Category Archives: book review
Some books you don’t just read.
The Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie is a high-fantasy series that pulls you in so you’re fighting alongside the characters, in the mud and the blood…
A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire sequence is another series that pulls you in. You’re there, in Westeros, snow or rain in your face, sword in your hand…
But it pulls you into more than just battles. The world building is some of the most detailed I’ve ever read. Martin has created cultures and languages, countries and regions, all with their own histories and customs.
Just as detailed as the world building are the characters. A Game of Thrones is divided up between several characters. Jon Snow, Ned/Eddard Stark (Whose story this first book is) Catleyn Stark, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Bran Stark, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister. Martin divides the page space up pretty equally between the characters so they’re all developed well. Some of them you might like and some of them you won’t. But there are dozens more characters—the largest cast I’ve known in a book. But in this first book there’s never too many that you can’t remember who is who or what their agenda is.
And there are plenty of agendas. Everyone is vying for the right to the Iron Throne and to rule Westeros.
For a book that is over 800 pages long, there was never a moment where I wanted it to end. I tried reading slow, to make it last, but Martin’s writing style is addictive and it’s hard not to race through the book.
A Game of Thrones isn’t as action packed as Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy (worth checking out if you’re a Throne’s fan) but Martin still includes plenty of battles and set pieces to keep the pace moving pretty fast all the way to the end.
As well as epic world building, Martin builds good atmosphere. Whether it’s the suspicion and corruption in King’s Landing where Ned Stark tries to survive and uncover the truth, or far in the North where Jon Snow becomes a part of the Night’s Watch and learns of a plot unfolding beyond the Wall. Martin writes so that you can feel the heat of King’s Landing, smell the fires burning in Winterfell and feel the cold at Castle Black in the north.
Even though I’ve watched the TV show, know what’s going to happen, the books still seemed to be unpredictable, and Martin includes enough extra material that didn’t make it into the shows so that reading the books is still worth it.
If you haven’t started this series yet, check it out. If you think it won’t be as good because you’ve already seen the show, give A Game of Thrones a shot. I waited too long, and I regretted it.
Epic doesn’t cover it.
Highly, highly recommended.
Anyone else read A Song of Ice and Fire, or just started reading it?
Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
Half a King is one of my favourite books. The sequel Half the World is also one of my favourite books.
With the first two installments in the Shattered Sea trilogy, Joe Abercrombie delivered action, adventure, some great characters and plenty of bloody battles and violence. His writing style is unlike any other fantasy writer’s I’ve read. It isn’t heavy like some, but it is somehow packed with enough detail to make the story feel realistic.
Some people might not like the violence and grittiness, but this isn’t high fantasy in the usual sense. There are no dragons or goblins, no giants or magic– not in the usual sense. Abercrombie grounds his fantasy world in something real, and the story benefits from it. It’s a fantasy world, but it is also believable and it makes getting into the book even easier.
Not that getting into these books is hard. From the first page of Half a King, you’re sucked into Yarvi’s story. Yarvi becomes Father Yarvi in book 2, and his character develops even further in the final installment, along with other familiar faces, Thorn Bathu, Koll, Queen Laithlan and others. This time around, like in the second book, there are are more characters introduced, and more perspectives. But the big cast isn’t too big and the perspectives don’t shift back and forth too much to make things hard to follow. Most of the characters are as sharp and witty as Abercrombie’s writing style. All of them are cunning.
Like in the first two books, Half a War is packed with action sequences and bloody battles. Barely a chapter goes by without someone dueling or scrapping, or getting various limbs chopped off. If you’re squeamish… try this book anyway. There are more than battles and action in Half a War. Like new character Skara says, “Only half a war is fought with swords.” When Abercrombie isn’t delivering action and battles, he’s twisting the plot and keeping things hard to predict. Characters motives shift or becomes clear, most of them lie.
The twists aren’t just in character motives and plot. Abercrombie changes what I thought the world of these books was. I wasn’t sure about the change at first, but in the end it worked and made these books even more unique.
Half a War isn’t as good as Half the World, but it’s a solid, satisfying final book. Character arcs are completed or left open, questions are answered and the violence, battles and action is as well-written as in the other books. Overall, this completes the trilogy and confirms it as one of the best high-fantasy series I’ve read. If you haven’t started this series yet, you’re missing out.
Highly, highly recommended.
Review of NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. That’s a big name to live up to. It’s probably why Hill wrote under a pen name, to avoid giving people the chance to have an opinion about his writing before they’ve read it.
Stephen King is one of my favourite writers–if not my favourite–so Hill had some living up to do.
He pulls it off, for the most part. Like his dad, Hill can write, no doubt. His style is similar to Kings, in that it’s trippy and addictive. Hill has an eye for details that stick in your head and make a scene pack a punch.
NOS4A2 is the license/number plate of a car, a Rolls Royce Phantom, driven by nut-job Charles Talent Manx. He’s a vampire, of sorts, who kidnaps children and feeds off their innocence. Victoria/Vic McQueen is a girl who gets tangled up with Manx because of her own abilities. They can both imagine themselves to other places.
This book is epic in scale, charting Vic’s life from a young girl all the way to being a mum. Manx follows her from their first encounter and Vic must use her ability when Manx takes something from her.
Save his writing style, the strongest part of King’s books are his characters. Despite the situations they are in, and their abilities, they always seem believable and it’s easy to root for them. It’s easy to root for Vic, as the story develops, but she doesn’t feel as real as King’s characters. None of Hill’s characters do. They’re too crazy or over the top, and while it offers some funny scenes, it makes the characters harder to imagine and less scary.
This book is epic in size, too. It’s 700 pages long and at times feels too long. It would’ve been easy to cut over 100 pages without harming the story, which gets a little repetitive and drawn-out at times. But I was never bored. Hill’s writing style keeps things moving, as do the numerous action set pieces. The length does take away from the tension sometimes, but it also makes this book easier to be pulled into.
At times, things get really crazy, especially in Christmasland, Manx’s imagined prison for his victims, and like the crazy characters it takes something away from the story. King got the balance between trippy and believable right most of the time. Hill tips it a little too trippy in NOS4A2. But he still delivers on some scary scenes.
It’s hard not to compare Hill with his dad when reading this book. King’s trademarks are clear throughout–there are even connections to King’s books, Shawshank Prison for example. But Hill is a solid writer and storyteller in his own right. The pace is pretty fast all the way through, despite the 700 page length. The action set pieces are cool and the story pulls you in from the first chapter.
Overall, this is a solid horror story and made me a fan of Hill.
Has anyone else read anything by Hill, how do you think his writing compares to his dad’s?
Review of Lexicon by Max Barry
Sticks and stones break bones.
They recruited Emily from the streets. They said it was because she’s good with words.
They’ll live to regret it.
Wil survived something he shouldn’t have. But he doesn’t remember it.
Now they’re after him and he doesn’t know why.
There’s a word, they say. It shouldn’t have got out. But it did.
And they want it back…
If Max Barry’s name hadn’t been on the front cover of this book, and I had to guess who’d written it, I would’ve guessed say Stephen King.
King could have written Lexicon. It has his sharp, witty writing style, crazy characters and unique plots. Some of the details and quirks in the writing are also reminiscent of King. But Barry holds his own, and delivers one of the most unique thrillers I’ve read.
Lexicon’s plot focuses on words literally being used as weapons. There are certain people who can words to force people to do things, anything–kill, carry out orders, pretty much anything. It’s a crazy and unique concept.
But it’s not the only focus of Lexicon. The narrative is split into two different narrators. Emily Ruff and Wil Jamieson. At first, it’s hard to see how the characters connect. But as the story unfolds and multiple twists change the direction of the plot, things start to come together.
Lexicon comes together like it was carefully planned from beginning to end. The world building can be a little confusing at times, despite that it takes place in our world, but the history of the ‘Poets’ as the people who can use words are called is only a small part of the story. The focus is largely on Emily and Wil, and their separate stories–at least until their stories meet.
This thriller pretty much delivers on all fronts. Fast-pace, villains, some solid action set-pieces and chase sequences, conspiracies and plenty of twists in the plot.
Like most thrillers it ends in a gripping showdown. But Lexicon isn’t predictable. Barry keeps things as original as the core idea of words as weapons and things don’t unfold as you predict they will.
With solid characters and a cool premise, as well as all the usual thriller elements, Lexicon is one of the best sci-fi (or fantasy; it’s hard to choose which genre it’s closest to) books I’ve read.
Highly, highly recommended.
Has anyone else read Lexicon, thought it was a great thriller? Can anyone recommend any similar books?
Finders Keepers by Stephen King
(synopsis from Goodreads)
“Wake up, genius.” So begins King’s instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, an iconic author who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.
Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Saubers finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after thirty-five years.
King knows how it’s done. He does it every time. He does it again with Finders Keepers, the second installment in his crime series.
Mr. Mercedes, the first book in the Bill Hodges series (there are a planned 3 books so far, but I don’t know if there will be more), was a fast, tense and gripping crime novel. King delivered his usual cast of awesome (and crazy) characters and the pace didn’t let up until the climax.
Finders Keepers is a little slower paced than Mr. Mercedes. The timeline is divided, to start with, and there a more perspectives than in the first book. Hodges doesn’t make a reappearance until well into the book. King uses that time to develop his villain. And like usual the villain is a nut.
King has a lot of gifts, but characters are what he’s best at, and like in all of his books they are developed to the point of being fully believable in Finders Keepers. Even if some of them are nuts, it’s hard not to imagine these people exist somewhere. Holly and Jerome are back, and despite everything else that’s happening with the supporting cast, King spends plenty of time developing them.
This isn’t horror, but King manages to create some pretty scary moments. The final scene made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It is the tension that makes this book more gripping than most crime novels. King builds it slowly from the start and then kicks it into gear and keeps notching it up until the ending.
Finders Keepers isn’t as fast-paced as Mr. Mercedes, but the pages still flip by fast on account of King’s unparalleled writing style. He gets into characters heads, then gets into yours.
King is the type of writer writers want to be and readers want to read more of. Nobody can emulate his writing–it’s hard to think of a writer with a more distinct or unique style. I read a King book and I’m itching to write myself, to try and get better.
King may have been writing for decades, but he still delivers punch-in-the-gut books and quality writing. King is the boss–there’s no other way to say it.
Highly, highly recommended.
Is anyone else a big King fan? If so, which is your favourite of his books?
The Martian by Andy Weir
Rating – 5/5 (easily)
I’m a big sci-fi fan, both in books and in movies. But you don’t have to be a sci-fi fan to enjoy The Martian. Because it’s not exactly sci-fi.
It’s set on Mars, but there are no aliens. There’s no time-travel. The Martian is space fiction, with elements of action and thriller.
Mark Watney is stranded on Mars after an accident with the spacecraft he was on board. While his teammates leave, he is left behind. The Martian follows Watney as he tries to survive, and figure out a way to get off Mars.
The Martian is told mostly through Watney’s first person narration as he records everything he does on a log. It’s broken up by some third person action back on earth and the on the ship Watney was supposed to leave Mars on. But the most gripping and entertaining parts of the story are Watney’s first person logs. Despite being alone for 18 months, Watney is funny, right up until the end of the novel. Sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.
A few of the many classic, funny lines are:
“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.”
“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
“Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”
Probably my favourite line:
“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 61 How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.”
If there was one thing I would call this novel out on, it would be Watney’s character. The humor is awesome, but after 18 months I thought he’d start to go a little crazy being alone for so long. It would have been interesting to see him crack up a bit–but in the end, the humor is Watney’s character and it worked.
For a novel that is mostly about Watney trying to survive (growing crops, building and mending things) the pace is fast, and it’s never boring. Who knew reading about growing potatoes could be suspenseful? But Weir pulls it off. He makes you root for Watney that the suspense never lets up. But there are some cool action set pieces. The split narrative could have made the pace awkward, but it helps build suspense as people back on earth attempt to rescue Watney.
The writing is sharp thanks to Watney’s first person witty narrative. But it’s Weir’s research–the sheer and detailed amount of it–that makes this novel. It’s crazy how believable this book is–almost like it really happened and this is a recording of the events. Weir must have spent months, maybe even years researching everything, and it shows on pretty much every page of the novel. But like Michael Crichton, Weir manages to balance the information, make it understandable–or as understandable as it can be for people who know nothing about space travel and survival.
I hear Weir is writing a more ‘sci-fi’ book next, with aliens, so it will be cool to see how he’ll write about the more fictional elements of sci-fi. If The Martian is anything to go on, Weir will become a classic sci-fi writer. Because The Martian deserves to be a classic.
Fast, funny, hugely entertaining and one of the most believable fiction books I’ve read. Don’t miss it.
Highly, highly recommended. Sits aside Half the World as the best book I’ve read this year.
Hopefully Ridley Scott will do the book justice with the movie adaption.
Did anyone else enjoy this book?
This book has recently been released in paperback and renamed The Third Testament. Biblical is a deceptive title. This book touches on religion, but it focuses heavily on science… among other things. If you’re worried this will be a preachy, religious book, don’t. It’s a science mystery thriller.
Some books leave you staring at the last page with narrowed or wide eyes, with jaw slack and fingers scratching heads. This book did all of those things.
Biblical’s plot is a bit hard to summarize. A pandemic of visions on a global scale affects everyone on earth. People start seeing things from the past, people that are not really there, things that have happened sometimes millions of years ago.
The narrative is divided into several perspectives around the globe. The main narrative, John Macbeth is first person, and it’s through his eyes we see most of the story unfolding. Galt’s writing style is sharp, even if some of the science went over my head. The story is somewhere between Michael Crichton and Stephen King.
Biblical raises some interesting issues, and some scary ones about our future. Creating synthetic brains, artificial intelligence, alternate realities… People might not understand everything in this book– I didn’t–but barely half way through and the book is making you think hard about Earth and humanity.
The pace could be faster, but Galt likely didn’t intend this to be a full-on action thriller. It’s more of a slow-burner, with some decent action set pieces along the way. The characters are pretty two dimensional–though the final twist goes some way to justifying why the characters are underdeveloped.
One of the strongest things about this book is Macbeth, the main character. He’s an unreliable narrator and it’s hard to know if he’s stable or crazy.
The final twist took me a few attempts to understand, but when I got it, it blew my mind. Not only is it one of the best plot twists I’ve read in a book, it made me think about the real world… and (MILD SPOILER) if it’s actually real.
Biblical is a well-written thriller, with some awesome twists. It’s a book that makes you think and question. I would have enjoyed it more if it had been faster paced, with some more action.
Does anyone have a favourite book with an unexpected plot twist?
The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowlydestroying the once-great nation of Ravka.
Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite – the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?
It seems like every YA high fantasy book I’ve read in the past couple of years has been bogged down with romance– save The Shattered Sea trilogy which I can highly recommend – It’s gritty, action packed, violent, exactly what epic fantasy should be.
Shadow and Bone is no different. The plot is too wrapped up in romance and the rest of the novel suffers for it. Bardugo has created an interesting world. It reminded me of something from a Guillermo Del Toro movie. Cold, harsh, populated by a growing darkness and weird creatures… But Bardugo spends too much time developing romance, and a solid plot is sacrificed. Some readers probably won’t mind. But I wanted more of the action that the beginning and ending of the novel delivered.
The opening is good. The middle made me consider skipping pages. Another thing YA books seem to include a lot of is descriptions of clothes and ‘makeovers’. I don’t want to read about that–not when the stakes of the main plot and the villains agenda is world-altering.
After a slow middle, the pace picks up again when the heroine has to go on a quest. The quest plot-line might not be original, but it guarantees pace and action. Bardugo’s cold, harsh world is the kind of fantasy world I like to read about. The kind Abercrombie and George R. R. Martin have in their books.
The characters are decently developed, though they will probably be developed more in the sequels–as will the world-building, which was a little vague and at times confusing.
The writing style is similar to Sarah J. Maas’s, author of Throne of Glass. Atmospheric descriptions, nice balance of description.
Shadow and Bone is a decent balance of original and influenced-by-other-fantasy-books-and-movies. The pace is fast in the beginning, slow in the middle, fast again for the ending. The set up is promising for the sequels, which I hope will focus more on the main plot arc than on romance.
Does anyone else think that romance bogs down the plot of a lot of YA books? Anyone else prefer gritty, cold fantasy worlds?
The House of Silk – Review
The New Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz
Rating – 5/5
It’s hard to imagine a weightier responsibility than what Anthony Horowitz faced when he was asked to write the new Sherlock Holmes novel. Holmes is one of the–if not the–most famous detective in fiction. Arthur Conan Doyle created a unique character and plenty of unique mysteries and with the movies, TV shows and other spin-offs, Holmes has become a phenomenon.
But Horowitz pulled it off. As far as I can tell. I haven’t read any of the Conan Doyle Holmes stories, but I’ve seen the movies and the TV shows and from what I can tell Horowitz has kept to the spirit of Doyle’s work.
Holmes and Watson are the thing he had to get right, and Horowitz nails it. Their characters are exactly what you expect from watching the shows and movies–and from other reviews they’re pretty true to the original books, too. The camaraderie is there, the banter, and Holmes is enigmatic, annoying and brilliant. Like in some of the original stories, Watson narrates through first person and it’s interesting to see the story and Holmes’s character from his perspective.
This might be set in Victorian London, but Horowitz hasn’t limited himself. The pace is fast and there are plenty of gripping set pieces along the way. Including (mild spoiler) a final horse-drawn carriage chase.
The setting of Victorian London is almost a character in itself. Horowitz takes Holmes and Watson through gritty streets, harsh storms, luxurious mansions and seedy carnivals. Horowitz gets description down pat, and there’s just enough to make things palpable and not too much to make it hard to read.
The mystery itself has enough side-plots and twists to keep it interesting, even if it does get a bit predictable towards the end. It’s hard to think of another way to resolve things, but having Holmes explain everything did feel like a huge info-dump. But with mysteries, it’s hard to resolve things another way, and from what I know of the TV shows, movies and books, it’s done the same way.
Overall, this is a rip-roaring mystery with pace, wit, twists and a solid set of main characters. It’s also addictive and I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up Moriarty, and hopefully more sequels in the future.
Highly, highly recommended – especially if you’re a Holmes fan, but also if you’re just looking for an entertaining, well-written mystery.