The Bone Witch: A Great Expectations Review…

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Given that I adored Rin Chupeco’s first two novels, it was only natural that I would have massive expectations regarding her third.  We received The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind in this brilliant new fantasy series by Rin Chupeco!

bone witch.jpg

What I Expected:

*an enchanting blend of magic and creepiness with a complex plot and plenty of action, as in the previous two novels from this author

*a memorable story in which the imagery created by the author sears itself into your brain as you read and leaves a lasting impression

What I Got:

*seemingly endless descriptions of the setting and the “rules” of the world in which the book is set

*a completely different narrative tone from the other books I had read by this author

*an extremely slow-placed story that resulted in my DNFing at 15%

The Bone Witch is such a massive shift in content and voice from Chupeco’s first two horror/supernatural novels that I felt all at sea from the very first chapter.  The story opens with an unnamed narrator searching for the girl who turns out to be the protagonist of the story, as the narrator tries to convince this girl to tell him the story of how she became a Bone Witch….or something like that.  I’m not 100% sure because I didn’t finish the whole book, but essentially, the bulk of the book is the story that is being told by the girl to the narrator of the first chapter…if that makes sense.

The story that is being told features Tea as the protagonist, a young girl who accidentally manages to raise her brother from the dead and in doing so, marks herself out as a Bone Witch.  Bone Witches are reviled by most good folk for….reasons that aren’t exactly clear…but Tea attaches herself to an experienced Bone Witch as an apprentice and together, the two, plus Tea’s undead brother set off to do…Bone Witchy things.

You may think that I don’t really know what’s going on because I gave up on the book so early – and you would probably be right – but there is so much description and “telling” about the setting going on that I found it really hard to keep the important bits of information – such as who the main characters are and what they’re meant to be doing – in my head while reading. Unfortunately, the interminable description of everything from architecture of certain towns to the particulars of Tea’s brothers ex-regiment in the army, is not balanced out by explanations of important aspects of the world, such as what heartglasses are and what purpose they serve.  This might come along later in the book, but heartglasses were mentioned so often in the first 15% of the book that I really needed a fuller explanation of what these were in order to get a grasp on the story.

The last few bits I read before putting the book down did seem to be picking up a bit and I began to enjoy the undead brother character’s interventions, but not to the extent that I felt like I could wade through more dry descriptions of the setting.

If you are a fan of Rin Chupeco’s work, you should probably know going into this that it is a departure from the style that readers will be familiar with from her earlier works.  This may not be a problem for you and I hope you enjoy this book much better than I did…for me though, this was a miss.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

The Hatching: A Great Expectations Review…

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The cover of today’s book carries a warning that it is “the most terrifying thriller you’ll read this year”, which is a pretty big call in my opinion.  Nevertheless, I was prepared to take The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone at face value and had major expectations for the scariness of the reading journey on which I was about to embark.  With a nod of thanks to Hachette Australia for providing the shelf with a copy of the book, we immediately turned to Goodreads to find out more about the story:

A local guide is leading wealthy tourists through a forest in Peru when a strange, black, skittering mass engulfs him and most of the party. FBI Agent Mike Rich is on a routine stakeout in Minneapolis when he’s suddenly called by the director himself to investigate a mysterious plane crash. A scientist studying earthquakes in India registers an unprecedented pattern in local seismic readings. The US president, her defence and national security advisers and her chief of staff are dumped into crisis mode when China “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb on a desolate region of its own country. As such unsettling occurrences mount, the president’s old friend (and her chief of staff’s ex-wife), spider expert Melanie Guyer, receives a box at her lab at American University that contains an ancient egg unearthed at a South American dig.

So begins The Hatching, the hair-raising saga of a single week in which an ancient, frighteningly predatory species of spider re-emerges in force. When the unusual egg in Melanie Guyer’s lab begins to vibrate and crack, she finds herself at the epicentre of this apocalyptic natural disaster. Working closely with her ex-husband and his very powerful boss, she has to find some way to stem the brutal tide of man-eating arachnids.

the hatching

What I Expected:

*the most terrifying thriller I would read this year

*an overwhelming sense of creepiness exuding from the sounds, sights and … more sounds…of thousands of spiders and their equally numerous and leggy offspring, intent on devouring humanity

*an almost unbearable level of suspense and a plot that rolled along at breakneck speed

What I Got:

*spiders that didn’t seem nearly as scary as those we currently have living in our houses here in Australia

*a ridiculous level of detail regarding characters’ sex lives and relationships

*a remarkably slow story, told from multiple viewpoints in a narrative style that could only be described as “mostly filler” and a reasonably predictable ending

So you may have noticed from the above that I wasn’t particularly riveted by The Hatching.  Far from being the most terrifying thriller I have read this year, it didn’t even make it into the “most terrifying thriller I’ve read this WEEK” spot, which was taken by YA post-apocalyptic, plague-fest, Remade.  All the elements were there for a really monstrous story – Killer spiders! Global panic! Governments turning on their own citizens! – but the execution was ham-fisted and unimaginative and I couldn’t get over the feeling that this type of story has been done numerous times before and that this offering didn’t add much to the killer animal/insect genre of horror.

One of the biggest problems I had with the book was the amount of unnecessary detail throughout.  The story is told from multiple alternating viewpoints – a style I normally enjoy – but we are subjected to enormous amounts of back story, mostly related to the sex lives of the characters, bizarrely, which seemed to have little or no relevance to the matter at hand – namely, escaping from ravenous spiders.  There is a real undercurrent of unnecessary smut going on in this book and I just couldn’t figure out why the editor let it all go through.  Almost every single character is engaging in some sort of sexual escapade – the professor sleeping with her student, the tour guide hoping to cheat on his girlfriend (who is cheating on him) with one of the supermodel concubines of a big fat rich man using his services….there’s even a couple called…wait for it…Fanny and Dick.

I kid you not.

I find it hard to believe that NO ONE else noted all these weirdly misplaced sexy goings-on during the editing of this book.  I’m no prude (well, I’m a bit of a prude to be honest), but I could not for the life of me figure out why all this relationship stuff was included in what was supposed to be a thriller, because it did nothing for me but slow the pace and distract away from the main premise – killer spiders!

The only characters seemingly not embroiled in some kind of sexual fiasco is a group of doomsday preppers, but once again, their sections of the story really didn’t add much to the whole shebang, given the fact that they are safely holed up in their doomsday bunkers.  In fact, most of the characters were so fundamentally unlikeable that I wouldn’t much have minded if the spiders won the day.

***MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT FOR THE NEXT PARAGRAPH!!!***

Despite my initial dislike for the story, I pushed on and eventually came to the end – and even that cheesed me off.  There is a point at which a whole bunch of dormant spiders have set up shop in a stadium and someone suggests the obvious solution – consigning the whole structure to the cleansing breath of hot, melty fire.  Strangely enough, the protagonists decide NOT to go with the whole “burn it down” solution and instead decide to watch for a while to see what happens.  And that, my friends, is why we are going to be burdened with a sequel to this not-particularly-well-constructed “thriller”.

***SPOILER ALERT OVER – NORMAL SERVICE ABOUT TO RESUME!***

As you can probably tell, I was massively disappointed with the execution of what could have been a really chilling tale.  Coming, as I do, from a spider-infested continent, I am well aware of how terrifying spiders can be (especially when they unexpectedly show up on your windscreen while you’re driving), but the amount of distracting filler in this book rendered any sense of suspense or fear non-existent for me.

Clearly, this was not the most terrifying thriller I will read this year, but do not let my cranky rantings put you off having at it if you’re keen.  You might find it scares you right out of your pants!  If so, you’ll be in good company, as most of the characters in this book seem to spend quite a bit of time engaging in pants-free activity.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Tripping Back Blue: A Great Expectations Review..

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I should probably start by saying that this is more of a “Hopeful Expectations” review because I didn’t have great expectations upon discovering today’s book, but rather hopes that it would be an unusual piece of writing in the YA genre.  Happily, I can say that my expectations were mostly met – hooray!

So what is today’s book?   Tripping Back Blue by Kara Storti, which we gratefully received from Walker Books Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Finn is a 17-year-old full of paradoxes. He’s a drug dealer, but he’s scoring money to send his twin sister to Harvard. He’s desperate to shoot up even though he’s the most popular kid in Dammertown. He’s a philosopher and orator who’s failing all his classes. The only time he finds peace is when he’s bird-watching. Finn’s life begins to spiral out of control, until he discovers a miracle drug called indigo. Finn is convinced that the drug is the way out of everything broken in his life. But is it really as magical as it seems?

tripping back blue

What I Expected:

Initially, before reading some reviews of this one, I expected a typical “teenager-struggling-with-drugs-story” that happened to have an extremely pretty cover.  On reading a few reviews and finding out that the drug causes users to relive their happiest memories, AND that one of the major characters is an old lady who eventually befriends Finn, I began to get interested.  With these two tidbits of information in hand, I began to hope that this book would blend a bit of fantasy or magical realism with the drudgery of drug use and lift an average story to something unusual and enticing.

What I Got:

Overall, I’m happy to say, I got exactly what I expected.  Perhaps not to the extent that I would have liked, but certainly the base elements of my expectations were all present.  There is an interesting and somewhat volatile relationship between Finn and the old lady, Orah, that drives the indigo plotline.  There is plenty of soul-searching (under-the-influence soul-searching, but still…) from Finn as to whether what he is doing is right, wrong or outside the bounds of morality all together.  The ending is unexpectedly action packed and violent and carries a real atmosphere of danger and confusion.  There were also some interesting twists on the “reliving your happiest memory” device, as the drug doesn’t always work as it is expected to, for Finn at least, as well as an in-depth exploration of human nature, as every character here is flawed in some way and no one is purely evil or pristine.

For the most part, then, I enjoyed this read.  I am not a fan of drug use, talk about drug use, deep explorations of the user’s mind etc (either in real life or fiction) and there was a lot more of this in the story than I initially expected.  Admittedly, all the reviews I read mentioned this and it’s hinted at in the blurb, so I shouldn’t complain.  I was hoping for a little more of the magical realism element around the creation and distribution of indigo, but the story doesn’t suffer particularly for the lack of it.  The segues into talk about birds and random animal facts were a diverting inclusion and fleshed Finn’s character out a bit.

Would I read this book again? Probably not.  Am I glad I ran across it? Definitely.  Is it a standout of the genre? Not really, but it certainly has some original touches that make it worth a look if you enjoy contemporary YA that doesn’t shy away from difficult social issues such as drug use, poverty and family violence.  Plus, you might learn something interesting about birds.

Until next time,

Bruce

Great Expectations…Slightly Dashed by Misleading Blurbs…

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GREAT (1)It’s time for another Great Expectations review, in which I compare my soaring expectations with the reality (good or not so good) of actually reading the book.  Today I have three new release YA novels whose blurbs led me to have reasonably high expectations but whose execution didn’t quite match up.  None of them were bad books per se (although I did decide not to finish one of them) but I felt like I had been sucked in to requesting them under false blurby  pretences.  Let’s get on with it shall we?

First up, here’s the DNFer: The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace, which we received from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Martha is lost.

She’s been lost since she was a baby, abandoned in a suitcase on the train from Paris. Ever since, she’s waited in station lost property for someone to claim her. It’s been sixteen years, but she’s still hopeful.

In the meantime, there are mysteries to solve: secret tunnels under the station, a suitcase that may have belonged to the Beatles, the roman soldier who appears at the same time every day with his packed lunch. Not to mention the stuffed monkey that someone keeps misplacing.

But there is one mystery Martha cannot solve. And now the authorities have found out about the girl in lost property. Time is running out – if Martha can’t discover who she really is, she will lose everything…

the finding of martha lost

What I Expected:

An absolutely crackingly quirky novel that combined all the excitement and urban mythology of train stations with all the mystery and intrigue of lost things all wrapped up in a cast of humorous, memorable characters.  Essentially, I was expecting a sort of cross between The Graveyard Book and a Peter Grant-esque tale of fascinating hidden worlds but without all the murders, ghosts and crazy magical stuff.  The cover is a bit of a tease in that direction too – that person fishing for sneakers is at least as tantalising and whimsical as anything promised in the blurb.

What I Got:

Now given that I DNFed this one at 21%, it may seem a bit presumptuous to start complaining that I didn’t come across certain things I was expecting, but the first fifth of this book was just not quirky enough to hold my interest.  I would have hoped that there would have been a bit of a secret tunnel or roman soldier within that 21% to whet my appetite, but no.  Just a remarkably ordinary (and annoyingly naïve) young girl and her friend who runs a café within the station.  I did find the whole “I can’t leave the station or it will collapse” concept a tad over the top for a sixteen year old protagonist even if she was subjected to some less-than-stellar adoptive parenting.  Overall, I wanted a touch of the ol’ magical realism, as seems to be promised in the blurb, but there was not a skerrick of it in the fifth that I read.  And as for a mention of the eternal stuffed monkey? Not a sausage.


 

The next two books were kindly sent to us for review from Simon & Schuster Australia.  Let’s start with Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

“I’ve got some questions for you. Was this story written about me?”

I shrugged.

“Yes or no?”

I shrugged again, finally earning a little scowl, which somehow made the girl even more pretty. It brought a bloom to her pale cheeks and made sharp shelves of her cheekbones.

“It’s very rude not to answer simple questions,” she said.

I gestured for my journal, but she still wouldn’t give it to me. So I took out my pen and wrote I can’t on my palm.

Then, in tiny letters below it, I finished the thought: Now don’t you feel like a jerk?

Parker Santé hasn’t spoken a word in five years. While his classmates plan for bright futures, he skips school to hang out in hotels, killing time by watching the guests. But when he meets a silver-haired girl named Zelda Toth, a girl who claims to be quite a bit older than she looks, he’ll discover there just might be a few things left worth living for.

thanks for the trouble

What I Expected:

In one hyphenated word, I expected time-travel.  The female protagonist claims to be at least 100 years old and I was hoping that there was going to be some snazzy time travel or at least time bending going on in the novel.  I won’t tell you what there is specifically, because that would be a spoiler, but be assured there is no time travel.  Not a sausage.

What I Got:

Once again, I am in the minority of opinion on this book if Goodreads is anything to go by, because over 176 ratings, this book has an average of 4.05 stars and I gave it two stars, which equates to “It was okay.”  It’s my own fault for reading things into the blurb that aren’t really there but this book turned out to be penned in that particular style of magical realism that I find especially irritating.  The kind that hints at something but in fact turns out to be something else that may or may not be perfectly ordinary and mundane.  I’ll have to stop hinting there myself, because I don’t want to give anything away.  I found that the story started off with an engaging setting: we meet Parker as he is deciding whether or not to steal a wad of cash from a beautiful lady in a hotel restaurant.  I will admit that I quite enjoyed the first third or so of the book and then I began to lose interest due to the slow slide into events such as young person banter and parties and various other bits that may well appeal to younger readers than I, but generally make my stony eyelids droop.

One thing that really confused me was the fact that early on, Parker is specifically described as a Latino male, of the sort that wouldn’t be welcome (or would be looked at sideways) if seated in the restaurant of a fancy hotel.  Why then, if Parker’s Latino heritage is so emphasised, did the designers choose a rather gormless looking white boy for the cover?   If you’re going to make a big thing about his ethnicity, being that diversity in protagonists is such a popular thing nowadays, why not make the person on the cover look less like a white guy and more like the minority he’s meant to be representing?  It boggles the mind.

The ending was more ambiguous than I expected and did redeem the book a little for me.  I was quite surprised that the author would go where he did with such a controversial topic, but go there he did and I think the book is the better for it.  Overall though, this was just an “okay” read that I wish had relied a bit more on the magical side of magical realism and taken things to a stranger, more mind-twisting level.


 

Finally we have a new adult murder mystery, All These Perfect Strangers by acclaimed Australian crime writer Aoife Clifford.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

‘This is about three deaths. Actually more, if you go back far enough. I say deaths, but perhaps all of them were murders. It’s a grey area. Murder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So let’s just call them deaths and say I was involved. This story could be told a hundred different ways.’

You don’t have to believe in ghosts for the dead to haunt you.

You don’t have to be a murderer to be guilty.

Within six months of Pen Sheppard starting university, three of her new friends are dead. Only Pen knows the reason why.

College life had seemed like a wonderland of sex, drugs and maybe even love. The perfect place to run away from your past and reinvent yourself. But Pen never can run far enough and when friendships are betrayed, her secrets are revealed. The consequences are deadly.

all these perfect strangers
What I Expected:
Suspense.  Mystery.  Mind-f*ckery.  A story that would have me puzzling and strategizing and trying to outwit the author in an epic tussle between one of the brightest lights in Australian crime fiction and the cleverest gargoyle getting about the shelf.

What I Got:

Long, drawn out descriptions of life as a first year in a university college (or dorm as our North American friends might refer to them).  It’s been a good long while since I sat on the shelf of a first-year undergraduate, but it appears that life is just as self-indulgent, narcissistic and populated with complete tools, for contemporary undergrads as it was for undergrads of the past.  The great emphasis on murder in the blurb of this book might lead one to believe that there would be a lot of murder-mystery type content going on in the story, but murder, while hinted at vaguely in Pen’s sessions with her psychotherapist, doesn’t really play a big part in the first third of the story.

When it does finally happen (in the present, rather than Pen’s past), the suspense doesn’t crank up even one tiny notch.  And as mysterious deaths keep happening, the suspense level remains at exactly the level at which it started – low.  I really couldn’t say for sure why I didn’t feel any suspense or need to puzzle things out while I was reading but I suspect it has something to do with the lack of information given at the beginning of the story.  We know that something happened involving Pen before she got to university, but it is touched upon so vaguely and with such round-about discussion, that I couldn’t really picture Pen as someone with a haunted past or the potential to be dangerous, because it was as if she had already put it behind her.  Similarly, many of here college-mates were so annoying or ineffectual that I was quite pleased when they met their respective ends.

I really wanted to love this and engage with it on an intellectual, can-I-outwit-the-author sort of a level, but there was just too much tedious, new adult, boring relationship melodrama and not enough devious plotting or red-herring-osity going down.  Shame really.

I am very interested in checking out some of Clifford’s other work now however, to see if this is just an errant blip for an otherwise kick-ass crime writer.  I suspect it might be the case.


So what do you think?  Have I been mislead in my expectations from reading these blurbs or have I read something into them that was never there?

Until next time,

Bruce

Great Expectations…Slightly Dashed: Just My Type…

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GREAT (1)Welcome to a brand new feature that I just made up this minute – the Great Expectations review!  Sometimes you approach a book with very specific expectations about what a book is going to be.  Sometimes these expectations are met, and sometimes not.  Regardless, the expectations often shape the reading experience.  So from now on, if there’s a book that inspires certain expectations in me, I will bust out a “Great Expectations” review, to highlight how the actual reading experience differed from what I thought it was going to be.

Long-winded enough explanation for you?  Great, let’s get on with it.  Today’s book is Just My Type: Understanding Personality Profiles by Michael J Rosen and Daniel Carlson.  I received a copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Personality tests have become increasingly popular in the digital age. Examine a wide variety of online personality assessments, and learn how to distinguish useful applications from biased typecasting.

just my type

What I Expected:

An in-depth foray into the often hilarious, always conversation-worthy topic of personality testing, possibly including fun, interactive examples of personality tests for readers to try out on their friends. Or themselves.

What I Got:

An 80-ish page brief overview of all the major historical and modern means of personality testing, with a few snippets of some of the tests here and there.

I’ve read a number of textbooks and articles throughout my years of tertiary study focusing on the nature of personality, and methods of personality profiling.  One memorable non-study-related read on the topic I can recommend is Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by Sam Gosling.  I was really hoping that Just My Type would be a similarly humorous and entertaining read.

It wasn’t.

While the information provided in the book is accurate, informative and pitched perfectly at those who need an overview or starting point for further research in the area of personality profiling, I was somewhat disappointed that it wasn’t longer and didn’t provide larger excerpts from the various personality testing devices that were covered.  I was hoping for a book that would give me the tools to publicly wax lyrical on the undesirable personality traits of those sitting opposite me at a dinner party, based on sound pseudo-scientific historical practices, or, if it came to it, up-to-the-minute psychological theories.

Despite my disappointment at the fact that the book is clearly lacking in features to assist the reader to embarrass their friends and bring low their enemies, if you are looking for an accessible, concise, historical overview of the psychological theories about what the personality is, how it develops, how it can be defined using interesting tests and how these tests can be used and misused to label individuals and subdue troublemakers, then I would heartily recommend Just My Type to you.

  alphabet soup challenge 2016** I’m submitting this title for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge **

Until next time,

Bruce