Friday, 8 November 2013

Hyperbole and a Half

Title: Hyperbole and a Half
Author: Allie Brosh
Pages: 369 (paperback)
Published: October 29th 2013
Published by: Touchstone


In a four-color, illustrated collection of stories and essays, Allie Brosh’s debut Hyperbole and a Half chronicles the many “learning experiences” Brosh has endured as a result of her own character flaws, and the horrible experiences that other people have had to endure because she was such a terrible child. Possibly the worst child. For example, one time she ate an entire cake just to spite her mother.

Brosh’s website receives millions of unique visitors a month and hundreds of thousands of visitors a day. This amalgamation of new material and reader favorites from Brosh's blog includes stories about her rambunctious childhood; the highs and mostly lows of owning a smart, neurotic dog and a mentally challenged one; and moving, honest, and darkly comic essays tackling her struggles with depression and anxiety, among other anecdotes from Brosh's life. Artful, poignant, and uproarious, Brosh’s self-reflections have already captured the hearts of countless readers and her book is one that fans and newcomers alike will treasure.


So just take a moment to scroll down this page a little bit. On the left, you'll find a list of blogs I read. Most of them belong to authors I love, but there is one that stands out as truly different. It's called Hyperbole and a Half and it is truly and honestly the most hilarious blog I have ever read. And quite possibly on the entire internet in general. Go and have a look at it. There are a plethora of posts to read. Spaghatta Nadle and its follow-ups are particular favourites of mine. Why? I have no idea. They just are.

This is the book of the blog, by the rib-achingly funny Allie Brosh, chronicling some of the many mis-adventures of her life, a tutorial for dogs and an amusing/heartbreaking account of her experience with depression. This full title is in fact Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, which sums up everything it contains pretty well.

Some of the stories in this book are new, and some have been taken from the blog. I thoroughly enjoyed all of them and look forward to many re-reads in the future. Even the one's I read before often had me laughing out load. Actually laughing out loud. Not like when you're like 'lol' and it maybe made you smirk a little bit.

Read this book. And the blog. Because they're amazing, and pretty much speak for themselves on this front. Seriously, what are you still doing here? Go!


Friday, 1 November 2013

Days of Blood and Starlight

Title: Days of Blood and Starlight
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2
Author: Laini Taylor
Pages: 528 (paperback)
Published: August 15th 2013
Published by: Hodder Paperbacks


Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.


This is not that world.

Art student and monster's apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?


Karou has rediscovered her lost life, but it has cast a terrible shadow over the life she was living. Now, she finds herself stuck between worlds, and without either of the families she had grown to love and rely on. Feeling guilty for the part she played in the downfall of her people, she allies herself with a man she despises and takes on the role of her old mentor in an attempt to help them make things right. But how long can she live with the things she's doing, and how long will her new-found 'friends' allow her to live?

I absolutely adored The Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The story and characters were gripping and engaging, with a truly original idea at its centre. And this carries over well - the story and the magic behind it are both ones I've never come across before, and with Karou's new role in this book you get to see more of both. And the characters are just as wonderful as last time, but with more viewpoints and greater depth.

Rather than just following Karou, this time we also follow Akiva (her angel ex-lover), Zuzana (her human best friend) and...a chimaera whose name I cannot remember off the top of my head. But through these, Taylor allows us to develop a much fuller sense of the world she has created. We get to see more of the chimaera in their natural environment, and learn more of the different species and their strengths and weaknesses. Through Akiva, we see more of the angel world - and the storyline which this opens up for the next book is one which I am thoroughly looking forward to. Though in all honesty, I am indeed looking forward to seeing all the resolutions.

While I really like Karou and think she's a great leading lady, Zuzana is one of my favourite characters. She was more secondary in the first book, but she comes to the fore more this time around and I love her voice. I would totally be friends with her! If she'd let me. She's pretty hard-core and awesome. She gets a few of her own chapters towards the start of the book, and they always entertained me. And her appearances in the chapters told from others' POV are often just as entertaining.

The descriptions of the land of Chimaera and angels are truly wonderful in places. As I've probably said before, I'm not a particularly visual person, but I could definitely picture some of the places as they were described, even if I didn't really manage this quite so well with the descriptions of chimaera this time around. But they are vastly different than in the first book - necessitated by the change of circumstances - and probably less easily put together in my mind at least.

But for all this, I didn't find the story as captivating. I think with the mystery gone of who Karou is, some of the tension which kept me reading in the first book was missing. And there was nothing taking its place. I sat and read Daughter of Smoke and Bone without really noticing, but this one didn't grip me in the same way.

There are lots of great developments by the characters, and slightly heart-breaking ending, and a whole glot of potential opened up. I am very much looking forward to Dreams of Gods and Monsters.


Friday, 18 October 2013

'Salem's Lot

Title: 'Salem's Lot
Author: Stephen King
Pages: 751 (paperback) (and I have a few words to say about this later)
Published: November 1st 2011 (first published 1975)
Published by: Hodder and Stoughton


"Turn off the television—in fact, why don't you turn off all the lights except for the one over your favourite chair?—and we'll talk about vampires here in the dim. I think I can make you believe in them." Stephen King, from the Introduction. 

'Salem's Lot is a small New England town with the usual quota of gossips, drinkers, weirdos and respectable folk. Of course there are tales of strange happenings—but not more than in any other town its size.

Ben Mears, a moderately successful writer, returns to the Lot to write a novel based on his early years, and to exorcise the terrors that have haunted him since childhood. The event he witnessed in the house now rented by a new resident. A newcomer with a strange allure. A man who causes Ben some unease as things start to happen: a child disappears, a dog is brutally killed—nothing unusual, except the list starts to grow.

Soon surprise will turn to bewilderment, bewilderment to confusion and finally to terror . . .



Ben Mears spent a few years in Jerusalem's Lot when he was growing up, living with his aunt. He had a traumatic experience which haunts him to this day. Take also that his wife recently died in a motorcycle accident, and he decides to come back The Lot for some cathartic writing. Unfortunately, he finds himself caught up in all kinds of trouble which even he - as a successful author - never could have imagined. Because the house which is the source of his nightmares is occupied again, and strange things are happening to the residents of 'Salem's Lot.

I started this book a couple weeks ago, and finished it off as part of Dewey's 24-hour read-a-thon last weekend. It took me a while to really get into it, and sitting and reading for an extended period of time was exactly the impetus I needed to finish it off. By no means is it a bad book: there's suspense and intrigue and vampires (proper ones; no sparkly vampires here!). But I think the problem is the same for a lot of Stephen Kings' books.

His complex stories are amazing. I really like that you don't just see what's going on for the heroes, but random little snippets from around the town too. It makes the story fuller, gives you a better sense of just what's going on. He doesn't just do it here, but in Needful Things and The Stand (and probably more that I haven't read/can't think of right now). But with all the setting up it does mean that the story takes a while to actually get going, and the names of all those people are pretty difficult to keep track of. For me at least. I usually have to rely on what's going on before I know which person they are rather than the name being mentioned and knowing what's already gone on for them. Of course, as I've already said this does overall provide a richer background, but it doesn't have its disadvantages as well.

There were a couple of seriously creepy moments in this book, but nothing that had me sleeping with the light on. It's more implied terror here. You know things are going on and can see the effects of it, but there is very little of that side of it that is actually documented in the story. And, in all honesty, I don't think King is ever going to top The Shining for scare factor. Although I do still have a couple to read before my final judgement is reach!

Ben Mears is a perfectly good leading man. He's intelligent and thinks things through, and isn't willing to take unnecessary risks. He likes to have everything laid out and clear in his mind before acting, even if situations do get away from him sometimes. His supporting crew are probably more interesting than him, though. Not so much Susan Norton, but Father Callahan, Matt Burke and Mark Petrie all made very good reading.

My final point is a dig at the publishers more than the story. If you buy the Hodder and Staughton version with the cover be warned that the page count is a bit deceiving in that the story finishes with about 150 pages to go. What follows are two short stories serving as prequel and sequel to 'Salem's Lot, and then a load of 'deleted scenes'. Quite interesting? Well, maybe, except that the two short stories are included in Night Shift which I read a matter of weeks ago. And from movies, I've learned that deleted scenes are usually deleted for a reason. I can only imagine the same holds true for books. There is no mention of these anywhere on the blurb, and I was very disappointed when I read the last paragraph and realised that was the end of the story, then confused about what the rest of the book was for, then disappointed again. You have been warned!

But as I said, I can't really mark the book down for that. So all in all, a very good read with generally good characters, if a little slow moving and maybe not quite as terrifying as it could have been.


Saturday, 12 October 2013

Read-A-Thon, October 2013

Today is the day! Dewey's 24-hour read-a-thon is here once again, and while it turns out that I have quite a busy day I will be sitting down and reading every chance I get for the next 24 hours!

I'm already half-way through 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King, so the first order of the day is to get that finished. After that, I have a few more books lined up, starting off with Days of Blood and Starlight, the follow-up to Daughter of Smoke and Bone which I adored.

So, in T-minus 11 minutes (and with my first ever apple pie in the oven!), the read-a-thon will commence.

Bring it on!


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So 1 hour 45 minutes into the read-a-thon, I've finished 'Salem's Lot. Why so early? Because this book lies! It's actually 'Salem's Lot, followed by two short stories from Night Shift (which I read about two weeks ago), then a load of 'deleted scenes'. There's an extra about 150 pages after the story itself. I was so excited to see what was going to happen in these pages and then nothing. No warning anywhere on the blurb about all this extra stuff. So I'm a bit disillusioned now.

That aside, it was a good book. King has the same problem as always in that his complex stories are amazing, but take a while to get going. And it's great that you see little snippets from random people who live in the town, but all these names and people are quite hard to keep track of when you go back to them later on. Creepy in places, but in all honesty I don't think he's ever going to top The Shining for scare factor.

Now - on to Days of Blood and Starlight! Yay!

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4 hours down, 20 to go! But life is getting in the way right now so reading will be more sporadic for the next couple of hours before going away completely *gasp*.

Days of Blood and Starlight has taken a bit of a beating though, and I'm 174 pages into it and very much enjoying it so far. It doesn't have the wow and mystery factors that Daughter of Smoke and Bone did, but I'm looking forward to reading more of it.

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So...I'm back! I've made it for the final hurrah, and shall be trying to spend the next three hours or so reading. Wish me luck!

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And that's it, all over for another 6 months. I've not got as much reading done as I would have liked, but I'm about two-thirds of the way through Days and very much looking forward to some resolutions. It's been very interesting to see more of the Seraphim/Chimaera world in this book, and there's been lots of Zuzana to keep me entertained. She may only be a secondary character, but she's quite possibly my favourite.

I'll be posting full reviews of both books in the coming weeks, so feel free to come back and see the full low-down!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Gone Girl

Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Pages: 432 (ebook)
Published: June 5th 2012
Published by: Crown


Marriage can be a real killer.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick's clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn't doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife's head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media--as well as Amy's fiercely doting parents--the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he's definitely bitter--but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn't do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

Nick and Amy started out as the perfect married couple. Very much in love, and neither too demanding of the other. Then the recession came along and both of them lost their jobs in the space of a few months. When Nick's mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he decides that they're moving back to his home town in Missouri to help his sister look after their mother and father. This is when things start to go wrong, and two years later, on their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. There are signs of a struggle in the lounge, and forensics show cleaned up blood in the kitchen. Where is Amy?

This isn't really my kind of thing at all. I'll occasionally dip into crime thrillers, but very rarely, and I'm only reading this for my book club. For all that, it wasn't bad by any means, and I didn't not like it or anything. It's just...not my thing. If it was, I'd probably appreciate it a lot more.

Because this is a very clever book, with clever characters and a storyline with twists and turns abounding. It all makes sense, and looking back there are hints in the very early pages of some of the underlying things which later come to light. The whole thing has been very cleverly thought out, and both Amy and Nick make sense as people when you learn of their respective backgrounds, the way they've been brought up and the kinds of people their parents are.

At first, it felt a little like I was being clobbered around the head with adjectives, but this soon settled down. Or I just got used to it, in which case I'm willing to attribute it to the two narrators being writers. Others I know who've read it have commented on the excessive use of language, but in all honesty I didn't notice anything particularly out of the ordinary. Maybe I've just grown used to swear words in the media, or maybe it's just differing sensibilities. Either way - be aware of this, and know that this is definitely not a book for younger readers!

Nick is a very likeable guy, for the most part. Yeah, he has his idiotic moments but he makes sense as a person, especially given the horrific situation he finds himself in. He's trying to make it seem like he hasn't killed his wife despite some pretty damning evidence by hiding the things that might back up what's already there, which in the end only makes things worse. He's flawed - very flawed - but he is essentially a good guy, I think. He just got a little lost and made some stupid mistakes, which he himself is willing to admit to.

Amy...Amy is a difficult one. We see her through her own diary entries for the most part, and a little through Nick's memories of her. She comes across as a very sweet, likeable person, if a little bitter about the literary counterpart her parents created of her: Amazing Amy. No pressure growing up at all!

There was a twist I didn't see coming, although again looking back it wasn't a complete surprise, but the ending was a little predictable once it came down to it - it just wouldn't have made sense for the outcome to be anything else.

A good book and an intriguing read, and I can see why it has propelled Gillian Flynn into the limelight. Would I read anything else by her? I probably wouldn't pick it up, but I wouldn't actively avoid them by any means. Again, it just comes down to the fact that crime is not my thing.


Saturday, 28 September 2013

Night Shift

Title: Night Shift
Author: Stephen King
Pages: 488 (paperback)
Published: January 10th 2008 (first published 1978)
Published by: Hodder

From the depths of darkness, where hideous rats defend their empire, to dizzying heights where a beautiful girl hangs by a hair above a hellish fate, this chilling collection of twenty short stories will plunge readers into the subterranean labyrinth of the most spine-tingling, eerie imagination of our time.









Stephen King: the master of making the everyday slightly terrifying.

This collection of 21 short stories range from the scary, through the creepy and unsettling to stories that are just enjoyable. While not all of them are amazing, none of the stories are bad. There are even a couple of stories which serve as precursors to other King books - 'Salem's Lot and The Stand are both given prequels, and 'Salem's Lot gets a little follow-up too. Which in all honesty was a little annoying as I haven't actually read 'Salem's Lot yet and it gives quite a lot away, so maybe avoid One For the Road if you find yourself in the same position as me.

As I said, most of these stories were very enjoyable, but there were a few of particular note in my mind.

I Am The Doorway is a rather creepy little tale, and one which you don't fully understand until the later pages. A mystery involving a man's hands and him finding himself in unexpected places at unexpected times, this is a short for sweet story.

The Mangler is a great example of something completely mundane - a machine for drying and folding sheets - being made scary. A series of horrific accidents leads a police inspector to suspect something quite horrible about this machine. The main questions is whether his solution will help the situation, or make things even worse...

Battleground isn't particularly creepy or anything, but more that it's rather entertaining and for the time probably something of a unique idea.

The Lawnmower Man is probably the story that has stuck with me most. It was creepy to read, but now I think about it every time someone mentions a lawnmower...which happens more than you might think.

The Children of the Corn is the story behind the horror film, and reading this has made me want to watch the film.

A truly enjoyable read made up of a whole range of story types.


Friday, 20 September 2013

Seraphina

Title: Seraphina
Series: Seraphina #1
Author: Rachel Hartman
Pages: 369 (paperback)
Published: January 3rd 2013
Published by: Corgi Childrens


Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.


So, the book club I go to decides what we're going to read from month to month democratically. People suggest books and then we vote on which to read. This book was suggested a few months ago, and while it didn't win it intrigued me enough to go out and buy anyway. Unfortunately, the stack of books I have waiting to be read means I've only just got round to it, and I really really wish I'd read it sooner, because this book is amazing.

Like, actually.

But I'm having a lot of trouble putting into words what actually made it so great. So. Summarise!

Seraphina herself is a great leading lady, and she's surrounded by a whole range of characters who are (pretty much all) just as likeable, quirky in their own ways.

The world is intricately thought out, similar enough to not be completely alien but with enough differences to underline the presence of dragons. And it's not just the major things (though religion is probably the major one - dragons aside): even though it's a medieval setting, there are cultural differences when it comes to clothing and music.

The dragons themselves: how their mind works in both dragon and human form and that there's a difference is something I've not come across before. It goes beyond little things like 'not wanting to eat raw meat' to how they perceive the world and the sudden overwhelming presence of emotions when they're human.

The romantic relationship side of the story was a little predictable, but I don't mind a little predictability from time to time. It's nice to not have to worry about what the outcome's going to be, and just enjoy the getting there. And counter to this, the dragon-hunt storyline had enough mystery going on that I extra didn't mind. And, all the better, that ended in a way in which I did not see coming at all.

On a deeper level, this books is an interesting look at racial hatred and how easily it can be incited even after peace is all that many people have known. We, unfortunately, see this all too often even now and while this is taken to extremes (compared to nowadays) I'm sure it isn't too different from what some denominations - be they religious, racial, sexual orientation or a whole host of other things - have experienced in the past.

A hugely enjoyable book with depth and lightness each in their own place. Very much looking forward to the next book in this series.


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Dewey's Read-A-Thon October 2013

So, it's that time of year again! Dewey's 24-hour read-a-thon is a biannual event where - surprise surprise - the aim is to sit and read for 24 hours straight. A lot harder than it might sound.

This time, it's on the 12th October with different start times according to where you are in the world. There are cheerleaders encouraging you to keep going as well as competitions and prizes throughout the 24 hours, and it was through this that I won my copy of This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. It's lots of fun seeing all the cool competitions bloggers come up with, and a great way of finding new book blogs.

I always have a lot of fun, and what better excuse to sit and do nothing but read for a whole day? It's also a great way to blitz through some of those books I've had lying around for a few months, although I learned the hard way in my first read-a-thon that one great big book is not the way to go. A few smaller books are a lot better, as you actually feel like you are making progress!

So why not go sign up?

http://24hourreadathon.com/

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Goddess

Title: Goddess
Series: Starcrossed #3
Author: Josephine Angelini
Pages: 464 (ebook)
Published: May 23rd 2013
Published by: Macmillan Children's Books

After accidentally unleashing the gods from their captivity on Olympus, Helen must find a way to re-imprison them without starting a devastating war. But the gods are angry, and their thirst for blood already has a body count.

To make matters worse, the Oracle reveals that a diabolical Tyrant is lurking among them, which drives a wedge between the once-solid group of friends. As the gods use the Scions against one another, Lucas’s life hangs in the balance. Still unsure whether she loves him or Orion, Helen is forced to make a terrifying decision, for war is coming to her shores.

In Josephine Angelini’s compelling conclusion to the masterfully woven Starcrossed trilogy, a goddess must rise above it all to change a destiny that’s been written in the stars. With worlds built just as fast as they crumble, love and war collide in an all-out battle that will leave no question unanswered and no heart untouched.


After being thrust into the centre of a feud she didn't know existed, Helen has inadvertently caused disaster to come about. And now she must fight for not only her own survival, but for the survival of all she holds dear. Her friends, her family, and the mortals of the world are all relying on her.

Helen did become a bit ridiculously all-powerful, but luckily fighting is most definitely not the centre of this story, so it wasn't particularly annoying. And it is of course this fact that perpetuates most of the story - if that hadn't come about, in fact, there wouldn't really have been a story at all.

There was a lot more fighting going on in this book, and I'd like to say that you got to see the Scions using more of their abilities this time around, but it just wasn't really the case. It was more that you knew the fighting was going on, but you were always somewhere else at the time, or it was just them displaying their superior fighting skills against each other and being pretty well matched. You do get some pretty good God-ability showing off, but again a fair portion of this is reported (literally - as news stories) rather than being seen in the story itself. So this aspect was a little disappointing - why have you characters able to do all these cool things if they hardly actually do them?

I don't know much about the story of Helen and Paris, but I wasn't particularly a fan of the changes that were made - though not significant, I don't think. On the other hand, imagining them as other couples through history was nice, even if we only got to see one of these in detail. I would have liked to see more past lives be they well known or not. There were nice parallels drawn between the original Greek stories of Troy for the other characters - everyone had their place. You'd been told enough to see them and to somewhat predict what might be coming when allegiances are drawn, but I was so caught up in the story it didn't really occur to me to do this It was more of a recognition after the fact on my part, but for those properly paying attention there may be fewer surprises than there were for me.

And of course there are all these secrets. They've been sitting there, brewing for all of the last book and most of this one. And you're waiting for them to be revealed. And you know it's coming and it's so tense and you just want to know how it's all going to come out and how everyone's going to react, and why they were hidden. And most importantly - will they find out in time?

This is a wonderful ending to an amazing series, and one which I ended up enjoying a lot more than I was expecting to. Everything is finished up satisfactorily, though there are hints that there may be more to come and not everything will stay as it is forever.


Friday, 30 August 2013

HHhH

Title: HHhH
Author: Laurent Binet
Translator: Sam Taylor
Pages: 384
Published: May 23rd 2012 (first published 2010)
Published by: Harvill Secker

Everyone has heard of Reinhard Heydrich, “the Butcher of Prague.” And most have heard stories of his spectacular assassination at the hands of two Czechoslovakian partisans. But who exactly were the forgotten heroes who killed one of history’s most notorious men? In Laurent Binet’s captivating debut novel, HHhH (Himmlers Hirn heiBt Heydrich, or Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich), we follow the lives of Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubiš, the Slovak and the Czech responsible for Heydrich’s death. From their heroic escape from Nazi-occupied Prague to their recruitment by the British secret services; from their meticulous preparation and training to their harrowing parachute drop into a war zone; from their stealth attack on Heydrich’s car to their own brutal deaths in the basement of a Prague church, Binet narrates the compelling story of these two incredible men, rescuing their heroic acts from obscurity. The winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman, Binet’s HHhH is a novel unlike anything else. A seemingly effortless blend of historical truth, personal memory, and Binet’s remarkable imagination, HHhH is a work at once thrilling and deeply engrossing—a historical novel and a profound meditation on the nature of writing and the debt we owe to history.

HHhH - Himmler's Hirn heisst Heydrich - Himmler's brain is called Heydrich

This book accounts the run-up-to and assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, including his rise through the Nazi party and the movements of his killers in the days and months preceding his death. Unfortunately, there are quite regular insertions by the author about the research he is doing, the things he has come across and even random asides from his personal life. It was these sections that negatively affected my opinion of this book. It broke the flow of the reason I was reading the book and while it well served to show the passion of Binet on this subject, for me that came through enough in the level of detail in regards to the historical events without him needing to constantly show it in other ways.

Without a doubt this is a well researched book and Binet doesn't include anything without being able to verify it as fact. Or rather, the times he does invent details or conversations he tells us about it. This is good in terms of accuracy, but not quite what I was expecting (though re-reading the blurb, maybe should have been), expecting something more like Schindler's List where the events are expanded upon with likely conversations. Two different approaches, each with their benefits. On the flip side, it does mean we are party to a short chapter on a comment made about the inclusion of an imagined detail. This comment made him remove a certain phrase, then search for something to replace it, and eventually put it back in. I've never felt the need to know anything about an author's personal editing process before. And in all honesty I could have lived perfectly without it this time.

Things like this aside, I found Binet's writing easy to read, something that can be difficult when it comes to subjects like this. Yes, there isn't mass-murder on every page or anything like that, but because of this it isn't exactly the most scintillating of things to read at times, but I never felt bored by what was going on or anything. There are also the random asides - not about himself - about other things that went on during the period covered. Most of them are at least vaguely related, but sometimes wonderful little stories make their way into the book simply because they're wonderful. Which is pretty heart-warming.

An interesting read for those who want to find out more about the life and death of the Butcher of Prague and those who killed him.

And suffered the reprisals.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Stained Glass Monsters

Title: Stained Glass Monsters
Series: Eferum #1
Author: Andrea K Höst
Pages: 246 (paperback)
Published: January 3rd 2011
Published by: ?


When a motionless woman dressed in white appears in the village of Falk, Kendall Stockton has no inkling that the strange apparition will soon leave her homeless, and tangled in the affairs of mages and monsters. For the white figure is the first sign of a spell which will shatter cities, and make the caster as powerful as the gods.

Saved by a stranger who claims her goal is to stop the woman, Kendall is torn between admiring the mage Rennyn Claire's strength, and doubting her methods. What is Rennyn willing to do to win? Do the best of intentions justify pragmatic sacrifice, or is Rennyn Claire no better than the monster she is trying to stop?


Kendall is a young girl trying to provide for herself in a small town after the death of her grandmother. After the appearance of a strange apparition on the town green, her life is tossed upside-down when a mysterious woman saves her life. The woman? Rennyn Montjuse-Surclare, one of only two people who know how to stop what is coming, what the appearance of the woman in white portents. Kendal is ripped from her quiet life and dragged away from all she's ever known to be taught (-ish, the school being a little busy with other things at the time) how to use magic she never knew she had. Meanwhile, Rennyn has to work out how to save Tyrland without betraying everything she is beginning to hold dear.

ShhooTHuMP

This is how this book starts, and in all honesty I very nearly stopped at that. I don't know why, but it just immediately put me off. In fact, I did stop reading after that first word, before coming back to it a couple of weeks later, determined to give it a chance to redeem itself.

Luckily for the book, it recovered well from it's bad first impression, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn't really follow the magic system at all and found the sometimes quite lengthy passages explaining it all a bit boring and difficult to grasp, but the story itself was good. Maybe I skimmed over an important part and so missed something, but I found it difficult to differentiate between symbolic and...darn I had the word a second ago sygillic magics. The system itself doesn't seem to be that complicated: forcing power into written symbols (symbolic/sygillic) and thought magic produced by the will of the caster alone.

The pacing was generally good, although periods of a day or two were sometimes skipped over with nothing to tell you so except their arrival at a place, or the commencement of an event. I found this a little jarring at times having to reorient myself almost in the world. And not everything was revealed at once - you find out more and more about what's going on throughout, and the...not exactly twists, but hidden things keep this going right up until the final pages. This means that you never really know what's going to happen - always a good thing in my mind.

The world itself reminded me a little of The Demon Cycle books by Peter V. Brett. World invaded by demons at night; towns defended by protective magic circles based on symbols. Of course, other than these basic similarities the two stories have little else in common so I wasn't left that the books were too similar or anything.

None of the characters are particularly outstanding, but they're all likeable enough even with their flaws. And most of the central characters do have noticeable flaws, significant but not major enough to make them annoying or anything. And they're always understandable flaws, rooted in the characters' past. Rennyn is very bossy and always thinks she's right. True, most of the time she is, and given the burden she's had to bear all her quite short life and the position she finds herself in now, that's completely understandable. Kendall is very similar in that she knows her own mind, but she is very strong-willed to the point where she struggles to accept help from anyone. Again, understandable given how she's grown up.

An enjoyable book, and I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for the release of the sequel.


Friday, 16 August 2013

How to Read the Air

Title: How to Read the Air
Author: Dinaw Mengestu
Pages: 325 (paperback)
Published: January 1st 2012
Published by: Vintage Books

Following the death of his father Yosef, Jonas Woldemariam feels compelled to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, he sets out to retrace his mother and father's honeymoon as young Ethiopian immigrants and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn country of his parents' youth to a brighter vision of his life in America today. In so doing, he crafts a story- real or invented-that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.





Jonas Woldmariam is a first generation African immigrant. His father arrived in the USA after much arduous journeying (though we're never explicitly, clearly or definitively told how) and his mother arrived some three years later. They'd been married four years, and spent the majority of that time apart. Jonas tries to imagine what those first months must have been like for them based on what he's been told, mostly by his mother, but he takes quite a lot of liberty imagining what they both might have been thinking. Intertwined with the story of their 'honeymoon' is bits of pieces of Jonas growing up, his life with his soon-to-be-ex-wife Angela, and some parts of him retracing the footsteps of his parents as they set out on their ill-fated honeymoon.

This was a present, and is not a book I would have bought myself. And it wasn't a bad book per se, just not my kind of thing at all. It was readable, but I didn't find myself caring for the characters. In fact I actively disliked Jonas' parents, for all that both of them have been through. Yes, some of what they do is more than likely made up by Jonas and how he feels about both of them, but they are both malicious people in their own way.

Jonas, as a complete counterpart, doesn't seem to have a malicious bone in his body. He's a very nice guy. But that's all he is - nice. He's not particularly compelling as a character, and he seems to spend most of his time doing exactly what is expected of him, or just lying to people to make it look like he is. How does he manage to not be malicious and lie? I'm not sure, but both are true in my mind. He lies to create the image that he is living 'the American dream', not setting out to hurt people even if that may be the way things work out.

When it come to the storyline, I was expecting there to be be more to his parents' American history than there was and was kinda let down by the lack in that storyline. And although I did quite like the recent-past history of Jonas and Angela, from the blurb I was expecting it to be more about him following in their footsteps and seeing them adjusting to American life or whatever with maybe references back to the life he has left behind. Instead it was more the other way around.

Maybe I should have gone into this book with more of an open mind. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been expecting not to. But it was what I expected in that regard, and at the same time not at all what I expected in terms of the storyline.


Friday, 9 August 2013

Dreamless

Title: Dreamless
Series: Starcrossed #2
Author: Josephine Angelini
Pages: 496 (ebook)
Published: May 29th 2012
Published by: HarperTeen


Can true love be forgotten?
As the only Scion who can descend into the Underworld, Helen Hamilton has been given a nearly impossible task. By night she wanders through Hades, trying to stop the endless cycle of revenge that has cursed her family. By day she struggles to overcome the fatigue that is rapidly eroding her sanity. Without Lucas by her side, Helen is not sure she has the strength to go on.
Just as Helen is pushed to her breaking point, a mysterious new Scion comes to her rescue. Funny and brave, Orion shields her from the dangers of the Underworld. But time is running out—a ruthless foe plots against them, and the Furies’ cry for blood is growing louder.
As the ancient Greek world collides with the mortal one, Helen’s sheltered life on Nantucket descends into chaos. But the hardest task of all will be forgetting Lucas Delos.
Josephine Angelini’s compelling saga becomes ever more intricate and spellbinding as an unforgettable love triangle emerges and the eternal cycle of revenge intensifies. Eagerly awaited, this sequel to the internationally bestselling STARCROSSED delivers a gritty, action-packed love story that exceeds expectation.



This book picks up right from where Starcrossed left off - no pesky interval to catch up on, right back in there with the story and the action for these characters. Now Helen has to come to terms with all that she learned in Starcrossed and try to readjust her life around the information. It impacts her relationships with just about everyone she holds dear: her father, her best friend Giggles and her now-forbidden love Lucas. But the Gods and the Fates aren't going to give up, and her life is only going to get more complicated.

So, in all honesty I read most of this book while half asleep. Because I couldn't put it down. And then I went and bought the next one and started reading that straight off! I find these books incredibly engrossing, between the characters, the storyline and the things you know and certain leading characters don't - you know they're going to find out the big secret, but not when. Or why it's been hidden. Or how they're going to react when they do find out. So many things just waiting to be found out!

There's a lot more Greek-ness to this one than the last, but I still wasn't lost in amongst it all. Any new introductions - be they ideas or gods - were clearly explained without too much information being dumped on you. And there were some pretty cool things done with the traditional aspect of Greek mythology. Again, I don't really know that much so can't say how true any of it is, but it makes for a very enjoyable read in my eyes. I do, however, know something about the traditional story of Helen and Paris Oops, just realised that's actually from the start of the third book!

This is in quite a lot of ways the typical middle book in a YA/PNR series. Two of the characters fall in love, but things get in the way in the second one, keeping them apart. Distance, their own stupidness, whatever. This time, though, it is quite a major thing, but still rather formulaic in that respect. Still, it was a reason I hadn't come across before, so it's going to be interesting seeing just how they react to this and how they manage given the hugeness of the revelation.

There is also a problem of - unless I'm missing something - quite a major plot point when it comes to the thing that's keeping them apart. And it's so obvious and so significant I can't see how none of the characters have seen it. Which makes me think I might have just missed something or misunderstand some vital point, but if not...that puts a serious downer on all these super-intelligent demigods.

In this book you get to learn more about the whole Delos family, not just a whole but getting to know each of them better. And they're all still really likeable people! None of them are stupid or annoying (come on - you know there's usually at least one!) and they all do what they think is right based on their own characters and what is going on. I'm going to commend this series again on the characters making believable decisions.

It's also commendable for avoiding the trap many second-books fall into: so much setting up for the finale in the third book that it's rather lacking in terms of actual story itself. Not so here, which is always nice to see. While there is plenty of setting up for the third book, I didn't feel lost in it and that the story of this book had been sacrificed for its sake.

The end of the book leaves some major cliffhangers as to what's going to happen next, and I cannot wait to see how everything resolves!


Friday, 2 August 2013

The Crimson Petal and the White - Competition!

Title: The Crimson Petal and the White
Author: Michel Faber
Pages: 833 (paperback)
Published: September 11th 2003
Published by: Canongate

Sugar, an alluring, nineteen-year-old prostitute in the brothel of the peculiar Mrs Castaway, yearns for a better life. And when she is visited by William Rackham, the somewhat reluctant heir to Rackham Perfumeries, she begins an ascent through the strata of 1870's London society that offers us intimacy with a host of loveable, maddening and superbly realised characters.

Gripping from the first page, this hugely acclaimed novel is an intoxicating and deeply satisfying read - not only a wonderful story but the creation of an entire, extraordinary world.




Sugar is a 19-year-old prostitute in 1870s London. She is attractive in her unusualness. Tall and slender, with an almost boyish figure, at a time when petite, more rounded women are coming into fashion. She defies norms in other ways, looking after herself in ways which are day-to-day now but odd for the time, and is incredibly widely read.

It is all these things are more than make her so desired. Especially by William Rackham, who relishes having someone he can converse with and who agrees with his opinion on so many things, someone who seems so business-minded at a time when he needs it most. For he cannot rely on his wife, Agnes, in these testing and trying times, a woman who is seemingly half-mad. It is with the meeting of these two people that Sugar begins her ascent away from being a prostitute, and resulting in everybody's lives being changed in ways unimaginable at the start of the tale.

This book weaves a tale which, while not engrossing - indeed, it took me a good three weeks to get through - is interesting, compelling. I wanted to find out how high the highs went, and whether they would be sustainable or whether all would come crashing down. Faber utilised an unusual writing style, one which I hadn't come across before - you're addressed by a phantom tour guide, as a phantom yourself. You're described as following people around and told when to leave one person and go to another, quite frequently at the start of the book when the characters are being introduced, then rather less frequently as the story progresses. It was an unusual breaking of the fourth wall, but it worked.

Sugar is as compelling on paper as she seems to be in reality, and the changes she goes through over the course of the book are multitude and believable - grounded in what's going on around her and the situations she finds herself in. I thought the story was going to be more about her than it was, and was always eager to get back to her sharp mind when we were following other characters, but there were no story lines in this intricate tapestry of interconnecting lives that I didn't like.

All the best characters are probably the female ones, and Agnes was always particularly interesting to read about, her view of the world being skewed so easily and providing for unusual views of the most ordinary things. On top of this, Sophie was truly endearing, and though she only really features in the latter parts of the book I enjoyed her interactions with Sugar and the small views we got of her father in the little times we spent with her.

Aside from the slight lack of oomph which would have kept me reading, the end of this book was left very open, and I'll admit to being a little unsatisfied. I need a more concrete sense of finish than what was provided. I don't mind if everything isn't neatly tied up in a package with a pretty bow, but the ribbon was still in the drawer and nowhere near the package at the end of this book.

Overall, a very readable book which I would easily recommend, though given the nature of the book some of the language leaves it unsuitable for younger readers.


If you would like to win this book (in a good condition) just leave a comment below. I'll leave it open for two weeks and then randomly select a winner! Open internationally.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Days Gone Bye

Title: Days Gone Bye
Series: The Walking Dead #1
Authors: Robert Kirkman
Illustrator: Toby Moore
Pages: 144 (paperback)
Published: September 26th 2006
Published by: Image Comics

An epidemic of apocalyptic proportions has swept the globe, causing the dead to rise and feed on the living. In a matter of months, society has crumbled: There is no government, no grocery stores, no mail delivery, no cable TV. Rick Grimes finds himself one of the few survivors in this terrifying future. A couple months ago he was a small town cop who had never fired a shot and only ever saw one dead body. Separated from his family, he must now sort through all the death and confusion to try and find his wife and son. In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally begin living.

Rick Grimes is a good-guy police officer with a wife and son. It's just an ordinary day for him. Until he gets shot. Then wakes up an indeterminate amount of time later alone in an empty hospital. Then finds out that he's living right in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. So, you know, not a great few days. He sets off to try and find out what happened to his wife, Lori, and son, Carl, but soon finds himself in a whole mess of trouble.

I really enjoy the TV adaptation, so I figured I'd venture into the heretofore unexplored genre of comic books graphic novels to see how it all started. One thing I was not expecting was how short it was; it took me less than an hour to read the whole thing, which I suppose shouldn't have been as surprising as it was. While there are some extended conversations, most of the action and story is visual.

And I did enjoy it. It was a little confusing to see how much had changed when they were making the show, but I could also see all the similarities and even picked up on a couple of shots which must have been taken straight from the illustrations.

The story was good; there was always something going on, whether it be personal conflicts or zombie attacks. Really the story is more about the former than the later, and the zombie-apocalypse is just the backdrop for all the drama! There were even a couple of funny moments, for me, often due to the "uhh"s and "gak"s of the zombies. And the ending definitely came as a surprise. I mean, I knew (well, guessed) it would happen eventually, but wasn't expecting it this soon!

I'll probably carry on with the series at some point, because I want to see the story develop in its original form and I've heard (and seen thus far) that a lot has been changed. Plus one of my favourite characters from the show, Daryl, hasn't appeared yet. Apparently one of my favourite characters is an invention of the television series, so I'm not intrigued to see who else they've invented, or left out. More changes than I'd expected going on here.

So I'm semi-converted to graphic novels...I'm not hooked, but I think this was a good introduction. And I'll definitely be open to others written by authors of books I've enjoyed - I know both Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill have their own series out there.


Saturday, 20 July 2013

Disenchanted

Title: Disenchanted
Author: Robert Kroese
Pages: 220 (ebook)
Published: November 6th 2012
Published by: 47North

Being assassinated doesn't have many upsides, so when King Boric is felled by a traitor, the king comforts himself with the knowledge that, like all great warriors, he will spend eternity carousing in the Hall of Avandoor. There's just one problem: to claim his heavenly reward, Boric must release the enchanted sword of Brakslaagt.

Now, to avoid being cursed to walk the land of Dis forever as an undead wraith, he must hunt down the mysterious Lord Brand who gave him the sword twenty years ago. So begins Boric's extraordinary journey across the Six Kingdoms of Dis, a walking corpse who wants nothing more than to be disenchanted and left in peace. Along the way he's advised by the Witch of Twyllic, mocked by the threfelings of New Threfelton, burned, shot at, and nearly blown to bits. But nothing can prepare him for coming face-to-face with Lord Brand. For in that moment, Boric discovers that nothing—in life, in death, or in between—is exactly what it seems.

Boric, King of Ytrisk, pretty much dies at the start of this story. I saw pretty much, because it turns out his enchanted sword won't let him die so easily. He finds himself - very unwillingly - as a wraith, spirit intact but his body rotting and falling to pieces around him. And it is in this very fragile body that he has to try and defeat the evil mastermind who gave him the cursed sword to start off with. On his way he meets a whole host of often more than slightly ridiculous characters.

This was a very easy story to read, more so in the later chapters where there were fewer punchlines hitting you around the head. This book started out as a 'comedy', though for me it was trying far too hard and it seemed like that was a joke or punchline every couple of sentences. Though reminiscent of Terry Pratchett in terms of style the result was a bit of a mess really, in my mind at least. As we got further into the book (serialised, originally released in six fortnightly episodes) the humour was brought to heel a little, and the story itself was allowed to come through more.

And it was a pretty good story, with a twist that I didn't see coming at all. There was a lot of misdirection and misinformation, and whenever you thought you had it sorted it twisted around again. Of course, all this did take place in the last section, and the pacing could have been evened out a little, for the earlier sections - whilst readable - weren't particularly encapturing. In those, we flick between Boric-the-dead, and Boric-the-very-much-alive-and-killing-(sort of)-an-ogre. But in neither of them are any particular leaps forward made. Stuff happens in the former, and history is set up in the latter. Again, it is only in the later sections of the book that everything starts to come together, but I think it may have been a more engrossing read if there had been some more stuff going on for Boric-the-dead in the earlier sections than randomly stumbling from place to place.

When it comes to characters, Boric is the only one that appears with anywhere near enough consistency to really get a feel for. Others pop in and out (I was particularly a fan of Bubbles, the flying bear; in large part because his name was Bubbles), but their appearances tend to be fleeting a best - even in a book of only 200-some pages. But Boric does grow with the story, and there are some nice parts. He is obviously a very intelligent man in his own way: strategy and war rather than academia, but there is a deepening to him in the course of the story which probably would have been heart-warming if I'd cared for him more. Because, for all his snarky humour (which I appreciated), it was quite difficult to develop any depth of feeling for him. I wanted to see how everything worked out, but I didn't particularly care if he got disenchanted and un-wraithed.

An entertaining enough read, but maybe in need of some cleaning up and evening out. A bit more depth to the characters - Boric in particular - would make them more...not likeable, but care-worthy, and would make it a more gripping read.


Friday, 12 July 2013

Starcrossed

Title: Starcrossed
Series: Starcrossed #1
Author: Josephine Angelini
Pages: 501 (ebook)
Published: 31st May 2011
Published by: HarperTeen


How do you defy destiny?

Helen Hamilton has spent her entire sixteen years trying to hide how different she is—no easy task on an island as small and sheltered as Nantucket. And it's getting harder. Nightmares of a desperate desert journey have Helen waking parched, only to find her sheets damaged by dirt and dust. At school she's haunted by hallucinations of three women weeping tears of blood . . . and when Helen first crosses paths with Lucas Delos, she has no way of knowing they're destined to play the leading roles in a tragedy the Fates insist on repeating throughout history.

As Helen unlocks the secrets of her ancestry, she realizes that some myths are more than just legend. But even demigod powers might not be enough to defy the forces that are both drawing her and Lucas together—and trying to tear them apart.


Helen Hamilton has always stood out: she's unusually tall, strong and fast. She's also exceptionally beautiful, but this is so far from her mind that it's not until very far into the book that I really noticed that fact. (Or maybe I just wasn't paying attention, but I'd like to think it's the former). She's devoted to her dad, after her mother walked out on them when Helen was only a few months old, and her best friend Giggles (at this point I cannot for the life of me remember her actual name). She tries to stay out of trouble, stay unnoticed. And she succeeds. Until a new family moves onto the remote island where she lives, and the first time she sees one of the kids in school she tries to kill him.

Paranormal Romance books (PNR) get a lot of bad press. Understandably. Many of them aren't great, and are written to jump on the bandwagon main-streamed by Twilight. Ordinary girl/boy falls in love with mythical being of some description. They can't be together for x, y, z, but fight through in spite of everything. All is wonderful! *eyelash flutter and sigh* But it's PNR books like this that restore my faith in the genre, because every so often I do come across one that is wonderful, and I really enjoy reading it. Of course, this means I have to wade through all the rubbish ones looking for the good ones (probably with more misses than hits), but every time I'm about to give up on the genre I come across a book like this.

The characters are wonderful and you can really believe in their decisions and how they feel in different situations. The plot has up and downs and twists, and it's quite clear from the end of the book that there's something more going on though I literally have no idea what that is! But I'm going to go buy the next book really soon so I can find out!

Helen is a particularly great leading lady. She just wants to be normal and fit in, trying her very hardest to not stand out in any way and failing quite miserably. Because of the life she's lead, she's sensible and down-to-earth, but she isn't bland along with it. She can be moody and she falls out with people - both friends and family - and acts like a regular teenage girl in so many ways. Her best friend, Giggles - nicknamed for her distinctive laugh - is a nice counterpoint, and often offers a lighter counterpoint to whatever may be going on. I always imagined her as an Alice Cullen-esque figure and character (Twilight - I know! Don't shoot me...), prancing around the place and being slightly mischievous and sneaky.

The Delos family seems to encompass all the different stereotypes you can. Of course they're all ridiculously pretty (what would PNR be without ridiculously pretty people?!), but besides that you have the really ridiculously pretty one, the sporty one, the quiet sensitive one, the mystical one, and the guys-guy. I think I covered them all... But they're still all likeable characters. Again, they're very down-to-earth (probably because of the situation they're in in life in general and what they believe is at stake) and seem just like a normal, very large, family.

I don't know that much about Greek mythology so I can't really comment on the veracity of any of that side of things, but as an ignorant observer I understood a lot of what was going on, and the informative bits weren't unwieldy or annoying. You're told enough so you understand the relevant history, but you aren't overloaded with unnecessary information - which I think could be quite easy given the shear depth of stuff that could be delved into.

Yeah, it took me a little while to really get going with this book, but once I did I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait to see where Helen and Lucas go after the shocking revelation at the end of this part of their story.


Friday, 5 July 2013

Fire Study

Title: Fire Study
Series: Study Series #3
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Pages: 441 (paperback)
Published: January 16th 2009
Published by: MIRA Books


The apprenticeship is over
Now the real test has begun
When word that Yelena is a Soulfinder — able to capture and release souls—spreads like wildfire, people grow uneasy. Already Yelena's unusual abilities and past have set her apart. As the Council debates Yelena's fate, she receives a disturbing message: a plot is rising against her homeland, led by a murderous sorcerer she has defeated before.…
Honor sets Yelena on a path that will test the limits of her skills, and the hope of reuniting with her beloved spurs her onward. Her journey is fraught with allies, enemies, lovers and would-be assassins, each of questionable loyalty. Yelena will have but one chance to prove herself—and save the land she holds dear.


In Magic Study, we started to discover more about Yelena: her history, and her way with magic. This, the last in the Study Series thus far (though there is talk of a follow-up trilogy), ties up all of the ends left open in Magic Study. Yelena has to try and find the truth when it comes to her Soul Finder powers, and the prejudice - and sometimes hatred - which comes with the stigma of this name. Of course, that's not the only thing going on and Yelena has to deal with the continued threat of enemies made in previous stories.

This book, unfortunately, continues on the downward trend in the progression of the series. There's a lot of dire situations put in just because it makes the story 'more interesting'. It seems like every couple of chapters that Yelena is put into a life-threatening situation and it begins to work the opposite, becoming repetitive. Although it can be said that there are at least different challenges to overcome in each book when it comes to \using magic: for everyone, but Yelena in particular.

So while the story isn't up to the same standard as the earlier books, all the great characters from the first get their screen time (though in my opinion, Valek could always do with more). There are some great moments where we see Yelena and Valek experiencing problems in their relationship. Up until this point it's been all happy-wonderful-in-love stuff, so it was nice to see that it isn't always perfect for them either. Their disagreements were realistic, as were their resolutions. Both fit with the characters that have been built in the other two books and felt like things that genuinely would have come about for them rather than being put in for the sake of it.

We also get to see a bit more of Yelena's immediate family, Lief in particular, and the development of those relationships were nice. Though her relationship with her parents seems a bit easy considering they hadn't seen each other for so long, with Lief it followed a believable line both for the circumstances and the animosity he feels towards her.

The end of this book was dragged out quite a lot, and it definitely could have been shortened without serious detriment to the book as a whole. Indeed, the whole thing probably could have done with some tightening up to make the story more streamlined and less repetitive.

But as I said before, there are rumours of a second trilogy following Yelena, and I will definitely be reading at least the first. Why? Because of the central characters: Yelena, Valek, Ari and Janco are some of my favourite fictional characters, each unique with their own personalities and yet fitting together to make a good team - both for get things done, and to make for good reading. Here's hoping it next book will be an improvement on this, and get back to the awesomeness that was Poison Study.

Not a bad book by any means, but the repetitiveness of the situations bring it down a little, though the characters are - as always - wonderful.


Friday, 28 June 2013

The Power That Preserves

Title: The Power That Preserves
Series: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever #3
Author: Stephen Donaldson
Pages: 573 (paperback)
Published: September 1st 1996 (first published 1977)
Published by: Voyager

Twice before Thomas Covenant had been summoned to the strange other-world where magic worked. Twice before he had been forced to join with the Lords of Revelstone in their war against Lord Foul, the ancient enemy of the Land. Now he was back. This time the Lords of Revelstone were desperate. Without hope, Covenant set out to confront the might of the enemy, as Lord Foul grew more powerful with every defeat for the Land....


Thomas Covenant - leper, outcast, unclean; or hero of the the Land. In either of his lives, he is uncomfortable and faced with problems, albeit on a vastly larger scale in the Land. After his second journey there in The Illearth War he comes back more confused and dejected than ever, only to find himself being pulled back for a third visit at the most inopportune moment when the life of a young girl hangs in the balance and him the only one who can save her.

Based on my experience of the two previous books in this trilogy, I wasn't expecting to love this book. While the second was better than the first, I wasn't expecting much more improvement. But right from the off it grabbed me in a way the others haven't. You're thrown right in there and the pace doesn't let up for the whole rest of the book. I devoured the last about 150 pages, eager to see the resolution of everything that had happened up until that point. And I can't even quite pin down what exactly it was that made this one different. As with The Illearth War, we aren't just following TC around and get to see different viewpoints which may have made the reading easier than Lord Foul's Bane. Maybe it's just that there was more going on, with something interesting always going on at one place or another.

It was in his book, too, that we really get to see the magic of the Lords, graveligases and lillianrill. It has been hinted at and we've seen bits and pieces, but it is here that for the first time we really see what they can use their powers and abilities for. When they are fighting for their lives under various attacks, their inventiveness and determination shines through. They are fighting for not only their lives, but to protect the Land and this really shines through in all that they do and the pain that some of them suffer through.

But there is conflict there for them also, more so than in either of the previous books, and in particular when it comes to Mhoram and the decisions he must make about actions to take and what to tell his fellow Lords. Mhoram has always been one of my favourite characters - he's down to earth and seems to understand TC in a way none of the other particularly do, even going so far as to be considered his friend. He is faced with a host of decision and an ever decreasing window in which to act, with ever diminishing supplies and opportunities.

Thomas Covenant even went some small ways to redeeming himself in my eyes, and it was nice to see a little more heroism from this anti-hero. He actually did stuff, and didn't just sit there, going with the flow! No longer the passive observer, he tries to achieve the things that need doing, even if things don't always work out the way he planned - even nearly, oftentimes. Though it is only a stalwart friend, willing to stay with him through thick and thin that really allows him achieve this. On his own, he most likely would have failed, but isn't that often the case, in these kind of books? The often-forgotten companion to the central hero. Another of my favourite characters (whom I'm not naming to avoid spoilers), it was great seeing them back and the healing they go through in the course of this book.

A wonderful conclusion. Will I be carrying on to read the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant? I don't know. Maybe I'll get to them one day, but for now I need a break from TC, even with the steps he took forward in this book.