Being brutally honest about books

Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Review: Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

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Jamaica? No, she wanted to.

This is possibly the grittiest and most "literary" book I'll read this year. I mean it. It's the kind of book you study in high school and hate, but read on your own and love. It's one powerful piece of writing, and it reminded me of The Color Purple but even bleaker.

Here Comes the Sun is set in Jamaica in 1994. The basic plot is a queer, black woman (Margot) trying to build a better life for herself and her loved ones. This involves working for a posh, white hotel owner and prostituting herself.

It's a character-based novel written in the third person, present tense (my favourite) and switches POVs between Margot, her secret lover (Verdene), her sister (Thandi), and her mother (Delores). All four are very flawed and complex, and they feel real. I thought Thandi and Delores were interesting, but I was much more invested in Margot and Verdene's lives. They're opposites in some ways but similar in others, and their relationship is pretty complicated.

One interesting feature of this book is the dialogue, which is written phonetically/in the Jamaican dialect. This gives the setting and characters authenticity, but I struggled to understand a few of the words and phrases. I got the gist of what they were saying, though.

I enjoyed the writing style. The non-dialogue parts are quite sophisticated and flow well, and I could picture the setting in my head. It made me want to go to Jamaica and see what it's like for myself, the good and the bad.

I liked the idea that this island we think of as paradise is really not. The book deals with some horrible themes: poverty, racism, rape, homophobia, forced prostitution... It's not for the faint-hearted. But, as I said, it makes an interesting contrast with the island setting.

Remember I said this book is bleak? Yep. It doesn't have a happy ending. Margot achieves her goal of having money and owning her own big house, but she loses everyone. It's a warning to be careful what you wish for. I don't blame Margot for her ambition - she just wants to exit the cycle of poverty - but the way she goes about it is unethical and she betrays her family and her lover. The book ends on a bitter note.

Overall, I really enjoyed Here Comes the Sun. (Well, "enjoyed" is a bit strong for such a dark book...) If you're interested in reading about Jamaica or just want to read something that's not set in the UK/US/Australia, this might be worth a try. If you're looking for something gritty with queer women of colour as two of the main characters, I definitely recommend this one.

Summary

Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Nicole Dennis-Benn pens a tender hymn to a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas.

At an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Margot hustles to send her younger sister, Thandi, to school. Taught as a girl to trade her sexuality for survival, Margot is ruthlessly determined to shield Thandi from the same fate. When plans for a new hotel threaten their village, Margot sees not only an opportunity for her own financial independence but also perhaps a chance to admit a shocking secret: her forbidden love for another woman. As they face the impending destruction of their community, each woman—fighting to balance the burdens she shoulders with the freedom she craves—must confront long-hidden scars.

Add it on Goodreads

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Micro Reviews: May Edition

In which I review the books I've finished reading this month in one sentence.
Covers link to Goodreads.


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The Mammoth Book of Extreme Science Fiction edited by

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Radio Girls by  
A fantastic, vivid historical fiction with important themes, lots of sass, and superb character growth from the protagonist.

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The Seafarer's Kiss by
and it felt like a dystopian set in a historical/mythological setting.

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Shaken to the Core by

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The Gustav Sonata by
 An interesting, well-written, and grim (no-one in it can be called happy) character-based novel set in Switzerland.

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The Sappho Companion by

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Heart Trouble by
I enjoyed this interesting (and hot) f/f medical paranormal(?) romance although the soulmates trope came through a little too heavy (even though that word wasn't mentioned once).

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Queens of Geek by


Here Comes the Sun by

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Film Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

I'm feeling pretty hipster because I went to an advance screening of this last night (its official release here in NZ was today). I'm not a film critic, but I had enough thoughts to share and I wanted to post something a bit different, so here we go. Not a spoiler-free review.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a4/King_Arthur_LotS_poster.jpg 
Director: Guy Ritchie
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Jude Law
Release date: 18 May 2017
Rating: M
Running time: 126 mins

Summary

Robbed of his birthright, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy — whether he likes it or not.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is… different. Not what I was expecting. They tried to put too much in there and it turned into a bit of a mess.

The start is very confusing and two female characters die within like 2 seconds (one's Katie McGrath, whose appearance confused me because I saw her and went, “Morgana!” but it wasn't Morgana). The confusion continues as throughout the film I had no idea what anyone’s names were except for Uther and Arthur.

The music and fast cutting are great (I loved the music) but the high fantasy mixed with action is too much. One or the other might be fine, but it's too intense. (I watched it in 3D, though, which might’ve added to that over intensity.) They also tried to put humour in there, including all of Arthur’s one-liners, which are actually annoying - some are funny, but most aren’t. Again, they tried too hard.

To be honest, I don’t think it relates that much to actual Arthurian mythology. If they changed Arthur and Uther and Excalibur's names and removed the round table, for example, it could almost be am original fantasy movie in its own right.

As a history nerd, one question that really got me was what is the historical context?
  1. In the film's version of Londinium is a ruined Roman amphitheatre but the rest of the town looks how I’d imagine parts of England a few hundred years ago?
  2. And some of the dialogue makes the people seem Christian but I assumed King Arthur was pre-Christianity? 
  3. And there are Vikings? 
  4. And certain characters wear a lot of black leather and tight pants which look too modern (yeah, I’m looking at you, Jude Law)?
Consider me confused.

I did, however, like that there's some ethnic diversity. I counted at least two black characters and one Chinese character, who become Arthur’s knights at the end. It's far from great representation (the Chinese character is, of course, a kung fu expert, and there are no women of colour to speak of) but they tried, which is more than you can say for most of these sorts of epics set in Ye Olde England.

The biggest plus for me was there's pretty much no romance! (Because they killed off the two royal wives at the start! But never mind; I will forgive!)

Conclusion

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is by no means a good film, however parts of it are enjoyable, like the soundtrack and playing where-have-I-seen-this-actor-before? Recommended for fans of Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, etc. Not recommended for history buffs or fans of Arthurian mythology.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Review: The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium #4) by David Lagercrantz

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The girl with the dragon tattoo still has it.

Summary 

She is the girl with the dragon tattoo—a genius hacker and uncompromising misfit. He is a crusading journalist whose championing of the truth often brings him to the brink of prosecution.

Late one night, Blomkvist receives a phone call from a source claiming to have information vital to the United States. The source has been in contact with a young female superhacker—a hacker resembling someone Blomkvist knows all too well. The implications are staggering. Blomkvist, in desperate need of a scoop for Millennium, turns to Salander for help. She, as usual, has her own agenda. The secret they are both chasing is at the center of a tangled web of spies, cybercriminals, and governments around the world, and someone is prepared to kill to protect it . . . 
Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are back to kick arse in this book, a continuation of the Millennium trilogy that's written by a different author. Lisbeth is back to her usual tricks, but in this book we see that she kind of has a caring side as well. It's really nice to see her protective streak for another human being.

This book is fast-paced, probably more so than the original series. Almost all the action happens over 5 days. That's not even a week! And the book is 430 pages! That's a lot of action in not much time. It's exciting, it kept me hooked.

We meet some new antagonists, victims, and other supporting characters in this one, but we also revisit old characters from the original trilogy, such as the people at Millennium magazine and Officer Bublanski's team. I thought this was well done as we get to see Lagercrantz's take on Larsson's characters as well as some original characters. I guess you could liken it to fanfiction.

Speaking of which, you can tell it's a different author and translator, but it imitates the style of original trilogy pretty well. It's similar enough that the writing style doesn't jump out and say, "Hey, I don't fit in with the other books!" but at the same time it's also not quite as dry as Larsson's style.

The book explores themes such as surveillance, artificial intelligence, and how journalism has changed. None of it made me comfortable, and it's not meant to. If this book taught me anything, it's to question everything. It also makes you wonder how ethical is surveillance? AI? (I'd say not at all. It's terrifying stuff.)

There's a tiny bit of LGBTQ representation in this novel. Lisbeth's bisexuality, established in the original trilogy, is mentioned again. There's also a flirtation between two supporting female characters. But neither of these things are important to the plot, which is fantastic. They're queer women just because. They get on with their jobs and their lives and their sexuality doesn't define them. I want more of this in books, please.
There's also an autistic child in this book. I don't know enough about autism to know if it's a respectful portrayal or not, so I'll leave that for others to analyse. But there's autistic representation either way.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Girl in the Spider's Web. It isn't a necessary addition to the Millennium series, but it's an entertaining and exciting one. While it has a cute ending, there are definitely loose threads to be tied up in the next book, The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. I'll be reading that one for sure. What should I do while I wait for its publication later this year?

Add it on Goodreads

Monday, 24 April 2017

In a Sentence: Micro Reviews

In which I review the books I've finished reading this month in one sentence.
Covers link to Goodreads.


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The Kingdom of Little Wounds by


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Gladiatrix (Gladiatrix #1) by


Looking for JJ (Jennifer Jones #1) by


 
Night Swimming by


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Sacred Country by
Very well-written in the end (although I didn't like all the different POVs at the start) but I got confused as the main character is a transgender boy but the narrator kept referring to him as a her until very late in the book, and I'm not sure if this is due to trans perspectives at the time the book was set, the time it was written, or due to the author's own beliefs.


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Roma Victrix (Gladiatrix #2) by
An action-packed sequel that deals with some gritty stuff and has a heart-stopping ending (bring on book 3!).


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Sapphire Skies by





Imperatrix (Gladiatrix #3) by

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium #4) by

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The good, the bad, and the ugly: Gladiatrix (Gladiatrix #1) by Russell Whitfield

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Genderbent Spartacus with lesbians.

The good

  • It's about female gladiators! Hell to the yeah!
  • Scheming Romans 
  • The book assumes the reader knows stuff about ancient Rome, because you'd hardly read it if you didn't (thank you, author, for treating us as the knowledgeable people we are)
  • LGBTQ representation! There are: lesbian characters and F/F relationships (but they're gladiatrices, so don't expect happy endings) and a very very minor M/M relationship with a hopeful ending
  • The protagonist, Lysandra, is Spartan and looks like Xena (just putting it out there)
  • Her character growth is subtle but it's there
  • Her gladiator name is Achillia, the feminine form of Achilles (how cool is that?!)
  • Friendship, sisterhood, and kinship are very important to the characters in this book
  • Lots of gruesome action (this could be a negative, depending on your POV, but I found it was fun and provided more realism)
  • Gladiators that actually die
  • One of the side characters is a prostitute, and her male lover doesn't judge
  • The ending is happyish (the main characters don't get what they want, but it's not all bad) and sets things up for a sequel.

The bad

  • Typos and strange paragraph formatting, but that might just be because it's an ebook
  • No Roman matrons (c'mon, where are the Roman daughters, wives, and mothers?)
  • No descriptions of the classical architecture (what do the arena and temple look like?) (I love my columns)
  • It's quite long, so there's heaps in it, but it's not a quick read (which could be a positive, depending on your POV).

The ugly

  • The one black male character is a creepy and violent rapist drug addict and his name is similar to the word "nasty" (need I spell out RACISM?)
  • Rape. Not only that, but it's a violent gang-rape. Gross.

Conclusions

If it weren't for the rape and racism, I would've loved this book. In addition to that, if there were no typos and we saw some Roman women as well as the gladiatrices and slave girls, I'd definitely give this five stars. I'm definitely reading the sequel though.

I felt a bit strange that this was written by a man, but he did a pretty good job at writing a vaguely feminist novel whose main characters are lesbians. I'm impressed.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to fans of women warriors and Spartacus: Blood and Sand. There's explicit violence and sex, so avoid if you're not into that.

    The summary

    Under the Flavian Emperors the Roman public’s hunger for gladiatorial combat has never been greater. The Emperor Domitian’s passion for novelty and variety in the arena has given rise to a very different kind of warrior: the Gladiatrix.

    Sole survivor of a shipwreck off the coast of Asia Minor, Lysandra finds herself the property of Lucius Balbus, owner of the foremost Ludus for female gladiators in the Eastern Empire. Lysandra, a member of an ancient Spartan sect of warrior priestesses, refuses to accept her new status as a slave. Forced to fight for survival, her deadly combat skills win the adoration of the crowds, the respect of her Lanista, Balbus, and the admiration of Sextus Julius Frontinus, the provincial governor.

    But Lysandra’s Spartan pride also earns her powerful enemies: the Dacian warrior, Sorina, Gladiatrix Prima and leader of the Barbarian faction, and the sadistic Nubian trainer Nastasen.
    When plans are laid for the ultimate combat spectacle to honour the visit of the new Consul, Lysandra must face her greatest and deadliest trial.

    Add it on Goodreads

    Saturday, 25 March 2017

    The good, the annoying, and the ugly: For The Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser

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    Insta love, Stockholm Syndrome, and sex = love in Troy.

    I'm going to pick apart this novel, so beware of spoilers for both the book and the Trojan War (which is a millenia-old myth, but hey, not everyone knows it).

    The good

    • Gorgeous cover!
    • Retelling of the Trojan War that focuses on women!
    • The gods are included! Every so often there's a chapter where we get to see their pettiness, and it's so entertaining.
    • The writing style is pretty good, easy to read, and I loved the aesthetic.

    The annoying

    • Spelling Chryseis as Krisayis (the author wanted to show that Greeks and Trojans had different cultures)
    • I thought this book was going to focus on several different women (my mistake) but it only focuses on Briseis and Chryseis Krisayis. These girls are essential to the plot of the Iliad but are both slaves of the Greeks, so we don't get a range of perspectives.
    • The two main characters are very similar (see above) and I often got confused about which one I was reading about.
    • Where's Thetis? You know, the mother of Achilles, a sea nymph who's a fairly important part of the Trojan War? She's mentioned by other characters but doesn't appear with the other gods. She may be a lesser god, but she's still important to the plot. It was her wedding, after all, where the Thing happened that kind of caused the Trojan War. The Thing that the title For The Most Beautiful alludes to.
    • We see Patroclus from Briseis's perspective, but he's portrayed as a kind of boring character who doesn't fight and is rumoured to be Achilles's boy toy (according to Plato, Achilles was Patroclus's boy toy (yes, the Ancient Greeks had ship wars)). He seems to be in unrequited love with Achilles. This book isn't about Patroclus, but he deserves some credit.
    • Aeneas is a son of Priam in this book???? Why? Aeneas was the son of Anchises and Venus/Aphrodite (that's right, the goddess). He's unnecessary to the book, so it's even stranger that his parentage is changed.

    The ugly

    • The Trojan War lasted 10 years. In this book, it lasts less than a year, kinda similar to Troy (2004). It's such a simple canon detail, and it's ignored without explanation. (NB if you want to create a good work of fiction, don't do anything Troy did.)
    • The romances are really sudden and not developed. The romance tropes used include insta love, Stockholm Syndrome, and sex = love. Briseis's actual thought process: Wow, my fiancé I've never met before is hot, I'm in love. *few months later* Achilles killed my husband so I will not sleep with him. *nek minnit* Achilles killed my family, I'm definitely never sleeping with him. Oh, he's apologised, I'm going to sleep with him now. Forgive me if I can't relate.
    • If it passes the Bechdel test, I don't remember it. A shame for a book intended to represent the forgotten women of the Trojan War.

    The conclusion

    This was a disappointing read, but I didn't put it down, so that's a point in its favour. 2.5 stars. If you're after a feminine (or feminist) retelling of the Trojan War that adheres to the mythology, look elsewhere.

      The summary

      Three thousand years ago a war took place that gave birth to legends - to Achilles, the greatest of the Greeks, and Hector, prince of Troy. It was a war that made - and destroyed - both men, a war that shook the very foundations of the world. But what if there was more to this epic conflict? What if there was another, hidden tale of the Trojan War that had yet to be told?

      Now is that time - time for the women of Troy to tell their story.

      Thrillingly imagined and startlingly original, For the Most Beautiful reveals the true story of true for the first time. The story of Krisayis, daughter of the Trojans' High Priest, and of Briseis, princess of Pedasus, who fight to determine the fate of a city and its people in this ancient time of mischievous gods and mythic heroes.

      In a novel full of passion and revenge, loyalty and betrayal, bravery and sacrifice, Emily Hauser breathes exhilarating new life into one of the greatest legends of all - in a story that has waited millennia to be told.

      Add it on Goodreads

      Sunday, 12 March 2017

      The good, the bad, and the ugly: New Pompeii (New Pompeii #1) by Daniel Godfrey

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      Capitalising on time travel never ends well.

      The good

      • Time travel (they transport people from the past into the present, but it's actually quite complicated and gets confusing later)
      • Romans (always a plus)
      • But no romance! (even better)
      • Mother of all plot twists (I did not see that coming!)
      • Nice concise writing that's not too descriptive
      • Historical facts incorporated into the story (the author knows his stuff)

      The bad

      • Very confusing plot because of all the timeywimeyness (don't ask me to explain the plot)
      • I also got confused because there are too many characters

      The ugly

      • Not enough female characters (*spoiler*: there are 3, compared to a whole lot of male characters (that actually is a spoiler, because two characters are actually the same person))
      • No LGBTQ representation (you've got Romans and you've got people in the future, and none of them are queer? Really?)
      • The book shows that some people's  moral codes today (or in the near future) are no better than the Romans', which is quite sad.

      The summary

      In the near future, energy giant Novus Particles develops the technology to transport objects and people from the deep past to the present. Their biggest secret: New Pompeii. A replica of the city hidden deep in central Asia, filled with Romans pulled through time a split second before the volcano erupted.

      Historian Nick Houghton doesn't know why he's been chosen to be the company's historical advisor. He's just excited to be there. Until he starts to wonder what happened to his predecessor. Until he realizes that NovusPart have more secrets than even the conspiracy theorists suspect.

      Until he realizes that NovusPart have underestimated their captives...

      Add it on Goodreads

      Saturday, 25 February 2017

      5 Things I Loved About Goddess by Kelly Gardiner

      https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22062431-goddess

      If this swashbuckling heroine doesn't define awesome, I don't know what does.


      Hi everyone! This is my first review in a long time because I'm finally back. I read this book a month or two back, and I loved it so much I had to take notes so I could share the awesomeness with you all. So without further ado, here are 5 things I loved about Kelly Gardiner's Goddess.

      1. Fascinating main character

      Julie is a crossdressing, bisexual French opera singer and swordswoman from the 17th-18th Centuries. She reminds me a bit of Casanova. That’s interesting in itself. But I also loved her confidence, as it’s rare to find a female character who knows she’s beautiful or/and brilliant. Julie knows she’s great; she calls herself a goddess, and it's refreshing. (Wonder where the title came from, hmm?)

      2. Interesting story

      This novel is an adventure and a half. Julie has a very eventful (albeit short) life and what’s more, the author didn’t make it up; Julie d’Aubigny was a real historical woman and the events in the novel are based on documented events. I couldn’t believe it when I read the author’s note at the end and found this out. I also couldn’t believe I’d never heard of this awesome woman. The best thing? She was not the only crossdressing, swashbuckling lady at the time.

      Julie d'Aubigny
      Kelly Gardiner has a blog post about the real life of Julie d’Aubigny here.

      3. Unique voice and tone


      The book is set up as a transcript of Julie’s deathbed confession to a priest. It’s written as a monologue, including her responses to what the priest says (which is not included, so you have to be smart and guess). She’s sassy and intelligent, which makes for fun reading.

      4. Beautiful language

      The writing flows and is a joy to read. It’s concise yet descriptive and is also emotional, especially at the end. Julie has a lot to say, but her story fits in at under 300 pages, all the while affecting me enough to rate it 5 stars. French words scattered through the text also make it feel more authentic, although sometimes I wanted to look them up to check a) what they meant and b) if they were real words…

      5. Women living on their own terms in an oppressive historical society

      Refer to 1 and 2. Need I say more? 

      Conclusion

      If you love history and interesting women, do yourself a favour and read this hidden gem! I’ve read a lot of Kelly Gardiner’s books, so I can also vouch for her as a good author. What are you waiting for?

      Summary

      Versailles, 1686: Julie d'Aubigny, a striking young girl taught to fence and fight in the court of the Sun King, is taken as mistress by the King's Master of Horse. Tempestuous, swashbuckling and volatile, within two years she has run away with her fencing master, fallen in love with a nun and is hiding from the authorities, sentenced to be burnt at the stake. Within another year, she has become Mademoiselle de Maupin, a beloved star at the famed Paris Opéra. Her lovers include some of Europe's most powerful men and France's most beautiful women. Yet Julie is destined to die alone in a convent at the age of 33.

      Based on an extraordinary true story, this is an original, dazzling and witty novel - a compelling portrait of an unforgettable woman.

      For all those readers who love Sarah Dunant, Sarah Waters and Hilary Mantel.

      Add it on Goodreads

      I'm Alexandria, a 19-year-old reader/writer/blogger from New Zealand. I love language, history, and sci-fi. Hi! I'm always around if you want to talk, which you can do via comments, the contact form, or Facebook.

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