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Georgiana89 (London)

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More Than This
More Than This
Price: 4.27

4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant in parts, dull in parts, 26 Sept. 2015
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This review is from: More Than This (Kindle Edition)
I feel like I could draw a graph of my star rating for this book as different points, as it lurched between a two and a five, and between utterly unputdownable and needing to force myself to keep reading.

On the first page, our hero seemingly drowns in his American home town. In the next chapter, he's waking up in an abandoned and rundown version of the British town where he lived until the age of ten. Its entirely unclear whether this is a coma dream, the afterlife, something supernatural or something else entirely. In this respect, it reminded me a bit of Ashes to Ashes/Life on Mars. At first, I was utterly fascinated to find out the answer and to see what was going to happen to the hero. However, for chapter after chapter, he doesn't meet a single other person, face any threat or real excitement, or come any closer to an answer. I don't mind stories being a bit slow-burning, but this really struggled to hold my attention.

On the other hand, this was interspersed with flashbacks (or are they something else?!) to the day leading up to the drowning. Seth's family dynamics, school life and romantic crisis felt very believable and well-depicted, and made a nice counterpoint to the strangeness of the main plot.

I persevered, and eventually,he finally meets two other teenagers, at which point, the mystery deepens ever further and the story picks up again. For the next few hundred pages, I was absolutely engrossed. And then we finally get what seems to be an answer to what's going on. I was surprised and I was intrigued, but the more I thought about it, the less convincing or internally consistent it seemed. This is one book where you really want to avoid spoilers, so I'll say no more, other than that it reminded me very heavily of a very well known film.

After this point, I sort of expected there to be further revelations or a cranking up of the ambiguity. Instead, the plot seemed to lose focus and rely on some slightly far-fetched action scenes. I was still enjoying it, but it felt like a bit of a let down after the head-spinning nature of what had come before.

As an aside, in a world where it's still relatively rare, Ness should be applauded for his attempts to have a diverse central cast. When it came to Seth, this worked brilliantly. The fact that he was gay was a key component of the plot without being the plot or being the most important thing about him. But with only two other characters to play with, the author's attempts to make them as diverse as possible (a black, overweight female domestic violence victim and a young polish immigrant) felt a little bit forced, in a way it wouldn't have done with a larger cast or a more normal setting. And while the girl was a strong, well-developed character whose race and size were simply a part of her, the polish boy, despite clearly being presented as sympathetic, felt like a bit of a strange comic caricature, with his weird speech patterns, violent temper and tragic past.

I'd highly recommend this, but for me at least, it didn't quite live up to the "best YA book ever" or "change the way you see the world" buzz I'd heard about it. Some bits were pure brilliance, but I felt it needed some serious trimming and tightening, along with more tying up of loose ends and internal consistency.

After Me Comes the Flood
After Me Comes the Flood
Price: 3.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing first half, anti-climactic finale, 26 Sept. 2015
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I loved this book until about the halfway mark. Throughout most of the first half, everything's wonderfully dreamlike and confusing. In the middle of a British heatwave, a man leaves town to visit his brother, gets lost enroute and visits an old, crumbling house to get directions. The inhabitants are either mysteriously expecting him or mistake him for someone else, and either way, he ends up staying. The other people at the house are a strange collection, some odd things occur, and the way the main character constantly halfheartedly tries and fails to leave almost hint at some combination of enchantment and entrapment.

I love books where I don't know what's going on, where you're not completely sure what genre you're reading, and where the explanation for events could be fantastical, mundane or supernatural. During this first half, the book delivered this in spades and also delivered a wonderfully odd atmosphere. I was racking my brains trying to work out what was going on and where the story would go.

Sadly, at around the halfway mark, the rather dull truth is revealed, but instead of ending there, the book meanders on, without much sense of plot or purpose but with some rather weird character development and slightly far-fetched events. At this point, though I was still impressed by the author's way with words and the atmosphere she evoked, I rapidly started to lose interest and finished the book feeling rather disappointed. I believe this is the author's first novel. She's certainly got some skill, and I suspect subsequent books could be very good indeed, but despite a promising opening, this just didn't quite strike the right note for me.

The Liar's Key (Red Queen's War, Book 2)
The Liar's Key (Red Queen's War, Book 2)
by Mark Lawrence
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.29

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable enough fantasy novel, but lacking some of the spark of earlier installments, 26 Sept. 2015
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Regardless of some of the criticisms I'm about to go on and make, let me start by saying that this is an enjoyable fantasy novel with some unusual elements, and it's well worth a read if you enjoy the genre and have read the other books. That said, it never blew me away or got me to the point where I couldn't put it down, which was disappointing, as earlier books by the author have been some of my favourite reads of recent years, and I'd been eagerly anticipating its release.

Most of the positive elements are the same as in my review of Book One, and indeed, my reviews of the previous trilogy - fundamentally, the interesting world (post-apocalyptic and reverted to medieval norms), the balance between science and magic, and the cliche-defying characters. In addition, there were some fascinating flashbacks to the Red Queen's childhood and teenage years, some revelations about the hero's dead mother, and a very well-done depiction of a city run on finance and a terrifying debtors' prison.

For me though, there were a few things that let this installment down. Firstly, the length. I was so impressed with the way Lawrence kept his first few books short and tightly plotted, as if to prove that fantasy novels don't have to be doorstoppers. With each new volume, the length has crept up and the pacing and tension seems to have crept down.

Secondly, I once read a (rather unfair) review of the Fellowship of the Ring that described it as "a load of blokes wandering about" and at times, I couldn't help but feel it was a fair description of large swathes of this book. In stark contrast to the first installment and the earlier trilogy, where the plots of both the author and the characters were clear and intriguing, our two heroes seemed to lurch from one success or disaster to another with little clear aim. I like my heroes to scheme and stay one step ahead.

Finally, there's the double-edged sword of the main character. One of my favorite things about the characters in both of Lawrence's trilogies is how they are very different from your average hero - in the case of Jorg from the original trilogy, a psychopathic borderline villain, in the case of Jalen here, a lazy coward. In both cases, this worked brilliantly for the first installment, but then presents a problem. Because either the character has to maintain that personality - in which case they rapidly risk becoming one-dimensional - or they grow and evolve, and lose the traits that made them interesting in the first place. To be fair to the author, he attempts to tread a careful line between these two extremes, but for me, it didn't always work. I found some of his heroics slightly unbelievable, and some of his ongoing disloyalty a little jarring. Added to which, there's no getting away from the fact that while Jalen's a likable and interesting character, I just don't find him quite as compelling as I did Jorg.

That's quite a lot of negativity for a fairly enjoyable novel. As I said as the start, it's worth a read, and I will still be picking up the sequel. But there's no getting away from the fact that I didn't enjoy this as much as earlier books or as much as I was hoping.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things: A Kingkiller Chronicle Novella (Kingkiller Chronicle 3)
The Slow Regard of Silent Things: A Kingkiller Chronicle Novella (Kingkiller Chronicle 3)
by Patrick Rothfuss
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.09

4.0 out of 5 stars Proof that this fantasy novelist has genuine literary skills - but probably not for all fans, 19 Sept. 2015
Before I start my proper review, two things need to be made absolutely clear. One, this is emphatically not the third book in the Kingkiller Chronicles, nor is it anything much like the two "proper" books in the series in style. Two, if you're not familiar with the series, though this is technically stand alone, it is not a good place to start. To enjoy this, I suspect that you both need to be a relatively hardcore fan of the series, and that you need to have an appreciation for gentle, literary works, not just dramatic, plot heavy fantasy.

The plot of this 30 000 word novella can be summed up in a couple of sentences. Auri, one of the more mysterious characters from the main series, relates a week in her life. Living alone in the "underthing" below the magical university, she spends her time obsessively trying to put random objects in what she sees as their correct place, coming up with whimsical names for different objects and rooms, and working out what she should give "him" (presumably Kvothe, the hero of the main series) as a gift the next time she sees him. No other characters appear. There is no dialogue, and very little real action. To state that this isn't action packed would be a massive understatement.

This is definitely not for everyone, and in the course of the first few mindboggling pages, I wasn't entirely sure it would be for me, despite my love of the Kingkiller Chronicles. But I pressed on, and grew to love the strangely detailed descriptions of places and things, and the perfect insight into Auri's mindset. I adore both epic high fantasy and literary novels, and with the KKC's intriguing literary devices, Rothfuss proved that he is one of those rare authors that can pull off both simultaneously. Here, he gives free rein to his more literary side, makes liberal use of strange language and imagery, and proves that he's just as much a literary writer as a fantasy novelist.

As far as the fantasy side and the connection to the main series goes, this doesn't offer an dramatic revelations, but does provide some intriguing food for thought. Auri is a complete cipher in KKC. We learn frustratingly little about her background through reading a story from her point of view, but it becomes very clear that she is utterly obsessed with objects being happy and in their rightful places and seems to be able to intuit their mood. It's extremely ambiguous to what degree this is madness/extreme OCD on her part and to what degree its real magic, though it's heavily implied that's she's both suffered a trauma in her past that broke her and is also an extremely talented and powerful practitioner of magic.

This is a tricky book to review, as I suspect fans will love it or hate it. All I can suggest is that you read a few pages of the online sample and decide if it's for you. I don't think that failing to read it will impact on your enjoyment or understanding of the series, but if you can cope with the weird style and very gentle plot, it is both a delightful read in its own right and capable of adding a subtle extra dimension to Rothfuss' wider world.

Baptism of Fire (The Witcher Book 3)
Baptism of Fire (The Witcher Book 3)
Price: 5.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Good read but felt surprisingly generic in places compared to earlier volumes, 24 Aug. 2015
I went straight onto this novel as soon as a finished a Time of Contempt. The opening few chapters were very impressive, with a tense introduction of a new character and a clever and compelling approach to explaining events that have occurred between the previous book and this one.

However, most of the main plot, ie. the one focused on Geralt, who finally gets some real airtime in his own series after being rather absent for the first two full novels, revolves around a fairly standard "group of adventurers on a quest." There are some interesting characters with interesting dynamics, and lively events, but despite some twists and turns, it felt mostly rather generic for a series that tends to put an interesting spin on traditional fantasy tales. There was also a frustrating sense that after pages and pages, once I reached the end, little progress had been made.

The parts focused on Yennefer and the other sorceresses were more original and caught my imagination and attention rather more. I was in two minds about the Ciri bits. I'm always a fan of dark characters, but I'm hoping she doesn't become too broken and beyond redemption.

There were some great moments in this, and I enjoyed it overall, but it wasn't as good as its immediate predecessor, and for the second half, felt like a bit of a filler volume, getting the characters into place ready for the (presumable) drama of the next installment. I'll definitely read that (once it's finally been translated into English) and I'm looking forward to it, but not desperately awaiting it like I am some fantasy sequels.

Time of Contempt (Witcher 2)
Time of Contempt (Witcher 2)
by Andrzej Sapkowski
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Strongest installment so far in an interesting fantasy series, 24 Aug. 2015
Despite feeling that Blood of Elves has been a relatively slow start to the proper series (after two very good short story collections), I started this sequel as soon as I finished it. I got the feeling that the main plot was just starting as the earlier book drew to a frustrating close, and I turned out to be right. More or less from page one, this is much faster moving, with both action sequences and intriguing hints of prophecies and conspiracies. Everything felt a bit more fleshed out, with more characters, world-building and background.
There's still a surprising lack of Geralt, the nominal protagonist, for large swathes of the book, but he does get some good scenes, and the chapters with more of a focus on Ciri are a fascinating exercise in character development as she grows darker and more broken. A few sections were from the perspective of more minor characters (or in one particularly interesting example, the main villain) and these were also well done.
I generally wasn't wowwed by the prose - not sure whether I should blame the author or the translator for that - but it didn't notably take away from my overall enjoyment. Definitely worth a read.

Blood of Elves
Blood of Elves
by Andrzej Sapkowski
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars First real novel in the series, with a different character focus and a bit of an introductory feel., 24 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Blood of Elves (Paperback)
After two collections of short stories, the Witcher series changes approach with this installment, a full-length novel that sets up a story arc that continues through the rest of the books.

Even if you're not a big short story fan, It's pretty essential to have read at least the final two stories in Sword of Destiny before launching into this, otherwise (as I did on my first attempt at reading this) you'll find yourself pretty confused as the novel launches into a bewildering array of characters, places, plots and terms.

The focus is on Cirilla (Ciri) an orphaned princess connected to Geralt, the titular Witcher (a sort of supernaturally enhanced monster-slayer) by complicated bonds of fate, destiny and plot. With the whole continent at war and seemingly everyone of any significance hunting for the girl, Geralt takes her away to his Witcher castle and starts to train her.

The short stories tended to focus on a single adventure with a specific monster and/or emotional crisis that needed to be resolved. Here, we start to get much more of an understanding of what Witchers do in their quiet times, how their organisation works, and how the world fits together. Somewhat surprisingly, we get to see relatively little from Geralt's perspective. For most of the book, events are seen through Ciri's eyes. It works well, but can be a little jarring if you came to know and love the character in the short stories, especially considering that despite the quite complex plots, these are fundamentally character-driven works. For large swathes of the book, Geralt is "off-screen" altogether, as the responsibility of caring for and training Ciri moves to Yennifer, Geralt's ex and probable true love, but oddly, these were some of my favourite scenes.

For most of the book, I got the sense that the author hadn't quite got used to writing full-length novels, as the story was told in a very episodic way, almost like short stories in their own right - it's not a bad thing, it just made for slightly odd pacing, with a day or two told in a huge level of detail, before the plot suddenly raced ahead. It was a relatively slow start, with the book ending just as the plot really started to get underway.

Overall, I enjoyed this enough to carry on with the series (which improves from here on in) and I would recommend it, but it felt very much like an introductory volume, which is slightly surprising when it's technically book three.

Sword of Destiny
Sword of Destiny
Price: 10.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable collection of short stories and an essential read before the main novels of the series, 2 July 2015
This review is from: Sword of Destiny (Kindle Edition)
First things first - though it's the fourth (and currently most recent) book in the Witcher series to be published in English, it was the second book to be written in the original Polish, and chronologically, very clearly sits between The Last Wish and Blood of Elves. I've just started reading the latter - the first proper novel - and I'd have been extremely confused for the first two chapters without the background provided in these stories.

Like the Last Wish, this volume consists of several short stories following the Witcher, Geralt, as he deals with monsters and his own emotions and scrupples. Many of the stories here are still loosely tied to either fairy tales or traditional legends, but on the whole, the connection is a little less concrete this time around, which makes the plots feel less forced. They also follow on from each other better - the real point of interest is Geralt and his friendships and love affairs and self-doubts, rather than the "monster of the chapter," format that dominated the previous installment.

Like most short story collections, some are better than others, but I enjoyed them all, and loved some. Geralt's on-off love affair with the sorceress Yennefer, introduced in the final story of the earlier collection, is a key theme running through most of the tales. There was a surprising degree of emotion and heartache for what is in many ways a very masculine set of stories. The last two stories, in particular, take a turn for the dramatic, and start to set up what appears to be the main plot of the novel series.

Unlikely my slightly guarded recommendation for the Last Wish (which, with the exception of the final story, you could probably skip without missing any of the wider plot), I'd wholeheartedly recommend this. It functions as a fun and sometimes moving collection of fantasy stories, as a coherent piece of character development and worldbuilding, and as an essential lead-in to the novels.

The Last Wish
The Last Wish
Price: 5.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to the world of the Witcher, but some flaws in this first installment, 2 July 2015
This review is from: The Last Wish (Kindle Edition)
Like most English readers, I came across this series of books via the computer game set in the same world, helped along by a heavy recommendation from my husband. The first thing to point out, for anyone who isn't clear, is that the books predate the games - this isn't some money-grabbing "book of the game," which tend to be awful.

It's a collection of short stories, each of which is a subversion of a classic fairytale - a version of Beauty and the Beast where the beautiful woman is the real monster, for example. These are artfully combined with elements of Eastern European mythology - lots of Strigas and Rusalkas and things - and an imaginative fantasy world.

They all centre around Geralt, a magically and physically enhanced "Witcher" who's job it is to deal with monsters - sometimes by killing them, sometimes by more diplomatic means.

I'm generally not a big fan of short stories, and while I enjoyed these, they suffered a little from the problem I often have with them - variable quality, and not enough time to become really invested in the characters or the plot before moving on to the next tale. Still, as they all featured the same hero and some other recurring characters and as they worked together to build up my understanding of the world, I enjoyed them more than most short story collections. It's perhaps telling that my favourite was the titular "The Last Wish" which was longer than the others, and gave the plot more room to develop.

In places, I got the impression that something was being lost in translation from the original Polish - moments that were seemingly intended to be profound or hilarious just didn't quite make sense (though other funny or deep moments managed to hit the spot).

I've since read the second collection of short stories "The Sword of Destiny" which, thanks to longer stories, a less rigourous application of the "each story is based on a fairytale" rule, and more continuity between stories, I enjoyed much more. I've just started the first full-length book, which gives itself space for more character development, world-building and extended plots, and which so far, I'm really loving. I'd therefore strongly recommend this as an introduction to the world, even though, as a standalone, it's an enjoyable fantasy read, but nothing remarkable.

Shogun: The First Novel of the Asian saga: A Novel of Japan
Shogun: The First Novel of the Asian saga: A Novel of Japan
by James Clavell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive recreation of a time and place, but quite hard work, 2 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
First things first, it's impossible to read this and not admire the effort, research and skill that clearly went into it. On this basis, there's no way I could give it less than 4 stars. The author skillfully combines all the worldbuilding of a fantasy novel with all the detailed research of a historical novel set in a time and place your average English reader is more familiar with. I felt like I learnt a lot about 16th century Japanese people, politics and culture, a subject I previously knew little about. The food, the places and the traditions are lovingly described, so you can both vividly imagine them and long to experience them yourself.

There were also some very good dramatic, romantic and tense moments, and the seemingly main character, an Englishman marooned in Japan, worked really well as both a genuinely sympathetic figure and a great lens for showing the cultural differences and mutual incomprehension between the two countries at the time.

When I picked up the book, I was a little nervous that it would either be a sort of boy's own adventure in which a plucky Englishman saved/educated the barbarians, or else an ultra-romanticized view of Japan. I was relieved that it was actually very well balanced, with each "side" regarding the other as uncivilised, and the narrative making clear that there are good and bad points about each culture, and good and bad people too.

On the more negative side, although I generally prefer to read something I can get my teeth into, this felt a little over-long. Between the huge page count and the dense and complex plot, it took me longer to read than anything I've read in several years, despite the fact that I regularly devour both heavy literary novels and fantasy doorstoppers. And to add insult to injury, after all those hundreds of pages, all those chapters that describe a hawking session or a trip to a spring or the intricacies of a family in loving detail, the book suddenly stops, and the outcome of the final, climactic battle is summed up in a single paragraph. I assumed the other books described as parts of "the Asian saga" were direct sequels, but apparently they are just works loosely linked by the theme of westerners coming to Japan at different times in history.

My other problem was the double-edged sword of recreating a culture that values honourably suicide over survival, and promotes absolute loyalty to feudal lords, right up to the point where you seem able to stab them in the back with total impunity. On the one hand, it was fascinating to read about, but on the other, it made it difficult to really understand or engage with the characters.

Similarly, the constant plotting and scheming was intriguing to some degree, but there was ultimately so much of it that it was hard to root for or be impressed by any one character, particularly as they had all done awful things. I struggled to see what made the man who ultimately comes out on top any different from his rivals, either in terms of morals or of cunning.

Overall, while I did enjoy it, I think this was a book I admired more than I loved. I'd still recommend it to people, but you need to be prepared to put in the effort to get through the length, get in the unfamiliar mindset of the characters and culture, and keep track of all the triple-crossing that's going on.

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