So if you buy a book solely because the cover is beautiful, or because the title is intriguing, then you accept the risk that the book might be not so good. But when you buy a book because you've seen it mentioned all over the place and because the plot sounds like ten different kinds of awesome, then you're your expectations might be somewhat higher. And yet, sometimes, the spur of the moment book will be fantastic and the anticipated one, well, let's turn our attention to Nights of Villjamur.
A city scrambling to prepare for a fast approaching ice age, masses of desperate refugees pushing at its walls, is left leaderless when the emperor commits suicide. Someone, or something, is killing of important council members, and a dark cult is making a grab for power. Zombie like creatures are shambling around the countryside and a war is brewing. Seriously, all that stuff happens in this book. All that stuff and then some. A plot like that, you might say its a bit too ambitious, maybe a bit too much action and excitement for one average sized book. But you almost certainly wouldn't look at that and say it sounds boring.
I went into Nights of Villjamur expected to be challenged, and challenged I was. But it wasn't because the plot was so complex, the prose so twistedly weird, no, the challenge was to finish the damn thing. A challenge I failed.
The problem, well, one of the problems, is that Mark Charan Newton is all tell and no show. I can't think of one examples in the three quarters of the book I made it through where Newton actually shows something. It's all, 'Bob walked down the stairs, he was tired and also a little hungry. He passed John, who he didn't like because four years ago he cheated at a game of poker.' Obviously that's not a dirct quote, but seriously you could open it to any page and find a quote not much better.
This telling over showing is particularly evident when we look the character Brynd. He's commander of the elite night guard, an albino, and a closeted homosexual. Everyone mistrusts him because he's an albino. I know this not because we ever actually see anyone mistrusting him, but because he, you guessed it, tells us. Or other characters will think, 'here come Brynd, I don't trust him because of his freaky white skin.' Another book I read recently had a character who, like Brynd, was an outcast because of their genetics. I'm referring to Jant Shira, from the excellent Castle trilogy. Throughout this books we see other characters too unnerved to meet Jant's eyes, obviously highly uncomfortable in his presence. He obviously makes people nervous. No one ever acts like Brynd bothers them, they just tell us he does.
Or there's an evil council member dude who wants to take control of the city, and to do that he wants to start a war. So he goes to the head armorer and says, 'tell everyone this arrow was made in our enemy nation.' And the armorer is all like 'uh, no.' And then the councilor says, 'do it or I'll beat the living shit out of you.' No, really, he's that subtle. And then later he thinks about how he's got to go do some more clever manipulating. Ah, excuse me? Straight up threats do not a master manipulator make...
The characters lack any real depth, and there's definitely no mystery to them. How can there be when they tell us everything? The telling is even worse when it's done in dialogue. 'How do you feel about your boss?' Asks character a. 'I used to like him but now I don't because he didn't promote me.' Who actually talks like that? It also feels like the characters interact only on a most superficial level. The emperor, for example, beat his wife and possibly also murdered her. And yet Brynd, his most trusted adviser, seems to have no opinion about it. Newton also has a some little writing quirks that he repeats a lot, most annoyingly in the dialogue of different characters, which makes them sound very similar. (Also, at one point some random character suddenly realises that he's never liked communal toilets. How do you suddenly realise something you've always known?)
Mostly I'm just really disappointed. This book had such crazy amounts of potential, and I felt like the character of Brynd in particular could have been pretty amazing. Could have been, would have been, but ultimately wasn't. Maybe the next books in this serious are better, but as I couldn't even finish this one I don't know if I'll ever find out.(less)
Do you know what I hate? When you’re recommending a book to someone, or maybe you’re just telling them what the book you’re currently reading is about, and as soon as you say it’s science fiction or fantasy you get the look. The ‘oh, you like reading that stuff? Mine is a more refined taste.’ Seriously, I hate it. Half the time these people who disregard speculative fiction so readily barely read at all, or they only read what their favourite famous person tells them to, and I’d bet they’d never really tried to read a fantasy novel before.
Yeah, I sure do hate those people. Ignoring that fact that, well, I am one of them. ‘What are you reading?” I might ask. (But I promise I won’t interrupt your reading to ask you because I hate that as well). “Oh,” you’ll reply, “it’s this really good romance-” Whoops, and now I’m giving you the look. Romance? Really? I don’t read that stuff myself…
So you’ll imagine my surprise when a quarter of the way through A Brother’s Price I realised that what I had thought was going to be a light science fiction story was actually a romance novel. I couldn't even justify it and say it was science fiction with a romantic subplot, it was definitely a romance with a science fiction sub plot. It was trashy romance with a thin, wavering science fiction subplot.
If I’m being really honest I would say that apple flavoured bubble gum has more in common with fresh apples than A Brother’s Price does with actual science fiction. Its concept- what if one man was born for every ten woman- doesn’t seem to be more than an excuse to pepper the novel with some of the worst examples of the helpless woman stereotype I have ever seen, except the helpless woman are actually men, so that makes it ok apparently.
The women ride about tending to the land and keeping the law and drinking beer straight from the bottle, while the few men in the book stand about wringing their hands and getting rescued by the women. The female characters are strong and independent, while the males either passively accept what the women say is best (and are thus marked as good), or are prone to tantrums and sulking, (and so we know they are bad). What I’m trying to say is, if Price hadn’t done a gender switch this book would probably offend anyone with half a brain, or else not got published at all.
Even with the gender switch, I’m troubled. Spencer is a decent writer, nothing overly impressive but her words are clear and the plot (what there is of it) cracks along. Her female characters have depth, believable and unique motivations, flaws and scars. So really there’s no excuse for her male characters being such shallow caricatures that always seem to be one shock away from a fit of the vapours. Possibly Spencer was trying to make some kind of cutting social comment that I didn’t catch, but I have a nasty suspicion that she wasn’t doing it intentionally, that it was more of a ‘oh, look, the women are acting like good strong men and the men are wringing their hands like silly woman!’ kind of deal. Which bugs me, actually.
And even if we forgive this, there’s just so much potential here that gets wasted. The base concept is sound, and Spencer does touch upon some interesting implications of a society were men are a scarcity. The world has a sense of real history, with a major civil war that ended only a generation before still effecting the land. The problem is Spencer wastes much of this potential, discarding everything that does not serve the romance between a farmboy and the royal family. I think if the novel had of focused on the farmboy's grandmothers, who we learn were spies in the civil war and kidnapped a prince to be their husband, I suspect this would have been a far better book. Or if we focused on the royal sister Hayley who is AWOL on a mission of revenge for much of the book, or even if the plot between Farmboy and the sisters had have involved more than loving gazes and walks in the gardens, it would have been a better book.
Which I guess is like saying if it were a wholly different book, then I probably would have liked it. If romance is your thing give this one a shot, but just don't tell me because I might give you the look...(less)
I finished this book a while ago, but I’ve held off on writing a review on it. Mostly because I was trying to figure out what I didn’t like about it, because while it’s clear to me that Stina Leicht’s debut and I didn’t connect, I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I think I can confidently say that the issue is between me and the book, and not with the book its self. Blood and Honey has garnered itself a slew of positive reviews across the internet, many from sources I trust.
It was these positive reviews that led me to picking up the book in the first place. When it was first released I gave the blurb a once over and disregarded the book as another urban fantasy, yawn. But then the reviews started coming in, painting the story as something much more. The book is set in 1970's Ireland, an era not exactly known for its stability, and revolves around a young kid called Liam. Liam has a real knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and despite being mostly innocent, can’t seem to keep himself out a string of really nasty prison camps. On top this, and unbeknownst to poor Liam, it turns out that he’s part fae. Part nasty, violent, hard to control, beast shaped fae.
This is a dark, gritty book. Normally when a fantasy novel is described as dark or gritty you might expect a certain kind of style. But 'Of Blood and Honey' is not dark in that over saturated, hyper realized Abercrombie/Tarantino kind of way, it’s dark in a much more realistic, human kind of way. This might be at the root of why this book did not work for me. I make no apologies for the fact that I read to escape and be entertained, and there’s little escapism to be found in a book so deeply rooted in the muck and mire of the real world. Reading, for example, about Jant Shira of Steph Swainstan’s Castle book’s drug addiction was entertaining, reading about Liam’s addiction to heroin was just depressing.
The fantasy aspects of this book were fairly limited. This was a consequence of Liam being in the dark as to his true heritage for almost the whole novel, and I think we’ll see a lot more of the other worldly stuff in the sequels. What we do see certainly held promise. We have the fae and fallen angels at war with each other, and an order of human priest who think all other world creatures are on the same team, and are trying to eradicate them. Often in these books the ‘ancient order” or what have you has all the answers, and probably my favourite aspect the book was watching the priest assigned to watch over Liam trying to figure things out. The fallen angels, what little we see of them, are delightfully creepy.
But as I said, this novel definitely leans more on the urban than it does on the fantasy. Which is another aspect that probably effected my enjoyment. Knowing that the sequel is going to be more fantasy heavy is all well and good, but it doesn’t help with the book I’m reading now.
The characters are well drawn. We see the most of Liam, and he’s likeable enough and well meaning, but also a bit of an idiot. He’s definitely more passive than a usually like my characters to be, he tends to do what others tell him or to react to what others do, instead of ever taking the initiative for himself. The character I liked most, who we saw only little of, was Liam’s fae father Bran. Here’s a character with spark and wit, one who makes things happen. We see glimpses of a fascinating backstory, and more importantly, we get the impression that his current story, playing out almost entirely off page, is even more interesting. At the risk of repeating myself, I think book two is where a lot more of Bran will be seen.
The question is, can I forget how overall meh I found this book enough to pick up the sequel?
I would like to stress one last time that my feelings for this book were hugely subjective. Leicht writes very well, and despite my misgiving I never considered not finishing this book. I think this is one that you’ll have to try for yourself.(less)
An alternate title for this book would be: Back Story: How to do it right! Somewhat less catchy than The Steel Remains, to be sure. But very, very true. I can’t think of any other books that fills in the back story of it’s characters as seamlessly as this one does. And guys, there’s a lot of back story.
The book is set a decade or so after a huge war, in which previously antagonistic nations had to band together to best an external threat. The narrative follows three hero’s of this war, Ringil, Archeth, and Egar as they each undergo their own little narrative quests which eventually merge into one big one. Ringil must return home, where he is a barely tolerated disgrace (because he’s a *gasp* homosexual!) and try to track down a cousin sold into slavery. Arceth is trying to learn how to work with a new emperor, and is trying to understand her own past. And Egar is struggling to feel content in his role as clan chief, while meanwhile his own brother’s plot to overthrow him.
It’s the kind of book where the back story is integral, where what happened before the story commences is just as important as what’s happening now. Think the first rise of Voldemort in the Harry Potter books, or the overthrow of House Targaryen in A Song of Ice and Fire. However, unlike those two examples, The Steel Remains is a relatively slim book. (Especially when you consider that it’s the first part of a fantasy trilogy… )And yet I have no trouble envisioning the war we never actually see, as though Morgan had spent chapters and chapters re-telling it, (which he does not).
The key, I think, is that Morgan assumes his reader possesses an ounce of intelligence. Such a simple thing, and yet so few authors really get it. You don’t have to spell things out. I know you want to make doubly sure that the reader understands this crucial bit of information, but guys, guys, seriously, you have to trust us! We’ll get it, and we’ll even thank you for making us figure it out ourselves. Isn’t it better to assume that smart people would want to read your book, instead of ones that need their hands held every step of the way?
Consider the three main characters of The Steel Remains, who I have already briefly mentioned. At no point does Morgan come out and say that they’re friends, or that they even know each other, and for much of the book none of their scenes overlap. But we slowly come to realise that all three fought in the war. Egar might briefly recall something that Ringil once said, or Ringil might have cause to think of Archeth, and their thoughts have such a perfect mix of affection and affectionate insult that only true friends can understand, that the reader knows these guys were close. It’s perfectly done, truly perfect.
When you finish this book it feels like you’ve been reading about these characters for twelve epic volumes, so well do you feel you know them. (I wish I could read about them for twelve epic volumes, because they’re a fascinating and entertaining bunch.) When the three are finally reunited it's as emotionally satisfying as if you'd been waiting for that moment to happen for years, instead of just a few hundred pages.
The minor characters are also excellently done. I want to draw particular attention to the Emperor. When first he is introduced I pretty much wrote him off. He's the spoiled son new to the throne, which had been held for many years by his wise father. He's selfish and mean and a terrible, terrible, ruler. Except, uh, maybe he's not? Rarely am I as surprised by a character as I was by this guy. Props to Morgan, for realz.
Morgan’s writing is an excellent mix of humour and darkness. But I don’t want to draw Abercrombie comparisons because it seems like every time a darker fantasy comes along now his name gets dropped. And anyway, I find Morgan’s characters to be real in a way that Abercrombie’s are not, less bleak for bleaks sake perhaps.
It will, I suspect, be a long wait for October and the continuation to this awesome trilogy.(less)
I like romance in my books. Big fan of it, in fact. Big, sweeping, epic romance is right up my alley, and considering how fussy I am with most thinks I’m remarkably happy with any kind of romance. Heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual, it all works for me. Hell, I’m even secretly hoping that Jaime and Cersie will work things out, those crazy kids.
So, yes, I like the romance. But, and this is an important distinction, I tend to not like romance novels.* The reason why I don’t like romance novels was clearly illustrated to me, in case I had forgotten, when I decided to read Gail Carriger’s 'Soulless.' 'Soulless' had a cool sounding plot, and a eye catching cover, and I’d seen it described as ‘mannerpunk’ which tickled my fancy, so even though I knew it was technically a romance novel, I still picked it up.
It’s set in your standard Victorian steampunk world, one wherein Vampires and Werewolves live out in the open and in relative peace with normal humans. Alexia, our heroin, is unfashionably Italian, and entirely without a soul. I could not stop thinking about the Simpsons' episode where Bart sells his, but Alexia seems to suffer none of the problems that plagued Bart. Instead the only real ramification seems to be that whenever a vampire or werewolf comes into contact with her, they are rendered wholly mortal.
Pretty cool idea. And there are plenty of those in this book. The world is well drawn and interesting, and the characters are fleshed out nicely. I was a big fan of Alexandria’s flamboyant vampire friend and his army of well dressed spies, who in my opinion did not get nearly enough page time. Of Alexia herself, well. Not a fan, let’s say. Which I’ll freely admit is all on me. I’m just not a fan of that particular breed of female character. Overly stubborn, quick to offense, ridiculously opinionated and Quirky with a capital Q. (First person to suggest that I dislike them because they remind me of myself gets a whollop.) They just annoy me, and Alexia is the worst I’ve seen in a while. But, despite my personal misgiving, she’d still well crafted and I don’t doubt many out there will like her.
And in the first few chapters there seemed to be a lot of potential for the plot. Someone out there is making “unlicensed” vampires, rogue werewolves are disappearing, and a mysterious society of academics has set up shop. And here’s where we come to why I do not like romance novels, (usually. There are exceptions!). Because too often a romance novel is not about the plot, it’s about the romance. Rather, the romance is the plot. All of the cool plot happenings in 'Soulless' operate in the background while the romance plays out in the foreground. The plot is really only there to give Alexia and gruff werewolf detective Conall an excuse to interact, and as the novel progresses it works only as a means to force them together and result in more makeouts. (And, really, is being held in a cell the best time to be undressing each other? I have to think not…)
I understand, obviously, that a romance novel is going to feature a lot of romance. I guess I just want it to not be all about the romance to the determent of everything else. Alexia’s soullessness was never really explored, and the mystery of the missing werewolves and newborn vampires was wrapped up neatly and ridiculously obviously. Like, so obvious that you spend most of the book assuming that it must be a red herring, because surely it wouldn't be that obvious...
Despite these negative words, I don’t doubt for a second that a lot of people would enjoy this book. (And I know for a fact that Carriger has a huge following). It’s well written, and the romance between Alexia and Conall is engaging. I just wish that there was more to the book then just the romance.
I doubt I’ll read on further in this series, and I’m sure it will be a while before I try another romance novel. (Although, if you have any recommendations for one that doesn’t stomp on its own plot, I’d be glad to hear it!)
*Please note that all comments about the romance genre are my own opinion. I’ve read very few romance novels and am in no position to comment of the genre as a whole with any kind of authority authority. Peace!(less)
Has anyone here played Final Fantasy XIII? I was super excited for the game, especially given how extremely much I loved XII, but when it finally arrived my anticipation gave way to disappointment really quickly. The game starts out with a really impressive cut scene, (I mean, no matter what negative things you can say about the game, the visuals are really stunning), and when cut scene ends and you take control of the character for, oh, about thirty seconds. Then there’s another cut scene. The character is yours again, for maybe a minute this time and then, yep, cut scene. The game continues like this for way too long, and normally I’m a fan of the cut scene, they’re like sparkly little rewards for all your finger mashing hard work, but when you buy a game you actually want to play it, you know? Otherwise just rent a movie.
Reading ‘Feed’ reminded me of nothing so much as the start of Final Fantasy XIII. The book is all tiny bite sizes piece of actual plot, massive info dump, half a page of character interaction, massive info dump. And it’s not just at the start either, the whole entire book is like that. And it’s not that the info dumps are boring, because they’re actually not. The book, as you’ve probably heard, is set in a future the zombie apocalypse has been and gone and the world has adjusted. I don’t doubt that the “science” behind the outbreak is pure rubbish, it was still really interesting explore the ways society might react to a zombie outbreak in the long term. The over the top security and testing seemed plausible to me, and like I said, it was interesting. The problem is that I don’t buy books to read about hypothetical pet laws and security features- I buy books for the stories. And getting to the story in Feed was an exercise in frustration.
This is only made worse when you realise that the annoying excess of infodumping is actually the best thing about the book. The plot, once you peel all the infodumps away from it, centres around a presidential election and the team of bloggers assigned to covering it. I couldn't have cared less about it. It might cultural thing, my overall apathy to the plot line. Not being an American I don’t quite get the zeal that surrounds presidential elections, and this might explain why I cared so little about what was happening. But that’s not right, is it? After all I’ve never lived in a feudal society, but I can rattle off a long list of books where I’ve cared who makes king or queen very much. I’ve never been a cop, or an assassin, or lived in a post-apocalyptic wasteland or traversed oceans by ship, but I’ve read books that have made me care about these things. That’s kinda the point to books isn’t it?
It all comes down to characters. It doesn’t matter how mundane or alien a plot, if it’s populated with well drawn characters it’s easy to become invested in the outcome. Hell, if China Mieville could make me bawl like a baby over the fate of an insect lady in ‘Perdido Street Station,’ making me give a crap about who becomes president should be easy. And yet, Grant fails hard at it. The two republican candidates in the book are ridiculous caricatures. I mean, these guys are such stereotypes, it’s actually embarrassing. One embodies everything “good” about republican politics, the other represents the worst of it. For a good while I was convinced there must be more to them than meets the eye, that the good guy must be hiding a dark secret, that maybe the bad guy would actually step up and save the day, or something, anything…
Georgia and Shawn, our main characters an adopted siblings, are not much better. I get the feeling we’re supposed to see Georgia as this super star of hard news, fighting in the name truth, justice and the American way. Mostly she just goes on and on about the nobility or the news reporter, and the public’s right to truth. Which, hey, I agree. But to say it gets laid on thick would be an understatement. After the twentieth mention of how bloggers are the new American hero my eyes were sore from rolling too much. And I could never quite get a handle on the relationship between Georgia and Shawn. Are they just a really close brother and sister? Are they sleeping together? I don’t know if the book was making it so ambiguous on purpose, but it really bugged me.
Despite all the negative things I’ve said about this book, I didn’t hate it. The interesting world building, even if it was delivered to the reader via info dump after info dump, was interesting and went a long way in saving the book. I can’t say that I’ll be actively seeking out the sequel, but if I’m ever like, stuck in an airport or something, I would probably pick it up.(less)
I liked Mistborn. Wouldn’t go as far as to say I really liked it or anything, but I certainly enjoyed reading it. I figure the book has enough fans and twice as many reviews already without needing to add my thoughts to it, and in any case I’d rather talk about book two in Brandan Sanderson’s trilogy. Because while I liked Mistborn, I struggled to make it to the end of Well of Ascension.
And I mean really struggled. It’s not poorly written or offensive or anything like that, it’s just so boring. So unbelievable boring. And it shouldn’t be! If you take all the parts out of the book and look at them it sounds like a really awesome read. Tense political situations, siege warfare, families turned against each other and romances tested. Awesome, awesome, awesome. In theory.
But the problem is that all of the characters are just so good and noble and nice, it leaves the book almost wholly without tension. It’s not that I expect every fantasy novel to take inspiration from the gritty characters of Joe Abercrombie and his ilk, but I don’t think some shades of grey are too much to ask for. You would think for example, given their leader’s recent death, that there might be a power struggle amongst the old crew, or that some of them might choose to leave. Nope, they all continue to fight the fight because it’s the right thing to do. No conflict there.
Vin is having trouble with her role as Elend’s personal Mistborn, a situation that is only exacerbated by the Mistborn Zane who, despite working for the enemy, keeps saving her life. Lets set aside the fact that this entire plotline is a really annoying example of the whole ‘this-would-be-cleared-up-in-five-seconds-flat-if-characters-a-and-b-would-just-talk-to-other-for-crying-out-loud’ trope, it could have created tension. Nothing like a good old fashioned love triangle to liven things up, eh? Surely Vin would be torn between the man she thinks she loves and this mysterious Mistborn who already seems to know her better then Elend ever could? Nope. Her feelings for Elend never waver, the only doubt inside her comes from whether or not she’s good enough for him. Yawn.
And let’s talk about Vin and Elend’s relationship please. It’s a rare writer who can pull off a decent sex scene, so by all means feel free to leave them out. But don’t expect me to believe that two healthy, unsupervised, in love young adults living lives of extreme pressure and mortal danger aren’t doing it off page. Vin and Elend’s relationship is wholly chaste (and completely lacking in chemistry…) and there’s no reason for it to be so, other then they’re not married, (even though we see next to no evidence that society really gives a crap. And you know what? Even if they did realistic characters would still be doing it- or at least thinking about doing it…) Let’s be honest, the reason for this is the author’s personal religious beliefs, and it made it hard to “believe” in the world Sandersan was presenting. So no tension here, sexual or otherwise.
Elend was my favourite character in Mistorn. This slouching, rebellious, powerful young noble had the potential to be another Jimmy the Hand, or a fantasy Ferris Bueller. Never have I been more disappointed to get inside of a characters head. The kid is noble to the point of stupidity. And not in an interesting and thought provoking Ned Stark kind of way, just in a stupid and boring kind of way. And I also felt that Sanderson completely failed to explore the angst and tension that could have resulted from Elend’s own father laying siege to the city. The fact that his dad clearly wanted to kill him and destroy his idealistic dreams didn’t seem to bother Elend anymore than if it was a stranger camped outside his walls.
Bah! I could go on. Everyone is wholly good, except for the bad guys who are wholly bad. Was Mistborn like this? To a degree, I think it was. But it was saved by Kelsier who was such a complex and shaded character that he made up for it. The only character in the Well of Ascension who is at all complex is the leader of the other army (the one not led by Elend’s father), but he gets too little page time to balance out the lack of complexity in everyone else.
I don’t see myself picking up Hero of Ages any time soon, nor anything else by Sanderson. There’s nothing wrong with being wholesome and nice, but it sure makes for some boring reading.(less)
So you might remember that I was not a fan of Ari Marmell's Conqueror's Shadow. I've started to suspect that my dislike for that book might lie more with me than the actual writing, because I've since read another well received novel and had very similar problems with it.
I'm talking about Kevin Hearne's Hounded. I saw positive reviews for it all about the place, with liberal usage of words like "clever," "funny" and "intelligent." But while I actually finished this one, I can't say that I particular enjoyed it. My biggest issue, as it was with Conqueror's Shadow, is that the author created a heavy back story for his protagonist, but it doesn't seem to weigh on the character at all.
The hero of Hounded is Atticus O'Sullivan, an Irish Druid who's trying to lay low with his stolen sword in Arizona. He's also two thousand years old. Dude is older than Christ, not that you would ever suspect it. And not just because he's eternally 21 in appearance, but because his 2000 years of living haven't seemed to really effect him. I would think that living for a couple of centuries would make a guy question the point to life, make him wonder what comes next, that sort of thing. At one point he offhandly mentions that he fathered a son a few hundred years back, but it's not brought up again. Surely watching your own offspring grow old and die would mess a guy up a little? I'm not saying I wanted him to be as angst filled and existentially crises-ed as Anne Rice's vampires, but I would have liked to see him be a little darker as a result of his extended life span.
But not so. Early in the book he bargain's to extend his lie even further, and no real motiation is given for this. Now, if you were dealing with a character facing a human life span you'd probably get away with that, the motivation would be obvious. But Atticus has already lived for 2000 years, honestly I would expect a little more. Is he that terrified of dying? Does he have unfinished business on the mortal plane? Nope, he's just wants to keep on living. Or something. The decision is literally given zero explanation, as though the reasons should be totally obvious.
It all seemed just a little too shallow and light to me. I couldn't really believe that a 2000 year old druid would be as happy as Atticus. The guy runs an occult book store and sells teas with names that are really, really, terrible puns. He's been doing this for a while, and doesn't seem at all bored with it. Admittedly, we do get little hints of a less breezy side of him. He's extremely paranoid for example, but his paranoia seems only to benefit him and certainty we don't see it having any negative effect on his life or relationships which realistically it would. There's also one moment where we briefly mentions that if came down to living or dying he would easily abandon his friends and his beloved wolf hound to die. Now that fascinated me, and was exactly the kind of darkness I would have expected to see more of. It's obvious that Atticus places living above all else, I just wish we got some hint as to why. Maybe in future books?
But as I said as the start of this review, I'm fairly sure the problem here lies with me. Most people seemed to really enjoy this book, and it is an easy read. It sets out to be a light and entertaining read, and it hits that mark perfectly. It's me that wanted it to be something else. If you're the kind who tends to over think stuff, you might be the same. (less)
The first thing that struck me about Break was how nice it was to read a YA book that didn't revolve around or devote a huge chunk of itself to romance. Jonah already has a girlfriend, (well, kind of), and while he likes her a whole heap he doesn’t obsess over her or doubt her feelings or worry overmuch about the relationship or any of that standard YA jazz. Break is a book hugely concerned with relationships, just not the teenagers in love kind.
This a book about family. Jonah has a brother, Jesse, who is allergic to pretty much everything. Regular trips to the emergency room kind of allergic. Good chance of dying young kind of allergic. His parents weren’t coping so well with it before, and they’re coping even less now there’s a new baby in the house. It doesn’t help that milk is among the many, many, many things Jesse is allergic to, and with a new baby there’s a lot more of it around. It’s a family on the edge of breaking, (that point between broken and unbroken is a running theme through this aptly titled novel) and Jonah is doing everything he can to hold it together.
It’s a lot of stress for a 17 year old kid, which probably explains why Jonah has also gone a little bit nuts. So apparently when you break a bone it heals stronger. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but Jonah certainly believes it is, and that’s why he’s embarked on a mission to break every bone in his body. As crazy as this sounds Jonah actually has a well thought out system of logic behind his quest, and slowly figuring out where his mind was at with this was one of my favourite aspects of the book. (Hint: it's not as obvious as you might think).
But still, ouch much? I don’t if the author Hannah Moskowitz broke a bunch of bones when she was a kid or maybe in the name of art she went out and broke a bunch for research, but she has the descriptions of it down. The anticipation of pain, the sick feeling, the crunch… It’s not so hard, I think, for an author to make a reader feels empathetic pain, but to make them feel physical pain along with the character… Moskowitza pulls it off, and I don’t know whether to be impressed or annoyed at her. There’s one scene where Jonah dives into an empty pool that made my heart physically race it was so awful. I don’t want to give the impression that the book is full of gore or going for cheap shocks, because it’s not like that at all. But it is definitely full on!
Another thing I liked was the relationship between Noah and his brother. But then, I’m a real sucker for brothers. I liked the way Jesse was obviously so fed up with Jonah’s overbearing concern, but at the same time obviously cares about him and panics at the thought of being without him. Similarly I liked that Jonah cared for Jesse so much, but at the same time resented him just a little. Their relationship was complex and convincing.
Less convincing were the parents. I had trouble accepting that they could be so very bad at looking after Jesse and dealing with his allergies. Or that they could be so blind to the fact that their other son was regularly doing himself serious damage. It’s not that I doubt such parents exist, they just seemed to be a bit over the top with their failing in this book.
I also had some issues towards the end of the book. (No spoilers, I promise). Jonah starts to unravel, and really strange things start to happen. I initially thought it was an excellent example of an unreliable narrator, that Jonah was really, really losing it and his perception of reality was slipping. But by the end of the book this appears to have not been the case, which kind of ruined things for me a bit. I mean, some of these things were really bizarre or just straight up weren’t explained at all.The ending is really abrupt, so maybe that's where my issue lies. Things went nuts and then things just ended.
Moskowitz had a really tight hold on the plot for the first three quarters of the book, so it was a shame to see it unravel all over the place like it did at the end.
Despite this, I still found Break to be highly engaging and also very, very interesting. I recommend it, especially if you're looking for a YA read that isn’t all about the make outs.(less)
I follow and read a lot of book review blogs. Like, a lot. Sometimes I feel like I read more book reviews then, you know, actual books. Some people question the worth of reading reviews, because after all books are highly subjective and what one person likes you might not and so on. But I think you have to approach reading reviews in the right way. I mean, if there’s a reviewer whose tastes always line up with yours then you might avoid a book just because they didn’t like it, but I think any good reviewer provides enough information that even if they didn’t like the book, you can take their review and make up your own mind.
Which brings me to Gemma Files’ “Book of Tongues.” A book I had never heard of until Calico Reaction posted a review of it. Now, Calico was not a fan of this book, indeed she didn’t even finish it. But she neatly outlines the things that didn’t work for her personally, and they kinda sounded like things that would work for me. So I tracked the book down, and I’m very glad I did.
I honestly don’t understand why this book is not getting more mentions across the reviewing corner of the blogosphere. Not because it’s necessarily fantastically awesome, (although I rather think it is), but because it’s hugely ambitious. I think it’s the kinda book that you have to feel strongly about, either love it or hate it, and it’s these kind of books I’m used to seeing discussions of.
It’s set right after the American civil war in an America where some people are “hex’s.” That is, men or women with some pretty trippy magical powers that manifest on the onset of menstruation (if you’re a women) or upon suffering serious bodly harm (if you’re a man). A really cool twist on the idea is that to hex’s can not spend any long length of time together as they will involuntarily suck the power out of each other until one is dead. When being hung for a crime he didn’t commit Reverend Asher Rook learns he has some serious power going on, and he turns outlaw along with the rest of his army regiment. (Regement? Unit? I don’t know, I’m not down with military lingo…)
This regiment includes one Chess Pargeter, also known as the reason I loved this book so very much. He’s a whore turned Reverend Rook’s fiercely loyal lover, he’s an indiscriminate murderer, he’s more than a little bit crazy and he definitely makes the book for me. The best character I can think of to compare Chess to is George R. R. Martin’s Jamie Lannister. You start out completely disgusted by him, and by the end he’s your absolute favourite (at least if you’re me). Not that I’m equating being gay with having an incestuous relationship with your sister! It’s more the way that Chess kills so freely and so gleefully, he seems wholly without empathy and it’s easy to dislike him. But by the time the novel ended my heart had broken for him ten times over, and I was cheering for him to come out on top. The transition is completely natural, I couldn’t even tell you the moment Chess went from zero to hero for me, and without changing the core of his character either.
It took George Martin four massive tomes to pull that off with Jamie, and Gemma Files does it in just a couple of hundred of too short pages. Impressive? Very. The other characters were just as skilfully crafted. The character arc of Reverend Rook was just as dramatic as Chess’s, and the skill it took to pull it off even more impressive. There is an almost complete lack of women, but given the setting and nature of the book I’m willing to forgive that. (And while the female hex Songbird felt a little flat to me, I loved Chess’s mother, so I’m confident in Files’ ability to write a female characer). The only character I was a little disappointed with is Ed Morrow, our main POV character. He spends most of his time observing and commenting upon Rook and Chess, so we don’t really get to see much of who he himself is. Files does hint at greater depths inside of him, so hopefully the honourable Mr. Morrow will grow a bit in the next books.
The writing style and structure is what I think will divide the people who read this book into those who like and those who don’t. It’s told in an odd mix of flash backs and present day scenes. I say odd because it feels uneven, like there will be three flashbacks and then a present scene and then a flash back and then five present scenes… Like when your iPod shuffle randomly throws up five songs out of ten by the same band? The flashbacks and present day scenes are not quite randomly placed, but not quite structured either, and it sticks out. The writing itself is highly stylised. I think Files definitely captured the voice of the setting. Think the southern twang that leaps of every page of a Sookie Stackhouse novel, or the British manners of Naomi’s Novik’s Temeraire books. If by the end of a novel I’m reading it in my head with an accent, then the author has been effective.
I will say that some of it got a little confusing for me. All of the Aztec names started to run together, but that’s probably because I am entirely unfamiliar with Aztec legends beyond what I’ve learnt from Mountain Goats albums. And there is a lot of religion. Like, A LOT. Rook’s powers come from the bible, like he reads a phrase and havoc is wrought. (Think turned people into pillars of salt, plagues of locusts, ect). Actually, and this coming from a die hard atheist, I found it be pretty unique and interesting. Normally I can’t stop yawning when reading about characters struggling with their religion and god and what have you, but Files definitely handled it pretty well. And she couldn’t very well have avoided it, with Rook being a once pious Reverend now killing people left and right and enthusiastically sodomising his boyfriend every chance he gets.
It is the first part in a trilogy, and the ending is definitely a first part of a trilogy kind of ending. So if you have the patience you might want to wait until they’re all out, but if you’re anything like me you’ll be snapping the next one up as soon is you can!(less)
Everywhere I looked there were people saying how complicated and hard Gardens of the Moon (and the Malazan series as whole) is to follow. Which is the best thing that could have happened, really. Because it meant that I went into this book with the right mindset. I was ready to put the effort it, to read every word instead of skimming and give deep thought to the most offhand of comments. Not just ready, I was looking forward to it.
And in the end, I didn’t find Gardens of the Moon to be nearly as complicated as I was expecting. Kinda like when a book is hyped everywhere and you find it to be not so great.
Not that I’m saying Gardens of the Moon is a light and easy read. If I hadn’t gone in well prepared I doubt I would have stuck with it. As it was it took me three times as look to read as a normal book. But if you give it you’re full attention and really concentrate on everything then you’ll be ok. Mostly.
Reading Gardens of the Moon… To me it was like picking up book four in a twelve book series and trying to keep up. A whole bunch of really important stuff has already happened and the characters all know each other and have complicated histories. And it’s not a book four written by one of those authors who recaps every little thing, no it assumes that you just finished reading the first three books or at the very least you looked up some recaps on the wikipedia, so you know what’s going on.
Except, you know, there are no previous three books. Gardens of the Moon is book one, and if ever the proverb sink or swim was appropriate it's here. You just have to go with it, keep reading even though you have no idea what’s going on and trust that it will become clear.
And the best part it that, slowly, it does. Or at least it starts to. And trust me, it’s worth it.
Gardens of the Moon revolves around the efforts of the Malazan Empire to add another continent to its growing list of conquered lands. The scope of this thing is breathtaking. The book pretty much opens with a battle so epic it feels like it should be the climax of the whole series, not just the opener. And things barely slow down after that.
How many of you have seen the Final Fantasy VII movie, Advent Children? My fiancé is a fan of it, and I remember watching the special features once and the director said something along the lines of ‘every time we considered adding something, we asked our selves; does it look cool?’ Which shows in the film, because everything looks really cool. But underneath the coolness is, well, not much of anything.
Erikson may well have written this book with the same question in mind. Everything in the book is just really, really cool. The immortal Anomander Rake and his terrifying sword of doom? Cool. The magical warrens that mages tap for their powers? Cool. Elite military unit the Bridgeburners? Oh my god, so freaking cool. Except unlike with Advent Children, it’s not all show. This book has more depth than the ocean, and it’s twice as difficult to reach the bottom of.
Not that everything is all serious and thought consuming. There are moments of genuine humour scattered liberally about. I was actually really surprised with how funny the book was. Erikson has a good eye for when to break the darker moments with something lighter, which I as a reader appreciated.
At the end of the day you’ll only get out of Gardens of the Moon what you put in. It’s a love it or hate it kind of deal, I think. Personally, I can’t wait to read the other nine books in the series, and to see if things get any clearer or just a whole lot more complicated!(less)
I never knew a book could be really interesting and not at all exciting at the same time until I read Mozart’s Blood. A year ago I would have made a joke along the lines of the book being too much like the classical music it revolves around; technically good but safe and a little boring. Except that in the past year I’ve actually put some effort into listening to classical music and now I know there’s nothing safe or boring about it, so the metaphor kind of falls flat.
In any case, I’m fairly sure this new found appreciation for classical music is the reason that I found Mozart’s Blood to be such an interesting read, despite its faults. Octavia is a two hundred year old vampire who has devoted her life to opera (she performs as one singer for a natural lifespan, and then painstakingly builds up another identity when that ones “dies.”) The book shifts between her first (mostly human) performance, the first ever staging of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ and a current performance of the same.
I found all the backstage opera stuff to be really fascinating. The hierarchies and the vocal warm ups and the blocking, all of it. The author clearly knows what she’s talking about, her knowledge and confidence with the topic really shines through. I also liked that the other viewpoint character, the werewolf Ugo, explored another interesting world I knew nothing about; that of the castrati.
I think Marley did a really good job the characterization of both Octavia and Ugo. (Ugo especially was a delight, with a dry wit that appealed to me very much). There’s a real dearth of platonic relationships in fiction, so I’m always happy to see one done well. Their deep friendship is believable and established really quickly, considering the two only have a few brief scenes together before they are separated. And that’s the main plot of the book, Ugo and Octavia get separated, will they meet up before bad things happen?
The bad thing in question is Octavia feeding on a human. Ugo supplies blood for her intravenously, and all the suspense of the book is supposed to come from Octavia’s mounting hunger and wondering if Ugo will get back to her in time to feed her.
Except the suspense never really kicks in. For a start, why can’t Octavia just go out with a syringe and get her own blood? She acts as though it’s very difficult to do and she wouldn’t a clue where to start, as though only a very special type of blood can fill a syringe… And the issue is, even without this, there are too many vampire books out there for the reader to care if she feeds on a human. Vampires feed on humans, it’s the natural way of things, and Octavia’s angst about it rings hollow. I don’t want to tip into spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that a lot of her reasons behind feeding on humans (or not) are illogical.
Marley’s lack of skill in crafting exciting scenes becomes painfully clear as the book builds to it’s “exciting” climax. The reveal of a twist is handled poorly, and the pacing is completely off. The “big bad” that Octavia and Ugo must ultimately face down is laughable, and even they act like really it’s little more than a minor annoyance that needs taking care of. They don’t even disrupt their schedule to do it.
But despite all of these faults I really did enjoy this book. It was, as I said, very interesting although it’s a safe bet that your opinion on that will vary by how boring you think opera/Mozart is. If you go into this book for the vampire/werewolf angle you’ll be disappointed, but if you go into it expecting a slightly supernatural historical novel I think you’ll have a much better time. (less)
One of the most unique reading experiences for me in a long time was Gemma Files' "Book of Tongues." (I recommend reading that one before reading this review.) The book was not without its flaws, but I'd take flawed and interesting over perfect and safe any day of the week, believe me.
Not surprising then that I dived straight into its sequel, and book two of Hexslinger trilogy, "Rope of Thorns" as soon as it arrived at my doorstep. As always with a sequel I began with a small amount of trepidition. Would this book be as good as the first one? All too often it seems that the answer to that question turns out to be no. But not this time my friends. Not this time!
I loved "Rope of Thorns." It was everything "Book of Tongues" didn't quite manage to be, and all of the faults (all of them!) that I found with the Hexslinger Trilogy's first book had been addressed.
Despite having a lot less narrator time this go around, the character of Ed Morrow finally became real to me. There's a genuine goodness in Ed that's lacking from the other men in these books, but for all that he's just as capable as Chess or Rook as committing acts of great violence. It was a contrast I found fascinating.
Instead of Ed most of this book was told from the point of view of Mister Chess Partager himself. I didn't reread "Book of Tongues" before starting this one (way too eager!) but I'm fairly sure there wasn't any Chess point of views in it. He's an enigmatic figure in many ways, and when I realised I was seeing things through his eyes I was concerned that it would "ruin" the mystery of him. Not so! If anything the greater insight into the workings of Chess's, uh, shall we say unique? mind only made him more interesting to me. And more sympathetic, by a mile!
Ah, poor Chess. Rook's monstrous betrayal has changed him, that's for sure. And you have to feel for the guy. There's one scene where he has to stay in disguise while a song is sung about how every bad thing Rook ever did is pretty much all Chess' fault, and I don't remember the last time I felt so keenly for a character. I kept oscilating between wanting Chess and Rook to somehow work things out, and and wanting Chess to just blow Rook's smug head clean off. Or maybe some combination of both?
We have some new characters this time around, the most noteworthy of this being Experiance "Yancy" Kloves, who neatly takes care of complaints that these books lack women. Yancy is a capable, practical young woman, but she manages to be so while staying true to the time period, in my opinion. There was a dry humour to her point of view that really appealed to me, and I enjoyed watching Chess try and figure out exactly what to do with her.
Personally my biggest issue with "Book of Tongues" was that the plot tended to jump around a bit haphazardly. But in "Rope of Thorns" things are pretty much linear. There's an interlude set in Rook's newly founded Hex city (very interesting. It was satisfying watching him realise the enormity of his mistakes, and I'll be very interested to see how things in Hex City play out in the next book) but other than that we stick with Chess and his entourage, without even any flashbacks.
Really "Rope of Thorns" is everything you hope for in a sequel, but so rarely get. The plot is advanced, a greater understanding of characters is granted, new and interesting characters are introduced. Files' prose remains a delight to read, the cadence of her sentences captures the wild west setting perfectly, and the images she paints are a fascinating mix of frontier practicality and magic bred surrealism.
A lot of horror, not that I'm any kind of expert in the genre, but it seems to me that a lot of horror is concerned with taking something familiar and twisting it. Making unsafe what was safe, making awful what was loved. Think clowns, or sweet little girls possessed by demons, or the quiet man next door turned into a zombie. And, of course, that old horror stalwart; the haunted house.
Because where are you supposed to be safer than within the walls of your own home? There's something uniquely unsettling about your own four walls turning on you, and nothing gets under my skin like a good old house haunting. Which is why, when I found myself in a department store faced with a truly depressing department store book display (Twilight! Books just like Twilight! Don't like Twilight? Then Jodi Picoult!) I pounced on Christopher Ransom's 'The Birthing House,' even though I'd never heard of it.
It turned out to be one of those books that presents itself in simply, but when you stop and think about you realised there was quiet a lot more going on then you first thought. Our hero, Connor, comes into some money and decides impulsively that a fresh start is just the ticket. So he leaves L.A. and buys a house in the country and tells his wife to join him, or not, whatever. (Not as harsh as it seems, his wife, Josephine, is not a very good wife, and possibly a cheater).
So far it's text book horror. Fresh start, countryside, new house. It's like he wanted to be haunted, right? Sure enough, it's not long before creepy happenings get to happening. Ransom haunts with an odd mix of subtle and ridiculously over the top. For example, Connor is in bed one night and he hears some odd scratching noises on the floor boards. Ransom expertly ratchets up the creepy factor with an agonizing slowness, and then the source of the noise is revealed to be a creepy ass little doll made of sticks. Still creepy, but it's also kind of like, 'wait? what?' It was a really unexpected juxtaposition of "modern" all show no tell horror and old school in your face horror.
Ransom builds the atmosphere expertly, with things growing steadily worse. Connor becomes more an more isolated from his wife, and this is mirrored by the growing feeling of wrongness in the house. Not surprisingly, what with the book's title, a lot of the books is concerned with sex and pregnancy. Not that there's an abundance of sex scenes, (I can remember two, maybe?). Ransom is much more subtle for that. (Mostly).
Which isn't exactly groundbreaking. House starts out great, house slowly turns out to be a seething pit of horror. Like I said at the start of this review, horror likes to make you think something is good and the reveal to be not so. And this is where Ransom impressed me. When the book opens you're really onside with Connor. He's a nice guy, and his wife seems like a bit of a jerk. And then, as the book goes on, you start to realise that just as Connor was wrong about his new house, it turns out that you the reader were kinda wrong about Connor.
I can't overstate how well Ransom pulled off Connor's character, and for me it totally makes the book. Again its that mix of subtle and not subtle that characterises the whole book. I don't want to say more on account of spoilers, so just trust me.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It's a quick and easy read without being too simple to hold interest. I will say that for me the ending fell apart in a major way, but I'm notoriously hard to please with horror endings. And in any case, I enjoyed what came before enough to forgive it, for the most part. (less)