Author Archives: Sapphire

About Sapphire

Hi, I'm 23 years old. I enjoy reading fantasies, mysteries/thrillers, romances... mostly fiction. My choice in movies is widespread. Series mostly consist of crime and comedy shows with occasional dramas and sit-coms. My close friends and family kept saying (complaining) that I critique most of what I read and watch, so I decided to pursue it, here!

Waiting on Wednesday #31: Rook

Waiting for wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

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Rook by Sharon Cameron

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Date of Release: April 28th, 2015

Synopsis (Goodreads):

History has a way of repeating itself. In the Sunken City that was once Paris, all who oppose the new revolution are being put to the blade. Except for those who disappear from their prison cells, a red-tipped rook feather left in their place. Is the mysterious Red Rook a savior of the innocent or a criminal?

Meanwhile, across the sea in the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy’s arranged marriage to the wealthy René Hasard is the last chance to save her family from ruin. But when the search for the Red Rook comes straight to her doorstep, Sophia discovers that her fiancé is not all he seems. Which is only fair, because neither is she. 

As the Red Rook grows bolder and the stakes grow higher, Sophia and René find themselves locked in a tantalizing game of cat and mouse.


Movie Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

4.5

kingsman

A spy organisation recruits an unrefined, but promising street kid into the agency’s ultra-competitive training program, just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius. (IMDB)

Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past), co-written with Jane Goldman (Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, The Woman in Black). It stars Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Sofia Boutella, Sophie Cookson, Mark Hamill, Michael Caine and Jack Davenport.

The agency is fashioned after King Arthur and the Knights of the not-so-round table, including a Merlin. All the agents’ code names are derived from the knights, like Lancelot and Galahad, and Michael Caine is Arthur. Styled after old school spy films with its personality, gadgets, and gentlemen super agents, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a spy action comedy film based on the comic book The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

Matthew Vaughn has created a film with a personality. An absurd, quirky, nostalgic and violent personality. It takes after classic spy movies with its style, lightness, the colourful characterisation and the even more colourful supervillain. And yet it’s like the new brand of thrillers and spy films which lean towards realism. With its gritty violence and expertly choreographed, lengthy action sequences it’s more like the Bourne, Bond, and other recent, action films.

It also seems to make fun of the very spy films of which it speaks and, subsequently, itself. The humour is satirical, tongue-in-cheek and often crass. But it manages to not take itself too seriously, and neither should the viewer. Instead it becomes an extravagant yet down to earth source of entertainment.

The plot is typical yet it surprises one at many turns. Other than the excessive, often dispensible swearing, the writing is good.

The casting is spot on. Taron Egerton, playing the role of Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, was refreshingly good. A very well written, three dimensional character for a change who was more than just a typical street smart guy.  Egerton stood out and held his own very well among the rest of the distinguished cast. Samuel L. Jackson as Valentine was a good villain but not effective at being a scary, “genius megalomaniac”. His partner in crime Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), so called for her razor sharp prosthetic legs I’m sure, was much more impressive in that regard. Mark Strong (Merlin) was super as the dignified agent and trainer, especially in the second half.

Colin Firth as Harry “Galahad” Hart broke away from his popular image and pulled off the action sequences better than most. The standout church scene was simultaneously the most awesome and revolting piece of cinema I may have ever scene. I was gaping throughout because of the unapologetic violence and the sheer amazingness of the action, choreography and camera work. It’s a prime example of many scenes which were darkly humorous in both tone and subject matter.

Technically the film is quite perfect. During the quicker movements of the fight scenes the camera was never too close or wide, and there wasn’t much of the incomprehensive blurring seen in most action movies in scenes of hand-to-hand combat. The effects, the editing, and the music – everything is superb. If not for the effective direction I don’t think the movie would have been as good. And yet, none of these elements overpowered the story or rose above it. All of it only served to heighten the comic book/spy thriller aspects of the film and served to compliment the story.

Morality issues such as excessive violence are not present, particularly after the major fight scenes. The heroes are bold and do what is necessary. In that regard the story maintains a lightheartedness and is not meant to be taken seriously. Whilst some deaths are (mostly) meaningful, no character becomes bogged down by them. Lack of emotional melodrama sees characters moving on to the next problem at hand.

Kingsman is a bizarre, head-spinning movie with memorable characters. Its essence and attitude rub off for a while. I left the hall with a smile on my face which stayed for some time, and the film spun around in my head for longer. It’s a multiple time watcher for me and I give it an extra half star for its novelty. However the film may not be to everyone’s taste, and those who dislike violence and outlandish films may want to skip it.


A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

4.5

a darker shade of magic

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. 

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped. (Goodreads)

***** I received an ARC copy of this book from Titan Publishers. This is an Honest Review*****

This is my first Schwab book and it is a fascinating, multidimensional setting of three Londons, which are unique for being the point where three geographically differing worlds overlap. This is a wholly original and refreshing new story with an air of antiquity to it. The story, its complexity, the flavour and atmosphere of the overlapping worlds pull you in from the first page. The world building is remarkable and the prose is nuanced and lyrical.

The characters are satisfactorily complex. Not extraordinarily so, but enough to delight in. Kell is a Traveller – a rare species of people capable of travelling between the three worlds. Worlds of differing amounts of magic, technology and life. He wears a unique coat and acts as messenger for the Red Crown. (I will admit, I really liked Kell’s coat and loved whenever the parts about it came.)

Lila is a cross-dressing thief who aspires to be a pirate. To have an independent and free life with no shackles, no restrictions, no bonds. There’s a stimulating balance to him, and common sense that is welcome in both. The rest of the main characters comprise of the Red Royal Family which includes Prince Rhy, the closest person to Kell; the current rulers of White London and their Traveller and messenger Holland; and a bartender and owner in Grey London.

Kell and Holland particularly, are the truly complex characters of the book. They straddle the lines between good and bad, right and wrong, weak and strong. Lila is refreshingly independent whose ambitions are not put on hold for anything or anyone. However I wish there had been more interactions with Rhy, the prince. His relationship with Kell and personality are all seen through Kell to significant depth, but I wish there are had been more, to get a sense of him as a reader. Especially considering the developments that take place because of him.

The length of the book didn’t faze me, only made me eager to know what would happen next. Kept me on my toes, so to speak. Yes, it takes its sweet time to progress and has a leisurely pace, yet I never felt impatient with the story or for the end to come, nor did I despair over how much was left to read. The thought in my mind was – What will happen next? How will the story move forward? Where will it go? And what will happen once we’ve reached there?

Explaining this without giving details is difficult, but I will say that I did not expect the ending. I am ambiguous about it. On the one hand I expected it to end on a cliff-hanger, especially since it was apparent that there will be sequels. But that did not happen. The danger which I expected to continue into the next one was temporarily halted with the resolution of the part of the story and struggle that this book dealt with. I also did not particularly care for the Rhy-Kell plot in the second half.

I felt the writing slackened towards the end, especially considering the standards of the first three quarters of the book. Suddenly things happened swiftly and not smoothly. It came across as rushed. All the pent up tension and anticipation was not fully and satisfactorily carried through, did not match the build-up. At the end I felt – That’s it?

Other than that, A Darker Shade of Magic is a remarkable story with a mystical charm and I can’t wait for more of the worlds and their stories to unfold. And I will definitely be reading more of Schwab’s works in the future.

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Waiting on Wednesday #28: The Orphan Queen

Waiting for wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

The Orphan Queen The Orphan Queen (The Orphan Queen#1)
 by Jodi Meadows

 Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

 Date of Publication: March 10th 2015

 Synopsis (Goodreads):

Wilhelmina has a hundred identities.

 She is a princess. When the Indigo Kingdom conquered her homeland, Wilhelmina and other orphaned  children of nobility were taken to Skyvale, the Indigo Kingdom’s capital. Ten years later, they are the  Ospreys, experts at stealth and theft. With them, Wilhelmina means to take back her throne.

 She is a spy. Wil and her best friend, Melanie, infiltrate Skyvale Palace to study their foes. They assume  the identities of nobles from a wraith-fallen kingdom, but enemies fill the palace, and Melanie’s behavior  grows suspicious. With Osprey missions becoming increasingly dangerous and their leader more  unstable, Wil can’t trust anyone.

She is a threat. Wraith is the toxic by-product of magic, and for a century using magic has been forbidden. Still the wraith pours across the continent, reshaping the land and animals into fresh horrors. Soon it will reach the Indigo Kingdom. Wilhelmina’s magic might be the key to stopping the wraith, but if the vigilante Black Knife discovers Wil’s magic, she will vanish like all the others

Jodi Meadows introduces a vivid new fantasy full of intrigue, romance, dangerous magic, and one girl’s battle to reclaim her place in the world.


Book Review: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

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“I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.” 

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia Dennett moves against the grain as a young inner-city art teacher. One night, Mia enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn’t show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger. With his smooth moves and modest wit, at first Colin Thatcher seems like a safe one-night stand. But following Colin home will turn out to be the worst mistake of Mia’s life.

Colin’s job was to abduct Mia as part of a wild extortion plot and deliver her to his employers. But the plan takes an unexpected turn when Colin suddenly decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota, evading the police and his deadly superiors. Mia’s mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman will stop at nothing to find them, but no one could have predicted the emotional entanglements that eventually cause this family’s world to shatter.

An addictively suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a compulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems….

First thing I’ll say is that I think this book has suffered for its comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl – on multiple levels. People who never heard or read them might have enjoyed the book more.

The novel is told from the perspectives of three people: Eve (Mia’s mother), Gabe (the lead Detective of the case), and the abductor himself, Colin Thatcher. The narratives also move back and forth in time – Before Mia’s return, and After her return – gradually converging to the point where everything changed and things came to a head. The result of the long seclusion of Colin and Mia, and how it affected her afterwards. This structure was interesting, was probably the strongest part of the book, and was also easy to follow.

However, the narrative is robotic, flat; there’s no difference between the three voices. I couldn’t connect to them. The narrative lacks maturity and depth, and the characterisations are hackneyed. There was no stirring of emotions. I felt nothing for much of the book.

Gabe was unlikable and somewhat odd. The detective only cared about the mother and never came across as an intelligent, sharp officer of the law. His attachment to Eve was banal. She can’t have been the first distraught mom with an asinine husband he’d come across. And despite it being his first high-profile case and being an experienced detective, he seemed much too invested in Eve personally. His attachment to her seemed to stem from her beauty and fragility, and dislike of her husband, which I didn’t appreciate. The idea of needing an immediate substitute/better option to realise the error of your ways and come to the decision of leaving a poisonous relationship never sits well with me. Why can’t characters ever come to that stage in life on their own, without the presence of a better example/option, and have some downtime after the fact?

Eve’s perspective was mostly useless and weak. She kept whining, let herself be dominated and never developed a backbone. Also seemed to lack a meaningful interaction with her daughter. Mia herself was not a character I could feel for. Despite her mothers’ attempts to arouse sympathy and compassion, despite the favourable views of her – there wasn’t much, and it doesn’t make you like her or feel sympathy for her. You don’t feel sorry or bad for her – basically you don’t care either way.

I was more interested in Colin, but the change in him and his development is flawed. The shift from an abusive thug to a person who goes on to care for Mia was gradual and you come to understand why he does what he does. But you never quite get why he took her away and kept her. That he was hit by a moment of conscientiousness seems insufficient since he could’ve easily left her near civilization and got away. Especially if you consider that he did fine at ignoring her attractiveness and not being swayed by it.

The novel doesn’t work very well as a mystery thriller, especially a psychological one. It’s not suspenseful, lacks sufficient build-up and tension until the section towards the end. The actual mystery/suspense part was woefully short, and distasteful even as it made you think about the consequences of decisions made out of vengeance, resentment, misguided justice. How they can cause more harm than imagined; misguided emotions, decisions, choices. But, again, not enough was written about the reasons for the events themselves. Despite all the flashbacks and childhood stories, and family descriptions and background, it wasn’t enough to truly hit you; did not become a revelation and instead left you unhappy with the non-existent reasoning.

It was a predictable novel. I knew what would happen and who set the events in motions almost from the beginning. And there are a few plot holes. The ending wasn’t surprising at all, though I did wish it to be happier. The novel also has a slightly racist tone. It’s not a bad novel, just needed some more work. It might’ve helped to not have a sedate pace throughout the story. The writing was good but often repetitive. In some places the author was too descriptive and in others not enough. Also, the book cover is misleading as Mia is not as young as the girl on the cover.


Waiting on Wednesday #25: An Ember in the Ashes

Waiting for wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

an ember in the ashes An Ember in the Ashes

by Sabaa Taahir

Publisher: Razorbill

Expected Publication: April 28th 2015

Synopsis(from Goodreads):

Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.

LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.

ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.

When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.


Book Review: The Naturals (The Naturals #1) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

3gem

the naturals

Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people. Piecing together the tiniest details, she can tell you who you are and what you want. But it’s not a skill that she’s ever taken seriously. That is, until the FBI come knocking: they’ve begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they need Cassie.

What Cassie doesn’t realize is that there’s more at risk than a few unsolved homicides—especially when she’s sent to live with a group of teens whose gifts are as unusual as her own. Sarcastic, privileged Michael has a knack for reading emotions, which he uses to get inside Cassie’s head—and under her skin. Brooding Dean shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but keeps her at arm’s length.

Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms closer than Cassie could ever have imagined. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse with a killer, the Naturals are going to have to use all of their gifts just to survive.

The Naturals is a teenage version of the TV show Criminal Minds. However, a great suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy and believe it. Having done that, the book is interesting enough. It’s fast-paced with occasionally good sections, but moves too quickly after the second half. Another first person POV, it started well and though I wasn’t bothered by the narration, I didn’t feel anything either. On the one hand Cassie is a good narrator, on the other, there’s a severe lack of emotions and feelings in the entire book, from everyone. She never mentions how she feels and what she thinks with regard to emotions (other than the brief sections on kissing of course), and this makes you get a sense of detachment from her.

I don’t like love triangles and this book, and the rest of the series from the looks of it, has one. There are the two hot, intriguing boys who are instantly attractive and return the interest. As usual even the broody, silent, stay-away, mysterious one happens to be drawn to Cassie as soon as she enters. It’s a short book and the triangle took up too much space. Not Fun.

There is a lack of character development – flat, stereotypical characters despite the potential back-stories yet to come. And even though Michael and Lia are careful to keep Cassie guessing with changes in wardrobe and carriage, they still manage to be cliché.

Considering the content and length of the book, it could have done with more flesh – more activity and more interactions with substance than the surface level ones. It was apparent there are going to be more books in the future, but that doesn’t mean you give nothing.

Also, the supposed team does nothing team-like in the entire book. Even towards the end, there wasn’t enough involvement and use of abilities as there should’ve been. They don’t use all their gifts just to survive.

The most ridiculous part was who the killer turned out to be (I will admit to being surprised). That NOBODY over all those YEARS managed to suspect anything, especially when you consider that the whole team consists of Naturals. Yes, even they can be wrong, but FIVE of them? Undermines the entire premise of the book and series. And the killer’s sudden escalation in behaviour was confusing and disappointing.

Overall, the characters were the weakest part of the book which isn’t good for its health. Other than the premise, the book, though predictable, had potential. It wasn’t boring, it was underwhelming. With some more work, it could’ve been much better.

 


Waiting on Wednesday #22: A Darker Shade of Magic

Waiting for wednesday

 

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

a darker shade of magic

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Publisher: Tor Books

Date of Publication: February 24th, 2015

Synopsis (Amazon):

From V.E. Schwab, the critically acclaimed author of Vicious, comes a new universe of daring adventure, thrilling power, and parallel Londons, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic.

Kell is one of the last Travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes—as such, he can choose where he lands. There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, ruled by a mad King George. Then there’s Red London, where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne—a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London…but no one speaks of that now. Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see—a dangerous hobby, and one that has set him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations, who, first robs him, then saves him from a dangerous enemy, and then forces him to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—and that is proving trickier than they hoped.

Why am I awaiting this book?

I like reading about multi/parallel universes and worlds, and this looks really good!

 


Book Review: After Dark by Haruki Murakami

4.5

afterdark

Translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin.

A short, episodic novel set during a single night from midnight to dawn, After Dark begins with Mari, a young student reading alone at a Denny’s in an anonymous city, probably Tokyo. Her solitude is broken by Takahashi Tetsuya, a young trombone player who claims to have a common acquaintance with Mari, her older sister Eri Asai. Through the rest of the night the novel follows Mari’s encounters with Takahasi and other people, all awake during the night, caught in their own circumstances. There is also Eri Asai, a beautiful model caught in an extended sleep, and her connection to a businessman struggling with the aftereffects of his actions.

The narrative is temporal, with each chapter taking place at a precise time. The prose is sharp, hypnotic, detailed and mystical – the events are being narrated by a mysterious, collective “point-of-view”, a neutral observation. There is a cinematographic quality to it, with detailed descriptions and precise, sometimes abrupt, movements of the “point-of-view” through the city, from one place to the next. It lends the story an enigmatic and uneasy feel.

The novel is somewhat characteristic of magical realism with its touch of other-worldliness in a normal, real world; a heightened awareness of mystery; authorial reticence, etc. Though the novel has no plot, seems to have no purpose, it still captures our attention. It’s not a novel for the purpose of entertainment or escapism, rather to pause and mull over the events and circumstances of the characters. It asks questions, but doesn’t answer them. The characters’ conversations are sometimes non-sequitur, and range from the mundane to the philosophical, forcing us to pause and reflect, to dwell on what is happening and what is not, even if we ourselves can’t find an answer.

One of the stronger themes seems to be alienation in a modern world, a metropolis. Alienation of the reader from the story; alienation of the two sisters from the world, each other and themselves; alienation of Mari from the other people she encounters who are so different from her. And despite it, the inexplicable and surprising things that make for common grounds and lead to a connection, an understanding between two people. The novel also explores the idea of mysterious and nocturnal things that lurk around during the night, and hover at the edges of our worlds.

This was my first Haruki Murakami  work and probably a good, short introduction to a kind of writing that has captured my attention. I hope I read more of his works. After Dark is a mysterious novel with wonderful writing and I really liked it.


Waiting on Wednesday #20: Saint Odd

Waiting for wednesday

 

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

saint oddSaint Odd (Odd Thomas #7) by Dean Koontz

Publisher: Bantam

Date of Publication: January 13th, 2015

Synopsis (Amazon):

Odd Thomas is back where it all started . . . because the time has come to finish it. Since he left his simple life in the small town of Pico Mundo, California, his journey has taken him to places strange and wonderful, mysterious and terrifying. Across the land, in the company of mortals and spirits alike, he has known kindness and cruelty, felt love and loss, saved lives and taken them—as he’s borne witness to humanity’s greatest good and darkest evil. Again and again, he has gone where he must and done what he had to do—for better or worse—with his courage and devotion sorely tested, and his soul forever changed. Every triumph has been hard won. Each sacrifice has taken its toll.
 
Now, whatever destiny drives him has finally steered his steps home, where those he cares for most surround him, the memory of his tragically lost true love haunts him, and one last challenge—vast and dreadful—awaits him. For Odd Thomas, born to serve a purpose far greater than himself, the wandering is done. Only the reckoning remains.

Why am I awaiting this book?

It’s finally here! The last book, the final adventure! Though I’m guilty of not being caught up with the last two Odd books, I’ve been a fan since the first, which I still consider the best of the series. This is the series that cemented my liking for books by Dean Koontz. One of the most distinctive characters I’ve ever read, I can’t wait to find out how his remarkable journey will end.