Kai Koson

Game Review: Killzone - My Controller Has Teeth Marks

I wanted my first PS4 game to be a looker, and so I chose Killzone based purely on aesthetics. And yes, it is a beautiful-looking game. The graphics are unbelievable, and the game plays smoothly with no lag or glitches. But what really surprised me was the excellent gameplay. It’s a hard game and I don’t generally do ‘shooters’ mostly due to my nerves of rubber and lack of button-pushing coordination during stressful moments. Despite this, though, I found Killzone to be very playable, even for keen but unskilled muppet like me. Like any game, there were a few frustrating moments, and my controller now has teeth marks but on the whole I found the level of difficulty a good match, and I suspect the harder settings would be a good match for seasoned shooter fans.

On a side note, I know a few people have complained that they were being thrown way back after re-spawning or re-starting but I suspect there has been a patch to fix that because I always re-spawned almost exactly where I fell flat on my face.

Killzone is a great game to show off a mere fraction of what the PS4 can do, which makes me feel very excited for the console’s future. I think some of the reviews for this game are a little bit harsh. I enjoyed the story, the voice acting was good and the entire game was well polished and delivered. I would recommend it to anyone looking to get shot in the back 20-30 times. Fun.
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Kai Koson

Book Review: The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1)

The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1)The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a tough book to review, and it’s almost killed me not to look at the reviews already on Amazon and Goodreads. I do have very mixed feelings about The Bone Season, and sometimes it is difficult to separate my own personal likes and dislikes from what makes a good book or a bad one. Let me start by saying, then, that this IS a good book. The world Samantha Shannon has created is a stunning example of a writer’s imagination. Complex, layered, terrifying – The Bone Season is an incredible story.

I’m not going to repeat any of the plot here, because I dislike that in a review, but I will say that The Bone Season is a world of clairvoyants in many forms. People who possess any of these gifts are feared despised and hunted. At first I got a big Blade Runner vibe, which excited me greatly. I was expecting something more … traditionally fantasy-esque, but instead I found something blacker, something more along the lines of a dark dystopian tale.

Very quickly, though, I found myself getting bogged down by the sheer weight of information about this world. The clairvoyance aspect is complex and abstract. I felt that I needed more detail on the concepts that were being mentioned rather than just a quick mention before moving on to the next term and next concept. At one point I felt as though I was being pelted with words. I thought and still think that was a real shame. I wanted to know more, but the information was being delivered in a brutal fashion. If I’m introduced to the concept of a “spool”, I want to know what it looks like, what it feels like, what it smells like; I want to be able to imagine myself with a spool of spirits that I can chuck at someone, but there just wasn’t enough depth for me to do that. In some ways, I loved the sheer volume of detail. It takes a talented writer to come up with all that, but its delivery needed to be slower. I needed to be shown some things, not told. Last complaint: I love the alternative words for everyday things and I love that most of these words had real meaning but, man, too too too many.

Story-wise, very original and very impressive. Paige was a strong and likable character. Arcturus was perfectly tall dark and handsome, and who wouldn’t fall a little bit in love with Nick? Samantha Shannon’s writing style is enviable, sharp, clear and cliché free. My biggest wish is that the book was longer, much longer. I could have read an entire volume just up to the train incident. I would have loved to read about Paige’s life as a clairvoyant.

I do feel as though I’ve said a bunch of bad things about a good book so I want to reiterate, that this is an excellent read. It kept me intrigued and excited, and it’s very different from anything I’ve read before. Do give it a try. It’s a challenging book and lots of fun.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the free copy in return for an honest review.

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Kai Koson

Book Review: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce, #6)The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chemist, detective, little girl – Flavia de Luce is a character you can’t help but admire. I like strong-willed characters in my books, especially strong-willed female characters. Alan Bradley has done an incredible job of creating a protagonist that a reader can not only relate to, but also inspire to. In fact, there wasn’t one character I didn’t like – even Flavia’s annoying sisters!

I don’t want to go too much into the plot because there’s nothing worse than looking at a review only to see something along the lines of “I love the end where EVERYONE dies!” What I can say about the plot though, without getting any kind of spoiler-slap, is that it is well though-out, well planned and well executed. This book has a wonderfully peaceful pace. It’s the sort of book you’ll want to read out in the garden under a parasol, on a long winding train journey or perhaps just when you want to block out a too-noisy and chaotic world with something that’s altogether different. Don’t expect action, chocolate-eyed boys and love triangles. Expect mystery, expect murder, expect ESPIONAGE!

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches is perfectly written. The writing is smooth , flawless and screams experience. I haven’t read anything by Alan Bradley before, but I feel confident that his other works are every bit as good. There is some great comedy in this book, little flashes of humour that poke you in the ribs. “I nearly chucked my kippers” is my new favourite catchphrase. But as well as comedy, Bradley is well able to catch the more serious moments, and instead of the ribs, he gets you right in the gut. Some of his thoughts on death and grieving, particularly because they are from a child’s point of view, are incredibly moving and absolutely spot .

A beautifully written book. If you’re looking for something different than the usual YA tropes, give this one a try.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the free copy of The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches in return for an honest review.

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Kai Koson

Bounty Hunter: Cover Contest Semi-Finalist

Bounty Hunter's beautiful cover, created by illustrator Lawrence Mann, has made it into the Semi-finals at the Authorsdb Cover Contest in the Teens category. If you have a moment, I would be enormously grateful if you could pop over and give Bounty Hunter a quick 5 star vote. It only takes a click. I know I'm somewhat biased, but it's a gorgeous cover and I would love to see Lawrence recognised for his work.



LawrenceMann - S J HOLLIS – BountyHunty FINAL crop LowRes
Laon the Demon Lord

Book Review: Champion by Marie Lu

Champion (Legend, #3)Champion by Marie Lu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent ending to a superb trilogy. Great writing, sympathetic and raw characterisation and an engaging plot. The style of narration, both from Day’s and June’s point of view, was fitting with the Legend world – stark, matter-of-fact, bleak and awful but not in any melodramatic way. The Republic of America and the Colonies are both frightening pictures of a potential future – pure dystopian terror. But Marie Lu immerses us into these worlds with a wonderfully distant, cold and atmospheric style of story-telling that is very in keeping with the plot’s major themes and ideas. This is just the way it is, she’s telling us. She’s not trying to shock us. She’s not trying to be clever. She’s simply presenting a horrendous future and the two young people who are drowning in it.

I’m not a lover of romance, but the Day/June relationship touched me deeply. They are two teenagers who understand that the world is bigger than them, and that love isn’t about flowers and meaningless declarations. It’s about caring for another person more than yourself, putting someone else first, protecting that person with your own soul. It’s about holding on and letting go. I adored Eden. What a cutie. Lu perfectly presents an enviable relationship between him and his brother Day. I’d die for him, too. That’s love. And that’s good writing.

Champion has good emotional closure. It’s what I like to call a three tissue ending. I have mixed thoughts about the epilogue. The picky writer in me thinks the book would have been perfect without it, that it in no way needed it. But the emotional wreck of a woman who has a very delicate and breakable heart, needed it like a kicked puppy needs a hug and a promise. It doesn’t matter, though, because I loved the book either way.

More book reviews at http://sjhollis.blogspot.co.uk/

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Kai Koson

Book Review: Contaminated by Em Garner

ContaminatedContaminated by Em Garner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I want to get something straight here, right at the beginning of this review. If you are looking for an action-packed, gut-spilling, bucket-of-blood gore fest, you’re not going to get it. You’re also not going to get the grave-bursting, brain-craving undead. This is not a traditional or clichéd zombie novel. Please don’t rush out, buy this book hoping for a YA World War Z, and then complain it’s not what you expected. Consider yourselves warned.

Contaminated is a nice slow burn. Instead of throwing shocking deaths and bed-wetting surprises on every page, it concentrates on an element that is much more vital to a good novel: character. Velvet is in her late teens. Her parents are missing and she has legal custody of her younger sister. Velvet goes to school part-time, holds down a job at a care home and is a mother to little Opal. The diet drink ThinPro turned much of the population into dangerous zombie-like creatures, and Velvet is trying to survive in a world that is dealing with the aftermath of that. The story is told from Velvet’s point of view and it is remarkable how far into her head and life the reader gets. If this book had been about her jumping about beheading the walking dead, I would have become very bored very quickly. But instead, we get to see her struggle in a world that’s already been shaken by death and terror. We see her cope with the change from a world where she was an ordinary child with school, a boyfriend and two normal parents, to a world where she’s on her own. She’s lost almost everything and is expected to behave like an adult and make adult decisions. For Velvet, coming of age means abandonment.

One of the things I love about Contaminated is the stark and very believable reality it portrays. The horror is not in shambling zombie people and their victims. The zombies are the victims. The horror is in the world the contamination has created. People affected by the diet drink (Connies) and not exterminated during the first few waves of infection, were either lobotomised or, later, fitted with special collars. Both methods ‘neutralise’ the Connie and allow relatives to take them home. That Connies wear these collars and are kept in kennels says something about the climate in which Velvet lives. There is a subtle little metaphor slipped in where Velvet see a pack of dogs running loose in her old neighbourhood. What does that say? It says the Victims of ThinPro are hunted, collared, kennelled and even put down – they are treated worse than animals and certainly far less than a human being.

There is a parallel between old age and the Connies. Connies have trouble doing everyday activities for themselves. Many of them need help bathing, eating and even going to the toilet. When a family member collects a Connie from the kennel, they get a complimentary adult diaper and a set of restraints. When you consider the horror ThinPro has caused and then have a look at the goodie bag the kennel gives out, it tells you all you need to know about how much help is available to care for a family member. Assisted housing, transport, carers allowance – nothing is set up to encourage or help someone care for another individual. Just like real life. I was a carer for my grandfather for many years. He suffered from dementia and had mobility problems. But in order for both of us to survive, I had to work. But while I was at work who cares for him? Who stops him wandering into the street? At what point was I expected to lock him up? Use restraints when he became frightening? At what point was anybody going to notice that it wasn’t just him that needed help; I did too. But that help wasn’t there, and it nearly killed me. Why would anyone care for a zombie, some reviewers have asked. It’s unrealistic. Well, is it really? Ask instead why would anyone would give up their life to care for someone they love.

Contaminated is beautifully written. I couldn’t fault a single word. Good chapter lengths, no melodrama, strong and engaging characters, and just enough to spike the adrenaline and keep the reader in a constant state of caution and consternation. No, it’s not action packed, but the story is first class. I read the whole book straight through, only breaking for tea and to re-fill my Scooby Doo hot water bottle. I loved every word and I hope there will be a sequel. Em Garner is an author I will be keeping a close eye on from now on.

I received an ebook copy from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review. This did not alter my opinion in any way.

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Kai Koson

Book Review: Blood Moon (Book Three - The Ravenscliff Series)

Blood Moon (Book Three - The Ravenscliff Series)Blood Moon by Geoffrey Huntington

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blood Moon is the third book in the Ravenscliff Series, a saga about a teenage sorcerer who has been orphaned and shipped off to live in a spooky cliff-side mansion. What I love most about these books is the main character himself, Devon. He’s a nice guy. He’s not annoying; he’s intelligent, kind, charismatic and never whines. He’s the sort of teenage son I’m sure many parents long for and will never get. It’s the adults I find irritating. They complicate things, they lie, they hide things and they’re spiteful – just like real life. I feel Devon’s frustration with them. It’s clear at this point that he’s determined to discover his heritage no matter what the danger, so why don’t they help him out? It’s every child’s right to know where they came from. No one would blame him if he used his powers to bang a few heads together.

I love the purity of the Ravenscliff Series. It’s good old fashioned story-telling that doesn’t rely heavily on romance to attract its readers. While Blood Moon does have some elements of the ol’ love triangle trappings, it’s insignificant when compared with the rest of the story, and what a huge story it is. My advice to anyone thinking of reading this series is PAY ATTENTION. There are lots of characters spread over several different time periods and it gets complicated. I’ve scratched a bald patch trying to figure out how everyone fits into Ravenscliff’s mysteries.

My only real complaint is that I don’t feel the reader gets enough of a payoff at the end of the book. Yes, we find out some important things, but there is a lot left hanging, a lot of questions left unanswered and situations left unresolved. I was left hollering a dramatic slow-motion ‘NOOOOOOOOOO!’ at the end of the last chapter. Kudos for one heck of a cliffhanger, but I was disappointed that so much hadn’t been resolved.

On the whole, Blood Moon is well-written. There are a few clichéd sections of dialogue, a few too many exclamation marks, and a very confusing moment when the infamous East Wing turned into the West Wing, but aside from that, the writing flowed smooth and easy, and was an absolute pleasure to read. I can’t express enough how much I wish there were more books like this in our book shops. The adventure and the story are central. There’s no fancy showing off with weird metaphors and page after page of the main character brooding over his terrible predicaments. Ravenscliff is pure story, pure magic, mystery and adventure. I love it because it can be read without getting an ulcer.

I can’t wait for the next book. There’s so much I need to know and I’m hoping there’s some big answers coming. I don’t know how many books are planned in this series, but I feel the Nightwing concept could allow more adventures for Devon even after his own personal mystery is wrapped up. I can’t even fathom what’s coming next, but I did hear a rumour about vampires…

I received a free copy of the ebook from the publisher via NetGalley. This did not alter my opinion in any way.

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Kai Koson

Book Review: Lockwood and Co: The Screaming Staircase

The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co., #1)The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Straight to the point. I find books as good as Lockwood and Co: The Screaming Staircase very difficult to review. Why? Because I’ve enjoyed them so much I find it tough to be critical. A good review, after all, is all about balance and objectivity. Well, stuff that. I loved this book to the point of obsession. While I was reading it, I didn’t want to do anything else. Sleep, work and toilet breaks became inconveniences, and other people only existed to be told how good this book was and why they should be reading it and buying multiple copies as Christmas presents. And if those people attempted to change the subject they were cut off with a perfectly reasonable “Your new baby is pink and boring – goodbye”.

So balanced, this review is not. Obsessed, I proudly declare myself to be. The next few moments will be consist of exactly why I love this book and why I am prepared to hire a secret agent to get my hands on the next instalment asap.

First and foremost: The Screaming Staircase is comedy gold. I have never read Jonathan Stroud before so I have no clue if his other books are funny, if he is generally funny or is descended from a long line of funny family members, but going by this book, the man is in the funny elite. Stroud is the Master of comedy timing. Making a reader laugh is a rare talent. Hilarious dialogue, amusing character monologues and comedy situations all take immense skill to craft. He knows where and when to put in the laughs. He knows how to creep up behind a reader and get them right in the ribs with a tickle tackle. He got me so many times drinking hot tea became a hazard. I switched to squash.

Characterisation is another strong skill of Stroud’s. Anthony Lockwood, lead operative and owner of Lockwood and Co. Investigators is a charming boy, a little scatty around the edges, slightly bonkers and incredibly readable. He reminded me a little of the Eleventh Doctor and the BBC’s Sherlock combined. He’s a bit of a disaster waiting to happen, but his intentions are always good and he seems to know more than he lets on, imploring you to lend him the trust that his agent (and the point of view character), Lucy, already seems to have in him.

Lockwood and Lucy, along with another operative, George, hunt ghosts. They live in a world where a ghost infestation is just as real and likely as a rat infestation. They even have equipment to banish, deter and trap ghosts. It’s honestly spooky stuff, and so original and well thought-out. The plot covers a few dark themes, but the light-hearted and humorous writing style takes the edge off and always keeps it a fun read (although I will admit to a small sniffle at one point plus the occasional urge to check under my bed, inside the oven, fridge etc).

Suitable for children and adults, The Screaming Staircase is written with heart. It’s an incredible book and – now brace yourselves because I’m about to make a bold statement – I will read it again. I don’t say that often, because there are too many good books in the world to read the same one twice, but this is just one of those books that make me want to take it back to bed with a cup of tea, two slices of wholemeal and a mobile phone that I’ve, whoops, accidentally turned off how did that happen.

I can’t wait to hear more about the next book. I can’t wait for a film to be announced because I’m convinced there will be one. Lockwood and Co has the potential to be The Next Big Thing. I see a string of novels. I see myself queuing at midnight for book number seven. I see myself annoying everyone I know by continually boasting that I spotted the Lockwood and Co phenomenon before they did. In conclusion, this is my book of the year, and I look forward to visiting Lockwood and Co World sometime within the next decadeand purchasing my very own miniature ghost head in a jar and plush George.

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley, and this in no way influenced my review.

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Kai Koson

The Good Life

Just been to a chocolate exhibition at Kensington Olympia, read a couple of great books (The Raven Boys and Sorcerers of Nightwing), Halloween is coming, Batman Arkham Origins comes out on Friday and I've got all next week off to play it. Life is goooooooooood.
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Kai Koson

Review: Ravenscliff: Sorcerers of the Nightwing by Geoffrey Huntington

Sorcerers of the Nightwing (The Ravenscliff Series #1)Sorcerers of the Nightwing by Geoffrey Huntington

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I chose to read Sorcerers of Nightwing because of the spooky cover and the mention of a haunted mansion in the blurb. Halloween was approaching and I like to get into the spirit of things by watching sanity-curdling films, listening to Black Sabbath and hissing “GET OUUUUUT” through my neighbours’ air vents. When I got my copy, I promptly lit some gothic candles (ignoring the blazing sunshine outside) and spent an entire day searching for my Headless Cross album.

You can probably tell, I was expecting to like this book. And I did. More than that, when I spend an entire day in my pyjamas without tweeting, washing, or eating anything but cheesy Wotsits, it means I loved it.

Sorcerers of Nightwing is a Young Adult book, so don’t expect anything horrifically frightening, but it has what so many paranormal books lack: atmosphere. The descriptions of Ravenscliff are vivid, ambient and fun. The thunder and lightning should be a tacky cliché, but it somehow works. Spooky and mysterious, Ravenscliff is an awesome place that I wish was real. I wanted to explore it with Devon, sneak into the East Wing with him, candle flickering, bravado turned on but fully prepared to run like a Whippet and leave him behind should anything white and floaty turn the corner.

The main protagonist, Devon March, is a nice lad who I didn’t want to slap even once (A true miracle). I felt intensely sorry for him, and even a little bit protective. He’s suffered a trauma or two, but he’s not the wallowing sort or the bad boy rebel type. He’s just a young boy trying to get on and work out who he is and what his place is within Ravenscliff. His character was a refreshing change from the usual emo stereotype. Hey, I loved Harry Potter and still wear my Gryffindor scarf on cold days but, wow, that kid could whinge.

Sorcerers of Nightwing is well-written with a narrative that flows and a plot that is well-paced, mysterious and absorbing. It’s definitely more of a story-based book than romantic-based. I hate it when a romance takes over a perfectly good story. Keep that for an actual romance novel. I came for spooky sobbing and the creepy caretaker, and those things I got. I loved this book. It was a great concept with well-written characters, awesome storytelling and a wicked shock ending. I look forward to the next book in the series.

I received a copy of the ebook through NetGalley in return for an honest review. Much thanks to Diversion Books.

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