning for Penelope's self applied nickname the bad feeling turned into a bad taste in my mouth. I think what annoyed me most was the fact Bevan knows why and still uses the nickname Pillow when talking about or to her. It is the equivalent of her calling herself a bike, a mattress or a whore. Surely the realisation of this self-inflicted vocal punishment should be enough to disregard the name?

Bevan struggles to figure out whether or not he can trust his companions.They both seem willing to drop him in it in a heartbeat. One for some antique diaries and the other to protect her family. He isn't exactly the type of character you warm to, but his tragic past encourages forgiveness.

At times it felt as if the main plot was often overshadowed by the commune sub-plot, perhaps to the detriment of the main story, however Shawver does bring it all together with a tight ending.
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.