Being brutally honest about books

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

Saturday, 8 July 2017

The good, the bad, and the ugly: Last of the Amazons by Steven Pressfield

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Homer's style has gone out of fashion.

The good

  • The title - who wouldn't want to read Last of the Amazons?
  • It's about the Attic War, a lesser known Greek myth that's very similar to the Trojan War.
  • We know that the Amazons can't win against the Athenians, but it's still exciting and you want them to win.
  • The world building is pretty neat and I could picture the physical and cultural settings.
  • The Amazons seem to be polyamorous bisexual women who all live in triads, a cool and interesting concept, and mate with men once a year. I'm not marking this as LGBTQ characters though, because it's a very minor and brushed over part of the book.*

The bad

  • The characters should and do seem to believe in gods, plural, but but often speak about God, singular, which is confusing because are they pantheists or monotheists? Pantheists who focus on one god (Zeus?)? I'm still confused about this.
  • The songs and chants are kinda cool but definitely unnecessary.
  • Excessive repetition, especially of tribe names and character epithets and name meanings.
  • "Warrioresses". It sounds clumsy. What's wrong with calling them by their name: Amazons?

The ugly

  • The writing style mimics ancient epics, so it's very formal and old-fashioned and awkward all round. The sentence structure and word choice is strange and very difficult to understand. The endless (and pointless!) lists are very Homeric but very exhausting to read.
  • The structure is also very confusing as it's not linear and though it's written in the first person POV, it changes POVs (I often didn't know which character was talking) but I didn't realise these two things for ages.
  • The characters aren't fully developed so I had a hard time knowing who to like or not like.
  • Possible racism? At one point the Amazons paint themselves black and it's not really explained? Huh?
  • *Strangely, some Amazons slut shame and use homophobic language towards their enemies. Hypocrisy much?

The conclusion

The structure and writing style prevented me from enjoying this book and I just wanted to finish it so I could move on. I'm rounding up my rating from 2.5 stars because the concept and the title are so cool. However, I wouldn't recommend Last of the Amazons unless you're a huge fan of Homer's writing style.

The summary

In or around 1250 BC, so Plutarch tells us, Theseus, king of Athens and slayer of the Minotaur, set sail on a journey that brought him to the land of 'tal Kyrte', the 'Free People', a nation of fiercely proud and passionate warrior women whom the Greeks called 'Amazons'. Bound to each other as lovers as well as fighters and owing allegiance to no man, the Amazons distrusted the Greeks with their boastful talk of cities and civilization. And when their illustrious war queen Antiope fell in love with Theseus and fled to Athens with the king and his followers, so denying her people, the Amazon tribes were outraged. Seeking revenge, they raised a vast army and marched on Athens. History tells us they could not win, but for a brief and glorious moment the Amazons held the Attic world in thrall before vanishing into the immortal realms of myth and legend.

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Saturday, 24 June 2017

Micro Reviews: June

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

 

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All That is Lost Between Us by
 I really enjoyed this as a family drama, but it's not as psychologically thrilling as it promised.

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Rolling with the Punchlines by

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Far from Home by

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The Other Boleyn Girl by




Carolyn for Christmas by
The Further Adventures of Xena: Warrior Princess by various authors
 An expanded universe anthology in which all the stories rely too much on dialogue and not enough on showing instead of telling.

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Between Shades of Gray by
 Yet another WW2 book, and it didn't have the strongest plot line or climax in the world.

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Carmilla by



Storm Season by




Unknown Horizons (New Horizons #1) by


The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson and

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.

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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

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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