Discussion post: Reading outside your comfort zone

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When it comes to reading, I’d say I have quite eclectic tastes. I’m just as happy reading literary fiction as I am epic fantasy. I’ve always got time for a good thriller or crime novel and if I hear about a great new dystopian or post-apocalyptic book, I’ll buy it straight away.

That said, there are a number of genres that in general, I don’t tend to read. This includes poetry, non-fiction, autobiographies and books that are too focused around war or long-drawn out battles. I’m also not a huge fan of young adult contemporaries.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule. I recently read and really enjoyed When Breath Becomes Air, a memoir by neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi. I do enjoy character driven novels set in the time period of WWI or WWII, just not those that are overly focused on the technicalities of battles. I really enjoyed Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which looks at a real life crime and its repercussions. I’m also hoping to explore poetry more in the future and have heard that Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey is a good collection to start off with.

Sometimes when browsing through other book blogs, I see reviews of books or lists of new releases that sound great or that have amazing beautiful covers – even though they aren’t in a genre I usually read. I also hear a lot of hype about particular books in the blogosphere, particularly YA contemporaries, that makes me wish that I’d read something and could join in the conversation. This can sometimes tempt me in, but a part of me is still always wary of investing in something if I know there’s a high chance it won’t be for me.

In the long run, I do think it’s best to understand your own likes and dislikes, and to accept that they might well be different from other peoples. There’s nothing wrong with trying to read outside of your genre every once in a while, especially if it’s something that’s been recommended to you, but I personally think I’d rather focus my time on genres that I know I’m more likely to enjoy based on past experiences.

What are your views on this? Are you an adventurous reader? Do you feel sometimes feel pressured to read books that aren’t generally your go-to genre or do you know what you like and stick to it?

Flame in the Mist – Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the MistThe story: Mariko is on her way to be married to a member of the royal family when her carriage is attacked and her companions murdered. Disguised as a boy, she sets out to find and infiltrate the notorious Black Clan, defend her family’s honour and discover who wants her dead and why. At the same time, her twin brother will stop at nothing to find her again, while others are scheming away in the background to manipulate events to suit their own agendas.

My thoughts: Mariko is a strong main character, and over the course of the novel she undergoes a real transformation. Disguised in a male dominated environment, the characteristics she was always taught to value above all others are useless and she has to learn from scratch the practical skills that others take for granted. As the novel progresses, she also has to come to terms with various home truths about herself and the world she was brought up in, casting off her privileges to become her own person for the first time in her life.

As a female in feudal Japan, she feels that her life has been mapped out for her based on duty and honour. She feels that her gender has her boxed into a corner with no other options available. However, her experiences and the characters that she meets help her to redefine herself, her relationships with the people around her and her place in the world. Continue reading

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

Red RisingThe story:
Set in the distant future, where the human race is divided by a rigid class system of colours, colonies of Red miners toil under the surface of Mars, harvesting natural elements that will terraform its surface and make it an inhabitable environment in the future. Sixteen year old Darrow is one of these Reds, born underground and raised to risk his life on a daily basis. Food is scarce and life expectancy is short. The rules are enforced by a strict hierarchical class system that’s preceded over by the Gold’s – supposedly superior to all other colours both physically and mentally. When Darrow discovers that his life is built on a lie, he’s given a dangerous mission to integrate himself into the very heart of Gold society.

My thoughts:
Darrow is sent to the Institute, where young Gold’s play deadly games to win power. It’s a trial by fire that is designed to push them to the limits and teach them how to wage war and become the leaders of tomorrow. Weakness isn’t tolerated and not everyone will make it through. Parallels could be drawn to the Hunger Games, but it’s a very different type of competition. The aim here is for power and ultimate victory – achieved through intellect and strategy and the ability to command their peers.

Darrow is a great character. He’s definitely not perfect – he’s reckless, angry and overly bold. He’s smart but he also shows that he can be ruthless and brutal. This means that he’s not always a particularly likeable character, but you still end up rooting for him all the same. Throughout the book he goes through some intense challenges, questioning his own identity, who to trust and what actions can be justified for the greater good. Continue reading

Reviewing ‘Angelfall’ by Susan Ee

In Susan Ee’s ‘Angelfall’, the world has come to an end. Violent armies of angels have taken over the earth, destroying anyone who stands in their way. On the ground, street gangs run the cities. Food and other supplies are scare and people are resorting to the most extreme measures to stay alive. Angel parts are valuable currency and secret resistances are building.

As well as wreaking havoc on earth, the angels are also stealing young children away from their families. No-one knows where they go, but they are never seen again. Following a chance encounter with a group of angels, Penryn’s younger sister is taken. Determined to find her, no matter what the cost, all that Penryn has to go on is a fallen angel left behind after the conflict, Raffe.

It was quite refreshing to have a lead character in this dystopian/YA genre that is just a normal person. Penryn isn’t ‘special’, she’s not ‘the Chosen One’ and she doesn’t develop special powers. She’s just a girl that has to adapt to extreme circumstances. There is, of course, a romantic element to the story, but for a lot of the book she relies on her own strengths and wits to stay alive and to get out of trouble. She’s not overly mollycoddled and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.

Although the enemy here are angels, there isn’t a strong religious element. God isn’t present, he ‘talks’ through one representative. However, many of the angels seem to be agnostic and doubt whether God exists at all. They are very much a warrior tribe, and they should be seen as one.

I did have a few minor issues with this book. I understand that world that Penryn and her family are living in is supposed to be a war zone. Still, I find it hard to believe that in just a few short weeks people would have resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. Penryn makes her way into the woods, which are still full of animals, relatively quickly from where she is. She also finds a stash of food in an office building at one point, suggesting that there is food to be found still. So the repeated mentions of cannibals felt like they were added in more for dramatic effect than anything else.

Some of the language and descriptions were a bit overdone for my liking. At some points the dialogue didn’t seem to flow as it should, and it felt like the author was trying a little bit too hard to be witty. Plus, as with pretty much all YA books, there is the typical instant and overwhelming physical attraction to the romantic lead. That said though, it’s a pretty good effort, and I’ll probably be reading the rest of the series.

‘Fallen’ by Lauren Kate

FallenAfter a horrific accident that destroyed Luce’s life, she lands at a reform school, which is predictably full of oddballs, misery and strict rules.

But the second Luce sees fellow student Daniel, she can’t shake the feeling that she’s met him before. She’s haunted by a sense of déjà vu, and she can’t seem to stay away from him. He, on the other hand, seems to want nothing to do with her.

Soon though, circumstances conspire to throw them together, and it becomes clear that the two of them have a past that goes back far longer than Luce can remember. As Luce searches for answers, the stakes continue to get higher and more dangerous at every turn.

While the idea was good, there were a few inconsistencies in ‘Fallen’ that I couldn’t really get my head around. Daniel and Luce have known each other before, time and time again, that’s clear from the opening pages. But while Luce is ignorant of their past each time they meet, Daniel has the full knowledge of what’s come before. It’s no surprise then when they meet again at reform school. But Daniel is there first. And if he’s lived so many amazing lives in the past, I couldn’t help but wonder what he was doing in somewhere so miserable.

The same goes for all of the other supernatural beings – and there are many! Why immortal creatures would choose to spend their time going to one of the dreariest sounding schools around, when they clearly have other, more interesting options, is beyond me.

The setting itself is very atmospheric – with a school with an onsite graveyard, a gym in a converted church, a huge gothic library, permanent mist and lingering smell – but it felt a little clichéd. Continue reading

‘Smiler’s Fair’ by Rebecca Levene

Smiler’s Fair is the first book in a new fantasy series by Rebecca Levene.

Many years after a war between the moon god and the sun goddess tore the world apart, people are still living with the after effects. Prophecies are rife, gods are many and the people are restless. Darkness and shadows bring the worm men, servants of the moon, who will destroy everyone in their path. To avoid them, great floating cities grace the countries lakes. Those that live on land have wheels beneath their homes, constantly moving onwards.

Smiler’s Fair is a huge mobile community, setting up shop and selling any number of vices to the people that flock through its gates, before moving along before the worm men can come. It’s rarely in the same place twice, but it attracts a boiling pot of cultures, races and desires. For the characters in this book, it’s a hiding place, a fighting ground, a way of life or a form of employment. Prophecies, fear and anger drive them together, acting as a catalyst for a war of gods and men that have the potential to change the shape of the world forever.

The author has created a huge new fantasy world here, which should have any number of possibilities. There are numerous different clans and kingdoms all brought together in one vast landscape, taking us on a journey from the snow and mountains to deserts and open plains. We’re introduced to a whole range of characters and narrators with constantly changing fortunes. There’s also an overarching supernatural element that gives events a wider context, helping to drive the story forward. All the ingredients are there. But unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to expectations.

My main issue with this book is that there seem to be lots of random unconnected stories that seem to have any relevance to the overall story. The different strands felt disjointed and never really came together. There were too many narrators and it felt more like several different books. Having fewer viewpoints would have helped. As it stands, it got confusing and hard to keep track of who everyone was. There wasn’t enough of a central story to bring everything together.

I liked Dae Hyo. I bought into his back story and felt like he really fitted the world that he was in. I liked the son of Nethmi’s husband. He showed some real character and turned out to be much more than he seemed at first. I also liked Krish, he seemed to have real potential to evolve as a character and I would have liked to read more about him.

But I thought the sections with Nethmi and Marvan were almost superfluous, and they could easily have been incorporated as minor character in other people’s stories. The ending would have worked equally well without them in it and it felt like all the time I spent reading about them was a bit of a waste of my time.

I didn’t particularly like many of the characters. There was a lot of time spent talking about their vices or how physically attractive they were, but very little on their redeeming qualities. Some, like Eric, may get more interesting later in the series, but it felt like many stories had only just been begun when the book ended.

To me, this felt like half a book. I didn’t race to the end, more like I turned the last page and thought – ‘Oh. Is that it?’. I was constantly waiting for it to really get started. Maybe this is a tactic to get readers to buy the next book in the series when it comes out, but if it is, it hasn’t worked on me.

Chrysler Szarlan’s ‘The Hawley Book of the Dead’

photoReve Dyer and her husband Jeremy run a successful magic act in Vegas – until the day that a bullet trick goes horribly wrong, leaving Jeremy dead and Reve suspected of his murder. But as Reve attempts to comfort her grieving family, burned photographs of her and her three daughters going about their daily lives start to appear. Fearing for their safety, Reve flees home to Hawley Five Corners.

A village abandoned by its inhabitants during the 1920’s, Hawley Five Corners offers a safe haven. But Hawley Five Corners is haunted by secrets, rumours and unnatural disappearances, and being back in the place of her ancestors raises more questions that Reve isn’t yet ready to face. For the women in Reve’s family each possess a magical gift – an ability to find lost things, to heal or in Reve’s case, to disappear, temporarily slipping behind the veil between worlds. The more time that Reve and her daughters spend in the village, the more they start to understand their personal history and the mysterious powers of the Hawley Book of the Dead. Continue reading