Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

This is a mystery thriller in the style of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, so if you enjoyed it you might find this book interesting.  It borrows some themes from Dan Brown's work, notably SangReal referring to Royal Blood and Jesus' progeny rather than the cup of the Last Supper.  

The novel is fast paced, and the action keeps on coming.  The characters are sympathetic if somewhat black and white.  I did find myself engaged by the protagonists and wanting to read more of their story. This is the first in a series of novels, and I will likely read the others to find out what happens next.

I gave The Return three and a half stars out of five.

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I learned about this book because I followed the YouTube book reviews of the author, Will Jordan.  Sadly, his reviews are no longer available online, but I had been very impressed with his sharp commentary and his clear understanding of character, plot and pacing.  The fact that he was able to present it in a fun and amusing way was an added bonus.  Naturally, when he announced he had been awarded his first publishing contract, I was keen to see if his skills as a reviewer would translate into those of an author.

The novel most certainly did not disappoint.  It is a riveting roller–coaster ride with interesting, well written characters.  Jordan switches easily from viewpoint to viewpoint, with each character having his or her own motivations and voice.  Although it is not a world I personally inhabit, the characters were believable and realistic.  The plot was well thought out, with one twist after another and kept me turning page after page.

One review I read mentioned that the language was often repetitive and uninspired.  I would say that is probably a valid criticism.  It's clear Mr. Jordan is no wordsmith.  However this is more than balanced by excellent characterisation, plot and pacing.  Personally, I would also have welcomed some of the author's natural wit to have come across in the novel.

In any case, I will certainly read the sequel when it is published.  I gave Redemption (Ryan Drake 1) four stars out of five.

Next week my blog is hosting Tricia Stuart Shiu ’s Moa whirlwind tour.  Stay tuned for more information.  

I would love to say I loved this book, and indeed there was much I did enjoy about it.  I found the main characters to be engaging and well written.  The world building I thought was excellent. I enjoyed reading it and will certainly read the sequel, Bitterblue. 

What really let the novel down in my opinion was the poor pacing.  I felt too much time was spent on the wrong things.  For example we seem to spend several chapters wandering around in the snow with Katsa and Bitterblue and yet the final confrontation with Leck, to which the entire book has been leading, is over within half a page or so.  This left me feeling somewhat cheated.  In addition, this confrontation occurs still some way from the end of the novel; I kept expecting another twist, not setup for the next novel.

I also felt the author missed some golden opportunities to explore some interesting themes, such as how do those who have grown used to power cope when they are powerless?  It is touched upon briefly, but I would have welcomed a deeper exploration of these.  

Having said that, I think these are things the novelist will become more adept at handling (this is her debut novel, after all) and I imagine a bright future for her.  

The genre of political thriller is not one I read particularly often, and it usually has to have a very interesting premise for me to pick it up in the first place.  This one did catch my attention: what could happen if wealthy and influential individuals lost a loved one in a terrorist attack and had the means, motive and opportunity to take personal revenge?

The first half of the novel introduces the protagonists, describes the initial terrorist incident which sparked the titular revenge, while the second half follows its setup and first stages of execution.  One thing I found detracted from the novel slightly was the abrupt end.  I understand this is the first in a two book series, and it felt as though the ending was neither a tied up ending nor a lead in to book two. 

I found the characters to be well developed and in general sympathetic – at times it was all too easy to forget that what they are planning will cost the lives of many innocents in the name of personal revenge.  The author does very well though in the way he describes their grief to gain the reader's empathy.

The descriptions of the political and practical discussions was also very well done – it was intelligently written and easily accessible to someone who doesn't move in the exalted circles of the protagonists. That said, I would have welcomed a more moderate religious viewpoint to balance the fanaticism on both sides of the Islamic/Christian divide.

I will certainly be checking out book two when it it is published and look forward to it.  I gave The Serpent's Head: Revenge four stars.

This last couple of months I've got through a few good books, and rather than reviewing each individually, I decided to write a post discussing all of them.  On the fourth of May no fewer than four new releases were downloaded to my Kindle, so I am happy I had a week off work to read them all.

Fair Game – Patricia Briggs
This is the next book in the Alpha and Omega series, and it was the usual enjoyable Briggs fare.  Anna and Charles are interesting characters and it's fun to see their development.  I was particularly interested in the end game changer – I understand it's impacting the Mercy Thompson series, too.  I had been surprised that Briggs was planning a new Mercy book.  I'd felt the character had come to the end of her story, but this will add a new dimension.  I look forward to Frost Bitten next year

I gave Fair Game four stars.

The Iron King – Julie Kanawa.
This is an ebook I borrowed from the library.  A Young Adult novel, it is the usual tale of modern teen finds she has an undiscovered past and hidden powers, finds herself in a fantasy world.  It's been done before, and better executed, but the storyline and characters were engaging enough for me to want to borrow the sequels from the library.

I gave The Iron King three stars

Unholy Night – Seth Grahame-Smith
This is Grahame-Smith's take on the three Magi of the Nativity.  As the Magi are only mentioned briefly in the Gospels, the author has created a whole storyline for them.  Personally, I did not enjoy this nearly as much as his previous Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  I missed Jane Austen's wit from the former and the genuinely interesting real life story of the American President from the latter.

I gave Unholy Night two stars

Orange as Marmalade – Fran Stewart
I confess I'm a sucker for gentle mysteries where the cat helps to solve the crime, With this one I particularly enjoyed that it was written mainly from the cat owner's point of view, with regular snarky comments from the cat as she tries to make her owner see the clues she herself has found.  I will certainly be adding this series to my "to follow" list.

I gave Orange as Marmalade four stars

Les Dragons de l'Empereur Noir – Anne Robillard
I don't often read in French, preferring to read in my native English, but I couldn't call myself a self-respecting fantasy lit fan living in Quebec and not read Robillard's popular series. I've been meaning to read them ever since I arrived in Quebec nearly seven years ago, but it took publisher Welland's decision to finally publish them as ebooks for me to read them.  This is the second in the series and I adored both this and the first one.  Robillard's writing reminds me in many ways of Patricia Briggs or George R.R. Martin.  All of these writers have a very keen understanding of character.  Whether Robillard is writing from young Kira's point of view or that of the older, experienced knight Wellan, it is easy to understand and empathize with them.  I can't wait for book three to be published in ebook format.

I gave Les Dragons de l'Empereur Noir five stars

The Alchemyst – Michael Scott
It is not very often that I am beaten by a book and do not finish it, but this is one of those cases.  The premise sounded intriguing – a book involving the ancient alchemist Nicolas Flamel – but I had real problems with the execution.  The biggest issue I had was that the author plunged straight into the action without really introducing the characters.  I really found myself thinking why should I care about these people?  In the end I found I didn't care enough to finish the book.

I gave The Alchemyst one star

Red Seas Under Red Skies – Scott Lynch
This is the second in the Gentlemen Bastards series of books.  I knew I was going to enjoy it when five minutes in I was giggling out loud at the banter between Locke and Jean.  This book reminded me more of a buddy road movie than an epic fantasy novel; it hangs on the relationship between these two characters – and Lynch describes it beautifully.

I gave Red Seas Under Red Skies five stars

Insurgent – Veronica Roth
Roth's Divergent series is tipped by some to be the next Hunger Games, and it is easy to see why.  The post apocalyptic world Roth creates feels real – and scary – and her characters are engaging and multi dimensional.  This is the second of the series, and while I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first one, it is still an excellent read.

I gave Insurgent four stars

The Serpent's Shadow – Rick Riordan
This is the third and final book in Riordan's Kane Chronicles series dealing with Egyptian mythology.  I have not enjoyed this series as much as the Heroes of Olympus one based on Greek/Roman mythology, but it's still a fun read.  The series is lifted from the banal by the banter and wit sprinkled throughout the pages, but still it is fairly predictable. 

I gave The Serpent's Shadow three stars

Deadlocked – Charlaine Harris
Some reviews on Goodreads criticized the novel for being bloated with too many of the minutiae of Sookie's everyday life.  That wasn't a problem for me personally.  I enjoyed reading about easygoing Southern life.  The mystery was fun if not a page-turner, and Sookie was as annoying as ever with her boyfriend angst and her insistence on proceeding despite multiple flashing, neon warning signs.  I enjoyed the book in spite of these faults.  It felt like meeting up again with old friends.

I gave Deadlocked five stars

What next?
My Kobo reader is away for servicing, so I'm unable to read the next two ebooks I have in mind as they're non-Kindle compatible ePubs.  These are Anne Robillard's A.N.G.E. and the next in Julie Kanawa's Iron series.  In the meantime I'm reading Burned, the next in the House of Night series.

What an absolutely wonderful surprise I had on reading my Twitter feed this morning (thanks @Elmblade43!) to find that the Harry Potter ebooks are now available for purchase through the Pottermore store.  This was unexpected to me as I'd not seen any prior announcements that the store was due to open; I'd expected it to be delayed until after the opening of the Pottermore site to the general public given how the original beta launch of the Pottermore site was launched.

I had many misgivings about the Pottermore store given how poorly the beta site was handled.  However, from the moment I went to the store it was clear I was in much safer hands.  The first step in the process was to create a Pottermore shop account (not the same as your Pottermore account, meaning that non Beta Pottermore fans can still purchase the books.)  This was all pretty straightforward.  The rest of the purchase process was too; select the books (I opted for the bundle of all seven for a 10% discount) – and it has to be noted that they are very reasonably priced – $7.99 – $9.99.

The next stage was the one which caused me the most anxiety – how would I get these books to my Kindle?  Would it be a pain in the arse as it is to borrow library books?  I needn't have worried.  On the My Books page, where you go to download the books, one of the options was for Kindle.  I was asked to link my Amazon account and the books immediately appeared in my Kindle archive library and started to sync to my devices.  

 Moreover, the books come with Amazon's Whispersync which keeps you on the same page if you're reading across multiple devices, and on the Kindle Touch it has X-Ray – the feature which helps you keep track of who is who and where in the book they appear.  That is a real blessing for those long series like Harry Potter or George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. In short, once the books are purchased they are no different from any other book I have on my Kindle.

The whole process is well thought out at least if you buy via a web browser.  Well done Pottermore store.

Over the last few days I have watched three very different productions of Sherlock Holmes; an episode of the 1980s Granada television series starring Jeremy Brett, the modern day BBC production starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr's return to the role in the movie Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows.  All of these are excellent in their own way, but are very, very different from each other.

Of the three, the Jeremy Brett version is the closest to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle conception of the consulting detective.  Granada Television set out to make a series that was faithful to the source material, and many consider Brett to be the definitive Holmes of his generation.  The series captured very well Holmes' brilliant intellect and mercurial nature.  

The BBC production is very different; updated and set in the modern era, it has a very different vibe to it, but it still captures Holmes' lightning quick mind and ascorbic personality.  Brilliantly played by Cumberbatch, you can almost see the wheels clicking round in his mind as he works through the mystery.  More so than the Brett production it places a strong emphasis on the relationship between Holmes and Watson, played by the always excellent Martin Freeman.

And so to the Robert Downey Jr version.  To say this is a Sherlock Holmes story is, in my opinion, pushing the limit.  I believe Conan Doyle would find little of his creation in this movie.  Downey Jr's detective seems to rely more on landing a fast punch than using his intellect to solve the case.  Having said that, it is still a very fun movie to watch, just not Sherlock Holmes as I know him.  

One thing that these productions all have in common is that the title character is played by a talented actor.  That does add a great deal of depth to the productions.

Today I went out to the cinema despite the freezing cold to see this movie.  Technically, it was excellent, with some superb performances, Gary Oldman and Benedict Cumberbatch both giving standout performances.  Of course, it helped that all the main leads are very easy on the eye.

However, as a woman, I was shocked by how darned chauvinistic it was.  There was barely a single female character who wasn't a) simple arm candy for the main characters b) a glorified tealady c) an adulteress or d) a damsel in distress the rescue of whom is held out as a reward for one of the main male characters

The only positive female character , a smart secretary who seemed to know what was what (who got maybe 10 minutes' screen time) was portrayed as less than traditionally attractive, and was forcibly put out to pasture (retired) very early on.  Sadly, I fear that's not too far from the truth of life in the 1970s British intelligence service.  It's been a while since I read John Le Carré's novel on which the movie is based, so I can't recall exactly if it's as chauvinistic.

When speaking with friends they asked me what I felt was the best movie of 2011.  I actually found it very difficult to answer.  This year there has been no King's Speech.  In the end I had to say Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, if only for Alan Rickman.  Certainly the award for worst movie that I saw goes to Conan The Barbarian!

2012 sounds more promising in terms of movies.  We have Hunger Games and The Hobbit, as well as The Iron Lady.    There were also some excellent trailers before TTSS, the only one of which I remember is A Dangerous Method

I think 2011 was a better year for television than movies.  We had Game of Thrones and now Once Upon a Time, both of which were excellent examples of top quality drama. 

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith follows a similar structure to his earlier book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in that it combines existing material with the fantastical.  The premise of the book is that American President Abraham Lincoln's life was spent hunting vampires as well as abolishing slavery.  
 
A mix of genres
Now, straight historical biography is not a genre I tend to read very often; I'd rather be transported to a new world than learn about someone who lives or lived in ours.  I found this particular combination of hard fact and fantastical fiction to be both fun and somewhat informative.  A reader of this book would not finish it with an encyclopedic knowledge of Lincoln’s life – I must admit I kept Wikipedia on hand to check historical facts – but he may know more about him than he did previously, and possibly be inspired to learn more.   It should be pointed out that as a Brit, my knowledge of American history is sketchy at best.  It may be that American readers will learn little that is new to them.  They however may enjoy trying to guess how the author will incorporate certain events into the vampire mythology.
 
One aspect I particularly enjoyed was the overarching theme connecting both the historical and supernatural; the idea of not judging an individual by the group to which he or she belongs.  This plays out both in Abraham’s attitude towards the vampires as well as the real world issue of race relations and slavery.
 
Pacing and structure
I found the pacing of the novel to be fast – almost too fast at some points.  Sometimes I had the impression Grahame Smith was doing a simple join-the-dots puzzle.  By that I mean he highlighted several well-documented events in Lincoln’s life and built the vampire mythology around them, for example the deaths of Lincoln’s first love and his sons.  These were very well done in themselves, but I would have the author’s going into more depth in many places and expanded upon them. 
 
The novel also breaks its own framing structure; it begins with Seth Grahame Smith’s being presented with Lincoln’s diaries by a vampire, upon which he supposedly based the book.  However, he fails to close this framing structure by not ending the book with a note from the author.   
 
The cultural card
I should point out that as a non-American, my knowledge of America's 16th President is sketchy at best, so I enjoyed learning a little more about Lincoln's life and work.  My enjoyment was probably enhanced also by the fact that, as a Brit, I have no cultural baggage regarding this historical figure. I can imagine that some readers may not be comfortable with the liberties taken with the life of a significant historical character the same way that others did not enjoy Austen’s Pride and Prejudice’s forming the basis of Grahame Smith’s earlier work.  I notice a series has recently been commissioned with Britain's Queen Victoria as a vampire – it will be interesting to see if I have the same reaction.
 
Why should you read this book?
Assuming you have no objections to historical figures being imported into vampire fiction, and despite its flaws, this is a fun read.  The overarching theme of not judging individuals by their group is well presented and forms a cohesive link between historical fact and vampire fiction.  Don’t expect any insights into Lincoln’s mind though!