Addictive

‘Escape from Witchwood Hollow’ – Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

4-star-rating

Escape from Witchwood Hollow - Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

Escape from Witchwood Hollow – Jordan Elizabeth Mierek

Everyone in Arnn – a small farming town with more legends than residents – knows the story of Witchwood Hollow: if you venture into the whispering forest, the witch will trap your soul among the shadowed trees.

After losing her parents in a horrific terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, fifteen-year-old Honoria and her older brother escape New York City to Arnn. In the lure of that perpetual darkness, Honoria finds hope, when she should be afraid.

Perhaps the witch can reunite her with her lost parents. Awakening the witch, however, brings more than salvation from mourning, for Honoria discovers a past of missing children and broken promises.

To save the citizens of Arnn from becoming the witch’s next victims, she must find the truth behind the woman’s madness.

How deep into Witchwood Hollow does Honoria dare venture?

I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When I started reading, I was a bit skeptical and thought that I would not enjoy this offering from Mierek. It opened very much like an American, young teenage fiction: a bit bland, slow to get started and, quite frankly, a bit of a hard slog for lack of interesting plot. However, after getting through the first few chapters and the story of Arnn begins to be told, I found that I couldn’t put this book down and ended up devouring the rest very quickly. It was, as my blog title states, simply, addictive.

I found myself drawn into Witchwood Hollow like the characters Mierek writes about. I too, wanted to escape the claustrophobic setting of the forest, but could not stop reading, desperate to find out what would happen to the characters. The story of Witchwood Hollow takes places over three separate time frames – Honoria’s 2001, the witch’s beginnings and Albertine. Mierek cleverly weaves their stories together and the links that are revealed throughout were a surprise to me, making this story even more enjoyable. The way time seems to slow in the forest appears to be reflected in the writings and, whilst this implies the story stagnates, it is completely the opposite: you are drawn into reading more without realising how much time has passed!

I really enjoyed reading this book and found the way the characters are all tied together at the end a great way to complete the story. I didn’t expect these revelations and this made it even more of a great read for me. I was surprised to see the cover depicts a character – perhaps, Honoria? – with pink hair as this is definitely not talked about in the novel (surely, such a distinctive feature would come up in conversation with her peers?) and it was certainly not how I imagined her. That being aside, this spooky read was a pleasant surprise after how it began in such a shaky manner.

The different layers in the story are intriguing. Were it not for the slow beginning, I would not have hesitated to give this a full five stars. Whilst it is a teenage fiction, I read past this and enjoyed the ghostly horrors that lay within the forest of Witchwood Hollow. If you do find yourself reading this, definitely persevere until Albertine reaches America: from then on, the pace really kicks off.

Not very original

‘The Gift’ – Alison Croggon

2-star-rating-1

The Gift - Alison Croggon

The Gift – Alison Croggon

Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child when her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, a gift that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true heritage and extraordinary destiny unfolds. Now she and her teacher, Cadvan, must survive a punishing and uncertain journey through a time and place where the dark forces they battle with stem from the deepest recesses of other-worldly terror.

So, from the blurb, you can expect to think this book is different to many fantasy books already out there. But, I was sadly mistaken. This book is so similar to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, that it just becomes frustrating. It took me ages to read The Gift and each time I picked it up, I was more saddened than the last that Croggon did not seem to write an original idea.

Ok, so let me give some examples. We have a journey that needs to happen, a pilgrimage through a fantastical world where Maerad and Cadvan are attacked by mystical creatures. They are taken to a secret world in the middle of a very large forest, meeting a race of elf-like people living in a beautiful city (sounds like a bit like the Elves in The Lord of the Rings, huh?). The final part of the novel is about Maerad trying to be accepted by the Bard council. And the leader turns out to be a corrupted Bard who has crossed paths with Maerad when she was a child. (Perhaps a bit like Sauruman in The Lord of the Rings?!) The book finishes with Maerad and Cadvan desperately trying to escape whilst chaos ensues, ending with the start of the next phase of their journey…. yeah, you get where I am going with this one.

Croggon began the novel with such promise and I was really excited to read this one; the trilogy has been sitting on my bookshelf for ages. But, as I started to see the links between the two plots, I grew disinterested in the plight of Maerad and Cadvan, and instead kept looking to see how many pages I had left to go. Why did I continue reading, if I was so disappointed? Aaah, because I was so curious to see how it would finish. In fact, the final few chapters started to get more interesting for me as Maerad is initiated and discovers the truth about how her mother died.

I will probably trudge through the next two books, to see how they run and whether Croggon develops more original material. As with any series, I am always keen to see how they pan out and what happens to the characters. However, if you are looking to read a fantasy novel, I would definitely steer clear of this. If you know about The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you will find yourself making comparisons between the two.

Redeems itself at the end

‘Mockingjay’ – Suzanne Collins

4-star-rating

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But she’s still not safe. A revolution is unfolding, and everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans – everyone except Katniss.

And yet she must play the most vital part in the final battle. Katniss must become their Mockingjay – the symbol of rebellion – no matter what the personal cost.

The final instalment to ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy, I found myself finally being able to complete this series without having seen all of the films! Interestingly, my response to the first half of the book (i.e, part one of the film), was the same as the film: quite a lot of talk and description that slowed the pace down considerably in comparison to the opening novel. However, the second part of ‘Mockingjay’ kept me guessing with its twists and turns; the ending had me physically gasping aloud as I could not see how the story would conclude.

There is a lot of focus on Katniss’s mental state, which the film certainly overlooked. Tormented by her role in the two Hunger Games, she still struggles dealing with the death she has caused and her now pivotal role in the rebellion again the Capitol. It was this that slowed the pace down but on reflection, was a key part to the story’s conclusion. For a seventeen-year-old girl, she definitely carries a lot of emotional baggage and her conflicting emotions towards Gale and Peeta have her searching inwardly in a bid to find peace with herself.

As I drew closer to the end of the novel, I initially felt the ending was becoming predictable and too simplistic for even a teenage audience. However, the final few chapters intensified the plot and Collins surprises readers with Katniss’s fragility and the Capitol’s downfall. Not wanting to reveal the ending, I could not believe how ‘The Hunger Games’ ended and applaud Collins for taking the bold step of not keeping characters alive just because of popularity/importance. I think this is what redeemed the story and, coupled with Katniss’s troubled state of mind, could not put down the book until I had reached its satisfying conclusion.

What was also refreshing about ‘Mockingjay’ was the fact it was not a similar plot to the first two books. Not having to read about another Hunger Games made the novel more enjoyable. But, Collins does continue to interweave the theme of playing games throughout, to the extent that at times I had to pause and think about what was being suggested as the story came to its end.

The explosive finish really caught my imagination. Vivid descriptions made it difficult not to imagine the Capitol’s eventual downfall as the rebels grow in power and, whilst the film adaptations mean you cannot but see Katniss as Jennifer Lawrence, the heroine she becomes is admirable and disturbing at the same time. I found myself always wishing she would be able to return to the humble young girl she was at the start of the series, but enjoyed reading how she attempted to deal with the pressures that being the Mockingjay gave.

This was a really enjoyable read and a series I would not hesitate to revisit in a few years time. Even after finishing it, I found myself haunted by parts of the story and I think this is what makes a solid read. Collins concludes ‘The Hunger Games’ series in a satisfying way, leaving no room for a further instalment, whilst at the same time giving her fans exactly what they deserve: an ending that you can sit and imagine other parts to the story.

An echo of the first

‘Catching Fire’ – Suzanne Collins

4-star-rating

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are still alive. Katniss should be relieved, but now there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol – a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

As the nation watches Katniss and Peeta, the stakes are higher than ever. One false move and the consequences will be unimaginable.

Following on from ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Catching Fire’ follows Katniss and Peeta in the aftermath of winning the Games. What I liked was the fact that little time has passed as Collins continues the story just where we left off. With the return of Effie and Haymitch plus new characters introduced, I found this novel very easy to pick up.

Unlike the first novel, Collins seems to focus more on Katniss and her internal battles. As she deliberates the fall out from defying the Capitol, readers witness her emotional turmoil in the desperation to protect the ones she loves. Whilst I enjoyed learning more about Katniss and her character, it did come with its downfall. This slows the pace compared to the first novel which did leave me feeling a little bored at times.

‘Catching Fire’ sees Katniss returns to the arena, battling in a special edition of the Games with Peeta, fighting against previous victors from the other Districts. I found this turn of events disappointing and not too dissimilar from the first novel. I would have preferred seeing more developments from the Capitol but instead was presented with what felt a replay of ‘The Hunger Games’. True, new characters and a different battleground meant that the challenges were unique, I couldn’t help but read with a strong sense of déjà vu. This left me feeling quite frustrated towards the end of the story and ready to see the finishing pages.

Would I recommend this? Well, if you enjoyed the first book then you should certainly read ‘Catching Fire’ to find out what happens next to Katniss. As long as you are prepared for a bit of repetition from the first book, you will probably find this an enjoyable read.

Spot on

‘The Hunger Games’ – Suzanne Collins

5-star-rating

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Winning will make you famous.
Losing means certain death.

In a dark vision of the near future, twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live TV show called the Hunger Games. There is only one rule: kill or be killed.

When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her sister’s place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

May the odds be ever in your favour.

I’ve been promising myself to read this ever since I saw the first film. Now, three films down and one to go, I have finally managed to get round to reading the first of this trilogy. Unsurprisingly, the film adaptation played in my head over the course of my reading, but this did not lessen my enjoyment as I rapidly finished this novel.

What I enjoyed most about this novel is the added detail that you just don’t get in the film. Learning more about the characters and their actions during the Hunger Games added depth to the plot and made the action more intense. In addition, the detail Collins goes into for the relationship between Peeta and Katniss was quite surprising for me as I didn’t feel this was portrayed so closely in the film. For me, it was this element that reinforced the novel’s young adult audience.

I really liked the relationship established between Rue and Katniss. It was very touching at times and has a clear impact on how Katniss plays the remainder of the Hunger Games. Collins portrays a different side of Katniss and perhaps it is this that sets up the development in her relationship with Peeta?

Having finally read the first in the series, I did not find ‘The Hunger Games’ disappointing. It delivered on every expected level and I would recommend this to anyone. If you have seen the film, you will not be disappointed by the original plot. If you are lucky enough to not know the story behind this trilogy, the originality and it’s characters will keep you hooked right until the very end.

When a story takes a life of its own

‘Inkdeath’ – Cornelia Funke

1-star-rating (1)

Inkdeath - Cornelia Funke

Inkdeath – Cornelia Funke

The fire-eater Dustfinger is dead, having sacrificed his life for his apprentice Farid’s, and now, under the rule of the evil Adderhead, the fairy-tale land is in bloody chaos, its characters far beyond the control of Fenoglio, their author. Even Elinor, left behind in the real world, believes her family to be lost – lost between the covers of a book.

Facing the threat of eternal winter, Mo inks a dangerous deal with Death itself. There yet remains a faint hope of changing the cursed story – if only he can fill its pages fast enough.

The final book in the trilogy, ‘Inkdeath’ follows in the same threads as the previous novels. Remaining in Inkworld, trouble escalates as it feels as if every man and his dog can write in new material to the living story. As such, it is only until the final showdown that peace is eventually restored.

I found this book equally tedious to the others and really struggled to read it. As such, I ended up dipping in and out of the book and it took me four weeks to get through it. However, this is not a total criticism: each time I revisited the book I found I had not lost touch with the plot and could easily continue where I left off. The character profiles at the back of the book were really helpful in this case, particularly as the cast keeps growing ever bigger! So, if you do find yourself lagging when reading ‘Inkdeath’, take comfort that this is one you can put to one side for a while.

I think I found Meggie and Dustfinger’s stories most enjoyable to follow. They were the most unpredictable and I found myself liking their characters more and more as I disliked Mo at the same rate. I was surprised at how the story concluded (it was wanting to know the ending that made me persevere reading this) but enjoyed the final closing chapter and the perspective Funke offers.

If you liked the other two books in this series then I imagine you would enjoy this one, just not as much. ‘Inkdeath’ is so lengthy, (in my opinion, unnecessarily so,) that it lacks the pace needed to keep you interested. There are some exciting moments in this but I feel Funke would have done better just leaving this story alone after the first novel. I’m glad I have now read this series but I can safely say I won’t be repeating this experience!

Double review

‘Darkness Trilogy’ – L. M. Justus

L. M. Justus

L. M. Justus

About the author:

Lisa Justus’ path to becoming an author took a circuitous route through the University of Waterloo where she earned a Bachelor of Mathematics, followed by jobs in quality assurance and technical writing at a high-tech company. With a keen interest in creative fiction, she wrote her first fantasy novel as part of NaNoWriMo as well as an early chapter book for her kids when they were younger. Welcome to the Darkness and Darkness Reigns are the first two books of the Darkness Trilogy, a young adult paranormal fantasy.

These days Lisa is busy writing her next novel, reading, finishing her basement, doing volunteer work, and trying to stay in shape by running somewhat regularly. She, her husband, and their three children live in Ottawa, Ontario.

Author links:

Facebook / Twitter / Web / Goodreads

‘Welcome to the Darkness’ (Book One)

3-star-rating

Welcome to the Darkness

Welcome to the Darkness

A typical teenager, seventeen-year-old Reed Hennessy doesn’t realize how lucky he is to lead a normal life until he loses everything, including his humanity. The attacker who slaughters his family and destroys their home turns out to be a vampire, a creature Reed had considered a myth.

Now a vampire himself, but with the unique ability to walk in sunlight, Reed struggles in the dark underworld he didn’t even know existed. His only two allies in his fight to stay alive are his reluctant mentor, Nathaniel, a vampire with over two hundred years’ worth of emotional baggage, and Sarah, a rookie cop with a secret ability of her own. 

Together, Reed and his companions face a harrowing, cross-country journey before stumbling into a plot which could mean the end of everything for humans and vampires alike.

Goodreads

Review:

This is an enjoyable, solid read and I found it very easy to get in to. What let the book down for me was the fact the story did not always “hang” together and I found some of the plot developments just a little bit unconvincing.

Undoubtedly, the plot of ‘Welcome to the Darkness’ moves rapidly which is a definite bonus with so many vampire stories available to read. Justus certainly puts a unique spin on vampires with features such as their saliva healing puncture wounds, going into a “death sleep” after feeding and Reed’s different abilities. This really kept me interested and I liked the originality that this gave. It didn’t take me long to get hooked into the story and I was surprised at how quickly I raced through it.

On the other hand, some parts of the plot are less convincing. The nativity of Sarah, Reed and the vampire hunters in taking down the vampire King was quite frustrating and I couldn’t quite believe how blinded they were to the obvious! I think this went hand in hand with character development: whilst Justus gives readers lots of information about the principle vampire characters, we are lacking such depth with Sarah and the other humans. Sarah is a cop who readily gives up her life to go with Reed without second thoughts and we barely hear anything about her missing her old way of life or what the consequences could be when she returned.

One other thing that bugged me about this read was how there were jumps in time but this wasn’t reflected in the formatting. I agree this might have been because I was reading a review copy so hope this is taken on board. The lack of indication that significant time had passed just added to my feelings that the story became a little far fetched.

However, that being said, I did enjoy reading ‘Welcome to the Darkness’ and found Nathaniel’s character quite amusing, particularly with some of the out-modes words he uses. The distance he keeps from others gradually changes over the story and I liked how he grew to feel protective over Reed.

This is a pretty good read and I look forward to reading the next in the series. I wonder whether ‘Welcome to the Darkness’ is more of a prequel, laying the foundations for the next novel. The blurb looks promising for the next book so I look forward to making the comparisons.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

‘Darkness Reigns’ – Book Two

3-star-rating

Darkness Reigns

Darkness Reigns

New York City is a wasteland. More than eight million people are dead or worse…infected.

After their failed attempt to stop the spread of a virus that turns people into zombie-like, human-vampire hybrids, Reed Hennessy and his ragtag crew are scrambling to stay alive. To make matters worse, the human authorities are close to proving the existence of vampires and blaming them for the disaster in New York.

Their storm of trouble is already spinning out of control when an old enemy reappears to issue a challenge–an ultimatum that will mean certain death for at least one member of Reed’s group. With their mountain of problems growing exponentially and a host of enemies closing in, they flee for their lives, desperate for a miracle. Will they survive and avoid the world’s scrutiny, or will darkness prevail?

Review:

Continuing straight where ‘Welcome to the Darkness’ concludes, this follow-on novel follows in the same vein. This time the action moves away from New York to Montreal as the gang attempt to leave behind the devastation caused by the vampire King of New York.

I certainly found this book better than the first but still felt that there was more plot and character development needed. Once again I found myself distrusting the motives of key characters, such as the King of Montreal and hoped there was more betrayal than what was eventually offered. I think my imagination added to my enjoyment of this story because I hungered for that extra depth and I found it a shame that Justus couldn’t quite deliver on this score.

The novel’s blurb reminded me of zombie films like ’28 Days Later’ and ‘Resident Evil’ but there was minimal focus on what has happened to the citizens of New York. I was hoping this would be more pivotal to the plot but with the virus killing off the humans-turned-zombies in a matter of days, the author neatly puts this out of focus, instead moving forwards with Reed and Nathaniel’s quest of escaping from the Queen of San Jose’s threats.

There were some unexpected twists and turns in this story and I enjoyed following Sarah’s character, particularly in the last third of the book. As Reed gets used to being a vampire, it is clear that he still desires to be human again and this is what sets readers up for the final book in the trilogy.

This book was given another three stars because there was still opportunity for plot development. As this wasn’t quite there throughout the story, it became a very quick read to get through. I guess this makes it more ideal for the teenage/young adult readership and can imagine they would enjoy it more. But, from an adult perspective, I think this was an average read and good for a lazy afternoon.

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Buy links:

Amazon / B&N

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