Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I tried Grammarly‘s check for plagiarism free of charge… because cool cats aren’t copy-cats.

Review: Neverwhere by Neil GaimanNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Published by HarperCollins
Pages: 400
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinarylife, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed. There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them. And he must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.

 

Thoughts: Neverwhere is one of those classic novels that everyone loves to love. It is heralded as a masterpiece in urban fantasy and… maybe it was when it was written. Neverwhere was published in 1996 which – while not exactly the stone age – was a primordial era for the UF genre. And unlike the early Anita Blake books – which have aged beautifully – Neverwhere doesn’t make the muster.

That’s not to say it isn’t a wonderful book. It is an homage to the city by someone who obviously loves it. It is a creative piece of work that – now that I think about it – made me feel like I was visiting the Night Vale version of ol’ Londontown. That said, there were two major issues I would be remiss not to point out.

The first: the characters. Despite the 300+ words of the novel, the characterizations were weak. Very, very weak. I had no sense for any of any of their motivations – not even those of our narrator and protagonist. Gaiman spent his words on the world building, and not on the characters. I honestly can’t believe this is by the same man that wrote The Doctor’s Wife… but I’m willing to forgive because on the whole it-was-pioneering-at-the-time thing.

My second issue was with the overwhelming familiarity of the plot: London is weirder than we’d suspected, male protagonist is thrown into aforementioned weird world, and male protagonist learns the ropes and falls in love with it. Dull. If you loved Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch or A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin, you will probably adore Neverwhere. It is feels like the inspiration for both of those books and – as the original – is significantly better. But I just couldn’t learn to love it.

Bottom line? Neverwhere is well-written but lacked any and all emotional depth. That said, it is a classic urban fantasy novel. You may want to pick it up just on that.

Review: Rush by Eve Silver

Review: Rush by Eve SilverRush by Eve Silver
Series: The Game #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on June 11th 2013
Pages: 361
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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So what’s the game now? This, or the life I used to know?

When Miki Jones is pulled from her life, pulled through time and space into some kind of game—her carefully controlled life spirals into chaos. In the game, she and a team of other teens are sent on missions to eliminate the Drau, terrifying and beautiful alien creatures. There are no practice runs, no training, and no way out. Miki has only the guidance of secretive but maddeningly attractive team leader Jackson Tate, who says the game isn’t really a game, that what Miki and her new teammates do now determines their survival, and the survival of every other person on this planet. She laughs. He doesn’t. And then the game takes a deadly and terrifying turn.

Thoughts: Rush is a tough book to review. It had potential and I certainly want to read the next book in the series – unlike, say, Breathe by Sarah Crossan or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, which were mediocre reads I will never revisit. However, Rush also had some serious problems.

Let’s start off with the good.  For starters, it was the first Sci-Fi YA novel I have EVER finished. I just don’t think YA Sci-Fi has been all that good… and, at its very worst, Rush was readable science fiction.

Its premise reminded me of the Animorphs books: teenagers fighting off aliens in a secret war to save the planet. The modern twist to Rush was the incorporation of a gaming universe – one that existed but certainly wasn’t prevalent when the Animorphs books came out. I did rather like this concept. It dehumanised their fight, making it entertainment of a sort.

So, I liked the concept. The execution, on the other hand, was far from perfect.

For an action novel, Rush featured an awful lot of chatter. The main character, Miki, was constantly asking questions… which I applaud as a human being but loathe as a reader. It was such an obvious narrative tool and it felt extremely forced. As part of this, Silver made the other characters (no, actually, only Love Interest #1, Jackson) give purposefully cagey responses. There was no reason for Jackson to avoid Miki’s questions (he sure as hell didn’t towards the end of the book) other than to keep the “suspense” up. I wanted to scream through the pages, “Don’t ask him now! He won’t answer your simple question until the penultimate chapter!”

Rush’s “romantic” element was also rather tiresome. For starters, a romantic triangle is established right from the first chapter. Although Love Interest #2 doesn’t get much screen time in this instalment, I have no doubt that he’ll be in play in the next book. The pairing we do get page after page of details on was… rather blah. There was no chemistry, just a case of insta-love. God, kill me now. If I have to read about one more girl falling for a mysterious guy in sunglasses, I may just gauge my eyes out.

*sighs*

If you can’t tell: Rush was a frustrating read. It was as if Eve Silver felt “forced” to include a central romantic pairing, when she might have usually let them play out their relationship over a few books. She also could have easily cut Rush in half if she’d only let the key characters divulge more information earlier on. Very, very frustrating.

I am interested, however, in seeing how this universe evolves. As I mentioned, the concept is an interesting one that hits all of my Animorphs-nostalgia buttons and the writing is certainly readable. I will probably be picking up Push when it comes out next year.

Bottom line? Rush is the best YA Science Fiction I’ve read (though that isn’t saying all that much).

Note on the rating: While reading Rush, it felt like a 3.5 star-verging-on-4-star book. But the last few chapters dragged it down to 3 stars. Not bad, but not overwhelmingly great.

Review: Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Review: Breathe by Sarah CrossanBreathe by Sarah Crossan
Series: Breathe #1
Published by Bloomsbury, Greenwillow
Pages: 384
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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When oxygen levels plunge in a treeless world, a state lottery decides which lucky few will live inside the Pod. Everyone else will slowly suffocate. Years after the Switch, life inside the Pod has moved on. A poor Auxiliary class cannot afford the oxygen tax which supplies extra air for running, dancing and sports. The rich Premiums, by contrast, are healthy and strong. Anyone who opposes the regime is labelled a terrorist and ejected from the Pod to die. Sixteen-year-old Alina is part of the secret resistance, but when a mission goes wrong she is forced to escape from the Pod. With only two days of oxygen in her tank, she too faces the terrifying prospect of death by suffocation. Her only hope is to find the mythical Grove, a small enclave of trees protected by a hardcore band of rebels. Does it even exist, and if so, what or who are they protecting the trees from? A dystopian thriller about courage and freedom, with a love story at its heart.

Ahead: BAD SCIENCE, characters who go off the rails and a good premise.

Thoughts: I really wanted to love Breathe. Really, I did. It had an extraordinary premise with an environmental message I fully approve of. I mean, how many YA books deal with deforestation and mass climate change?

The first half of Breathe was really rather good. Sarah Crossan bounced back and forth  between three well-developed characters – all teens, but all radically different. There’s the cold resistance member who seems horrid, but is really just trying to stay alive. The scholarship girl who is brilliant but will never get anywhere because of her birth. And the rich-but-mostly-kindhearted boy who doesn’t stand up to the system, but doesn’t lie down in front of it either. Three kids who are pretty much on their own, and who all learn to fight the status quo in their own way.

As I said, pretty good stuff – and while I wasn’t over the moon about the characters, I could see myself starting to connect with them. But then, about half way through the book, things started going downhill. The chapters started getting shorter, yet covered twice as much action. Characters were introduced who were supposed to be leaders but were genuinely psychotic – but no one dealt with or acknowledged this. And badda-bang instalove! I was kinda shocked.

But it was about to get worse… bring in the bad science.

OK, I understand that most people are not scientists – but there were mistakes in this book that were the equivalent of writing, “the island of France” or “Earth’s second moon”. Things so blindly obvious, someone should have noticed them. I don’t necessarily think Sarah Crossan should have been responsible for spotting her scientific faux-pas, but someone. Anyone.

*Minor Spoilers*

For those of you who are doubting me, here’s an example. Breathe describes a world where, as the oxygen levels decrease, people start dropping like flies. Suddenly, graveyards are full, mass burial sites aren’t enough, so… people start burning the bodies.

*head desk* You cannot burn people in a low oxygen environment!! Flames need oxygen!! Human bodies are not super combustible! It’s basic chemistry that we worked out in the stone age.

I told two people this specific example, and both of them spotted the mistake immediately. Why didn’t an editor? I can only pray that that line did get cut from the final version… but doubt it.

*Even More Spoilery*

Another thing that made no scientific sense whatsoever was the rebel’s miraculous ability to breathe in a low oxygen atmosphere. It’s true that people who live in high-altitude areas develop higher red blood cell counts and can cope in less oxygenated atmospheres… but not the 6% oxygen levels of Breathe. This becomes even more unbelievable when you find out that all the rebels had to do to breathe like this was practice and throw in a few meditation sessions.

What’s sad is that science in Breathe didn’t need to be bad science. If a one-line explanation had been tossed in saying that humanity had evolved genetically to require less oxygen, I could have bought this. It’s science fiction, for goodness sakes! That Breathe masquerades as a scientifically sound novel is rather… off-putting.

*END Spoilers*

So, after all that, am I going to read the sequel Resist? Maybe. I know that Sarah Crossan is capable of writing a good book – there’s half of one right here in Breathe.

Review: Beastly by Alex Flinn

Review: Beastly by Alex FlinnBeastly by Alex Flinn
Published by HarperTeen
Pages: 304
Genres: Fairytale Re-tellings, Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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I am a beast. A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog, but a horrible new creature who walks upright – a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.
You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever – ruined – unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and a perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly beastly.

Before you read: Apparently Alex is a she. Huh. So, note that this review was written before Jan set me straight!

Thoughts: Alex Flinn was never a teenager. He went straight from 12 to 20. It’s true. How do I know? Well, I read his book Beastly.

Despite what some people may believe, writing about teenagers is like dealing with teenagers… not easy. You have to write about their hormone-fueled decisions without making them seem completely irrational. It’s really hard, and your “research” cannot be limited to watching She’s All That 30 times. Which is what Alex Flinn did… I can’t think of any other explanation.

Beastly just fell flat. Its characters were illogical, one-dimensional creatures, even though they were based off of the brilliant characters from the Beauty and the Beast tale. In short, Flinn’s Beauty is an idiot and his Beast a real ass. I mean, would the Beauty we all love – who loves her family as much as they love her – risk her future for a drug-addict Daddy? I think not. And would Beast ever purposefully lie to Beauty? No, because he’s a straight-forward ass… not a backstabbing one! *shakes fist* And don’t even get me started on the Beast’s entourage. I mean, what self-respecting teacher would condone kidnapping a teenage girl for some spoiled hermit? Seriously? Seriously?

Ok, so while Flinn completely missed the mark with his characters, there were some things that I liked in this book. I liked the fact that the novel is told from the Beast’s point-of-view. It’s a perspective I honestly had never considered. I also liked how Flinn transferred the tale to modern Manhattan – Beast goes to plastic surgeons looking for a cosmetic cure, and he dresses as a Muslim woman in order to go out in public… isn’t that just ingenious? Shame it didn’t make the characters any more likable.

So… I am giving this book 2.5 stars despite everything I’ve just written. Why? Well, it’s still Beauty and the Beast. And anything Beauty and the Beast is inherently brilliant – even when it misses the mark.

Bottom line? Not worth reading unless you’re a die-hard Beauty and the Beast fan. And even then…

Review: Hourglass by Claudia Gray

Review: Hourglass by Claudia GrayHourglass by Claudia Gray
Series: Evernight #3
Published by HarperCollins, HarperTeen
Pages: 256
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Bianca will risk everything to be with Lucas.

After escaping from Evernight, the vampire boarding school where they met, Bianca and Lucas seek refuge with Black Cross, an elite group of vampire hunters. Bianca must hide her supernatural heritage or risk certain death at its hands. But when Black Cross captures her friend—the vampire Balthazar—all her secrets threaten to come out.

Soon, Bianca and Lucas are on the run, pursued not only by Black Cross, but by the powerful vampires of Evernight. Yet no matter how far they run, Bianca can't escape her destiny. Bianca and Lucas have always believed their love could survive anything—but can it survive what's to come?

Thoughts: The one thing good thing I can say about Hourglass is that it is easy reading. Even when I wasn’t enjoying myself, I could get through the pages. But – honestly – that is the one and only good thing about this book.

Seriously. That’s it. But just because the book was readable, that doesn’t mean I’d recommend you actually read it. In Hourglass, all the things that had once merely annoyed me about Claudia Gray’s series amalgamated into 300+ pages of pure hell.

My problem with this novel – and the entire series, now that I think about it – is that it all revolves around the hideous Lucas/Bianca relationship. And guess what? I would pay money to have both of those characters killed. They are just so utterly and terribly self-involved – hideously self-involved. Every single waking thought that Bianca has revolves around Lucas… and yet, she seems more in love with being in love than she is with him. *spoilers* When Lucas is literally dying in her arms, is she thinking about him? Is she utterly distraught beyond recognition? No. She is comparing herself to Juliet watching Romeo die in her arms… seriously?? *end of spoilers* I mean, people complain about the Twilight series? Seriously? Bella is absolutely nothing compared to Bianca.

And, you know what, that would be fine if this were any other series. But in the Evernight world, Bianca and Lucas being together doesn’t just affect them – it affects everyone else too (although, mostly due to their stupidity and inability to form a plan – they could have found a nice island to live on if they had been more with it). Bianca and Lucas will commit crimes and condone murder in order to stay together. And I find that kind of selfishness absolutely loathsome. Your relationship is NOT more important than someone’s life. Full stop.

Bottom line? Even hardcore YA Paranormal Romance fans should stay far far away from this series.

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