Sunday, 16 December 2018

Smoke and Iron

Smoke and Iron (The Great Library, #4)

Book Title: Smoke and Iron
Author: Rachel Caine
Series: The Great Library #4
Date Started: December 13th 2018
Date Completed: December 16th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Romance
Quality Rating: Three Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Stars
Final Rating: Three stars

The Great Library series is what I go to when I need an enjoyable, easy read. But I don't say that to talk down to it's quality, there's a lot of progressive and clever stuff that goes into these books. But the reason I sit down and read them - especially this time when I desperately needed something I wouldn't want to put down - is how damn fun they are.

At this, only Jess and Khalila are really achieveing anything. There's a lot of drama and attention all round (which is definitely appreciated) but the actions of most of the other characters are without consequence in the end. It feels like either there's some deus ex machina or they just aren't very effective where they try to be. It's a bit of a shame considering how wonderful all the characters are, but makes the action more streamlined I guess.

I think the different perspectives being split into parts ended up hindering the pace rather than helping it. Since everyone's split up this time, we jump between four simultaneous events in chunks, but for me it made it hard for me to really get into what was happening in each other - every time I started to get close, I was transported somewhere else. Altnernating chapters could've worked better to keep the momentum up but still cover a variety of subplots.

But really, what I care about are the characters. And while some of the relationships got a little confused in this book, it was still a joy to read. Admittedly, after four books you're bound to like most of the characters (otherwise, why bother?), but right since the first time the main characters of The Great Library series stood in Alexandria together there was just a spark. You get so attached to them, so quickly. Their friendships, partnerships, romances galore obviously help highlight their strengths, but even as indivdiuals doing their own thing Caine can break down that barrier between the audience and her fictional world - and that's not an easy thing to do.

I'm pretty sure there's only one book in this series left, which is really sad because, as I said, it's my go-to when I need an enjoyable read. Though Smoke and Iron wasn't as great as the previous books, you can tell it's building up for something really interesting at the conclusion. The characters, who are the real talents, were as engaging as ever and I'm not sure if I can wait however many months for the final installment to come out.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

The Silence of the Girls


Book Title: The Silence of the Girls
Author: Pat Barker
Date Started: November 6th 2018
Date Completed: November 21st 2018
Genres: Historical, Fantasy
Quality Rating: Four Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Three Stars
Final Rating: Three stars

◆ Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for this ebook for review ◆

I'm still not sure how I feel about this book, and it's been a few days since I finished it. While I admire the aim of the novel and some of the ways it tried to get there, I feel like it loses the magic of the myth. And maybe that's the point, but it lost my interest pretty quickly when the realism became too interested in being 'realism' than it did in telling a story.

I know what the intention for this book was, and there are some times where I could see it straining so hard to get across - which it sometimes does, don't get me wrong! But the point was to take the original of The Iliad and inject reality into the warfare and personality into the women. That was ultimately the main thing that drew me to this book. But you can't achieve that by pointing at someone and saying 'this is a real person' but not follow through in the writing. The women still felt far more stilted to me than the men did, and it felt like they got a lot less attention as well. And the same goes for the warfare; this book was grim beyond a narrative purpose (and when you're writing a book it has to have narrative purpose); you can show humanity (or lack thereof) in more ways than horror. Again, I understand the aim, but it didn't hit the goal for me.

I think the main issue for me was really that it doesn't finish what it starts. If this is to be an account of the Trojan War from the women's - particularly Briseis' perspective - then why are half the chapters devoted to retelling the traditional myth with the men's stories? Are you trying to make a point about men dominating women's narratives by perpetuating it yourself? In all seriousness though, Barker does give up the quest to show the women's lives pretty quickly when Achilles steps on the scene, and then I felt like I was reading something trying to be The Song of Achilles (though of course we can't possibly see two men kiss - fine if you keep in the canon of Briseis' perspective, only it doesn't).

That all being said, in enjoyment terms it did pretty well at redeeming itself towards the end, though the resolution itself was ridiculously rushed and cut off. In showing what else was happening in the camp - while losing the initial intention of the whole thing - did give me more of an actual narrative as a reader. And, as mentioned, I felt like the male characters were better written, sadly.

Contrary to what I may have implied, I did like The Silence of the Girls, as I love pretty much any retelling of Greek myth. I just think that, given the purpose (that was marketed anyway) was to rewrite an epic poem from a more progressive standpoint, it didn't do a whole lot of progressive politics in action.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Kingdom of Ash


Book Title: Kingdom of Ash
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass #7
Date Started: October 23rd 2018
Date Completed: November 5th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Adventure
Quality Rating: Five Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Five Stars
Final Rating: Five stars

Sometimes there are books that define a particular time in your life, and that have a genuine change on you. When Throne of Glass started I loved it, but it wasn't really that yet. Partly because I was a teenager and it was just another YA book, and while I adored Celaena we were very different. As it's gone on things have developed and grown, and I've developed and grown; and Aelin has become such a big part of I am as a person. Growing up with certain books, and revisiting those worlds as they come out each year as a different person iss a really rare thing, especially when you grow in similar directions. Maybe not at the start, but by just a few books in this was one of those instances for me.

But, past the sentimentality of this series to me, it's genuinely brilliantly crafted. Kingdom of Ash felt like The Return of the King (Lord of the Rings, I would hope you all know) - both in its pros and cons. It's truly epic, even if it hesitates slightly too much on tiny details. It's been a long, long time since I've read something that has given me that heart-in-throat feeling during battle sequences. Did it have to be nearly 1000 pages? No. But I would be lying of I said I wouldn't read it all again. And you do feel the weight and weariness of that war along with them.

Which is why then it's so satisfying to see the girls save the world this time. Every damn one of them. I'm going to dip back into sentimentality for a second, because I grew up with Lord of the Rings and I straight-up adored it. Return of the King was and remains one of my favourite films of all time, and the book means just as much. So to see that scale of epic fantasy replayed but with the women on those frontlines, with the women dealing with final blow, with the warriors, and the healers, and the diplomats, and the children, and the mothers and all these varied, diverse women saving the day was what made me cry more than the conclusion of the series. Even just seeing all these women acknowledged - regardless of their generation, their importance to the story, or their screen time - tore at my heart continually.

Beyond that, I liked the fact that Sarah paid attention to character over their roles or strength. No spoilers, of course, but status and power changes a lot over the course of this book in various instances, but Sarah cares about the people instead. While she juggles an insane amount of primary characters (not even mentioning the secondary ones), she takes each one through their own arc giving the low moments just as much attention at the high ones.

In all honesty, I'm not sure if I'm disappointed or satisfied with the consequences and ultimate conclusion of Kingdom of Ash. Of course, none of these are things that I can name here without spoiling things, but I'm left feleing ambivalent - partly because the way the characters are left is pretty much perfect. I had a similar sort of thing in Queen of Shadows, where the King of Adarlan was really easily defeated, I mean he hardly gets a final battle. Likewise, Erawan felt like a bit of a wimp in the end. It's had to avoid when your whole host of characters are over-powered in a lot of ways, and Sarah definitely adapted well in the build-up. The characters don't get things easily, and each of them struggle in their own way. So, reflectively, I think she did the best she could with the situation she had - and that was pretty damn well.

Before I finish, I have to write a little something for Aelin here. Call it an intermission from the review. Because Aelin was a heroine who began in dresses and sword belts, and that duality was (and still is) so rarely seen. While she had an attitude problem and was dislikeable at times, we could empathise with her and we rooted for her. Through the books she was broken down literally to a shell, and built herself back up again, which is even more important and rare. And she is truly - truly - terrified for most of this book. PTSD, anxiety, depression, she is really feeling the affects of recent events. But in these last few books we also saw her completley transform into a queen. Maybe it's great timing with what's happening in the world, but so much of that development was what I went through as a woman in these last few years - and what countless other women have also been through. That recognition of identity and defiance of anyone who says we should be otherwise. That's important, so important. And when art reflects that it gives us an anchor to pivot from; to reinforce our points and harbour safely in. Fiction is created so that we can address our real lives without having to do it head on. Aelin - Celaena - Fireheart - was the literal beacon of that to so many girls. And women, boys, and I'm sure men as well.

I would like this to be the end of Throne of Glass, because I think it is worthy of concluding at its highest point. But at the same time I would read anything that came out of this universe without hesitation. As it is, I'm ready to burst into tears at an unpredictable moment when it really hits me that it's over. Until then, I will keep thinking about this story and its characters. To whatever end.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Mortal Coil


Book Title: Mortal Coil
Author: Derek Landy
Series: Skulduggery Pleasant #5
Date Started: October 16th 2018
Date Completed: October 23rd 2018
Genres: Mystery, Fantasy, Action, Thriller, Horror
Quality Rating: Five Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Five Stars
Final Rating: Five stars

Sometimes, if I'm having a bad day or for no reason at all, I go to this book. I'm not really sure why this one - there are happier books. Some more heartwarming. But none quite get that balance of humour, fun, darkness and threat. And the moments when the characters you've been with for years crack a joke you've read a million times and it still makes you smile. Mortal Coil is definitely the most paged through from my collection, so I was a lot more familiar with it in my Skulduggery reread than the rest. I guess I didn't have those moments of rediscovering events I'd forgotten this time, because every time I open the book I find them again, and I will continue to do so.

So, how to begin a review where I've already sung the praises of this series in my previous reviews (go read those if you want coherent analysis). I'll start at the beginning: Skulduggery Pleasant was built on the mystery genre. I'm not convinced it's a genre you can really pin down, but the little quirks, the nods, the in-jokes are what began this series. So, five books in, when it dives into so many different genres - horror, action, political thriller, epic fantasy - it actually makes me really happy that our protagonists still get to solve mysteries. Sure, they end up kicking ass and saving the world as well, but they still get those little detective moments of epiphany and investigating a crime scene. It's fun. They need a little fun since they're thoroughly screwed from here on out.

Mortal Coil builds off the ripples of previous events, as all good books in a series should, while still having its own internal plot. Each book stands on its own, but really this absolutely massive story that Derek is telling can't be told in anyting but a series. The politics was established right at the beginning, and we watched it develop in trying times, and then be completely obliterated at the end of the last book. Now we see them picking up the pieces, and we can understand what a massive deal it is. The same for the characters. Speaking of...

You can always tell when a main character is going to get screwed over when they suddenly have more screen time that before. So, whenever I do go back and reread this book it hurts my heart when I notice Tanith getting all these extra little moments, because I definiely didn't see it coming the first time around. (Spoilers: Tanith gets screwed over. You may be able to tell from the spin off book that gives it away.) So, when I was younger, I didn't really appreciate Tanith. Blame it on internalised misogyny, female competition, or my obsession with wanting to be Valkyrie, but Tanith faded into the background. But as I got older, Tanith became someone who meant so damn much to me, who I started to understand more, and who shone out as one of the real heroes. So reading this book from start to finish again (even though I've read all her parts a million and one times) got to me a lot more than I expected it to. Sure, her life gets derailed big time (thanks Derek), but we also get the chance to really see her show off her whole potential both as a badass and as an emotionally driven character; we never see her cry before this, we never see her even waver really. In Mortal Coil we get to see these vulnerabilities and then see her kicking ass not that much later. She has that range that so few women get given in fiction (especially by male writers).

And really the whole series is full of more examples. Sure, Tanith is the one that resonates with me very personally, but this is really a show of intelligent, powerful adults that let themselves be immature every once in a while. It's strangely freeing, and very engaging. Because these adults have the ability to take things seriously as well, and slip between the two as naturally as actors, we can believe them when they act like children. Because everyone wants to be a little childish sometimes. Which, ironically, makes our protagonist all the more powerful. It still amazes me how little Val is in these early books - and it makes me so happy because I never (had to) notice now. When I was like a year younger than her when the books came out, it was never pointed out that she was a kid/teenager so I didn't feel patronised by it either. Ageism is something we don't really talk about a lot, but it's books like these that treat young people as, you know, people that make me want to make everyone else read it. Your child can be a child and still be powerful, independant, curious, and not feel patronised while they do it.

Pretty soon I'm going to catch up to my original reviews of these books. I started this reread because a) an excuse to reread the entire series and b) because I wanted to put into words what this series means to me. I'm not sure I've really achieved the second one since at this point everything is just me gushing over it. Though I guess if you're this far through the series you probably agree with me. We should set up a support group for the emotional enrichment - oh, and the trauma.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

To All the Boys I've Loved Before


Book Title: To All the Boys I've Loved Before
Author: Jenny Han
Series: To All the Boys I've Loved Before #1
Date Started: October 5th 2018
Date Completed: October 16th 2018
Genres: Romance, Contemporary
Quality Rating: Two Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Three Stars
Final Rating: Two stars

To sum up: this book is sickly sweet. That should decide it for most people as to whether they want to read it or not. Having watched and (to my surprise) loved the film, I was up for reading the novel even though it's not a genre I usually enjoy. I'm glad that I gave it a chance, but it's proved to me yet again that fluffy romance just isn't for me.

I felt like there was so much weighing the story down; from unnecessary exposition or one-liners to massive distractions - am I the only person that feels like the whole situation works so much better without knowing what's inside the love letters? I have to admit that the book probably suffers from me watching the film first, and for that I'm kind of sorry. But I can't help but think how the structure is a lot more flimsy and concerned with useless pieces of information just to be cute.

I also found that I didn't get on with the characters as well as I had in the adaptation. Of course I didn't read this book in its entirety, but nearly 100 pages in and everyone's basically a caricature of themselves. Where the film felt like it was pushing to break so many stereotypes, the book just kind of fell into some of them. No one was evil like we've come to expect from American high school dramas, but no one was really fully there for me.

Basically, I feel like it lacks the quirks and sense of realness that allowed me to get on so well with its movie counterpart. I put a clear disclaimer that I'm not a massive fan of the genre; if cute YA contemporaries are your thing then I'm sure you'll enjoy it, but they're not mine and even the rom-com triumph of the film didn't make me want to see this one through to the end.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Time's Convert

Time's Convert

Book Title: Time's Convert
Author: Deborarh Harkness
Series: All Souls Trilogy
Date Started: September 18th 2018
Date Completed: October 5th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Historical
Quality Rating: Three Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Stars
Final Rating: Three stars

I enjoyed Time's Convert, but largely because I was already in love with the characters. It's definitely not one to dive into if you haven't read the previous book in the All Souls Triology. And, for a book about Marcus and Phoebe, there's precious little of Marcus and Phoebe actually together. It still felt a lot like the Diana show; she has the most progressive story, the most active obstacles and the first person narration. Maybe it's a slight of the marketing, but I can't help feeling let down from my expectations.

Again, this book is very sexy. I've called the series an academic-adult twilight, but this is more so than the main books. I guess it's because the characters are younger? While not necessarily being a bad thing, there felt like less of a focus on the history and other interesting aspects that we had in the original series. Like with Diana again, it feels like the real positions of power are being kept for the older characters (predominantly women, which is fantastic) but I would have liked the 'kids' to have had a little bit of that agency as well.

The structure of these books is always a little unfamiliar. While it's pretty carefully plotted and fascinating history-wise, it's not as thrilling as it builds itself up to be. I remember at the end of the trilogy feeling like there should've been this big climax that never came. The endings are always rushed: having taken pages and pages to get through a single event, we then have entire months being skipped over in a sentence. It's a bit of a let down when we have such long sections of exposition and character-building, but no real resolution to a story.

And there were a few instances in which we started to go down some aisles. There was what felt like an ancient Greek twist towards the beginning but it ended up disappearing. While I liked the various time periods we dipped out toes into - and it made sense in the context - having experienced how interesting it was to be completely immersed in Elizabethan England in the second novel, it paled a little in comparison when Harkness wasn't able to look so deeply into the historical period her characters were in.

I'm still pretty conflicted about my rating - it flips between three and four stars in my head because I absolutely enjoyed it, but it also left a lot of gaps for what I wanted from a sequel to the All Souls Trilogy. Bordering on self-indulgence and companion-style fun, it's worth the read if you enjoyed the main books, but properly won't give you a whole lot if you're unfamiliar with the characters you'll be continuing with.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

City of Ghosts


Book Title: City of Ghosts
Author: Victoria Schwab
Series: Cassidy Blake #1
Date Started: September 9th 2018
Date Completed: September 18th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Adventure
Quality Rating: Three Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Two Stars
Final Rating: Three stars

Overwhelming reaction: eh. It feels like a prequel story that was padded out in order to make a whole book but lacks... well, a story. And I love Schwab's imagination and novels, this one just wasn't there for me.

What I struggled with the most was the lack of solid worldbuilding. There really aren't enough clear rules of how the Veil works, or even how Cassidy understands it works. When it comes to ghosts and worlds within worlds, we need to know how it happens and what's in control of the characters, because that's where the tension comes from. If you have fantasy without limits there's no conflict. And I felt like there wasn't conflict here because I couldn't anticipate what would be an issue for the characters and what they could easily dismiss.

I have to say, I felt a little out of place reading this as a Brit. The jokes about different dialects are funny the first time but when you stop the plot every chapter to mention another one it starts to grate on you. And I don't really feel like it painted Edinburgh's uniqueness (being said, I've never visited Edinburgh); it ruminated more on Britishness in general (let alone Scottishness) and the popular cult attractions. I wanted more of a love letter than fan fiction.

In all fairness, City of Ghosts isn't terrible, it just lacks a lot of spark that I wanted from it. Nothing really happens - we go into the veil, out of it, into, out of - without much conflict. There's a moment of 'oh no, how will we get back' every time, but it doesn't seem to take them very long to find a loophole. A plot line doesn't form until halfway through, and the villain is barely there enough to even be a villain. Where's the tension? Where's the loveable characters? It's just flat in the end, when a ghost story in Edinburgh is possibly the most potential any story could ask for.

'This isn't at all like those cheesy ghost shows on tv' - sadly, it pains me to say that this book is exactly like those cheesy ghost shows on tv.