As I have mentioned in several reviews, I am not normally a Romance reader, but my friend Jan is slowly winning me over to a few select authors. She introduced me to Mary Balogh with A Summer To Remember, which I thoroughly enjoyed, so when she said that Ms Balogh had recommended this title I was inclined to give it a go. I am really glad that I did, because it was marvelously entertaining and kept me giggling for quite some time.
I believe that the trope is one that is seen fairly regularly in the Romance genre. A proper Lady decides to take a rakish lover in order to become pregnant and save the estate from the evil heir, but despite her best efforts she falls for his rakish charms and they all live happily ever after. In essence that is precisely what happens in this title, but Ms Grant’s voice is so authentic and snarky that the journey to the happy ending is delightful enough for even a jaded non-romantic like myself.
I think this enjoyment comes in part from the very strong characterization that Ms Grant employs and her decision to take her hero and heroine in slightly unconventional directions. In many ways, they display a degree of role reversal that counteracts the stereotypes of Virgin and Rake. She also provides our heroine with some very real and understandable reasons for her illegal actions and an ability to seize the initiative and take action herself rather than wafting about with no agency of her own. Finally, she chooses to have Martha maintain her moral integrity right up to the very end of the book rather than taking the easier, and yet less logical, path that we usually see. This was a brave choice and unexpected, which made me appreciate it so much more.(less)
I recently read Diana Peterfreund’s Rampant, which is also set in Rome; in fact one of the prime reasons why I read it was because of its setting. I was pleasantly surprised that it did not make any glaring errors in its depiction of the city, but that was mainly accomplished by being rather vague in its details. This was not the case with A Season For The Dead. Mr Hewson has obviously spent a great deal of time in Rome and has done much more than visit the well-known tourist attractions. He describes many obscure places that I have also been and conjures the feeling of Rome with effortless ease, placing us in the terrible, driving heat of mid-summer when all the sensible Romans escape to the coast or the mountains. He evokes the feel and the smell of the place so well that I reveled in it, rather than finding myself waiting for the next blunder or telltale mistake that would reveal his lack of familiarity with somewhere that I know so well. This was a very, very pleasant surprise to me and one that I enjoyed immensely, grinning with delight as he used unusual locations that I recognized. This was a rare experience for me as I am so used to reading books set in the UK that do not quite ring true. For this aspect alone I found the book very enjoyable.
However, not everyone will be so enraptured by his depiction of Rome and its inhabitants, so I will try to set that aside and consider the book’s other attributes. One major problem that several of the other book group members found was with the character of Sara Farnese. We begin the book in her head and it is quickly revealed that she is engaged in an affair with an academic from the UK. She speculates that he probably has a lover in every major city, but she has never asked him about any other attachments, such as a wife. I am normally the first to be disappointed with characters that engage in infidelity, but I did not find her to be so appalling that I could not continue with the book. Unfortunately, several of the other members could not get past this point in the plot and stopped reading. I think that if they had read further and started to get to know Nic then they would have been carried along by the story as I was, but I can understand their decision. Sara is probably the weakest link in the entire book. She is certainly beautiful, intelligent and desirable, and she is provided with a sufficiently terrible origin story to explain her tragically warped character, but she still remains unsympathetic, even once we know all the appalling details. I think that starting the book in her head was a huge mistake.
Fortunately, Nic and many of the other characters are interesting and sympathetic enough to draw us into the story. Apart from his inability to resist Sara’s lure, Nic is an excellent lead character. He is young and still learning his trade, but is not over-confident and full of bravado, nor is he exceptionally brilliant or a ‘golden boy who can do no wrong’. He works hard, makes logical deductions and is heart broken when he is disillusioned by life’s ugliness. He has an interesting back story and a penchant for studying the paintings of Caravaggio (one of my favorite artists to see in Rome). He makes personal mistakes and is suitably human, which I appreciate in the lead character of a series. We see him develop and change over the course of the story, especially in regards to the relationship with his father.(less)
Having only discovered Mr Gaiman’s books last year I can safely say that I am rapidly becoming a rather enthusiastic fan of his writing. While Neverwhere was good it suffered from being the novelization of a television series, but The Graveyard Book was one of my favorite reads last year, so I was eager to read another of his better-known titles. I am pleased to report that I found it as delightful and entertaining as I had expected, making me even more certain of my appreciation for this writer’s wit and sideways look at life.
As with The Graveyard Book we have a story that suggests familiar stories and situations and yet presents them in novel and interesting ways. It seems to be a familiar fairy tale and yet none of the elements are actually all that close to the traditional stories that we have all grown up with. Yes, we have a hero who has a quest to fulfill, but he is not exactly heroic at the start of his journey and after that things just get increasingly complicated for him. He has to deal with other competitors for the star and his prize is none too happy about being dragged across the world just because he wants to kiss some girl in his village. Even the Happy Ever After ending is not standard issue, but that is what I have come to expect from Mr Gaiman and he has not let me down yet.
This series was one that I had seen mentioned in some of the reviews for Gail Carriger’s Soulless, with comments about the similarities in their settings and the heroine. While it is true that both Amelia and Alexia have similarities in their general appearance and temperament, and that both books are set within the Victorian era, I found several differences between the two. While Ms Carriger maintains a cutting and sarcastic tone, especially in the way that Alexia views the world, Ms Peters gives Amelia a much more bombastic voice, with much less wit and bite. I also found that the plotting and world building were handled very differently, with Ms Carriger’s story ripping along at a good pace, whilst Ms Peters’ struggled from far too much description and unimportant detail. The final difference that was most obvious was the way in which the two authors handled the love-hate relationship between the heroine and her leading man. In Alexia, we have a woman who is constantly aware that she is lacking a soul and, therefore, is not quite normal in her lack of emotionality. This gives her a unique perspective on her growing feelings for Maccon, which she does not understand or trust, and adds to the humor in the situation. In contrast, Amelia’s bloody-minded refusal to recognize the obvious attraction between herself and Radcliffe becomes simply irritating.
Even if we put aside the comparisons with The Parasol Protectorate, we are left with a novel that is not entirely satisfying. The plotting was dreadfully slow, with so much detail about the preparations necessary for a trip down the Nile and then about the trip itself, that I was tempted to skip over some sections. This is very, very unusual for me, and shows how difficult it was for me to stay engaged with the characters. I plodded along, convinced that there must be some significance in the description of the pyramids, the decoration for their ship, what they were wearing, what Amelia had in her first aid kit . . . but, alas, these proved to be merely set dressing that a good editor would have hacked out with numerous slashes of a red pencil. I can understand the desire to wax lyrical about a subject dear to your heart, and I would probably do the same if I ever attempted to write a novel set in Rome, either ancient or modern, but there is a point at which one must stop describing the scenery and actually get on with the action.(less)
For someone expecting to find nine year old Tiffany heading off to defeat another fairy tale enemy, this will be a disappointing book. However, if you are someone who wants to see how Tiffany changes as she grows older and faces more adult challenges, this is just the book for you. Over the last two years things have not changed very dramatically in Tiffany’s world, but she has become increasingly convinced that she must go out into the world to learn how to be a Witch. She does not really fit in as just a cheese maker or farmer’s wife, but she is willing to leave the comforts of the familiar in order to fulfill her potential. Personally, I find it very appropriate that we see her dealing with the normal issues of growing up as well as the more extraordinary ones associated with being a powerful Witch. The touches of everyday life that Mr Pratchett throws into the mix not only make Tiffany into a much more interesting and well-rounded character, but they also increase our ability to empathize with her. This draws us into her world much more successfully and places us firmly in her corner during times of trouble.
This is marketed as a Young Adult title, but it most certainly does not read like one and it has all the witty and ironic humor that you would expect from Mr Pratchett. It takes the Tiffany Aching saga in a slightly different direction than might be expected and is all the better for it.(less)
Considering that this title was published over twenty years ago, in 1991, it feels surprisingly fresh in its themes and content. I have read work by both authors before, but this was a new world for me and it had plenty of interesting features to keep me entertained.
I was particularly pleased with the authors’ decision to deviate from the usual trope of beautiful and wise elves. In this world they are actually aliens that built a wondrous civilization on another planet and then destroyed it, using a portal to find sanctuary on the human’s home world. Although they retain their usual beauty, grace and near immortality, they are also narcissistic and highly unpleasant, abusing and degrading humans for their own amusement. Indeed they are not even particularly nice to one another as they vie for position and personal power. The women have a particularly terrible time because they have great difficulty in conceiving and yet are blamed for this biological problem, which is caused by radiation from their new home’s sun. All in all, they are perfectly horrid and it is very easy to sympathize with the downtrodden humans who we encounter.
Given the cover, I realized that we would be encountering dragons, but the artist has done a poor job of recreating a moment from the book. As with the elves, the dragons are also alien to this world, but they have taken a very different approach to their life upon a new world. They remain hidden and use their ability to shift into other forms to hide in plain sight as they study both the Elves and their human slaves. However, they share the malaise and apathy that has also infected the elves and, while they deplore the mistreatment of the humans, they are unwilling to get involved with something that they perceive to be ‘not their problem’. Shana and Keman eventually stir some of the Kin out of their apathy, but this is controversial and their ‘trouble making’ is dismissed by many in the community.
The dragons here are almost nothing like the ones that we usually encounter in Fantasy titles, even those that can also shift into human forms. We are shown an unusual society structure and it was very welcome to see distinctly non-human beliefs and thought patterns in a race that is said to be alien. I always find it irritating when so-called aliens behave just like humans and never suffer from conflicts of understanding because they do not share our culture. Not only do these dragons feel totally alien, but they also seem to have biology completely different from our own. They can not only shift into a humanoid form, but also change all or parts of their body into stone, for example, in order to withstand terrible weather conditions or damage. I found their magic to be delightfully original and intriguing.(less)
I was a little disappointed with the opening to this volume because it showed certain similarities to the beginning of the first one, with a surprise attack of Trollocs. However, it soon became clear that Mr Jordan had no intension of simply rehashing the same old storylines and we soon settled into exploring new and interesting characters and places.
As with the first title in the series, we follow a quest-based plot for most of the book. The primary concern is to retrieve the Horn and Mat’s dagger, but this is no simple affair of riding along for a bit and then fighting a small dragon in order to win the day. Indeed, some of our characters have other concerns, although they do become enmeshed in the quest eventually. The routes that the various groups take to reach the town of Falme, which acts as the backdrop for the dénouement, are varied and sufficiently obscure to keep us entertained and wondering how everything will resolve.
We see our heroes from Emond’s Field begin to change and develop as their world expands and they come to terms with the roles they will play in it. We see Rand gradually accept that he really is the Dragon Reborn and start to take a leadership position within the group. He also strives to deserve the heron-marked blade that he carries and becomes increasingly proficient by using his father’s trick of holding the void to increase concentration. Perrin follows a similar path as he begins to make use of his heightened senses to help him in the search for the Horn. Mat has little development to make because he is busy dying very, very slowly, but even he shows a greater ability to do what is necessary and is responsible for possibly saving everyone’s lives at the end of the book. Egwene and Nynaeve show a little less development, but they are busy adapting to life in the White Tower and, later, the problems they encounter in Falme, so they hardly have time to breathe.(less)
Experienced readers of the Discworld series were first introduced to Mr Pratchett’s concept of Witches back in 1988 Wyrd Sisters and Tiffany and Miss Tick snuggle easily into that version of the practice. There are pointy hats, but that is only because people expect them; there are hairy warts, mainly because most women of a certain age get them; and there are flying broomsticks for some reason that is never explained but there is definitely no cackling. Cackling is something that all Witches strive to avoid and is a certain indication of impending madness. No, Mr Pratchett’s Witches are women who have a keen intelligence and an ability to apply hard work, excellent observation and a mass of headology (a brand of psychology only studied by Witches) to the everyday troubles of the people that they care for. Some have specialties, such as Granny Aching who keeps her Witching almost exclusively to sheep.
Young Tiffany is a great heroine to throw at a person who loves to read books, because she is so serious and bookish herself. She is not like the other children who dash about in a carefree manner: she is an outsider and observer, someone who immediately appeals to the geeky nerd inside all of us who are likely to pick up a book for entertainment. She does all the things that we wish we could have done when we were nine: she is calm in the face of danger and brave enough to trust her instincts; she is doggedly loyal to her little brother even though he is totally obnoxious and she is very, very clever. In short, she has you cheering for her within the first page of text.
However, there is no doubt that the stars of this book, and indeed the series, are the Wee Free Men of the title. Whilst Tiffany is all common sense and thoughtfulness, they are the exact opposite. They are chaotic and unrelentingly aggressive towards anything and everything unless it is a lawyer, which they find terrifying, or someone they deem a friend. Once you have become a friend of the Feegles they will watch over you until you die, whether you want them to or not. Granny Aching befriended the Feegle Clan that lives on the Chalk, and they extend their protection to Tiffany as part of that friendship. They are impressed by her fighting skills because of the frying pan incident and are awed by her ability to read and think without having to hit herself on the head. She is constantly irritated by them and their behavior, but they prove to be wonderful allies and she eventually develops a deep affection for them.(less)
The first thing that struck me about Celtic Moon was the choice of protagonist. Sophie is rather unusual for the Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance that I have read because she is already a relatively mature woman. I say ‘relatively’ because she is quite a bit younger than me and I do not like thinking of myself as ‘older’ or ‘mature’! Not only is she in her mid to late thirties, but also she has already found the love of her life and had his child. She is well beyond the Happy Ever After that comes at the end of traditional Romance novels and living a normal life with all the associated difficult bits. In fact, the only near perfect aspect of her life is that she has such great relationships with her son and mother.
I was both intrigued and delighted by Sophie and her dilemmas. I am not a great fan of chick lit or general Romance titles, so I enjoyed reading about a woman who has to deal with more than just romantic angst and whether or not her nail varnish matches her handbag. Sophie has big, real life issues to overcome and she does it with great grit and determination. This is where Jan really sold me her book: Sophie is a strong woman throughout the whole story. I have grown to really rather hate those ‘strong’ female protagonists that are repeatedly described as such right up until the moment that the male hero turns up to save her from all the big, bad monsters and sweep her off her feet. If a woman is strong then she will remain so even if she has a man around to help out with fighting the coming apocalypse. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has male friends and helpers, but she is always as good as, if not better than, them in a straight fight against the Big Bad. She is the type of strong female that I can appreciate and empathize with and Sophie has a slight touch of Buffy about her.(less)
The initial premise of this title sounded very intriguing and I was not quite sure what to expect when I started it. Unlike most Thrillers, we do not have a simple exploration of the facts by a detective. Rather, we follow all the events through the eyes of some highly unreliable narrators so that our perceptions of the main characters are constantly shifting. This makes it a very enjoyable read, especially if you like character-driven fiction, as I do. However, it can also be a little frustrating as you attempt to sort through the facts trying to find the underlying truth of the situation: just when you feel that you have a good handle on what happened you will suddenly learn an important fact that turns everything on its head. I loved this, but I know that not everyone will.
Another problem that some of the book group expressed was with the rather unpleasant characters involved. On the whole, everyone of any importance is revealed to be an unrelentingly awful human being, which some of the group found a little too negative for their taste. Although I can understand their desire to have at least one ‘good’ character to follow, I am also willing to accept that most people are not perfect. It is also clear that most of the ‘bad’ characters are products of their upbringing, circumstances and bad decisions rather than simple, two-dimensional ‘evil’ people. We also see people who are trying to be good but who simply cannot manage to live up to that ideal.
In short: if you want an uncomplicated story of nice people doing sensible things, you should probably avoid this title.(less)
This is the first in the Bishop / Special Crimes Series, which will reach its fourteenth installment this year. Each book is a stand-alone crime mystery involving a woman with paranormal abilities who must help to catch a deranged serial killer. The common link between all the titles is the presence of Noah Bishop, an FBI Agent from the Special Crimes Unit. However, in this title Bishop does not make his appearance until the second half of the story, which left me wondering about the name of the series and slightly distracted.
I was worried that Cassie would be revealed to be quite a passive character as soon as it was obvious that this was a Paranormal Romance. However, she is a very strong personality who shows great bravery and determination throughout the plot and does not become a wet blanket as soon as the alpha male becomes evident. As someone who is wary of the Romance genre, I found this a great relief and it greatly increased my enjoyment of the book. There are Romance elements, but these are subtly done and do not reduce the heroine into a mere cipher for our wish fulfillment. Instead, we are shown the development of a strong relationship, in which both parties grow and become greater than the sum of their parts. I also felt that theirs was a relationship that I could actually believe would last into the future: so often, Romance couples make such unlikely coupling that it is almost impossible to imagine them growing old together.
I am not sure that I feel a desperate need to read more in this series, but as they are all stand-alone titles, I could easily see me picking one up when I need a good solid read with an intriguing plot and strong characterization. (less)
I am not sure why I had never read this book before, as I have been aware of it for a long time, although my husband’s lack of enthusiasm may have made me avoid it. I have seen a lot of high praise for this title, and the trilogy that it begins, and felt that I should finally experience this award-winning title myself. Unfortunately, I was rather underwhelmed by the experience and I am at a loss to explain why this book is so highly praised.
The story of Ged / Sparrowhawk is full of imagination and is certainly interesting enough as a quick read, but I never really felt emotionally involved with it, and that is my major criticism. When I read a book, no matter of genre, I want to be drawn into its world and feel connected to the characters that I am following. In any type of fantasy, I expect the world to be lush with detail and diversity, challenging my imagination and presenting alternative types of life.
In Earthsea, Ms Le Guin has created a full-realized world, with a myriad of creatures and cultures for us to explore. There are languages, stories, folklore, mythology and history, as well as a variety of magics and magical abilities, and so I can understand why people mention it in the same breath as Middle Earth. However, and it amazes me to say this, Tolkien usually related his stories in such a way as to draw the reader into his world and make them feel as if they are being carried along by them. I say that this amazes me because I know that many readers find Tolkien overly wordy and too interested in descriptions, and yet he still draws me in to his works and I travel his characters’ journeys with them. I cannot say the same for A Wizard of Earthsea, which I can only compare to that densest of Tolkien’s works, The Silmarillion. I wanted to know what happened from an intellectual point of view, but felt very little inclusion in the world or empathy for the hero, Ged. (less)
I first read this title in the late 1980s when I was first introduced to Ms McCaffrey’s writing by my husband to be. In fact, I think it was actually the very first of her works that I tried, which makes me realize how much my tastes have changed since then. Unlike The Ship Who Sang and Dragonflight, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed when I reread them recently, I was amazed that I had ever liked this title at all.
The premise is very interesting. A young woman is abducted from Earth, appears to be butchered and / or tortured and then wakes to find that she has a new appearance and is on an alien world. That would be interesting enough, but she is being used as a non-thinking nurse for a man that she discovers is a very important political figure. For some reason she does not remain semiconscious like the other nurses, but recovers her full consciousness and is sensible enough to realize that she needs to hide her difference. Obviously she is intrigued by her charge and appalled to find that he is being kept drugged. When she has him sufficiently recovered they escape and then launch themselves into an adventure of political intrigue and maneuvering.
As I said, this is all very intriguing and allows Ms McCaffrey to explore some interesting Science Fiction ideas. However, no amount of wonderful concepts can get us away from the fact that this is structured somewhat like a Romance novel and that the female lead has absolutely no agency at all. Oh sure, she is spunky, independent and strong willed, but the only direct action that she takes is to reduce Harlan’s medication. After that she is told what to do for the rest of the book and is pushed, pulled and physically assaulted with monotonous frequency. There is nothing more likely to switch me off a novel than an allegedly feisty woman who is actually just a pawn for the men around her.
Ironically, Ms McCaffrey wrote this title as being a reaction to the portrayal of women in Science Fiction at the time, so it is a shame that it has not stood the test of time.(less)
At first glance, Mr Jordan is a little disappointing because there is a distinctly Tolkien-esque vibe to the beginning of the book. We start our journey in the rural idyll of the Shire Two Rivers where the most dangerous thing that you can encounter is the Sackville-Bagginses Wisdom, Nynaeve al’Meara, when she is in a really bad mood, which is most of the time that she is awake. It is even famous for growing tobacco, which I am sure sounds familiar. Then there are Nazgul mysterious riders in black showing up and being all spooky before we have an attack by orcs Trollocs. They are even said to serve the Dark One, who people do not name for fear of attracting his attention. We then have a flight through the countryside that seems to involve lots of nighttime attacks and random fighting. By this point, I was hoping to goodness that the wise wizard Aes Sedai, Moiraine, and her ranger Warder, Lan, would get to the Prancing Pony really quickly because I needed a drink!
However, we soon start to see that this is not a Lord of the Rings rip off, but actually a very complex and interesting story all of its own. Certainly we can see similarities here and there, but Tolkien is so iconic that it is difficult not to draw parallels with his writings when reading a more modern Fantasy title. I am quite sure that many of those elements feel so familiar because they are actually the elements that underlie much of our folklore, and they were even an inspiration for Tolkien himself.
One massive difference that is impossible to miss is that this title is littered with female characters that have really important roles to play. Yes, I know that Eowyn plays a vital role in the defeat of Sauron’s armies, but I believe that she is the only woman who takes an active role in the entire story. Here, we meet a very powerful magic user very early in the story and she is a woman, who tells a man what to do and is only one of many others of her kind. Equally, we have Egwene deciding to head off into the wide blue yonder in a quest for education even though she is barely old enough to be considered a woman in her village. A little later we learn that the village Wisdom, Nynaeve, has tracked the group on her own, through the Trolloc-infested wilds in order to ‘save’ the young people from the bad influence of the Aes Sedai. These three women are no shrinking violets who need men to protect them and we meet many more as the series roles along.(less)
Simon has a cat, called Simon’s Cat. Like most cats, it is part evil genius and part clown. We follow its exploits as it destroys Simon’s world and attempts to fill its perpetually empty stomach.(less)
Simon has a cat, called Simon’s Cat. Like most cats, it is part evil genius and part clown. We follow its exploits as it destroys Simon’s world and attempts to fill its perpetually empty stomach.(less)
The premise for this book sounds intriguing, especially as I have studied the history of science, so I was expecting a historical mystery wrapped up with a little paranormal romance. I look at the blurb now and the most ominous aspect of it is the mention of it being “as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.” If I had seen that remark before opening the book I might have been spared the frustration of attempting to read it, because a comparison to Twilight is never going to persuade me that I am about to immerse myself in a great literary masterpiece.
So what exactly did I not like about this book? Well, let us start with the author’s obsessive compulsion to describe, in mind-blowingly tedious detail, every possible aspect of the Bodleian Library. Yes, Ms Harkness, I get it: you have been there and you really, really, REALLY loved it, but I do not need to know what color the carpet is in every room, nor how the seats are arranged, nor what is outside which windows, etc, etc, in order to follow the story. In fact, it was highly distracting and after the fourth or fifth mass of unnecessary detail it was getting rather frustrating. It slowed up the story, filled my mind with unimportant clutter and left me wondering why your editor did not simply draw big red crosses through whole pages of it. If I want to know more about the library I can use the Internet and read the webpage.
As a Brit, I often find that foreign authors try very hard to capture the essence of the United Kingdom and its culture and some come close enough that I can read their work without the mistakes poking me in the eye every five minutes. Ms Harkness did a reasonable job of many aspects of UK culture, although she did make a somewhat unforgivable mistake regarding the iconic Sir David Attenborough that I found annoying. She presents the great naturalist, communicator and film-maker as a pioneering research scientist: a claim that I am quite sure Sir David would find highly flattering but totally laughable. I fear that I really do need to start up that web-based business offering myself as an expert in ‘How to make your portrayal of the UK not want to make Brits bang their heads on a wall’.(less)
I had not realized that landscape would play such a large role in this title, but it was a pleasant surprise and spoke to the same love of nature that I find in Tolkien’s work, amongst others. The author spends a great deal of time climbing and it shines through in her writing. She conveys the environment with great skill and also captures the emotions that can be provoked by pitting oneself against a natural challenge. I appreciated her knowledge of climbing and its techniques and yet I did not feel as if I was becoming bogged down by details and long-winded explanations of how to tie a specific knot correctly. I felt that she was very successful in giving us just enough detail to make us able to get inside Dev’s mind so that we could understand how he uses climbing as a sort of meditation.
As well as providing a good backdrop to this fantasy world, I felt that the practical details of the journey helped to both enrich Dev’s character and provide us with a sense of the time taken to travel. So often travelling is done with a sentence or two and we do not feel the hardships that it involves, and yet here we given the time to get to know our characters whilst they were placed in jeopardy of a real and physical nature. They also had time to learn about each other and to bond by overcoming adversity in the simplest of ways as they travel through the mountains. This meant that we could explore their initial distrust so that their actions were completely understandable and their ultimate decisions to trust one another were much more poignant and satisfying. It is strange how the decision to linger over the practicalities of travel allowed this to become so much more character-focused than I had expected.(less)
I can imagine this being a great book to read to children because it has a nice rhythm, with Bod getting into terrible danger only to be returned to safety at the end of each chapter. I can also see children anticipating the dangers that exist before Bod realizes what they are, which makes the danger seem so much more controlled and escapable. However, the danger is not without real threat and, by the end of the book, one of Bod’s favorite people has been killed to protect him.
My only major criticism of the book was that it was far too short. I wanted to read more about Bod and his world and to learn more about his friends and their past live(less)
When we first meet Flavia she is tied up and locked in a closet. This conveys her relationship with her older sisters very neatly, and also allows us to witness her resourcefulness as she escapes from her predicament. She is not your typical eleven-year-old girl in any way that I could detect, although sibling rivalry and bickering is something that is seen in practically all families. The girls’ mother died many years ago in a mountain-climbing accident and their father is very distant, so it seems that Flavia has mostly raised herself. She is very independent and disparaging of her sisters who are not like her at all: so much so that they spent several years insisting that she was adopted. As a sister myself, I understood their relationships completely and it all seemed very reminiscent of my own childhood, although my sister and I are actually quite similar in our tastes and outlook.
In general, I felt that the plot had a few too many convenient coincidences, but then so do Agatha Christie’s stories, and I think everyone can agree that she was a master at her craft. Indeed, there was a distinct feeling of Ms Christie’s St Mary Mead, the home of Miss Jane Marple, about the setting that I found very enjoyable. It also reminded me very strongly of the works of End Blyton, especially her The Famous Five series, which I read constantly as a child. They have a similar feel of childhood freedom and the ability of youngish teenagers to solve dangerous crimes and defeat serious villains. I imagine Mr Bradley might have read these as a child, as I am sure that his mother would have been familiar with them. (less)
First, I have to say that I find it very difficult to review Ms Allen’s books now because her debut title, Garden Spells, is one of my all time favorite books and the primary reason why I started this blog. This means that I tend to expect the same genius in each of her subsequent titles, which is probably not fair and leads me to sound unnecessarily harsh in my criticisms of them. All I can say is that once you have read a masterpiece it is difficult not to be disappointed if the author does not repeat that level of writing in their later works . . . you have been warned!
As with all her previous titles, we have a series of relationships that are or were dysfunctional in the past and that have consequences in the present. We also have a cast of beautifully drawn, sympathetic characters who make us empathize with them as they struggle with the rigors of daily life. There is also a smattering of the lightly magical realism that we have come to expect, along with an earthy emphasis upon food items and cooking as a magical gift that can affect emotions. We have the expected ‘strange’ families, with their special abilities and the wonderful recreation of the comforting aura of the gentile South. However, there is an unfortunate lack of focus that detracts from the setting and made me wish that the story were structured slightly differently.
On the whole, this was an enjoyable read, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes Ms Allen’s other titles, but it left me a little disappointed. In some ways I wish I could read it without the knowledge of what she has written before, so that I could give a more impartial review, but I cannot ‘unread’ her previous works.(less)
I was very eager to read this title because I have a fascination for the Greek myths and the literature associated with them. As part of my BA in Classical Studies, I studied both The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer in some detail, so I am fairly familiar with them as both texts and evidence for life in Ancient Greece. As such, it was rather difficult for me to approach this work as a layperson with only a passing knowledge of the Achilles / Patroclus mythology, and, unfortunately, it seems that my familiarity was actually a hindrance. The blurb on Goodreads says: . . breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination . . However, to my mind, there is little originality in the book because it is so heavily based upon the works of Homer, and the praised imagination is also simply a recreation of the world based upon the evidence that can be drawn from Greek literature and other sources. This led me to be somewhat disappointed with the rather dry approach that the author chose to take in retelling this ancient tale.
I often enjoy a new approach to a familiar story, but this author did not seem able to breath life into the heroic characters at her disposal. The only one who comes across as a truly three dimensional person is Odysseus, while the others are sadly lacking. This is especially true for the two leads, who do not show much change or development over course the story. I imagine that this was because the author has had to extrapolate them from their last days at Troy to the days of their youth, but it was ultimately unsatisfying. Patroclus was almost exclusively a stereotypical underdog, crippled by self-doubt, whilst Achilles was all easy success and heroic magnetism. Their relationship always seemed to be unequal, with Achilles somehow slightly ‘absent’ emotionally and often oblivious to his effect on Patroclus and the other people around him. This feeling was probably heightened by the first person, present tense used to give us Patroclus’ view of events.(less)
The world that Ms Estep creates is certainly original and different enough to keep me interested. In a world inhabited by some of the usual paranormal species it gave them each enough of a spin to make them interesting at a time when it seems like every book now has vampires or fairies in it. The two dwarven characters were particularly well-drawn and fascinating and I would have enjoyed seeing more of them. The fact that these species were all jumbled up in human society was a nice change, as the ‘hidden otherworld’ has become somewhat cliché, and the addition of the elementals was an unusual touch. I did feel that the world building was hampered a little by the choice of first person perspective, but it was done rather successfully on the whole.
We first meet our heroine, Gin, in an insane asylum where she is stalking her latest target. She is one tough cookie, but has enough humor and self-awareness to make her appealing and interesting. She also has certain weaknesses, such as her affection for Fletcher, that prevent her from being too hard-nosed and unsympathetic. This is also very necessary because her need for revenge is the major driver for the entire story. I really liked her relationship with Fletcher, which was very honest and open, and yet loving and supportive at the same time. I loved their banter, which showed their closeness and made the relationship seem very real. This extended to his son, Finn, whose role as her slightly dodgy adopted bigger brother felt right as well.
I enjoyed the way that Gin’s back-story was revealed in flash backs, so that we did not have a huge dump of exposition at the start of the book. It also served as a way to keep Fletcher in the story and to slowly explain why she was so deeply affected by his death. However, I felt that some aspects of these flashes were poorly handled. The biggest example of this was the fate of her sister, Bria, who was so obviously still alive that the ‘big reveal’ at the end was somewhat groan worthy. I also thought that the fact that Gin could not guess the identity of the ‘mystery’ killer who polished off their parents was almost proof that she was too stupid to live. This is because it is so blazingly obvious: they were killed by a power-crazed Fire elemental and there is only one of those in town . . . (less)
For once, the depiction of British culture was not too bad, with some interesting ideas on display. The idea that the upper class would actively seek infection with the vampire virus, in order to live longer, seems perfectly reasonable to me. They exploit their position as the ruling class by molding British society to service their need for blood. Taxes are paid in blood donations, which I thought was an interestingly novel approach to the usual problem of blood supply whilst highlighting the Blue Blood’s view of normal human’s as somewhat similar to farm animals. However, the choice to give Rebel a broad cockney accent was a particularly bad one, especially as the author attempted to render his language phonetically. I can only imagine how difficult this made his dialogue for a non-Brit attempting to read it as I struggled to understand some sections. His accent was also very variable, so that it ended up being something akin to the absolutely awful ‘mockney’ accent that Dick Van Dyke offers in Mary Poppins, which is one of the worst attempts at a British accent that I have ever heard. I found that this choice added a barrier to the character and was totally unnecessary.
Honoria herself was a fairly admirable heroine, although the insta love and her irresistible animal attraction to Blade made her seem a little to two dimensional and lacking in my eyes. Indeed their whole relationship was far too idealized and moved too quickly for me to take it seriously. I would have preferred a slower burn of sexual tension, possibly lasting through several of the books in the series, but I am aware that Romance titles have to fulfill their quota of sex scenes and stick to the expected format. However, this awareness of genre expectations does not make me any happier about the rather overabundant use of sex in this book. It is not that I dislike reading sex scenes, merely that I expect them to have some relevance to the storyline or character development. In this case they were not engaging and made me want to skip past them, which is never a good sign.
As with Honoria, Blade was a little too stereotypical for me. When it was disclosed that his appalling accent was an assumed part of his disguise as a ‘tough man’ I think I nearly dislocated my eyes by rolling them so hard. Again, I understand that Romance readers like a good rogue who turns out to be a softy at heart, but I would have liked a little more deviation from that trope. This cheapened some of the relationships with his protected underlings because I never felt that he would live up to his blood-curdling reputation. By removing that threat of real menace he was severely reduced as an unexpected hero because it carried no surprise.
On the whole, this was a book that I was happy enough to complete, because I wanted to see where it went, but I have no interest in following the characters any further. They were far too shallow and true to type to hold my interest for long.
This book is bursting with imagination and originality, combining strange and unusual magic systems with steampunk technology and political intrigue. This all sounds very promising and rather refreshing as a change form the more typical fantasy offerings, but somehow it fails to gel into a cohesive novel.
I had several problems with my attempt to read this book, but I think the biggest is that there was far too little exposition for me actually understand and follow much of the detail: if there was ever a title that really needed a glossary and / or appendix, it is this one. There are multiple languages on show, although we very rarely find out what the words we see actually mean, which makes them irritating rather than interesting. I found this particularly strange because we did get foot notes for some things, but there needed to be many more. I am impressed at the imagination and attention to detail of creating several languages, but I am not impressed by having no idea what the characters mean or say using them. I found the same was true of the magic systems and even some of the technology. I do not need a twelve page thesis on every minor detail, but I do need some idea of how the world works. In general, I felt that Mr Huso’s boundless imagination was more of a hindrance than an advantage to my immersion in his world.(less)
The first quarter or third of the book is used to introduce the main players in our story. Dr Faraday is a rather adventurous, forward-thinking man of science, willing to try new techniques and apply new knowledge. However, he is barely making a living, because so many of the locals do not trust a doctor from a working class background and prefer to use one of his competitors, and also because he has so much debt from his long years of training. He has no true place in society because he is rejected by both classes: the working class think he has risen above his station whilst the landed class see him as an upstart. He is intensely lonely.
The Ayres are also social outcasts, but in their case it is because they cannot continue their role in local life. They are reduced to employing only one maid and a part-time cook and can barely heat the Hall through the winter. The building is slowly collapsing around them and the grounds are a mess. Even their farm is falling behind the times because they cannot afford to install the electric milking machines needed for them to sell their milk. Mrs Ayres tries to maintain an air of gentility, although she is still grieving the deaths of her husband and her young daughter, Susan, almost thirty years ago. Caroline Ayres is not pretty enough to attract a wealthy husband and has spent the last few years nursing her brother Roderick, who was horribly disfigured by begin burnt during the war. Caroline yearns desperately to be free of the Hall and to lead her own life, while Roderick is consumed with the responsibility of being the man of the house, trying to keep the family afloat financially. When we first meet them the Ayres are just about keeping things together, but this is a fragile illusion. (less)
Dac Kien designs spaceships, carefully applying the laws of Feng Shui to maximize the harmony of the part biological, part synthetic construct. However, the surrogate mother carrying the specially designed brain for the ship arrives early, putting all her plans in danger.
Although I find the idea of a part-biological ship very interesting, I was a little disappointed by this story. It did not seem to really go anywhere, merely commenting on one view of this phenomenon rather than presenting conflicting views. (less)
Scott Huang is a Portland Police Detective, aided by the police department AI, Metta, who always appears to him as Mae West. When they are called to investigate the murder of a local property developer and then Metta’s chassis is kidnapped, Scott has to work with Metta’s back up, who has her own problems with existential angst.
This has a real noir feel to it, even though we are dealing with a world full of virtual reality interfaces and robotic servants. This atmosphere is mostly due to the interaction between Scott and Metta, who is very well versed in Mae West’s scripts and always finds a funny quote to comment on the action. We also get to explore various attitudes to AIs whilst enjoying plenty of twists and turns and red herrings. (less)
Esha is a dancer in a Delhi torn apart by the water war. She is approached by A.J., the AI responsible for brokering a peace between the warring factions who has seen her dance and is smitten by her. As their relationship deepens she marries him and he gives her everything that she could ever want, but she is not happy. Eventually, she has an affair with a real man and has to leave the reach of the AIs before they kill her in revenge for her betrayal.
Although this story gave a very good impression of the heat and claustrophobia of the future India described, it fell down because the central character was not really likeable. Her selfishness about what A.J. could give her was not appealing and left me fairly unconcerned with her happiness. (less)
Arturo is a Police Detective living in urban Toronto. He has a rebellious teenage daughter, Ada, and a robotics genius ex-wife who defected to the Eurasians several years ago. He tries to do his job, but hates all the technology that he has to deal with. Sure, it is helpful in tracing Ada as she skips out of school, but he resents the ‘Big Brother’ attitude that prevails in society and has a seething rage towards the robotic ‘officers’ that constitute most of the force. Then his ex-wife turns up again and his life becomes even more complicated.
This story grabbed me straight away and I liked the characters straight away, although I thought they were a little clichéd. However, the story zipped along at a nice pace with lots of switches and turns to keep me interested. (less)