Saturday, 1 March 2014
Rating: 4 stars
This book is book 12 and the penultimate in The Hollows series, with several story lines that have been building throughout the series. It's absolutely NOT the place to start. If you haven't read these, start with Dead Witch Walking. Frankly, if you don't know the series, you'd probably be best just skipping this review.
Rachel is working security for Trent while Quen is on the West Coast. Despite her many former misgivings about working for and with the billionaire, she's been enjoying herself, possibly a bit too much. She's keeps fighting her increasing attraction to Trent, he's engaged to someone else, and would risk losing everything if he broke the alliance off. When a spell badly misfires while they're out on the golf course, Rachel gets worried that there is something wrong with her magic, or that her ley line is badly affected again. It turns out that her exploding the golf ball headed for Trent's head is just one in a long series of magic mishaps all around Cincinatti. Whatever is making the magic react unexpectedly and dangerously, is also affecting the vampire masters around the city and chaos is starting to erupt.
Having investigated, it appears Rachel's ley line is indeed involved, and somehow leaking wild magic, the magic normally only controlled by the elves. It also appears the wild magic is being syphoned off by rogue vampires, in some sort of conspiracy to kill off all the undead vampires in the city. There could be a war brewing between the vampires and the elves, and Rachel and her friends need to stop it.
The last few books of Harrison's Hollows series have focused more on Rachel accepting her identity as the only day walking demon and realising that being a demon doesn't mean she has to be evil or damned. The previous book, Ever After, featured Al, Newt and the other demons quite prominently. In this book, they take more of a back seat, with vampires, elves and werewolves taking centre stage. With the undead vampire masters asleep, their living vampire minions start exploiting their sudden freedom and there is a rogue group calling themselves Free Vampires want to kill off all the old undead masters. They've figured out a way to use wild magic to their advantage, and as wild magic is the kind controlled by the elves. The fact that Trent hasn't heard anything shows how much his recent dealings with Rachel have put him out of the confidences of the power factions among his own people.
It was nice to see supporting characters like Ivy and David featuring more prominently again, as well as Captain Edden. I also liked finding out more about the elven hierarchy and religion, but the best part of the book to me is, without a doubt, the changing relationship between Rachel and Trent. Trenton Aloysious Kalamack (I love the middle names Harrison gives her characters) has come a long way from the ruthless and unscrupulous villain who kept Rachel trapped in a cage (she was a mink at the time) in the first book. He's always been an interesting character, prone to steal every scene he's in, this series has been just as much about Trent redeeming himself, as it's been about Rachel growing up, discovering who she really is and how her unique heritage makes her so important to several of the supernatural races.
Over the course of the previous eleven books, Rachel's had several love interests, but her chemistry with Trent, even when they were bitter enemies, has always been undeniable. Yet it wasn't until they were forced to spend three days together on a road trip in Pale Demon that it was obvious that the two were perfect for each other. Yet it's quite clear that a lot of sacrifices will have to be made for them to have a chance together.
By the time Charlaine Harris got to her book 12, I was desperately ready for her to finish the series, and pretty much just stuck with it to see how it would end. Harrison has had some ups and downs in her series too, but generally, I've always at least enjoyed the books, and at best, absolutely loved them. My annual visit to the Hollows, hanging out with Rachel, Jenks, Ivy and Trent is something I look forward to. I'm sad that there is only going to be one more book until these characters hopefully all survive and get their happy endings (Harrison has in several interviews promised HEAs for all those who are alive at the end, making me worried about which of them who aren't going to make it through).
Friday, 28 February 2014
Rating: 2.5 stars
The Norwegian Peder Jensen is the second mate on a sailing ship, the Nepture, on route from Manilla to Marseille, in 1899. In the prologue it is revealed that six months after this ship set sail, it is still missing without a trace. In the novel we discover what happened to the ship and the crew. As second mate, and third in command on the ship, Jensen also has to be the crew medic, and spends a lot of his time patching up the various crew members that keep fighting viciously.
There is a lot of tension aboard the ship, partially because the crew members are from all over the world, some with very different religious and ideological views. The situation is not improved by the fact that corners have been cut when the crew provisions were purchased, so the crew basically eat slops while the officers dine in luxury. Thirdly, the captain is unpopular, and one of the crew members seem to have sworn revenge on him because he killed said crew member's brother in a mutiny some years back.
Jensen rarely agrees with the decisions his fellow officers make, and try to help the crew as much as he is able. After saving one of the young boys, having been hoisted up the mast by the third mate, the nervous young former street urchin latches on to him with all he's got, deciding that Jensen is now his father, whether the man wants the responsibility or not. As the journey progresses, both literal and figurative storms keep threatening the Neptune and its crew. As a massive typhoon approaches, the readers also discover why the ship was reported missing without a trace.
Yet another of the novels I had to read for my course, this was absolutely the best of the lot I had to read in February. Written in the 1970s by Jens Bjørneboe, it's basically a big ol' metaphor for how the author sees the world in general, and how he'd like the ideal society to be. The ship, with all the disparate crew members from all races and creeds, complete with a rigid class division and a lot of tensions is how he pictures the world. The sharks swimming along side the ship are metaphors for pure greed and thoughtless evil, which is ever present. The mutiny on board as a huge tropical storm is threatening is the revolution that the author clearly feels needs to happen, and the aftermath of the mutiny and the storm is clearly how the author wishes society could become.
I've never been particularly drawn to the ocean, although I find it beautiful and awe inspiring. I find it interesting that there is a whole genre of literature, devoted to sea travel and seafaring life, because even after reading several, I just don't see the fascination. I also notice that all the authors of these kinds of books seem to all be men. I just don't think women writers are all that bothered about exploring man's struggle with internal and external nature while travelling the seven seas. I know I as a female reader am fairly unmoved by it. This book was perfectly ok, but nothing more. As the prologue told me disastrous things were going to happen, I kept waiting for them to do so. Jensen's philosophical ramblings as he pottered about the ship doing everyday second mate things weren't exactly thrilling.
Rating: 1 star
A couple, he somewhere in middle age, around his fifties (according to the stage directions), she in her thirties arrive at a house by the ocean, in a remote and lonely location. Here they are finally going to be alone, alone together, away from everyone and everything. But she is worried. "Someone is going to come" she laments. Their perfect solitude will be shattered by outsiders, she's convinced of this. He tries to reassure her that no one will come, they will just be alone, together.
Of course, someone does come. Their closest neighbour, the young man in his twenties who sold them the house, is clearly desperate for company, what with living in such a lonely and remote location. The man hides as he approaches, and watches the neighbour's somewhat needy conversation with the woman. He is racked with jealousy. Perhaps she wasn't lamenting earlier? Perhaps she wanted someone to come? Maybe she'd rather talk to the young man than be alone with him in their new home?
As I mentioned in last year's review of The Son, a different Jon Fosse play that I had to read for my course back then, I'm not a fan of Modernist literature. As Fosse is one of the chief Neo-Modernist playwrights writing today, it was never going to be a good fit between us. I like the things I read to have purpose of some kind. I like characters to be complex and develop and my favourite stories are strongly character driven narratives, preferably with a bit of romance, action and adventure thrown in. This play is not very long, and there is little character or plot development to speak of. It's easy to read, because the same damn three lines keep being repeated ad nauseum throughout. "We will be alone", "Alone together, in our love", "Someone is going to come".
There are only the three characters in the entire play, and even the sadsack neighbour only appears in two scenes. It becomes painfully obvious as soon as he shows up that whatever relationship the couple are planning on having alone in by the sea is doomed to failure, if the man is going to fall to pieces with jealousy as soon as the woman so much as looks at another man. Perhaps buying a house in the middle of nowhere wasn't such a good idea?
Among the students of my course, there were also a lot of different interpretations of the tone of the play, and how the neighbour was perceived (which is one of the advantages of such a minimalist play with hardly any stage directions). Myself and several others thought he was a threatening presence, and that he acts aggressively pushy towards the poor woman, who also has to contend with an insanely jealous partner, who falls into a massive sulk and forces her to do any further communication with the neighbour, even when she appears very unwilling to do so. Quite a few felt that she'd do well to get the heck away from said lonely location as soon as possible, lest she be either murdered by her jealous partner, or assaulted by the desperate and lonely neighbour. Of course, if such a thing were to happen, there would actually mean something happened, which it doesn't. There's conversations outside the house, and inside the house, and nothing really seems to happen or come to a head or be resolved in any way.
Having now read two Fosse plays, I desperately hope I won't have to read anymore. I find him tedious in the extreme, a waste of time (although because his plays are so short, at least it's a blessedly short amount of my time being wasted) and I certainly don't see why anyone would want to pay money to see this frustratingly sparse play be acted out on a stage. I clearly have much better things to do than to read Neo-Modernist drama. If you like Beckett and Pinter, than you should absolutely check Fosse out, because he keeps being very favourably compared to them. In my case, this play is definitely going to be on my worst of the year list.
Sunday, 16 February 2014
Rating: 2 stars
David has lost his memory. A news paper notice appears, asking people whether they know him and encouraging friends and acquaintances to write to him, to help him restore his memories. In this book, we get to read the letters of three of the people who write to him, as well as read about their current lives. As we read their stories and letters to David, more of his identity is revealed, but much more so, the identity of the letter writers.
The first third of the book introduces us to Jon, an aspiring musician with an ailing mother and a fraught rivalry with his only brother. He doesn't have the heart to tell his mother, who never had faith that he would make it as a professional bassist, that he quit his band in the middle of their tour. He feels like a constant failure, not helped by the fact that he recently broke up with his long term girlfriend, who his mother keeps hoping he'll get back together with. Then he discovers that his brother and sister-in-law are about to adopt a child, fulfilling his mother's dreams of becoming a grandmother, and he seems to lose it completely.
The second third features Arvid, David's stepfather, who sees the newspaper notice while in hospital, trying to come to terms with the fact that he's going to die of cancer. The opportunity to reconnect with his stepson through the letters gives the former priest renewed faith in the God he felt abandoned by, and brings him new hope.
The last third is about Silje, a middle aged woman going having marital troubles, considering divorce and trying to come to terms with the death of her overbearing mother. She keeps picking fights with her husband, and can't seem to help making her situation worse than it already is.
The letters focus on the friendship between Jon, David and Silje, and give three very different accounts of the relationship dynamic of the three. In Jon's letters, Silje is mostly on the periphery, while he and David share a secret and experimental homosexual relationship, while discovering existential philosophy, art, literature and being as pretentious and different from the other teenagers in their little town as possible. In Arvid's letters, we see his deep love for David's mother and his wish to be a good father figure for the boy. He observes that there was an unhealthy power dynamic in the group, with David and Silje frequently goading the insecure and impressionable Jon into doing things he would otherwise never have done. Silje's letters paint her as David's girlfriend, with Jon the slightly clueless and melodramatic third wheel. Who is really showing us, and David, the truth about the past?
This book was awarded the Brage Prize in 2007, an award that since 1992 has aimed to recognise significant works of contemporary Norwegian literature. It has an interesting premise, with themes of identity being explored though its somewhat unusual structure. Because the reader gets to see the three letter writers in the present, as well as reading their accounts of the past, and all three people give very different versions of David's teenage years, it raises questions about which of the narrators are actually reliable.
While the unusual structure and idea makes the book interesting, I didn't really like the book much, because I couldn't really stand Jon and Silje. Their present lives were uninteresting to me, and they were so clearly mainly the cause of their own misfortunes. I also found their stories unconvincing. The only character I found sympathetic was Arvid, the stepfather, and while I'm sure his version of his personal life with David's mother might be coloured more favourably towards him as an understanding husband and sensitive and caring stepfather, I don't see what he would gain from portraying the relationship between the three friends in anything but a true light.
I was also frustrated by the fact that all these three people were supposed to be writing to help this David remember who he was, and managed to make the letters and their accounts all about themselves. Which is probably the author's way of showing that even when supposed to try to help another, human nature is inevitably selfish and narcissistic.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 2 stars
This is book two in The Arcana Chronicles and as such not the best place to start. This review will contain spoilers for book one in the series, Poison Princess, which is also where you want to begin, if you're interested in the series. Although if you read my review of that book, why would you actually want to read the books at all? Still, Kiala over on Vaginal Fantasy Hangout seems to love them, so what do I know?
At the end of Poison Princess, Evangeline, or Evie, or the Empress, or God Woman would you wake up and get a better taste in menfolk, as I like to think of her, has just made her first kill and stepped into the Game properly. She's accepted her powers and earned the awe in some cases and grudging respect in others among those of her companions who are also Arcana. Of course, Jack, her Bayou gutter trash object of her affection, now seems horrified by her. Matthew, the Aspergic kid who can also see visions of all the other players, seems to think that it's for the best that they are on the outs.
Upon Evie's defeat of the Hermit, it also sent a signal to all the other players nearby that the Empress is fair game, and the group are soon running from the zombie-like Baggers, hordes of cannibals and trying to stay hidden from other Arcana while travelling through the rain, mud and hostile terrain of the mountains. As they travel, Evie tries to discover if Jack is lost to her forever. They have finally settled their differences when Death, the current Arcana champion and his allies ambush them in the mountains. He takes Evie prisoner, determined to make her pay for the Empress' actions in earlier games. Evie can't remember and insists she is nothing like her earlier incarnations, and Death seems unable to forgive and forget.
As was quite obvious, Death is the third side of the inevitable paranormal love triangle. He does have going for him that he's not Jack, that he's got a big ol' mansion and clearly lots of style, he spends most of his time reading or fighting to improve his fighting prowess and impressive physique. Yet he acts like a total tool most of the time. When we finally discover what the Empress did to Death in previous games, it's clear that he has reason to be really pissy, but considering Evie isn't ACTUALLY physically the woman who broke his heart and then jumped on it with spiky shoes (metaphorically), his torturing of her, physically and emotionally, comes off as extremely unnecessary and cruel.
Evie spends the first half moping about Jack and slogging through mud, and despite her misgivings about surrendering her virginity in the previous book, now has no problem running off to canoodle with her drunken redneck suitor in while they're being pursued by all manner of dangerous individuals. She then spends most of the other half of the book pining for Jack, yet sending Matthew mental orders about keeping him far away, because she's afraid that he'll get killed if he tries to rescue her. Apparently the Empress is Death's only weakness, as she is the only person he can touch who won't die (ah, Kresley Cole and your convoluted ways to create fated mates). It's why a lot of the Arcana want to kill Evie - so they can further weaken the most powerful player. The rest want her to get close to him and seduce him, so she can kill him when his guard is down.
Even if he's an unreasonable tool, I did sort of like Death (or Aric, as his real name is). He's clearly had a pretty shitty existence, living through centuries alone and unable to touch anyone but a wicked temptress who's chief goal is to kill him. I don't approve of his hurting young women needlessly, though, no matter how cool his library and humongous mansion is. His actions towards the end of the book are also pretty reprehensible. Really, Evie has dreadful taste in men. I honestly haven't made up my mind whether I'll be reading any more of the series or not. Still, Kresley Cole's books are a bit like crack - so very addictive even when you know they're bad. I suspect that sooner or later I won't be able to contain myself, if only to discover which of the dudes Evie ends up with, and what major Arcana Jack is shockingly revealed to be in the next book (cause I promise you this will happen).
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Audio book length: 13 hrs 50 mins
Rating: 4 stars
Harry Dresden still owes Queen Mab of the Winter Court two favours, and now she's come to collect one. "Gentleman" Johnny Marcone, head of the Chicago underworld and newly a baron in the terms of the Unseelie Accords, has been kidnapped by forces unknown. Mab demands that Harry act as Winter's Envoy in the matter and find him.
To complicate matters, the Summer Queen is sending warriors to challenge Harry. The Gruffs (yup, like the Billy Goats of the stories) keep showing up, each bigger and more powerful than the last to fight and possibly kill the wizard. Then he discovers who actually nabbed Marcone, and things go from bad to worse. The Order of the Blackened Denarius want to make Marcone an offer he can't refuse, and make him accept one of their cursed coins. Harry needs to find them and stop them before it's too late.
My reviews of these books are probably getting fairly repetitive. I'm still listening to the audio books, James Marsters continues to be a great narrator. By now the world of the Dresden Files is full of recurring supporting characters that I like spending time with. This book has appearances by regulars like Murphy, Molly and Thomas, as well as Captain Luccio of the Wardens and the two holy knights, Michael and Sanya (whose wry sense of humour is great). It's always nice to see Ivy, the little girl who embodies the Archive and her bodyguard Kincaid. Mab is wonderfully terrifying as always, in her brief page time at the beginning and end of the book, and I found the various Gruffs in succession to be a really fun touch. The various "nickelheads", as Harry takes to calling the demonic Denarians really let Butcher cut loose with the gruesome descriptions. They clearly come in all manner of horrible and nearly invincible varieties.
I like that the books appear to take place almost in real time, with the characters changing organically. This book takes place about a year after the last one, and over the course of the book, there are several developments that could have serious consequences further down the line. Harry keeps being completely oblivious to the fairer sex, to Thomas' great dismay, but toward the end, things are looking promising for him on the romantic front.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Saturday, 15 February 2014
Rating: 4.5 stars
This is the third book in a series, and I would strongly recommend you don't start with this one. This review will contain minor spoilers for Cinder, the first book in the series and Scarlet, the second book, so if you've not read them, go read them first. This review will be here when you're done.
Crescent Moon, or Cress, as she'd prefer to be called, has spent the last seven years all alone on a satellite orbiting Earth, monitoring communications for the Lunar government and doing all sorts of tricksy things to make sure Lunar ships can travel undetected to the planet below. About once a month, her boss, Queen Levana's head thaumaturge (think scary psychic) Sybil comes with more supplies, and to check on whatever progress Cress has made. At the moment, Sybil wants her to locate the missing Lunar fugitive Linh Cinder and her accomplices, not realising that Cress and her hacking skills are in fact what's keeping the authorities from locating the spaceship they are on.
While once a loyal Lunar citizen, happy that despite being a shell (a Lunar who doesn't possess the ability to manipulate minds with glamour) she has been kept alive (because the law states they should be killed at birth), Cress has long been trying to subvert Queen Levana every chance she gets. She devours all she can find of Earthen culture and media, and sent the warning to Cinder that Levana was planning to kill Emperor Kai once they were married. Now she's hoping that Cinder will be able to rescue her from her prison on the satellite. She's researched everything she can find on the cyborg fugitive and her accomplices, even a lot that's not available through official channels. With her hacking skills, Cress can get any kind of written record, if she just works for long enough. She's especially taken with the handsome Captain Carswell Thorne, who claims to be a rogue and a scoundrel, yet Cress is convinced he's a good man, really.
So Cress is rescued, Cinder defeats the evil queen and it's all good, right? Not so much. This is the third and penultimate book in Meyer's Lunar Chronicles and it's clearly where some spanners have to be thrown in the works for our brave heroes and heroines. Cress and Thorne crash to Earth in the satellite, having to find their way to civilisation from the crash site in the Sahara desert, with Thorne blinded and Cress unaccustomed to anything outside her orbiting prison. Scarlet is taken prisoner and taken to Luna, tortured and interrogated by Levana's people, determined to find Cinder at any cost. Cinder, a frantic wolf and a rogue Lunar royal guard travel to darkest Africa to find Doctor Erland, who may be the only one who can help Cinder prepare to face the Queen, and stop her impending marriage to Emperor Kai.
This is the longest book in the series so far, and my favourite of the three. The main heroine this time around is poor, lonely and day-dreaming Cress, so obviously modelled on Rapunzel and so desperately infatuated with a man she's never met. To his credit, Thorne realises very quickly (even when blind) that Cress is sheltered and impressionable and does nothing to take advantage of her affection for him, even doing his very best to set the story straight about what she believes were noble and courageous deeds, but in reality were fairly selfish and sometimes foolhardy acts. Of course, through his continued interactions with Cress, getting her through the desert safely, risking his own comfort and safety for her, he may indeed end up the heroic ideal Cress has built up in her mind.
Cinder is getting desperate, and she's running out of time. She has decided that the best way to stop Levana is to interrupt the wedding ceremony and expose to the world what an evil fraud the Lunar Queen actually is. She travels to find Dr Erland in Africa, hoping that he will give her the tools she needs to set her plan in motion. Can she trust Jacin Clay, the royal guard who claims he'll help her take down Levana, if only the princess is kept safe?
Through Scarlet, we see more of the cruel and capricious nature of a lot of the Lunars, and she is not treated well in her captivity. She makes a possible friend in Clay's strange and possibly mad Princess Winter, though, who seems none too fond of her stepmother, and refuses to manipulate the minds of those around her with glamour.
I knew I was setting myself up for a long and frustrating wait for the fourth and final book in the series when I chose to read Cress as soon as it came out. These books are just getting better and better, with multiple protagonists, story lines and plots, all moving towards what will no doubt be a spectacular conclusion in Winter's book, out sometime in 2015. I can't wait to see how it all ends. Hopefully, like in the fairy stories the series is based on, they will all live happily ever after.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.