Natalie's Book Pile

Natalie's Book Pile

What can I say… I love to read and I am trying to write novels myself.  I appreciate good characters and authors that have the wonderful ability to create new worlds for me to discover. I can be critical and candour when it comes to reviews, but I hope that my honesty is more helpful than hurtful.

3 Stars
Sand Runner, by Vera Brook



Sand Runner is Vera Brook’s debut novel and follows the story of Kai, a teenage boy growing up in a dystopian future where the world of athletics has taken a dark turn.  In Brook’s futuristic landscape, 3D printing is used to create virtually everything, including houses and food.  Her novel paints an amplified picture of our throw-away society and feels like a warning for our not too distant future. 


In Kai’s world, it has become a social faux pas to talk about repairing anything.  If something breaks, don’t fix it, print a new one!  That includes body parts.  For the right price, 3D printing can give you upgrades on everything, including your face, your hands—your feet.    


Enter the athletes.  The Olympics are long forgotten.  It’s all about the No Limits Race.  Sponsors seek out athletic talent and offer them a chance to compete in a 10-day race through various environments, designed to take the runners to the extreme.  Here’s the rub: every participant must go through “modifications” in the form of bionic surgeries, turning them into cyborg super-humans.  So, it’s no surprise that the sponsors all work for 3D printing companies.  In the Race, everyone has an ulterior motive. 


Marketed as a YA dystopian sci-fi, Sand Runner should appeal to fans of books like The Hunger Games and Uglies.



Vera Brook’s story is easy to read and well-written.  Its style of writing follows suit with other contemporary YA novels.  The language gets straight to the point.  There’s plenty of action from the beginning, and the pace kicks into high gear when the Race begins.  Brook introduces us to a solid male lead in Kai.  He has his flaws, his inflated ego being one of them, but it’s probably his obsession with the most popular girl in town that makes him more believable.  YA novels often feature awkward, social outcasts as their heroes.  So, it’s refreshing to read about an average teenage boy who is confident, surrounds himself with plenty of friends, and is ruled by testosterone more than anything. 


However, Brook’s characters lack depth.  There are occasions when her attention to pacing wins over character development; therefore, the reader loses out on spending more quality time with the heroes, Kai and Emily.  Perhaps it’s because there are too many points of view: the Runner, the Agent, the Sponsor, the Reporter and the Printmaker, and the narrative is spread too thin.  So, the enrichment of Kai and Emily, as well as their romance, fall short of what they deserve. 


But, on the whole, Brook’s novel is a good read.  She takes the time to describe stunning settings in detail (Kai’s desert town, for example) without disrupting the flow of her narrative.  And her story, as applies to most of the dystopian variety, serves as a means for social commentary and holds a mirror to our society.  That aside, it stands on its own as an engaging novel.  It has the makings of a great series, and I’ll probably be purchasing Vera Brook’s next adventure.



5 Stars
Origami at its Finest
By Charlie N. Holmberg The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Series) [Paperback] - Charlie N. Holmberg The Glass Magician - Charlie N. Holmberg The Master Magician (The Paper Magician Book 3) -  Charlie Holmberg

The Paper Magician books include: The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician and The Master Magician, written by Charlie N. Holmberg.


These three books follow Ceony Twill, a turn-of-the-century (last century) young woman who is thrown into an apprenticeship with an eccentric paper magician, Emery Thane.  Of course she doesn’t want the job.  I mean, who wants to have the ability to enchant paper?  No, she wanted to be a smelter, a magician who can manipulate metal.  To be honest she would have taken anything other than paper.  But she comes from a poor family with no connections, so her magical school didn’t really feel the need to take her desired subject into consideration.


Ceony Twill is whip-smart and a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps sort of girl.  She learns quickly that paper magic isn’t so dowdy and useless after all.  Instead, it is whimsical, imaginative and unusually clever.  So too is her tutor, Magician Thane, who it turns out has a bit of a dark and sordid past that mainly revolves around his ex-wife.  Said ex-wife is an excisioner—a magician who uses human blood and body parts as their weapons of choice—and in a fit of revenge, steals Magician Thane’s heart right out of his chest.  Ceony embarks on a dangerous chase to locate her tutor’s heart and return it to him before the magical spell keeping him alive wilts and she loses him forever.


The following two books, without giving anything away, involve more magicians and more evil excisioners, hell bent on ruling the world of magic.  Ceony has to find other creative—and yes, magical—ways to keep the people she loves safe… and alive.


Boy oh boy, did I love these books.  Holmberg is a wonderful writer with an effortless hand at world-building.  She doesn’t spend page after page of over-describing every aspect of her unusual, magical universe, but rather leads the reader into it and allows us to fill in the gaps.  She never overcomplicates things.  Even her writing style is to-the-point, with the perfect balance of old-fashioned syntax and a modern approach to story-telling. 


Her characters are compelling.  Ceony is cute, but not beautiful, kind yet feisty.  Magician Thane is quiet and thoughtful, but unusually withdrawn and insular.  The baddies, the excisioners that is, are truly cruel and blood thirsty enough to send chills up anyone’s spine.  And then there’s the magic… oh the magic!  Holmberg sets up the magical rules of her world early on and ensures that every scene, every chapter, includes at least a dash it.  However, rules are meant to be broken and it’s clear from the end of the first book that Ceony will be the one to do magic that no one believed possible. 


I would recommend this book series to anyone who loves fantasy, historical novels (especially of the Victorian variety) and romance.  But don’t expect any corset-ripping.  It’s pretty obvious from early on that sex scenes aren’t Holmberg’s style, and it might have something to do with the books being set in the extremely sexually-repressed Victorian era. 


I dare you to read the first book and not be hooked.  


4 Stars
If magic was real, then teenagers would still be just as whiny.
The Complete Cate Tiernan Sweep Series Books 1-15 in Five Volumes [Book of Shadows, Coven, Blood Witch, Dark Magick, Awakening, Spellbound Calling, Changeling, Strife, Seeker, Origins, Eclipse, Reckoning, Full Circle, Night's Child] - C. Tiernan, Cate Tiernan

    This series of YA mini novels contains 15 books in total.  They mainly follow the story of Morgan, a 16-year-old American girl who discovers that she is a blood witch (witch by birth) and possesses an unusual amount of power.  Through the series, the reader journeys with Morgan as she discovers her power and the dark past of her ancestors.  Their past quickly becomes her nightmare as she is targeted by a dangerous and powerful coven of witches, intent on using her power even at the expense of her life.

    Thrilling stuff for any young adult, right?  For the most part, it is.  Tiernan’s style of writing is typical of most YA novels.  It’s told from the perspective of teenagers, so it definitely has a young, modern voice that is easy to read and follow.  It also has many elements that are practically essential in YA novels: first loves, true loves, love triangles and a whole lot of misunderstandings that are blown way out of proportion.  I found that many of the more trivial plot points (best friends falling out over a boy, aforementioned love triangles, etc.) were forced at times.  Perhaps I was too sensible as a teenager, but I hardly remember any of my friends or I being so damn stupid.  If you prefer more action and less teenage angst, than you may find some of the books in this series tedious.  

    One of the more frustrating aspects of the books was the sheer amount of recapping.  I’m aware that many series writers do this simply to remind the reader of what happened in the last book, especially if the books had been published with a good year or two in between.  I personally hate it.  I, along with most readers, am capable of recalling the gist of the previous book as well as characters without any help.  That is if the writer has done their job in the first place and made the characters and environments vivid and memorable—Tiernan accomplishes this.  If something is essential, then the writer should mention it, but in the Sweep series I was dragged through paragraph after paragraph of recounting characters, what they look like, what Morgan’s relationship is with said character, as well as places too.  Tiernan went as far as to remind the reader of why Morgan named her car, Das Boot in almost every single book.

    This becomes most apparent in the final book of the series, Night’s Child.  Here, the voice of the story is changed to third-person—as opposed the first-person POV from the previous books—and we find Morgan all grown up with a family of her own.  At first I was so intrigued by this bold move, I was itching to read it.  Not to mention it is the longest book in the series.  What I found was a substantial amount of story retelling.  Tiernan manages to weave the recapping in with her characters’ dialogue, which of course led to a lot of monologues that I skimmed through as fast as I could as they tended to drag down the pace of the book.  

    In spite of all of this, I really did enjoy the series.  The character development spanned decades and there was a great deal of imaginative Witch lore weaved throughout.  Not only that, but Tiernan clearly put a plethora of research and effort into creating her stories.  Her knowledge of Wiccan practises was used with a great deal of respect, even though she is not a Wiccan herself.  On top of that, she dropped in a number of British characters and does a faithful job at writing their dialogue.  As an American who has lived in Britain for 13 years, I know that this must have involved a lot of care and attention to detail.  She didn’t use any half-assed research, even down to her invented quotes from ‘historical’ books on witchcraft, which were well-executed.

    I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys books from writers like J.L. Smith, Kelley Armstrong or even Stephanie Meyer.  But what makes Tiernan stand out was her enthusiasm for history, anscestry and how our family's past makes us who we are.        

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
1.5 Stars
It's like the film 'Ever After' but with some dead people walking around that occasionally become a nuisance.
Ella, The Slayer - A. W. Exley

         I’m beginning to realise that my recent taste in novels has been pretty horrendous. I think I need to stray away from the bargain bin in Amazon and stop believing the overall rating that books are given on that site.


Case in point: Ella, the Slayer. Plot: Cinderella vs Zombies. Be warned, this contains a couple of minor spoilers.  


Oh dear. This book was excruciating to read at times. So, let’s go over the details. I’ve been dying to do this since I turned the first page.


First of all, the author, A.W. Exley is not a terrible writer. Hang on, let me clarify. Exley has a good writing style. She captures the post WWI era very well in both her use of language and milieu. However, I do feel that she falls short by setting her story in Somerset, England. First of all, I get the impression that she’s never actually been there. She describes the countryside in a way that one would if they’d seen a lot of Jane Austen adaptations. Not to mention, her country folk don’t sound like they’re from the area. Also, when it comes to her characters colloquialisms, no distinction is made between the working class and the noblemen (the whole English class system plays a massive role in her story BTW). The kitchen staff sound as well-educated and non-descript as her Dukes and Ladies. The only difference seems to be that the working class folk are friendlier. And apart from the odd English-sounding slang thrown in every now and again, her book could have been set in Vancouver or Connecticut.


Moving on, I need to discuss Exley’s tendency to waffle because this becomes evident from the very start. Yup, she begins her book with a quick history lesson. You know, about what the world was like for Ella growing up, and then the war, and then the zombies… so uh, where are the zombies exactly? Oh right, one of them will show up in a little while, but you have to finish several pages of backstory first before you get your dessert. Ugh. She should have started the book off with a bang and had Ella beheading a zombie from the get go. The reader didn’t need all that info-dumping to understand what was going on. Especially since Exley goes into more detail/info-dumping as you get further into the book. Pretty much every chapter starts off with Ella’s reflective thoughts on life, love and how it’s crap being her. So, if you’re one that has little patience for endless paragraphs of a teenage girl’s droning on and on about her life, just do yourself a favour and skip this book entirely.


BTW, Exley likes to repeat herself… a lot. So, once you’ve gotten through a few paragraphs of Ella’s thoughts, be ready for those same thoughts to be regurgitated later on. Just FYI.


OK, so after all of this, surely it can’t get any worse. Oh it does indeed. Believe it or not, but Exley manages to create an ass-kicking, Katana-wielding, tomboy (who also happens to be pretty—duh), and then tears her down into a snivelling, passive weakling. Why? Only Exley can answer that. But the scene where Ella’s evil stepmother manages to lash her until she is unable to stand played heavily on the entire story. I mean, how the hell did two spoiled brats who sleep all day (Ella’s stepsisters) manage to hold Ella down in order for her to receive the lashing? Ella, who has been wielding a Katana since she was a kid and who has killed hundreds of zombies in less than a year, was held down and—get this—didn’t even try and fight back. AAARGH! I was so angry with Exley for writing this scene. Maybe she wanted to show how evil Elizabeth was, I don’t know, but she ruined Ella for the sake of her villain. After that, every moment that Ella spent being the kick-ass heroine, I just didn’t buy it.


But, hey, it’s OK that Ella was beaten senseless because she only takes a few hours to recuperate and then attends the Duke’s ball where she dances the night away. Forget about how a good lashing would send most grown men to the ICU. Oh no, not Ella. She’s got like… vampire blood in her or something.  


Good lord, this book was so bad. I’m glad it’s over. I will not be reading the sequels. I probably won’t be reading anything else written by Exley either.  


Expect lots of this


And not so much of this



4 Stars
Divergent Series, Books 1-3
Divergent Series Complete Box Set - Veronica Roth

This is probably the only time that I will say that the films were better than the books. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the series. The characters were painfully real and made their strange, dystopian world more believable. I’m definitely the type of reader that finds character development to be my make-or-break aspect of a book. With that said, I would recommend this series to anyone and everyone. Even people that don’t like YA Dystopian novels.


The main character, Tris is not a typical teenage girl. She’s quiet, temperamental and has a hero-complex. And to my surprise (no doubt to the surprise of all YA fans), the heroine is NOT beautiful. OK, so she’s not a stinker either, but she’s not one of those female leads that has glowing skin and flowing locks that make all the boys weak in the knees. She draws attention by her actions and bravery, an important trait for any lead to have. Her love interest, Four, also possesses enough strength and mystery to keep the reader interested. Together, these two characters make this book series great.


Now to the plot…


I’ll try and explain without any spoilers. Essentially, Tris and Four live in Chicago several generations after the fall out of a devastating World War. Their city is walled-off to the outside world, so they believe that they are the only people left. No one is allowed to leave. Inside the city, the people have been separated into groups—called Factions—based on their strongest character trait. Tris and Four have chosen Dauntless, a Faction that advocates bravery and strength. There, they learn that the leaders of another Faction is hunting Divergents, people who have tested positive for more than one faction.




Don’t worry, it makes a lot more sense when you start reading. However, the complexity of their world is made even more complex when it comes to the testing done within each Faction. This is where the film takes the cake. In the book, the testing done for Dauntless initiates just doesn’t make much sense. In it, Tris is given a serum that allows her to live out her worst fears. While in her dream landscape, she is given the opportunity to conquer her fears. Here’s where we get to the stumbling block. In it, all she has to do is lower her heart rate and the simulation adjusts, moving onto another fear. So, for example, when she and Four are in his landscape, on top of a tall building, all they have to do is jump to move onto the next fear. Huh? So wait, is this book telling me that in order to conquer my fear of heights, all I have to do is plummet to my death? Yeah, I don’t get it either. Luckily, neither did the filmmakers, so they did away with this snag in the plot.


There were two more books in the series which I can’t go into without spoiling EVERYTHING. But I can say that more devious characters are revealed, mainly in the form of power-hungry adults that use the naivety of the young heroes to their benefit. But this story isn’t about young-versus-old. Rather it touches on a human tendency to create enemies out of strangers for being different—a topic that gets everyone’s backs up. The main characters fight for equality, for freedom, so of course the reader roots for them until the very end. There’s plenty of action and violence that will keep you reading and the complicated love story between Tris and Four compliments the rest of the plot, never overshadowing the bigger picture. The language of the text itself is straight-forward, like the characters, so it’s easy to read. Don’t expect any poetic prose or preaching—something that most will appreciate.  It's also a story that has plenty of quotable lines like, 'Faction before blood,' or 'Be brave.'


I would recommend this series to anyone, so long as you haven’t seen the films first. If you have, don’t expect to read the books and gain more insight, except when it comes to the more minor characters.

2 Stars
Pretty, Perfect People and Blue Hair... No Thanks!
Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy) by Taylor, Laini (2012) Paperback - Laini Taylor

This book has divided me and I’m not sure what to make of it. It has all the makings of a typical YA fantasy: female protagonist, magic and the all-important soul mate in the form of a devastatingly handsome boy. What sets it apart from the others? The writing style. Laini has a wonderful talent for words. She manages to infuse the perfect amount of both snappy, modern language and mixes it with a welcome amount of poetic romance. On top of that, the story itself eventually (after many many chapters of complete nonsense) becomes a good one, filled with twists that kept me reading until the end.


However, the main character lets the book down. The first thing that we learn about Karou is that she’s a really cool 17-year-old who lives in Prague and attends an art school with a bunch of other equally cool, bohemian-type kids. Then, we find out that she’s the unrequited love interest of an older street performer who’s like, so totally gorgeous. Oh yeah, did I mention that she’s so totally gorgeous too? On top of all that, she’s an amazing artist who draws everything she sees to perfection and speaks over 20 languages. No wait, there’s more. She has a black belt and never worries about money (i.e. She’s rich). And then there’s her hair, which is mentioned and described in detail so often, I’m wondering if it’s going to have its own spin-off series. Good god, I’m struggling to find any aspect of this character that I or any other reader can relate to.


At one point in the storey, I found myself warming up to her, especially when she meets her love interest for the first time. But that good work was undone with the excruciating chapter 21 (it really was a big pile of BS). After that, I became angry that I had wasted my money with this story. The last quarter of the book improved as this was the section that contained aforementioned ‘twists’. But, will I be purchasing the sequel? Will I endure another 300 pages of Karou and her hair? Categorically, no. However, Laini’s skills and style has made me sit up and take notice of her. I will not object to reading some of her other stories, that is if she is able to create a main character whose personality is not so overshadowed by her infallible perfectness.

2 Stars
Shadows and Light
Shadows and Light - Melissa Haag

Review of Shadows and Light, by Melissa Haag


This book is a series of YA novellas. Each story is told through the perspective of a young woman in their late teens finding themselves under the protection of handsome men. The first story stars Phoebe, a girl on the run from a couple of psychos that want to kill her. The reason why was kept from the reader until… well, I don’t think it was ever properly explained. That was the frustrating part. Every fantastical element of the story was nothing short of vague. There was lots of talk of light and dark and wells and flames—ugh. I just didn’t get it. I realised that the hook of this story was the murder of Phoebe’s mother, but a proper explanation for this unsolved mystery was never fully realised. That’s probably because Melissa Haag’s intention was to redirect the story to revolve more around Phoebe’s romantic feelings for the hero, William. So, my advice to the writer is that in the future, don’t cloak your love story in mystery when it’s pretty clear that you don’t know what to do with it. Stick to the romance. It was the only aspect of this novella that wasn’t plagued with ambiguity.



The second story was a big improvement—the plot actually made sense. It followed Ema, a young woman living in a world where warlocks, witches and werewolves were real and acknowledged by mainstream society. The main character was likeable and funny, so already it was easier to get on board with this quirky little story. The hero, an emotionally unstable werewolf, was also fun to read. However—and that’s a big however—Ema’s father was utterly ridiculous and not in any way realistic. What doting father would encourage their daughter to travel across the country with a complete stranger? Emma’s father, that’s who.   It became very evident that his purpose was to not be a real person at all, but merely a catalyst for Haag’s second attempt at supernatural romance.


The final story also involved werewolves and followed Gillian, an immature and petulant young woman who is forced by her father to relocate to the middle of nowhere in order to hide her away from a crazy stalker. Her father leaves her alone in a house with another total stranger (I’m seeing a pattern here), but it’s OK because he’s hot, like the other leading men in Haag’s stories. Sensing my sarcasm yet? Of course I find this entire set-up to be as ridiculous and unrealistic as the stories that came before it, and the saving grace of the previous story was not the case here. The main character was so unlikable, I couldn’t understand why the hero took any notice of her.



Judging by this little collection, it seems that Haag loves a good romance and loves a good YA fantasy, but she struggles to tie the two together. Her character’s actions don’t make a damn bit of sense except when it comes to her leading men and leading ladies’ explosive sexual attraction towards one another. She creates characters with well-defined gender roles (strong boy protects weak girl) with exception of her paternal characters, who often tend to indulge their selfish daughter’s whims and encourage strange young men to live with their teenage girls unsupervised.


But what annoys me the most about Haag’s writing style is the sheer tediousness of it. Case in point: Phoebe does her laundry. Haag takes her time writing this scene, down to the smaller details like Phoebe placing a towel beneath the drying rack in order to catch any drips from her drenched clothes. Seriously? Does any of this have to do with the complex story and characters that she introduced to the reader from the get-go? Nope. There are many, many more scenes in her stories that could/should have been taken out (her characters take an unusual amount of showers and not the sexy kind) and the sheer repetition of every passing day told in minute detail should have been whittled down to the more important scenes where the story actually progressed in some way. After all, these are novellas. She doesn’t have much time to tell a story, so it’s best to leave out the scene where Gillian cleans her room. Much of Haag’s writing feels like monotonous fillers in between more interesting bits, once again showing me that Haag struggles with the story-telling aspect of writing. She is talented when it comes to hooking her reader within the first few paragraphs, but it becomes clear that she doesn’t really know what to do after that.