Being brutally honest about books

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

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

25256322 
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.


17316589
The Kingdom of Little Wounds by


11688774
Gladiatrix (Gladiatrix #1) by


Looking for JJ (Jennifer Jones #1) by


 
Night Swimming by


381532
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.


8812221

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!).


18477295

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

11688774
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

    25493869
    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

      27833741
      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

      Monday, 28 November 2016

      9 Things I Disliked About Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison

      https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12389460-enchantments

      Pretty language doesn't make a book unproblematic.


      I didn't hate everything about this book, but it's so problematic I can't rate it any higher than 1 star. I don't recommend it to anyone. Don't read it. Here's why. (Warning: This review is extremely spoilery so that I can explain my distaste.)

       
      First, the problematic content:

      There's a romance between an 18-year-old and a 13-year old.

      She's 18, he's 13. Nope nope nope nope nope.

      Sexual assault and rape are handled terribly.

      First, Masha gets sexually assaulted by a 13-year-old she's become close to. While she may be attracted to him (see above) she says no. No means no means no means no. Then, her husband repeatedly rapes her during their marriage. On both occasions, Masha doesn't seem to care, nor does she seem to be affected in any way ever. This is very alarming! What is the author trying to say??

      There's a sex scene with a 13-year-old boy...

      and a 17-year-old girl (not Masha, thankfully). Not only that, but they continue their sexual relationship. A) Both the author and the main character of this book are way too interested in other people's sex lives (Masha talks about her father's sex life!?). B) Given that the target audience for this adult book is women, we don't want to read things like this. It's gross and unnecessary.

        
      Now the plain bad:

      There's no plot.

      What even happens in this book? It's just the characters telling stories, and stories within stories. Where's the actual narrative?

      The structure is confusing.

      It's not chronological, and goes from this time back to this time forwards to this time with no warning, and there's often no specification of when this section takes place or how it connects to the previous section.

      It's historically inaccurate.

      A couple of quick Google searches told me the author took liberties. Certain events in history don't happen in the book, and certain events in the book didn't happen in history. So why wasn't it hinted in the blurb or an author's note that events were changed significantly?

      The book is confused about its own genre.

      Is it historical fiction? Magic realism? Historical fantasy??? Not even the book itself knows.

      There's a sudden, jarring career decision.

      I hate it when characters suddenly decide they've always wanted to do this job, with no previous dreaming or planning of it. Why didn't you mention it earlier then???

      There's a completely unbelievable plot point near the end.

      Since the book is told in the first person, the reason for this plot point is for Masha and the reader to know about the Romanovs' last months after she left them. An anonymous man turns up at Masha's work in a different country X years later to give her a diary that was smuggled away after the owner died? It's too unbelievable; who would buy that?

      Excessive Summary

      From Kathryn Harrison, one of America’s most admired literary voices, comes a gorgeously written, enthralling novel set in the final days of Russia’s Romanov Empire.

      St. Petersburg, 1917. After Rasputin’s body is pulled from the icy waters of the Neva River, his eighteen-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family—including the headstrong Prince Alyosha. Desperately hoping that Masha has inherited Rasputin’s miraculous healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks her to tend to Aloysha, who suffers from hemophilia, a blood disease that keeps the boy confined to his sickbed, lest a simple scrape or bump prove fatal.

      Two months after Masha arrives at the palace, the tsar is forced to abdicate, and Bolsheviks place the royal family under house arrest. As Russia descends into civil war, Masha and Alyosha grieve the loss of their former lives, finding solace in each other’s company. To escape the confinement of the palace, they tell stories—some embellished and some entirely imagined—about Nikolay and Alexandra’s courtship, Rasputin’s many exploits, and the wild and wonderful country on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. In the worlds of their imagination, the weak become strong, legend becomes fact, and a future that will never come to pass feels close at hand.

      Mesmerizing, haunting, and told in Kathryn Harrison’s signature crystalline prose, Enchantments is a love story about two people who come together as everything around them is falling apart.

      Goodreads


        Sunday, 13 November 2016

        Review: Pompeii by Robert Harris

        https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/820530.Pompeii
        The punny quotes on the outside and inside covers killed me.

        Summary

        A sweltering week in late August. Where better to enjoy the last days of summer than on the beautiful Bay of Naples? But even as Rome's richest citizens relax in their villas around Pompeii and Herculaneum, there are ominous warnings that something is going wrong. Wells and springs are failing, a man has disappeared, and now the greatest aqueduct in the world - the mighty Aqua Augusta - has suddenly ceased to flow. Through the eyes of four characters - a young engineer, an adolescent girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist - Robert Harris brilliantly recreates a luxurious world on the brink of destruction.
        This is the second book I've read this year about the Vesuvius eruption in 79 CE. The two were very different - the first was YA and centred on a romance, while this one was adult fiction and took place over 4 days. I rated both 3 stars, so neither was particularly special.

        As mentioned, Pompeii takes place over 4 days - the 2 days before the eruption, and the 2 days during. Because of this, it's fairly fast-paced, making it easier and more fun to read. Before the eruption, the plot centres on the maintenance of the Aqua Augusta, the huge aqueduct that supplied water to the Bay of Neapolis, where the book is set (there’s a map of the area at the start of the book, if you were wondering). Then, of course, it's Vesuvius's time to shine, in great detail.

        Pompeii promises four POVs, so I went into it expecting to be drawn into the lives of four different characters, however character - Attilius, the engineer - is the focus and the others' perspectives are minimal. This disappointed me, I have to say. As well as this, none of the characters are particularly interesting, developed, or otherwise special. It's hard to care about characters who don't interest you.

        The protagonist, however, is something of an antihero, so that made a nice change from the archetypal guy who has to save the people (maybe it's to do with him being Roman...). I love flawed characters, antiheroes especially.

        Sadly, this book fails the Bechdel Test. The one "main" female character, Corelia, has a mother, but they don't seem to speak to each other, even though they're not estranged or anything. You'd think a young woman in a Roman society would want to talk to other women - her mother, her maid, even girls her own age - but nope, doesn't happen, even though seeing how Corelia interacts with her own gender would add some much-needed depth to her character.

        On the plus side, there’s no romance! The book takes place over 4 days, so that shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was such a relief. There’s a bit of saving a damsel in distress, but they barely know each other so I’ll happily ignore any romantic connotations that might entail.

        Something I enjoyed in Pompeii was the scattering of historical details. I did wonder a lot about what was fact and what was fiction (eg. which characters are real?) but the author did plenty of research. I loved coming across little details such as mentions of the erotic Pompeiian frescos, of Spartacus, of Augustus and Livia, of throwing slaves to the eels. Call me a Classics nerd, but it doesn't take much to make me happy. It's the little things.

        To conclude, I don't know why this was a bestseller, as the characters are flat and the writing is nothing special. But I'm so desperate for books about Greece & Rome that I'll take what I can get.

        Add it on Goodreads

        Wednesday, 9 November 2016

        The good, the bad, and the ugly: The Red Queen (The Obernewtyn Chronicles #7) by Isobelle Carmody

        The Red Queen (The Obernewtyn Chronicles, #7)
        Exciting ending makes up for slow rest of novel.

        The good

        • Elspeth (protagonist) isn't hung up on her missing love interest, and Gets Shit Done.
        • The whole Habitat plot at the start was interesting, although it could (probably should) have been a separate book in its own right.
        • More worldbuilding - we get to see more of the physical and cultural world Elspeth lives in.
        • I guessed one of the plot twists 50 pages before it was revealed - I love it when I'm right!
        • Exciting last 250-300 pages
        • Cute ending
        • Overall, the story is a good conclusion to the series, however...

        The bad

        • Too many characters, and after so long I couldn't remember who they all were.
        • Too much dystopia, not enough fantasy in a time when every other YA book is dystopian (however, it's interesting to get a combination of the two).
        • The dialogue is too formal even between characters who are close - realistically, people use contractions. 
        • I can't remember any LGBTQ representation in the book or the whole series. If there's any, it's not made explicit or positive. It's a long series with lots of characters, and The Red Queen was published recently in 2015, so there's no excuse.

        The ugly

        • Needs significant editing and proofreading (Isobelle Carmody asked fans to let her "hone and polish and conclude this last book at my own pace" but it seems she didn't succeed, as it's riddled with typos as if it's a first draft - which it might be).
        • Twice as long as any book needs to be
        • Slow-paced for the majority (eg. there's no running until 250 pages in)

        The summary

        After years spent struggling to balance her desires with her responsibilities, Elspeth Gordie has fully embraced her role as the Seeker. Battle-scarred and lovelorn, haunted by memories of her beloved Rushton, Elspeth is not prepared for what she finds at the end of the black road she travels: the Compound, a lost community with a startling secret. As Elspeth strives against her captors, she learns that Rushton and her friends have fallen into the hands of the deadly slavemasters that rule the Red Land. And worst of all, as Elspeth stumbles, the Destroyer creeps ever closer to his goal: awakening the cataclysmically destructive weaponmachines that Elspeth has been charged with stopping. Has all her sacrifice been in vain?

        Full of romance, action, and suspense, The Red Queen is a worthy finale to such a breathtakingly elaborate series.

        Add it on Goodreads

        Tuesday, 1 November 2016

        A New Favourite: Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace

        https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11570802-war-and-peace
        Jane Austen meets JRR Tolkien

        I watched the 2016 BBC mini-series a few months ago, which made me want to read the book. In case you don't know, the book is a monster, and it took me exactly 2 months to read. I read the ebook, not the physical book pictured, for this reason.

        War and Peace takes place in Russia during the wars with Napoleon (1805-1813, although the epilogue happens in 1820). It was first published in 1865, making it historical fiction. The book's mostly about four aristocratic families during this time. I loved it. I'll try to avoid very specific spoilers, but if you don't realise that characters are going to die, go back and read the first sentence of this paragraph.

        The good

        • An epic story of people fighting for their world and what or who they love (hence the similarity to Tolkien)
        • A rich, engaging setting (just like Tolkien...)
        • Philosophically rich (also like Tolkien) which is interesting when explored through the characters
        • Interesting, complex, developed characters (I found them much more complex and developed than those in Austen or Tolkien - Tolstoy just seems to know people incredibly well)
        • Interesting, complex, developed female characters (although women in this setting know their place, the women of War and Peace include some fascinating characters. However, there was one sentence about a woman who "slew hundred of the French", so they weren't all sitting at home. Awesomely, this woman actually existed.) 
        • It made me laugh (one character doesn't pronounce his Rs, a bear gets tied to a policeman and thrown in the river, several characters are (unintentionally) very very gay to a young 21st Century reader...)
        • It made me sad (lesson learnt: don't get attached to emo Russian princes)
        • Heaps of drama (similar to Jane Austen - particularly the family and relationship dramas)
        • Heaps of angst (between Pierre, Andrei, and Marya, there is a lot of melancholy)
        • Foreshadowing. Two characters' deaths (which I knew about because of the mini-series) were foreshadowed in one chapter, and it broke my heart.
        • Tolstoy's similes, metaphors, and analogies are entertaining. Sometimes, they help you to better understand a situation. Sometimes, they're less simile and more description of what's actually happening.

          The bad

          • Russian characters all have a bazillion names (thanks, Russian naming customs) which is very confusing. When you add in the fact that this translation Anglicises certain names, well...
          • Polish characters' names aren't even pronounceable  
          • Rumoured incest (however, I don't think they actually have an affair, unlike in the mini-series) 
          • Certain characters disappear for no reason and there's no word on what happens to them (one family lost two of their grown-up children, but we don't know anything about their reaction. Another minor character I grew attached to, due to her being so mysterious, disappeared after the last chapter - there was no mention of her in the epilogue, even though she'd been in the background the whole book. What?)
          • Structure - similar to Tolkien, sometimes when there's a change of POV, the book goes back in time a bit, which is confusing.

          The ugly

          • It's ~1300 pages long! No book has the right to be that long.
          • The scenes about war strategy and philosophy, and about history, are incredibly boring and I didn't follow. It's okay when they relate to certain characters, but sometimes they're just essays that don't specifically relate to the book.
          • The epilogues. That's right, epilogues. Plural. The first epilogue was set about 7 years after the end of the book, and it didn't give me warm fuzzy feeling about the characters' fates, although some of them were described as being happy. The second epilogue was about 40 pages of Tolstoy philosophising about history, and may as well have been published separately. I've seen people say to skip the epilogues, and I agree: the last 100 pages can be skipped without losing anything.

          The conclusion

          • I've found a new favourite book! How exciting! 
          • I know I recently talked about not judging intelligence by the books you read, but I feel smarter after reading this. 
          • Strongly recommend to fans of historical fiction and classic literature.
          • Will I read it again in my lifetime? Not sure. Maybe when I'm 50 I'll think about it. 

            The summary

            Tolstoy's epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirees alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed.

            The prodigious cast of characters, seem to act and move as if connected by threads of destiny as the novel relentlessly questions ideas of free will, fate, and providence. Yet Tolstoy's portrayal of marital relations and scenes of domesticity is as truthful and poignant as the grand themes that underlie them.

            Add it on Goodreads

            Tuesday, 26 July 2016

            Mini review: Love in the Land of Midas by Kapka Kassabova

            https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1015198.Love_in_the_Land_of_Midas

            Clickbait summary: Not as corny or romantic as the blurb makes it appear.

            Actual summary

            A love story that crosses generations and continents, from post-war Europe to the present day. The legends of the Greek myths are diffused with the complicated history of the Balkans in a story that takes the reader into the lives of an unforgettable cast of characters.
            This book was excellent, almost a five-star read. It's got lots of characters, which gets confusing because some have more than one name and remembering how they were connected is a pain. The characterisations are, however, strong and interesting. 

            The main problem I had with this book was the flashback structure, which was very confusing at first - it started in 1998 and switched to 1949 to 1997 to 1998 to 1997 to 1998 and so on until it switched to 1947. Thankfully, each chapter has a date and location, and after a while I got the hang of it.

            The central issue/event in Love in the Land of Midas is something completely new to me - the Greek Civil War. I didn't even know there was one! But yes, after World War 2, Greece had a three-year civil war. This is explained in the author's note at the start of the novel, and it's fascinating in the story. The politics and the war were new to me, and very intriguing.

            Being published in 2000, and the latest date in the book being 1998, it's a little dated now in terms of communication. Now, the characters could use the internet and mobile phones to research or keep in contact. However, the themes and ideas (eg. love, passion, war, family) are still relevant and always will be.

            Another issue I had was knowing that the author (at the time it was written) lived in New Zealand. To me, the book has a definite NZ flavour to it, especially in the dialogue, but the characters were European and Australian - no Kiwis at all. But if I hadn't known about the author, I might not have been distracted by this.

            So much for a mini review! I will finish by recommending this book to adult readers/readers of adult books who have an interest in Ancient Greece and post-war Europe. It's well-written and so worth your while.

            Add it on Goodreads

            Thursday, 21 July 2016

            The good, the bad, and the ugly: Bring Down the Sun by Judith Tarr

            Bring Down the Sun (Alexander the Great, #2)
            Clickbait summary: Horny priestess marries King of Macedonia, has magic.

            The good

            • About a historically intriguing woman, Olympias (Alexander the Great's mother) 
            • The setting! (Ancient Greece, 4th Century BCE)
            • Main character has a clear goal she is determined to reach (but she reaches it too easily to mane an interesting plot)
            • Ancient Greek girls usually have extreme levels of chastity, so it was a nice change to read about one with a sex drive (however, I think it could've been toned down a notch in place of a stronger plot) 
            • Just the right level of description, enough to get a rough idea of the visuals, not so much as to be overwhelming and boring
            • Strong female characters in a patriarchal society, and especially this quote:
            "I know what I want," she said. "I do my best to take it."

            "You should have been a man," he said.

            "Why would I want that?"

            She had taken him aback. "A man is - A woman-"

            "Ask yourself," she said, "why a woman has to be weak to make a man feel strong. Are men so weak that women's strength is a threat to them?"

            The bad

            • Lust = love; lust - therefore love - at first sight
            • Strange writing style with some weird phrases and sentences that don't quite make sense
            • The magical elements don't work for me (I don't like mixing my historical fiction with my fantasy, but that's just me)
            • Unlikeable, underdeveloped main character (unlikeable characters don't have to be underdeveloped, they're allowed some positive personality traits, and an interesting past)
            • All the name-changing is confusing

            The ugly

            • SNAKES!!!
            • Hints of bestiality 

            Conclusion

            • While I disliked many aspects of this book, overall I liked it
            • Would recommend to adult (or older teen, as it's not sophisticated but is sexually explicit) readers who like magic and historical fiction

            The summary

            Alexander the Great ruled the greatest Empire of the ancient world, but he was ruled by his mother, called Olympias. There are as many legends about this powerful Queen as there are of her famous son, and the stories began long before she even met Philip of Macedon.

            Priestess of the Great Goddess, daughter of ruling house of Epiros, witch, and familiar of Serpents...she was a figure of mystery, fascination and fear even during her own lifetime. Author Judith Tarr uses the legends to weave an intensely romantic fantasy novel set in ancient Greece and Macedon.

            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.

            Contact Form

            Name

            Email *

            Message *

            Powered by Blogger.