This is Endgame!

Endgame
Title: Endgame: The Calling
Author: James Frey & Nils Johnson-Shelton
Series: Endgame #1
Edition: ARC, 464 pages
Expected Publication: October 7th 2014 by HarperCollins
Genre(s): YA; Sci-Fi
Disclosure? Not really. I received a copy from the publisher/author but I was not obligated to write a review.

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Twelve thousand years ago, they came. They descended from the sky amid smoke and fire, and created humanity and gave us rules to live by. They needed gold and they built our earliest civilizations to mine it for them. When they had what they needed, they left. But before they left, they told us someday they would come back, and when they did, a game would be played. A game that would determine our future.

This is Endgame.

For ten thousand years the lines have existed in secret. The 12 original lines of humanity. Each had to have a Player prepared at all times. They have trained generation after generation after generation. In weapons, languages, history, tactics, disguise assassination. Together the players are everything: strong, kind, ruthless, loyal, smart, stupid, ugly, lustful, mean, fickle, beautiful, calculating, lazy, exuberant, weak. They are good and evil. Like you. Like all.

This is Endgame.

When the game starts, the players will have to find three keys. The keys are somewhere on earth. The only rule of their Endgame is that there are no rules. Whoever finds the keys first wins the game. Endgame: The Calling is about the hunt for the first key. And just as it tells the story of the hunt for a hidden key, written into the book is a puzzle. It invites readers to play their own Endgame and to try to solve the puzzle. Whoever does will open a case filled with gold. Alongside the puzzle will be a revolutionary mobile game built by Google’s Niantic Labs that will allow you to play a real-world version of Endgame where you can join one of the lines and do battle with people around you.
Will exuberance beat strength? Stupidity top kindness? Laziness thwart beauty? Will the winner be good or evil? There is only one way to find out.

Play.
Survive.
Solve.
People of Earth.
Endgame has begun.

Let’s face it, James Frey likes to fuck with people.

First there was A Million Little Pieces, a harrowing memoir of a self-destructive alcoholic going through rehab which turned out to be more fiction than fact, and then came The Final Testament of the Holy Bible in which The Messiah sleeps his way around New York with men and women, collecting followers along the way, and damning religion as he goes.

And now…well, now There’s Endgame.

I’ve already ranted about the barrage of shit people have been spouting about the book on Goodreads based solely on the synopsis (OMG it’s like SO Hunger Games… how dare he…etc), and their personal opinions of Frey – and the best thing is that it turns out that Endgame isn’t really very THG at all, he’s just fucking with you.

JOKE’S ON YOU.

In all seriousness, I can’t see any other reason why Frey and Johnson-Shelton decided there had to be twelve ancient lines, with one player chosen from each, or why protagonist Sarah Alopay had to have her hair in a braid… things pretty synonymous with The Hunger Games these days, but look at the bigger picture (or y’know, just read the book) and you may find something other than a passing resemblance to the popular dystopian franchise.

Endgame: The Calling is like nothing I’ve ever read before. As the 12 players of Endgame search across the globe for the first key to the puzzle, we too are given clues of our own to solve.

I absolutely love this concept. When I first heard about the Masquerade phenomenon of the 70s I was jealous I never got to experience it. I also used to really love those ‘choose your own path’ books, and Endgame felt a bit like those, but on a far bigger, more sophisticated scale.

As far as the story itself is concerned, I couldn’t put it down but I did feel like something was missing. I liked that it wasn’t a last-one-standing kind of deal, which was another element that set it aside from the likes of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale.

Instead, each player is playing for the survival of their lineage, so basically everyone they know and love. A clue is implanted into their heads by Kepler 22b, the ancient alien-being overseeing Endgame. This gives the players the chance to form unlikely alliances and work together to solve the clues and find the keys. Only one can win, but the objective isn’t simply to maim each other.

I thought that idea could be a great base for some intense character relationships and drama but it never really amounted to enough of a climax for me. I liked the alliance and growing romance between Sarah and aloof Jago, especially when Sarah’s non-player boyfriend Christopher is thrown into the mix, but I didn’t get very emotionally invested in any of them. Perhaps there’s just too many players to care about at this point, or maybe it’s that most of them were too focused and came across as cold.

I did like a lot of things about the book though. As with most of Frey’s work to date, Endgame is about more than it first appears. There’s a sense of a greater power at work, something ancient and spiritual which I look forward to exploring further in the series.

However, the thing I liked most of all is that every reader’s experience of Endgame will be different. I enjoyed looking up all the links and clues provided even if the whole thing hasn’t gone live yet (publication day, guys). Having to flick to the end of the book each chapter to get the link was a bit of an effort at first (I imagine this won’t be as much as an issue with digital editions), but I thought it was totally worth it in the end. Links to YouTube Videos, Wikipedia pages and google images, consisting of everything from Mongolian Warrior music, to watching a sunset changes the way you read and think about the story as you go along.

Overall, I thought Endgame was a fast-paced, fun, read, but not one that completely blew me away. What Frey and Johnson-Shelton have created here is a unique reading experience, and even if you have doubts about the synopsis (Yes Goodreads’ trolls I’m looking at you) you have to appreciate the innovation and scope of it.

Endgame will begin if the human race has shown that it doesn’t deserve to be human. That it has wasted the enlightenment They gave to us.”

unicorn rating 4

Endgame: The Calling is available to Pre-Order now.

Out Soon! One of Us by Tawni O’Dell

arc4
Title: One of Us
Author: Tawni O’Dell
Series: N/A
Edition: Hardcover, 304 pages
Published: August 19th 2014 by Gallery Books
Genre(s): Mystery; Thriller
Disclosure? Yep! I received an advanced copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

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Dr. Sheridan Doyle, a fastidiously groomed and TV-friendly forensic psychologist, is the go-to shrink for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office whenever a twisted killer’s mind eludes other experts. But beneath his Armani pinstripes, he’s still Danny Doyle, the awkward, terrified, bullied boy from a blue-collar mining family, plagued by panic attacks and haunted by the tragic death of his little sister and mental unraveling of his mother years ago.

Returning to a hometown grappling with its own ghosts, Danny finds a dead body at the infamous Lost Creek gallows where a band of rebellious Irish miners was once executed. Strangely, the body is connected to the wealthy family responsible for the miners’ deaths. Teaming up with veteran detective Rafe, a father-like figure from his youth, Danny, in pursuit of a killer, comes dangerously close to startling truths about his family, his past, and himself.

One of Us is set in a small mining town which has a troubled background and a troubled present when a body is found at the gallows. The Gallows already represented the fears, superstitions and paranoias of the inhabitants of the tight-knit community, so it’s fair to say that when the news gets out, things go from strange to stranger.

I loved everything about this in theory. The setting, the strange history of the town and the clear divide between the rich and poor all had potential to make this a great story but unfortunately, I wasn’t completely won over.

For the most part One of Us is written from the perspective of Danny, a semi-famous forensic psychologist who left Lost Creek behind him a long time ago, but is back to check up on his grandfather Tommy.

I found it hard to warm to Danny. Sure, he’d had it pretty bad growing up with a mentally ill mother who killed his baby sister and buried her in the backyard (although she vehemently denies this). And yeah he managed overcome all that and make a success out of himself, but he was also quite cold and distant.

His relationship with both Tommy (his granddad), and Rafe (the detective on the case), should have softened him but he still felt too pristine and unflappable to me, with his fine suits and arrogance.

Things start to get interesting when all of a sudden the narration switches to that of Scarlet, who is even more emotionless than Danny, and described as a stunning fembot. From here, the story unravels and with it the towns secrets and lies slowly come to light.

I couldn’t fault the writing in One of Us. It flowed beautifully and kept a good pace, but it just wasn’t very exciting. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few twists, but the main one I guessed before the big reveal which ruined it a bit for me, and I just needed more GRIT.

This was the first book I’ve read by O’Dell and it certainly hasn’t put me off. I really liked the style and ideas but it didn’t quite pull it off.

unicorn rating 3

One of Us is available to pre-order from Waterstones now.

The Great Guilt-Free Bake Off!

The title of this review just had to be done really. It’s in honour of The Great British Bake Off finally airing next week. Seriously, guys, if you don’t watch it, you have to!

bake
Title: Guilt-Free Baking
Author: Gee Charman
Series: N/A
Edition: Hardcover, 176 pages
Published: September 18th 2014 by Duncan Baird Publishers
Genre(s): Non Fiction; Cookery; Baking
Disclosure? Yep, I received an advanced copy in exchange for an HONEST review.
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The recipe lists includes:

• Cacao and wholegrain cookies
• Clementine and almond traybake
• Fruity flap-jacks
• Victoria sponge cupcakes
• Carrot and spelt muffins
• Lime finger biscuits
• Sour cherry and almond biscotti
• Saffron biscotti
• Bourbons
• Jaffa cakes
• Lemon drizzle cake
• Banana bread muffins
• Lemon cheese cake
• and much more!

I’ve never reviewed a cook book before, so when I saw this on NetGalley, I thought why the hell not!?

Firstly, I enjoy baking. I wouldn’t say I’m great at it, but I’m not terrible either. However, I do have one problem with it – when you make something yummy, you obviously have to eat it – and I do, all of it! So I tend to avoid it when I’m trying to be good.

Guilt-Free Baking has some great recipes which are lower in calories than your average sweet treats, so you can enjoy the baking and the results – hurrah!

I thought this book had a great mixture of recipes, everything from biscuits to tray bakes, and celebration cakes to more things you can do with meringues than I ever imagined. I would have been more than happy to try nearly all of the recipes. The ingredients are simple – nothing you couldn’t find at your supermarket – and the instructions were easy to follow.

I really loved that the quantities were given in cups and metric, because I hate measuring things, and the photos were beautiful too. I did wish that there were more photos though. Some of the recipes didn’t have them and I hate making something not knowing how it’s supposed to look. Not that I can ever get it to look the same, but y’know, something to aim for is always good.

A lot of the recipes use similar calorie-saving techniques such as fruit instead of sugar, and natural yogurt or fruit syrups & pureés instead of fat which obviously isn’t a new concept, but worked well in the recipes I tried at least.

I gave the Mocha Squares Tray Bake a bash, with a few tweaks (I’m not very good at following recipes sometimes). I doubled the amount of coffee as I love the strong coffee flavour but it definitely still wasn’t enough! And made a butter icing – yeah I know, not exactly low-calorie but WHATEVER. It was yum.

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I also gave the Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes a go, but I didn’t want to buy any aerosol cream because I’d never use the rest of it, so I bought some Nutella instead and converted them into Strawberries and Hazlenut Chocolate cupcakes.

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All in all, they were both a success! Guilt-Free Baking does exactly what it says on the cover, and it does it well. I might have to buy a copy when it comes out!

unicorn rating 4

Guilt-Free Baking is available to pre-order from Waterstones now.

Apple Tarts Vs Hope and Despair…

apple
Title: The Apple Tart of Hope
Author: Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Series: N/A
Edition: Hardcover, 272 pages
Published: June 5th 2014 by Orion
Genre(s): YA; Contemporary
Disclosure? Yep, I received a copy via the author/publisher in exchange for an HONEST review

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I found the beginning of this book rather odd which made it a little hard to get into, but it soon becomes apparent that that oddness is what makes The Apple Tart of Hope such a unique read.

It opens at a service being held for Oscar Dunleavy, who is presumed dead. The church is full; the atmosphere, strange. The narrative comes from Meg, who claims to be Oscar’s best friend, but another girl, one with golden hair, is called up to speak a few words about Oscar, as she is apparently his closest friend.

Throughout the book we are taken back to how it all began, switching between the perspectives of both Meg and Oscar. At the start, they are inseparable. They live next door to each other and their bedroom windows face each other so they can lean out and talk every night.

Life seems pretty good, everyone gets on with each other at school, and Oscar and Meg are well-loved. There is a whimsical sort of magic to Oscar. He’s an unusual character for a young boy. He’s kind and deeply thoughtful, and likes to solve people’s problems by baking them exquisite apple tarts.

But it’s not an ordinary apple tart. It’s the apple tart of hope. After you’ve taken a bite, the whole world will look almost completely different. Things will start to change and by the time you’ve had a whole slice, you’ll realise that everything is going to be OK.”

And then it all starts to go wrong. Meg is forced to move to New Zealand, and Paloma – the girl with the golden hair – moves into Meg’s house…

Oh man, this was a rollarcoaster. Once I got into it I couldn’t put it down. I needed to know how things had spiraled so out of control for Oscar and Meg. It really captured something special about being young, especially the perils of school days and friendship.

It’s hard to explain without giving the whole plot away, but I will say that at certain points in this book I was filled with so much hate for what happened to Oscar and Meg, and I knew then that this book was something special, not to mention how beautifully it’s written.

The man was a maze of wrinkles and his hands were dirty. Tears made shiny branch-like patterns on his cheeks.”

This was my first read of Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, and it definitely won’t be my last. I need to find her debut Back to Blackbrick, stat!

unicorn rating 4

Available now from Waterstones in hardback, or to pre-order in paperback (due 05/02/15).

(Out Today!) Skyships, Pickpockets, and a Whole Lot of Lies…

take
Title: Take Back the Skies
Series: Take Back the Skies #1
Author: Lucy Saxon
Edition: e-book, 496 pages
Published: June 5th 2014 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Genre(s): YA; Fantasy; Steampunk
Disclosure? Yep, I received a copy via the author/publisher in exchange for an HONEST review.

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Catherine Hunter is the daughter of a senior government official on the island of Anglya. She’s one of the privileged – she has luxurious clothes, plenty to eat, and is protected from the Collections which have ravaged families throughout the land. But Catherine longs to escape the confines of her life, before her dad can marry her off to a government brat and trap her forever.

So Catherine becomes Cat, pretends to be a kid escaping the Collections, and stows away on the skyship Stormdancer. As they leave Anglya behind and brave the storms that fill the skies around the islands of Tellus, Cat’s world becomes more turbulent than she could ever have imagined, and dangerous secrets unravel her old life once and for all . . .

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Take Back the Skies. I’d read a few unfavourable reviews, and found out that the author is only 19, 16 when she started writing the novel, which I realise I shouldn’t let sway me before even opening the book, but of course it does!

Then I started reading, and it was good. Really good! I was hoping to skim-read it because I’ve fallen behind on ARCS/reviews lately, but I found that I didn’t want to skim it at all, I wanted to savour it.

Take Back the Skies is a fast-paced, well written, fantasy-adventure. Protagonist Cat, is a loveable, head-strong character who I instantly felt invested in.

We follow her as she runs away from her snobbish, government father who wants to marry her off for status, to the skyship Stormdancer where she meets a colourful array of characters who soon become Cat’s family. Once in the skies, it quickly becomes apparent that things in Anglya and the surrounding islands are not as they seem. The war seems to have ended, so why are all the teenagers being ‘collected’ to go to war? Where are they?

Seriously guys, I really loved this. There was a lot of action and intrigue, and I think the world Saxon built is great. There was a lot of characterisation too, so even though Cat hadn’t known the crew of the Stormdancer very long, it felt OK how close they became. There is a cute romance between Cat and Fox, a hot orphan who likes to get his guns out – in both senses of the word – but it did start to feel a bit Twilight-y on some occasions where Fox was telling Cat that he’s no good for her and she should choose another. And also Cat thinking that he couldn’t possibly like her. Yawn.

Once they’d gotten over that though, and decided to be together, I liked that it wasn’t all Cat thought about. There was no ‘omg he kissed me and it felt amazing and I want to touch him all the time’, it was pretty much wham, bam, thank you maam (they’re wasn’t actually any ‘bamming’, don’t get your hopes up).

Cat, Fox and the rest of the Stormdancer crew were intent on outing the government and finding out what was happening to all the kids, and once they do, there’s definitely a sense of look what you’ve got yourselves into. I really enjoyed the conflict between high-society and the commoners, and the sinister operations of the government – I wasn’t expecting that plot at all.

However, I can’t wrap this up without talking about the ending. No spoilers I promise, but it was just bad. End of. There was no need for the Epilogue at all, nothing was resolved, and I only hope that the outcome makes more sense in the second book.

I’m tempted to give it 3 Unicorns just because of the ending, but the rest of it was so good, so I won’t. Any book that makes me GASP deserves 4 Unicorns.

unicorn rating 4

Take Back the Skies is available from Waterstones in Limited 1st Edition Hardback, and Paperback from today.

Currently Reading:

Take Back the Skies by Lucy Saxton

takeCatherine Hunter is the daughter of a senior government official on the island of Anglya. She’s one of the privileged – she has luxurious clothes, plenty to eat, and is protected from the Collections which have ravaged families throughout the land. But Catherine longs to escape the confines of her life, before her dad can marry her off to a government brat and trap her forever. So Catherine becomes Cat, pretends to be a kid escaping the Collections, and stows away on the skyship Stormdancer. As they leave Anglya behind and brave the storms that fill the skies around the islands of Tellus, Cat’s world becomes more turbulent than she could ever have imagined, and dangerous secrets unravel her old life once and for all …

I started this last week but I’ve had next to no reading time of late 😦 However, my first impressions are good ones! I know it’s all most people are talking about, but I can’t believe Saxon is only 18 and started writing this book when she was 16. It certainly doesn’t read like it’s written by a sixteen year old so far!

I have high hopes for this steampunk, fantasy adventure.

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Available to pre-order now, or buy from the 6th June.

Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie

sufferFrom an acclaimed horror writer, a chilling tale of blood-hungry children who rise from the dead in this innovative spin on apocalyptic vampire fiction.

Suffer the Children presents a terrifying tale of apocalyptic fiction, as readers are introduced to Herod’s Syndrome, a devastating illness that suddenly and swiftly kills all young children across the globe. Soon, they return from the grave…and ask for blood. And with blood, they stop being dead. They continue to remain the children they once were…but only for a short time, as they need more blood to live. The average human body holds ten pints of blood, so the inevitable question for parents everywhere becomes: How far would you go to bring your child back?

Suffer the Children, as the title and cover suggests, is a pretty creepy read. Let’s face it kids can be creepy, anyone who has ever seen a horror film or read a Stephen King novel can tell you that. So that’s pretty much everyone, right? Kids coming back from the dead and craving blood…totally up there on the creep-factor, so naturally I knew I was going to enjoy this book.

I wasn’t disappointed! I absolutely loved the beginning of this book. The plot was quite slow, but it was all about the characterisation for me so it didn’t drag at all. DiLouie’s style very much reminded me of King in that way. The writing was engaging and it was a pretty quick read.

Suffer the Children follows several eclectic families from the days that lead up to ‘the event’ where every single pre-pubescent kid in the world just falls down dead. There’s a lot of grief, obviously, and horrific but necessary actions that follow, such as bin men having to collect the bodies, and dig mass graves. And from there, it just gets worse…because they come back!

One of main things I liked about this book was the underlying irony of it. You’d probably think there’d be nothing worse than burying your child, but then you find out that they’re all coming back to life and you have go and dig them up. As a doctor you’d think doing some autopsies on the deceased kids would be for the greater good, until you realise that they weren’t actually dead until you cut through the rib cages and removed their hearts.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that these families would have been better off if the children didn’t come back to life, because keeping them alive is going to destroy them and the world as they know it. But other than that, and the whole philosophical look at how far would you go to keep your children alive there wasn’t a great deal to this book.

If push came to shove, she’d let her kids eat her.”

Although it was enjoyable, unfortunately there was nothing surprising about Suffer the Children; I found it a bit predictable. I felt like the greater story to tell would be the one of what happened after the events in this book (maybe they’ll be a sequel, who knows). I also think DiLouie missed out on some great horror moments, such as hearing about one of the protagonists killing his dog to feed to his son almost as if in passing rather than finding out about it at the time. I wanted more gory details! But I’m weird like that.

If you like your horror with a message instead of gory details then I definitely recommend you give this a try!

Favourite Quote: “It struck her then, that in most of the world there wasn’t a single human being who believed in Santa Claus”

unicorn rating 3

Disclosure?: I received a copy from the publisher/author in exchange for an HONEST review
Title: Suffer the Children
Author: Craig DiLouie
Details: Paperback, 352 pages
Published: May 20th 2014 by Permuted Press
My Rating: 3/5