Cross Roads of Twilight, Wheel of Time Book 10

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The Premise

Picking up a few weeks earlier than from where we left off, the 10th in Jordan’s 14 book epic catches us up with almost all our favourite characters, from Elayne to Perrin, Egwene to Mat. Each character draws closer to Rand’s cleansing of the source before continuing with their own unique journeys.

The Verdict

Some of the less likeable characters, like Mat, have continued to evolve through this installment of Wheel of Time, resulting not only in more empathy for them but also an increased interest in how their story will go. The addition of the Daughter of the Nine Moons has especially improved on Mat’s character.

The loyalty of the Aes Sedai to the White Tower, whichever tower they are following, is dominant, with a twist at the end of Egwene’s section to freeze the heart. The power of community and existance together rather than apart is apparent, in spite of the split.

Elayne’s diplomatic movements to secure the throne of Andor seem a little over done and unnecessary. Jordan focuses on the political atmosphere at a time where other stories are taking precedence. It is fascinating that he created the world so thoroughly that the succession was so important to him, but those sections did always feel a little unnecessary and dragged out.

Several characters (Rand, Egwene) have made surprising decisions. This reminds us how human they are, and in many cases how young they are. Jordan continues to paint pictures of humans, who err and fall, without glorifying them in their own acts of heroism.

Also Faile and Perrin have been apart for too long and they need to be reunited now please.

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Winter’s Heart, Wheel of Time Book 9

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The Premise:

The novel follows three key stories – Mat’s life in and escape from Seanchan controlled territory, Elayne’s struggle to take the throne of Andor and Rand’s quest to cleanse the source.

The Verdict

As always, Jordan’s writing keeps you on the edge of your seat. I was disappointed to leave Mat to see what Rand was doing, and have finally started to warm to Mat’s character. He seems more human now and his feats of accidental heroism are much more believable and less reluctant. The time spent with Elayne felt like it could be less, but that is not Jordan’s style, and I feel like I have a thorough understanding of how the succession will work. It was good to be left with cliff hangers for Elayne (an army on the way) and Mat (finally discovering that Tuon is his future wife & in the middle of an escape) but with Rand’s at least 3 book quest to cleanse the source completed, although who knows what Cadsuane has planned for him next.

Another excellent instalment and I cannot wait to start the next one.

The Path of Daggers – Wheel of Time Book 8

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It has been a long time since I last read a Wheel of Time book. In order to get back into them, I re-read all my reviews of the previous books and then have re-read the last book I read in the series that I didn’t review because I was so ill when I was reading it… Book 8. How I survived this long without knowing what came next is beyond me, but now I’m in, I’m in for the long haul!

I’m reviewing because it helps me to keep track of what I read. But I don’t really have the brain space to say much at the moment so I’m changing the style of my reviews a little bit to give myself the space I need in my recovery.

The premise

We pick up the story with an army coming to march against the dragon reborn. Throughout the novel we follow various much loved characters, such as Perrin & Faile, Egwene, Nynaeve & Elayne. We also spend a lot of time watching Rand struggle with Lews in his head, and lead an army to a frightening victory. We learn more about the effect of the taint on the Asha’men, and see the horrifying effects at the conclusion of the novel. But there is hope – an army marching on Tar Valon, a lingering feeling that the taint could be resolved and a shift in the weather (literally) which thwarts the plans of the dark one.

The Verdict

Robert Jordan’s story telling is masterful, his characters are colourful and the content of the novel is as deep and meaningful as all the previous ones. As always, he leaves the reader desperate to know more. His portrayal of romantic relationships leaves a little to be desired, and it is frustrating that the men seem unable to interpret the women they love, and the women are constantly playing games with them. It makes it seem that the women are raised solely to confuse men. But the portrayal of the power and Rand’s descent into madness, however much he denies it, make the un-comfortableness of some of the relationships worthwhile.

That Girl from Nowhere, Dorothy Koomson

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It’s been a while since I was on here. Things haven’t been the easiest, but there’s also been some wonderful moments – such as my wedding. I needed to take a break from reading things with a purpose and just read, but I actually have only read 2/3 books in the last couple of months, what with one thing or another. I was having a bad day the other day and my gorgeous husband took me to WH Smith and told me I could buy any book I wanted! It was a hard choice, and I ended up having to use my blog to see if I liked an author or not. It was actually really useful to have all those memories wrapped up in the blog, and so I am returning to review books again so that I always have that option when I can’t work out what book I should buy. I really haven’t had a lot of brain space recently, so it might be that the quality of my reviews slips, but practice makes perfect.

So here we are with a failsafe author for me – Dorothy Koomson. Her hard hitting, gritty and realistic books have both broken me and built me up over the years. She hides nothing, shys away from no subject and addresses all those things most of us try to avoid. That Girl from Nowhere was no different.

Clemency was adopted as a baby into a white family with a very racist and abusive uncle and a cousin who grew up to be the same way. After the death of her beloved father, Clemancy moves to Brighton with her mother to start a new life, having just left her partner of many years because he lied to her. Little does she know that this will set into motion a series of events she can’t control, leading to her finding herself in ways she never thought possible.

Koomson’s characterisation is always excellent. I struggled a little bit with Clemency’s mother and cousin. Both seemed to much made out to be the bad guy, but this was resolved a little bit towards the end. There was a definite lack of maternal affection throughout which made Clemancy’s mother seem almost abusive herself, and there was a lot of institutional racism even in the blended family that was uncomfortable to read. I’ve never before considered what it must be like to grow up as a black child with white parents, and it really opened my eyes to what a struggle it could be.

I liked Koomson’s use of a few incidental characters to strengthen Clemancy, especially Molly, a fellow adoptee whose role in the novel is minor but impact on Clemancy’s life is huge.

I wasn’t such a fan of Koomson using emails from Abi to Jonas. I didn’t feel like this added a lot to the story, or even to Abi’s character, and was an unnecessary addition.

Overall, the book was moving and dealt with issues such as adoption and euthanasia with compassion and understanding. As always, Koomson is a must read!

Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar, DJ Connell

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The Premise:

From the moment he is born, Julian’s mother decides that he has ‘star quality’ and will achieve great things. But his father’s fear difference could hold Julian back, especially when they are forced to relocate to Hobart. Will Julian find the place he belongs? Or will he fall by the wayside?

The Verdict

I did not enjoy this book. It was too much like a biography – a bunch of nonsense things that happened to a person before they became famous that helped to make them who they are. Whilst for people who like biographies, this is fine, for me, it just wasn’t enough – definitely not my type of fiction. It’s the book for my June book club meeting, and after The Hate You Give it was a massive disappointment!

The genre and the writing style aside, I have to say that Connell paints what I can only assume is an accurate but rather bleak picture of 1960s Australia, in which homosexuality is a ‘dirty little secret’ and those who openly express their orientation in Tasmania are marked as outsiders. Julian’s homosexuality is made clear from about page 2 of the novel, making it a natural part of the narrative, and his keeping it a secret is a part of his every day life. Whilst it seems to me that ‘star quality’ seems to be a euphemism for homosexuality, there are also elements of Julian’s nature that could also account for this reference. It seems that Connell attempts to inhabit the mindset of 1960s Tasmanians and is, in this sense, successful, as she creates a very realistic and believable society with their own damaging preconceptions and idiosyncrasies.

Julian himself is a frustrating character. He is pampered by his mother and bullied by his father, but believes that he is destined to do great things. This belief in his destiny makes him lazy and almost unbearable as a protagonist. His flair for story telling, and constantly embellishing the truth with unnecessary lies, as hard to pin point at first but one of the key reasons I disliked him so much.

To be honest, I don’ have much to say about this book. It really wasn’t for me and I wouldn’t seek out this author again.

After You, Jojo Moyes

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The Premise

After 6 months of looking after quadriplegic Will Taynor, and falling in love with him, Will committed assisted suicide at Dignitas. Now, estranged from her family because of her complicity in his suicide, Lou is trying to build a life for herself in London, that will bring honour to the legacy that Will left her. But how do you move on from love? And when Will’s past interrupts Lou’s stagnant life, can she move on from his memory, or will she always be trying to please him?

The Verdict

I felt that this novel had more to it than the original. Rather than just relying on the unusual romance between carer and their charge, there were several layers to this book and it addressed more than one serious issue.

It was helpful that aside from one chapter, the narrative was solely from Lou’s point of view which meant that it flowed a lot better. The interspersion could have been done without – the reader could have learned some of the truths about Lily retrospectively as Lou learned them – but it wasn’t as much of an issue was the constant interruptions in the first novel.

Moyes developed the 2D characters of the first novel a little better in this one, especially in the case of Lou’s mother, who makes some progression as a person herself. Her children, and husband, come across as very un-supportive of her developing some feminist attitudes and ways, which is disappointing in a generation where we are more and more encouraging them in ourselves. It added comedy rather than depth to the narrative, undermining the positivity of the presence of some actual character development.

Moyes attempts to address serious issues such as rape, co-erced, drunken teenage sex, grief and depression. It’s a big ask for what I would say is an average author. I felt like the rape and co-erced sexual componant wasn’t given enough seriousness or time. She used it as a way for Lily and Lou to bond, which was fine because victims of similar crimes often do, but it was a story tool and I hate that about it because it undermines the seriousness of those crimes. Lily is offered no counselling and very little support after what happens to her, and with very little build up, she was suddenly being blackmailed and hit on by a 40 year old man (who was trying to bribe her for sex). There was little preparation for the content which I think actually needs a trigger warning. But the worst thing about it is that it is purely a literary tool to move Lily and Lou’s friendship along, without any real consideration for the seriousness of the crime, and no consequence for the perpetrators.

Moyes portrayal of grief is a little more successful – the ‘Moving On’ group seems relevant and thought through, and it was interesting to observe people addressing their different grief. Lou’s attitude towards it wasn’t great, especially how she suddenly became ‘healed’ when the others were still in the early stages of their grief. Perhaps that reflects the short lived nature of hers and Will’s relationship, perhaps it’s a reflection of the passion for life that she and Will shared, but actually it just felt like she moved on and very little consequence, even willing to give up her goodbye speech to Will to his daughter who didn’t know him.

Speaking of Lily, let’s talk about her mother for a moment. Moyes seems to love a flat, 2D, bad guy. Last time it was ‘Running Man’ Patrick, obsessed with exercise and oblivious to everything else. This time it was Lily’s mother, a self centred, uncaring woman, unable to cope with her teenage daughter and willing to palm her off onto any other human who offered. This was an unacceptable portrayal of motherhood, and by referring constantly to her wealth and big house, implied that it was this that was at the cause. Moyes tried to flesh her out by portraying her as a gold digger, but she was an unrealistically negative character and Moyes could have done better.

Overall, though, I did prefer the story to the previous novel. Lily added some more interest in the story, as Will’s daughter, and it was interesting to see Lou try to balance who she is with suddenly becoming responsible for another person. Lou’s relationship with Sam was also a highlight, but again, she falls in love too quickly. The ending was secure, it was good that Lou went off on her adventure and started trying to live again.

I won’t be seeking out Moyes – I get too frustrated at her characterisation of the side characters and her stories are too reliable. But it was a relatively enjoyable read and a very different tone to the original.

Allegiant, Veronica Roth

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The Premise:

Now that their city knows the truth, Tris and Tobias want to travel outside to see what, as divergents, they can do in response to the video that has revealed their importance. Desperate to escape the city that is now under the control of Evelyn, Tobias’ mother, they leave without authorisation and come across an unexpected world. What do you do when you discover that everything you know is a lie? And in a world where everyone you know is considered damaged, who do you save?

The Verdict:

I was a bit nervous about reading Allegiant after the disappointment of Insurgent, but I am glad that I’m stubborn and insist on finishing a series if I start it because Allegiant brought back a lot that I loved about the first novel that the second lost.

MASSIVE SPOLIER

Tris dies!

I am always complaining about how authors set their characters into impossible situations and yet, remarkably, the protagonist always survives. When Tris decided to go into the control room rather than her brother to face a deathly serum, I tutted and ploughed onwards, knowing that despite all the adversity Tris would survive and the novel would end with her and Tobias happily moving on with their lives. And when she defeated the serum and didn’t die immediately, my frustration grew. Now she was facing David, who of course had a secret inoculation against the death serum. When she went for the memory serum deployment and got shot, my cynicism told me that aid would soon be rushing to her side. But it didn’t. Then she saw her mother, and rather than encouraging her to return to the world she was desperately trying to save, Tris’ mother said yes, your work is done, come with me now. And Tris died. It was a moving moment, but from my point of view the real triumph there was Roth’s, who had the audacity to kill off her protagonist properly. It was both heart wrenching and satisfying at the same time, a victory for realistic, modern teenage fiction, but a loss to the world that Roth created. I was impressed with the skill that Roth wrote the scene, which will stand out in my mind as a highlight of the entire series.

Of course, Roth had to pave the way for her to be able to do this. Rather than focus on the singular narrative of Tris, she created a dual narrative which alternated, a little ad hoc, between Tris and Tobias. This made up for the deficit in Insurgent by adding a little more depth to the narrative, however, Tobias’ character was stiff and unnatural. Despite being given his own voice, he was still Tris’ Tobias, with little depth or character beyond what Tris had already painted. Even his attempt to go along with the failed revolution was a little boring because he didn’t have the depth of character that made us really sympathise with his struggle or his final choice. There was also not enough build up to the fact that all he wanted was a mother and he was willing to risk the safety of his city, his friends and everything he knew to give her a chance to come back to him. Evelyn failed as a character precisely because she wasn’t the sort of person to put family first, and her desire to be a mother could not fulfil her dictator tenancies. Killing Tris off was impressive, but giving Tobias a mother to replace her kind of undermined their relationship by showing that Tobias was just desperate for a strong woman to love him, and when he lost Tris, his mother was going to become enough.

Some of Roth’s world building was fascinating, especially the use of propaganda which is portrayed as a truth and then systematically taken apart as Tobias and Tris make several different discoveries. The fear of the ‘other’ here is not gender, or skin colour or orientation but an invisible genetic different. The genetically pure decided that anyone with altered genes was problematic, and altered their history so that future generations would believe this. This was an indictment of current society, where we take differences and nurture them into hatred rather than building a better world together. Tris’ understanding of Caleb helped with this belief – he made the decisions he made because of who he was, not necessarily because of who his genes made him, and she had to learn to forgive him completely before she could move on.

I don’t think enough was made of Tris’ heritage – the link to Edith Prior or the history of her mother who joined the city later. A clandestine love between David and Tris’ mother was detrimental to the main narrative as it wasn’t gone into in depth and seemed like a clumsy afterthought. Roth’s story is very plot drive, and lacks the depth of some of the mature fiction that focuses on the building of a world and characterisation as a priority. Everyone seemed to fall into a character cliche – the boyfriend, the best friend, the side character who died and their loving family – and there didn’t seem to be much else to them. The focus was Tris, and partially Tobias.

However, complaints aside, I enjoyed Allegiant a lot more than I expected to, and hats off to Roth for following through with the challenging authorial decision to kill off the protagonist (albeit with some painful cliches as Tobias processed her departure). I won’t seek out Roth again specifically, but if I came across something by her I would probably read it. Perhaps it’s time I focussed on some adult fantasy to give me the depth and commitment that I need… I do still have Wheel of Time to finish!