Sunday, 24 June 2012

Review: 'City of Bones' by Cassandra Clare

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder -- much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing -- not even a smear of blood -- to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . . .

Review  

Before I'd read City of Bones, I don't remember having read a bad review of either it or the other books in the Mortal Instruments series.  At the time of my writing this, it has over 150,000 ratings and an average rating of 4.15 out of 5.  Also, I would have to be blind and deaf not to have noticed the excitement sounding the release of City of Lost Souls recently.  What I'm saying is, clearly there are a lot of people out there that love this book.  I am, sadly, not one of those people.

Clarissa "Clary" Fray stumbles into the world of the Shadowhunters one night when she's out at a rather strange sounding night club with her best friend Simon.  (Let's leave the fact that there are two 15-year-olds spending an evening in a night club to one side, shall we?)  Clary isn't too bad as far as teenage protagonists go.  That is, aside from being remarkably slow on the uptake, rather selfish (particularly when it comes to her friendship with Simon) and naive.  On the plus side, Jace and her do share some passably witty exchanges and she can be quite brave.  I fell out with her at the end of the book but that's a rant for later!

After meeting Jace and his Shadowhunter companions, Clary eventually finds her way into the inner sanctum of their world, cryptically referred to as "the Institute". At first, the Institute is cool; it's a secret hide-out for all kinds of demon-hunting folk, has an enormous library and has plenty of gothic potential. It kind of seemed to me, however, that the only characters residing there were Jace, Clary, lurking historian/curator Hodge and brother-sister duo, Isabelle and Alec and came across as kind of...sad.

With all the bouncing around between Shadowhunter history (doled out in rather cumbersome and disruptive chunks by a mysterious chap that lurks around the Institute with his pet raven), spurts of vampire/werewolf/zombie-demon fighting by impetuous teenagers and angsty romance, the book felt very muddled indeed. There's almost too much going on and the plot just seemed to get lost amongst the red herrings and history lessons. I fully appreciate that trying to balance setting up your characters' backgrounds and world while maintaining a degree of action is a tough job. I can't help but feel, though, that plonking one of your characters in a library every now and then to effectively listen to a lecture is not the best way to go about it..
.

Anyway, so far, so average.  But then Clare threw a curve ball into the plot that made me want to throw my eReader at the wall.  Hard.  I realise that to those of you that haven't read the book, this will seem like a lot of raving nonsense.  But it isn't just the twist itself; it's the responses of the characters to the twist.  I expected revulsion but would have tolerated disquiet/anxiety/mild remorse.  To get what was tantamount to acceptance was just...infuriating. From a series where countless readers have praised the characterisation, I was extremely disappointed.  Well, actually, at the time of reading it I was extremely angry.  Retrospectively, I'm disappointed.

Also, as an annoying aside, I bought the first three in the series in a cute boxed set for my younger sister for Christmas.  She pretty much never reads (I know, weird...) but she has read and enjoyed a lot of The Morganville Vampire series so I figured I'd force help her to branch out.  I'm actually now contemplating taking the set away from her in case her opinion of books in general is damaged for good. Or at least splatting a disclaimer sticker on them that means she can't blame me if she throws City of Bones through her TV...

Overall:  I didn't hate this as much as it probably sounds as though I did.  It had some good points that were at the very least partially over-shadowed.  Maybe I've reached my YA urban fantasy series limit or maybe this series simply isn't just as good as I'd been led to expect; either way, I would struggle to recommend this to any but the most die-hard fans of YA.  And those with much higher levels of patience than me, obviously.  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  5 May 2012
Format:  eBook
Source:  Borrowed from my library's eBook site
Genre:  Urban fantasy; YA
Published: by Margaret K. McElderry Books in March 2007

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Review: 'Timeless' by Gail Carriger



Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads.com) **SPOILERS AHOY!**

**This is the last in the Parasol Protectorate series - this synopsis WILL contain spoilers for earlier books in the series - if you want to read a review of an earlier book in the series instead, mine are here:  Soulless (Book 1); Changeless (Book 2); Blameless (Book 3); Heartless (Book 4)**

Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire's second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell's acting troupe's latest play, disastrous to say the least, cannot put a damper on Alexia's enjoyment of her new London lifestyle.

Unt
il, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child, and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of the Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding? And how has Ivy Tunstell suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?



Review  *I haven't included any spoilers for this book but this is the fifth and final instalment in a series so there WILL be some for earlier books - sorry!*

I'
ve been staring at a blinking cursor for quite some time now (over the course of many evenings) trying to work out how to write a review to this that isn't a re-hashing of everything I've already said about the earlier instalments, which was when it occurred to me that, as much as I've enjoyed it, I'm actually kind of glad that this is the last.  The series manages to end on a high note, before the style and structure of the stories that we've come to know and love became too familiar. I don't think that there's much more that an author can hope for when tying up the loose ends for the characters readers have come to love and I do hate it when a series goes on so long that I've lost all interest in it by the time it comes to a close.

On
 their final outing, Alexia and Lord Maccon head to Egypt to face down the God-Breaker Plague, with Ivy's rag-taggle theatre troop in tow.  The complete change of scenery definitely helps the story.  The unusual domestic arrangements necessitated by the events of Blameless and Heartless didn't work overly well for me.  Don't get me wrong, the more Lord Akeldama there is in my world, the better but the adoptive parent role was one that I never quite got on board with.  The Egypt Alexia visits is exotic and has a hint of lingering mystery with ancient relics and secret organisations lurking around and a hive of vampires that has been around since the Ancient Egyptians were in their heyday.  There are actually some interesting points about how immortality when it involves living for that long might not be all its cracked up to be and it's the first time I've ever seen that kind of idea bandied about.  Good stuff.

Alexia an
d Lord Maccon are as rambunctious a couple as ever.  I've actually seen some criticisms of the way the couple interact as unrealistic and bordering on disrespectful.  However, Boyfriend and I are bickerers so to me, it's a perfectly acceptable way to conduct a relationship!  The rest of the characters fit in around them and balance out the dynamics nicely.  I'm still not convinced by Ivy but I did like her more and I still love Genevieve.  So there are quite a few things that remain that are comfortably familiar.

Happily
, there are some elements of the story that still take place back in England, which rounds everything off nicely.  Secrets out and characters reveal themselves (both intentionally and unintentionally) to be more than everyone suspected (me included!).  In particular, there's a fabulous budding romance between two of the minor characters that is just adorable.  It's largely incidental to the story but I thought that it said a lot about how sensitive the writing of the close to the series is.  Having characters developing throughout a final instalment is tricky when you have four books' worth of loose ends to tie up.  It doesn't feel over-worked or stilted, though, and it does stop the story being burdened by that awful feeling final books sometimes have.  You know, where the plot isn't really a plot at all and more just a means of manipulating characters into a happy ending.  This ending definitely wasn't what I was expecting but I feel mostly positive about it. I don't think I ever would have been completely happy so 'mostly positive' is fine by me.

I'
m so pleased that this was a strong contribution to the series and an ending I could love!  Now I can look forward to Carriger's next series! Roll on February 2013...

Over
all:  If you've liked the series so far, you'll like this one.  That's pretty much all there is to it!



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Date finished:  2 April 2012
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Steampunk; Urban fantasy
Published: by Orbit Books in March 2012

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Review: 'Crooked House' by Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Synopsis

In the sprawling, half-timbered mansion in the affluent suburb of Swinly Dean, Aristide Leonides lies dead from barbiturate poisoning. An accident? Not likely. In fact, suspicion has already fallen on his luscious widow, a cunning beauty fifty years his junior, set to inherit a sizeable fortune, and rumored to be carrying on with a strapping young tutor comfortably ensconced in the family estate. But criminologist Charles Hayward is casting his own doubts on the innocence of the entire Leonides brood. He knows them intimately. And he's certain that in a crooked house such as Three Gables, no one's on the level...


Review

I think I spoilt myself when  I started my foray into Christie's work with And Then There Were None (review here).  It was one of my favourite books of last year and sparked a fondness for 'vintage' mysteries that I might otherwise have missed out on.  When I visit the library, I actually now look through the 'Crime' section, where previously I might have sort of looked at it on my way past without paying much close attention to the authors or titles on offer.  On one such visit, I spotted this and didn't hesitate in taking it home with me.  I didn't expect it to be as amazing as And Then There Were None but I hoped that it at least wouldn't damage my fledgling love of retro crime.

D
id I love it as much as And Then There Were None?  Unsurprisingly, no BUT I did really enjoy it!

The Leonides family are an eclectic bunch and a perfect cast for a murder mystery.  The sheer volume of family members makes the beginning a little slow while they're all introduced.  It took me a while to get the names, relationships and personalities straight but, by the time I had, I was irretrievably invested in the story and puzzling through every odd phrase and sinister happening right alongside Charles.  Personal favourites of mine were Magda (Aristides' daughter-in-law), a temperamental actress that sees the family's tragedy as an opportunity to work on her amateur dramatics, Clemency (Aristides' other daughter-in-law), a perpetually logical scientist who earns extra 'likeabillity' points for being married to the insipid Roger without hitting him every time he whines talks and Josephine, for reminding me of Nancy Drew and all the times I played 'Detective' with my younger sister as a child.  When you've done getting to know them all, there's also plenty of sniping between family members to keep you entertained whenever you're taking a break from sleuthing.

Helpf
ully, the story is told by Charles, the want-to-be-fiance of Sophia (Aristides' granddaughter - see how confusing it can get?!) who is asked by his Scotland Yard Commissioner father to loiter around the house, get to know the family and do some unofficial detective work.  I'm not convinced about the legality of the whole arrangement but it works for this story, particularly seeing as at the outset Charles also only knows Sophia.  Meeting the family along with Charles helps the many introductions flow better than they otherwise could have done and he's obviously more objective than Sophia herself, for example, could ever have been (for a man that wants to absolve his fiancĂ© of suspicion...).

T
o legitimise the investigation, there are some odd moments when Charles pops off to meet up with his father and the actual police to chat through his most recent observations and theories.  Some of these interludes had some handy re-caps of characters' comments, motives or mannerisms but as many were unusual segments where Charles' professional parent gives him tips on policing etiquette and investigates techniques.  They weren't frequent enough to ruin the story but they did jar a bit and did cause my attention to wander a touch.

I had plen
ty of ideas about who I thought was responsible for Aristide's demise that were all way off the "truth".  Much though it doesn't serve to boost my ego or heighten my confidence in my skills of deduction, I prefer it that way!  I love that moment where the murderer is revealed and you get to go, "Oh my goodness! Of course! How clever...".  I definitely didn't see this particular ending coming.  As it happens, the revelation was slightly tainted by a melodramatic twist but not enough to tar my impressions of the book as a whole.  

Overall:  I think I might be a little bit in love with Agatha Christie.  Murder of a restaurant moghul in his quirky mansion while surrounded by his equally quirky family members, most of whom have a legitimate motive for murdering him - what's not to love?!


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Date finished:  12 April 2012
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Borrowed from my local library
Genre:  Mystery; Crime
Originally Published: 1949

Sunday, 3 June 2012

On Why You Should Always Read What You Want

A little while ago, I got myself into a reading rut.  I say "got myself into" because it was nothing to do with work being busy or anything other than my own choices.  I'm fairly sure that a lot of book bloggers will have got themselves into a similar situation: just one enthusiastic response to a review request too many and you end up looking longingly at all the books that you desperately want to read but feel as though you can't because then you won''t be able to meet all of the deadlines you've agreed to.

So anyway, on Thursday 24 May, I was doing this (plus a picture from Wednesday night, to prove that I don't always look like a maniac wielding beer glasses bigger than my head in bad lighting!)...



On Friday 25 May, I was doing this (i.e. taking pictures of our poor little car)...




So I've come to the conclusion that life is too short to spend even one minute thinking of reading as a burden.  It's too short for us to spend time looking at books that we want to read longingly but not actually picking them up and it is definitely too short to spend hours and hours reading books that just aren't quite for us.

I
f you ever take one teeny tiny piece of advice from this blog, let it be this: read what you want, when you want, how you want. There are few things that beat reading a truly brilliant story in utter comfort and I will never take it for granted again.  Or at least, I won't take it for granted for the next few months.  I'm not a saint, after all...:-s


Happy reading to all! I'm so glad to be back!!