Monday, 25 June 2018

Book Review: Three Little Lies by Laura Marshall

Three Little Lies is the second novel by Laura Marshall. Her debut, Friend Request, was a great read and I eagerly put my hand up to review her newest offering. Staying firmly in the thriller/crime thriller genre, this novel leaves you guessing.

Ellen and Sasha flat together in London, still friends since high school ended 10 years ago, and bonded by a traumatic event that lead to their friend Karina being raped and them testifying against the rapist - Sasha's god-brother Daniel. 10 years later Sasha goes missing and Ellen fears the worst, Daniel is out of prison, is he after them?
Ellen re-opens old relationships to try and figure out what has happened to Sasha and not everyone is as they seem. Ellen quickly realizes that she doesn't know Sasha as well as she thought. As the story is told, the past is revealed and there are three little lies that have shaped the story and now put Ellen in danger.

I found the introduction of this novel quite confusing. It flicks between timelines and character's viewpoints regularly and I felt that I spent the first few chapters trying to figure out who was who and what was going on. This sorted itself out by about 5 or 6 chapters in. The main viewpoints are from Ellen and Olivia, and Karina has a few chapters too.
The format of the novel I have a sort of love/hate relationship with. It is done often, especially in crime writing, where it is set in the present but flicks between 2 other time periods from events in the past, each of which are written by both Olivia and Ellen. It means you need to pay particular attention to the dates at the beginning of each chapter. I do like the reveal factor of this format though, it means that the story is very much given piece-by-piece.

As far as characters go, Ellen, Sasha and Karina all have quite annoying traits. None of them are particularly endearing and I wasn't particularly invested in any of them. But the hook was what got me, what happened to Sasha? Clearly the title suggests that there has been three little lies told and therein lies the mystery. Despite my misgivings, I ended up engrossed and couldn't put the book down. I was not disappointed by the twists, and I liked that the story had evolved into something much bigger than just a girl disappearing. Especially a girl that is frankly, a bit annoying. But waiting to find out what the three little lies are keeps the intrigue going and the read worthwhile.

So overall, yes I do recommend this book, stick with it and you will be glad you did. 

Thanks to Hachette New Zealand for the review copy of this book.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Book Review: War Storm (Red Queen Book #4) by Victoria Aveyard

What a book. Now before I start, let me preface with the fact that this is book #4, the final in the Red Queen series. There will probably be spoilers so if you are interested in a YA novel about kings and war, people who have x-men-like abilities along with a strong female protagonist and a rebellion for a great cause then you will enjoy this series. Start with Red Queen, Glass Sword, Kings Cage and if you want the extra for experts then there are two short novellas from other characters perspectives together in a volume called Cruel Crown. 

I started reading this series earlier this year and I got hooked. I didn't quite time it right and had to wait a couple of months for this final installment which was hard! There is also so much going on in these books that I had to go back and read some summaries of the previous book to remember as #4 just jumps right in from where #3 ends.

If I was to pull a super brief summary to get us to the beginning of War Storm, it would go something like this: *SPOILER ALERT*

Mare Barrow is a Red. She has red blood, and lives each day in a small village, stealing and scrounging for her family's next meal. She hopes to get a job to avoid conscription to the army where a seemingly never-ending war wages in a neighboring land. Reds are ruled by Silvers. Their blood is silver and they have abilities: Magnetrons can manipulate metal, Strongarms are super strong, Whispers can manipulate thoughts, Nymphs can manipulate water etc. Because Silvers have these abilities they have ended up being the rulers of the kingdoms, with King Tiberius the Sixth as the King of Norta. Silvers > Reds so reds are the servants essentially.

The king has two sons and there is a battle of abilities of all the eligible Silver ladies a la Hunger Games. Mare meets Cal, the Tiberius heir when he is disguised as a Red and he gets her a cushy servant job at his palace. She ends up watching this battle and gets caught up in the action. She finds herself in the arena and manages to save herself with her previously unknown lightning powers. A Red with abilities is unheard of so she is quickly transformed into a 'lost Silver princess, raised as a Red girl' to keep up appearances for the King and his court. Mare is not a super huge fan of this but goes along with it because it allows her to feed inside information to the Scarlet Guard, an underground rebellion who want to overthrow the king. There is also a love triangle going on between Mare and the two princes, Cal and Maven.

There is betrayal from one of the brothers, Mare escapes, discovers there are others like her and sets off to find them, meets opposition and has some epic battles, a few people die. Then the books get pretty political and it becomes all about alliances and war strategies and the love triangle of course. Mare is captured and tortured by one of the brothers (one of them has a very twisted way of showing his love). Mare escapes again with a huge effort from her friends, and Mare is finally together with one of the brothers. Mare is betrayed again when that brother chooses the crown over her and she keeps on fighting for her cause.

That brings us to War Storm. Obviously there is way more to it than that but I would be here a long time! I actually managed to get through that without too many spoilers.

War Storm has a slow start which took me a while to get into. There is a lot of political talk which is one of my least favourite topics and a lot of moping going on from Mare. We do get this story from other characters points of view which probably saves this book for me. We hear from both Cal and Maven, Evangeline, a Magnetron from vaguely royal lineage who has been a thorn in Mare's side but has a change of heart in this book, and Iris, a Nymph Princess who is married to Maven for her family's own sneaky ambitions. There is plotting, scheming, backstabbing, kidnapping and fighting between the various alliances. Maven is always a few steps ahead which makes the progress slow but eventually the tides turn (that is a really funny saying that you will laugh at after you read the book by the way).

Obviously as the final book there needs to be a conclusion of both the romantic story and the overall story. These were both resolved in an OK way. I wasn't overwhelmed by how amazing the ending was, it was pretty predictable but I was happy with the way they left the story. As for the romantic wrap-up, it wasn't filled with warm fuzzies but was probably a more realistic ending for them.

Overall I feel like War Storm was a good final book. It is a massive door-stop of a novel and is pretty much 40% politics 50% fighting and 10% for the rest of the storyline. I am conflicted because I didn't enjoy a lot of this book but I enjoyed the overall story. Each character is so overwhelmingly flawed that you have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them all. Except for maybe Kilorn. And Farley.

 I think I managed to give a brief but accurate overview of the series so if it peaks your interest then check it out and if not, I'll stop rambling.

War Storm is out now. Thanks to Hachette for the review copy of this book.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Book Review: Every Thing About You by Heather Child

Every Thing About You is a debut novel by Heather Child. Touted as a sort of Black Mirror mixed with Gone Girl, this a slightly futuristic thriller that is eerily plausible if technology continues as we know it.

Freya is working a deadbeat job where she fears she will be replaced by sales robots who can mine data about a customer and tailor the service to their needs. This is a future where virtual reality is commonplace and used for escapism or fantasies. Where your digital footprint is used in every aspect of your life, using data to predict your needs like what to order for lunch or what outfit you should wear for a date. Smartspecs are VR glasses that overlay information to what you see, like showing a trail leading you home, or covering graffiti with flowers. Freya has recently acquired a digital assistant that only she can hear, who is designed to make whatever Freya wants happen. The only problem is, her assistant has the voice of her sister Ruby who disappeared 8 years ago. Freya still holds out hope that Ruby is alive somewhere, so when her assistant seems to know more about Ruby than she should, Freya goes on a mission to try and track her down.

This obsession leads Freya into some dark places, including Yearnfield, a virtual landscape where not everyone is as they seem and can become quite addictive. Freya needs to learn whether or not she can trust the information that is being fed to her.

This book was very fascinating, especially in terms of the technology that has been created. The way that Heather Child created a world where this tech was integrated well into everyday life is impressive and seems very plausible. I found that the tech was talked about quite a lot and it almost was too much to remember. I found Freya to be an interesting character, who clearly has some issues and struggles to manage the tech integration. The overall feel of the novel was quite disjointed, there were a lot of aspects to work in and I don't think they resolved as well as they could, or even flowed together well throughout the book. I was intrigued enough to finish the book, it did get pretty dark at times but thankfully not in a sexual way, although this was alluded to at times.

I wasn't overly satisfied with the conclusion, the big questions were answered but so many other little things were left unexplained or things seemed to be thrown in just for the sake of semi-resolving a character's story. Overall though, this novel was an eye-opening view into what could come, and it definitely makes you think twice about the data you create online. Worth a read if this kind of thing intrigues you.

Available now from book retailers.
Thanks to Hachette for a review copy of this book.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Book Review: The Farmyard Idol by Angie Belcher *NZ Author*

How many times have you told your child that books are not for drawing in? What if there was one that was designed so that your child can colour in half of the illustrations?
That book is The Farmyard Idol.

The farmyard is very noisy so Farmer Fred decides to hold a competition to see which animal has the best voice (think American Idol style). Each animal practices then heads to the performance. The musical layers build on each other as Chicken (peck peck peckity-peck) finds Dog (howooool), who finds Horse (clipity-clop, clipity-clop) and so on. At the performance, three judges critique the animals - Farmer Fred, his wife Betty, and Farmhand Joe. Joe is the typical Simon Cowell judge and it takes something special to impress him.

I really enjoyed this book. It took a couple of read-throughs before I got the animal noises and rhythms in a way that flowed and sounded good to me but it works if you change them up too. At first I wasn't sure about having a judge that wasn't very encouraging but then I remembered real life and I decided that it actually makes the competition more of a competition!
I like that the text has a variety of colours and sizes for emphasis and animal identification. There are also some interesting phrases introduced such as 'sensational sound', 'scintillating solo' and 'breathtaking beat' that aren't commonplace in picture books but are great for adding to children's vocabulary.

This book has a lot of aspects going on - and in a good way! Call it value for money. Read-aloud-ability (it's a thing - parents you hear me), silly farm animal voices, playing with rhythm and other musical aspects, colouring in, and even some tear out postcards with feature illustrations from the book.

The book recommends that it best suits 4-9 year olds but I think it is still a great read aloud for younger children, especially if you 'forget' to tell them they can colour it in. Addison (4) has been really enjoying having the book read to her - her favourite animal noise is the cow and the pig. Once she found out she could colour it in she went straight for the postcards at the back and has cautiously begun to work her way through the pages.

This book was written by Angie Belcher and Illustrated by Debbie Tipuna. These two amazing women have collaborated together before and hail from my hometown of Te Puke. I grew up with Angie and Debbie as wonderful role models in their community and I love that they are passionate and quirky and use that to their advantage.

Angie Belcher promoting The Farmyard Idol

This is a great book to gift, or to add to your collection. Know that you are supporting two local legends when you purchase this book.

Angie gave me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Book Review: This Could Change Everything by Jill Mansell

I don't usually read what I like to call 'fluffy' books - light, romantic fiction books, but occasionally, if one gets recommended to me or it has a good blurb then I may go for it. This is one of those and I enjoyed it so much I would even consider reading another!

This Could Change Everything starts with Essie, who is in her mid-twenties. Essie is playing grown-ups having just moved in with her boyfriend Paul. One night over a bottle of wine she and her friend write a joke version of a holiday card which states in much detail, how much she dislikes Paul's mother. It was never meant to be sent, just a bit of a vent, but she wakes up to the email having been sent to her entire contacts list - including Paul and his mother. The sender turns out to be Lucas - a friend of her brother's who had come home drunk in the middle of the night. Suffice to say Essie does not like Lucas.

Suddenly finding herself on her own Essie is at a loss with what to do. In a stroke of luck she chances across an 83 year old, well-dressed lady called Zillah who decides that Essie is just the right person to rent out her fancy flat upstairs. Zillah moonlights as a wish-granter for elderly folks near the end of their lives, along with another young man, Conor. Through this, along with a new job at a pub where the manager is no other than email-sending Lucas, Essie begins to change her perspective on life, and love.

The characters are all well developed and relatable, each has a beautiful voice that draws you into their thoughts. I deeply cared about the outcome of a couple of relationships, as well as the outcome of an incident involving Zillah.

It was funny, it made me want to keep reading and it got me invested. All marks of a good book and so this one gets a tick from me. I'm glad I ventured out of my dystopian/crime thriller zone for this latest read. I will definitely keep Jill Mansell in mind for when I next need a fluffy read!

Thanks to Hachette for the review copy of this book. Out now at the usual retailers.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Book Review: Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

It feels good to get back into some good ol' thriller fiction. I always seem to come back to it after dabbling in other genres. I was definitely not disappointed by Jessica Strawser's second novel.

Not That I Could Tell starts with a group of neighbours struggling to remember the night they had round a fire pit in one of their backyards. Then one of them goes missing along with her young twins and suddenly a suburban neighbourhood is the centre of an investigation. The women at the campfire are a mixture of mothers with young children, a military wife, a newly single professional and a woman in the middle of a divorce. The women try to piece together any small hints of what could have happened to Kristen, when it seems that she managed to hide a lot of her life by becoming great at pretending her life was going so well.

The suspicion eventually falls on Paul, her soon-to-be-ex-husband, a much loved doctor who is visibly distraught, especially when allegations of domestic abuse arise. 
But how well do we really know the people who live around us?

I loved this book and I tried very hard to read it in 5-minute snatches of my days and eventually I managed to get to the final chunk in one solid time slot. At first the book seemed very predictable, the twist was pretty simple to follow and clues were being dropped all over the show. But then, a final twist was one I didn't see coming and it was perfectly planned. It also made the ending great for me
A trigger warning - domestic abuse, especially the emotional side, is brought up. There is also very minimal sensuality which I enjoyed, where relationships were real and sometimes messy but didn't need to be defined by sex.

I identified with the life stage of most of the women who were at home with young children, a lot of their emotions rung true with me. Like getting caught up in the neighbourly gossip, while still trying to be a good friend and keep things running smoothly.

A great book, slow to start but keeps getting better. I will definitely go back and read Strawser's previous novel and if you are a thriller fan then give this a go.

Published by Hachette NZ. Available from 10/04/2018. RRP: $37.99.

Thanks to Hachette for a review copy of this book.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Book Review: The Squirrels Who Squabbled by Rachel Bright

Rachel Bright teams up again with illustrator Jim Field (previously seen in The Lion Inside) with another eye-catching, stunning and funny book that has a strong message to boot.

The book features two squirrels: Spontaneous Cyril and Plan-Ahead Bruce, who both have their eyes set on the Last Nut Of The Season. They scamper and fight through the pages and are thwarted at every turn, leading to them both going over the edge of a waterfall without the nut. Finally the two squabbling squirrels realize that they have been silly, and put aside their differences to share the bounty and become friends.

Addison's favourite part of the book was the waterfall. I loved the autumn-y setting that is shown through the illustrations in beautiful colours and trees in all shades of yellow, red, and orange. There are some very cunning rhymes and the words flow nicely off the tongue. This is a great read-aloud book and had plenty of scope for emotion to be added. It is the perfect book for Addison at the stage she is at, where she can learn about turning squabbling into friendship and sharing.

A great addition to your collection, and definitely worth a read if you spot it at your local library!

Thanks to Hachette for the review copy of this book.