Being brutally honest about books

Showing posts with label three stars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label three stars. Show all posts

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.

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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.

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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.

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Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Curses & Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Finished reading on: 16 February 2016

I'm experimenting with review styles, so let's see how this goes. Tell me what you think of this format.

The good

  • Gorgeous cover
  • Great for young Classics nerds and fans of Spartacus (and therefore me) – Gladiators! Roman women! Pompeii!
  • Satisfied my need to read more things set in Ancient Rome
  • Cool use of Latin (which I largely understood, thanks to Spartacus)
  • Decent writing
  • Historically accurate - the author clearly knows her stuff without showing off too much; includes interesting author’s notes about the setting
  • Learnt some new things, such as curse tablets, and that Pompeii wasn’t always a Roman town (Sulla took it from the Etruscans in 80BCE)
  • Basically, the setting is the best aspect of the book

The bad

  • The protagonists (Tag and Lucia) are tolerable, unlike a lot of YA characters, but I preferred Quintus, a main character who gets forgotten about, because I love arsehole characters
  • Written in the third person but the POV changes are unnecessarily marked
  • Having only two POVs (Tag's and Lucia's) is limiting, and I would’ve liked to read a least a chapter from each of Quintus and Cornelia’s perspectives
  • Repetitive likening of Tag’s good looks to Apollo's

The ugly

  • Plot based on the romance (booooring!)
  • More gladiator and running-from-volcanic-eruption action needed (not at the same time; that drove me nuts about the 2014 film Pompeii)
  • Ending so disappointing it knocked a whole star off my rating (I was all set to give it four stars)
  • A whole lot of characters' fates forgotten due to limited POVs - what about Cornelia, Quintus, and the gladiators and slaves?

The romance

  • Childhood friends suddenly fall in love
  • Would’ve liked to see the first move between Lucia and Tag at least another 50 pages later on (I prefer slow burn). However, I did appreciate Lucia considering the difference between love and lust this early on.
  • Love triangle avoided due to an unrequited love I’m proud to say I saw from the very start (although I had moments of doubt where I was wondering if my slash goggles were making me see things that weren’t there). The suggested solution for the trio's dilemma was on my mind since then, too.

The blurb

Two star-crossed lovers.
One city on the brink of destruction.
 
Tag is a medical slave, fated to spend the rest of his life healing his master's injured gladiators. But he yearns to fight in the arena himself and win the freedom to live - and love - as he wants.
 
Lucia is the daughter of Tag's owner, doomed by her father's greed to marry a man she doesn't love. But she's determined to follow her heart wherever it leads.
 
Can they find each other before the volcano destroys their whole world?

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Monday, 11 August 2014

Innocent Darkness (The Aether Chronicles #1) by Suzanne Lazear

Innocent Darkness (The Aether Chronicles, #1)
Date finished: 10 August 2014

Steampunk and faeries - two things that interest me and the two things that made me read this book. These elements wouldn't normally go together, but in this novel they do. And they complement each other. The concept is a fantastic one, literally.

I liked Noli as the heroine, since she is the average "strong female character" that is found in most YA books, but she wasn't a walking cliché, like so many are. She's just a really cool girl, the type you want to hug and be friends with. And I appreciated that. From the cover, I was worried that the book might be a bit crap, with an intriguing concept and a boring protagonist, but that was not the case. As well as Noli, I also liked V and Charlotte (although her character was a little clichéd) and sympathised with Kevign. With characters I liked, I thought I was going to enjoy this novel very much.

The plot was also quite good. It was unpredictable and made me want to read more. However, it could have done with more hints and twists to make the book really stand out. I think that would have been an improvement. The book was a little long and not too much happened, as there was so much description and analysis of emotions of the characters. I think there should have been less of that and more foreshadowing and giving hints about who certain characters are, for example, Queen Tiana. It would have been much more exciting for the reader to put the pieces together and realise that she is V's mother, instead of being told.

The writing itself was pretty average, and there were a few editing mistakes or typos. I wasn't wowed by the author, which would have been okay, except that she did too much telling and not enough showing. I know that that is difficult to do, but it doesn't hurt to try. As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of description, which is fair enough for a book with a fantasy setting, but I felt like there was too much. I'm more of a dialogue and action person, myself. And the inner monologues - I don't mind them in general, but I felt, especially towards the end of the book, that they got repetitive. We don't need to know everything about the characters. They are allowed to keep their secrets and remain mysterious even to the reader! Oh, and sometimes the language was too modern - I saw "guys" and "okay" used between more authentic terms, when the book is set in 1901, albeit an alternate 1901. I think the author was too worried about the plot and setting to put more effort into her style and accuracy, which is a shame, because this book could have been worth four stars, if the writing were better quality.

All in all, Innocent Darkness is a good book, but not a great book. It's interesting enough, but doesn't have the wow factor to get a higher rating from me. If you like steampunk and/or faeries, as I do, and want to read something that follows the girl-accidentally-wakes-up-in-another-world trope without being clichéd, you should read it. Just don't blame me if you don't love it.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Of Poseidon (The Syrena Legacy #1) by Anna Banks

Of Poseidon (The Syrena Legacy, #1) 
Date finished: 24 April 2014
This is one of those books that I read in 24 hours. I'm glad that it wasn't any longer than 320 pages, because I think that that would have made the book worse. The book wasn't terrible, but it wasn't brilliant either. From the blurb, I wasn't expecting much, which is a good thing as it turns out.

This book was like Ingo (by Helen Dunmore) for teenagers. I was going to say that it's a more mature Ingo, but if you consider how immature Emma (the protagonist) is, you can't say that it's a mature book at all. I always loved mermaids when I was little (at age six I apparently told my mum that when I grew up I was going to be a marine biologist and save the endangered mermaids) and are still vaguely interested in them today, at age sixteen.

The title is kind of misleading. With a name like Of Poseidon, you think of the Greek gods, not mermaids - sorry, Syrena. So that annoyed me a little. Especially since on the cover you can hardly see the Of bit.

Characters? Galen is intriguing. Toraf and Rayna are hilarious. Rachel is mysterious, and Emma is okay. But, ohmysweetgoodness!, for the protagonist I was hoping for someone more mature, someone who acts their age. Someone who doesn't act like a freaking twelve year old when she's eighteen. 
There are a lot of cliches in this book. The whole Half Breed thing, and one person in the couple not going to live as long as the other is so Lord of the Rings. The girl finds out she can hold her breath underwater for hours and talk to fish thing is so Ingo.  The girl dates other guy to get first guy jealous thing is so every American YA novel. The shark attack thing is so Soul Surfer. Sigh.
Recommendations: You know what? Ingo is better. For a good mermaid book, read that.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings #2) by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2) 
Date finished: 16 April 2014

Got insomnia? Read The Lord of the Rings! Guaranteed cure!

Well, actually, The Two Towers was much better than Fellowship. I liked the second book a lot more than the first. To be honest, I should rate this 3 stars and the first book 2, as that would be more accurate as to how I felt about the two books. I really need to go back and downgrade my rating of the first book. Unlike FoTR, where it only gets interesting in the second part, TTT is only interesting in the first part. There is so much more action (though still not a lot) and the plot actually gets interesting. It's a shame that in the second part it gets boring enough. (Sorryyy, but I just don't care about Frodo, Sam, and Gollum.)

Much like Fellowship, Two Towers is, mostly, a few hundred pages of scenery. There is action, but if you look close at the text, you'll find that the majority of it is descriptions of scenery - Rohan, Fangorn, Ithilien, Mordor, etc. It's all scenery. And even though it's all scenery, I can't picture it in my head. This is why I love the movies - you can see the scenery in the background, without it being something you have to chug your way through, cursing Tolkien all the way. Do people actually like reading about scenery? Do they? Do they really? Because I sure don't. Give me action, cool dialogue, kickarse characters!

My sister told me that there were some funny parts in this book, and there was one: the Orcs in the last chapter were Spanish! They said Hola! Is that Tolkien's racism talking or what? Because I love Spanish and the Hispanic culture myself, I felt a bit offended. Why are the baddies Spanish? Why not French, or American? Jeez.

I, and probably everyone else, even those who love these books, had a problem with the different perspectives this book is written in. I liked reading about Aragorn, Legolas, Merry, and Pippin in the first part, but then I found it really hard to get through the second part, with just Frodo, Sam, Gollum, and Faramir. What Tolkien should have done is, like in the movies, mix up the chapters so that each chapter is about different characters. That way, the time frame isn't confusing, and you don't find the cure to your insomnia.

So I've been reading other people's reviews on Goodreads (the ones where they rated the book 2 stars), and I agree with most of their points. It's boring, slow, and the characters aren't likeable - or even realistic. And neither is the dialogue! I love good dialogue, in fact it's one thing that is essential in any story, and yet, the dialogue is these books is long and unrealistic. People don't talk like that now, and I don't think they talked like that even in Tolkien's time, or in medieval times. So why do the characters talk like that?

The characters are still pretty boring in this book. In the movie, I love the Three Hungers and Merry and Pippin. In the book, they're okay, but nowhere near as interesting (or entertaining). I have come to the conclusion that Tolkien really should have had an editor who knew about characterisation. And structure. And when too much is too much. There's also the relationships. These characters have really weird relationships with each other, and even though I've been told again and again that Tolkien didn't intend for there to be any homosexuality, I just cannot interpret Frodo and Sam's relationship as anything but gay. (May I point out that the first time I saw the movies, I shouted out "Just kiss!" at one stage?)

I know that most people don't like the songs in these books, but I found myself enjoying them. I think that they are very well-written (Tolkien should have stuck with songs and poems, I think) and offer a well-deserved break from the long passages of scenery. In fact, if the whole story were written as a song, I think it would be much easier to read.

I'm sure there are other things that I wanted to say about The Two Towers, but as I can't remember them right now, I'll finish this off with a warning: Don't read The Lord of the Rings unless you like falling asleep in the middle of a chapter and accidentally creasing the pages.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1) by J.R.R. Tolkien

15923738 
Date finished: 2 March 2014

As a huge fan of the movies, I wanted to enjoy this more than I actually did. The movies are incredible. But the book is not. For someone who is in this fandom and enjoyed The Hobbit, it's hard for me to say this, but: Tolkien just wasn't that great an author. (I'm not saying he wasn't good at writing poems, but he just wasn't very good at writing this novel.) When I first started the book, I loved it. I was in awe of Tolkien's amazing world-building and his writing style. Somewhere along the way, all of that changed.

For a start, his style is so damn hard to read! For the readalong we only read a few chapters each week, but if I were reading it on my own, I couldn't manage much more than that. I read The Council of Elrond in three days, that's how long it took. I have read all of Jane Austen's works and I didn't struggle with them as much as I struggled with this. I don't know how people read the books over and over again - once was hard enough! I'm still going ahead and finishing the trilogy for the Tolkien Readalong, but I won't be reading it again.

Secondly, there are so many unnecessary characters and plot arcs. Don't get me wrong, I love all the members of the fellowship, but then there are the characters we only see once who don't add anything to the plot. Then, there are the unnecessary minor plot points. So many of these just slowed down the plot and made the introductory part too long. A good writer doesn't waste a single word. Tolkien wastes whole characters, chapters, and minor events. I love Middle-earth, but if I had edited Lord of the Rings it would have been so much shorter and more concise. Every word, scene, and character would matter.

Now, characters. There really aren't many relatable characters in Fellowship of the Ring at all. In fact, I can't think of any except a couple of the Hobbits. You get Galadriel and Aragorn talking about themselves in the third person, and no-one in real life does that. I don't care if they're not your average human - they still don't act like proper people. That's not very good, is it, Tolkien? Readers need to be able to relate to the characters and care about them, if they want to enjoy the book.

Then, there's the fact that although the setting is wonderful and intriguing and magical and all that, the story itself is quite boring. It's only when the Hobbits and Strider/Aragorn (I prefer the name Strider for some reason) start making their way towards Rivendell that things get exciting. And that's 250 pages into the book. It's not exactly a thriller.

As for a recommendation, I'm not sure who I would recommend this to. There are fantasy books out there that are a hundred times better than Fellowship of the Ring. I, for one, quite like Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, Tamora Pierce's Tortall books, Isobelle Carmody's Obernewtyn Chronicles and LegendSong Series,  and Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series. Read those instead. Don't waste your time reading The Lord of the Rings when the movies are far superior.
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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