Archive for April, 2014

Lockstep by Karl Schroeder is a space opera sci-fi novel which tells the story of Toby McGonigal who wakes up after a drift into cold sleep to be confronted with a new and confusing world.  He must learn about the lockstep and his place within this new society.  I was given a free copy by Tor/McMillan to review. I should point out straight off the bat that sci-fi/space opera is not a genre with which I am very familiar.  In some ways that is a good thing; I am not so clued in to the standard tropes of the genre, as I am with contemporary fantasy, which means I can approach the story with perhaps fresher eyes.  On the other hand, I freely admit some of Schroeder’s subtleties may have been lost on me.
 
What I liked

The lockstep concept.  Because I am not so familiar with the genre, it took me a little time to get my head around the lockstep concept, but once I did get the general picture I could really appreciate what Schroeder did.  I’m not going to try to explain it – go read the book.  What I did like about it was the narrative tension it introduced for the characters.  Being a part of the lockstep or not is a decision that you cannot go back on.  I also felt that the concepts behind lockstep were very interesting; resource management and technological advancement.  
 
The denners.  Orpheus, Toby’s pet/plot device, is just so darned cute, especially when Toby gets the glasses and app allowing Orpheus to communicate with him in emoticons.  I really want one of those apps for my cat.  Mind you, I’m pretty sure Isis’s emoticon would be a pretty constant “feed me.”
 
The ending.  Perhaps it was a little cheesy and too easy, but I loved it.  I finished the book with a smile on my face.  In all fairness, though, I do believe the way Peter’s and Evayne’s characters were developed that it was earned.
 
What I didn’t like

The love interest angle.  I really didn’t buy the Toby/Corva relationship.  It felt rather forced to me, given that both of them were dealing with a whole lot of other urgent issues during the book.
 
Other than that, I would recommend Lockstep and gave it four stars out of five.
 
 

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Silverthorn by Raymond E. Feist is the third book in the Riftwar Saga and together with A Darkness at Sethanon forms a kind of duology within the series.  This first part tells the story of Prince Arutha’s search for the magical silverthorn plant to cure his beloved Anita from magical poisoning and of the growing threat of Murmandamus,

I consider Feist to be one of the master storytellers of his generation.  Let me tell you a story to prove it.  I studied language and literature at university and after four years of deep literary analysis sucking all the enjoyment out of reading I refused to read anything more complex than a Cosmopolitan for many, many years after graduation.  Not until, that is, a colleague loaned me Feist’s Shadow of a Dark Queen, the first in his Serpentwar saga.  I completely DEVOURED it and the rest of the series.  I was immediately drawn into Feist’s world of Midkemia and it reignited my love of reading that I’d all but forgotten.  When I bought my first Kindle and made the switch to ebooks, a book by Feist was also the first book I bought to ease my transition to the new format.

So, onto Silverthorn.

What I liked

Worldbuilding.  Feist has been writing in his world of Midkemia for over 30 years and knows it inside out.  Each of the nations in his world has its own distinct character, flora and fauna and customs.  The world feels real.  The magic system is what Brandon Sanderson would call a soft magic system in that it’s not always fully explained to the reader.  Feist is good at avoid using magic to create a deus ex machina which can be a strong temptation of a less well defined magic system.

Characters.  The characters, too, feel real.  While Arutha is the hero of Silverthorn and displays many heroic qualities he can be a really moody son of a gun which keeps him real.  The young Jimmy the Hand too, could be annoying, but his occasional moments of real vulnerability keep him endearing to the reader.  Admittedly,  in Silverthorn his female characters aren’t my favourite.  Carline comes across as shrewish and Anita is your stereotypical damsel in distress.  We don’t have a kickass Brienne of Tarth or Egwene al Vere.  Still, Silverthorn is one of Feist’s earlier works, and his female characters are better written later on.

Pacing.  Feist knows how keep a story moving along at a brisk pace and to keep narrative tension.  In Feist’s books there is always something going on; always an obstacle to overcome or an enemy about to try to kill our protagonists. 

The humour.  I adore Feist’s writing still with its not infrequent humour.  it is a rather dry, understated humour which is often expressed in quips by the characters and  really appeals to my British sense of humour.

What I didn’t like

Not available in ebook format.  Here I have to have a rant.  It seems that the publisher for the English version of Raymond E. Feist’s Silverthorn in North America doesn’t have the rights to produce an ebook version.  The only ebook version available to us Canadians is the French version.  I see that the UK publishers to have an ebook version available, but can we Canadians buy it?  Nope. We can easily buy hard copy books from Amazon.co.uk, but not ebooks.  Grrrr.  I look forward to the day when digital rights are less restrictive. I started reading Silverthorn in French as ebook, but in the end I found I was missing too much of Feist’s nuance and humour so switched to the paperback version.  (Note, the links above are to the French ebooks.)

Few female characters.   See above.

All in all I loved Silverthorn and gave it four stars out of five.

 

Silverthorn by Raymond E. Feist – Review

First of all, I have a confession to make; I’ve not read very much this week.  If I’m being perfectly honest, I’ve become engrossed in the Lego The Hobbit game on my Playstation.  I wouldn’t consider myself a gamer at all, but these Lego games are so much fun – all the fun little details.  

Anyway, I digress.  The two books I have been reading/listening to this week are Silverthorn by Raymond E. Feist and Lockstep by Karl Schroeder.  i am actually reading Silverthorn in French.  It would appear that ebook rights for the English version of Feist’s earlier works have not been granted.  Since I much prefer to read electronically, that leaves me with the French version.  Sigh.  I look forward to the day when you can buy an ebook from a different market with as much ease as you can a hard copy.  I am listening to Lockstep in audio and so far am very much enjoying it.  Reviews will come soon.

Added to my library this week

There have been some interesting deals on the Audible daily deals this week.  I picked up Jennifer Worth’s Call the Midwife narrated by Nicola Barber.  I love the BBC television series, so I’m looking forward to listening to this.

Also on Audible daily deals I picked up a full cast adaptation of George Lucas’s Star Wars.  Those of you who follow my blog will know I raved about the audio book of Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily a New Hope and The Empire Striketh Back so you can imagine I’m looking forward to this.

In Kindle format I picked up a cheap deal for Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies.  This is described as a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at life on Pennsylvania Avenue with America’s first families, by the man who spent nearly three decades in their midst.  it could be interesting, it could be boring, but for a couple of dollars I’m happy to take the risk.

Author Libba Bray has been generating a lot of buzz in the BookTube community and people whose opinion I trust such as Katytastic and BenjaminOfTomes have recommended her, so I have picked up The Diviners in both Kindle and Audible formats.   I was particularly drawn to the Audible version as it is narrated by January LaVoy who does such sterling work as part of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars cast.   The Diviners seems to be 1920s New York meets ghosts and the occult.  Naturally, I will share my thoughts on these.

Upcoming releases in May

Charlaine Harris’s new book, Midnight Crossroad is released on 6th May.  Harris, is of course, the author of the Sookie Stackhouse series, which I loved.  Midnight Crossroad is also set in the southern US – this time in Texas – and is about a town where supernatural beings go to lay low.  I look forward to this one.  I’ve preordered  it in both Audible and Kindle format.

Also on the 6th of May we have The One, the final instalment in Kiera Cass’s Selection trilogy.  As I’ve mentioned before, this is my guilty little secret.  The characters are annoying and the concept is an unusual blend of The Bachelor meets Hunger Games, but I can’t stop reading it anyway.  I wonder where Cass will take our heroine this time.  Again I have this on both Amazon and Audible preorder.

Finally on the 27th of May we have City of Heavenly Fire, Cassandra Clare’s final entry in The Mortal Instruments series.  We’ve stuck with these characters through five books now, and being the final book all bets are off.  I’m almost a little nervous to see who doesn’t make it.  I see the narrator hasn’t yet been announced for this one.  Audible and Kindle preorders are available.

That’s all for this week – have a good one.

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I received a copy of The Pilgrims by Will Elliott from Tor McMillan free to review – thank you, guys!  It tells the story of journalist Eric Albright and Stuart Casey, a homeless drunk, who stumble across a hidden door which leads them to the fantastical world of Levaal.  Naturally, there is an evil overlord they have to defeat.  As can be inferred from the ages of the protagonists, this is more adult contemporary fantasy than young adult.  The language and attitudes of the two main characters is more mature than that of your average Twilight or Mortal Instruments.  Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

First off, I need to be totally honest and say I was unable to finish this book.  I started it at least a couple of times, and even bought it on Kindle as I find hardback books bulky and awkward to read now after several years of Kindling.  Yet, I was unable to get beyond the first third of the story.  Now, I don’t believe this is a reflection on the story or the author; just that I, personally, was unable to relate to the characters enough to become involved in their adventure.  it may even be that I was simply not in the mood for the tale that was being woven.  There was a lot I enjoyed about the book, but not quite enough to keep me reading, unfortunately.  It could be I’ll return to it later.

What i liked

The worldbuilding.  Elliott has crafted a vivid and fascinating world in Levaal.  From what I read I felt there were some interesting seeds sown for future developments. I believe this is the first book in a planned trilogy.

Language as skill.  I was intrigued by the fact that Eric’s and Case’s key strength (in this first third at least) was that, as Otherworlders, they have the ability to understand each language spoken in Levaal as if it were their native language.  This applies even to magically encrypted speech.  The local resistance is quick to see what an advantage that could give them and I enjoyed what I read of their adventures in spying.

Genre-savvy protagonist.  It always makes me smile when the protagonist is aware of fantasy tropes and expects his/her adventure to follow similar lines.  I loved that Eric was all “oh yeah, I know how this works: someone from my world falls into a fantastical realm, so that person must be the prophesied Saviour.  Point me in the direction of the evil overlord.”  I didn’t read far enough to learn whether or not Elliott will turn this on its head, but it could be fun to find out.  

What I didn’t like

The main characters.  For me, personally, I could not engage with either Eric or Case.   I found nothing about them that struck a chord with me.  However, that’s not to say they’re not interesting characters.  They just didn’t pull me into their story.

Despite the fact that I was unable to finish the book, I feel that was very much a personal thing.  I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone else from reading it; just because it wasn’t for me doesn’t mean you mightn’t think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.  

I gave The Pilgrims three stars out of five.

 buy from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, eBooks.com

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City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare is the fifth in the Mortal Instruments series and the middle book of the second trilogy.  It continues the plot points set up in City of Fallen Angels.  We follow several plotlines; Clary’s attempt to infiltrate Sebastian’s and Jace’s fortress, Simon and the Lightwoods’ McGuffin hunt in an attempt to find a way to separate Jace’s soul from Sebastian’s and the furtherance of Sebastian’s dastardly plan.
 
Clare also explores some of the relationships in depth, notably Alec and Magnus Bane and also Simon’s relationship with Izzy.  Given the work put into them, I am rather nervous for these couples for City of Heavenly Fire.
 
What I liked

Pacing.  One of my complaints about the previous book was that the pacing was not great.  This was considerably improved in City of Lost Souls.  Having set up the plot threads earlier, Clare was able to run with them and keep the narrative flowing.
 
Relationship development.  I really loved how the relationships developed in this book.  I became invested in Simon/Izzy, Maia/Jordan, Magnus/Alec.  Their actions and how it impacted their relationships came across as very believable.  I was particularly touched by Izzy’s backstory and how it affects her relationships.  I am very concerned for their welfare in book six though – being the final book all bets are off…  
 
Narrative tension.  Naturally, with this being the penultimate book in a six book series, with characters the reader has grown to love, Clare doesn’t have to work too hard to create narrative tension.  Even so, the situation set up for the final book does not look good for our protagonists.  I really look forward to seeing what will happen in City of Heavenly Fire.
 
What I didn’t like

Clary.  I have to admit Clary really annoys me.  I know she is a fan favourite, but she has a bad habit of being overruled by her emotions – not a good thing when the fate of the world is at stake.  Did she seriously think she could remain objective enough around Jace to help Team Good?
 
I really enjoyed City of Lost Souls and believe it sets up some great hooks for book six, City of Heavenly Fire.  I gave it four and a half stars out of five.
 
 

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four-half-stars

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare – Review was originally published on Canadian eReader

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare is the fifth in the Mortal Instruments series and the middle book of the second trilogy.  It continues the plot points set up in City of Fallen Angels.  We follow several plotlines; Clary’s attempt to infiltrate Sebastian’s and Jace’s fortress, Simon and the Lightwoods’ McGuffin hunt in an attempt to find a way to separate Jace’s soul from Sebastian’s and the furtherance of Sebastian’s dastardly plan.
 
Clare also explores some of the relationships in depth, notably Alec and Magnus Bane and also Simon’s relationship with Izzy.  Given the work put into them, I am rather nervous for these couples for City of Heavenly Fire.
 
What I liked

Pacing.  One of my complaints about the previous book was that the pacing was not great.  This was considerably improved in City of Lost Souls.  Having set up the plot threads earlier, Clare was able to run with them and keep the narrative flowing.
 
Relationship development.  I really loved how the relationships developed in this book.  I became invested in Simon/Izzy, Maia/Jordan, Magnus/Alec.  Their actions and how it impacted their relationships came across as very believable.  I was particularly touched by Izzy’s backstory and how it affects her relationships.  I am very concerned for their welfare in book six though – being the final book all bets are off…  
 
Narrative tension.  Naturally, with this being the penultimate book in a six book series, with characters the reader has grown to love, Clare doesn’t have to work too hard to create narrative tension.  Even so, the situation set up for the final book does not look good for our protagonists.  I really look forward to seeing what will happen in City of Heavenly Fire.
 
What I didn’t like

Clary.  I have to admit Clary really annoys me.  I know she is a fan favourite, but she has a bad habit of being overruled by her emotions – not a good thing when the fate of the world is at stake.  Did she seriously think she could remain objective enough around Jace to help Team Good?
 
I really enjoyed City of Lost Souls and believe it sets up some great hooks for book six, City of Heavenly Fire.  I gave it four and a half stars out of five.
 
 

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City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare is the fourth in The Mortal Instruments series of books.  The Mortal Instruments is a series of six books, of which five have been already published and divides into two trilogies.  City of Fallen Angels kicks off the second half with new threats and new challenges for our protagonists.   We start off in a good place – things have been quiet and settled since the events of City of Glass.  Clary’s main preoccupation is preparing for her mother’s wedding to long time love Luke and enjoying her relationship with Jace.  Naturally, that peace doesn’t last for too long…

It has been some time since I finished the first half of The Mortal Instruments, but Clare’s writing style and wonderful characters immediately drew me back into the world of Shadowhunters, demons, vampires and warlocks.   I adore this world and loved reading more of it – I don’t know why it took me so long to get back to it!

What I liked

The worldbuilding – Clare clearly has an excellent grasp of her world.  Everything fits together and holds well to its own internal logic.  

The characters.  While I still retain a slight preference for the characters in Clare’s other series, The Infernal Devices, I still love reading about Clary, Jace, Simon and the Lightwoods.  I particularly enjoyed Simon’s journey in this book and his relationships with Maia and Isabelle.  Isabelle’s journey, too became more interesting to me in this book.

What I didn’t like

The pacing.  I’ve noted slow pacing as an issue for me in several of Clare’s books, and unfortunately City of Fallen Angels is no exception.  As I mentioned, it starts off a whole new arc for our characters, and takes a long time to really get moving.  

The narration.  I really didn’t enjoy the narration for this book at all – I personally found it rather flat.  You may of course feel differently.

Here is a sample:

Added to my library this week

There have been a few great deals I’ve picked up this week, all under $5 each.

I picked up London Belles on both Kindle and Audible.  This sounded like a good read:  London Belles is a tale of four very different young women thrown together by war. Finding freedom and independence – as well as love, passion and heartbreak – for the very first time, a unique bond is formed as the hostilities take their toll on Britain.

Shannon Delaney’s Weather Witch sounded intriguing:  Some fled the Old World to avoid war, and some fled to leave behind magick. Yet even the fiercely regulated New World–with its ranks and emphasis on decorum–cannot staunch the power that wells up in certain people, influencing the weather and calling down storms. Hunted, the Weather Witches are forced to power the rest of the population’s ships, as well as their every necessity, and luxury, in a time when steam power is repressed.  I  picked this up in Kindle format.

I’m really enjoying Audible dramatised productions and when Star Wars (not the Shakespeare version!) was on special offer, I picked it up.  It’s narrated by Anthony Daniels and Mark Hamill, so I’m really looking forward to that.

For those of you having a long weekend this weekend, enjoy – I’ll see you next week.

Codex Angelicus by the Quebecoise author Anne Robillard is the fifth entry in her A.N.G.E. series.  This contains 10 books of which five are currently available in ebook format.  For those of you unfamiliar with this series, A.N.G.E. stands for Agence Nationale de Gestion de l’Étrange (National Agency for the Management of the Bizarre) and refers to the top secret agency which investigates paranormal phenomena.  We are introduced to the Agency in book 1 through new recruit Cindy Bloom.  Cindy is only one of the many fascinating characters in the series.  Sadly it is only available in French right now.  I have read books 1-5 and here are my thoughts on the series up til now.

What I liked

Steady plot developments and twists. Throughout the series Robillard has built up the plot.  We start off with Cindy being assigned to the False Prophets department under the tutelage of Oceane Chevalier – False Prophets is referred to as the new agents’ kindergarten as it’s normally a very safe and boring field where nothing much happens.  Of course, what they learn there drives the whole plot for the rest of the series.  Each subsequent book picks up on what has gone before and adds to it with new little twists.  

Wonderful characters.  As you will see from Robillard’s previous work The Knights of Emerald, writing strong, relatable characters is one of Robillard’s strengths as a writer.  This is equally true in A.N.G.E.  The reader becomes invested in Cindy, Oceane, Cedric, Yannick and Vincent.

Pacing.  One of my complaints about The Knights of Emerald was the slower pacing – at times Robillard seemed to lose the thread of where she was going.  That cannot be said about A.N.G.E.  The story keeps moving along at a good clip each volume building on the previous.  I really look forward to seeing where she Robillard goes with it.

What I didn’t like

Les relatable situations.  One of the things I loved most about Knights was that these fantastical characters were placed in very human situations.  While readers may not have fought supernatural beetles they can still relate to a character who, for example, has to deal with the fact that the woman he loves is in love with his best friend.  This relatability is not so apparent in A.N.G.E.  The situations faced by our characters are less something that a reader can relate to in his/her own life.  

All in all I love Robillard’s writing and would recommend it.  I gave Codex Angelicus four stars out of five.

s buy from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes

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I was recently given a review copy by the publisher of Swamped by Andrea Hertach.  It tells the story of young Marley Aaron who, along with local wildlife, campaigns to save a swamp along with its delicate ecosystem from destruction by urban developers.  Like The Monster Mob, which I reviewed recently, Swamped is very much aimed at a younger readership, probably around the 8-11 year range.

What I liked

Concept.  Swamped is clearly intended to increase environmental awareness in young people and it does that very well.  It explains about the delicate ecosystem in the swamp and the damage that humans could do.  I’m not certain though that the developer and mayor would be as sympathetic to Marley’s concerns in real life as they are in the book!

Entertaining style.  I enjoyed that interaction amongst the local creature inhabitants of the swamp and also their working together with Marley and her pet dogs.

What I didn’t like

As with The Monster Mob, it is clearly aimed at a younger audience and more mature readers may find it rather simplistic and too easily tied off.

All in all I think Swamped sets out what it intends to – increase environmental awareness – and I gave it three stars out of five.

 buy from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes

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I was recently given a free copy by the publisher to review The Monster Mob by Andrea Hertach.  It tells the story of a group of kids, Alex, Charlie, Leanna and Pete who share a love of creative writing and form the “Monster Mob” to share their (creepy) stories with each other.  The novel is structured around the kids’ stories and their attempt to find the storyworthy in real life.

From my reading I would guess this is aimed at middle graders, particularly those who already have a love of reading and writing.  I don’t think older readers would appreciate as much – the themes and concepts are kept pretty simple and there might be little to hold their attention.  However, there are a fair number of classical literary references – to Poe, Shelley, Shakespeare and Dickens and the author makes these pretty explicit in order for younger readers to appreciate them.

What I liked

The Monster Mob is a very light, quick read and passes a pleasant couple of hours. The writing style was clear and engaging.  I did enjoy the ending with Mr Hawthorn – I thought it was rather sweet.

What I didn’t like

This book is clearly aimed at a younger audience so more mature readers will probably find little depth to the book.

All in all I gave The Monster Mob three stars out of five

Added to my library this week

This week I’ve gone on a bit of an Audible spending spree.  There were some interesting daily deals as well as some I bought with the extra three credits I bought.

The first of the daily deals I bought was Cragbridge Hall by Chad Morris.  The synopsis for this seems intriguing: Imagine a school in the year 2074 where students don’t read history, but watch it happen around them; where running in gym class isn’t around a track, but up a virtual mountain; and where learning about animals means becoming one through an avatar. Welcome to Cragbridge Hall, the most advanced and prestigious school in the world.   It sounded a fun listen so I didn’t mind spending a couple of dollars on it.

The second daily deal I bought was C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.  I remember reading Lewis’s work about a devil when I was very young and I seem to remember it was very cleverly written.  Again I didn’t mind spending a couple of dollars on that.

As I mentioned earlier this week I really enjoyed Eva Strachiak’s The Winter Palace, so I picked up the sequel The Empress of the Night also from Audible.

I’ve been hearing some good things about Half Bad by Sally Green – this is a contemporary supernatural novel about a young man who is half good witch and half bad witch.  I listened to the sample and was immediately hooked.